The Red River Rally is a small bike rally held in and around Sherman, Texas, usually just a week or two before the Hotter ‘n Hell. The rally’s organizers bill it as “tougher than HHH,” mainly because it’s not nearly as flat as HHH, encompassing some 3,000 to 4,000 feet of ascent over its 100-mile course. Many local riders use the RRR as a supported training ride for HHH, and that’s how it fit into my schedule as well. In fact, that’s how I ended up spending the day with some awesome friends old and new. Audra (who rode as well) and I planned to carpool up with our friend Teri, and she invited a friend of hers named Mark, whom she knew from an earlier beginner sprint triathlon program she’d coached. It turned out I’d met Mark once before.

In short: I was with friends, which was extra cool, because this was a special day for me — my first century.

Pre Race

Having packed the night before — and awoken at 3:00 a.m. to shower, eat breakfast, and get dressed — Audra and I were ready to go when Teri and Mark rolled up at 4:45. We loaded our bikes and gear up in the dark and headed off for the hour-or-so drive up to Pottsboro, TX.

Lesson of the morning: a headlamp is very useful for early AM loading/transition setup.

Lesson of the morning: a headlamp is very useful for oh-dark-thirty loading and/or transition setup.

Whereas in past years the RRR started somewhere in Sherman, this year the rally started and finished at the Tanglewood Resort, a hotel located right on Lake Texoma. We arrived around 6:15 and had no problems at all parking or retrieving our race bibs. Volunteers were friendly, and there were plenty of volunteers to handle the number of out-of-towners (like us) picking up packets on race morning.

The hotel's restaurant was eerily silent in the early A.M.

The hotel’s restaurant was eerily silent in the early A.M. More critical: behind the camera is a clean bathroom.

Packet pickup was busy, but friendly.

Packet pickup was busy, but quick and friendly.

Audra and Teri compare ride maps.

Audra and Teri compare ride maps.

By the time we headed back to the car to unload the bikes, the sun had risen.

Apparently one can rent the room at the top of the tower for a lake view. We only saw the lake once.

Apparently one can rent the room at the top of the tower for a lake view. We only saw the lake once.

Riding is fun even alone (or with a few friends), but there’s something magic about rallies. Walking in the still-cool air back to the car through the parking lots and fields full of happy people pumping up tires, getting dressed, and shooting the bull, I was reminded how many other folks were there to do something special, too, whether their goal was to ride long distance or just spend the day tooling around with friends.

Early-morning pre-ride energy charges us up for the day.

Early-morning pre-ride energy charges us up for the day.

Our timing was perfect, as we had just enough time to kick off the street clothes, slather(/spray) on some sunscreen, and make our way to the starting line, which was right in front of the hotel.

Sunscreen: an absolute necessity for Texas long rides.

Sunscreen: an absolute necessity for Texas long rides.

The start was a relaxed affair, too, with an announcer calling out a few emergency phone numbers for us to carry in case we needed assistance, then clearing the 100-milers (me!) and 80-milers to get underway. Teri and I merged in at the tail end of the initial starting group.

Let's do it!

Let’s do it!

Our race plan was relatively simple: stop as often as required for water, which we estimated would be every other stop, as the race organizers offered them approximately every 10 miles. (We figured that if we didn’t need water that often, we should probably drink more.) We decided to shoot for a seven-hour finish, which would net us an approximately 15 mph average speed. Nutrition-wise, I planned to eat one ~180 cal rice cake an hour, which I’d supplement with approximately 1/2 bottle of double-strength Skratch and water, for a combined calorie intake of ~200-250 cal/hour. I carried six rice cakes in my jersey pockets.

The Race

Immediately after the start we encountered hills — nothing scary, but definitely not something you’d see on the HHH. With everyone still in relatively close proximity, we heard lots of conversation about the terrain, too. About five or ten miles in, we passed a couple of triathletes that Teri knew, and while we chatted with them a small group formed around the discussion. I looked around and discovered that I was surrounded by tri bikes.

For the first half hour we headed west, then turned south where we picked up a nice tail wind. Though we climbed about 200 feet over the next hour, the tailwind made it easy, and my heart rate remained low. Temperatures stayed low, too, and when we rolled into our first rest stop around mile 20 and about 1:23 into the ride, it was still 75 degrees F. In that first leg we passed through some beautiful tree-covered roads, which felt (for just a moment) like what I imagine riding in the Pacific Northwest must feel like.

Teri tears it up.

Teri tears it up.

The stop was well-manned by volunteers and light on riders when we arrived, making for a quick in-and-out. As advertised, the stop offered both water and Skratch, the latter pre-mixed in a cooler. Based on experiences with past rides, I’d filled my rear bottle with double-strength Skratch (two scoops, 160 cal), and I’d consumed about half this bottle on the first leg as well as most of a bottle of water and my first rice cake (at the one-hour mark). I tasted the stop’s Skratch mix (raspberry, by the way, which was what I already had in the bottle), and it seemed somewhere between normal and double strength, so I refilled the bottle.

We encountered friendly and helpful volunteers at every stop.

We encountered friendly and helpful volunteers at every stop.

Shrek is in the portaloo.

Shrek is in the portaloo.

We were back on the road in under 10 minutes, and shortly thereafter turned west for a mostly-downhill ride into our next stop near the 40-mile point, about equidistant from Southmayd, Collinsville, and Whitesboro. If you’ve never heard of any of those towns, don’t worry — no one here has heard of them, either. In fact, around this point Teri and I chatted briefly about what living in rural Texas is like, and she’d never heard of my hometown, Burkburnett, even though it’s on the HHH ride course and is usually home to two separate HHH rest stops. Last year’s 100k course even rode right through Burkburnett’s main street, right by the bank where I bounced my first check and got a lecture from one of the bank’s VPs — a friend of a friend from school’s father — on how to balance my checkbook.

The RRR course map.

The RRR course map.

Our next leg continued south over relatively flat terrain, culminating with our third stop at pretty much the southernmost point in the ride. We again made a quick pit stop, refilling on water and Skratch and hopping back on course in around five minutes. Heading out of this stop at the 68-mile point and ~4:20 into our ride, I noticed that we were two full hours ahead of my 2012 HHH 100k finishing time of 6:29:53, which is pretty amazing, especially considering the hills on the RRR route. This is heartening, and confirms that this years’ hard training is paying off in performance — and should make for a good HHH ride in two weeks.

Of course, once we turned back north, the real race began. That strong northern wind that pushed us along — and made for such a pleasant morning — now turned our return into a slog. Our average speed dropped dramatically, and a large uphill run to mile 70 didn’t make things any easier. As Teri was riding her power meter, we also maintained a relatively steady pull, driving along faster on downhills and slowing to a crawl uphill.

By this point in the ride, my legs hurt quite a bit — not that burning, they’re-gonna-give-out pain, but rather a deep fatigue with soreness and light shooting pain on hard efforts. My ass hurt, too, both in terms of deep soreness (probably caused by the very rough roads earlier in the ride where we kept slamming into unseen ridges that jammed the seat post seemingly up between our ears) and surface contact pain. The temperature had also risen to 90 degrees, and over the last 10 miles our water intake shot up along with the temperature, so we decided to roll into the ~70 mile rest stop for refills rather than passing it by as we had every second stop previously.

One fun note: each stop offered a different combination of Skratch flavors, which both gave me a chance to try them all, and left me drinking a fruit punch bowl, or a suicide mix (if you grew up in the ’80s like I did). My favorite flavor, I think, is still the raspberry, though the orange is probably next. I’m not fond of the lemon-lime, especially mixed with other flavors. In the end, though, they all do their job pretty well.

One stop mixed the flavors to create their own, which they called "berry explosion."

At one stop volunteers mixed the flavors to create their own, which they called “berry explosion.”

We crested the largest hills in the ride around mile 75, and paused again at the 80-mile stop. With the temperature now in the mid-90s, the heat and headwinds turned into a convection oven (or maybe a dehydrator). At the 85-mile point we re-joined the original outbound course briefly and passed through another stop, where we decided to refill again since we weren’t sure whether it was the last stop of the day or not. As we left, we heard someone say that there was one more before the end.

Teri, passing through a flat, forgettable town -- essential Texas.

Passing through a flat, forgettable town — essential Texas.

We made our final stop at the 92-mile mark, not because we particularly needed anything, but because we were sore and wanted to get off the bike for two minutes. And that’s about how long we stayed — just long enough to top off fluids and head right out. Surprisingly, the couple of minutes break provided a lot more “recovery” feel than I’d expected. When I got back on the bike, I didn’t hurt nearly as much as when we stopped.

I definitely started to feel a bit off, though, around this point. While I wasn’t queasy and didn’t feel sick, my appetite had reduced to near zero. Normally I can’t wait to chow down on a rice cake, but I didn’t feel like eating at all. It was kinda strange; I just didn’t want to eat. I forced myself to eat half of a rice cake, which sat well in my stomach, and I continued drinking.

As we approached the end, orange and blue arrows (for shorter routes) began to join the white arrows with “100″ under them that we’d been following all day, indicating that we were close enough to be covering the 44 and 25-mile loop routes. About four miles out from the finish we saw our first arrow with “finish” written under it instead of a distance.

Teri, aero and almost done.

Teri, aero and almost done.

After this I commented to Teri that we'd crossed an important threshold: mileage higher than temperature.

After this I commented to Teri that we’d crossed an important threshold: mileage higher than temperature.

Soon we climbed the same hill we’d ridden outbound and caught sight of the resort’s tower. From the top of this hill, we could also see the lake beyond the resort — the first and only time we saw lake Texoma all day. As we rode down into the finish, I saw Audra there waiting for me, having completed her 44-mile ride, taken a nap in the air-conditioned hotel, and followed me via my phone’s tracking system to be there to take a finish pic.

My best finish pose.

My best finish pose.

Post Race

Post-century happy, Chuck-style.

Post-century happy, Chuck-style.

Post-century happy, Teri-style.

Post-century happy, Teri-style.

Ok, maybe I need a nap.

Okay, maybe I need a nap.

Teri’s gearing up for her second Ironman in a few months and wanted to run briefly after the ride. I’d hoped to join her, mainly because I wanted to know what it’d feel like to run after such a long ride. I remember the first time I ever did a “brick” (running shortly after riding); my legs felt heavy, like they were made of wood. After a ~20 mile ride on the first brick, I tried to run 5k, and I ended up cramping pretty badly about a mile in.

I say we “wanted” to run, which is inaccurate. Neither of us wanted to run at all. But for different reasons, we wanted the experience. So we ran.

Since that first time, I’ve done many bricks. In fact, my workout schedule almost always calls for a brick on Tuesdays, usually consisting of between an hour and an hour and a half on the bike followed by a 20-minute run. I look forward to it, because it burns a ton of calories, and it’s kinda fun. This post-century run, though, felt different. My legs didn’t feel stiff or wooden like they did on that first brick, but they were heavily fatigued. We set off at around 9:00/mi, which quickly became 11:00/mi, and about a half-mile in I could feel the beginnings of cramps coming on. Clearly I’m a long way from running cleanly off a century on the bike, but I’m still glad for the experience.

On our short “loop” run, we encountered what I think is the single steepest hill I’ve ever seen in Texas. After the fact, I looked at the Garmin, and the hill rose ~85 feet in a tenth of a mile. When we saw it, we complained about heading up it, but then saw a road to go around it just as we started up the hill. Teri offered to go around, but since I’d already complained, I felt compelled to climb the thing, and we did. I ran up the first maybe quarter of the way, then walked the rest. Slowly. But hey, I made it up the damn hill.

The elevation profile of our one-mile run.

The elevation profile of our one-mile run.

Around the next corner we re-joined the bike course back to the finish line, and along the way we passed a number of riders loading their cars and so on, each time getting a funny look. One guy in a golf cart offered us a ride. In total, we ran a little over a mile.

Back at the car, I grabbed some street clothes and headed to the nice clean bathroom in the hotel lobby to change — soon to enjoy dry underwear for, say, about two minutes before I sweated through them again. Still, it was a nice improvement. I walked out of the hotel and found Audra and Mark chatting under a tent, and I joined them. While we shot the bull, a couple stopped by to tell us about the two “crazy people” they saw running on course. They weren’t kidding. It was a funny moment. Teri joined us a little later.

Teri: "You know we could spend this time heading to Starbucks."

Teri: “You know we could spend this time heading to Starbucks.”

Mark strikes a pose right before we head for frozen coffee and home.

Mark strikes a pose right before we head for frozen coffee and home.

On the way home, we stopped for some frozen coffee drinks, which really hit the spot, both cooling us down, and (at least in my case) helping to wake us up. Thankfully Audra ran in with everyone and picked me out a drink, since I’d crashed out in the comfy car seat.

Race Review

According to the 910 on my wrist, I completed 100.77 miles in 6:53:32 for an average of 14.6 mph, pretty much dead-on our predicted ride time. I stopped at seven rest stops for a grand total of ~40 minutes, yielding an average rest stop time of just under six minutes — and an average “moving” speed of 16.1 mph. My cadence averaged 80 rpm, which isn’t bad, either.

I followed my nutrition plan almost perfectly, taking in approximately 1,450 calories (5-1/2 rice cakes + Skratch) over seven hours, or just over 200 calories an hour. While this plan should work well for HHH in two weeks, I’ll likely need something else for long-course triathlon. Losing my appetite under 10 miles from the finish wasn’t a problem, and will be even less of a problem on the flatter HHH course. But if I needed to run any distance afterward, it could be a major problem. I wonder if I should have been drinking more. The loss of appetite was accompanied by a slight headache around mile 98, and I only needed to use the restroom once (at our first stop) during the ride. I think for future rides (especially HHH), I’ll either set a shorter drink alarm, or I’ll plan to drink more at each alarm.

I also learned a bit about saddle sores. While I by no means have a full on case of ‘em, I definitely felt some irritation after last week’s 97-mile ride and this century. I’ll probably try out some chamois cream next time, too.

Overall, I’m very happy with this outcome. My finish time for this 100-mile ride was just 30 minutes longer than my 100k finish time at HHH in 2012, and while I definitely felt fatigued, I felt much better after this ride than the 100k last year.

Afterward

On the way home, Mark was kind enough to share the remainder of a bag of truly awesome vegan oatmeal-raisin cookies his wife made for him, and that drew me out of my no-appetite period. (I’d also consumed three bottles of water, which might’ve had something to do with it. Still, those cookies were great.) The cool drinks felt wonderful.

Relaxing, Audra with coffee and me hogging the cookies.

Relaxing, Audra with coffee and me hogging the cookies.

Even though I was far more careful with sunscreen than I’ve been at HHH in the past, I ended up with a dark tan line.

I'm a real cyclist now, right?

I’m a real cyclist now, right?

When dropping us off at home, everyone was very kind, with both Teri and Mark offering congrats on the first century. We took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.

Me, Teri, and Audra.

Me, Teri, and Audra.

Teri, me, and Mark.

Teri, me, and Mark.

The whole crew.

The whole crew.

Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend my first century — a truly awesome day.

Next up: one more week of hard full-schedule training followed by a taper week into HHH, where I’ll ride my second century, hopefully again with my friend Kerry. I’m really looking forward to the whole experience.