Air Force Cycling Challenge Crystal Ride: race report

I stumbled on this ride earlier in the week while looking for an organized ride to jump in on Sunday morning.  It started less than 2 miles from my house, and I remember watched some of it happen last year and it looked like a blast.  Not a race, but a huge ride that does a 12.5K crit loop, so you get some race-like pack riding experience without having to come in 435th (or worse).  I didn't know how I would feel after the 4 miler, so I didn't pre-register, figuring that I would wake up Sunday morning and decide if I wanted to go or not.

My alarm went off at 6am and I moaned and groaned about going, but eventually got up and out the door, my bike and jersey packed with 60ish miles of fuel.  The way the ride worked: you could do as many laps as you wanted, but you got a bronze medal for 2 (25K), a silver medal for 4 (50K) and a gold medal for 8 (100K).  Based on the price, I decided I was only going to do the ride if I was planning on doing 100K.  The other item of note?  The course was only open for 3.5 hours.  I did the kilometers to miles conversion in my head and roughly estimated that I should be in decent enough shape to get it done.  Welp (yes, I did just say welp, I'm one of THOSE people now, the unfollow button is above you to your left), I probably should have used a calculator on that one.  I haven't ridden much since my half-IM, and it's mostly been easy-paced fun miles.  Last week I only rode one time, so I figured my legs would be nice and fresh!  And laying in bed that morning, I decided that since I really wasn't tired from my 4 miler (walking will do that for you), getting out and riding would take care of it.

So I rolled up to Crystal City.  It was a crack house of cyclists.  All kinds of cyclists.
I found the registration table and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the registration fee was more than what was listed on the website.  I asked one of the volunteers about it and - I mean, I'm crabby at 6:45am too - she rudely informed me, "That's what it is.  Do you want to ride or not?"  Yikes.  So I wrote my check and signed my waiver and got my number.  (Side note: when I got home, I looked at the website and discovered that the registration fee was listed at two different prices in two different places, but somehow both - including the listed late fee for on-site registration - were less than what I paid on Sunday.  +1 for organization.)  I had trouble getting my number to stay put on my helmet because of how humid it was, and I had to pin a number on the front and back on my jersey.  
This kept me pretty busy until we got the "20 minutes to go" call from the joker with the bullhorn.  I slid into the corral, already kind of worried about how tightly the cyclists were packed and how many wheels I had to dodge to not wipe out while pedal/one foot walking my bike.
I saw some NCVC "friends" up near the front and tried to get close to them to say hi but unfortunately it was too crowded.  I figured I would (HAHAHA) just catch up with them after we started.  

So the bullhorn guy talks for a while and finally we start to roll.  The first mile or so was really packed, and since this was a ride, not a race, there were a lot of recreational/new riders who maybe didn't know to look around before jerking their wheel across the road.  Now I understood why I should have tried harder to get up close to the front.  The first group of cyclists were off and a mile ahead while I was still dodging a little kid on a pink bicycle.  It started to thin out after about a mile, but leaving Crystal City involved going over a stretch of really awful, cracked, poorly paved, pothole-ridden road.  Then we climbed a tiny hill and had a tight hairpin turn using only one side of the road, so another huge slowdown.  And every time something like this happened, I was thinking, "I have to do this eight times."

After the hairpin turn there was a great whooshing downhill on some nicely paved road, then another tiny climb to another hairpin turn.  I heard some people complaining that these tight turns weren't here last year, and I was worried the course would be full of them, but those were actually the only two (SIXTEEN times).  There was some nice down and flat and up and around, and then I noticed we were looking WAY up at the Air Force Memorial....and climbing the hill up to it.  It really wasn't a bad climb - about 120 feet over maybe 1/2 a mile - but it was steep enough that I jumped into my small ring and slowed down to about 10-12mph to avoid pedal-mashing my way up and trashing my knees right away, since we were going to make that climb EIGHT times.  

After the climb we turn around in the loop in front of the memorial (where there was a photographer, who I started making idiot faces at after the first loop - I mean - EIGHT TIMES!!!) and got to fly back down the hill, which was nice.  A tiny uphill, some looping around, and we were dumped back into Crystal City via the horrible deathtrap road we hit on the way out.  

The first two laps were really crowded, although I did manage to hook onto the back of some decent pace lines, but it was almost too crowded to stick with a group.  There were a lot of crashes in this loop, from the idiot guy who tried to jump a curb to pass a group and toppled over into the grass to a woman who was lying very still on the road - someone said she hit a bad pothole and went over her handlebars.  Scary stuff.  So the crowds plus the turns and bad roads and ups and downs made it tough to grab on and stay with a pace line for more than a few miles, but I was having a great time.  My legs were pretty fresh for the 90 minutes or so.  And then the sun was fully up and there was almost no shade on the course and as it got hotter things started to go downhill (snort. get it?) a bit.  

There was a bottle grab right before we looped around the block to the start/finish line, although for some reason, I wasn't able to grab a bottle because they kept being handed to people in Air Force jerseys instead.  Odd.  At the end of my fifth lap, I stopped there and walked over and got bottles out of the crate to refill my bottles instead of trying for another grab, because I couldn't afford to do another lap in the heat without fluid.  I refill both of my bottles and put another one in my jersey.  That was the only stop I made.  I had packed a few packages of chomps and shot bloks, plus some Gu, plus a granola bar, a banana and a PB&J.  I had two large water bottles, starting out with ice water in one, nuun in the other.  My kilometers to miles conversion obviously sucks, so I planned to eat roughly every lap and drink on the easy flats.  I ate a package of shot bloks on the first lap, the banana on the second lap (thanks to the guy that rode by and made an obscene gesture, I hope you saw the one I shared with you!), the granola bar on the third lap, Gu on the fourth lap, and it gets kind of fuzzy after that.  I know I ate another pack of shot bloks and most of a package of chomps, and I know that I decided I couldn't manipulate a PB&J out of my jersey pocket and into my tummy without stopping.  

I don't really remember loop splits, but I do remember that when I started my sixth loop it was a bit after 10am, and I was beat.  I knew I was going to have to crank hard to get through 25K in 50 minutes, and by then it was over 90º so I was going through water fast.  After the fourth lap, the packs thinned out a lot because by then most of the 25K recreational cyclists and the fast 50K cyclists were done.  I did the front half of the sixth lap completely alone, and when I caught up to another woman on the climb to the Air Force Memorial, I forced her to talk to me just to have something to do other than squint against the glare on the road.  She had started at the Air Force Memorial but was a lap behind, and we were both pretty wiped.  We rode and chatted until the next time we hit the memorial and she called it a day.  From there, I hunkered down and rode it in hard.
66.38 miles, 3:39.  (Yeah, I don't think 100K = 66.38 miles either).

I rode under the finish line and immediately stopped.  There were a bunch of volunteers standing there pointing at a barrel to show you where to put your timing chip (helpful, thanks), but bending over to undo something at your ankle actually feels really amazing after being in the saddle that long.  When I asked for water, they told me that they were out - someone said that they ran out while the 50K riders were finishing.  HUGE problem.  They were also out of food, gatorade, etc.  I asked someone where to pick up my medal, and he pointed to a long line which turned out to be the 25K and 50K line, and then someone sent me over to another huge line because they had to individually verify that everyone had done 100K on the computer before giving them a medal (is this really necessary?  I don't know.) and I was tired and cranky and dehydrated and just wanted to get out of the sun and sit down.
There was a woman working the LaraBar table that heard me discover there was no food or water, and she gave me a triple-fistful of granola bars (thanks, LaraBar, I loved you already but wow!), and Chipotle was letting people come in and fill up their water bottles.  So I sat and ate and drank for a few minutes and then slowed rolled on home.  When I got home I took the time to stretch and foam roll and do my PT exercises before I shoved a giant baked potato down my throat and took a nap, which was hopefully part of the reason why I really wasn't sore later in the day, just a bit zapped from being in the sun and riding hard.  

This was a pretty decent ride - it was obviously very different from the touring rides I've done, where you roll at your own pace and stop every 20 miles to eat bread and drink coke.  I'm not sure that I'll do it again next year unless I bring my own posse along and have someone (the poet?) staff our own bottle grab.  Oh, and have water and food at the finish.  Oh, and maybe repave the shitty roads in Crystal City where people kept wiping out.  Okay, maybe I won't do it again next year.  But I got a good hard ride into my legs so that was pretty sweet.

Have you ever had a frustrating experience at a race? 


  1. Wow. I'm kind of glad that you didn't give us any details until now. This was so much fun to read and I am totally impressed!

  2. Boo to no water, etc. at the end! And did that guy really do a ride like that on that crazy old-fashioned bike?

    You are tough getting out there and doing it!

  3. That kind of sounds like a suck fest on wheels, but your time is super impressive!! I think they were a little bit off on the 100k (isn't that 62 miles?) but you kicked some major booty!

  4. I'm surprised it is their second year and it is still not that well organized! Also, I would be terrified on those turns with the crowds. Maybe people shouldn't have their kids in these types of races.

  5. This sounds like a pretty poorly organized race! No food or water at the end for the people who rode longer!! I was thinking about riding this and am glad I didn't. At least you got lots of miles in :)

  6. +1 for organization/logistics is right. Damn.

    Also, I love reading your race reports. I probably shouldn't do so at work, because everyone can hear me laughing.

  7. I love reading your race reports! I'm glad you survived the heat and poor organization and lack of food/water and finished in such an impressive time. I guarantee that I would have wiped out in those types of crowded conditions. :) Also, my body gets tired just thinking about riding that far.

  8. Great job on the ride!
    Wow, what a nightmare to finish a race or ride like that and there's nothing left to drink or eat. I like Chipotle just a bit more now (if that's possible).

  9. This blog made me smile. I love your wit. I cannot believe they ranout of water. That is horrible! Congrats on getting it done!

  10. It's not been sold to me... Sounds like a big bag of shite, in fact!

  11. That ride sounds intense! And it totally sucks that you paid more than you even intended and didn't even get any water or food at the finish. Not well played on their part.

  12. Why is it with 100k rides there is always just a little something with the organisation that drives you mad?

    Way to get it done - and to have no pain/stiffness after!

  13. Wow, I am super impressed that you just jumped in that ride after the 4 miler and knocked out a good 66+ miles in the heat. You rock! That ride sounds a little nuts...especially with potholes and lots of crazy people, I would be a little scared!

  14. We watched the Pros (Men) round of this last year and I was totally floored. Out of all the things to marvel at, the fact that you're riding in DC summer heat for that many miles, and around that many other rides, is no joke! Congrats on the Finish victory :)

    Glad to hear the Larabar gal was helpful, too!


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