This weekend, I made my way up to the Centurion at Blue Mountain and had one of the most challenging and breathtaking (in more ways than one) rides I’ve ever done.
Part of my pre-event routine involves worrying excessively and compulsively checking out how previous years’ participants have done. This past weekend, with my 100 mile ride on the horizon, I got curious about where I might end up amongst the people registered. Even though every year is different—courses change, wind and weather affects how quickly cyclists can make it through 100 miles, and there are undoubtedly different registrants each time around—it still helps me to go into an event with a bit of the lay of the land.
When I looked up the past couple years’ results, I loved seeing my friends names. I secretly hoped I could go faster than them. I noticed, in the C100 (the 100 mile or 173km to be exact option), that there were way more men than women. Props to me for signing up. I figured, naively, that there would be more women this year—women’s cycling is on the rise, right?!
I was wrong!
There were 35 women in yesterday’s ride mixed in amongst 378 men. So with more than 10x the guys, the moment I had when the people handing out the registrations seemed surprised that I was doing the 100 suddenly made sense: I might have been the only girl they’d seen in the longest option, handing out registrations from M to Q all day.
So where were all the girls?
…they certainly weren’t with me! I rode along with one woman for a while, and we ended up finishing within a minute of each other. When I looked at the results, I saw some other ladies’ names in the same ballpark as me. And I saw that I was the last of the women to finish, which might have been upsetting if I wasn’t so damn proud of myself for doing the ride despite being alone. Cycling with other people certainly makes the time go by faster and makes the prospect of riding 173km a lot more manageable—drafting, a pep talk here and there, someone to keep up with. But it turns out that the 6:47 minutes of riding time flew by, and the course was beautiful. The hills were challenging, but not scary. The descents were fast and fun—I saw >70km/h on my Garmin at one point—and the last one was absolutely gorgeous. I did meet a couple of nice people who I rode with for a little bit at a time, but doing this on my own made me realize how tough I am. If I can keep going for 6 and a half hours on a bike, what else can I do?
I would say that the Centurion was one of the hardest things I’ve done—mentally and physically. But while I had a moment on Saturday where I wondered what the heck I was getting myself into and thought that maybe I was crazy, I remembered all the time I spent on my bike this summer and told myself that these 100 miles were no different than any of the others. When I saw my tan lines in the shower on Saturday night and thought about all the Friday nights I went to bed early so I could dedicate my Saturday mornings (and afternoons, to be honest) to biking to God knows where, I knew that I just had an opportunity to put all that hard work and dedication to use.
Turns out last of the women still made me 2nd in my Age Category. I think maybe only the women who are kind of hardcore would sign up for C100, but I think there’s also other things going on. I couldn’t find the info on it, but I’ve seen in the past that Centurion events offer a Women’s Ride. Sam blogged about it earlier this year, and I think the point she made is spot on: why is it 25km? The race was advertised as a fundraiser for breast cancer, which makes sense from a marketing perspective. Most races now have a charity element. I’d suggest checking out Pink Ribbons (or this chapter, specifically) for a critical consideration of these ever so popular cause-based races. While there are plenty of other issues on that front, from my perspective—thinking that it would be great if more women could feel the way I felt after accomplishing that physical feat—I don’t think women’s only events are the solution, especially if they reinforce that women can’t go as far or be as strong as men. Maybe we won’t cover the 173km in 4:39 like the winning man did yesterday, but a lady did it in 5:02. 25km offers a challenge to some, I’m sure, but why not call it a beginners’ event, or just a charity one? There are plenty of men who would be challenged right alongside women. And for the rest of the girls with bikes, there wouldn’t be this unspoken idea that we don’t belong in that big long race.
Like I said, it was a tough day! The fact that I’m not upset that I brought up the rear of the ladies is a testament to just how proud of myself I am for doing it. When I think about all those pedal strokes, all the hills, and all the Gatorade I took in, I am amazed at my body’s ability to get the job done. I think about how much hard work went into this and how much I’ve had to take care of myself to get to this point—especially coming from where I was so unhealthy and so tired all the time with my eating disorder—and I know there’s something to be said for finishing in the back of the pack, but with a smile on my face.