Way back in 2007 I was looking for my century to do. I came across a ride known as The Hotter N Hell 100 out of Wichita Falls, TX. I read up on it, and thought, someday. Not a first century, not with warnings about hitting “Hells Gate” before a cut-off or be re-routed to the finish. Not with warnings about a medical director that can close Hells Gate early if conditions deteriorate. Not with thoughts of 110-degree heat and 20 MPH winds. No, not a first. Well, here we are 10 years later and I signed up for the iconic HHH. In its 36th year, the HHH still comes with all the warnings. But, here we go!
Normally when I sign up for a race, I book a hotel room well in advance. Somehow it slipped my mind for this one. Bad idea. With 10,000 plus converging on Wichita Falls, rooms were scarce and expensive. Now, I am a free enterprise loving capitalist. But I also think there is a code of ethics that should prevent inn keepers from more than doubling their usual rates. Anyway, this meant I stayed at a Motel 6. Which should have been deep sixed. What a pit. That aside, I arrived on Friday to the ballyhooed consumer show. The only other cycling event I’ve been to with a good expo was the Palm Springs Century. This one is on a par with that. And yes, I spent a buck or two. Much needed new cycling shoes, and various small items that were needed. All at a pretty good value.
Upon returning to my room, I got my bike ready by putting the number on it, on my helmet, and laying out my kit for the morning. Off to Olive Garden for some dinner, as I do like pasta the night before.
I was tired, and got to bed early. The 430 am wake up came, and I felt pretty good. Knocked down a bagel and OJ, and headed over to the race start. Parked, air in tires, and ready to go.
They queued the century riders in these groups, Scorchers which were sub six hours. Four years ago, I may have given that a go, as I did log a 5:30 century that year. Right now, I was thinking closer to 7 based on my training, and carrying way too much girth. So, I went with the second group, the Keepers. At 6-730. Soon it was 7 AM It was dawn, under cloudy skies, 72 degrees and a dew point of a humid but not awful 67 degrees. The huge mass of riders came to attention as the star-spangled banner blasted from the speakers. As the singer was about to hit The land of the free……you couldn’t hear it, over the thundering roar of two fighter jets in a flyover courtesy of Sheppard AFB. Now that is how you start a big ride!
They sent the scorchers off, so we had a few minutes to wait, but soon enough, they moved the barriers and we rolled through the double ladder trucks supporting a giant American Flag. The stars and stripes looked great.
The roll out was predictably slow and nervous with that many riders. I heard around 12,000! It was around mile five that things started to settle in. Conditions were delightful. In an event known for extreme heat and carnage, I was actually cool at the start!
The HHH has aid stations about every 10 miles. I should not need to stop that often. In fact, when I did double centuries they typically had aid stations in 30-40-mile sections. If I were riding at that level still my plan would have been to hit 40 and 70 and that is it. But knowing I need to keep hydrated in the heat, even less heat, but still humid, I planned on stopping at 20-40-60-84. Fill bottles, grab food, go.
So, I skipped mile 10 aid, and rolled into mile 21. Feeling good, but was at the stop a bit longer than I would have liked due to the number of people. Off we go, and while the course was not as precarious as it was at the beginning, it was still crowded. That was well alleviated around mile 27 when the 100 milers split off from the metrics. I continued to feel good, keeping my RPE in zone 2, clipping along better than expected. At 2 hours, I had covered 33.7 miles putting me on a 6-hour pace. I hit the mile 42 aid station and ran into some Waco Tri clubbers and was invited to ride along. I jumped in, thinking a bit of shelter here and there would keep me fresh. Of course, I had to jump out and take a long pull right of way. They pulled into the mile 50 aid. Right at 3 hours, still on pace of a 6-hour day! Okay, but I wasn’t planning on stopping. Topped off the bottles, and we were back off. We stopped at 60 just short of Hell’s Gate. After re starting, the infamous Hell’s Gate was crossed. Plenty of time, and now we were about two miles from the Oklahoma boarder. Around mile 50 the wind had picked up and we were drilling right into it. Plus, after Hell’s Gate we were going uphill. Not a mountain climb, mind you, but the road tilted up, and the road was rough. We had been treated to some nice pavement early, but this was chip seal that they forgot to seal. Ugh. Once again, we pulled into the mile 70 aid. I was having an issue with my left big toe being hot. I’ve been having this on 60 mile plus rides, and have worked on my cleat position. It seemed better this day, but started to flare up again. Well, this aid had a couple of kiddie pools with ice water. Probably a big hit on 100-degree days, but nobody was using it when I got there. I stuck my whole left foot in it, and it provided much needed relief. When I turned around, I did not see the group. Not sure if they took off, or I just didn’t see them, but I was ready, and took off. I did not stop again, until the finish. Finally, about three or four miles after the mile 70 stop we turned out of the headwind. The downside to the headwind, hill, and rough road, is I was now on a 630 pace. That 20 miles kicked my ass. I still felt pretty good, the rough road section had been my dark spot of the day. At one point, I felt like I was ticking off a solid tempo, looked down and was doing 12.8 MPH. Groan.
Somewhere around this point, I took a minute to horse around and take a photo.
Anyway, the last 30 was mostly uneventful. Oh, I had the expected soreness, especially in the quads, and fatigue. But since the wind was opposite of most years, we had a tailwind or helping cross for 20 of the last 30 miles; and the road mostly improved. In short, I made up some of that time and crossed the finish at 6:21 of pedal time. Too much aid station time, but some of that is not controllable in a big event. Unless you are fast, and get to the aid stations well ahead of the crowds.
Overall, I really enjoyed the legendary HHH.
As medals go, this one is small, but I really like it. Shows the fighter jet, race logo, and is of good quality.
Bike: Specialized Roubaix Expert (2008)
50-34 chainring, 11-28 cassette.
Average speed 15.9 (Doh, tried to get it back to 16)
Approx. 180 ounces of fluid (water/Powerade/pickle juice)
Approx. 1,000 calories, bars, chews PBJs.