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Lessons from the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred

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Five Things I Learned from Biking the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred

Fig 1 Lineup to Start

Figure 1: Lineup to Start!

This past Saturday more than twelve thousand eager riders awaited the sound of the cannon to start the largest organized bicycling event in the country promptly at 7:05 a.m. in Wichita Falls, Texas. As a first time participant at the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred (HHH), I was excited to be part of something that involved the hopes and aspirations of so many who had prepared for this day.  As occurs with this sort of effort, and in particular, one that involves extreme endurance (Extreme is defined as consisting of two or more really challenging elements, in this case three:  heat, wind and distance), excitement would soon give way to fortitude, then shear grit if riders were going to finish.

The sneaky aspect of this ride is the tendency to set a fast pace in the first thirty miles because they are almost all downhill, it is still early and cool and there is little wind.  The thirty mile rest stop is a welcome pause and it is fully manned by nice volunteers including some who hold your bike while you visit and refresh.  Conditions flip around about five miles out of the 30 mile rest stop. At mile 35, you begin feeling the road tracking uphill as it continues to do so for 15 miles.

Fig 2 The 100 miles

Figure 2: The 100 Miles

By mile 50, after 15 annoying miles of climbing, quadriceps muscles began to talk back in a not so happy way.  At 64 miles, with the terrain still on the upslope and the heat at 100 degrees, commitment is challenged as riders enter the “Hell’s Gate” stop, which offers one last opportunity to cut the ride short, to 75 miles by cutting through Sheppard Air Force base.  Passing Hell’s Gate by the 12:30 p.m. cut off is a decision to continue to the finish line at 101.5 miles.

I arrived at Hell’s Gate just after 11 a.m. and made the turn to forge on.  Tired but still peddling strong, my bike carried me to the planned rest stop at mile 90.  Upon arriving there, I was sure it would be just a bit more discomfort and the end would be within sight.

It is amazing how slow the odometer on the bike increases its mile count in the last few miles. I became aware of parts of my body that I did not even know existed. For instance, my deep adductor (inner thigh) muscles, ached from the consistent level of exertion. At one point they attempted to seize up, but I was having none of that. I simply stood up, downshifted to a lower gear and pushed until they backed off.

After some seven hours and change, I made it. I was not only glad I did, but I came to appreciate the effort I took planning the event and the five things learned from the Hotter ‘N Hell. I feel these pertain to many long term endurance projects whether they be physical, intellectual or emotional. Or in the case of the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred, all three!  Here’s what I learned:

Learn everything you can about the effort required. To prepare, I spoke to as many folks who had done the HHH in prior years as I could. The official web site had some good pointers but I found it informative to research endurance events in general. These included nutritional guidance, how to pace and how to detect potential problems and importantly, knowing the

  1. 1.      Lesson ONE: Running the course in your mind prepares you for the real thing.

Get the right equipment. I saw plenty of folks show up on bikes that looked like they had spent a lot of time in the garage. By contrast, I put a lot of effort into testing my tires, wheels and gearing system on training rides before the HHH. My research encouraged me to carry extra parts, spare tires and plenty of nourishment so that I would not need to depend on organizers to provide them. On the other hand, everything you carry is more weight to push along the way.

  1. 2.      Lesson Two: Strike a balance between too little and too much equipment.

Train, train, train.  I learned from those points at which I realized my limits and at those moments when body parts began revolting that more training would have helped. It is one thing to ride 40 or 50 miles a couple of times a week in reasonable weather and another to be in the Texas desert with high winds coming at you.

  1. 3.      Lesson Three: Better training means better conditioning to ensure the goal is reached with fast and smooth effort.

Get with the best team. Rides like this one are about the individual, not a team so much. One person is going to have to propel themselves the entire way. But the right team can help in much the same way they do in business. Some ride ahead and break the wind for a while, others motivate and still others help when it gets rough.  Fortunately, this ride involves a lot of great people and I was adopted on a number of stretches by teams who encouraged me to “draft” off them. That added miles.

  1. 4.      Lesson: Never turn down a good deed or a helpful hand.

Do not let anything stop you until you finish.  Things could have been harder. There were numerous crashes, many caused by avoidable causes, like paying closer attention to the surrounding riders. But even without an accident there were others could have prevented a finish. The heat dehydrated me despite the large volume of water and G2 consumed. The muscle issues were real and on a training ride would have caused me to slow down or cut mileage short. The one thing I can point to that took me to the finish was simply a determination to get there, no matter what.

  1. 5.      Lesson: When you finish, you quickly forget the pain, so just go for it!

A recent study in Forbes looked at the financial success of endurance athletes when measured against comparably educated workers in the same industry who did not participate in endurance events.  The study found that the endurance athletes, marathon runners in this study, did significantly better financially.  Some would point to their fitness level and say that perhaps because their body was in great condition, their minds benefited and they performed better.

The study did acknowledge the healthful benefits certainly. But moreover, endurance athletes learn to come to grips with their limitations. They encounter them and are sometimes stopped by them. But over the long run, when they return time after time to train, they realize that limitations are only temporary. What limits one today is below what may limit one tomorrow.   With the right approach and adherence to lessons learned we can finish well in life’s personal and professional endurance race.

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