Once again, the company I work for paid for our entry fees for this race. It's a great perk to work at a company that promotes healthy living and encourages participation in area events, doles out cash bonuses for staying fit, and has one of the best fitness centers I have ever seen. It's a perfect fit for my active lifestyle and one of the reasons I initially took the plunge into endurance sports. Without the free entry fee into the OKC Memorial race, I am not sure I would have taken the leap when I did. Thank you Chesapeake Energy!
A group of friends from work, including my Chicago marathon partner, went down to Wichita Falls on Friday. It is a quick 2 to 2.5 hour drive so it was just far enough away that we needed a hotel room. Thankfully a member of our group booked a room last year about a week or two after the event so we had one of the coveted rooms in Wichita Falls proper. It is tough to get a room in a city of 100,000 when you have 13,000+ cyclists invading a city at the same time. We arrived in Wichita Falls about 4:00 pm which gave us a chance to beat the crowds and hit up the expo to pick up our bib, race packet, and shop around for a bit. The expo was well stocked and I somehow managed to escape without spending a dime. Shocker! There were several "almost" purchases but the truth is I don't really need any bike stuff at the moment. Plus, I have to pay for 2 big trips in the next 2 months. Every penny is going to be needed!
After the expo we headed over to the pasta dinner to grab some delicious carbs. I don't tend to eat at race dinners, but this was convenient and relatively cheap so we went ahead and took the plunge. The meat wasn't anything to write home about, but it was decent and helped feed my never-ending appetite. After dinner, we went outside to catch some of the crit races. It's awesome to watch guys and gals flying around corners, riding so close together, and constantly planning their next move. I can't imagine sustaining that intensity for such a prolonged amount of time. They are cycling machines.
Saturday morning came bright and early, which is nothing new for the summer of 2010. My body has finally gotten used to waking up before 5 AM and I was refreshed, ready, and excited to be at an event again. I haven't participated in a sanctioned event since CapTex Tri so it was great to be back on the clock. Everything the past 2 months has pretty much just been me and my own thoughts. I love training alone, but the events are great. Katie, my Chicago partner, and I decided to ride this one together and we found our spot among the masses of 13,000+ riders. It was their biggest field yet, and I can only imagine the event will continue to grow as cycling becomes more and more popular. The weather to start was absolutely amazing. It was actually kind of cool starting out which was a welcome sign that fall is indeed just around the corner.
Imagine 13,000 riders trying to go in the same direction on 2 lanes of a highway. The mess wasn't as bad as I imagined or had been told by previous participants, but there was definitely no room to really maneuver or set your own pace for the first 15-20 miles. Dropped water bottles and reflectors on the surface of the highway were always obstacles of concern in a mass of that many people so there was a lot of shouting and pointing early on as people tried to help avoid a massive pile-up. You also had no real way to pass people if you got stuck behind a slower rider so you had to put on your patient pants and just enjoy the company. After the first 20 miles or so the races started to break up as the 50 mile group peeled off on their own route and then my 100K companions and I parted ways with the 100 mile crew.
For the most part, our ride was rather uneventful. We went out in the country-side to the north, east, and west of downtown Wichita Falls on a bunch of highway and farm roads. The roads were in pretty decent shape, but many were the chip and pepper type surface that just vibrates you to death. There was plenty of open road once the races split up and Katie and I had a chance to kind of settle into our own groove. The terrain was a little hillier than I expected, but it wasn't anything too challenging and provided a great way to break up the monotony. It was also entertaining to see the amount of people pulled off to the side of the road using the bathroom out in front of all the world to see. I guess it's better than waiting in a line at one of the port-a-potties. Flats also seemed to be a common theme, probably due to the nature of the road surface. The rest stops were top notch and well stocked with water, powerade, oranges, bananas, pickles, first aid, and all kinds of other treats.
Overall I was very impressed with this event. The route was great minus the stretch on the service road of I-44. It was incredibly boring and directly into the wind so that stretch kind of sucked. The best part of the course was the stretch through the Air Force base. Only the 25, 50, and 100K folks get to make that trek through the grounds and get the honor of being cheered on by cadets lining the streets. The support on the course at the rest stops was amazing. Crowd support was pretty thin, but you don't really need it when you are riding with that many other cyclists. I will definitely be making a return trip in the future and will more than likely do the 100 miles next year as a training ride for my fall Ironman. I had a great time and am glad to continue to push up the mileage ladder. My first year of cycling has been a success. It's now time to retire the bike for a week or two as I let my knee rest and focus on running.