El Tour de Tucson is not just a bike tour. For Tucsonans, it is a rite of passage… or a major pain when you need to drive to your destination but can’t because of the thousands of cyclists closing the streets. Before I started cycling, I thought the latter. In fact in college, I even requested off the AM shift just to avoid the traffic and blocked streets.
When I did my first triathlon, I had only been riding for a week and a half. Riding a bike was more enjoyable than I had anticipated. I then decided if I was going to be in Tucson, I might as well venture out to see what the Tour de Tucson is all about. I’m glad I did.
With four months out until the tour, I felt that I could build up to the 106mi route. Before the sun was up, I was riding with a cycling group on Tuesday mornings. They were experienced cyclists and had done El Tour for several years. The group said I was progressing well enough to do the big 106mi. And so began my training! Here are my milestones of the 4,500 that led up to the tour:
25mi– July 4
From Flats to Clipless
This was my first ride and I felt great during and after it. I was on the bike path and was riding with flat pedals. I didn’t feel confident riding on the streets or clipless (pedals your shoes lock into). My biggest fear with riding clipless was not being able to unclip from my bike in time. A week after riding, I was ready to ride clipless and fortunately a cyclist in the group had an extra set and gave it to me. Riding without flat pedals was easier than I thought, and so was clipping out. He showed me how to properly ride and to safely clipout. I did well until I came to a stop and told him how easy it was… but of course as soon as I said that, I accidentally shifted my weight to the side I was clipped in and fell over in front of a Starbucks onto the Arizona asphalt. My hand and wrist were bruised for a week but that was the only time I got into an accident because of riding clipless.
50mi– August 14
Roads, Climbing, Distance– Oh My!
About two weeks in I was feeling pretty good with cycling and kept up with the casual 25mi ride on Tuesdays, in addition to my solo 30mi rides. I was only riding twice a week, sometimes three. It was my first time on the Sunday rides with the group and my first time on the road. The pace was faster than the casual rides on Tuesdays and there was also climbing, which I was new to. I was embarrassed because I couldn’t keep up with their speed and they had to keep waiting for me.
When I said I was going to go back since I couldn’t keep their pace, they instead uplifted me.
Tommy, the leader, told me, “It’s okay, we all had to start where you are at.”
That really resonated with me and I found it encouraging because I realized this was something I would only improve on with time in the saddle and patience. I was grateful for their patience to wait for me and help improve myself as a cyclist.
65mi– September 26
Leading the 16 Pack
This is the first ride I led the Sunday group ride because I could actually keep up! It was an exhilarating experience because there were 16 other cyclists. While I disliked the El Tour event before cycling, I did always admire seeing the large group of cyclists ride as one. Being there in that moment and leading the group for the first time and for part of the ride is a favorite memory for me.
45mi– September 30
Thankfully my crash was on the bike path and not the road. I was turning on the path thru a sand pile and my bike slipped and ended up on top of me immediately. With my body flat against the sand pile and the weight of my bike pressing down on me, I just kinda laid there for a minute processing what just happened. My legs were scratched up and had a lot of small cuts due to the sandburn, but fortunately nothing was broken. I attempted to pull myself up with a cut-up hand and quickly learned to wear gloves when riding. Turns out they aren’t just for fashion but for use. I bought a pair the same day.
80mi– October 9
She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
My first ride up the base of Mt. Lemmon. This was also the most I had done and climbed. It’s amazing how I dislike driving anywhere farther than 30min, but on my bike I am completely fine riding on it for hours. The view from the base of Mt. Lemmon is beautiful and I can’t wait to ride up to the top!
Attempted 95mi– October 23
Know Your Limits
I had been sick the same week of the ride and hadn’t been able to properly workout or eat my nutrients. Soup was basically all that I had. I was initially extremely disappointed in myself, but I am glad I decided to cut it off at 74mi because my body was overheating and I was slowly coasting. I knew I had to be ready for the first 106mi practice course ride next week, so I ended it early.
106mi– October 30
First Century Ride
After a full week of rest, I was ready! I made sure to enjoy Homecoming the previous day but also hydrated and fueled myself for the big 106mi. This was going to be 26mi more than what I had ever done, but I felt mentally and physically ready. It started out well and we did the entire route, where the cyclist veterans in the group pointed out tips as to what places I needed to pay attention to. When I reached 80mi, I had already passed the point of last week that I struggled with due to being sick. I smiled at this and continue to push and pull my pedals.
The last 10mi were basically a long, straight road with nothing interesting… this actually made it more challenging for me. When something has climbing or turns, it’s easier to ride because you’re focused but this straight part was so dull that I was beginning to notice how sore my body was. It kinda reminded me of my marathon when the last three miles were the hardest. 10mi is normally so easy and you would think it would be doable after making it to 96mi. After five miles, I consumed my last GU and pushed all the way to the end. I couldn’t believe I had completed my first century!!
106mi– November 20
El Tour de Tucson
Before the tour, I had completed 4,500mi of training since the summer The El Tour de Tucson has multiple routes and lengths that begin at different times, but the 106mi route began first. It was exciting to feel the energy of the other cyclists as we prepared for the tour. The countdown began; I clipped in one foot and began maneuvering myself through the cluster of cyclists at the starting line. I stayed with my group and en route we began! The first 10mi were challenging because we were immediately riding against strong winds. I gripped my handlebars tightly as I felt I could lose control if I wasn’t careful.
The rest of the route went well and we encountered cyclists from the other routes, since they all merged into one to finish at the same point. The wind continued to persist and push us the entire day, additionally it warmed up significantly. I approached points of the course I had trained over the past months, and smiled in delight as they came with greater ease than when I initially rode them. At one of the points, my best friend Shelby was there to cheer me on! I didn’t see her but she did get some pictures of me as I passed by with the thousands of other cyclists.
Once we came to the 10mi bit of death and dullness, I did my best to focus on what I planned on eating afterwards. My left knee was in pain from all of the pushing against the excessive wind, but I knew I was so close to the finish line. Fortunately along the way, Alex’s family and church members were my own pep section. They had this giant banner with my name on it and it brought a huge smile to my face to see them there supporting me! It helped propel me all the way to the finish line where Alex was waiting for me. My group and I celebrated the finish, and they congratulated me on my first El Tour de Tucson.
I was beyond happy to have achieved my goal of finishing the race!
I love cycling and honestly found the 106mi ride more enjoyable than a full marathon. I definitely will do the El Tour again, but the focus being for time! I definitely would not have been able to achieve my goal without the support of my cycling group (who I’ll write about later), nor my family and friends.