Mountains of Misery Challenge Century Recap

I went to sleep the night before this ride absolutely terrified. For the first time I truly felt like I was in over my head and had no idea what I was in for. I've never felt so unprepared or out of my league before a race. Technically this is a ride, not a race (although it is timed), and my friend Tracy (yes we have the same name and yes it's confusing) and I definitely treated it as the former and not the latter. We started with a group of 8 or 9 others and quickly got separated from them in the first mile. We were able to catch back up and ride in a group of 4 or 5 for a while, but Tracy and I eventually got separated from them too. Although we inadvertently joined a few different groups of people throughout the ride, Tracy and I stuck together the entire time (meaning he hung back for me, which I most definitely appreciated).

As for the ride itself...the beginning felt long. Before the ride started I adjusted my seat, and as soon as I started riding I realized the angle wasn't right at all, but I figured I would just deal with it. At 5 miles in my back and my IT bands in both legs were killing me, and at mile 9 I finally stopped to fix my seat. I instantly felt better, and for the duration of the ride I was never in even nearly as much pain as I was those first 9 miles. It's crazy how much of a difference even the smallest adjustment can make!

I remember getting to mile 15 and telling myself I had 89 miles to go, which is absurd because that was still so far. It was pretty foggy out in the morning, and to be honest, the scenery during this part of the course just wasn't doing anything for me. The first 24 miles are rolling hills but a gradual climb, with starting elevation of 1900ft and elevation of 2600ft at mile 24. Truthfully I wasn't feeling great - I was still so overwhelmed by the whole thing and so frustrated because I was trying to keep up with the group and was struggling to. I'm also just not that comfortable riding long distances, but I realized at that point that 104 miles (how long I was told the course was) is easily divisible by 26. From that point on I decided to treat this like a marathon, with every 4 miles I rode being the equivalent of 1 mile of a marathon. That really helped me put it into perspective, since I know what the miles of a marathon feel like and how to pace them.

At mile 24 we hit the first and longest descent, about 5 miles, all the way to the lowest elevation of the day at 1250 feet. That descent was super fast and super fun and the first time I actually started to enjoy myself. At mile 35 Tracy and I missed a turn, so we ended up riding about 2 miles extra (totally my fault, I'll admit).  We had rolling hills with a few steeper but short climbs over the next 30 miles. I knew there was a big climb coming at mile 58, but it still took me off guard. Tracy told me he'd heard it was 2 miles long, but we had also heard it was 3.5 miles we were really disappointed when we got 2 miles into it and still weren't to the top, and it ended up being about 3 miles long. It was pretty steep and really tough, and there was one steep curve it seriously took all the strength I had just to get up it without falling over (btw in case you were wondering how slow you can go on a bike without falling, it's 2.1mph). Fortunately there was an aid station at the very top, so we stopped there to regroup and get some refreshments (the best part about cycling is that eating during it is seriously encouraged - I had Coke at I think every aid station, and ate chips, pretzels, Poptarts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,  and gummy bears...definitely not something I could do during a running race!). I also took my jersey off (I had a tri top underneath) since it had gotten really warm - definitely (thankfully) wasn't the cool, overcast day that had been forecasted!

There was a pretty nice downhill after that, and from that point on it was more rolling hills until the last climb. The course definitely felt like changed after that point - instead of shorter, frequent hills, there were fewer hills but they were longer (I think the elevation chart from my Garmin below shows it pretty well). The scenery felt like it changed around then too - the course had been fairly scenic up until that point, but after that it got unbelievably beautiful. We rode through valleys that seriously looked like someone had put up a painted canvas right in front of me. It didn't even look real. I didn't even get any photos of the best ones, but trust me. And of course I loved seeing all the horses, cows, and sheep along the course! It took everything in me not to stop and pet every single one of them.

After that mile 60 climb I was feeling pretty worn out and really not sure if I was going to have enough energy left to get to the mountain at the end, let alone to climb it. I don't know what happened though, somehow around mile 75 I got a second wind and felt surprisingly good from then until the end! I've done a 110-mile ride, a 100-mile ride, a 90-miler, one or two 80-milers, and one or two 70-milers, and despite the tough course I really think that was the best I'd ever felt, mentally, at the 70-80 mile point, which really shocked me. The mental component was the thing I was most worried about, so that was reassuring! 

The course is a big 80-mile loop that takes you from the start and heads north then comes back to where the start is, then goes south to head toward and up the mountain that's at the end. The last 4 miles are an an almost 2000ft climb, with the last 2 miles at a 12%-16% grade. There was what I thought was some kind of serious climbing in the 10 miles or so just getting up to that point, and I started to get really worried. I was tired, and I had been dreading that last climb all day. When we were about a mile out from the mountain I felt really panicky and like I might throw up, I was that nervous about it. There were no mile markers out on the course except that very last climb, so when I saw the 4 miles to go marker, I knew the climb has officially started. 

The first mile wasn't as bad as I was expecting, then the second one got a little harder but not too much worse than what we had already done, but the last two were pretty serious. Tracy and I pulled off on a side road just past the 2 miles to go marker, as did several other people we'd been playing back and forth with all day. It had just started to rain and as we stood there it started to rain pretty hard. It was weird to know that we were so close but still so far - only 2 miles to go but it would probably take 30 minutes to get to the top (I averaged 4.6mph those last 4 miles - for reference, on flat land I ride 18-19mph!). We agreed to get through another half mile before stopping again, and fortunately for us, the last aid station was at the end of that half mile. We stopped there, had more food, and luckily the rain died down a little bit. We got back on our bikes, went until we passed the 1 mile to go marker, then stopped again. We saw several people walking their bikes up the hill, but we had both agreed that we would rather ride up the whole way than walk any of it, even if it meant taking breaks (and even if we probably could have walked up faster than we were riding...3-4mph is 15-20 min/mi!). We agreed that we'd ride another half mile, but when we got that far there was no good place to turn off and stop, and neither of us said anything about it anyway. 

To be honest, I felt pretty great at that point - I mean as great as I could have, I guess. I knew I was so close to the end and if I just kept pedaling, even super slowly, for like 10 more minutes, I'd be done. I think I was also so relieved that the end wasn't as bad as I was expecting! Yes, it was super hard, but it wasn't that much steeper than what I've ridden before, and I think I'd pictured it as being essentially vertical in my head, so it wasn't quite what I was expecting. With about a quarter mile to go we could see the cones separating the vehicle traffic from the race traffic. My back was killing me but I was prepared to just push through it and get to the finish, but Tracy wanted stopped one more time to regroup. After we got going again, it couldn't have been more than a minute or two until we started seeing spectators cheering and then the finish line just beyond where they were standing. I could see Ben up ahead and I was so happy to see him and to be done!

Official finish time: 8:49:00
(Moving time according to Garmin: 7:28:24 - I wasn't kidding about all the snack breaks
8,419 feet of elevation gain)

This ride wasn't about time - just finishing it was huge for me. I tried to compare it to finishing a marathon, but I think running and cycling will just always be different for me - running is something I never believed I could physically do, even if I wanted to, and cycling is something that doesn't seem that hard physically, but is ridiculously hard for me mentally. Running a marathon is absolutely mental too, but it doesn't go on for 7 or 8 hours like a long bike ride can, and it's tough for me to do anything that long. It wasn't that long ago that spending 2 hours in the saddle was a serious challenge for me. When I signed up for my first half Ironman in June 2015, I was super confident about the swim and the bike but beyond worried about having to bike 56 miles. I had never ridden more than 35 and just couldn't imagine spending 3+ hours riding. I completed my first century a year ago, on mostly flat land, and that was a challenge. Mountains of Misery was actually my second longest ride ever and, given the distance and terrain, my most challenging by far. It pushed me completely outside my comfort zone but proved to me, once again, that my limits are not static, that I can push them and push them and push them even when I am almost sure they've been pushed as far as they can go. I keep having this mental image, especially on long rides, of myself as a rubber band, constantly expanding, stretching, and contracting, but never completely going back to where I started. As a civil engineer I have a little bit of background in materials science, and I always come back to this idea of elastic deformation vs. plastic deformation - the elastic region is the space where a material can be stretched but will spring back to its original form; the plastic region is the space where a material can be further stretched, but it will experience a permanent change and can never go back to its original form. That's where I live. In the permanent region. At the top of Mountain Lake.


  1. Gah, I totally feel you in the first paragraph. I've had so many moments like that this year and holy cow it's so overwhelming. Great job finishing!

  2. This is an AWESOME post. Fabulous writing!

    Congrats on making it through this ride! I seriously can't even imagine. I totally understand what you mean when you're talking about the mental challenge of endurance sports, especially long distance ones. The hardest part about marathons for me, at least at the beginning of a marathon (or even a super long run) is staring down just how much more I have to do. I really don't start to feel like it's a doable task until I'm at least halfway there, or ideally, have less than 10 miles to go, which sucks with marathons in particular because I know the physical hurt is going to set in after that haha. I can't even FATHOM how much more that must be compounded when you have a full workday of exercise in front of you--and a work day that ends with four miles of the most insane climb I've ever seen! Your Garmin chart looks like your Garmin just freaked out at the end! I can't believe you had to bike that! Hats off to you on a job well done :)

  3. I literally felt teary reading about how you guys rode your bikes up at the end even when other people were walking. Seriously, what a huge accomplishment!