My Attempt to Ride 500km


On December 25, 2021, at 11:59 p.m., I set out with a group of friends in an attempt to complete the Rapha Festive 500 in a single ride. The chosen route started in Diamond Bar, California, heading southeast towards Hemet, up Highway 74 to Mountain Center, and then a long descent into Palm Desert. We would then make our way across the desert to the Salton Sea, where we would turn around and then head back on a north-westerly route back to Diamond Bar. (See route below.) Twenty-two cyclists had initially expressed interest in joining the ride, but by the time the event started, twelve backed out and the remaining ten met up at the ride start in Diamond Bar, California.

The Ride

It was cold and raining pretty heavy at the start, and the rain continued through most of the night/early morning, until around 4:30 a.m. or so. Although the weather was bad, I was happy that the kit I had decided on was keeping me warm and dry, for the most part. My only complaint was that my winter overshoes did not do a great job of keeping my feet dry. My feet were soaked about 2 hours into the ride. (I did not have waterproof socks on, though I am not sure if that would have made much difference. My gloves were soaked as well, but underneath my gloves, I had on a pair of latex gloves which kept my hands dry.

The clouds started to clear as we climbed Highway 74 to Mountain Center. The temperature was around 40ºF or so, with a low of 30ºF in Mountain Center. Although cold, I was fairly comfortable as long as I kept moving. Again, my only complaint was that my feet were wet, and they started to feel a little cold by the end of the climb, though not unbearably so.

The group had planned to stop for breakfast and coffee at the top of the climb, but there was some confusion as to which cafe we were to meet at. Unfortunately, the group had split up on the climb. I was in the lead group and we (my) recollection was that we would meet up at the Mountain Center Cafe, so we stopped there. However, others believed that we would meet at Paradise Cafe, which was 13 miles further on Highway 74, and that group went there. This caused a substantial delay, as we sorted out where everybody was and regrouped.

In the meantime, I had a substantial breakfast–a Denver omelet with hash browns, rye toast, and two cups of coffee. (In retrospect, I should have had something a bit lighter–maybe just hash browns and toast; my gut was somewhat uncomfortable for about an hour after eating this large meal.)

Standing around outside of the Paradise Valley Cafe was unbearable, however, as I waited for the others to assemble. The wind was blowing cold and I was shivering. I needed to get moving, down the mountain to warm(er) Palm Desert below.

The descent down Pines to Palms Highway was fantastic–stunning views of the desert below. There was a bit of a headwind hitting me throughout the descent, and the sun provided a welcome relief from the shivering cold that I had experienced.

Prior to descending Pines to Palms Highway, I opted to remove my winter overshoes, but I did not change my socks. I figured that with the overshoes removed, my shoes and socks would start to dry out on the descent. I was not wrong: At Palm Desert, I observed that my socks and shoes had dried to a comfortable level.

After a brief stop in Palm Desert, we continued on to the Salton Sea. This part of the ride was flat and we made a good pace. I put in a few strong pulls in this area, and at about 230km into the ride, I felt in good shape. I had been eating gels, chews, and waffles about every 20 minutes or so since we started, and had been keeping well hydrated. Unfortunately, somewhere between Palm Desert and the Salton Sea, I started to feel some pain in my knees and achilles tendon. As the kilometers ticked by, I gradually began to accept that I would, most likely, not be able to finish the ride. Aside from the pain I was starting to feel, it was clear that the ride would not be completed within 24 hours (the sun would be setting soon, and we were only about half way through the route), and the lack of sleep was starting to get to me.

We made it to Salton Sea at dusk, and there wasn’t really much to look at there. We took a few moments to regroup and then headed back toward Palm Desert in the dark. In La Quinta, we had a bite to eat and I departed from the group, opting to stay at a hotel until my wife could pick me up the next morning. (Riding my bike back to the start did not seem to be a reasonable option, as I did not want to exacerbate the pain/injury to my knees and achilles tendon.) So, I rode only 313km out of the total 510km route.

Here’s my ride on Strava:

Training Interrupted

I learned about this ride and decided to participate somewhat at the last minute. I started thinking about it in early December, and did not commit to the ride until about two weeks prior to the event. At the time, I was in the middle of my second block of foundation training for the upcoming season. However, since about mid-November, I have been having difficulty staying on plan due to a combination of work commitments and also feeling a little unmotivated during the holiday season.

I learned about this ride, got excited about it, and allowed it to take priority over the training that I had planned to do. In my excitement, I started to ramp up my ride volume a lot quicker than I had planned, so that I would (I thought) be “ready” to tackle a ride of this length. I rode three back-to-back imperial centuries (160km, 220km, and 170km) in the weeks preceding this ride. Generally speaking, I finished each of these rides feeling strong, with plenty of “gas” left in the tank. So what went wrong?

In a nutshell, I did not do a gradual “ramp up” of my weekend ride volume. In this ride, I completed 313km in a little over 12 hours of moving time. Although I had successfully done 8-10 hour rides in the preceding weekends, but previously, I was doing 5-6 hour rides only. In addition, I had substantially increased the amount of climbing that I had been doing on each ride. I believed that, as a result, my body was not sufficiently adapted to the number of hours in the saddle that this ride required. I later learned that I had some muscular imbalances that likely caused or contributed to my injuries.

Hydration and Nutrition

For this ride, I used a combination of Gu Roctane gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Honey Stinger Performance Chews, and Clif Bars. I like the Gu Roctane gels because they include a combination of fructose and glucose (maltodextrin) and also include a healthy dose of electrolytes and amino acids. The Honey Stinger performance chews have a healthy dose of caffein, which was helpful on this long ride; whereas the waffles taste great and have a nice texture that is enjoyable to eat.

For hydration, I went exclusively with GU hydration tabs, which I have used on pretty much every ride.

My nutrition strategy was to eat about 60g of carbohydrates per hour, by consuming three units of the above foods per hour. The waffles are a bit harder to consume while riding, so I typically had one of those whenever we stopped. About every 50 miles or so, I had a Clif bar.

I also tried to drink one bottle (600ml) of electrolyte solution every hour or so.

Bike, Bags, and Lights

I rode my Litespeed T1sl, and it was very comfortable throughout the ride.

For this distance, I opted to put some bags to carry some extra clothes, spare lights, backup power, and other essentials. I used the race series bags from Restrap. These bags are light and waterproof, and provided just enough space for all of my stuff. Most importantly, my stuff stayed dry, even after riding for several hours in heavy rain!

My headlight, a Lezyne 1600XXL super drive, proved to be perfect for this ride. Prior to the ride, I had set it up to use only two modes- Economy (250 lumens) and Enduro (600 lumens). The Economy mode proved to be sufficient to light most of the roads I encountered during the night. There were a few stretches of road that were completely dark, and in those situations, I toggled over to Enduro mode for a little extra light. The battery had no problem lasting through the night, and after the sun came up, I connected the 1600XXL to my backup power and put it in my frame bag to charge.

I also had a Lezyne Femto USB Drive on my handlebars, which I used primarily during the daytime in flash mode while the 1600XXL was charging.

In the rear, I had a Lezyne Zecto Drive MAX rear light attached to my saddle bag. I like the Zecto drive because it has a clip-on attachment which holds tightly to whatever it is clipped on to. I set the Zecto drive on economy mode (5 lumens), which is advertised to provide 24 hours of operation. This appears to be correct, as the light worked all day without needing a charge.

I also had a Lezyne KTV Pro light, set to a flashing mode, strapped to the seat stay to provide some additional visibility. This also lasted through the night.

I carried a few extra lights with me in the frame bag, just as a backup. Although I did not use the extra lights on this ride, I think I would have needed them if I had ridden the whole route.

Lessons Learned

I probably should have stuck to my training plan and not done this ride. Doing so, I would have avoided injury and would be in a better position to succeed in the events I have planned in 2022. On the other hand, this was a fun ride and a good experience. This is the first time that I have had to think about packing backup lights and backup power for a bike ride. This experience helped me get a better understanding of the challenges of a long ride and what I really need. I think I could have gotten by with less gear, even if I had continued the ride. It was a tough ride, but I would do it again.

This was also the first time that I have ridden for an extended period of time in the rain. Next time, I will have a much better idea about what works and what doesn’t work, and this will enable me to be more efficient with respect to kit and essentials for the ride.

Of course, I also learned (the hard way) the value of gradually ramping up the volume during training so as to avoid injury.

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