Three weeks after a very slow and very cold Warrenton 300 pre-ride, I decided to ride the Frederick 300. I wasn't sure if this was the best choice — with only two rides longer than my 11-mile commute leg all year, a 200 km permanent might make more sense. But I finished Warrenton, and the numbness in my left index finger had mostly gone away, so why not? I figured the worst thing that was likely to happen was being very slow over the early climbs and riding alone in the back all day.
It was about 45F at the start with a forecast high around 80, and then a forecast low Saturday night around 44. If I weren't so slow this year I would have just dressed for 45 and not brought anything else, but after almost freezing my hands off at the end of the Warrenton pre-ride when it got down into the low 20s, I wasn't taking any chances. I brought several items of just-in-case winter clothing: lobster claws, balaclava, rain jacket. I considered bringing a Camelbak, because of the forecast high temperature and gaps of up to 41 miles between stops, but decided that two Zefal Magnum bottles (advertised at 1L of capacity, but actually only holding 28 oz.; caveat emptor) were enough.
We got a good-sized group: about 40 riders. Impressive considering we have 3 300s this spring. With most of the climbing in the first third of the ride, my strategy was to avoid burning any extra energy at the start so I would have something left for the last 100 miles. With that in mind, I started near the back of the pack and did my best to stay there. The ride started at 5 a.m. and went through empty downtown Warrenton, with the big group running every red light after verifying the lack of cross traffic. I slipped off the back early on some small hills, and by mile 3 got permanently separated from the big group when they crossed US 15 a few seconds before me, then I had to wait for cross traffic to clear. Riding alone, with my poorly aimed helmet light making reading the cue sheet a challenge, I then made a navigational error and did 7/10 of a bonus mile. (I need to mount a small reading light on my handlebars before the next night ride.)
I was caught by another small group of riders I didn't know, and rode with them until one of them unexpectedly slammed on his brakes right after the metal plate bridge at mile 14. (Not sure why.) This nearly caused a crash, and I decided to drop off that group for safety. I got caught by Nick and about half a dozen others in Thurmont, and rode with them up the start of the Catoctin Mountain climb. I needed to pee, though, so the first time I saw a nice sheltered spot I let them go, and wouldn't see them again for the rest of the ride.
I rode up Catoctin Mountain a bit more, and saw one rider ahead climbing as slowly as me, but then I noticed my speedometer reading zero, and had to pull over to adjust the sensor. (The speedometer isn't critical, but the odometer helps a lot with navigation.) That meant I no longer had any riders to chase, which was probably good since I was trying to save energy. I went over that climb very slowly but with no drama, and plowed along slowly. On a small roller a bit later, with the sun in my eyes, I stopped to put on my sunglasses, and Bill S. passed me. Didn't know there was anyone behind me. He was going faster than I wanted to so I stuck to my plan and let him go.
At the mile 31 control I had a Vanilla Coke. It was still cold and I wasn't very hungry or thirsty, but I figured a bit of sugar and salt and water wouldn't hurt. Bill was there when I arrived, and Ray arrived while I was still there, but we all left separately. (Ray lost some time looking for a bathroom that was allegedly at a local community center, but which was locked up. Controls without public bathrooms suck. I'm going to change my policy of always buying something at controls to only always buying something at controls with bathrooms.)
I got a bit confused at the turn onto Jacks Mountain Road, but eventually ended up in the right place (which unfortunately was a few hundred feet up). Warmed up by the climb, I stopped at the Sunoco at mile 41 to remove a layer of clothing and turn off my lights. Ray caught me again there, but I left before him again. I had another minor navigational mishap at the mile 47 turn onto Railroad Lane; I saw the road but not a street sign for it, and the cue didn't say "unmarked," so I continued up Orrtanna Rd. for a couple more tenths looking for another right turn, didn't see one, then doubled back. No big deal, but another half-mile wasted. Yeah, I should probably just give in and use a GPS.
I reached Shippensburg Road at mile 57, the start of the Big Flat climb, and was looking for Mike who said he'd be there with water, but I was so slow he was already gone. Fortunately I had plenty of Gatorade left. I went over the first false summit (the one that's so early it's obviously not the top), then stopped to pee and take some Ibuprofin (knees not too bad, but lower back sore), then climbed forever to the second false summit (the one that really fools you the first time you do this climb), then took a brief rest stop in the shade, then finished the climb. It took forever but my legs and lungs were both fine since I did the climb at an easy pace. Only my lower back hurt, and it felt better as soon as the climbing stopped, so not a problem. But my left hand started cramping on the descent from (probably excessive) braking, so I took one more stop to rest it a bit, before continuing into Shippensburg.
One of the pre-riders had said the McDonalds was really slow, so I went to Sheetz instead. There was a long line for "real" food so I just grabbed some Gatorade and a Klondike bar, and ate a Clif Bar from my bag. The quick control probably got me back 10 minutes of the hour I lost going over Big Flat at 3 mph. But, hey, over a third of the ride done, along with the two worst climbs. Now I could use all the energy I had left to ride the rest of the way at decent speed and finish in a reasonable time.
The next 10 miles or so went okay, but then I got to Creek Road. I tend to like roads with "Creek" in their name because they're flat and have a nice view of water. This one was hilly and had no water anywhere, at least for the first several miles, before it finally flattened out and the creek appeared. I propose renaming the first section to "Crappy View Rollers Road."
I stopped at the Unimart at mile 92 and saw one other rider, but he wasn't with our group. I was hot so I had ice cream again, which was probably a mistake. Crossed the 100-mile mark around 1 p.m., for a very unimpressive 8-hour century, but at least most of the hills were past. I got confused by the cue sheet and signs at one of the unmarked Yellow Breeches Road turns, and spent a minute trying to get my cell phone GPS to help then realizing it didn't have a local map loaded or any signal to fetch one so all it could do was put a blue dot in the middle of Pennsylvania. So I picked a direction at random and it ended up working out.
The third-biggest climb of the ride was Whiskey Springs around mile 110. I didn't even remember it being hard on previous rides, just that I dropped my chain shifting down for it once, but I'm in much worse shape now so it was slow going. But I was happy to have the day's four worst climbs behind me. Now just an easy downhill coast to the finish. Well, not quite.
I got to Rocco's Pizza in East Berlin around 5 p.m. 12 hours to do 200k, so an 18-hour pace, but all the hard climbing was behind me so maybe I could pick it up. There were no other riders there, and none arrived while I was there. I got two slices of pizza (probably a mistake), a Pepsi, and a pitcher of water to refill my bottles. After a bit of lollygagging I headed back out, then got confused at the PA 194 turn (the cue sheet said Abbottstown St. but the street sign said something else) and wasted a couple of minutes making sure. There was a fair bit of traffic on 194 but it was pretty polite. I was trying to cover as much ground as possible before dark, but my legs weren't hearing it, and I was doing a lot of 12 mph plodding. Not bonked or dehydrated, just fatigued.
Around mile 150 it started getting a bit dark and a bit cold so I put on my reflective vest and turned on one taillight. Around mile 160 the sun actually went down so I turned on all my lights. The dark definitely complicated navigation and it seemed like it took forever to get to Thurmont at mile 167. I stopped at Roy Rogers and had a roast beef sandwich, because I didn't want to bonk at the end. But a Clif Bar from my bag would have worked just as well, so it was really just an excuse to get off the bike for a few minutes. I put on my long-sleeved jersey, but never bothered with my tights, let alone the other winter gear that sat in my bag all day. (It was still over 50.)
The last 20 miles of the ride were really slow and featured a lot of stopping to check street signs and make sure I was going the right way, plus a lot of angst about missing the turn onto Blacks Mill Road (labeled "Easy to Miss / sign askew"). My speed was down to around 10 mph by the time I reached Frederick, then I got a bit of a second wind and rode at maybe 13 mph for the last couple of miles. No injuries, bonk, or dehydration, just pure fatigue. I did have enough energy to drive home, but I almost missed the turn onto 15S that I've taken a hundred times, so I probably shouldn't have. My usual policy is to get a hotel room after 400s, but I'm going to change that to also get a room after 300s until my 300 times stop looking like 400 times.
I finished second-to-last out of 39 finishers, not counting the pre-riders. I know exactly how to fix this: lose 30 pounds (good for 2.5 mph using Grant Petersen's rule of thumb), keep bike commuting every day to strengthen my knees (which have not been a problem this year, like they were the last two years when I wasn't commuting), and keep riding brevets to build endurance. Unfortunately it's too late for this spring brevet season. But I hope to be back in the midpack by next year.