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My Seagull Century Experience

I didn’t know what to expect on my first Seagull Century. I’ve done a century—a 100-mile ride—this year, and about a half-dozen metric centuries—62 miles—along with a lot of regular riding, so I was confident that I had the fitness to get it done. And I completed it. It was hard, but for a completely unexpected reason. Along the way, I learned some important lessons about who I am. That in itself made it a successful ride.

First, a bit of background. The Seagull Century is an extremely popular cycling event that starts and ends at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In 2021 it was held on Oct. 9. The ride was cancelled last year, in the same way all society was, by the pandemic. So this year there was a lot of anticipation.

Typically about 7,000 people do the event, but registration was limited to 4,000 this time. In fact, I couldn’t get tickets initially—I had to buy them from somebody who was selling them via a Facebook site.

I was riding with two buddies, and got in the day before, wanting to get plenty of rest for the Seagull. I’m a newbie event cyclist, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew one thing—I was looking forward to riding on flat ground. The route had about 1,700 feet of climbing, so an average of 17 feet per mile. Are you kidding me? Where I normally ride, I can expect closer to 100 feet of climbing per mile. So I wasn’t worried about the elevation destroying my legs or lungs.

Setting out on the Seagull Century, from L to R: Dave, me, Mike

I was worried, however, about wind and rain. The Seagull is famous for windy conditions, seeing as how it’s next to the Atlantic Ocean. And rain loomed over the forecast. So I tucked a lightweight rain shell in my saddle pack.

The Big Sleep—Not

So I felt prepared for anything. Anything, that is, except for what happened. That night, for a combination of factors, I got almost no sleep at all. Like, maybe an hour, maybe not. When our phones alerted us at 4:30 that it was time to wake up, I didn’t need it. I’d been up almost the whole night.

I was like a zombie in the room, as Dave and Mike got ready for the ride. I didn’t think I could do it. Scratch that—I was sure I couldn’t do it. Riding 100 miles in wind and rain on an hour’s sleep? Forget it. Not gonna happen, I told myself. Then I told myself again.

And again.

Just as I’d decided to pack it in and head home, Dave came to the rescue. He’s an experienced triathlete and has competed in such high-level events as the Boston Marathon. He knows about this stuff.

“Just get on your bike and start riding,” was his advice. “Once you get out there and the adrenaline starts flowing, you’ll be fine.” If he wasn’t such a nice guy, I would’ve slugged him for trying to convince me to do this thing. He said he often gets lousy sleep the night before a big event—nerves before the race and all that—and he got through them.

Once I was done hating him, I decided to give it a go. We got breakfast (two cups of oatmeal from McDonald’s, along with (of course) coffee), drove to the college, and readied for the start.

Sunrise at the Seagull. This is why we ride.

Steady as She Goes

As soon as I got out on my bike, I started feeling better. It was a few minutes before the official start time of 7 a.m. that we rolled through the starting line (Seagull isn’t a timed event or even a race in any real sense.)

Once we got out on the course, the fatigue lifted away, and I was ready to go. HUGE, GINORMOUS thank-yous! to Dave, who encouraged me to get out there.

For 60 miles, we kept a nice, leisurely pace. Mike was just getting back into cycling after a long absence, so we had fun enjoying the beauty of the Eastern Shore. And we got a break when the weather held off. There was a sprinkle or two, but no real rain. We also hit headwinds here and there, but nothing too obnoxious. Ultimately, the rain held off all day, and the sun even came out in the late afternoon.

It was a strange feeling riding on flat ground. The steady, consistent pace was a refreshing change from the rollers (i.e., non-stop rolling hills) I’m used to. The day unfolded as we pedaled on, hitting the rest stops and standing in line for food and drink.

Another new experience for me was riding in some larger groups, if only for a few minutes. A number of sizable pelotons passed us, and I was in the midst of them for a brief time. It was fascinating to see how they operated as a group—shouted alerts (“slowing!” and “car up!”, etc.), and using subtle hand signals to point out things like road hazards. It makes me want to do more group riding, since most of my riding is done solo.

I also spent maybe 10 miles in a paceline, which is a group of riders riding in single file, one behind the other. Being shielded from the wind by the rider ahead—i.e., drafting—provides a nice boost in speed, even though you’re not pedaling any harder. It takes skill, as you have to watch the rider ahead of you and be very alert, but it was a great learning experience.

At around 50 miles, it was clear that Mike was reaching his limit. But he soldiered on until we reached Assateague Island, at about the metric century mark. At that point, Mike decided to take the bus back to the college. He had a great ride.

Dave and I on Assateague Island. No ponies in sight.

Once we were finished the Assateague rest stop (sadly, I didn’t see any of the famous Assateague Ponies), Dave and I were ready to put a big effort into the final 40 or so miles. We’d enjoyed the ride to that point, but wanted to finish strong.

So we started hammering toward the finish line. We were taking turns leading each other, squeezing out every ounce of aerodynamic effect. For most of the last 40 miles, we averaged nearly 20 mph. For me, that’s fast. Real fast. I was locked in and churning, pushing myself to see if I could keep up a pace like that for a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, Dave had a couple of flats on the way back, which slowed us a bit, but our ride time stayed very fast. We skipped the last rest stop to make up time, and just kept turning those cranks. I was working about as hard as I could. (I don’t know if Dave was, but I know I was.)

Big Lessons

I felt a great rush as I crossed under the bridge into Salisbury University, which served as the finish line. I’d accomplished something that, quite frankly, I didn’t think I had the capacity to do. Working on almost no sleep, I had:

1) Ridden 100 miles

2) Hammered for 40 miles/two hours straight

Hitting the Century

I learned much about myself from the Seagull Century. I wrote recently about the way cycling pushes me to test my boundaries, and usually shows me that I can do more than I thought I could. This ride cemented that in my head.

Ultimately, in fact, I’m glad that my sleep was so pitiful the night before the race. If it hadn’t been, I would have never found out what I’m capable of. This experience helped me recognize that I was holding myself back.

In a way, it’s similar to how I feel about getting diabetes. Without that terrible diagnosis, I wouldn’t have gotten so serious so quickly about getting in shape again, and getting back on a bike.

In other words, much of how you feel about your experiences are shaped by your general outlook on life. Do you complain about circumstances and how they’re keeping you down, or look at them as opportunities to learn about yourself and improve your situation?

So thanks, Seagull, for the experience. Can’t wait for another one next year.

4 thoughts on “My Seagull Century Experience”

  1. On more big lesson…..

    3 mos of training at 12-15 miles per day, 4-5 days per week is not quite enough to restore the fitness one had before ~4 years of sloth. It’s a good start and carried me to the 100K mark. But I definitely have unfinished business in Salisbury next year.

    Many thanks to you to Dave for partnering on this adventure. It got me back in the saddle and that is priceless.

    I’m very much looking forward to SGC 2022 when we can get a picture like that together at the FINISH to complement the one the START.

    Mike

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