Posted by: kevinliebl | November 1, 2009

Persistence – There is only one way to fail, and that is to quit…

Once a year, I train for a 100-mile bicycle “century” ride.  It is held in Solvang, California.  It is a great way for me to stay in shape, burn off stress and remind myself that great things can be accomplished with preparation, dedication and an unrelenting desire to succeed.  I apologize in advance for the departure from my normal content, but I ran into this recap from the 2006 ride, and thought that it may be worth posting.

“There is only one way to fail, and that is to quit” – Brian Hays

Solvang Century

Solvang Century 2006

Solvang Century 2006

March 5, 2006 – I have two words to describe the 2006 Solvang Century – “I survived”.  I had hopes of setting my best personal time this year, but the weather didn’t cooperate.

When we arrived Friday night, it was raining and then it began to hail.  All of the riders were positive, but there was a significant drop-off in traffic.  For the first time in the six years that I have participated, there were actually “vacancy” signs in some of the hotels.  Normally, all of the hotels within 50 miles are booked six months in advance.  All of the local hotels are booked about a year in advance.  The word among the riders was that the casual riders had dropped out.  We went to Tower Pizza and joined other riders to have pasta and tell stories.  Three guys from Orange County were sitting near us.  They were drinking beer and arguing whether they should ride the next day.  One was convinced they should.  The other two argued against it.  I tried to support the positive guy.  I had just bought some rain gear when I checked-in and got my rider’s packet and they asked me where I got it.

Most of the riders were excited and cautiously optimistic about the weather (even though all weather reports showed 80-90% chance of storms and the temperatures were around freezing).

Saturday morning I got started about 7:45am.  I had bought extra rain gear and felt very prepared.  I had shoe covers, leg warmers, arm warmers, skull cap, headband and a rain coat.  My family cheered as I left the starting line with about 30 other riders.  A normal year would have well over 5000 riders.  This year, I imagine there were only about 3000 riders.  I was amazed that within the first 10 miles, I saw at least 20 flat tires (it is really hard to see glass in the road when it is raining).  I was just glad to get out of town safely.  There was a steady rain and the roads were very slick.  As we rode into the wine country, I looked back toward Solvang and the sky was dark, but not too bad.  As I looked in the direction we were riding, it was black.  The thunder and lighting lit up the sky and the 25 or so riders around me all yelled “Bring it on!”  We were clearly blinded by our own adrenaline.

Ten minutes later, the “light” rain turned into heavy rain and we were all asking each other, “Are we having fun yet”?  I could literally feel my body temperature dropping as I was slowly getting drenched.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have enough layers under my raincoat.  At about the 20 mile mark the hail started up again.  I felt my bike losing control and noticed that I had a flat.  I said to myself, “you have to be kidding me.  Is this how it is going to go?”  As I was slowing, the hail kicked into high gear.  I pulled off the side of the road and began to change my tire.  In the back of my head, I heard my wife Ellen saying, “you should bring two tubes”.  Obviously, I only brought one.  With all the weight from the extra clothes, I figured I would save some weight by bringing one tube.  In five years, I had only had two flats.  Why would I need more than one tube?  Good thinking, huh?  Another rider who was getting ready to dropout of the ride pulled off and offered to help.  I changed the tire quickly, but my hands were frozen and I couldn’t feel the inside of the tire for glass.  I also had the problem that it was hailing so hard that the tire was filling up with hail quicker that I could get the tube in.  I kept shaking out the hail, but it would fill back up.  I had no idea what impact ice would have between a tube and a tire as I filled it up with air.  I did my best, and got ready to re-enter the ride.  As I was getting ready to get back on the bike, I looked at the road and it was solid white.  The hail had covered the entire road.  While I was waiting for an opening between riders, I saw a rider hit a patch of what was now snow on the road, and crash into the field.  This was becoming a whole different ball game.

About 30 minutes later, I realized that I had been riding in one position too long and went to change my hands on the handlebars and noticed my gloves were frozen to the handlebars.  As I pulled them off the bars, I saw ice prints where my gloves had been.  I pulled into the first rest stop and saw they had started a bonfire and a crowd was standing around it as they got onto the dreaded rental trucks to be taken back to the starting line.  These were the brave ones who were quitting and going back to face family and friends.  I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t quit this early.  I was shaking uncontrollably and realized I didn’t have nearly enough clothes on.  I gathered myself and got back on the bike.  About 3 blocks down the road was a split in the route.  To the left was the direction for the 50-mile ride and to the right was the direction for the 100-mile ride.  A large group of riders stopped to discuss the options.  I looked to the right and saw one rider taking off.  About 20 riders turned left.  I looked at the guy next to me and said, “lets go”.  We both smiled and took off.  We turned to the right.  He hesitated for a moment and then turned left.  I heard him yell, “sorry” as he headed back toward the 50-mile route.  I caught up with three other guys and we rode on.

It continued to rain steadily for the next hour.  I had convinced myself that I had to deal with the rain all day long, when I felt a sickening feeling.  I looked down and realized that I had another flat.  That’s it.  I’m done.  The day was over.  I didn’t have another tube or CO2 cartridge.  I stood in the rain watching the other riders go by and couldn’t believe how stupid I was for not bringing extra tubes.  In the rain, you can’t see the glass on the road.  Normally, you swerve around glass all day because you can see it.  In the rain, you ride right through it.  After about 10 minutes a rider yelled, “Do you need help?”  I asked if he had a spare tube and he said, “yes”.  Nice!  I am back in the game.  I got the tube in and then stood there again, wondering, “Who is going to give me a spare CO2 cartridge?”  This is like asking a starving guy for his last meal.  Sure enough, someone stopped and gave me one.  O.k., the biking gods are on my side.  I got back on the bike and continued. As I rode on, I was still amazed that there were patches of hail/snow on the side of the road and every once in a while I had to slow to ride through a patch.

At about the 60 mile mark, I heard someone yell, “hey, pizza guy!”  I turned around and it was the guy from Tower Pizza from the night before.  He said he dropped his other friends, but they were still riding.  We rode together for about 10 minutes before I dropped him.  I was feeling good.  No record times, but I felt strong and the rain had slowed.  I was passing lots of people and felt like I could have had a really good ride under normal circumstances.  The 9 months of training were now paying off – even if I wasn’t going to set a record time.

At the end of Solvang, there are a few huge hills.  The steepest is called “the wall”.  As I approached the wall, I was completely focused on finishing.  I thought about crossing the finish line and seeing my family.  Pizza guy and I were riding together at this point and we pounded up the hill.  We were pushing each other trying to increase the pace.  We were in about the same shape, so we were doing a good job pacing each other.  It is such a great feeling to climb a hill with someone and push each other as hard as you can.  About a quarter of the way up the hill the hail started again.  He looked over and said, “You have to be kidding me!”  We both started laughing and pushed on.  We had to dodge the riders that had started walking up the hill and were challenged to find a clear path.  As we approached the summit, there was a family parked on the side of the road.  Their car doors were open and they were blaring music trying to motivate the riders to reach the top of “the wall”.  The hail was going into their car, but they didn’t care.  They were cheering us on and yelling for us to make it to the top.  I yelled back at them, “Thanks!”  Pizza guy yelled, “You rock!”

We started the decent on the other side, and I realized that this was the first year that I hated the down hills.  They were too dangerous.  I enjoyed the climbs more than the down hills.  There is about 10 miles of relatively flat terrain at the end of the ride.  Normally, this is a great, very fast ride into town and to the finish line.  The winds had been bad all day, but this final stage was terrible.  I was in my second to lowest gear and was struggling into a headwind.  Why should I expect anything different?  I continued to ride with the pizza guy trying to draft off of each other.  At one point we picked up a lot of speed and hit some mud and both almost slid off the road.  This was at 96 miles.  We both looked at each other and said, “let’s just finish this thing”.

As I crossed the finish line, I knew my time was terrible, but I was just glad to have it behind me.  The stats were: 102.1 miles, 5:56 of riding time, 17.1 MPH average speed, 37.7 MPH maximum speed and 2 flats.

All I can say is that it is really nice to have this one behind me.  Giving up was never an option.  I would have carried my bike across the finish line, if I had too.  Having completed this ride taught me that I could accomplish things I never realized were within my grasp.  Every century ride from now on can only be easier.

Solvang Century 2006


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  1. Your story reminds me of some recent posts I have read on business failure. Successful CEOs and entrepreneurs remind us that everyone fails somewhere along the line. Some freeze or retreat, but we are told the key to success is to just “keep moving forward.” Looks like you chose that path (despite the option to skip the ride and spend the day stocking up on great pinots from the valley). Here’s a gut-wrenching post on failure by an expert at it (via HBR).

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