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Fat Broad on a Bike: My First Solo Century Tour

By Sheila Ascroft


My First Solo Century Tour

I woke before the alarm clock too excited to sleep. What will it feel like beyond 50 miles? Can I actually do 100? What if . . . I forced my mind to focus: pump tires, fill water bottles and pack food. Today I would try bicycling 100 miles—alone.

A century ride! It loses something to say 162 kilometres. Since the 1880s, cycling a century always meant 100 miles. Was I being foolish or daring? At 47, was I denying my age or seeking new definition? My longest effort had only been a 50-miler.

Finally it was light enough to leave. Just think of it as another early morning training ride. The city was still sleeping; the air was chilly. Maybe I should have worn something else, but it will be hot later. Maybe I should have . . . should, coulda, woulda . . . fat people shouldn’t ride bicycles,  shouldn’t wear tight spandex, shouldn’t , shouldn’t. . . .

My inner critic had awakened early. Though embarrassed by my thunder thighs and protruding belly stuffed into padded stretch shorts, they were so comfortable that I wore them anyway. But I wished I was thinner. I berated myself over it. Nothing I did had true value because I was fat—not the book editing, not dog walking, not even my friends. I felt inadequate because that’s how I thought others saw me.

Maybe this is stupid. A fat broad like me—200 pounds of flab squatting over skinny tires.  I glanced at my bike computer. One mile done. It’s really happening! It just matters that I do all 100 miles—then I’ll be worthy. Worthy of what I didn’t know. Maybe myself?

The bicycling magazines had promised that serious cycling would have the pounds melting off. I had believed them when I started cycling years ago. But although I had progressed from one-hour to three-hour rides, I now weighed more than ever. After years of carrying an extra 60 pounds, of giving mind, body and spirit no relief from this perceived failure, I thought doing a century might vindicate me. At worse, it meant I tried something quirky and difficult, and I could laugh it off as a pre-menopausal aberration with friends. At best, I would no longer be a Sunday rider but a REAL cyclist. It would prove that I was fit even though I was fat.

After a few miles, I settled into a familiar, comfortable pace. Don’t think 20 miles down and 80 to go—that won’t work and you’ll get discouraged. I paused after an hour to drink, eat a fruit bar and stretch. It was part of my plan. A break every hour.

By 30 miles, the sun had warmed the land, erasing the mist on the small streams. Song birds, bobolinks and meadowlarks flitted in the fields. The first half of the route was mostly through flat farmland down roads I knew from previous rides. I concentrated on staying comfortable on two wheels and tried to ignore my inner critic’s harping: If you were thinner, you’d be faster; you’d be further along by now. If you were fitter, you’d be cycling in a group and not be out here alone. If you were . . . .


I couldn’t always fight the voice. It drove me to doubt my abilities, my tenacity, my spirit. Not this time. I had prepared mentally and physically for this challenge. I’d put in 900 training miles in 12 weeks. Hey, I’m coming up on 50 miles! It had taken me four hours with the rest stops. I’m doing fine. My legs are strong, my butt’s okay. I had to stop and read the map since the rest of this trip was unfamiliar. East about an inch and then south. Good, the wind will be behind me going south.

100 Kilometres. Okay. So Now I’ve done a metric century. This isn’t so hard. I love being on a bike. 

I took a real break at the next gas station. Four hours and 55 minutes riding time! I refilled my water bottles, had a bagel and banana, then changed into dry shorts. About three hours to go. I’d arranged for a friend to pick me up at the end of my route around 2 p.m.

Back on the road refreshed, I concentrated on maintaining a smooth precise rhythm. Not hard or fast, just steady. The landscape was changing. Cornfields became rolling hills sprinkled with livestock. I crossed the same meandering river four times. Up. Down. Stay smooth, save energy. So-called towns on the map yielded nothing more than four corners and a grocery store.

Just shy of hour six I reached 75 miles. I stopped, slowly swung my leg off the bike and stretched. Wow, I’ve done three-quarters of a century and it’s not even noon. I sat by the dusty roadside, ate a Power Bar and drank water. My feet were swollen. My neck ached. The hills were definitely taking a toll. Still the wind was at my back. I’ve already gone further in one day than I ever have before. 

I looked down the road—more hills; some were covered with pine or spruce, others just rocky fields with a few horses or a house on the leeside slope. I remounted, pushed at the pedals. The spin was gone. Why am I doing this? Cycling the open road is freedom. A chance to explore my limits of body and mind. This is my journey—not knowing what’s down the road yet creating a way to get there. Why have I let my fatness stop me from doing things? 

More hills. I was nearing my physical limit. My legs felt leaden. My face flushed from heat and effort. I poured water over my helmet and head. I kept going. Around a curve I saw the next hill. Long and steep. I can’t make it up that! I wanted to go forward but . . . Discouraged, I thought about turning around but I’d be fighting the wind. I can’t face this hill. I’m tired. Fatigue ached deep in my bones. I have enough energy to ride but not to climb. So walk up. No, that’s cheating. Then quit. Eighty-three miles is respectable. Your friend will find you.  I just stood there; started to cry. Yeah, 83 isn’t bad, but it’s not a century. I felt deflated, stunned. Why am I doing this?  Then it finally dawned on me—THIS was the test. This was my personal version of Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon. This was where some people failed. I’m not quitting. I won’t. I just won’t. I’m so tired of feeling like a failure. ’

I climbed on my bike, shifted to an easy gear and started up. Midway, I had run out gears and oxygen. I stood on the pedals and lifted myself off the saddle. Heavy, ragged breathing. Sweat in my eyes. Burning quads. Barely turning over the pedals. Finally, the road flattened out a bit before the last steep pitch, I sat down for a moment to relax my muscles then rose again. I’m no quitter. I kept going. Arrrgghhh. Yes, the top!

My legs were jelly. Damn. All I could see were more hills. Elation turned quickly to exhaustion. My body said stop but I knew I couldn’t. My spirit had resurfaced. I wasn’t going to stop now. I felt the strength in my mind—crisp, clear. I kept pushing at the pedals. No finesse, no power, just bloody-minded determination.

Mile 91. Seven hours and 53 minutes. Well, I won’t do it in my eight-hour time frame, but I’m going to finish… I pedalled slowly letting the idea sink in. I’m going to finish this! Wow. A rush of adrenalin in my legs. 

Mile 93. To hell with my inner critic! 

Mile 95. To hell with what other people think. Cheshire cat grin, fist pumping the sky. 

Mile 97: What matters most is how I think. I’ve been wasting my life waiting for the “thin” me to arrive. 

Mile 99. So what if there’s fat under my skin? Deeper inside there’s a cyclist.   

Mile 100: Self-acceptance.

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33 comments to Fat Broad on a Bike: My First Solo Century Tour

  • This was a great article! I turned 60 in april of 2013 and celebrated by doing the BRAN ride across nebraska. When I told my kids ( mid 30′s) that I had signed up they just looked at me. My youngest decided to go too and I was very glad to have someone to consistently ride with. I have been scared to try a long ride alone, but hadn’t thought of having someone meet me at the end. I just might have to do my first century this spring – you have inspired me! Thank you

  • Debi Miller

    Amazing how you find an article just when you need it most! Thank you so much for putting into words what so many of us feel.
    I am in the middle of training for a Century for the MS Society and in recent days have been talking myself out of 100 and doing 75. The reason is I have been telling myself ~ “I am too slow, it will take all day”; “I can’t sit my fat butt on the saddle for that many hours” and I am listening to others telling me that maybe 100 miles is too much and it is “okay” to only do the 75. I ride 6 days a week and ride over 100 miles a week, your article has renewed my determination! So, what if it takes me all day, I believe again that I can do it! Thanks so much!

    • Sheila the psychlist

      Debi
      You CAN do this! You’ve put in some serious training, you are ready. Trust in your body and be strong of mind. How long it takes does not matter, doing it matters. You go girl.

  • Denise in BC

    Congrats!!!
    Wow you have given me a glimmer of hope. I am 45 and about 250lbs & I signed up for the Ride to Conquer Cancer from Vancouver to Seattle,240KM in two days. People look at me & my size and Im sure I can see there disbelief. But I tell you there are days I feel it to & I am freaked out that a hill or the distance will crush me….After reading this blog plus your others I am actually feeling better about myself & the upcoming ride.
    Thank you for sharing and inspiring

    • Sheila the Psychlist

      You can do it!
      You may be slower than others, but the ride is not a race. Just pace yourself.
      Do the training as consistently beforehand as you can.
      Believe in yourself. It’s what’s inside us fat broads on bikes that makes the difference – we don’t crush easily.
      You can often make up distance on the downhills where weight is an advantage!
      Who cares what others think? You have a right to be there.
      You will inspire someone else by riding this!
      Above all, remember why you are riding – it’s about the cancer cause – it will give you legs when you’re tired.

      Also, make sure you have a recovery plan for the evening before day two. Now is not the time to skimp on food or liquids, stretch and rest.

      Good luck!
      Sheila

  • Shrinking in Qualicum

    I had already found you to be an amazing person, and then last week my friend and I did a Century ride together. Every mile we went, my respect for you grew some more! We talked my husband into being our support crew, because we had few places we could stop for water, so we had food and water stops every 20k. And we weren’t ALONE! You are so amazing, I would like to tell your inner critic a thing or two. Like “shut up, this woman is amazing!”

  • Round & Brown in a White town :)

    Sheila…it appears you wrote this close to a year ago. I just now stumbled across it. Wow…you & I think so much alike. I have about 2 years & 35 pounds on ya…but..I too am my worst critic. I feel exactly the same way about being heavy, wanting to be thin, feeling like nothing I do is important because i am heavy. I am feeling sad…that i have waited to do so many things, in hope of being thin. I want to ride, but…this belly gets in my way…so i came across this..looking for advice on a bike for a big woman. Thank you so much for your inspiration & finishing that hill!!!

  • darski

    Thank you for that story. I laughed at the title and cried at the end. I did my first century last month at 48, one day after my birthday. I did it in a pre register ride and it helped to see I was not alone. I rode by myself most of the time tagged along in a pace line for a while and had others follow ME for about 10 miles. That 10 miles was so empowering that I my inner critic better back off….Cause, I am a Cyclist not just a bike rider. You are awesome to make up your mind and DO IT. I also struggle with my weight. I was peddaling at 215 lbs. but have dropped most of my extra baggage by my new addiction……Bicycling! Keep on rolling.

  • Kelly

    Your articles are just what I needed after being totally humiliated yesterday by an employeee of the bike shop I just purchased my first road bike from. I’ve had a couple mountain bikes for years but wanted to enter more “senior games” and ride the bike paths and road ways. I spent most the day yesterday crying, at my age of 51. I love your comment, that I have just as much right to ride as the skinny minny and that is something I’m going to carry with me every mile I pedal. Thank you SO MUCH and YOU GO GIRL!

  • Jen

    Hi Sheila
    I stumbled onto your article while looking for tips on climbing hills. I’ve only been into cycling for 3 months after not having a bike for over 10 years. I have fallen head over heels in love with cycling, despite also not being as svelte as I’d like. I agree, the fulfillment of cycling erases years of negativity about my athletic ability. I have gone from 0 to 60 mile rides in 3 months, learned clipless pedals, and probably dropped a few pounds. But like you, what I have gained is a revitalized spirit and confidence in myself to carry off anything I set my mind to.

    Can’t wait to hear about your continued accomplishment as a rider and athlete :-)
    Thanks for sharing!

  • Colleen

    Great article. I’ve done many centuries and even a 129 miler with 16000 feet of climbing. I’ve been on a bike since the early 70′s when I was considered a freak for riding to work. Now I’m 60 and can still ride a 100 miles any day of the week. Your stories are great for encouraging all women to just get out there. I’ve seen the explosion in women cycling the last 10 years. Finally!!

  • Kermit

    I’m a 61 year old cyclist who weighed in at just under 260 about six years ago – (just so you’ll know).

    LOVED THIS ARTICLE – will be passing out this website to all of my friends in my various riding groups, – this woman can convey her inter-feelings onto paper – truely a great view into a person’s thoughts as they “grind” towards those last few miles.

    I now do a century a week, 15-25 every night after work, at 61 I’m in better health now than 20 years ago, life’s great – you ride girl, you ride and the weigh still won’t come off that much, it will just one day be all muscle.

  • mary beth

    Thank you for sharing brilliant.

    I think every women who is questioning heself should ride a bike!

  • Jill

    What Margot said, you look super fit to me. Thank you for sharing your adventure. A century is definitely formidable, but to me telling your inner critic to go to hell is the true accomplishment. Make it stay there, you can do it!

  • Holly in California

    You are an absolute winner! Thank you for believing in yourself, which makes us all believe in ourselves. Being an overweight cyclist myself, I tired of always putting myself down because of it!

  • winnie maldonado

    I am forty two and I feel so much like your inner dialogue. Its like your head and mine think the same thouths. You are such an inspiration to me, you couldnt possibly know. Thank you for your encouraging stories.

  • Diane in CA

    Thank you, thank you for this story. I also weigh as much as you and am also a cyclist. I too have the same thoughts about being skinny. I thought that I was the only one. Great job on the century!

  • Katey

    Wow! I’m signed up for a century through fatCyclist.com and have been thinking that I am in over my head, but you just affirmed me. I. Can. Do. It.

    Congratulations on this awesome achievement!

  • Vic & Jeanette Geiger

    My wife would like to know where she got her cycling clothing from? Great article.

    Thanks

  • Mary-Ann

    You are an inspiration! As a less accomplished rider just trying group, your words encourage me to return again next week.

  • Catherine in Canada

    Congratulations, what a terrific article and a great accomplishment. You go girl! Cycling is one-size fits all kind of sport, as well did you ever notice how much faster you can go downhill?! Love it.

  • Bo

    Great story! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it!

  • Naely

    I am doing a 200KM ride tomorrow and let me be frank…I am having 2nd doubts on this but after reading your story, I am sure I can pull this off. I’ve only been riding for the pass 10 months and yes, ever since i’ve started riding-like you, i have been putting on some pounds.

    I hope i will be able to get through those rolling hills tomorrow as well.

    Thank you!

    Naely from Malaysia

  • jill feikema

    Most of us wouldn’t dream of doing 100 alone…way to go! The only centuries I’ve ever done have been in groups…extra kudos to you…you didn’t even benefit from drafting!

  • Lynn

    Great job! I have been riding for only 2 years and am 48 years old. It is a great feeling of accomplishment when you finish that first century.

  • Cora

    Way to go!!! That is a great accomplishment and I know it took inner fortitude. Keep on cycling and enjoying the rides, it’s not the destination but the journey.

  • Theresa

    Congratulations on completing your 100 mi! I am in agreement with Betty Buhr’s “what a fantastic self-affirmation! Thank you for sharing it with us.”

    This is not a small feat for anyone…. heavy or slight build!

  • Stacey

    Congrats! I have often thought about the century but believed it unattainable because the most I’ve ever ridden is about 30 miles and that took 2 hours and enough pain to make me think it was about my limit! I see now that I was wrong and I need to work towards that goal, despite my reservations! Thanks for the inspiration. =)

  • Margot Montgomery

    what fat? looks like muscle to me!

  • What a fantastic self-affirmation!
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Janice in GA

    Well done! It’s a great feeling, isn’t it! Go you!

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