101.3 Miles: The North Fork Century Recap

Yesterday, I hopped on my little Trek Lexa and rode 101.3 miles around the North Fork of Long Island.

I rode that bike for 5 hours and 58 minutes.

And for 5 hours and 58 minutes, my stomach behaved itself perfectly.

It’s a Crohn’s disease miracle!

This is the face of a very happy century ride finisher...in case you couldn't tell.

I don’t remember the last time I smiled as much as I did yesterday. I certainly don’t remember the last time I spent a full six hours feeling good, strong and moderately healthy. It was the best day I’ve had in so long, and now I plan to tell you every last detail about it.


Now, as you know, cycling isn’t exactly my thing. I only started riding this spring when I was injured and couldn’t run. Turns out, though, cycling is kind of fun. So in the spring, when my marathon goals seemed totally out of reach and I wasn’t spending any time in my Brooks, I decided, “Hey, I should do something cool on the bike, like a century ride!” Because when you’ve never ridden more than 20 miles at a time, you should definitely commit yourself to tackling 100 miles.

Aim high.

I found the North Fork Century, convinced Brian it’d be a “really fun thing for us to do,” and asked Coach Cane if I was stupid to gear up for a century in the midst of New York City Marathon training. He never specifically answered the “Am I stupid?” part of that question, but he started working a few long rides into my marathon training.

As my health began deteriorating and running felt impossible, biking was something I could look forward to because it was so much kinder to my body. I never did speedwork on the bike and I didn’t do any sort of hill training. I just rode when I could, peaking at 75 miles a few weeks ago.

Then last week happened.

Last week was so, so bad. I felt awful, I was Crohnsing at an all-time high, and by Friday — a day I spent on the couch in the fetal position — I hadn’t thought much about Sunday’s ride. I told myself it may not happen, and that was OK.

Coach Cane wanted me running on Saturday, so I attempted that.

It didn’t go well.

I made a bunch of stops early on, and then once I settled in and got going, my body felt exhausted and energetically depleted. I crawled through 11 miles and came home telling myself the century still wasn’t a sure thing.

By the afternoon, I figured I should at least prepare. If I woke up feeling well on Sunday, I’d do the ride. If not, I’d sleep. I really wasn’t stressed about it. (Not stressed? I hardly recognize myself.)

I packed up all my crap and actually started feeling OK.

Clean post-ride clothes: Best thing I packed.

And then, because I realized this ride actually might go on, I figured I should learn how to do it. Because really, what the heck do I know about being on a bike for a really long time?

Saturday night spent doing a little crucial research. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.

Once I figured I had learned it all, I called it a night, hoping for the best.

And then, I slept through the night. I haven’t slept through the night in weeks.

My alarm went off at 4 AM and I popped out of bed.

My immediate thought: I feel OK. Not amazing, but OK.

I started getting ready and I got that “It’s race day!” excitement that I haven’t felt all year. I was really excited and I tried not to think about my stomach too much. Brian and I were out the door by 5 AM, ready to drive into the depths of Long Island.

It's a beautiful morning for a ride.
I like to "help" by staying out of the way. I'm so awesome at it. Also, this little Zipcar was slightly too tiny for all of our crap.

I was nervous about the drive. I was afraid that in the two hours it might take us to get there, we’d have to stop at a million gas stations so I could use the sketchy bathrooms.

Instead, we made it to the start without a single stop. So far, so good.

The only people driving on the Long Island Expressway had bikes. Fancy, cool bikes. I tried to make friends with all of them by waving. No one waved back.

The North Fork Century was an incredibly well-done ride. Things were organized, food was plentiful and everyone was very friendly.

Also, this wasn’t a race. It was a no-pressure, go-have-an-awesome-time ride. There was no mass start, no fancy finish line and not a cowbell to be heard (sad). As soon as you arrived and got your route sheet, you could start riding, and if you wanted an “official time” you had to keep track of it yourself.

So many treats at the start. I stocked up on mini Larabars. Major score.

I loved being around all the riders, and felt cool being one of the 100-mile riders in the pack (not that anyone knew). Cyclists had the option of doing a 25-mile ride, a 50-mile ride, a 72-mile ride or the full century.

Awwwww yeah! Bring it on.

I wanted to make myself a sign that said “I’m doing the big one!!!” but Brian said that was unnecessary. Instead I just smiled a lot.

OMG I CAN'T WAIT TO RIDE. Also I don't want to put on my bike shorts.

I used the bathroom a few times, but I still felt oddly good. No pain, no discomfort. Just a happy, settled stomach. Which is good, because there were only 3 Porta Potties for 1,000 riders, and that’s just insane.

This must be a joke.

Like I said, I prepared for the worst. That meant packing baby wipes in my bike jersey and knowing that stops in the woods may be unavoidable. Awesomely, as I can’t seem to mention enough, the baby wipes went unopened and unneeded.

Finally, at 8 AM, Brian and I were ready to start the ride.

Cycling clothes are not cute. They are not flattering. I hate them. I love biking.

So that was it: Go time.

I took a few deep breaths, clipped in and knew I was about to spend a potentially long time straddling my Lexa.

When I first told Brian I wanted to do a century, I knew nothing about time goals or paces or anything of importance. I still don’t. But weeks ago I was all, “Brian, I want to break six hours in the century.”

I’m pretty sure his response was something like, “No. That’s a pretty lofty goal for a first century. It takes people a long time to do that. You shouldn’t have goals. You should watch more TV. You should quit endurance sports. You look really good on a couch. Stay there.”

Maybe less harsh. I don’t really remember the conversation too well.

So yeah, at one point in life I thought “breaking six hours” would be cool, even though I never bothered to look up what sort of pace I’d have to maintain in order to make that happen. It just sounded good to me. And clearly that’s the way to make goals: guess.

By Friday, though, when my body was the site of mass chaos, I decided not to have a time goal at all. I decided breaking 7:30 would be fine, but really the goal was just to get through all 100 miles. I didn’t want to spend my time on the bike watching a clock or thinking about my miles per hour. I just wanted to have a fun ride, and that’s exactly what I did.

Two happy bikes. They are best friends.

As we started the ride, I was smiling like a fool…probably because I managed to clip in without falling. Success from the start!

But then, I just never stopped smiling.


For 5 hours and 58 minutes, I was all tooth-flashing, ear-to-ear grinning, smiling like a fool.

If you are going to do a century ride, you should bring a personal photographer. That's probably my best advice. Brian is available for hire.

The route was very easy to follow, even for a blind moron such as myself. At times there were packs of cyclists on the road, and other times — like for one 10-mile stretch — Brian and I didn’t see a single other rider.

We started off taking it super easy. We blew past the first rest stop (didn’t need it!) and just cruised along.

They see me rollin'...

The route was flat, with just a few hills that I thought were dull and not challenging. Because I’m so hardcore, you know?

Before I knew it, we had hit the 25-mile mark, and not long after, we were at 40 miles.

That was when I fell.

Yeah yeah, I fell. We came up to a stop light, I didn’t want to stop, Brian said “You can’t ride into traffic” (he’s so strict with his bike laws), so I unclipped my left foot, swerved to my right and then I felt the tipping begin. I managed to yell out “I’m going to fall!” on the way down, so that was dramatic. But I threw my hands down, caught myself and popped right back up. Mostly drama-free. Or I’m just getting really good at falling, which is a trusty skill to have.

My legs felt good, we were keeping a pretty decent pace from what I gathered, and it was just nice. Preachy preachy preachy, I know, but when we reached the 40-mile point, I really couldn’t believe that my stomach was so calm.

Brian and I rode next to each other when we could, and other times we’d take turns leading. I had the “Joyful, Joyful” song from Sister Act 2 stuck in my head for a solid two hours, and for the next hour Brian decided to sing the only two words he knows from that “Let’s Go” song…and the two words he knows are “let’s go.” Luckily I didn’t need entertainment. I was content just pedaling along.

Taking photos while riding = probably not safe. DON'T CARE.

There were several rest stops set up along the way, all of which were in cool areas, like in a campground and on the beach. Neither of us wanted to waste time at the rest stops, so we just pulled in, refilled our water bottles and grabbed snacks (so many mini Larabars).

THEY HAD OREOS!!! I didn't eat them, but you bet I took some for the road and then dreamed about eating them the entire time.

The route was great and we got to see basically all of the North Fork of Long Island. We rode past vineyards, along the beach and through cute downtown areas. It was incredibly scenic and I was never bored.

I was also shocked at how quickly the miles passed. When we reached 50 miles, I could start counting backward. At 60 miles, we “only had 40 left,” which seems like nothing, and from there I just wanted to keep pushing.

And smiling.

So much foolish smiling.

I also managed to eat on the bike and not fall, so that’s a win.

It wasn’t until mile 80 that things started to hurt. By “things” I mostly mean my butt crease areas. I had to stand on the bike a few times just to relieve the pressure. Note to self: maybe a bit more BodyGlide down there next time.

At that point, we were riding into a pretty strong head wind, and I had no idea how long we’d been on the bike. It could have been four hours, it could have been eight hours. I wasn’t keeping track and I didn’t care.

Brian and I stopped at the final rest stop at mile 88 to refill our water bottles, and then it was on.

Stop. Eat. Drink. Take a Porta Potty picture. Keep riding.

We exited the rest area with the wind at our backs, and Brian turned around and asked me, “Wanna hammer it out from here to the finish?”

Now, if I’ve learned anything about racing, it’s that you’ll feel a heck of a lot more pride from a strong finish than a “I got kind of tired but I still made it to the end, so that’s cool” finish.

“Hell yeah,” I told him.

So he led us out, told me to stay on his wheel (which, loosely translated, means “stay as close behind him as possible without hitting him”) and I vowed to hang on.

It was awesome.

Yes, awesome in italics. So you know it was good.

We passed so many people in those final miles and I felt like I was flying. At this point, I knew I was going to finish the ride gloriously. I’d done it.

I stayed close behind Brian, stopped looking at the scenery and just followed his butt. I didn’t mind the view and I was loving the breeze from the water.

I hadn’t touched the computer thing Brian put on my bike the whole time. It would flash our pace (21 MPH for those final miles, which is still basically slower than a car and Meb on foot) but I never switched the screen to look at our overall time.

When the clock hit 100 miles, though, I checked the screen: 5 hours and 55 minutes.

And I flipped out. I actually teared up a little bit out of sheer happiness. I was so excited and I couldn’t believe it. I hit my initial, seemingly-too-lofty time goal! Without even really knowing what I was doing! Cool!

The ride came out to more than 100 miles — 101.3 to be exact — and as soon as we reached the finish area I hopped off my bike and I think I squealed a little bit.

Happy and very sweaty. I won't even lie and say I sprayed myself with water. That's straight-up arm sweat right there. And yes, bike gloves DO give you a really cool tan.

I’m still in disbelief. Not that I rode 100 miles — I knew I could do that, even if it took me all day (which it basically did) — but that my body cooperated so well.

Maybe riding a century yesterday was stupid. Maybe it’ll set me back. But I don’t care. Because for just shy of six hours yesterday, I was the happiest person alive.

There is a shadow on my face that makes me look like I have a blacked-out tooth. I asked Brian to Photoshop it, but I guess that "wasn't a priority" at 6 AM today. Psh.

Yesterday wasn’t about beating a time goal. It wasn’t about going all gung-ho (do people still use that phrase? I think my mom does, so I will use it, too) and crushing my body.

I’ve needed a win for a while now. Physically, emotionally, it’s been a struggle. And yesterday, I didn’t struggle. I rode and I loved it. My quads are ridiculously sore today and my butt crease area is not beautiful. And, truthfully, by last night my stomach was back to its original form. We stopped a million times on the way back to the city and I was up a lot during the night making trips to the bathroom.

I don’t know what happened to my body yesterday. I don’t know how my stomach went from crazy to chill and it seems impossible that for once my stomach actually worked with me instead of against me. I don’t care to try and make sense of it. It just happened.

I may feel like death today, and I may still feel terrible tomorrow. But I’ll take it. I had six amazing hours and I got the little victory I’ve been wanting for a long time.

It was a good day.



76 Responses

  1. Congratulations! What an awesome experience. Have been reading your blog for a while but have never commented. I’m so happy that this went so well for you and I know exactly what you mean about it being a great feeling to power it out at the end. Rock on!

  2. Oh, wow! Brava for riding a Century. I did 30 miles last week and I thought I was going to die from the pain of being on a saddle for 3 hours.

  3. Congrats! This is amazing! And by amazing, I mean that I’m amazed that your groin/butt survived 100miles! How is that physically possible?

    So happy you had 5 hours and 58 minutes of bliss!

  4. I couldn’t stop reading this write-up, your happiness is so incredibly contagious. Love! And, not that I know you, but glad that you were able to squeeze 6 happy hours out of sweaty fitness glory.

  5. Glad you had a great century ride! Plus it’s awesome you feel better. I have a Trek Lexa SLX! Love my bike! Hope you begin to love cycling gear. Try Pearl Izumi! I have more of their clothing than work clothing 🙂

  6. This is so awesome. After reading about the hell you have been having with running, this post made me so happy for you. Congratulations on a great accomplishment. May all your fall endeavors be as awesome as this end-of-summer one!

  7. Very impressed. Doing a century was one of my goals this year but I let my broken wrist put this on the back burner. Next year. Awesome that you felt so good!

  8. Congratulations Ali!! That is awesome, I am so glad you are feeling better. On my early morning bus ride to my race on Saturday I was listening to people in back of me(naturally). The woman was saying how she wish her husband would run with her but he can’t because he has Crohns. I wanted to turn around and tell her about your blog and your tenacity to not let it totally control your life. You are very inspiring!

  9. If riding 100+ miles straight after that horrible week you had doesn’t show you you are amazing, then I don’t know what will.

    Super inspiring recap, congratulations!

  10. yayyyyy you!!! you got that high, that ‘win’, that boost of MOJO you needed with this thing, I LOVE that. And um hi, I just said to Scott “you wanna do a century ride with me sometime?” His response? “um you kind of need to get on a bike first, you goof.” Duly noted. LOL

  11. It makes me so happy to hear you had such a good ride!! And you met your goal! Congrats!! You deserved an amazing day after all the crap (ha) you’ve had to put up with 🙂

  12. Signed up for your emails to inspire me to run but now I’m just enjoying hearing about your accomplishments and struggles. I also bike with my much more able boyfriend. Great job on the ride and glad you’re feeling better!

  13. Great job on the ride! One thing I learned after long runs, your stomach is a muscle and stabalizing yourself and working so hard for so long, worked your stomach muscles…which may be why it spazzed afterwards? Also, I watched NY Med and they had an 18 year old with Chron’s and they were able to do surgery on him. I had no idea that was even a possibility. It may not be the most desirable, but progress is being made. Don’t give up!!

  14. Congrats Ali! What a positive and exciting post to start off the week. Hopefully the rest of the week will stay stress and pain free! xoxo

  15. I swear we are Crohns twins!

    I’m so glad you had a good day, and despite the set-back, I hope it bounces back and you have many more good days to come!

  16. Congrats Ali! So proud of you! I’m glad your stomach cooperated and you were able to complete the ride feeling good! What an awesome accomplishment. I don’t think I could do that! I hope you celebrated with a well-earned or is it well-deserved #fatfluential meal afterwards.

  17. Ali, I’m so happy you had a victory for yourself yesterday! I’m a former marathon runner who could never have imagined loving anything more than I did running…and then I got hurt. Messed one of my hips up and haven’t been able to run really long distances consistently for 5 years. I sulked for a long time and then finally bought a bike and have never looked back. Cycling has been so much more gentle on my body and even the morning after century rides my body feels great. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m so glad you finally gave the bike a try and your body is going to thank you 🙂 And also? You’ll get some killer legs!

  18. Wow, that sounds so damn FUN!! Seriously awesome!! Way to go!! AND breaking 6 hours? insane! And I love that your body cooperated. God was a-watching over you and kept you good and healthy all the way through! woohoo!!

  19. Awesome job Ali! Can I also just say that you and Brian are too cute together? I love the part where he sang “let’s go” to you. Hahaha 🙂 You guys are good pair!

  20. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! Congrats Ali! So incredibly happy that you had such an amazing ride! I think I read this entire post with a huge grin on my face. I’m so incredibly proud of you and your victory over Crohn’s (if even for only a short time – hoping today is wonderful, too *fingers crossed*).

    Your description of your scenery for the last 12ish miles was priceless:)

  21. YAY!!! This made me so, sooo happy!!! Good work!!

    Also, I volunteered at a race this weekend, and I smiled when I saw a girl wearing an “I heart Sweat” shirt!

    Glad your tummy decided to behave, and I am crossing my fingers that the trend continues.

  22. This post makes me SO happy for you and it looks like so much fun as well!! I’ve never done more than 74 so I’m in awe of your 100!! And I can’t see anything wrong with the cycling clothes, although padded shorts are obviously unflattering. That blue top is lovely. Anyway…congratulations! Fantastic stuff!!

  23. So excited for you! Yay for having a great 6 hours! Or, in Ryan Lochte’s terms, “Jeah!” (Although, really, let’s not perpetuate that.)

  24. Congratulations this is so awesome! Not only the fact that you have been riding that bike for such little time but also that you broke your time goal and felt awesome! I hope your next runs can feel just like that bike ride! Crossing my fingers.

  25. Congratulations!!!
    That’s so awesome that your stomach cooperated so well! How did you feel in the last miles though? Tough breathing, or mostly muscle fatigue?

    Also, how exactly are biking clothes different from running clothes (a part from the obvious diaper shorts haha!) ? The tanks havs back pockets?

    1. In the final miles I felt butt pain. Haha. And actually, while I was riding, my legs and muscles felt great. I wasn’t breathing too heavily, I was just in the zone. It wasn’t until last night that my legs started to feel the burn. As for biking clothes, I just have crappy ones because I haven’t wanted to shell out money for the quality stuff. So my shirt is too long, the pockets are all stretched out and the shorts are definitely too tight in the waist/thigh area. And yes, the padding. I don’t love the padding (absolutely need it though).

  26. Big CONGRATS to you and Brian!! What an awesome experience…I totally want a ride a century now. Hope you’re still feeling good today 🙂

  27. Biking IS way easier on the whole GI system. Running is notorious for being the hardest form of exercise on a wonky stomach – everything’s being jiggled about so much and you’re using your core so much more than on a bike. When my IBS plays up I can still manage everything except running (unless I take a tonne of Immodium).

    Congrats on the ride – I know the feeling of needing a win. I ran a half last year on some partially healed stress fractures and yes, it was bloody stupid but I had a cracking time at the race (not literally haha)

  28. Congratulations Ali! That is an awesome accomplishment, considering that I am such a bad bike rider that I actually signed up for an adult bike riding class in a few weeks. You’re amazing!

  29. I’ve only ever completed 50 miles as part of the Five Boro Bike Tour, but this ride looks and sounds amazing! I’m so happy you finally got a well-deserved normal health day … everyone should have those. 101 miles … not easy! Now let’s take our new pretty bikes to Central Park for some easy happy riding?

    1. Not yet! But I probably will today! Yesterday I took an icy-cold shower in the locker rooms at the finish line. Didn’t exactly work up a good lather in there, so I’ll make up for it today!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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