Ed Brill, one of our TKBCoach athletes, made his return to the 72 Hours to Key West ride this year. With six years between his first completion and this one, we were eager to see how he fared this year wiser and stronger after a year of purpose-built training. The event in his words: This was my second time doing the 72 Hours to Key West. In 2015, it was my second season of road riding, on an entry level Marin Argenta (with a TRIPLE chainring up front!). I trained for the ride, but it wasn't perfect. In returning for 2021, my goal was to fully complete the ride, better my 2015 performance, and raise money for the charities the event supported. My steed was a 2019 Canyon Aeroad 9.0 Di2, quite a difference from the Marin.
The 2021 ride was very successful. Conditions were a lot harder than in 2015; more wind, more rain, and yet more wind. Upon reflection, here are my takeaways:
I successfully trained for this ride. TKBCoach was key in this preparation, along with group rides with Colavita Chicagoland and Cortado teams. The biggest challenge would be the first day: 200km into the headwind. The sheer distance got into my head, as it would be the longest ride I had yet to complete and that only being the first of three days. All the worry was for nothing, as I basically averaged 19 mph over that 200 km, even with the headwind. I had to resist the temptation to ride with the fastest group; after only 10 miles with that group I was already running Z4 heart rate and knew I would blow up. I dropped back with one other rider, joined a "B pace" group at the next SAG stop, and we had a great ride the rest of the way.
Day 2 and 3 were similar with the "B pace" group and we had a nice rhythm going even with torrential rains, 20 mph crosswinds, or even hail at times. I had no pain after the rides, except a little where some additional chamois cream might have helped. But the body was fully ready for this ride. To prove it, on Day 1, I PR'd almost every segment over 120 miles, even despite the wind difference.
In terms of conditioning yourself to ride long days in Florida, a few things come to mind from my past experience. Salt is the paramount key to endurance riding in Florida. I learned this the hard way on the 2015 ride, where I ended up shivering on the side of the road and SAG'd 12 miles to catch up. It turns out I kept putting water into my body to stay hydrated, but not enough electrolyte or salt to replace what is lost in sweat. In 2021, I consumed over 5L of water, adding LMNT electrolytes (sodium/potassium/magnesium) every other bottle. At every SAG stop (about 25-30 miles), I took a SaltStick tablet and ate pickles. Even after all that, on the first day I had salt cramps an hour after the ride and for a bit after dinner. Day 2 and 3 were much easier, I was mainly just hungry!
The other advice I got in 2015 held true - endurance cycling is about food. Real, quality food. At the lunch SAG stop on the first two days, I inhaled scoops of delicious chicken salad on white bread, grapes, potato chips, and even a tiny amount of coffee brownies despite my sucrose allergy. RX Bars and the like are useful for nutrition, but going all day on the bike is a lot easier when you actually eat.
Temperature management was also important. For the longest day of riding, I wore my lightest weight summer jersey and base layer. I also took off the sweat cap about halfway through the first day ride, realizing it was retaining heat rather than ventilating.
Everything I was jealous of other riders in 2015, I was the one doing in 2021. In a group formation when we had riders go off the front, I was amazed when the ride organizer in 2015 was able to sprint up to them seemingly effortlessly. This time, that was my role as we headed down Card Sound Road to Key Largo. I took my windbreaker off while moving after the rain subsided the second time on day 2; no way did I want to make the group stop but I've gotten quite used to 'wardrobe changes' en route. Two other riders in the pack were surprised/impressed/worried that I was undressing while we motored along, but it was no big deal. And most fun, on day one and day two I had occasion to be the tow truck, where riders who had run out of energy needed assistance to get to the finish, and I provided a 1:1 draft and some motivation to get it done. It meant that I wasn't riding at group pace anymore, but it was important to the overall ride. There were plenty of heroes among our rider groups; it was clear how many people had done serious training and thinking about this ride.
This would not be a fun ride to do solo. Riding on the shoulder of 45-55 mph roads is only safe in a group. The extra sets of eyes to watch for traffic, debris, birds/alligators is all super important (yes we had a bird issue, once). But as a group, it's an amazing trip.
Yes, I'll go back. 2022? Not sure, but this is one of the best-organized, highest-spirits rides I've had a chance to do in my life, and that is worth its weight in gold. 50 cyclists raised over $50,000 for two Florida childrens' charities, which makes the effort noble, worthwhile, and a unique opportunity to repeat. By the numbers, over his three days, Ed spent over 16 hours in the saddle, 450.8km end-to-end, and burning 7208 calories (the equivalent of nearly 24 cheeseburgers). We're over the moon he got to end the road season in style this year, as we get back into winter mode and prepare for the next adventure!