by Sarah Cooper, Ultracyclist
This last year has entirely changed my perception of difficult, and what I thought I knew about my own personal limits. What I thought I could do and what I have accomplished are surprisingly similar, but the how has been more challenging than I ever imagined, and painful in ways I could not have anticipated. I’m not prone to drama, nor do I participate in the celebration of suffering as do many cyclists. Having seen true human suffering, I have a hard time categorizing anything I do on a bike for fun as suffering. But the unique combination of weather conditions and terrain at Heart of the South 500 put me as close to the edge of what I can do physically as I think I have ever been, and I reached a state of misery that really defies explanation. Yet still as I sit here to begin writing this less than 48 hours after finishing, I am eager to ride again and well on the way to physical recovery. The human body is an amazing thing.
Heart of the South (HOTS) 500 is 517 miles over, around, and back over the Appalachian mountains in Alabama and Georgia. You are either riding up or down the entire event, with very few sections of road that you could call flat. There is everything from rolling hills to miles of continuous climbing and 38,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The pavement varies from good to bad, with chip seal and wheel eating potholes in a few sections. The race begins in Birmingham, Alabama at 8 p.m. on a Friday evening. The night time start is essentially to avoid Birmingham city traffic, but only adds to the difficulty as racers are awake for a much longer period of time before the start and the need for sleep will likely hit everyone before the race is over. Continue reading