Hotter ’N Hell Hundred goes to extremes

Posted Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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There is a convergence taking place in North Texas.

Heat is rising, viewers are watching the Tour de France on television, and more and more spandex is appearing on the city streets.

Neighborhood cyclists, who usually go out in cargo shorts and running shoes, are now outfitted in jerseys that would be the envy of NASCAR drivers, and the bikers are wearing helmets that look like small bird cages.

They are training in earnest for the Hotter ’N Hell Hundred, which is only weeks away.

It is a bicycle race for those who might not know. This year’s edition will take place Saturday, Aug. 24, and it will be the 32nd running. It is held in Wichita Falls, a hundred or so miles northwest of Fort Worth.

It is an odd place for a bicycle race, but when the city celebrated its centennial in 1982, it came upon the idea because it just made a kind of twisted, diabolic sense to celebrate 100 years with a 100-mile bike race in a place where it was sure to be 100 degrees.

There were 1,200 riders that first year and by all rights that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Last year 13,500 riders registered for the event, and there is no sign the numbers are going to dwindle.

Just think of it: Wichita Falls, where the Dallas Cowboys quit training because it was too hot.

It is the gateway to the Panhandle, where the greatest hope of shade comes from a rusted-out oil-field pump jack, or a mesquite tree towering three feet above the neighboring prickly pear cactus.

The ride takes place on asphalt-covered back roads that emit heat in shimmering waves and are cluttered with dead water bottles and disposed banana peels from thousands of sweltering riders.

There are no Alps, no Pyrenees; it is Iowa Park to Electra, not Versailles to Paris Champs-Elysees.

Still, on that weekend, we’ll see hundreds of cars headed north on U.S. 287 with handle bars affixed atop like antlers leaning into the wind.

“Some people just like to slam-dunk themselves more than others,” said Mike Keel, who has ridden the Hotter ’N Hell since 1987.

It is, he said, an extreme race and a particularly unique challenge that is intriguing to a lot of people.

“A lot of them begin their training now, about a month in advance,” he said. “In reality, they’re about eight weeks late.”

But that elongated time frame, he said, is for the real stout of heart; the ones who intend to pedal the entire 100 miles with a specific time in mind and an ambition to do more than just finish the race.

For thousands, the idea is to just be there and to experience the event — professional riders and amateurs, young and old, backyard bikes against European thoroughbreds.

Mercifully, to do the Hotter ’N Hell does not necessarily mean to do the complete 100 miles. There are turnoff points where a rider can take a 100-kilometer route, a 50-mile route or even a 25-mile route.

“To do the 100-mile race, the rider will spend seven hours or more in the saddle and that’s a lot of time out in that kind of heat,” Keel says. “We encourage riders to consider the shorter options, especially if they are just now starting their training.”

Keel has a training facility in Plano and sells a Hotter ’N Hell training guide on his website www.bikinmike.org, and he offers a few tips to new riders.

“First thing,” he said, “is get acclimated to the heat.”

He said it’s not uncommon to see riders training in the dark of morning or late in the evening, when the sun has receded and temperature has dropped.

“We suggest you don’t do that,” he said. “You have to get lots of training in the real heat of the day. That’s when you will be riding, and you need to prepare for that.”

Secondly, he said, be careful of your pace.

“If every time you get on the bike, you take off like a dog is chasing you, you need to slow down. You have to get your heart rate down and, if you can’t talk while you’re riding, you are being too aggressive,” he said.

And lastly, he said, you must deal with hydration and nutrition.

“Be realistic about your nutrition,” he said. “A lot of riders skip breakfast, but they don’t realize dinner fuels the morning, but breakfast fuels the afternoon. You need those calories, and you’ll need 200 or 250 an hour just to stay out of trouble.”

In the end, Keel suggests that riders who want to take on this extreme challenge should check with their doctors. Not just for the questions of hydration and nutrition, but also to make sure there are no problems with certain medications, especially for blood pressure or heart problems.

“We have found that in many cases doctors have encouraged an alteration in the medications during the race, especially with riders who are in the 50-plus category,” he said.

“In any kind of timed event, there’s anxiety and a tendency to push the body,” he said. “If the body isn’t in the habit of being pushed, it can cause trouble.”

Pedaling a hundred miles in 100 degrees isn’t something most people make of habit of.

For more information on the Hotter ’N Hell, including registration, course maps and scheduling, go to http://www.hh100.org/.

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