Creston resident Larry Hildenbrand is a pretty hardcore cyclist these days, but has two things going against him.
“First, I’m big and fat,” he said. “Second, I’m no spring chicken.”
At 59 years old, he’s half right. As for being big and fat, well, it depends on how you measure big fatness.
When he was in high school, Hildenbrand ran cross country for Lompoc High School. At one time, he was the fifth best runner in the nation, and was on Lompoc’s first ever team to win the CIF championship.
“I was just shy of Olympic caliber,” he said with pride.
He said his best time running the mile was 4:11 and once ran a 29:30 10K, or 6.2 miles. He finished his first marathon in 2:36, a pace of about six minutes per mile.
By way of comparison, the male world record for a marathon is held by Patrick Makau from Kenya in 2:03:38.
“I was out for a jog,” Hildenbrand said with a laugh.
Running earned him a scholarship to college. After that, life happened. He’s lucky in that he loved electronics as a kid and was able to turn electrical engineering into a career. But getting married, having kids and working took their toll. He got up to 285 pounds.
“Working a real job tends to get in the way of life,” he said ruefully.
He said he was lethargic and would easily run out of breath. His doctor told him to change something, and change it quick.
Besides, he added, “I just didn’t like being fat and out of shape.”
So he started running — or trying to. It was something he excelled at in his youth, after all.
“But that was a lifetime ago,” he said.
Running, it turned out, didn’t work so well in middle age. His knees really suffered. A friend suggested he try cycling since it’s lower-impact. So while in the area of an REI store, he bought a road bike that was too small for him. That hurt his knees, too, but he also really enjoyed the act of cycling. So he went to Go For It Sports and bought another one, only he did it right. He bought a Felt B2 and got fitted to the bike.
“That got rid of a lot of problems,” he said.
He started riding big time, both with groups and alone. And alone with groups.
“Yeah, I ride solo all the time,” he said, laughing. “Especially when I get dropped [by the group].”
Getting dropped doesn’t keep him from going, however. It also doesn’t keep him from going and going and going. For Hildenbrand, a bike ride very frequently means 200 miles.
“It sounds tough,” he said, “but it’s not much tougher than doing 100.”
There are two secrets to successful long-distance rides, he said. The first is getting fitted to your bike.
When your bike fits, you don’t get saddle sore, your knees and hips don’t hurt. Your body, in short, works in concert with the bike and not in spite of it.
“Pay the money, get a pro fitter,” he said. “They’ll spend three, four hours fitting you.”
Second is getting enough food during the ride. He said he needs about 350 calories per hour to keep going on the long ones.
Speaking of long ones, Hildenbrand has quite a plan for early October. He’ll head to Santa Clarita with his wife and support crew, where he will begin the Furnace Creek 508-mile bike race.
It’s a three-day, 508-mile bike race that heads through Death Valley and ends in Twentynine Palms. The record for Hildenbrand’s age group is held by Reed Finfock who finished in 32:10:30 in 2007. Most riders don’t sleep for the race. They just ride and ride. As such, having a crew is one of the course’s requirements. Hidenbrand’s crew will be headed by his wife, Lorriana.
Lorriana, by the way, doesn’t ride herself, but Hildebrand said she’s enormously supportive. She’s helped put on the Central Coast Double Century and regularly staffs support and gear vehicles and rest stops on races.
Hildenbrand said he’s not positive what gear, exactly, will end up in the couple’s minivan, but he said he’d almost certainly overpack with his extra bike, a spare wheelset or two, spare tubes, tires, clothes and a huge variety and stockpile of food.
That list, he said, was born of hard experience. A while back while riding the Hemmet Double Century, he broke two spokes. So he called up his wife using the cell phone he brings on every single ride without fail.
“She brought the [spare] bike, I was able to finish,” he said. “What I’ve learned doing these longer rides is more stuff goes wrong. I used to only carry one tube, one cartridge.”
Now he brings a tube, two cartridges and a patch kit.
“The upside is I’m an expert at changing flats,” he said, laughing.
By the time this story is on the newsstands, he’ll have done his first 300-mile ride.
And he also does shorter rides three to four times a week and generally throws in a 100-mile or greater ride on the weekends.
But the big question is, of course, at this time of life, why ride a 508-mile race that’ll take at least a day and a half, maybe two days, with no sleep and requiring a great big drive and convincing people to take four days to support your ride?
“It’s something that most people can’t do,” Hildenbrand said. “I take a lot of pride in doing things other people can’t do.”