Archive for June, 2015

Ride to Conquer Cancer – NY Inaugural Event

The Ride to Conquer Cancer supporting the Cancer Research Institute isn’t an entirely new event, but 2015 marked the inaugural event in New York. It’s touted as a 2-day ride of over 150-miles for both athletes and enthusiasts. And, I do agree, that anyone who can ride a bike should consider this event. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s supported in a way that makes it possible for many more than the usual athletes.

By the Numbers

  • 129: miles cycled over two days (actual)
  • 145: miles cycled by me (I rode to/from the start/finish)
  • 7,500: vertical feet climbed (according to my Garmin)
  • 260: riders participated
  • 1.7M: funds raised in USD (INCREDIBLE!)
  • 30: pounds of camping gear on my back during 16-mile round trip to/from event
  • Countless: bananas eaten at rest stops
  • Infinite: inspiring stories shared among riders

Before the Ride

Leading up to the ride weekend, I was committed to raising at least $2,500 in contributions. This is my only significant criticism about the event – many similar events have much lower minimums. I’m not faulting them for raising the bar, but I can say that I know a lot of people that passed on this event for this reason alone. And I’ll likely pass on this event in the future if it remains the same. Shame, really, as it’s a fantastic event.

2015-06-05 16.20.47That out of the way, let’s talk about all that was awesome – and there was plenty. I was overwhelmed by the support I received from friends and family. And I was especially surprised by the support I received from the team I work with everyday in my day job. They recognized that cycling is my passion and cancer research is a good cause – and they came through when I was struggling to reach my goal.

Fundraising aside, I didn’t do much training for the event. But I’m an obsessed cyclist, so I could get away with this. Instead, having not camped in about 25-years, I focused on getting some gear and figuring out how to handle that more unknown factor for me. I found some great gear on clearance at REI and outfitted myself inexpensively. But then I had to deal with the logistics of getting the gear to the event. The event transports gear from start/finish to/from camp, but getting to/from the start/finish is up to the riders. For most, this isn’t a problem – just get in the car. But for a New York City native like me without a car, it gets tricky. Being only 8-miles from the start/end point, I decided I could ride with all the gear on my back. And while this was quite a challenge (especially for the 2-miles I was in traffic on Broadway) it worked out just fine.

Saturday

2015-06-06 06.43.58The weather for Saturday morning called for rain, then overcast, then clear as the rain departed – and the rain SHOULD have been over before I got up at 5 AM. However, as I left my apartment for the ride to Tibbett’s Brook Park for the opening ceremony, the skies opened up and there was a downpour. I waited a few minutes, added a rain vest to my kit, grabbed rain gloves and made a second attempt. By now the downpour had stopped, but a steady rain just more than a drizzle continued. My ride to the park was going to include a dirt (mud) path (bog) through Van Cortlandt Park, but with the rain, that was no longer an option. Thankfully, I had plotted an alternate route as I knew the path might be mud. Unfortunately, this route was untested and proved to include a few tough roads through the Bronx. When I got to the park the rain had (mostly) halted but you can see on my vest the results of wet and grimy streets.

Damp and chilly, but hardly uncomfortable, I enjoyed the continental breakfast and the company of other riders at the opening ceremony. There were a number of speakers, from sponsors to survivors, before we started and all of them added to the awesomeness of the event. Each told a story of inspiration and hope by either having survived, fighting to survive or working to help others survive this terrible thing we call cancer. At this point there was as much mist in the air as could be found in the eyes of the participants.

2015-06-07 07.31.17As 7:30 AM arrived, we were off – and the riding was great. I took my time on Saturday despite my ability to go faster. Instead, I treated Saturday as a social ride and I talked to as many people as I could. I met Joel, an actor who was riding for a friend. I met Jennifer who works for sponsor Bristol-Myers Squibb looking for cancer cures everyday. Jennifer was also riding for her friend Nick who had succumb to a heart condition recently. And I met Maribel – pictured here with her trusty Brompton bicycle and Brooks saddle. Brompton makes an amazingly versatile and durable folding bike, but made for distance it is not. Riding that bike, and her being a breast cancer survivor, may have made her the most inspirational person I met on the ride.

I stopped at every rest stop and talked to many different people. The diversity of riders and their stories was the most interesting and rewarding part of the ride.

Camping

2015-06-06 14.28.22After almost 75-miles of soggy riding, I arrived at camp relatively dry as the sun had finally appeared and was drying things out quickly. There was a dramatic final mile of riding to get to camp in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation – as the tents came into view at eye level, the road turned sharply upward. Riders who were tired and longing to reach camp began wondering if this was a joke as we rode higher and looked down upon the camp we appeared to be passing! But then there was a turn and a descent into camp making for an exciting and dramatic entrance into the finishing gate. Chris, our terrific MC, was there congratulating folks on day one and calling out names as they crossed into camp.

The roughly 200 little tents were quite a sight, but first I parked my bike and headed for a cold drink – then I hunted for my gear and located my tent. I contemplated the fact that I’d be sharing the tent with a complete stranger, but took solace in the fact that he was likely thinking the same thing and anyone that was doing this ride had at least a few things in common. (Hopefully snoring wasn’t one of them!) I then unpacked enough of my gear to get out of my cycling kit and take a shower (the mobile shower truck was a real godsend at camp!) Right after I returned from my shower in shorts and a t-shirt, my roommate (tentmate?) Brian arrived in his cycling kit. Before the small talk I learned that he had two flats and needed to seek out a new tire to prevent more flats tomorrow, but otherwise he seemed normal and friendly enough. While he was gone I got my side of the tent partially set up and took in some afternoon activities before dinner.

2015-06-06 13.52.43

Once I’d gotten my fill of a pretty darn good meal (considering we were at a camp site) Brian returned having gone back to town for a new tire and finally showered and gotten comfortable. We shared stories while he had his dinner and connected with another rider, Joel, to socialize for the rest of the evening. At around 7pm the entire camp was jostling for the little mobile bandwidth available to either live stream the Belmont Stakes or at least get the results. The camp erupted when we learned that there was, in fact, a Triple Crown winner!

Brian and I returned to the tent to get ready for the night around 8:30 PM. He was a somewhat more experienced camper than me and even he was taken aback by the tent size. It wasn’t uncomfortable, per se, but allowed for no room to store gear in the tent. If it wasn’t for a few of Brian’s tips, I wouldn’t have found the camping to be as enjoyable as it was. For example, he noted that EVERYTHING will get wet overnight, so plan accordingly. Since we couldn’t put gear inside, I put mine in a trash bag outside and found it much dryer in the morning than others. He also noted the slope of the ground so we were sure to have our heads on the (slightly) higher ground while we slept. Most importantly he suggested butting my Sunday cycling kit in my sleeping bag so it would be warm when I put it on in the morning. When “lights out” occurred at 9 PM, I immediately noted that a tent has no sound buffering qualities; it didn’t matter if Brian snored or not – you could hear snoring from many different people many tents away.

We soon learned that nearby at John Jay High School there was another charity event – Relay For Life. Also a benefit for cancer research, the basic idea is that teams run a relay race on a track overnight. Teammates can rest/nap periodically, but someone on the team is on the track at all times. So the event had music and an MC blaring all night. At first I was annoyed, but when I learned what the event was, I found it really interesting. I may ride long distances all the time, but the only way you’ll find me running more than a 5k is if my life depended on it. In this case, folks were running (just like we were cycling) because the life of others who can’t run/ride depended on it. Sobering, for sure.

Sunday

Snuggled in a sleeping bag, in a tent, in a campground, can be really relaxing and enjoyable. Being so close to a newly introduced roommate and listening to an MC all night isn’t quite as relaxing. Yet at some point I feel soundly asleep, because when I was starting to wake up in the morning I heard the MC announcing the 4 AM breakfast. I probably slept a solid 6-hours. Not bad. And as I was coming to I noticed Brian was opening the tent flap and I was thrilled to see that he was awake since, well, “nature called” and I would have certainly woke him if I tried to exit. One of his tips was to push the tent flap outward as unzipping to assure the dripping water stays outside the tent. I’d surely have been cold and wet without his experience.

2015-06-07 07.12.52We both returned to our sleeping bags rather quickly as it was 42F with a Real-Feel of 37F since it was super damp out. The forecast called for an overnight low of 52F, so we were slightly unprepared. But, alas, another hour and half in the sleeping bag was perfect and once the sun came out at 5:20 AM the damp cold burned off quickly. It was a comfortably chilly 60F when the course opened at 7 AM. And despite the cold, it was beautiful at camp and spirits were high with the anticipation of another great day of riding. And, today, in the SUN!

I didn’t plan on taking a shower in the morning, but since that was the only place to change and I did have a chill, a short, hot shower was just the ticket. I left the showers in my summer riding kit with sweats and a fleece to keep in the warmth until I was ready to ride. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hot (well, warm) breakfast waiting and took my fill of eggs and bacon before packing up my camping gear. Being an inexperienced camper, I decided to declare victory for the entire weekend when I was able to get everything back into it’s original configuration either in my backpack or attached to it. Too bad I still had to ride 70_ miles to get home – eight of those with the 30-pound gear on my back. Victory would have to wait.

Since the Day Two route was a staggered start, it was a bit more independent than Day One. And while I planned to stop at each stop to socialize, I took the ride at my pace and a bit faster than Saturday. I got out of the gate at 7:30 AM and was eating lunch by 10:30 AM. The route started with a few relatively brutal climbs (that I would begin to recognize from the awesome descents the day before) and then turned to the more regular rolling hills as we proceeded south. Still, there were more hills than the route plan would suggest and it was far from a walk in the park.

Our lunch break was at a beautiful new park in Stamford, CT. Sprinklers were watering the far side of the park while we were eating lunch. And then, SURPRISE! The sprinklers near us turned on as well. I’ve got news for the operators of this park – not only shouldn’t you run sprinklers during the peak ours people will use the park, but you aren’t supposed to water in sunlight anyway. Amateur Hour! Frankly, a light dousing of water felt nice right before the departure from the park, so I’m not really complaining. Oh, and remind me never to ride in Stamford without a police escort – the drivers there were BRUTAL!

After Stamford the route was decidedly less scenic other than Greenwich, CT and Rye, NY. In fact, the last 10-12 miles went through awful neighborhoods in Mount Vernon and Yonkers. The Mount Vernon section actually had several burnt out buildings and seemingly had more boarded up and empty storefronts than operating ones. Not only was this depressing, but it came right where the slower riders would need motivation and, instead, would sap it out of them. I hope the organizers will reconsider the route next year – especially when the Saturday ride out of Yonkers was beautiful. In which case, why take us back through its bad area?

2015-06-07 13.26.10Despite the bad neighborhoods, the final mile in Tibbetts Brook Park was terrific. Like Saturday, we rode past the finish as if being teased, but this time without a difficult incline. After passing the finish line, we swooped back around and had a nice, long stretch leading right into the finish line gate. Folks were lined up for a few hundred yards cheering and Chris was able to encourage riders from a great distance as they approached. I cam down the chute just in front of fellow rider Jay as Chris announced, “and here comes Jared in all green with his friend in tow wearing green shoelaces to match!” A fun and lighthearted finish to the ride. I spent some time socializing with other riders and their friends and family at the finish line while enjoying a well-deserved charbroiled burger and a beer. Then I strapped on the camping gear and headed home where this brutal (but short) climb was the last stretch of my ride.

Summary

For the cycling geeks, you can see all my ride data below. For them and everyone else, this was a fantastic experience and I love the format as a two day event with overnight camping. I may not do it again due to the relatively steep fundraising minimum, but I’m happy to have helped the cause and encourage others to do this – especially if you have a corporate match. The inspiring people and their stories are so amazing and truly unique; and you’ll never meet/hear them if you don’t participate.

I did this ride for three people in particular:

  • My Mom – who passed from Leukemia when I was 12-years old
  • My Sister – who is now a 5-year clinical survivor of breast cancer
  • Shannon – who was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2010 and given six months to live but survives. And somehow he not only wears a permanent smile, but projects it to others as well. I’m proud to call him a friend.

My story is unique, but only because it’s mine. Can you imagine how many other unique stories were on the road with me this weekend?


For the data geeks…

GFNY15 Race Report

Prelude

Scene-2My Campagnolo GFNY journey began after I did my first century ride – a completely flat one – in 2012. A friend said we should do the GFNY 2013 and the training began when the first Gruppo Sportivo GFNY group ride took place in early December of 2012. (And the morning of GFNY13 looked a lot like the one this year, only about 20-degrees colder and it rained all day.) Despite having taken to cycling over the last couple of years, I was a sloth – overweight and lazy. I was at the height of my weight trajectory – one trajectory where “height of” is not a good place to be. I was quickly approaching 200 pounds.

I had never cycled past Nyack at this point and I had never climbed any serious hills. After the first couple of training rides it became obvious – I needed to lose some weight. I began paying close attention to my food intake and began taking more and more rides. This plus the encouragement I received from Heidi, Vito and Omar (and the rest of GS-GFNY) resulted in my losing 18-pounds before GFNY13. And I maintained this new “weight state” through GFNY14 and much of the 2014 cycling season.

Scene-5Then August and September (2014) happened – the worst two months in a long time. It was a stressful period at work – and I compensated with food. I traveled a lot – and used that as an excuse to eat more food. I went to Italy where, well, you just can’t help but eat great food! I returned from Italy just over 190 pounds. No problem – I’ve got the GS-GFNY training rides all winter to motivate me! Well, winter turned out to be really tough as well – one of the coldest on record and WAY too many training rides cancelled. Sure, I rode the indoor trainer – A LOT, but it wasn’t enough. Only as the weather started to turn in late March did I finally strt losing the extra pounds. By GFNY15 race day, I’d managed to get down to 177 pounds – my lowest riding weight since I started keeping track. Things were looking up again.

Race Weekend

Despite the warm and fuzzy feelings about my weight going into the race weekend, I was still a bit worried about the lack of sustained winter training. I felt mentally ready for the race, but was entirely unsure what to expect from my body. I’d had training rides where I was floating on air and others where I red-lined my heart rate on an otherwise ordinary hill. Which body was going to show up at the starting line was anybody’s guess. Either way, I went into the race weekend with good spirits and followed my now established ritual:

  • Scene-3Friday:
    • Work the bike expo
    • Enjoy the Italian welcome dinner
  • Saturday:
    • “Sleep in” (7 AM for me)
    • Bagel and whitefish “treat” for breakfast
    • Prep Maggie and take her for short spin
    • Cook up 1-pound of pasta and 1-pound of ground chicken
    • Relax with some TV and shovel down pasta and protein all day
    • Drink lots of water
  • Sunday:
    • Wake early
    • Bagel w/peanut butter for breakfast
    • Ride to the starting corrals
    • Second bagel w/peanut butter on the bridge
    • 7 AM – go for a pleasant ride with a few thousand close friends

The Race – Part One

sportograf-59844833_lowresRace morning was comfortably cool and waiting on the George Washington Bridge for 1.5+ hours was much more tolerable than usual. I was also incredibly relaxed – almost too relaxed. When the 7 AM start arrived, I rolled out feeling really comfortable for the first time in my 3-year GFNY history. The wait time on the bridge was social, relaxed and really enjoyable. I felt no obvious anxiety leading up to the opening gun.

As planned, I stayed with some super-fast groups through River Road and dropped off at the bottom of Alpine Hill. And at that moment, my relaxation turned on me. I began the climb of Alpine and felt rather sluggish. Despite a smooth ten mile start on the flats and rollers, my climbing was more tortured than usual. I took about 8-minutes to get up Alpine when I normally do it in about 6-minutes. Not a great sign.

Scene-4Alpine behind me, I found another group on 9W and got back to the 24-mph range which was sustained most of the way into Nyack. I felt better again, but next up were a few short, challenging hills in Nyack. I climbed the very short 4th Avenue climb smoothly and felt pretty good. Then the Old Mountain Road climb went pretty well, too. And, finally, I was on Hook Mountain (Toga) and while I was spinning more than usual, I felt pretty good. Then a rider passed me an asked it I was OK. “Fine, just climbing slowly as usual,” I replied. But was I actually going even slower than I thought?

I took my first of two gels before Bear Mountain, proceeded through Haverstraw (with a VERY short stop just for a bio-break) and over “Baby Bear” at my normal (slow) pace. At the bottom of Bear, I was 15-minutes ahead of my target pace and feeling pretty relaxed. I typically climb Bear Mountain from 9w (the very bottom) in just over 30-minutes. Add a short break at the top and I’d still be ahead of pace. But the climb took me almost 45-minutes and I felt awful. Now I was really worried – if Bear Mountain, a climb I usually take smoothly was such a challenge, what’s going to happen on the steeper climbs to come?

The Race – Part Two

Scene-6Well, this was definitely a Tale of Two Races. The first half was erratic, and I was now a bit off my target pace. But somehow, after a rest at the top of Bear Mountain, I was able to turn on the gas for the second half and never let up. Maybe I just needed the rest. Maybe it was the energy of the crowd on the top of Bear Mountain. Maybe it was just a weird day for me. All I know is that I took the rest I needed, got some fuel, filled a bidon, and went on my merry way.

Speaking of bidon’s – that’s my 2014 bidon in this photo on the top of Bear Mountain that was shared with every GFNY15 rider (and my knee in the corner of the frame.) I told the photographer that it was last year’s edition but he liked the contrast of the black. Yet the date was awfully clear in the shot, so I’m sorry for any confusion that this has caused!

JMS-C- (1)Despite my struggle ascending Bear Mountain, my descent was flawless. (And by looking at this photo, I didn’t seem to be visibly struggling on the ascent!) I didn’t set a personal best on the ride down, but I came close. And, frankly, I hit a cluster of riders near the bottom of Perkins that I couldn’t safely pass – once we got onto Seven Lakes Drive I passed them and continued rapidly. That delay plus the terrible road conditions at the traffic circle may have been the difference. No matter, I’d later learn that I didn’t really need to make up another 10-20 seconds on a fast descent.

As I began to climb “Baby Bear” on the return trip I was a little concerned that I might slow down yet again. But this time, I took it at a smooth pace and one that was more familiar to me from my training.

JMS-D- (2)A little further down 9W and it was time for the most challenging 12-miles of the course. While Bear Mountain is the longest climb, the next 12-miles have the three “hardest” climbs. I classify difficulty in ft/mi (feet per mile) otherwise known as % grade. Where Bear Mountain averages 5.5% for a longer distance, the next three climbs are all of a higher gradient and 1-2 miles long. And one of them, “Mott Farm,” isn’t even a “named” climb on the GFNY course layout. But, believe me, it’s just as challenging as the named climbs.

I really love the challenge of these three climbs and portions of them, especially on Gate Hill, are more suited to my style. These are shorter, steeper segments that I can attack and then get a small recovery before the next kick. I love this photo in particular because it reflects how I felt at this point – cool and collected. Other’s are struggling, jersey’s open, trying to recover and I’m just doing my thing. This is when I knew I was finally racing my race and I was in the zone. Passing riders on the hardest climbs is not usually what I do, but when I started passing others here, it really got me motivated.

JMS-C- (5)Even though I’d gone effectively 45-miles on the front part of the ride without a notable stop, I always had it in my plan to make the Pomona rest stop even though it’s so close to Bear Mountain. But with the toughest stretch in between, I know I need it. And I think it prepares me mentally for those 12-miles, knowing I can push harder and then take a break really helps.

I stopped in Pomona, filled a bidon, got some fuel, and headed back out pretty quickly. I needed the mental break more than the physical one and didn’t want to lose time here. While I made up some time over the last section, I was still a bit behind my target and it was time to get moving. Thankfully, I was ready for the next stretch and it suits my strengths – relatively flat with rollers where I can really get up to speed. I was feeling great and, even knowing there’d be few groups to draft here, I headed out at 20+mph and kept a blistering pace (for me) until reaching State Line hill.

JMS-A- (2)When I got to State Line I was almost back to my target pace but here was another climb and I was still questioning which rider would show up. Thankfully, I took it smoothly – no records, but no significant struggle, either. From here I headed back into Palisades Interstate Park for the final section through River Road. On the approach, I was really impressed with the new road layout and police control – it was nice to have a protected chute into Alpine Approach.

In the past GFNY years, River Road was a mixed blessing. For the most part it suits me, but after the challenges of the 90-miles already completed, I would find some of the small climbs to be unbearable. Not today, though – I was smooth and steady through the park and on my way to a terrific finish. At this point it was all but certain that I’d set my best time. What was uncertain was if I could reach my target time – a full 24-minutes faster than last year. What was certain, though, was that I was going to leave it all out there and either reach my goal or collapse trying.

Finish-2As I completed the River Road segment at mile 97 with only Dyckman Hill and Hudson Terrace left, I did a time check and saw that I’d have to crush the last three miles to make my goal. So I attached Dyckman Hill, briefly glanced across the Hudson River from the top to find some motivation, and began my sustained effort down Hudson Terrace to the finish line. There’s one short climb called Unnecessary Hill a little over a mile from the finish line which I love to attack. This time wasn’t my fastest as I’d been really pushing for the last two miles, but it was still enough. With a target of 6:45, I crossed the finish line at 6:44:14. Victory! And after that victory? The first GFNY where I almost fell over after the finish line because I truly left it all out there and hardly had the legs, or balance, to dismount.

Final Words

GFNY Results 2015GFNY15 posed a unique challenge – a tough winter which limited training and then a warm and sticky race day. Normally the weather we had would be welcomed, but I think many riders were unprepared for such effort in the heat when there had really been no hot training days this season. Maybe this is what hurt me on the initial climbs, maybe not. But the reality of a May race, early in the season, is that the weather is almost always a factor. And, for me, the reality is that improvements in my climbing could take yet another 10-15 minutes off my time resulting in a 6:30 goal for next year. (That was my stretch goal this year and was absolutely not possible. Yet!)

I really encourage others to challenge themselves and to take advantage of the Gruppo Sportivo GFNY training rides December through May. Training with GS-GFNY made all the difference in my first year and now I’m blessed to be a part of that team and share this with others. I’m inspired everyday by the folks I’ve helped along the way – each of them has achieved a personal goal and rewarded the entire GFNY community in the process. Register now for May 2016 to secure your spot and to get into the GS-GFNY training community in spirit before we kick off on the road in December.

And in the meantime, have fun, be safe, reach new heights and I’ll see you on the road!

GFNY Results CBND 13-14