Archive for December, 2015

GFNY: 3-Years and Looking Back

GFNY-LogoRecently Omar and Frank each wrote a “looking back” post on Facebook about their GFNY experience, so I thought I should follow suit. Omar used a photo from three years ago to highlight his first day as a ride leader for Gruppo Sportivo GFNY. That very same day seems to have been Frank’s first GFNY group ride. And, well, that’s true for me as well – that fateful, foggy Sunday was what started this wild ride for me, too.

Before GFNY

In 2011 I was digging through the basement of a weekend house we had on the North Fork of Long Island and found a “beater bike” that my in-laws got at a garage sale for about $20. I brought it to the Local Bike Shop (LBS) and started riding on Sunday mornings around the mostly flat local roads. It was a 12-speed that was missing a chainring making it a 6-speed. (And if I mistakenly “shifted” into that ring, well, there goes the chain!) After a summer of increasingly “long” rides (15-miles was my longest) my wife encouraged me to buy a better bike. “It’s clear you’re enjoying this, so let’s get you a decent road bike for your birthday.”

In early 2012 I picked up a Giant Defy 3 from Country Time Cycle, my LBS, and joined their Sunday group rides. Soon I was riding 30-40 miles on Sundays. I was always the one catching up to the group, but I finished the rides and ultimately made great new friends. In September¬†2012 I rode my first century – a pancake flat 100-miles on the North Fork. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time, but I knew for sure I’d do it again.

Introduction to GFNY

Immediately after that century ride I was riding with a friend in the metro-NYC area and he mentioned GFNY. He had done a few triathlons and was a big runner, but was leaning more toward cycling at this point. During GFNY 2012 he was riding casually when the peleton came through his neighborhood, so he dropped in as a “bandit” for about 10-15 miles before testing his luck for too long. But in those miles, he was convinced he wanted to do GFNY. He described what he knew about it saying, “sure, it’s a century, but it’s so much more than that,” going on to highlight the challenging climbs, matching jerseys and George Washington Bridge start. He had friends who did it in 2012 and they clearly convinced him it was worth it. He quickly convinced me.

We both registered for GFNY 2013 sometime before the December group rides started and when December 2, 2012 arrived, we were in the Strictly Bicycles parking lot along with Frank, Ramon and so many others. Up on the starting “podium” were (Don) Vito, Heidi, Hayden, Omar, Wade and Paul – the members of Gruppo Sportivo (GS) GFNY at the time. Checking in with Heidi that morning was such a joy – she was (and always has been) all smiles and so encouraging. I, on the other hand, like Frank noted, was terrified. The C group was riding 30 “easy” miles, but for me, 30-miles wasn’t all that easy – and I had never before encountered State Line or Alpine climbs, so I was in for a “treat.”

That Fateful, Foggy Sunday

The entire pre-ride presentation by Heidi is nothing but a blur today. Now I can recite it in my sleep, but at the time, there were so many new “tips” (rules, really, but GS-GFNY tries to keep it casual) that I was entirely overwhelmed. Don’t pass the lead rider; stay off the road paint since it’s slick in the wet conditions; ride single file; etc. What I DO remember clearly is rolling out of the parking lot and up Hudson Terrace for the first time with the exhilaration of the group all around me. That 1.5 miles or so were fun and relaxing, but that didn’t last.

As we turned off Palisade Ave onto 9W, the pace didn’t really increase, but the group spread out as some were slower than others to make the turn. Near the back, I was pushing to get back to the pack and that first little incline and then CNBC hill just left me in the dust. But just when I thought I was all alone, either Heidi or Vito came up from behind me (I can’t remember which it was that first time) and paced me back to the group. This was not an uncommon occurrence over my rides into 2013, but there was notable improvement as the weeks wore on.

The Winter of 2013

The group rides in 2013 (starting December 2012) were blessed with relatively cool temperatures – you know, just above freezing! I struggled to stay warm that year trying all sorts of different gear, but if it were any other winter, I’d have given up. 2013 was generally above freezing, often foggy, but rarely intolerable. I learned so much about winter gear that year and it really paid off the next two winters.

Something else happened over those group rides that was pretty miraculous – from December 2012 to race day in May 2013, I lost almost 20-pounds. This was over wintertime when most (including me) usually get fat and lazy, justifying the “winter weight” as a way to stay warm. But when I started the group rides I was pushing 200-pounds, well over my ideal weight of about 170-pounds, so I was determined to shed some weight. And, let me tell you, getting dropped on every climb in group rides is incredible motivation! By May 2013, I was still at the back of the group on the climbs, but I was with the group instead of watching them ride away.

Race Day 2013

GFNY 2013 is infamous to this day for the Flandrian¬†conditions – steady rain and cold for the entire day. Granted, the Flemish have it much, much worse – if nothing else we had no mud or cobbles – but locally, this was darn near Flandrian. So many riders caught their final chill on the Bear Mountain descent that there were ambulances at the bottom waiting to treat them and deposit them at the finish line. To this day I’m impressed that no rider with numb hands actually went off the side of Bear Mountain – and I’m quite thankful for that as well.

How did I handle my first GFNY in these epic conditions? Well, slowly and painfully. My biggest mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just before we left the GWB start, I shed my outer layers expecting what was then light rain to let up as the day progressed – and it would get warmer.Well, it never got warmer and the rain got heavier, not lighter. But when I got to the top of Bear Mountain, I had a dry rain jacket and full finger gloves that I was able to put on for the descent. I’m fairly certain if I didn’t have these dry items, I’d have abandoned at the bottom of Bear. As it is I barely finished the race – while stopped at the last stop in Ramapo I gave very serious thoughts to a DNF (Did Not Finish) because I was shivering so violently.

The one good thing about these conditions was that I spent less time at the aid stations. I stopped at every one, but I refueled and rode off quickly to stay (relatively) warm. So even though I was riding slowly, I finished with a respectable time by keeping my stops brief. Besides freezing, the thing I remember most about this race were the rolling hills right near the finish and how hard even the smallest hills were at that point. But the feeling of crossing that finish line made every moment worth it!

Summer of 2013

I rode with Vito, Heidi and Omar (and others) throughout the summer of 2013 – strengthening the bond we’d formed through GS-GFNY. Vito was an especially strong influence on my rising season and by the time the fall rolled around I was begging for ways to help GFNY for the next season. GS-GFNY helped me turn my health around – from my max weight and panting to get up a flight of stairs from the subway to the wonderful feeling of early morning solo rides before work. I couldn’t have done it without them.

When I was told there was an opening on the team and they wanted me to meet with Uli and Lidia, I was floored. I wanted to help, but I didn’t feel worthy of being on “the team.” When I met with Uli and Lidia, I was so intimidated by them – these are serious, serious cyclists that I can only aspire to understand. But over coffee on Columbus Circle I came to understand GFNY through their eyes and it was life-changing for me. These hardcore athletes didn’t want to sign up 5,000 elite athletes, they wanted to sign up a few elite athletes to race at the front and fill the rest of the filed with aspiring weekend warriors like me. I was inspired by their desire to grow the cycling community while offering a race that is a serious, but very fun, challenge. To this day I’m still in awe of what they have created.

Gruppo Sportivo GFNY

When Uli ultimately sent me the email asking me to join the team, I was floored. I also threw myself into it with gusto, trying to get into perfect shape before December 2013. I failed in that regard, but I was mentally ready for that first ride – or so I thought. As Omar noted, when I arrived that day, I didn’t think I knew what I was doing and didn’t think I was ready to lead rides. I’m thrilled that I overcame all of this and made those on the ride feel like I knew what I was doing!

But, honestly, after that first lead ride, I felt like a leader, but I also felt like simply a part of a bigger community that is greater than the sum of its part. And this is my key takeaway – Gruppo Sportivo GFNY is made up of a small team of lead riders as well as the entire group of riders each week. This is a critical point – there is no GS-GFNY without those that ride with us each week and together we all get better over the six months we ride together.

Thank You All!

This is also what I’m thankful for this holiday season – that everyone I ride with on group rides has worked¬†together to become better riders, better friends and better people. And I have GS-GFNY (including all of you) to thank for that.