Gran Fondo NY

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Training

This past weekend, my good buddy Fernando and I participated (not raced!) in the GFNY event held in NY and NJ.  It’s actually two events combined into one:  a 100 mile bike RACE, and a 50 mile bike ride.  Fern initially came up with the idea of doing the 100 miler thanks to influence from friends of his with whom we’d potentially be a four person team.  But, as time marched on and he realized that his fitness was not where he thought it needed to be, we dropped down to the 50 mile distance.

Essentially, riders gather on the lower roadway of the George Washington Bridge and at 7 am, all depart on a course that takes us along the Hudson River (mostly) through beautiful scenery towards Bear Mountain in Rockland County, NY.  The course is hilly for sure; the Bear Mountain climb itself is 4 miles of various gradiants, the most being roughly 10%.  For the 50 mile participants, ascending the hill is the victory, and a short descent to the shuttles ends the day where riders and their bikes are driven back to the GWB.  For the 100 milers, the latter half of the course features more hills but on a different return route.

Neither of us have ever done this type of event before, and neither of us are true cyclists in the sense of living and breathing the cyclist lifestyle.  Sure, we ride to support the triathlon interests, but tri-guys are considerably different than roadies.  We ride different bikes, we are not comfortable in big groups and often train solo, and we don’t know all the unwritten rules of etiquette.  But, how hard could it be?

It was a chilly morning; temps in the low 50s, overcast mostly, and windy.  We killed time for almost an hour on that lower roadway of the GWB and once we were off, it was mayhem.  Tons of riders everywhere, we were chilled to the bone, and a meandering course to get us to River Road.  Once there, we were on familiar ground and just rode along per our usual training pace.  Many yahoos were darting in and out as they did their relative best to race this event; we were not so inclined.  For us, it was about safety and enjoying the experience.  The enjoyment, however, took a while to settle in as we white-knuckled the descents amid so many riders of varying abilities.

I was on my road bike versus my very comfortable triathlon bike.  The road bike is lighter and considerably more nimble, though a bit too large a frame for me.  I have been wanting to replace it for a while, but it takes money… a lot of it… to get what I want.  It still did the trick.  Fern was on his road bike as well, so we were in good control.  The many hills were very easy for me and much of it was because my machine was light and easy to ride; I’ve also put in a fair share of riding miles this season; roughly 800 miles thus far.

We stopped once at an aid station in Stony Point at mile 32, and we knew that the top of Bear Mountain was mile 47, so we were well prepared.  Fern’s back began to bother him which was to be expected given his lighter training mileage this year, but I felt great.  It seemed like each hill ascent was easy and that I was holding back to prepare for the big Bear Mountain ascent.  As we re-grouped a few miles before the big climb, I coached Fern as best I could as to what to expect on the hill given maybe a half dozen previous climbs in my Ironman training years.  Once we got to the base, we said goodbye and I was off.

I wasn’t trying to be a showoff or break any records, but spinning up the hill was seemingly easy.  I felt no major lactic acid buildup and no labored breathing.  My heart rate monitor confirmed that I was in the right zone.  As we made the turn to the steeper section called Perkins, I wondered if the previous miles would take their toll, or if my confidence was ill-placed.  I pedaled conservatively as each kilometer marker was passed, and wound up connecting with a rider with whom we played a little cat and mouse as we traded turns leading one another.  With about one kilometer left to go, I made a pass, shifted to a harder gear, got out of the saddle and really pushed.  I felt like I was passing 10 riders a minute or more.  Then, the banner appeared and I shifted again.  As I crossed the threshold signaling the end of the climb, I was in great shape and couldn’t contain my smile.  I got my medal, circled around to that banner, and waited for Fern.  Unfortunately, his quad muscles seized up and he had to walk a couple of times.  But, pride can be a powerful motivator and he made sure to cross the finish line riding his bike and smiling too… and I was able to record a video of that moment.

In reviewing the final results, it appears that I was 19th fastest out of 628 people in the 50 mile category which puts me in the top 3%!  Wow!

After a few moments reveling in our glory, we descended down to the shuttle buses, and headed back.  It took just a few moments of being on the highway before we both passed out given how early we had gotten up and the effort level that followed… but it was still a glorious day for us.

In the end, our ride times were 3 hours and then some, but they did record the Bear Mountain time split.  For me, it was 26 minutes and 38 seconds.  From what I can tell, my previous climb record was something like 40 minutes and change, so this was pretty amazing by my standards.  It has me even more motivated to find hills to climb!

Tomorrow, a mere 6 days after this cycling event, Fern and I are racing the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  I am not in good shape for this event.  I’ve been battling a sore oblique muscle that causes discomfort with each running stride.  I’m not a huge up-and-down type of runner, nor am I like Alberto Salazar whose running form featured an upper body that almost never vertically moved, but whatever form I employ seems to apply pressure to the muscle issue with each stride… so I’ve been avoiding running for a couple of weeks.  I might be in a little bit of trouble tomorrow, but I’m sure I’ll finish even if I’m in a bad way.  The big motivator will be the beer in the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball park afterwards!  Beer… the reward for champions!

NOTE:  Race organizers required that participants wear the GFNY cycling jersey, so while CityMD is not represented in the photo, they are still my amazing partner and I continue to share my recommendation to visit one of their many centers in the metro NY/NJ area for all of your urgent care needs.  The CityMD uniform will be well-represented tomorrow at the half-marathon.


At the top of Bear Mountain, thrilled and tired!

At the top of Bear Mountain, thrilled and tired!

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