Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ironman Mont Tremblant 2014

IMMT 2014 Finisher's Medal

Ironman Mont Tremblant is truly a world class event, and, I have to say that the entire race experience has been my favorite so far.    I don't normally include the days leading up to the race in my report, but I feel like I need to in this one, because it really was an entire experience.  I would definitely suggest this race to anyone who asked about it and I do feel like it is a bucket list event.   Not an easy race, but a fantastic venue and a "red carpet" experience for sure.  


Mont Tremblant is about a 13 hour car ride (give or take a few hours) from Columbus, which was one of the reasons my friends and I chose this race.   I traveled up with and stayed with my friends Rocco, Susan, Tani and Aaron and all of us except Tani did the race (Tani was our much needed super sherpa for the weekend).  There were also about a dozen other Columbus triathletes that I knew, that also signed up for the race, which also made it a more fun experience  (shout out to Kathleen, Mike, Bill, Peter, Tim B, Jennifer, Tim G, Pete, Rick, and George who also raced and finished IMMT).  

Our group packed up and left the Wednesday prior to the race,  we ended up taking two cars as we had 4 bikes and an embarrassing amount of  gear.   We broke the trip up into two days and all I can say about it is that it was challenging for 5 very active people to stay cooped up in two cars for that length of time. I am actually quite surprised we didn't kill each other.  Despite some horrific traffic, lots of orange barrels, and a trip over the border, we still  managed to have fun...but it seemed like we were in the car FOREVER.  
 Pedestrian Village of Mont Tremblant

We finally arrived in Mont Tremblant late Thursday evening and decided to head out for a short "shake out" run around town.   We checked out the race venue, a little of the run course, the swim start/finish areas and snapped some fun pix around the Village.   All in all we put in about 2 miles but were gone for about 45 minutes...definitely an ez pace with lots of stops!      
 Checking out the run from swim to T1
 Swim Finish Area...and some photo fun!
 M-dot found in the village
Susan, Aaron, Rocco, and I...the racers of our group

The next morning we woke up fairly early and headed down to the lake to do a practice swim.   We met up with some of the other people from Columbus  to swim together and check out the water.   Temps at this point were 68 degrees for the water.   I was debating between a full wetsuit and a sleeveless.   The full sleeve is warmer but I feel really restricted in it,  I prefer the sleeveless for a smoother swim stroke, but it definitely isn't as warm.   I opted to trial the sleeveless for this swim.    
 Aaron checking out the swim course
Part our group:  Rocco, Aaron, Me, Bill, Peter, and Susan

We ended up swimming about 1,500 yds as group.   Nice easy swim for most of us and we stopped periodically to make sure the group stayed together and urge each other on to keep swimming.   The water was really nice and clear and I immediately felt comfortable in it.   My arms and feet were a little cold, but overall didn't feel bad during this swim.   On the way back we stopped off at the "espresso boat" and even had a little cup of coffee as a group...which was so much fun!     Also, while we were all treading water and drinking our coffee, we ended up singing "Happy Birthday" to Tani, who was back on the dock.   In the midst of all the Ironman madness, it was actually her birthday, and to make it even more fun, she met another racer dressed as a king (we would see him many more times throughout the weekend, always in his crown and cape)!  

The espresso boat

 Tani and the "King" 

 Enjoying our coffee!

Singing "Happy Birthday" to Tani

After the swim we headed to the Iron Village to check in and get our race packets.   There we ran into the many compression stocking and IM branded athletes that are present at all these races,  found some more of our friends, and walked through the expo.   It also gave us an opportunity to take some more fun pictures!

 Backpacks were part of the race gear given this year   
 The big Ironman Chair

 Columbus folks representing! 

JustTri athletes:  Rick (first timer), Aaron and Tani

 Another First Timer (Tim) and his wife
Jennifer, Pete, and Jennifer's boyfriend

After this we headed out for a short bike ride to make sure our bikes were working alright prior to the race.   We opted to ride one loop of the run course (it was a two loop course) so we would know what to expect for the run.    It was much hillier on the first 3 miles through town than we expected, after that it evened out (sort of) on a paved bike/running trail.    It is deceptive as it is a false flat...1-2% grade for about 2.5 miles, which is fine, except it was an out an back.    But mostly went along the lake and a river so had some pretty views along the way.   At one point we randomly came across two guys who had ventured out on foot to check out the run course.   Their intent was to just do an ez 4-5 mile shake out run.   Unfortunately they got lost and by the time we helped them to figure out where they were, they were without fluids, without a map and ultimately were a little clueless.   Rocco kindly gave them one of his bottles of fluid off the bike and helped them to figure out the "shortest distance back."   Those poor idiots would end up running closer to 15 miles by the time they would get back to the village.   We never did find out their names, but we did wonder how their race would go after their little "training run."  
 On the bike/running trail
One of many views along the trail

We finished out the night be heading to the Athlete Dinner.   I haven't gone to all of these in the past as they are much the same:  mediocre buffet dinner,  thank you speech's by race directors/mayors/charity organizers, motivation video, stats about the race and Mike Reilly "the voice of Ironman."   And we debated going to this one, but finally decided to go as part of the whole experience.    This one far exceeded my expectation, and despite the long line to get in, was far more organized than any other ones I have ever been to in the past!
 Entertainment while waiting in line

 Awesome brownies on each of the tables

 Live entertainment during
Big screens so we could see the show

They actually had live entertainment during this Athlete Dinner that included two different acts of Cirque du Soleil type performers.   The pictures didn't turn out well but the first act included two people doing different stunts and maneuvers on a moving pole.   The second group was 4 performers doing stunts on two trampolines and a platform of sorts.   I was mesmerized by both and was a very impressed for sure.    The rest of the dinner was  little long as they had to translate everything in both English and French since we were in a primarily French speaking province of Canada.     After the dinner they had live entertainment on one of the stages in the villages (which we skipped) and fireworks (which we caught from the balcony in our room)!

The only damper on the entire weekend was the actually rained the first 3 days we were there and temps were in the 50's and 60's.   Definitely made it harder to dress and walk around this fun little village for sure.    

Saturday morning we slept in, organized our gear, and then went down to transition to drop off our bikes and bags for T1 and T2 (required prior to any IM race).    It was definitely hard to try to figure out what to put in each of our bags because of the was predicted to be in the low 50's at the beginning of the day and possible up to high 60's but with rain and wind.   We all debated quite awhile on what to put into our bags and it took the better part of the morning.     

 Transition Bag Chaos

Stuff for my T2 bag

 First time I remember seeing my name on my spot!  Notice all the condensation...
Happy to drop off the bike!  

After dropping off the bikes, we headed back to the expo to get some ART (Active Release Technique) from our Columbus friends Ken and Rhonda of Primal Kneads.   They were up volunteering for the weekend and the treatments were free for athletes!    
 Rocco, ready for his treatment!

 "Usie" in the ART tent

Ken and Rhonda with Tani and Aaron

After ART we headed back to the condo for food and relaxation until race morning, which always comes way too early.    I slept fairly well (for me) and had a solid 4.5 hours of sleep and then tossed and turned after that.   We woke up at 4am and were down to transition by 5:15am to drop off our special needs bags, pump the tires on our bikes and to get body marked.    Fortunately our hotel was pretty close to both the transition area and the swim start so we were able to head back to the room for a bit to relax, use the loo, and get our swim gear ready.    We headed down to the swim around 6:15am and the walk was about 15 min from the hotel.    All of us were in different waves, so we split up almost as soon as we got there.    I was in the last wave so had plenty of time.  The swim area was chaos.   There were people everywhere and it was actually hard to get over to the chute, mostly because there were spectators all over the place and they didn't seem to realize they were blocking the athletes.   It took me a bit to get to the chute and I only had minutes to spare.  But, I think that was better as it didn't give me time to get really nervous and I think it gave me some practice for the upcoming swim. 

This swim was the easiest/best I have had to date.   It was set up in wave format by gender and age.   I am not sure how many waves there were in total, but the Pro's started at 6:30am and the AG started at 6:45am.  The waves left every 3 minutes after they started and everyone was in the water by 7:02 am.    I ended up wearing my sleeveless and was cold as soon as I got in the water.    There was some initial turbulence as we all entered, but it seemed to spread out quickly and I never got panicky or short of breath like I have in other swims.   There were 13 buoys out before we had to turn and then start heading was a one loop course.   Somewhere between the 1st and 2nd buoy I realized I had a woman next to me that was swimming almost the same speed and I couldn't shake her, we kept bumping into each other and all the sudden I realized I could draft off someone.   So I slowed just enough to get behind her and kept on her feet the entire first half of the swim.   I have no idea what her number was, but I am so thankful for her as she did a great job of keeping inline with the buoys and maneuvering through each of the waves as we caught up with them.   I counted at least 4 different colored caps by the time we reached the turn around point.   Unfortunately, the water was really choppy at this point and I lost my friend.   Going back was definitely more choppy and I could tell my swim slowed down,   there was also a little current that I didn't feel initially, that kept pushing me to the left of the buoys.   But even with that, I still felt good during the swim, although I never did completely warm up.    By the end of the swim I counted at least 6 different colored caps!   I also realized as I exited the water that I had a swim PR with a time of fastest yet!

We had a .25 mile run from the water exit to T1.   During the athlete briefing, we were promised there would be "red carpets" down for this so it wouldn't be so painful on our feet.   Unfortunately this didn't happen,  there was only carpet down for about the first few 100 yards.   The road was painful to run on initially, but it was also cold so my feet went numb pretty quickly.    This was probably a blessing as they no longer hurt by the time I got to T1.   On my way I heard my name several times and got to see Tani, Lisa, Ken and Rhonda, who were all spectating!   
Tani was able to catch video of me coming out!

T2 was slower than I would have liked, but it included the 1/4 mile run and I took my time drying off and putting on layers prior to getting on the bike.    I did not want to pulled from the race secondary to hypothermia...the temps were still in the 50's at this point!   17:57 total time in T1
Getting ready to head out on the bike! 

The bike was challenging and is a two loop course.  Per my garmin there was a little over 6,700 ft of elevation gain total on the course.  Starting out you hit some big rollers and then head out to a highway.  The highway was very smooth but not flat...there were bigger rollers here with a combined elevation gain to the turn around point.    In addition to this we had a steady 10 mph headwind with some gust up to 20mph.  This segment seemed to take an eternity to me.     But then we got to turn around and come back down those same hills with a tailwind, which was an absolute blast!    The second part of the loop is more rollers and you go back through town,  then there is an out and back section that is about 10 miles total but has some serious reached 15% grade of climbing.    I went very conservatively on the first loop and just tried to make sure I was getting calories, hydrating and not get upset by the 800+ people that kept passing me on the bike.   One problem I had was I forgot to put my garmin on my bike...I had this pre-programmed to go off every 10 minutes to remind me to drink and eat.   So, I didn't have this during the race so I had to try and remember to do this every 10 minutes or so (which got more challenging the second half of the race).   Hydration must have been working though, as I ended up stopping 3 times in the first 56 miles to use the bathroom...still haven't learned to pee on the bike yet.   

Me, just past the first half of the bike

  The second loop was a little more challenging as the wind picked up more and ended up being more of a crosswind on the highway with more random gusts, this resulted in a less speedy return.  As I approached the last 10 miles of the ride the sky got really dark and the wind really picked up.   All of the sudden there was a torrential downpour which left me cold and the roads more slick.   So, I did have to slow down some for safety, especially on the descents.   Fortunately though, I didn't lose control of my bike or have any mechanical difficulties and the hills never seemed too challenging.   I made it back to T2 after a ride time of 7:35:09.    Not a fast time, but I was happy with it, especially since I didn't feel overly exhausted and I had stopped a total of 5 times by the end of the ride!   Plus, I still had about 7.5 hours to finish the race!   I could walk and still finish at this rate!   

right before the downpour 

T2 was a little faster and included another bathroom stop!  I opted to change out of my wet jersey and socks for dry clothing,  but left the arm warmers on at this point as I was freezing and I figured the more I had on the better.   Total time:  9:13

The run was also hilly, per the garmin almost 2.300 ft of elevation gain over the marathon.   The hilliest part is out of town for the first 3 miles, which is mostly rollers.   Then you get to the bike trail, which is an out and back for 5-6 miles.   I felt pretty good for the first 10 miles.   I did have some nausea around mile 3, but after changing my nutrition plan a bit, I started to feel better.   Somewhere between miles 9-10 my right knee started to feel sore and tight and then it locked up suddenly going into one of the aide stations.   I had to walk and stretch a bit, and it felt a little better, but from this point on my knee continued to bother me the rest of my race.   It seemed the IT band injury I had 4 years ago had come back to haunt me.  By mile 12 I also started to get cold again as it had rained a bit.   Fortunately I had packed extra layers in my run special needs bag which we got at the half way point.    This helped immensely and as I ran through the village I got to see a ton of spectators and Lisa and Tani again, which really helped my spirits! 
The only picture (taken by Lisa) of me on the run course, this was about half way into the run. 

  For the next few miles I actually started to feel good  and picked up the pace again.   Unfortunately by the time I got back to the bike trail, I had some GI issues  and I had to stop twice at the nasty port-o-johns.   "Never trust a fart" is a sage piece of advice for these races,  and I try to abide by this rule.   Of my stops, one time was a false alarm, the other was not and as good luck would have it, I chose a pot that still had toilet paper, many had run out by this point in the race.    I hoped I would feel better after this but I didn't.    By mile 16 I was really struggling.   Enter George.   I had never met George before, but he lives in Columbus.   I had packed a volunteer shirt that I got at the Columbus Marathon the year prior as my extra layer.   He recognized it and slowed down to run with me.   He was doing a 4:1 run:walk pace, which seemed perfect to me, so we stayed together for several miles and chatted.   Well, he chatted and I grunted back to him.   I really wanted to try to talk more but I couldn't.   But he was entertaining and was helping me take my mind off of how horrible I felt, and I will be forever grateful to him for this.   Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to, I couldn't maintain his pace and we eventually had to part ways.   Soon after this I started getting really dizzy, dry heaving, and eventually puked.   And I still tried to maintain that 4:1 pace as much as I could.   At this point I really wanted coke and in my mind I thought this would help.  At the next station I asked for it.  "We are out."  Not the words I wanted to hear, so I tried the chicken broth.   Almost puked again.   Weird how that had helped me so much last year at Lake Tahoe, but did nothing for me this time around.    A little water and I was on my way again.   Fortunately the puking seemed to help my stomach and I eventually started to feel better.    It wouldn't be until a few more stations before I finally found my beloved coke and I felt great for about 15 minutes...I was so slow that they had apparently run out of it on the back half of the course!   That one cup of coke was all I ended up having that day.      Of course at this point the knee started barking again.  Seems my stomach and knee were duking it out in the race to see who would be the loudest.  

The last 3 miles I bargained with myself and and ended up walking up the hills and ran anything that was flat and/or descending.   With a little over 1 mile left to the finish, I caught my friend Rick, who was out there for his first IM.   I debated walking with him to the finish, but after chatting with him and knowing he was doing alright, I moved on and kept running at my snails pace.   I knew I wanted to roll across the finishline and I didn't want to get in his way when I did it.   I finally reached the village and then the finishers chute and magically all my knee pain and nausea is amazing what adrenaline can do for you.    Getting to that finish was awesome!    And no one was around me so I was able to roll across that line "Blazeman" style and hear Mike Reilly say those sweet words "Ann Kurtenbach, YOU are an Ironman!!"        

After the roll, I wasn't sure I would be able to stand up, but I did without any problem, but almost fell back over again because I was so dizzy!   It was also a little confusing because the lights were so bright that I couldn't see anything, so I just started running again to the first volunteer I could find.   She lead me to the finish area and I stopped when they put my medal on me.   I felt fine and convinced the volunteers of this and asked if I could give Rick his medal when he came across.   Of course they said yes, and I waited a few minutes for him.   It was pretty cool to hear his name and then be able to put Rick's medal around his neck for his first IM and hug him right there at the finish!   Perfect ending to a spectacular race!    
 Happy to be finished with #5
Rick and I after his IM finish!  

My final run time was 5:46:22 and my overall time 15:07:01. This was not a PR race for me (IMAZ holds that with a 14:11:something).     My main goal this race had been to beat my IMKY time which was 15:07:42.   So I did it but barely.   My swim and run times were both faster on this course (despite how crappy I felt on the run), so I was pretty pleased with that.   I also thought this course was much harder than Louisville.  So, although not exactly what I had hoped for, I am happy with my overall time, especially given the avulsion fracture (right ankle injury)  I had in November of last year and  the difficulty of the course.    

Another athlete called this race "The Disney Race" of the IM races, and I would have to agree.    The Village was so cute,  everyone was very welcoming and I felt like a VIP the entire race weekend.   I also have to give a huge shout out to my traveling buddies and friends as they also added to the whole race experience.    I am grateful they were with me and gave me the support and humor I needed to have for this race.   And incidentally,  we finally did some site seeing the last day we were there, and wouldn't you know it, the skies were blue, the sun was out and the weather...absolutely perfect!  

My Crew:  Rocco, Susan, Tani, and Aaron
View of the Village from the gondola

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mohican 70.3 Triathlon

This was by far the most challenging 70.3 distance race I have done.   It was also one of the most fun and I really enjoyed the race overall.    Of the 70.3 distance races I have done, this was not my slowest.   Muncie 70.3 holds that record from 2011.     This was by far the hilliest I have done.   The other races I have done were all pretty flat (Muncie x 2, Steelhead, and Deer Creek).    By comparison, the net gain on the bike was never more than 700ft on any of those courses,  Mohican was roughly 3,300 ft of elevation gain.     The net gain on the other run  courses was never over 200ft, Mohican was roughly 1,300.     I chose this race this year to challenge me because of the hills and in prep for Ironman Mont Tremblant which (when doubled) will have a similar profile for the bike and about the same for the run.  

My goals for this race were mainly  to test my fitness level, use it as training for IMMT, and see how my ankle would do after my injury last November.     Realistically after riding the course and glimpsing the run course a month ago, I fully expected an 8 hour race day and to wear the DFL title (for those that don't know, this means Dead F**king Last).     Given the difficulty of the course, I assumed only bad ass athletes or those looking for a huge challenge would sign up.   I felt I was part of the latter of that group.

I opted not to stay overnight in the area because I had a wedding to attend on Saturday in Columbus.   So this would mean a 1.5 hour drive in the morning prior to the race.   This was something I had never done before a race, mainly because I am not a morning person, so I would rather be as close to a race as possible to sleep in as late as I possibly can.   But, I really wanted to attend the wedding.    Which also presented an issue as I wouldn't be eating a typical pre-race meal.   In fact it was very different than I even normally eat.   for whatever reason, when I filled in the RSVP I ordered the prime rib.   I rarely eat red meat, so not sure what possessed me to do this, but I did.    So,  I was already nervous about how this would affect my gut the next day.   But I ate part of it anyway, as I was really hungry,  filled up though with the veggies, bread, and mashed potatoes.   Also had a glass of red wine and a cupcake.    Figured since it wasn't my "A" race...what the hell, let's see what happens!  

Race morning came far too early.   I awoke with an upset stomach.   Still choked down my normal breakfast and hit the road.   Arrived at the race site and got everything situated in transition and hung with friends a bit.     When they closed the transition area, I knew I had an hour until my wave would be getting in the water.   I was really nervous so I took the time to just breath, get the wetsuit on and eat/drink a little more prior to the start of the race.    I also subsequently  missed whatever they were discussing at the athlete meeting as I went back to the car to get ready.      Eventually I headed down to the swim area to stand around with the rest of my friends while waiting to start.    

The Mohican swim area isn't easily accessible to the transition.    In fact you have to go down a set of cement stairs and also about 1/4 mile of trail to get to the beach.    So, the race organizers did send an email to suggest bringing shoes to run from the beach to transition, also a first in any race I had done.    I found out after I got down there that one of the things covered in the athlete meeting was that they had shortened the swim to make up for the long run back to the transition area.    So, people's swim times were definitely fast for this distance and that is why.   The half distance is a two loop swim course.   It was actually a really fast course anyway and one of the easiest ones i have done.  Felt like I flew through the swim and per watch time, I was out in a little over 26 minutes.   Grabbed my shoes and walked up the trail.   By the time we got done it had started raining and the trail by the beach was all mud and really slippery.   I saw several people almost one wipe out and one girl in flip flops who kept falling.    Glad I had my old running shoes as the traction helped, but I still did it slowly.    Also the hill/trail we had to walk was pretty steep so I didn't want to max out my HR right away.   Took me a little over 4 minutes to get back to T1.       But that was quick, I was in and out in 2:47 and that included taking the wetsuit off.

The nausea I had earlier in the day was gone by the time I got to the bike, so that was good.    I gave myself 10 minutes to calm the HR and stomach down after the swim and started with cliff shots and water.   After that I switched to liquid nutrition the rest of the race.    This was new for me as well, but I have been wondering if all the GI issues I have had in past years was because of over saturation of stuff my gut simply couldn't break down.   The bike course was as hilly as I remembered it being, but didn't seem as challenging as I remembered...guess the Zanesfield rides I had been doing were helping that.    I went out less aggressively on the first loop as it had rained and the roads were wet.   Didn't want to go down on a slippery curve, so played it safe.    I also didn't wear a HR monitor this race.   So I went entirely by feel.   I tried to do more of a z2-3 effort for the first loop.    Overall uneventful and I got back to the turn around area (which incidentally I missed) which added a little extra time as I added extra mileage up a hill that wasn't originally one the route.    I also stopped to pee, which confirmed that my hydration was going well.     Still haven't been able to pee on the bike, don't know if I ever will.    Second loop felt better and tried to do more z3 and then to z4 the last 5 miles or so.     I actually passed people on the bike...this never happens, so I was pretty happy with this!    Overall, felt good on the bike.   Time was 3:37:51.    Not a super fast time, but solid for me.

T2 was also uneventful,  in and out in 1:54.

The run was brutal.   Hilliest run I have done.   And that may even include the Big Sur Marathon.    It was rollers leading out of the transition area for the first 1.5 miles,   then you get to a 1/2 mile downhill that is steep.   Just after 2 miles you come to the dam and the bring you down this hill.

At the bottom of this we jumped onto a trail for the next mile.   It was really muddy, but fortunately pretty flat.    The last 3.5 miles were into the actual park and all uphill until you get to a lookout point, which is the highest point in the park.    The run is an out and back, so the good news is I then got to turn around and run mostly downhill for 3 miles, but then we had to come back up the dam hill and then back up the 1/2 mile hill at mile 11 of the run, then finish on rollers until transition.  I was able to run most of the course but I did have to walk some of the 3.5 mile hill.   My asthma kicked in and I had to use the inhaler, so for one segment I did a 1:1minute ratio of run:walk.     I also walked up the stairs and at least part of the 1/2 mile climb.   But, two things of note,  my legs never felt tired (except on the dam stairs) and I never got nauseated on this run.    This was huge for me!    And despite the walking, my run time was a 2:30:56!  

My overall time was 6:44:54,  I was astounded!    I also wasn't last.   At least 15 more people were out on the course when I finished.   And I wasn't even last in my AG group,  I was 4 of 6!!     So, I was more than thrilled with this race and how I did.    Also, only 20 minutes slower than what I had done Muncie in last year on a much harder course.   Despite the difficulty of the course, I loved it!    Definitely enjoyed the race and would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone that wants a challenging race!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gran Fondo New York 2014

 A few stats about Gran Fondo New York 2014 (aka GFNY):  70 countries were represented,  >5,000 riders started this ride, 9,000+ feet of climbing were on the 100 mile course,  Little Bear Mountain was the highest elevation point on the route, but by no means the most challenging part of the route.   All riders had to wear the GFNY 2014 Jersey in addition to a race number on their person and on their bike.   The race started on the George Washington Bridge in New York City.   Both the female and male winners of this race were from Bogota, Columbia.   For full video summary check out this link:   Gran Fondo Race Day Video 2014   Hands down, this was one of the hardest rides I have ever completed, but also one of the most fun!

I am not sure exactly when the planning for this race actually started, but I was roped into it last fall after a group ride with the Central Ohio Triathlon Club.   As is typical, my friends Rocco and Aaron were planning their next adventure and when I asked what they were planning, they said "you should come, it will be a blast."    I believe my response was something to the effect of "no way I can keep up with you kids."  And they then said JFM, Terri and Tani are also going.   Of course at this point, I said ok and signed up for it shortly after that.   And once again I had committed to something prior to doing any research on the course...

Elevation profile for the course

Once I found out about the course I wondered what exactly I was getting myself into, but trusted my friends and past training and decided I would just have as much fun with it as I could.    As the months crept closer our group kept growing and eventually reached 14.   We opted to all drive out as it would be cheaper than flying us and our bikes out to NYC.    8 of us rented a driver (complete with 15 passenger van and trailer to haul the bikes) and the other 6 drove themselves.   I have to say, hiring a driver was an excellent idea and I thought this worked out really well.
Inside of the trailer

We decided to travel out to NYC on Thursday to give us a few days to explore the city and sights prior to the race.   Our group rented out several rooms at a local B&B in the Chelsea area and this worked out great as well.   We were very close to the subway and quickly got familiar with using it.    A few of the things we were able to do prior to the race was visit the World Trade Center Memorial, bike in Central Park and along the the Hudson River Greenway to Battery Park,  explore the Chelsea Market,  the Highline, Times Square at night,  and in general eat our way through the city.    We also had to go down to the 69th Regiment Armory for the expo to check in for the race.    This was actually pretty fun as they had a sign in sheet and "podium girls"  just like they would for a real pro race!
Podium Girls + Todd

John signing in...

Race morning came early,  we had two options to get to the start of the race:  1) Ride our bikes down (9+ miles to get there), or 2) Ride the subway with our bikes.   The majority of our group chose the subway.   To give ourselves plenty of time, we woke at 4am and were on the subway by 5am.
Subway crew, bikes in hand
Good thing we gave ourselves plenty of time...we barely got to the bridge by 6:15 am, which is when you had to be there if you wanted to cross the start line.
Made it, only us and about 5,000 other riders!  
For the most part the ride got started without much of a hitch.   We were pretty far back on the bridge and it took us almost 15 minutes to cross the start line.   As with any race with a large number of participants, it was fairly slow going for the first 5-10 miles as thousands of riders tried to maneuver around the streets.   By 10 miles or so it started to spread out enough that you could start to go at a  pretty good clip.    Our large group separated almost right away.    We all generally go different paces to begin with but with that amount of people it was even easier to get lost in the crowd.    I was on a mission for the first 18 miles as I had to pee.   My goal was just to get to that first stop so I could use the bathroom, so I lost the group pretty quickly.
Found John at the first stop

I took my time at the first stop and waited for some of my friends to appear.   I almost gave up and then came across John and Tracy, they let me know everyone else had decided to skip the first stop.   After looking at my watch I decided I better get a move on so that I could keep on pace for the time goal.   The second segment was pretty uneventful and I rode the entire thing by myself.   Intermittently I would fall in with small groups, but I didn't stay with any group very long.   One thing I realized quickly is how many different countries/nations were there.   Many of the groups spoke languages I didn't recognize at all.   I found this pretty awesome though, that I was involved with such a widespread event.   It was fun too to fall in with some of the different groups and see how long I could draft, unfortunately most groups were either too fast or slow for me, but it did help to pass the time and gave me a quick segment to help balance out my first slower one.    The second stop came pretty quickly and I saw my friend Amy there, still no sign of anyone else.    Amy was taking her time, so I started off on the next segment by myself.
Found Amy!  Quick selfie!

The next segment of the ride was to include Little Bear Mountain.  At this point I wasn't trying to kill it, I knew I was still in the first half of the ride and there was still going to be a lot of  climbing after this point.   My goal really was to be around the same time I had for the IM Lake Tahoe bike course (8:50ish).    So I kept up what I thought to be a moderately easy pace.  Before I knew it, I reached the base of the climb!
Little Bear the left!

This was hands down the favorite part of my ride.   I LOVE mountain climbing.   I think once you realize you are going to be climbing for awhile and you settle into a pace, it isn't that bad and the views are generally spectacular!    Little Bear Mountain was no exception, the views were amazing and I just wish I would have gotten more pictures of it!
Practicing my camera skills and took a selfie on one of the climbs

Just one of many views on the way up Little Bear Mountain

Just prior to starting this climb I kept playing cat and mouse with another girl.   I had seen her several times already throughout the ride, she would pass me, I would pass her, etc.   I attributed it to the water stops and pacing.   But as we started up the climb, she latched onto my wheel and told me "I am going to thank you now, because you are going to help me to get up this hill."    I actually enjoyed the company and we chatted the entire 6 miles up the hill.   Her name was Suri, pronounced "Siri", she lived in Brooklyn, was married with 3 kids and this was her first century ride.    The conversation let me know that I was keeping a good pace, but it wasn't killing me.   Despite what I thought was a conservative pace, we passed a lot of people on this climb and shouted encouragement at many fellow cyclists who looked to be struggling.    It was even more enjoyable as Suri had on a long skirt over her riding shorts and we heard several men mutter that they had been passed by girls going up a hill and one even in a skirt!   Needless to say we were both extremely happy when we reached the top!
My new friend Suri, from Brooklyn

We parted ways soon after this, as we both found our groups of friends, but I know she finished.   I looked up the results at the end and Suri was in my AG group and finished about 30 minutes after me!  

Found Tani and Terri!

Terri left the mountain first and Tani and I stayed together for the full descent (which was a blast), but parted ways soon after that as Tani wanted to slow down and pace herself.    The middle section between 50 and 68 was definitely the hardest.   I struggled the most here and at one point had to pull over and use my inhaler again.   None of the climbs were as long as Little Bear Mountain but there were a lot of them, they seemed to go on forever,  and they were steeper climbs.   I saw 15-17% several times on my garmin and at one point 22% elevation.   It was rumored that there was even a 30% grade along this section.   I believe it, my legs and lungs were definitely hurting at this point.   I was very glad to finally reach the water stop at mile 68!   And I found Terri there as well.    She was having an awesome day and looked way better than I felt.   The next segment of the ride I just tried to keep her in my line of vision.   This worked really well until we reached the last water stop.   I had to pee (again) and she didn't.   So we parted ways and I knew that would be the last I saw of her until the end of the race.     But, at this point there was only about 20 miles left, so I was okay with that.  
If you look really closely you can see Terri riding away from me! 

 The last segment was mostly flat but there were a few segments that were still hilly.    I saw several people walking these, but I never got off my bike and kept moving forward.    Until I got a flat tire with 5k left on the course.    And I got frustrated,  I know how to change a tire, but for some reason I couldn't get the tire off my bike.   My  tired hands couldn't budge the tire lever.    As I stood there trying to figure out what to do, someone finally pulled over and offered to help.   His name was Nigel and he had one of the nicest smiles I had seen in a long time and he was really cute,  although, at first I thought he said his name was Angel (wouldn't that have been perfect).    Nigel had no trouble getting the wheel off and changed the flat for me.   He then accompanied me all the way to the finish to make sure I got there safely.    A great end to a fantastic ride.   And wouldn't you know it...he is also a triathlete and also from Brooklyn.
The "Finish Line"  this is where the clock was located, the actual finish line was a few miles away and we had to descend into a park area, but this is where they clocked the finish time.    My final time:  8:53:01, pleased with this especially given my leisurely stops and flat tire. 

Nigel and I at the finish! 

Terri and I at the finish area

Todd, Molly, John, Terri, Tracy, Steve and myself.    The rest of our crew had already finished and were on their way back to the B&B.  Incidentally, Steve killed the ride and had finished at noon.   The rest of us finished between 2-5pm.   Steve enjoyed alot of the free beer at the end of the race...he made up for me since I opted not to have any.

One bad thing about the end to this race is that we still had to ride our bikes more to get back to the subway system.  There was no shuttle service and we were on the opposite side of the river, which meant we still had to get back on our bikes, climb a really big hill to get out of the park, and go back over the GW bridge to get back to the B&B.  This gave us an additional 500 ft of climbing over 6 miles tacked on  to the end of our 100 mile ride...of course I had my garmin on for this segment!    I also used this time to work on channeling my inner Jeff Henderson, and take more shots from the bike.    We all made it, but it wasn't pretty and our legs definitely weren't happy.  
Terri and Molly, this time we had our gear as well.

Over the shoulder shot!    
Finally made it back to the bridge,  this time we rode the foot bridge back over the top.   We were able to catch some amazing views of the city this way as well!
All and all this was an incredible experience.   I would suggest it to any rider that would want to challenge themselves on a brutal course but have an amazing trip as well.    I would love to go back again another year, but approach it differently and actually race it to see what I could do.   As my friend Philip said earlier, this weekend was not about the bike, "this weekend has been about reconnecting with friends, getting a break from the stresses of daily life for a few days, and finding the peace and joy in our efforts regardless of the outcome."  

Price of GFNY:  $199
Price of Transportion:  $220
Price for Lodging: $300
Price for food/drinks:  $no idea
Total GFNY Experience:  Priceless