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