Friday, June 13, 2008

MS 150 Escape to the Lake

Ok, so it's not a race but a 2 day 150 (or 170) mile charity ride from near Pittsburgh to Lake Erie for the MS Society. The plan was to do the 100 mile option they give you instead of the normal 80 on Saturday at a good pace. The ride started in Cranberry PA, just above Pittsburgh and took mostly back roads all the way to Allegheny College in my home town of Meadville just about 1.5 miles from my house.

Two years ago I did this just to get back into some semblance of decent physical shape. A buddy of mine and I did it and even with stopping at every aid station (about every 10 miles) Saturday's ride of 80 miles was brutal and Sunday's wasn't this much better. Now, two years later it felt EASY...

I was riding for team Armstrong Cable. There were a couple of decent fast riders on the team (James and Peter) who did most of the Saturday 100 mile ride with me and there were also some team members that were simply out to survive the weekend's ride. It was pretty nice to have someone to ride/pace with for Saturday, plus we got some really nice jerseys. Here is Team Armstrong Saturday morning ready at the start.

We didn't make the first wave of 200 starters so we started bout 5 minutes later as part of wave 2. This made it a little interesting as for the next hour or so we constantly had people to pass and or catch up to.

One of the great things about the MS ride is the range of people doing the ride. You will see single speed fixies, serious mountain bikers, people on 20 year old department store bikes and $7,000 racing bikes. But this guy takes the cake. The picture is lousy as I was riding by him in low light at the time and trying to use my cell phone but he was chugging along on his big wheeled antique bike. Rumor has it he's a bike shop owner from Pittsburgh that does the ride every year on this bike. They let him start an hour or more early and he just chugs along, walking up and down hills when he needs to.

We rode the first 30-40 miles pretty steady. Peter, James and I were joined for much of the ride by a couple of other riders here and there. By about mile 30 there was very little traffic although we knew some of the serious riders from the teams, including the UPMC team, were probably well up the road. James and Peter stopped at the 30 mile aid station and I kept going to Grove City for lunch at the 40 mile station. Two years ago I think we got to this station sore and tired at about 11:30 or later. This year I was there at 9:40 and was contemplating skipping it but decided to stop and wait for Peter and James. They stopped, we ate, and then headed on. The rest of the ride is pretty hilly, with the hilliest sections coming at about mile 60 and lasting until the end. At the 72 mile station we didn't follow the normal route and went ahead with the turn for the extra loop for the 100 mile ride. At the only aid station on this loop Peter stopped (we had dropped James on the super steep hill that someone decided would be fun to put about mile 85) and I kept going. The last 10-15 miles are on a loop I ride a lot in training but they are all uphill and this day were all into the wind. After about 80-85 miles my avg speed for the ride had been about 19.5, but the wind and constant hills of the finish were really pretty tough, and I rode this last section without ever seeing another person until you get back on the 80 mile ride for the last 3-4 miles. Finished at Allegheny College in 5:22 minutes for an avg speed of 18.4 or so. I felt pretty good and not tired/sore despite the heat, humidity, headwind and hills of the day.

I decided to change the strategy for Sunday's ride of 70 miles (actually it's really about 65) from an easy up and back to a hard one way effort on the tri bike with no stops. This day was going to be a little more serious. To make a long day short I simply rode hard and steady for the whole way up, only stopping once for a few seconds about halfway after making a wrong turn to ask for directions back on course. The fast guys from the UPMC team and a couple of other teams stopped about a third of the way up at a rest stop and I got ahead of them, then they got ahead of me when I made the wrong turn. Other than that I was constantly passing people, including people that obviously started way before the 7:30 start time and also passed several small groups of 4-5 riders trying to work together. Every time I came upon a small group like that I made sure that my speed/effort was good and strong so that I went right around them at a pretty good clip. As stupid as it sounds I pictured myself as a missile coming up on riders and then I was a high speed train as I barreled by them. I re-passed some of the UPMC guys about 15 miles from the finish when they were changing a flat then 4 guys got back in front of me about 5-10 miles from the end. One guy blew up but the other 3 stayed about 30-60 seconds in front of me until the finish. Total ride distance was just over 66 miles and my time was 3:03 and change for an average speed of 21.4 mph. I had been shooting for a 22mph avg but the last 30 minutes or so were near Lake Erie and the wind coming off the lake was absolutely brutal and straight into you.

I was tired and hot, but the legs actually felt pretty good after close to 170 miles in two days. It was only when I got in the car for the ride home did I realize just how hot the day was, as shown by the car temperature gauge. So given the heat, humidity and wind again on Sunday and the fact that I did a good hilly 100 the day before I was very happy with the weekend's rides. Plus it's for a good cause to boot.