If you missed part 1 of my GFNJ Medio review, check it out.
We pick up our adventure in the depths of Sunday morning, in pitch darkness.
Sunday (day of GFNJ)
When the alarm goes off at 4AM, it’s never a pleasant thing. Although I’m typically up at 5AM daily, I for some reason had a rough time getting to sleep Saturday evening, leaving me with only about 4 hours of sleep for GFNJ. Looking back at things, this may be one of the issues I had during the day. I stumbled through the shower, hoping to give myself some semblance of humanity at those wee hours of the morning, and stumbled into the kitchen to fire up the coffee maker.
Now, a lot of people will tell you that you should avoid eating prior to a big ride. I tend to disagree to an extent: if the ride is an hour away or less, go with something extremely light (a Bulletproof coffee works well for me.) If you have 3 hours to go until start, go with your normal breakfast routine: something clean, a nice mix of protein, fat and carbs. In this case rice, eggs, ham and a small amount of cheese hit the nail right on the head.
We slithered into our kits, loaded up the bikes and headed off to Morristown (about 30 minutes drive) amid an absolutely empty highway. Sneaking into the Headquarters Plaza garage via the Spring Street entrance allowed us to miss the backed up traffic on Speedwell ave, which was a big plus on one hand and a big negative on the other. We geared up, packed our pockets, saddled up and wandered towards the start/finish area, arriving before they had even set up the start/finish line.
We had decided to skip jackets, arm warmers or leg warmers since we would only be riding in the cool morning weather for a short amount of time, and this may have been another issue. We were forced to stand around for about an hour, sucking down complimentary coffee, trying to stay warm and keeping the muscles loose and supple. As we got closer to roll out, we lined up near the front of the 16 MPH group, hoping to get a nice, easy warmup without having the temptation to chase the fast guys.
That was probably the biggest mistake of the day.
The mass start was uneventful, if not a little nervous. I had no problem riding elbow to elbow with 1800 other people, but there were plenty of folks who were really freaked out by it. Compounding that problem were the narrow roads out of Morristown and the slick roads full of debris from yesterday’s storm. We passed a nasty looking crash at mile 3 on a downhill curve (after the fact we found out the rider had a broken collarbone and some road rash, but was otherwise ok.) The real problem began to manifest itself as we hit the rolling hills on the roads towards Gladstone and the first timed climb.
I realized that people were grossly overestimating their speed on hilly terrain. We were stuck behind untoward numbers of people who SHOULD have been riding in the 14 mph category or lower, but were somehow ahead of us. This means we had to spend a LOT of energy slowing down behind riders, accelerating past them, slowing down, accelerating, repeat infinate times.
Tip #5: Conserve your energy for those really tough efforts. If you burn too many matches too early, you’re destined for a bad day.
I knew this, but there was little that we could do about it. We finished the first hour at about 12 miles per hour, which was far afield the 16.5 MPH goal speed that I had set for my time. When things opened up on Lake Road, Glen and I dropped the hammer and started the afterburners firing: we picked up about 2 MPH average over the next 10 miles heading into the first timed climb, and pulled into the first rest stop to grab a bit of food and to drain off the morning’s coffee.
I’d laid out the climb for Glen a couple times before the ride: rollers at the base of the climb, steep kicker, false flat, another kick, extended double digit gradient, false flat, short descent, final kick to the line. He took off on the rollers at the base of the climb, and I let him go, settling into a comfortable pace and prepping myself for the coming steeps. I caught him halfway up the first false flat, and we worked together through most of the extended steep section, with him reining it in near the top. I went for the kill, accelerating through the top and then stopping to wait for the rest of the group. We chatted a bit with other riders (hearing the comment of the day: “Well THAT was fuckin’ humbling!”) and cheered on everyone who passed. (After the fact, we learned that Gerald managed a PR on the first climb, which was excellent improvement from his previous attempt. My wife managed a QOM and PR on that climb, which was superb. I managed a PR, shaving off a minute and a quarter.)
When we saddled up again a couple minutes later, I started to feel twinges in my calves. I knew that I had burned a lot of energy early on and that I was probably in trouble at this point, but I pushed on through Califon, amazing ice cream sandwiches from BEX Kitchen and towards the second climb. I struck out early, setting a solid pace through the rolling climbing on the first half, with Glen doing the pace setting on the 1 mile long false flat. I kicked hard at the 200 meter, quickly steepening pitch at the end of the climb, and started to feel my hamstrings twitch.
We rode a nice steady pace for the next 5 miles or so, until my legs started to completely, full on cramp. Quads, adductors, hamstrings, calves and glutes were alternately cramping and relaxing. At this point, all my illusions about doing a 3:30 were gone, and my 3:45 goal was fading fast. I couldn’t put out decent power, I couldn’t push hard, and I could barely stand on the pedals to climb.
We suffered into the third rest stop where I stretched profusely and plowed through a waffle and PB&J, hoping to get some carbs in and just start feeling a little better. Setting off again, I battled leg cramps intermittently for the rest of the ride, but with 10 miles to go, a quick glance at my timer said that I just might have a chance to make my goal time. So I went for it. I hammered for all I was worth, descended without regard for using the brakes, flew around corners and ground my way up each little kicker that we came across.
Tip #6: Use your goals as motivation to fuel your ride. It just might help you finish strongly.
As we turned onto Sussex Turnpike, I knew there was one last climb to finish, and having a few people on the climb to pick off made it just a bit easier to tolerate the agony going on in my legs. Two people tried for my wheel and gave up. I crested the top, saw the green stoplight and gunned it, only to be stopped as it turned red. I pounded the bars in frustration, knowing that the momentum of that downhill run would have been helpful. Thankfully Glen pulled up next to me and shouted some encouragement as he took off, smartly dodging to the right of traffic into the cordoned off finish lane.
With 1k to go, I drilled it, watching the timer turn over to 3:44. I swept around the corner and saw the finish line ahead, merely a blur in my cramp and anaerobic induced tunnel vision. From 400 meters out I launched whatever sprint I had left, determined to make my 3:45 or die trying.
By the time they picked me up off the fence I was leaning on and removed my time chip, Gerald had rolled in and we all posed with our finishing medals before heading back to the car to clean up, stow the bikes and head back for a little barbecue. Honestly, my legs were shattered: they had been cramping on and off for about 20 miles, getting progressively worse and now were just stiffened, useless sticks.
But it was worth it.
Once the results came out, I was blown away:
6th overall in the climbing competition, out of 367 finishers. That was well within my top 30 hopes and I was blown away by taking a top 10 position with the horrendous cramps in my legs for half the day. My wife also managed a 2nd overall out of 99 women, and took the QOM on the first climb, far exceeding her goals.
Next time I’ll go over some of the good, the bad and the ugly from a training perspective.