My 110 Mile Gran Fondo Bike Ride


While most of you were sleeping peacefully this past Sunday, I was up at 4:15 am getting ready for the Gran Fondo New York Bike Ride. This 110 mile hilly ride starts on the George Washington Bridge, then follows the Hudson north to Bear Mountain in Harriman State Park and finally ends up in Weehawken, N.J. (about 8 hours later) It attracts cyclists from over 70 countries, has 4 timed climbs and 5000 participants! You may be wondering what possessed me to sit on a bike seat and climb hills for 8 hours …

It all started last November when I saw a poster advertising a bike ride. What caught my eye was the green and black shirts of the riders. I have a slight obsession with matching my cycling outfits with my bike. My BMC road bike is green, black and white. Yes, this sounds strange, but I bet many cyclists can relate! So at that moment, I became determined to do this ride – mainly to get the shirt. I probably could have bought the shirt, but I feel that you have to “earn” it by doing the ride. Now of course, the shirt wasn’t the only pull. I love cycling … and a challenge. I also thought it would be a great motivator to get in shape early in the season. After all, biking 110 hilly miles is no easy feat! (pic: my matching Gran Fondo apparel and bike)

The training
I’m a recreational cyclist and usually ride 1 – 2  times a week, preferably outdoors ( I really dislike my indoor cycling trainer!). A typical weekend ride for me: I ride through the city and over the GW Bridge and head up 9W towards Rockland Lake area. This ride usually includes a massive muffin from the Runciple Spoon in Nyack somewhere in the day!.Back to my training … luckily for me, we had a mild winter, so I was able to bike outdoors for most of the winter months. This enabled me to maintain somewhat of a baseline cycling fitness level. On average, I was biking a 50-80 mile ride once on the weekend and a 25 mile ride in Central Park once during the weekdays. If the weather was bad, I would ride once a week – or not at all. Occasionally, I would take a spinning class. Most of the training plans for the Gran Fondo suggest riding 4-6 days a week. So you can see, I’ve been slightly behind schedule. The good news is that I was able to ride all the hills on the course at least once in the past month – so I knew what to expect mentally. But overall, I felt that I didn’t train as much as I should have.

My concerns prior to the Gran Fondo (rated highest to lowest!)

1. That the race would be too difficult for me to complete. 110 miles is hard enough … and when you add in all those hills – Yikes!
2. I am slightly claustrophobic and don’t love having other riders really close to me when riding. I don’t mind riding in a paceline with riders I know, but when there are 5000 people involved … a different story! This is especially scary for me going up or down hills. (pic: starting the ride with 5000 riders)
3. That I will not be able to make it up the steep hills and would end up tipping over on my bike.This actually happened to me this past November! I wasn’t able to make it up a steep hill and tipped over (I wear the clip in shoes). I wasn’t able to unclip my feet in time and ended up smashing my knee.
4. I am the queen of insomnia and usually don’t fall asleep until at least 1 am, often later. This means I will be doing the ride on 3 hours of sleep
5. The possibility that sitting on the bike in a hunched over position for ~ 9-10 hours would seriously aggravate my neck, shoulder, hip and hamstring “issues”
6. Finding adequate bathrooms during the ride. I tend to drink a lot of fluid …

My Gran Fondo experience
It was an epic day with sunny skies and 80 – 90 degree (in the sun) temperatures. There were approximately 5000 riders in total for the Gran Fondo (110 miles) and Medio Fondo (60 miles). I believe the Gran Fondo had 2750 riders (2479 men and 250 women … so maybe I was a little nutty to sign up for this ride!) The course was beautiful with a lot of challenging hills. I actually felt really good considering I only had 3 hours of sleep. Taking 6 days off from exercising, getting 9 hours of sleep 2 nights before the ride and really carb loading for days before the event definitely helped me!

Watch my video for details

The highlights for me:
– Starting on the GW Bridge with 5000 cyclists was quite an experience.

– Seeing everyone wear the same shirt (that matched my bike)

– Seeing cyclists of all levels ride together and watching as some people struggled to bike up the hill.  Many cyclists had to walk their bikes up some hills … but
never gave up! This was awesome.

– Being able to ride through all traffic lights.

– Riding through beautiful and/or interesting terrain including a famous bridge, mansions on Overlook Drive, the country side, rural towns, great views of the Hudson, etc.

– The closing ceremony overlooking the beautiful Manhattan skyline.

– The ride home on the ferry packed with riders and their bikes.

The only times I got a little cranky was when I had to use the rest room (and there wasn’t one for miles), when I was freezing on the GW bridge waiting for ride to start and when I realized that we had 30 miles left to go and I was already totally ready to get off the bike … and riding the last 8 miles or so in heavy traffic
on Henry Hudson Drive.

Fueling the Gran Fondo
While I generally eat a fair amount of carbs when I’m in riding season, this past week has been a week of gluttony. I think I was a little nervous about lacking the physical endurance to complete the ride and was trying to stuff my glycogen stores full of energy!

– The day before included massive amounts of food including pizza (a lot), pasta (a lot), energy bars, yogurts, bananas, etc.

– 3 hours pre-ride: coffee, 2 bananas, greek yogurt, water

– ½ hour pre-ride: ½ pack Cliff shot blocks, water

– During the ride: my goal was to take in ~ 20 oz fluid  and ~ 250 calories of carbs per hour. I was on track for the most part until mile 65. The rest stop ran out of bagels and the line for sports drinks was too long, so I just had water (I added electrolyte tabs) and a banana with pb. I should have had  more food (my fault) as I ended up starting to bonk about 45 minutes later. I suddenly felt very weak like I couldn’t peddle any longer. A Power gel picked me right up though. It is amazing how fast carbs give you fuel!

– During the race, I think I had 5 large bottles full of a sports drink (Gatorade?), 2 bottles of water (with electrolyte tabs), 2 energy bars, 2 Power gels, about ½ bagel with pb, 2 bananas with pb.

– Post ride goodie bag with Chobani yogurt, apple and mini bag of cookies.

– Later on when I got home, I had 2 jumbo fig bars, more yogurt/banana, and large amounts of Thai food.

Overall it was a fantastic day. Yes, the ride was tough. But it was manageable. And I didn’t end up re-injuring myself – which I was very pleased about! Thank you to the organizers of Gran Fondo New York for putting such a great event together, the policeman and volunteers. I would highly encourage all of you CGB readers to consider signing up for a physical challenge – whether it be a 5K race, a mud run, a triathalon, bootcamp class or charity walk/ride/run.  Some of you may even want to train for the Gran Fondo (or Medio Fondo) next year.


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