The 2009 version of the Pan-Mass Challenge continues to be a thoroughly enjoyable and one of the most-organizationally amazing events I participate in. Having done a few smaller charity rides this year (see blog entitle “size matters”), the PMC by comparison and standing alone is simply amazing. 5000 riders, 4000 volunteers, dozens of vendors, free stuff, stuff for sale much of it to benefit the PMC and every person who is there is there for same reason. Riders are old (I saw the same guy who was identified a few years ago as the oldest rider, in his 80s I think, so I assume he’s still the oldest), young, experienced and not. Survivors, friends of survivors, people who know victims, one guy with one leg (he is FAST). They ride expensive road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbents, tandems, single-speed fixies and cruisers. Just amazing. Great ride, great weekend.
Once again Stu and I committed to riding together. If you read some my earlier blogs, you know that we didn’t always ride together although we start and end in the same place. But now we ride together, usually drafting, and much of this has to do with the fact that I think I am closer to Stu in riding strength and ability now than I have been in previous years. Stu has always been a stronger rider than me and this year he lost a few weeks of training time in July to a biking accident so I don’t think he was quite as fit as usual and this may explain why I was able to keep up with him this year both on our training ride and the PMC itself. I hate to say it but some of it may also be my new bike.
For the past five years I’ve been riding a Felt 70. It’s an aluminum bike w/a carbon fork and shimano 105 components. I like the Felt and I continue to ride it. It weighs in at about 17-18 pounds fully equipped, maybe close to 20 with full water bottles. In February, I bought a Scott Addict R2 (more on this escapade in an earlier blog). It is full carbon with shimano dura-ace components. It’s far more bike than I need but I have learned to enjoy and appreciate it. Mark Cavendish, the fastest guy on a bike (he won 5 sprint stages in this year’s Tour de France) rides a tricked-out version of this bike. I’m not a fan of Cavendish, a little too much of a hot dog for my taste but it’s nice to know some pros think it’s an OK bike. This bike is less than 15 pounds, possibly more than 15 fully equipped. The difference is noticeable.
A lot of guys in my local riding group buy and sell bikes like they’re at a recipe swap. About half of the regular riders bought new carbon bikes this year. Cervelos seem to be the hot item this year. I never intended to sell my Felt and I enjoy riding it on solo training rides. I ride the Scott on group rides and for events like the PMC and by not getting habituated to the Scott I notice how much lighter and responsive it is and it keeps the ride fresh. I am fortunate that I don’t have to sell the Felt to make next month’s mortgage payment.
I arrived in Boston on Thursday, hoping to ride on Friday. That never happened but no big deal: Stu and I had lunch instead. The real reason to be in town Friday when we weren’t riding until Sunday was to go to the check-in that starts on Friday afternoon. There are late check-ins on Saturday morning before the Saturday ride and Sunday morning before the Sunday ride but by far the most riders show up on Friday afternoon. Nobody rides on Friday - it’s just a huge party. Besides checking in, we get our jerseys (paid for by our hefty $170 registration fee, up from $140 when I first started doing this ride) and other donated items. We get a goodie bag: there are usually socks, water bottles, and assorted things like lotion, sunscreen, first aid kits, pens… Last year Stu registered Sunday morning and they had run out of socks. We drove over after lunch, checked in and milled around the vendors (more water bottles, pens, raffles, etc.) and food. There’s always food. At no time during the weekend would there ever be an excuse to be hungry or more importantly, low on energy. God forbid that riders at a charity event should run low on energy or not be fully hydrated.
Once again the weather was just about perfect. A couple of years it has been hot (high 80s) but it has never been unpleasant. (2003, the first year Stu rode, he said that it was hot, 90s, humid and it rained the first hour or so.) The day started off with low cloud cover and while the weather forecast was for good conditions, it looked threatening. The low cloud cover kept temperatures cool and by our first and only rest stop, the sun was shining and the temperatures had climbed into the low 80s. The weather was just about perfect.
The first leg, about 30 miles, was fast. We averaged over 18. I felt strong and pulled1 a group of about eight of us for about half this part of the ride. The second 20 miles was also fast but it was interesting that Stu seemed to get stronger as the ride went on whereas I just got tired. Stu pulled more after the rest stop. We lost most of the group that was with us during the first 30 at the rest stop. When it was over, we averaged 17.3.
But we rode together. At no point during the ride did either of us lose the other. At different times one might drop the other but we’d wait for the other to catch up. All in all, it felt like we were pretty evenly matched on this day.
Happily, there were no mishaps this year. In past years we’ve had multiple flats (Stu last year), a crank fell off (Stu), an accident (me), a problem with a seat post (Stu) and while I flatted Saturday when we were topping off our tires, there were no equipment malfunctions or accidents during the ride itself. In that respect, it was a totally uneventful ride.
The Sunday ride is a 47-mle loop so we start and end at Babson College in Wellesley. When we finished, there was a party going on. We guessed that there may have been 1000 riders doing the Sunday Wellesley-Wellesley loop this year (turns out there were about 500 – so much for estimating crowd size). We guessed that this was about double the number of riders who did this route last year. We think it had to do with raising money in a weak economy – it was certainly my reason for selecting this route. The newest of the half dozen or so routes, this route is normally the last one to close out. I think most riders choose either the Saturday, Wellesley-Bourne route (our usual route, 87 miles) and the hard-core riders do the original Sturbridge-Provincetown, 2-day, 190+ mile ride (2500 and 2000 riders respectively). But each ride has a fund-raising minimum assigned to it. Basically the longer the ride, the more money you are obligated to raise and to make sure you do this, you agree that if you do not raise the required minimum by a certain date, they will charge your credit card for the balance which they obtained when you pay your registration. The 2-day Sturbridge-Provincetown route this year requires raising $4200. We had originally wanted to do a 2-day route from Wellesley-Provincetown and that would have required raising $4200 too. The Sunday Wellesley-Wellesley route was the shortest route and only required raising $1000. Thank you to all of you who helped me raise this money, 100% of which ends up funding research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. My credit card thanks you too.
I have been getting Bicycling magazine this year and a couple of months ago they ran a story on charity rides. They list the PMC as the largest charity ride both in numbers of riders and money raised. This year the goal was $30 million. I’m pretty sure they raised more than that last year. I’ve also heard from my development people that if 70-80% of the money that a charitable organization raises is actually used for the stated purpose, in this case, for funding cancer research, then that is very good. I’ve become attuned to this since at least one charity ride that I participated in this year proudly states that they pass over 70% of the money donated to the targeted charity. That the PMC passes nearly 100% of money raised to cancer research is an incredible testament to the huge volunteer spirit that makes it possible to run this event without taking donated money away for operating expenses.
I decided to drive home Sunday afternoon after the ride. Since I had done longer rides already this year, two metrics, I wasn’t worried about how I would be feeling. I also figured I wouldn’t feel like doing much else after a ride. I knew I wouldn’t be totally exhausted (as I was on some of the first 87-mile rides) but I certainly wouldn’t feel like cutting the grass or playing racquetball. After a ride I usually sit in my living room with my laptop and a couple of cold vitamin waters, re-hydrating. So I hit the road around 2. The Red Sox were playing and I could pick them on stations from Boston to Albany. I was golden.
Although I had slept reasonably well at my mother’s, I can always take a nap and perhaps in retrospect that’s what I should have done: watch the sox on TV w/Stu and snooze. So it was a little discouraging to have to fight nodding off a couple of times during the drive. However, one thing I learned by studying biking is that it is almost impossible to eat or drink enough when you’re on a bike. You burn more calories than you can eat and you sweat more liquid than you can drink. On a typical 3-hour, 50-mile ride I will burn 2000 calories. I generally drink one 20-24 ounce bottle of water and/or sport drink every hour and I keep drinking a good hour or three after getting off the bike. I try to eat something every hour too, usually a banana to start and energy bars after that. Pro riders eat and drink at lot more than that (one article I read said they eat something every 20 minutes.) Of course at the PMC, there’s plenty of food and drink at the start and at every rest stop so keeping to this regimen is not hard but it’s still not enough. So I keep eating and drinking after I stop riding and at the PMC there’s a huge picnic and it’s large enough that there are plenty of non-meat alternatives unlike the little local charity rides. This worked in my favor on the drive home. I was reasonably well-hydrated, so much so that I had to stop at almost every rest area on the way home to pee. That helped keep me alert.
Oddly, we did not talk about or commit to anything next year. I think we still want to do the 2-day ride from Wellesley-Provincetown and I’m now confident that I can do it. I would like to ride some of the day 2 route from Bourne to Provincetown this fall. I am now a firm believer that knowing a route is a huge advantage. But the raising money will continue to be the biggest obstacle. The current fund-raising minimum of $4200 will almost certainly go up. And while I am fairly certain that I could raise this amount of money, it would take me all summer and I’m just not interested in spending that amount of time on fund-raising. And unlike last summer (2008) when Stu and I committed to doing the 2-day ride and then I backed out, I haven’t made any promises yet.
1 In cycling parlance, to “pull” means to be the lead rider in a group. If a rider “drafts” another rider, that is, rides close behind the first rider, s/he benefits from the first rider creating a slipstream that “pulls” the second and subsequent riders along. Pro riders who ride much faster (the faster you ride, the more pronounced the effect) and draft much more efficiently can save up to 1/3 of their energy by drafting and having someone else pull. Usually the domestiques do the pulling, leaving the star of the team fresh for the stretch run. Unfortunately, I’m neither strong enough to be a domestique nor fast enough to be a star. Oh well.