Woot! Here’s my recap of the NYC Century.
I got up at 4:30 a.m., got dressed, and ate a large serving of fat-free Greek yogurt with honey, with two large pieces of sourdough bread and peanut butter. I loaded five Clif bars into my bike bag, and left the patch kit behind. I’d never had a flat before, so hey! I rolled the dice.
I arrived to the start line at 110th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Boulevard (just inside Central Park) about 20 minutes early, the bikes’ flashing lights creating an early morning music-free rave.
At 5:55 a.m. the riders began lining up for the 6 a.m. start. I ran into someone I know from the Upper West Side, who, like many others I met, has done the Century multiple times. This being my first bike tour, I felt like a child at the grown-ups’ table at Thanksgiving.
And so it began! We headed due west, down Riverside Drive, across 72nd Street, and down West End Avenue. I passed my sister’s apartment and yelled “Good Morning, Katie!” I don’t think she heard me. I maintained a nice steady state.
We snaked through Manhattan and down through the West Village, where bleary-eyed couples stumbled home. Cyclists yelled “Clear!” or “Car!” at intersections to alert each other about the intersection’s safety. People also yelled “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” to avoid crashes. Great camaraderie!
We hit the Brooklyn Bridge around 6:45 a.m. The City looked beautiful against the blue sky mixed with clouds. We cleared the Bridge before 7 a.m.
We then wound through North Brooklyn toward Prospect Park, passing through Clinton Hill (very close to my old Bushwick haunts).
I skipped the first aid station at Prospect Park, as I had already eaten one Clif bar, had plenty of water, and felt strong. The Century rolled down the west side of the Park, and then through South Brooklyn toward the Bay Ridge greenway. Riders began to spread out, and we had to rely on directional signs spray-painted on the streets. I rode behind a group that cruised right along to the Bay Ridge greenway.
The Greenway led deep into Brooklyn and into Coney Island, which was empty except for a biker gang hanging on a corner.
After Coney Island, we rode north and then east toward the Rockaways. I stopped at the second aid station, filled my water bottle, and kept moving. I ate a second Clif bar, still feeling strong and pumped for the ride. We crossed over highway traffic and rode down some bike paths I never knew existed. Then we crossed a narrow bridge into the Rockaways.
The Rockaways felt like even more of a ghost town than Coney Island, with the exception of two kids who shouted and high-fived us, but after that I heard only the whir of bike wheels. We exited the Rockaways almost as fast we arrived.
We then rolled through Queens along a flat, busy road and, after some street riding, entered Forest Park. As I tried to eat my third Clif Bar, I nearly fell, but I recovered to cheers and the disappointment from some folks who wanted to see a big crash. We climbed some larger hills and entered the third aid station, 55.1 miles into the Century.
I stopped, grabbed three Kind bars off the food table, ate some pita and tabouli (Tabouli was at many of the aid stations, and it’s my favorite, so yeah!), hit the head, filled my water bottle, drained it, filled it again, and hit the road. The bathroom line took 10 minutes. The sun had risen, the weather was warm, and my legs felt strong. My watch read 9:30 a.m. as I started back onto the roads.
We wound through the Park, whose trees kept the roads shaded and cool, and then through some Queens neighborhoods, and then out toward Kissena Park, which was surprisingly green and fun to ride. Then out of the park to another greenway and the next aid station at 71.8 miles in. I stopped, filled my water bottle, and headed out. I had eaten at least five Clif and/or Kind bars already. Time 11:15 a.m.
I was crushing this ride. Nothing could go wrong, right?
After crossing into Astoria, my rear inner tube popped. Luckily, a fellow rider helped me patch it. Of course I pop a tube when I leave the patch kit home, and of course it was my back tube (I don’t have a quick-release rear tire, which makes patching the tube much harder). I never got the guy’s name, but he was super helpful. I got rolling again, and stopped about twenty minutes later to inflate my tire to full pressure at a gas station. When I put the air pump to the tire, I heard a soft “pop.” Seriously. Did I really pop the tube twice?
I took the only logical action: I ran my bike a mile and a half to the next aid station. One rider asked if I needed help; a runner told me I was getting close; and one rider offered me her spare tube, which was sweet. Like I’ve written before, sometimes you go one step at a time.
The mechanics threw a new tube on in about ten minutes. I refilled my water bottle, ate a Kind bar, and talked to some fellow riders. One woman told me that my helmet strap was too loose, and when I responded that the bike shop guy who sold it to me helped me adjust it, she gave me the most incredulous look. Even the mechanics laughed at me. I guess I was wrong!
Crossing into Randall’s Island sucked. You can’t ride because of multiple sets of stairs on the bridge, so the traffic thickened. I checked my Instagram and Facebook feeds and got energized by all the likes and positive comments on my Century photos. Thanks, friends!
Once on Randall’s Island, a marshal directed us off the main road and onto a bike path. I rode the path to the Ward’s Island Bridge, and across into Manhattan. Once in Manhattan, I followed the directional graffiti up to 111th Street, and realized that I was headed back to Central Park, NOT to the Bronx as planned for the Century ride.
I pulled over and two other riders stopped next to me. Both had realized the error. One bailed on the ride, but the other guy, a fellow named Tim, hesitated.
“Do you want to stick it out and finish this thing?” I asked.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” he replied. And thus an NYC Century friendship was born.
I pulled out the turn-by-turn directions and Tim fired up his smart phone GPS, and we determined that the marshal had directed us off the Century path. We retraced our path to the marshal and headed to the north end of the Island, crossed over the worst walking bridge into the Bronx and traveled by warehouses, bodegas, and eventually tree-lined residential areas. We met up with some other riders, most of whom had gotten lost during the day, and laughed about it all. Tim’s chain fell off two or three times, which added to the adventure.
We rode through Arthur Avenue, past Fordham University and down by the Botanical Gardens Metro North Station, where I used to take the train every day when I commuted to high school at Fordham Prep. We then headed west toward Van Cortlandt Park, riding on some fun paths that zoomed downhill. By the time we hit the last aid station at Van Cortlandt Park, I was ready to finish up strong.
The final ten miles to Central Park largely mirrored my commuting route from White Plains. We headed through the hilliest section of the Century, which included a section of road that had been ripped up for repaving (the worst two minutes of riding all day) toward the Broadway Bridge. Once into Manhattan we headed east up the hill at 218th Street, and then down toward the Harlem River greenway. We flew through the greenway and up a short pedestrian bridge into Harlem. We had less than two miles to go, and I could taste the finish. Tim had to keep going to Prospect Park, but the idea that we had made it through the Bronx and were nearly home kept our spirits high. We talked and enjoyed a few cheers from neighborhood folks as we rolled down Edgecomb, Bradhurst, Saint Nicholas, and eventually Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Boulevard and into Central Park.
Success! And, considering the open streets, long lines at the rest stops, inner tube hijinks, and poorly placed marshals, I was happy with finishing in nine hours.
As I write this recap, I feel physically recovered but mentally destroyed. I knew I had trained my body well for this event, riding short and long rides each week in addition to all my running and weight training, but I had not anticipated the mental exhaustion that accompanies a long endurance event. I was so slap happy by the end of the day that I thought everything was hilarious, and my girlfriend just laughed at me like I was a crazy person (and she was right).
Lessons learned from the ride:
- Always carry a patch kit and a spare inner tube for a long ride. Always. Apparently I (and the Silver Fox) am not invincible!
- I nailed my nutrition plan, which was to eat about 200-300 calories per hour and drink water every 15-20 minutes. I ate a Clif or Kind bar on the hour every hour, drank whenever I was thirsty in addition to every 20 minutes, and ate more toward the end of the day (my hunger knew no bounds by the end!).
- Pop a second and third water bottle holder onto the bike. If I had additional water bottles, I would not have needed to stop at some of the aide stations, and could have kept on rolling.
- Maintaining a nice, smooth rhythm seems to be the key to solid endurance riding.
- Camaraderie on the roads is very important, and I thank all the riders (and my new buddy, Tim!) for their smiles and encouragement throughout the day.
- One year ago, the longest ride I had ever done was 10 miles. This year I completed a century and, besides certain issues outside my control, I rode it quickly and with grace. I’m proud about that progress.
- I have great family and friends, who supported me through the ride with encouragement and likes on social media. It’s great to know that people are interested in what you do.
Alright! I’m ready for the next century ride. Who wants to join me?