In some ways, 2009 began like any other year: with registration for the Pan-Mass Challenge, an annual two-day, 192-mile charity bike ride that raises money for lifesaving cancer research, treatment, and prevention at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This was my ninth year as a rider, and the event’s 30th. In 2008, the PMC pulled in $35 million from a record 5,200 riders, exceeding in one year what the event had raised over its first nineteen years!
In other ways, 2009 began very differently than previous years. Although I raised $12,000 of last year’s $35 million, the economic turmoil that began last fall lowered everyone’s expectations for 2009. For the first time in the PMC’s history, the ride organizers reduced their annual fundraising goal to $30 million. Meanwhile, I set two goals for myself: I would bring my lifetime PMC fundraising to a big, round $50,000 by raising at least $5,600, and I vowed to achieve the elite Heavy Hitter status for my fourth year in a row by raising at least $6,700 (the ride organizers later reduced the Heavy Hitter limit to $6,000).
The PMC kicked the year off by starting its own official PMC blog, and publishing on January 12th the first of its "30 Years in 30 Weeks" retrospectives of previous years’ rides with a look at the first Pan-Mass Challenge back in 1980, when 36 riders raised a mere $10,200 (a sum I’ve eclipsed in a single year). The PMC also started their own official Twitter account, PanMassBike, which became a very useful communication vehicle between riders and the main office. Riders subsequently started making use of Twitter’s #PMC hashtag, which enabled them to talk among themselves, as well.
I entered the year unemployed, having been laid off a week before Christmas. This would give me ample opportunity to ride, and I began the year with newfound motivation. The first thing I did was borrow a stationary indoor resistance trainer from my friend Jeremy and download a bunch of cycling-specific workouts from Charmichael Training Systems, Spinervals, and a site called “The Sufferfest”. Although I’d never really thought I would enjoy using a stationary trainer, over the wintry first three months of the year, I spent over 32 hours doing 40 workouts, the equivalent of about 500 miles on the bike.
That investment of time on the trainer meant that I was already in great shape when good riding weather arrived. It was noticeable enough that my buddy Jay complimented me on a late March ride by observing that I “don’t have little Ethiopian girl legs this year”! I used this as a motivator all year long, taping an Ethiopian flag to the stem of my handlebars as an inspirational reminder.
I’m still riding the bike I’ve named “the Plastic Bullet”, the 2006 Specialized Roubaix Expert that I acquired in October 2005. The frame is all carbon fiber, and is painted with clear-coat and some silver trim. The bike originally cost $3,150, and last year I replaced the stock wheels with a Mavic Ksyrium SL wheelset, which added another $1,100 to it. Although it has 30 gears, which you shift by swiping the brake levers sideways, the way bike gearing works means that more than a third of those are either duplicates or they are not viable due to cross-chaining, stressing your chain by running it at a sharp angle between the innermost chainring and outermost sprocket (or vice versa). Most road bikes come with what are called clipless pedals, which create a positive attachment between the pedals and your cycling shoes, much like breakaway ski bindings, so that you can pull up on the pedals as well as pushing down. My pedals are Shimano SPD-type, which are actually designed for mountain biking, because that is the type of cleat that works with the special cycling sandals that I wear: one of my ideosyncracies and the source of the infernal tan lines on my feet.
Despite having fewer outdoor riding miles at the end of March than in any previous year, my indoor training and the free time afforded by my unemployment allowed me to surpass my previous monthly mileage records for the months of April, May, June, and July. Between April and July I averaged 10 hours and 150 miles per week, and 2009 quickly lept from my lowest mileage year-to-date to my second highest. By the time the PMC rolled around on the first day of August, I’d added 2,800 outdoor miles to the 500-odd miles I’d ridden on the trainer: over three times the 1,000 total miles I had in my legs in preparation for last year’s ride!
I certainly didn’t need to train that much, especially since one’s body adapts to the stresses of training more rapidly year after year; however, after a long winter and two low-mileage years I was really enjoying the riding. About half my rides were solo, and the other half group riding. Solo rides generally build one’s endurance and strength, but group riding is important to develop the skills necessary to ride in a pack, and other riders will push you much harder than you would alone.
All that riding included a number of memorable events that I’ll mention in brief here, with links to more detailed articles in Ornoth’s Cycling Blog where they are described more fully.
In April, the bike shop I ride with, Quad Cycles in Arlington, moved about a mile east on Mass Ave. We also held a ride celebrating the 60th birthday of our mentor and inspiration, the illustrious Bobby Mac. I passed the 25,000 mile mark (since I resumed cycling in October 2000), and bought myself a cheap heart rate monitor (HRM) that proved quite useful in training. April’s total: 510 miles.
Things heated up even more in May. I resumed my regular Quad Cycles rides again, and we ran into PMC founder Billy Starr at our lunch stop one day. Usually registration for the PMC fills up in February, but it was still open in May, and Billy stressed the need to encourage more riders to sign up. In fact, registration still wouldn’t fill up before they closed it in late July. I extended one of those weekend Quad rides to 100 miles, completing my first century quite early in the year. I even appeared in a photo in the Boston Metro newspaper when I attended Mayor Menino’s speech kicking off Bay State Bike Week.
In order to throw a little novelty into my riding, I explored a great new route to Concord that runs through Waltham, Weston, Lincoln, and Sudbury. On the downside, I also broke a derailleur cable, flatted twice, and replaced my chain and rear cassette.
At the end of May, I put my camera to good use and assembled two videos: one featuring Bobby Mac on Quad Cycles’ Memorial Day ride, and my first-ever PMC fundraising video. They both turned out well and I received a lot of positive feedback from viewers. I even got my PMC fundraising started earlier than ever, closing the month having already raised about $1,500 of the $4,200 minimum. May’s total: 625 miles.
In June I continued seeking out new routes. I rode up to Nashua, New Hampshire, and did a nice, lengthy loop out of Augusta, Maine, that hit New Sharon, Mt. Vernon, and Kents Hill. I also set off alone for a scenic solo ride to Littleton and Harvard. I managed to flat at Bedford Depot on a Quad ride, and picked up more new pieces of equipment: a cycling cap for rainy weather, my first pair of bib shorts, and I replaced two insulated water bottles I’d left behind at rest stops. I even bought some very cool stickers from Victory Circle Graphix bearing my name, placing them on my bike’s top tube so that it’d look just like a pro racer’s bike! Despite rain falling on 75 percent of its days and it being the coldest June in more than a century, I closed the month with 735 miles and $3,025 raised.
The Fourth of July weekend was good to me. I repeated my Littleton and Harvard ride with a large group of Quad Cycles riders, and again extended it enough to ring up my second century of the year. At the same time, my “angel sponsor” came through with another record donation that not only put me over the fundraising minimum earlier than ever, but also fulfilled both of my personal goals. I reached Heavy Hitter level for the fourth year in a row (also earlier in the year than ever), and I surpassed $50,000 in lifetime fundraising. As far as fundraising goes, the pressure was off.
For the bike, July was a pretty mixed month. My bike’s bottom bracket (the axle and bearings that the pedals and cranks attach to) was acting up, and my bike shop wasn’t having any luck fixing it. I replaced my middle chainring when I discovered that the old one was badly worn, but in the process, my bike shop broke the transmitter for my bike computer which logs my speed and distance and so forth. So I had to nurse the bike through my third century of the year, the Charles River Wheelmen’s annual Climb to the Clouds ride up Mt. Wachusett, which I did with my buddies Jay and Paul. My friend Mark joined the three of us for a tour around Cape Ann that I led, and I convinced Jay to accompany me on a ride up Great Blue Hill, unfortunately flatting again near the end of that ride. Despite it continuing to rain on 60 percent of the days in July, I accumulated 812 miles, and my PMC fundraising broke $7,000. I had also shaved my legs for the first time, after discovering the benefits of self-massage and realizing that it would make applying sunblock easier.
So leading up to this year’s PMC weekend, things were mostly good.
Physically, I was ready, having incorporated stretching and self-massage into my daily regimen, and having nothing more significant to complain about than an annoying canker sore. My training was complete: having started with the stationary indoor trainer in the winter, I’d built my aerobic capacity with long rides building up base miles, then increased my power without getting overtrained by doing shorter hill repeat rides that reduced quantity but increased intensity. Riding hills will truly give you the biggest training benefit of anything you can do on the bike. And I’d long since switched to my low-fat, high-carb training diet, eating up to 4,500 kilocalories a day to make up for the loss of as much as 1,200 kcal per hour in the saddle.
Financially, I’d achieved all my fundraising goals four weeks before the ride, so I had nothing to worry about there. I was free to view the ride as the reward for the effort I put into fundraising, and as a celebration of the amazing things my fellow cyclists, volunteers, and sponsors have achieved over the years.
Mechanically… That’s where my only doubts lay. I had jerry-rigged my cyclocomputer transmitter, but I was still riding on a flaky bottom bracket, and I hoped it wouldn’t act up during the long ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown. There was nothing more to do but hope, and ride.
Friday—the day before the ride begins—is get-ready day. The morning consists of a short final ride, showering, downing some food, packing, and meeting my support person for the ride out to Sturbridge.
Having already taken a couple short, easy rides in this final week, I decided to do a very brief final shakedown ride, only going to the Arsenal Mall in Watertown and back. However, in those 14 miles, I had three close calls: a cyclist crossed the bike path in front of me without looking, a car crossed in front of me and stopped directly in my path, and another cyclist crowded me by taking the full width of a narrow section of path. It was a bit disconcerting for what was supposed to be a short, easy final ride!
When I returned, my shower and lunch were delayed after a call from my building’s front desk. Apparently there was a water leak somewhere, and we were being asked not to use any water! After a short while, I sought out the building manager, who realized that he’d given the concierge the wrong list of apartments to call, and he gave me the all-clear to shower and cook.
Taking in food was still a bit of an issue, due to a lingering painful canker sore located strategically on the underside of my tongue. Fortunately, that was slowly healing and wouldn’t bug me much once the ride began.
After showering and eating, I finished packing, although I was a little disappointed that the pocket camera I planned to take had died. It first died when I exposed it to water during my stay in St. Thomas last year, but it had recovered long enough to capture footage for my fundraising and Quad Cycles videos before conking out again.
Finally, I called Sheeri, who has been my loyal and selfless support person for the past five years. She drove up around 1:30pm.
One of the things I hoped to surprise her with was a paint marker for use on glass that I’d picked up. She’d used a dry-erase marker to put supportive messages on her car back in 2007, and I figured the glass marker would be a big improvement. The surprise was on me, though, as she showed me two big magnetic signs that she’d bought and attached to her car. They read “PMC Riders / Closer by the mile / Thank you!” and were quite attractive. So much for my little glass marker!
We quickly loaded up and headed out to Sturbridge. Upon arrival, our first task was to sign me in at the ride’s registration desk at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, but this year featured a little plot twist. As we slowly approached the hotel’s parking lot, Sheeri noticed two buses full of riders turning in just ahead of us. While we were stopped waiting for them, she suggested I hop out and sprint to beat them to registration. So I jumped out and began hoofing it toward the hotel, recalling sadly how little running I’ve done in the past thirty years.
However, I did manage to get ahead of the crowd and strode up to the sign-in, where I got my usual bar-coded ID bracelet and packet of stuff, including water bottle, ride jersey, luggage tags, bike tags, and so forth. Usually there are special bike shorts for Heavy Hitters, but this year they were giving out jackets; however, they weren’t ready for the time of the ride, so those would arrive by mail weeks later.
After quickly trying my jersey on, I waited in the hotel’s parking lot until Sheeri showed up, as she’d been forced to park in a lot at Old Sturbridge Village and take a shuttle bus to the hotel. We decided to go check into our hotel in Southbridge, so we moseyed back to the shuttle while an immense dark cloud rolled in over the Host Hotel. By the time the bus took off, the skies had opened up, and we had to sprint a short distance from the bus to our car. But not before getting wet trying to help the bus driver close the recalcitrant ventilation hatch in the top of the bus.
This kind of deluge seems to happen every year on the Friday before the ride. Sometimes it catches us on the Mass Pike, where it slows traffic to a crawl, but it wasn’t too inconvenient this time. Nevertheless, I was very glad that Sheeri now has an SUV that can store two bicycles inside, rather than her former sedan with a bike rack on the back! Having the bike get completely soaked the day before a big ride doesn’t help the mechanicals!
As has become our routine, we stopped at the CVS in Southbridge on the way to the hotel, picking up orange juice, Gatorade, water, and various snacks. Then we checked into our hotel and unpacked a bit before driving right back to Sturbridge for dinner at the Thai place called Thai Place. I stuck with the familiar and had massamun curry chicken, which was very savory. We left the restaurant at about 6:45pm, by which point the rain had pretty much cleared out.
At this point, we diverted from our usual routine. In years past, we returned to our hotel to watch the PMC kickoff show on New England Cable News (NECN), which airs from 8pm to 9pm. The audience at the Host Hotel is made up entirely of riders, but the room is usually jammed solid. However, this year two things were different: the kickoff show was moved an hour earlier to 7pm, and there was a seating overflow area outside the hotel that had a big-screen video feed. So Sheeri and I walked over and took seats in the overflow tent. It was calm and pleasant out, and for the first time we were able to see the 30-minute speech that event founder Billy Starr always gives to the riders before NECN goes on air.
The kickoff show is always very inspiring, and this year was no different. It was made a little more fun for me when I appeared in a crowd reaction shot as the host, R.D. Sahl, said, “Welcome everybody to the 30th anniversary of the Pan-Mass Challenge! We have a great live audience here at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and overflow tonight outside -- not in the rain but under the big top. Do we have a shot? There they are!” Look for me in this video, wearing an orange tee shirt and red cycling cap at -2:23. I also learned that Dana-Farber president Dr. Ed Benz is from Pittsburgh, which is an interesting factoid for me. We even got to cheer one of the musical performers, Jeffrey Gaines, as he slipped out the hotel’s back door, thinking to make a quiet exit.
With the end of the kickoff show, Sheeri and I drove back to Southbridge. Although the roads were still quite wet, the forecast called for a low chance of rain, and gradual clearing in the wee hours. Unfortunately, I was supposed to already be on my bike in those wee hours!
The biggest change to our routine this year was the ride’s decision to move the Sturbridge start time back half an hour, from 6am to 5:30am. The difficult part is that this moved our wake-up time back to 3:50am. Ugh! Still, when you have to go, you have to go, so I donned my cycling gear in the darkness and we hopped into the car for the ride back to Sturbridge, where I assembled the bike, took a quick spin around the parking lot, paused for a photo, pocketed the camera Sheeri loaned me, put my bag on a Bourne-bound truck, and let Sheeri depart for our hotel and four hours’ more sleep.
Meanwhile, I brought the bike over to the staging area, lining up in the “fast” section this year, in order to get off earlier. I filed the first of several voice posts to my blog, and read the first factoids from the notes I’d taken about the towns we’d pass through along the ride route. We waited a few extra minutes, presumably due to fog on the route, then finally hit the road at 5:38am. The roads were a little wet, but not much, and the temperatures hadn’t fallen below 65 overnight, so it wound up being a pleasant morning, even despite the early start.
By lining up in the fast group, I didn’t have to sift through so many slower riders, which allowed me to make much better progress once I was out on the road. In fact, when I pulled into the Whitinsville water stop at 6:54am, 25 miles into the ride, I was delighted to discover that I had averaged 19 miles per hour: a much faster pace than usual. I quickly called in my voice post from that stop, and went to move my bike…
…and it didn’t move. What, was I leaning on the brake or something? No? Don’t tell me… Yep: I’d broken a spoke, so my rear wheel was jammed up against the brake pad. The supposedly bulletproof thousand-dollar wheels I’d bought were broken, with another 85 miles still to ride. And somehow, although I didn’t know when the wheel had let go, I’d still averaged 19 miles per hour!
Well, then! I went right into damage-control mode, bringing the bike over to the mechanical tent to have them diagnose it. The mechanic on duty had a couple types of Mavic spokes, but not the one I needed (each Mavic wheelset has three different kinds of spokes: one type on the front wheel, and different kinds for the drive and non-drive sides of the back wheel). So he did his best to true my wheel so that it wasn’t rubbing against the brake pads and sent me on my way at 7:15. I’d spent 21 minutes at the rest stop, understandably about double my usual time.
I took the next segment of the ride gingerly, and my average speed had dropped to 18 mph when I rode into the Franklin stop at 8:16am, 43 miles in. Naturally, the first place I went was the mechanical tent, where no one had any Mavic spokes at all, despite their being the most popular aftermarket wheelset on the planet. The sun had burned through the fog and it was a beautiful morning, with the temperatures climbing into the mid-70s. I put away my cap and arm warmers and refilled my water bottles. At least I was back on the road again in ten minutes.
Soon after I left the stop, I rode by one of the vans the PMC road crew uses. As I passed the moving van, I leaned over and asked the guys if they had any Mavic spokes, but received another negative response. A few miles later, I saw another van at the side of the road, and recognized my friend Lynda standing by. I pulled up and checked, but apparently all she was doing there was listening to Jimmy Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” on the truck’s radio. We took off together and passed the halfway point of the first day’s ride at 9:09am.
One of this year’s biggest disappointments was the number of friends I have who chose not to ride this year, including Quad Cycles regulars Abe and Jeff, my NECN riding buddy Paul and his coworker Helen, my former coworker Charlie, and my childhood friend Scott. The only people I really knew on the ride were Quad regulars Lynda, Tony, and Steve, and this was really the only time all weekend long that I was able to ride with anyone I knew.
We pulled into the Dighton lunch stop at 9:54, after 70 miles of riding. My buddies from Quad Cycles were manning this mechanical tent, but they told me they’d already used the only two Mavic spokes they’d brought. The temperature was now in the upper 80s, and I still felt good, arriving at the water stops without any sense of fatigue. The miles had passed pretty quickly, and I had been too preoccupied with my mechanical issues to enjoy the ride or to worry about eating or drinking much. I knew that wasn’t wise, so I started nibbling once I left the stop, not bothering to figure out where Lynda had run off to.
I arrived at the Lakeville stop at 10:59, only to learn that for some unknown reason there were no mechanics there at all! By now I’d resigned myself to nursing the bike all the way in, and had gained enough confidence to realize that if I was careful, the wheel wasn’t likely to simply shatter beneath me. At the same time, my bottom bracket was starting to act up again. I was finally starting to feel the day’s effort, and resolved to put more food and water into my body, even if nothing really appealed except sour gummi bears.
I hadn’t paid much attention to my heart rate monitor, so I was surprised to see I’d averaged 126 beats per minute thus far, which is lower than I’d expect. Naturally, I’d seen my heart rate spike on the major climbs that come early in the ride, but I figured my average would be a bit higher. Again, I was in and out of the stop within ten minutes, as I was looking forward to checking my century time at the next stop.
Unfortunately, that segment was when things started going south on me. I rode through a series of cramps in my left thigh, and felt some of the usual neck pain and loss of power that come after a long day in the saddle. Worse yet, those fistfuls of gummi bears were sitting in my gut like a big, gelatinous croquet ball. Despite those ailments, I finished my century within a very respectable six and a half hours, pulling into the Wareham stop at 12:07pm. As we might all predict, the mechanics there didn’t have any Mavic spokes, either.
That left a final eight-mile sprint, which felt much more like a slog. I crept along, then both legs cramped on Academy Drive as I tried to pick it up and look strong on the street leading into the finish at Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne. I checked in at 12:56, 15 minutes ahead of my projected schedule. I had taken 7:20 to cover 110 miles, a personal record for the current route, which took me an hour longer than the old route when it was first introduced in 2007. My final average for the day was 17.1 mph, understandably quite a bit below my initial pace, but my best speed in five years.
My arrival ritual remained the same this year: get my bag, shower, get my massage, which this year wasn’t terribly effective, and then worry about food and other stuff. After the massage, I grabbed a burger and a Pepsi and brought my bike to where the final mechanical tent was… or rather was supposed to be. All I found was a guy standing in a handicapped parking space with a floor pump. He told me to come back after 4pm, when there might be other mechanics around. I left my bike with him (in case those fictional mechanics might materialize before 4pm) and went back to my usual eat/drink/rest routine.
In the food tent, I spied former coworker Nick Caramello, who was doing the ride for the first time. We jawed about the ride, and I got his first-year rider impressions. Then I put my attention back on eating, bringing my food over to my usual secluded spot on the dock overlooking the Cape Cod Canal. That afternoon I only managed a hamburger, two ears of corn, three colas, two bags of chips, and a sleeve of Oreos. None of it really appealed; it seems like my stomach needs a few hours of rest before it’s ready to let me really pack the food in.
When 4pm came around, I went back to the mechanical tent, only to discover that they’d moved it (and my bike) elsewhere. I chased them down and learned that—no surprises here—none of them had Mavic spokes. Nope, I was going to do the entire 192-mile ride on a broken wheel. Thanks, guys.
After a bit more rest, I changed into clean biking gear and packed up for the ride to my hotel. Unfortunately, I left my heart rate monitor in the bag that was being trucked to Provincetown, so I didn’t have that with me on day two of the ride. I left Bourne at 5:40pm and went over the Bourne Bridge and up the canal bike path. I was pleased to see that I’d regained some of the strength I’d lacked when I arrived in Bourne, but I still rode slowly, enjoying the evening. Although my wheel continued to hold together, my bottom bracket was getting worse, making chunking noises with every pedal stroke.
I arrived at our hotel at 6:15pm and met up with Sheeri, who had made a dinner reservation for us at the British Beer Company, the pub that is next to the hotel. I ordered turkey and beef tips, but the food refused to come. In fact, the waitress had brought our food to another table, who happily accepted and ingested it, so our entrees had to be prepared twice. Thankfully, the manager noticed and gave us our meal free of charge. That was a nice consolation, but after being awake for 18 hours and biking 120 miles I would rather have had the food and gotten into bed earlier! We made a quick trip to the hotel’s children-overrun pool and hot tub before turning in.
Sunday morning I was out of the hotel at 6:20am. That’s about my usual hour for day two of the ride, although I think I should have started a little earlier to avoid being so inundated with slower riders. I spent the entire length of the ludicrously rolling Route 6 access road passing people left and right and pulling the few who could hold my tenuously-functional wheel. The weather was a bit cooler than it had been on Saturday, only reaching the upper 70s, and it was intermittently sunny or foggy and overcast.
I safely passed one landmark that I always note: the place where I crashed out of the event back in 2003, then reached the first water stop in Barnstable at 7:06am. That was when, as I related in my voice post, a miracle occurred: John, the mechanic at the Barnstable stop, had the spoke I needed! I wound up killing 36 minutes while he replaced it, trued my wheel, and adjusted my brakes, but I was back in action again! Unfortunately, I was also at the very back of the pack: the entire water stop had cleared out while I was waiting in line for the mechanic. By the time I left Barnstable, I was about 30 minutes behind my planned schedule, although that didn’t matter very much, since I was having important work done, and Sunday’s ride isn’t anywhere near as time-pressured as Saturday’s.
Soon after leaving the water stop, a guy named Mike Sierra called out to me. I didn’t remember his name, but when he told me he’d borrowed some information from my PMC fundraising video, I remembered. He’d done a his own video, and used some of the facts from my video in creating his. We chatted for a while, until I decided to pull away with a group that was passing us. I then hooked up with a guy named Scott from Framingham, who was holding a nice, fast pace. We booked along at a great clip, and by the time he pulled off at the always-crazy Cape Cod Sea Camps hedge, I’d made up quite a bit of ground on the main pack. In fact, I rolled into Brewster a mere 15 minutes behind my plan, which is the time gap I’d maintain for the rest of the day.
The thing I like best about the Brewster water stop is that they have ice pops. I wanted to get in and out quickly, but I wasn’t going to pass up the pops, so I went over and grabbed two, then had a volunteer snap my picture as I double-fisted them. And for the first time in the entire ride, I left a water stop without having to visit the mechanical tent! Now I could actually relax and enjoy the ride instead of worrying about whether the bike was going to disintegrate beneath me.
On the pull up toward Wellfleet, I fell into line with Team Perry, although I pulled them too hard and eventually lost all but one of them. At one point, we were waiting to merge onto Route 6 when a car stopped next to us. I watched as a woman passenger handed a $10 bill to a female rider, saying that she worked at Dana-Farber. How random! On the road, although I was drinking, I still wasn’t thinking about eating, although I was putting away a few more gummi bears and roasted corn snacks than the day before. We flew up Ocean View Drive with nary a glance at the fog-occluded ocean, and climbed the little rise into the Wellfleet stop at 9:45am.
With only one 20-mile segment left to ride, I did a mental reset, putting all the mechanical and physical issues behind me at last, returning to thoughts I’d shared in my fundraising video. If you wrote the name of each of the 12 million people who contracted cancer this year in letters one inch high, you could line the entire 192-mile route of the Pan-Mass Challenge with them. You could also create a second line of names an inch and a half high, listing the 7.6 million people who will die of cancer this year. As one pedals along the route, trying to imagine so many names written on the road really puts the ride and the scope of the problem in perspective.
Much of that final segment is a long, straight slog up Route 6, with no protection from the wind. This is usually the best time to find a big team to hide amongst, to benefit from their draft. I started out trying to hang with Team Kermit, some of whom I know, but they were just cranking like crazy, and I fell off the back with one of their members named Tim Rosa. He and I traded pulls the whole way, helping one another through the final miles.
Although the wind on Route 6 wasn’t bad, since it was off our left hand side, when we made the turn home at Race Point Beach it was suddenly right in our faces. In order to hide from the wind, I actually drafted behind an SUV that was going in the same direction and speed as the riders. I’m very glad that none of the PMC’s event photographers captured that image, because it’d be a bit embarassing to explain to my fellow riders!
My partner Tim said goodbye and rode off toward the separate Family Finish, and I continued on to the traditional finish at the Provincetown Inn, standing and approaching the line fast and strong at 10:57am, having covered 189 miles in 10 hours and 46 minutes’ ride time, an average of about 17.5 mph.
Once again, I fell back onto my familiar postride ritual: grab my bag, shower, massage (this one was absolutely wonderful), and food. As seems to happen each year, I ran into my Quad Cycles buddy Tony in the food tent, and we shared war stories while I tore into two salads.
Then it was off to meet up with Sheeri in Provincetown. Having recovered a bit by then, I had a second lunch at the Squealing Pig, where a 16-year PMC rider and I exchanged greetings. As Sheeri and I wandered around, I picked up two new wallets while she pointed out to the aging shopkeeper that his method of calculating the new 6.5 percent sales tax was causing him to charge people 65 percent! Next we grabbed ice cream at Lewis Brothers and sat out on Macmillan Wharf, watching the 3pm ferries full of PMC riders depart for Boston. We eventually made our way out to Race Point Beach, but the clouds built up as the afternoon wore on and the water was just too cold for swimming.
Finally we drove back to our hotel in Sandwich, where, neither of us being very hungry, we had more ice cream at a place near the hotel called, appropriately enough, “Ice Cream Sandwich”. Sadly, the hotel’s hot tub was out of commission for the evening.
Having taken Monday off, Sheeri and I planned to spend another beautiful day relaxing on the cape. After a quick trip to pick up some small bills at Seaman’s Bank in Wellfleet, we parked at the Wellfleet end of the Cape Cod Rail Trail and rode it down to Orleans. This complemented last year’s trip, when we rode the other half of the trail, up to Orleans from Harwich. The ride was quite casual, which made for a nice, easy recovery ride for me. My recovery was greatly enhanced when we stopped for ice cream at an Emack & Bolio’s on Route 6A in Orleans.
After returning to the car, we made the very short trip up to Ocean View Drive and piled out at White Crest Beach, which proved to be an excellent choice. From the parking lot, you have to descend a very steep sandy slope from the top of immense dunes overlooking the beach. The beach itself is also known as Surfer’s Beach due to the huge swells and crashing surf there. Both the weather and the water were warmer than the day before, and we spent the whole afternoon sunbathing and floating and being tossed about in the ludicrously heavy surf which, yes, had attracted a couple dozen surfers that day. Sheeri discovered that the breakers were strong enough to knock you over and throw you around, coming away with what looked like a pretty good case of road rash after being caught off-guard. She shrugged it off, choosing instead to focus on enjoying what remained of a gorgeous day on the cape.
When the day finally ended, Sheeri had to return her rental bike to a place right next to our hotel in Sandwich, so we had supper back at the British Beer Company, where I think I had curried chicken. Then came the long drive back to Boston and everyday life. After months of preparation, another season of PMC training, fundraising, and riding were over. The 2009 season is winding down, and it’ll be a long five months before it all starts up again next year. But I didn’t have much time to reflect on that, as 60 hours later I had unpacked, re-packed, and was on a flight bound for Victoria, British Columbia to visit my brother… and do more biking, of course!
It’s no surprise, but the biggest lesson this year is that training really works. Even when I ran out of gas on Saturday, I never felt that the ride was arduous or even very long, thanks to the three centuries and over 3,000 miles I already had under my belt. The winter stationary trainer put me ahead of the curve in April, the long base miles served me well in May, and my tapering in June and July to avoid overtraining brought me to the PMC at peak motivation and performance. In terms of training, 2009 was my most consistent year ever. My primary downfall was mechanical.
The PMC fundraising appeal and Quad Cycles ride videos I produced were both fun to make and demonstrated the viability and effectiveness of video as a way to communicate the importance of the cause and what a ride feels like. If I can manage to keep a video-capable camera in working order, this is something I’d like to build upon.
This year I made a more concerted effort to stretch twice a day, and I also added self-massage into my routine, which was very beneficial in the 36 hours immediately after a training ride. Both self-massage and the frequent application of sunblock were easier after I started shaving my legs.
The heart rate monitor was also useful as a training tool. Unfortunately, I didn’t obtain it until after I had finished my indoor training, when I think it would be most useful, so I’ll have to try that next year. Also, don’t forget to bring it with you so you can wear it on day two of the ride!
This year I changed the way that I log GPS data from the ride. The new method allows me to capture my position and speed with ten times more detail, and also records elevation data that I was losing previously.
When I replaced my chain in the beginning of May, I never oiled it again. It comes from the factory pre-treated with an excellent lubricant, and that was sufficient to keep the chain in good working order all year long. In fact, I never had to clean my chain at all; it was always spotless, something that was remarked upon during the Climb to the Clouds ride. And it still hasn’t worn significantly, despite over 2,300 miles of riding. The only issue was that it began to squeak on me after getting wet during the PMC ride, after which I began lubing it lightly. But I’m definitely a convert of running one’s chain dry.
Lining up with the fast group was a definite improvement, allowing me to not only beat the majority of the riders into each water stop, but also in terms of being able to set a record pace on that first segment of the ride, when otherwise I’d have slowly sifted forward through the pack.
This year, in addition to the Ethiopian flag described above, I had three sets of instructions taped to my bike. The first stayed on all weekend, and was a reminder to massage my neck, avoid negative self-talk, keep my heart rate below 145, pedal full circles, and stretch periodically. The other two were route notes for Saturday and Sunday, respectively, noting what miles waterstops and hills were at, the times I expected to be at each stop, and the elevation of each hill. Those were surprisingly accurate and very useful in terms of managing my expectations throughout the ride.
On the negative side, I continue to struggle with food. On one hand, I carried less food on the bike this year, which was good. The centuries I’ve done have taught me that you really only need to carry a surprisingly small amount of food with you. On the other hand, you absolutely have to make sure the food you bring is going to be palatable and readily digested. For me, this probably means strips of fruit leather, rather than sour gummis. I’m also on the fence about whether it’s necessary to bring two water bottles. Having one of Gatorade and one of water is useful, especially on extremely hot days when you can pour the water over your head to cool off, but on most days one can probably forego the water and save weight by sticking to Gatorade.
Carrying replacement spokes, especially rear non-drive side, seems to be the path of wisdom. It’s stupid and shouldn’t be necessary, but I guess it has become a requirement. I’m still amazed that I put 4,400 miles on those wheels without a single glitch until the first 25 miles of this year’s PMC; cf. Murphy’s Law.
Finally, this was the first year that my audio logs proved faulty. I lost the audio which included my cyclocomputer data and personal notes from Lakeville, Wareham, and Barnstable. These had been recorded as voice mails emailed to myself; I will have to find a more reliable method of recording this information in the future.
The bottom line? 2009 has simply been a great year. I trained well, spent plenty of time out on the roads, made new friendships, explored lots of new routes, and really enjoyed a record-setting spring and summer. It was the most regular, steady year I’ve ever had. I’ve had a great and memorable season, and enjoyed it immensely.
Not that the year lacked challenges. In less than four years, I’ve put over 10,000 miles on my bike, and while I might not be showing my age, my bike is. In addition to the numerous mechanical issues I had leading up to this year’s ride, I spent most of the PMC nursing the bike along, hoping it would hold together. Immediately after the ride, my bike shop shipped both my broken wheel and my crankset back to their respective manufacturers. Hopefully they’ll be able to resolve these problems and get me back on the bike in time for September’s Flattest Century ride. Fortunately, I have my folding Bike Friday to use until then.
The other major difficulty this year was the economy, and its impact on fundraising. As I described above, many riders—including several of my friends—chose not to ride this year, and registration was way off. Despite being the PMC’s 30th, this was the first year that we reduced our goal, and it’ll be the first year that the ride’s donation to the Jimmy Fund will fall short of the previous year’s. On a personal level, I have 25 percent fewer sponsors and my donations have dropped by 36 percent this year, and although many of my loyal sponsors stepped up to try to fill that gap, the average donation I received still dropped by $25.
But this year’s challenges shouldn’t overshadow what we’ve accomplished. I’ve already mentioned exceeding $50,000 lifetime fundraising and being a Heavy Hitter for the fourth year in a row. 2009 will also be my third-best fundraising year, and my third- or fourth-best year in terms of number of people who sponsored me. While 2009 didn’t break any fundraising records, it was another solid year that we can all take pride in, thanks to the amazing generosity of the people who support me. Thank you!
The PMC’s 30th year is obviously an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate what our riders, volunteers, and sponsors have accomplished together. Since 1980, 60 thousand riders and 50 thousand volunteers have participated in the PMC. We have generated more than a quarter billion dollars for cancer research; that’s half of what the Jimmy Fund has raised during its entire sixty-year history! Furthermore, those unrestricted funds have allowed Dana-Farber researchers to perform the kind of groundbreaking research that is too speculative to receive government funding; yet once proven, that same research has subsequently yielded another billion dollars in federal research grants to the Dana-Farber. The advances that come out of that research we make possible bring boundless hope to cancer victims everywhere. That is the amazing, lifesaving power of our little bike ride, and the reason why the president of the Dana-Farber continues to say that “When they write the book about how cancer was cured, the PMC will be in chapter one.”
I can’t thank you enough for your role in making this possible, and for helping me play a part in what I believe is the single most important humanitarian mission of our generation.
The final postscript to every Pan-Mass Challenge is the annual check presentation. On Saturday December 5th, the Pan-Mass Challenge celebrated its 30th ride and presented the Jimmy Fund with a check for $30.4 million.
Although that's a decline from last year, it matched this year's goal of $30m, and once again represented 100 percent of rider donations. Since 1982, the Pan-Mass Challenge has now raised $270 million: well over a quarter *billion* dollars for cancer research, treatment, and prevention at the Dana-Farber.
If you are interested in more about this year's gift, I'd encourage you to read the Pan-Mass Challenge's press release, the Boston Globe article, and view the NECN video.
That same story played out on a personal level for me. This year's sour economy dragged my fundraising down, but with the help of my sponsors I still raised $8,266, well in excess of my personal goals. One of those goals was to exceed $50,000 in lifetime fundraising, and at the end of the year I stood proudly at $52,657.
When I do my fundraising each summer, the personal stories that people share with me constantly remind me how pervasive cancer is. However, during the ride, I am just as awestruck by our amazing response to this suffering. I am surrounded by 5,000 cyclists, and each one has raised an average of $6,000.
We are supported by over 3,000 people just like you who volunteer their time to make the event work, and also by over 200 companies that provide supplies and underwrite the millions of dollars it takes to stage the event.
As I ride, I'm also surrounded by countless crowds of spectators who line the 200-mile route to cheer us on, thanking us for riding.
Yet those riders, volunteers, and supporters all produce nothing without our sponsors: the 230,000 people who reach into their pockets and donate money to help us eradicate cancer.
Thanks to them, the Pan-Mass Challenge is the largest athletic fundraiser in the nation. Thanks to them, the Pan-Mass Challenge is the largest gift the Jimmy Fund receives each year. Thanks to them, the Pan-Mass Challenge is the lead gift in the Dana-Farber's successfully completed seven-year, $1 billion Mission Possible capital campaign.
And thanks to them, I can see all our efforts made concrete in the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care building that has risen along Brookline Avenue. I take great pride in the role we have played in all the amazing, lifesaving work that will happen in that 14-story clinical care and research facility, after it opens in 2011.
|date||town||time in||time out||hours||temp||miles||avg||max||notes||audio reports|
|sat||Sturbridge||5:38 am||Start moved back 30 mins = 3:50am wakeup call. Ugh!||audio|
|sat||Whitinsville||6:56 am||7:13 am||1:17:28||64||24.9||19.0||38.7||Foggy. Very fast, but broke a spoke. Limped on with trued wheel.||audio|
|sat||Franklin||8:16 am||8:23 am||2:20:45||73||43.0||18.0||38.7||Sunny, but no Ksyrium spokes at water stop or among road crew.||audio|
|sat||Dighton||10:03 am||10:12 am||3:54:34||89||70.7||17.8||38.7||No spokes again. Quick stretch, didn't stop long.||audio|
|sat||Lakeville||11:01 am||11:09 am||84.1||38.7||No mechanic at all! (data reconstructed from GPS logs)||audio|
|sat||Wareham||12:07 pm||12:20 pm||101.0||38.7||Cramps & fatigue. (data reconstructed from GPS logs)||audio|
|sat||Bourne||12:58 pm||5:38 pm||6:21:21||91||110.6||17.1||38.7||Hit the wall hard, cramped coming in on Academy Drive.||audio|
|sat||Sandwich||6:17 pm||7:03:40||78||120.0||16.7||38.7||Took it easy, bottom bracket making chunking noises.||audio|
|sun||Barnstable||7:06 am||7:42 am||133.0||38.7||Fell behind but replaced spoke! (data reconstructed from GPS logs)||audio|
|sun||Brewster||8:35 am||8:47 am||8:46:44||67||151.0||16.9||38.7||Great pull by Scott from Framingham. Catching up with peloton.||audio|
|sun||Wellfleet||9:46 am||9:44:11||71||168.8||17.0||38.7||Pulled up the cape with Team Perry.||audio|
|sun||Provincetown||10:58 am||10:46:00||85||189.0||18.6||38.7||Traded pulls with Tim from Team Kermit, drafted SUV at Race Point!||audio|