I started cycling about a year and a half ago when I was 34 years old. I was into running/fitness/sports on and off my whole life. At age 32, I was done growing babies in my belly, and I became more serious about running than ever. A couple years later, as my run times got faster and distances longer, I looked for more to add to my fitness training. I decided to train for a sprint triathlon. I joined a fancy gym with a nice pool to work on swimming. Me and swimming are still having issues, but that’s a whole other story; this blog is about cycling. I went to Brands, a local Cycling store with a good reputation and walked out about $1000 lighter with a Specialized Sectaur Triple road bike, clip in shoes/pedals, and a helmet. I had no idea this was the start of a new love affair.
To date, I’ve done 4 sprint triathlons and 1 olympic distance (OLY). I’ve also done 3 duathlons (run-bike-run, no swimming, yay.) Now I’m training for my first half iron man (HIM) distance triathlon which is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run (70.3 miles total). It is September 29th, in Montauk, Long Island. For months, I struggled with whether I should stick with the OLY. The OLY training is pretty demanding as it peaks at about 8 hours of training per week. I could barely fit that into my life, so how the hec was I going to train for a HIM? Well, I looked into it and found that I only had to increase it to about 10.5 hours peak weeks, so fuck it, I’m doing it. After all, nothing worth doing is easy. I’ve already got the swim and the run distances, and over the past few months I have come to realize that cycling is my favorite part of the training, so as tough as it’s going to be to make the time, I’m going to love doing it.
So today I set out for a 50 mile ride. My longest before this was 45 miles. Well, once I did a 58 mile group ride, but that was a leisurely ride with lots of stopping for sight seeing and breaks. This 50 mile ride was going to be fast with minimal unclipping. My goal for training rides is to break as little as possible, limiting stops to red lights and stop signs only when absolutely necessary for safety.
So I packed my bike with 2 water bottles, one power bar, 3 Gu energy gels, a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge. I set up my iPhone app to record heart rate, distance, speed, and route. I tested the wireless bike computer that also gives me time, speed, and distance. I guess it’s the techie/land surveyor in me insisting on redundant measurements. Topped off the tires with air and I was off. In only a year and a half, I have had to learn a lot about bike maintenance. I need to be able to deal with mechanical issues in the field if I’m going to be out there for hours at a time. I can change a tube with my bare hands now in a matter of minutes, and I’m quite proud of that.
I need to “eat” every 10 miles or so, so that I don’t bonk. “Bonking” is when your muscles stop working after long distances due to lack of nutrition. I have felt it during long runs and rides, and believe me, the leg cramping doesn’t hurt nearly as much as losing your confidence because you thought you could do this distance, and now you can’t make your legs go anymore. After a couple bonks last year, I started fueling every 40 minutes with the Gu and Power bars, and now I feel like I can run/bike forever. Doesn’t matter if it’s real or in my head; it works.
It is Sunday morning. I woke up at 7am. I slept in. I’m usually up between 5 and 6am for training. Some people go to church on Sundays. There are people in my family that remind me I should. You know what? Long rides/runs are like going to church for me. What is more spiritual than getting outside with nature, being alone with your thoughts, and enjoying what God has given? I am reminded how blessed I am to be healthy enough to do this training; how blessed I am to live in a free country, have healthy family and friends, have the money to support this hobby. The list goes on. I thank God for all this as I enjoy the ride, and God is certainly with me. Let’s face it, riding a bike on roads with cars is dangerous to say the least. I have absolutely no control over what those drivers do. It’s comforting to think that someone is watching over me.
I’m going to take the Bethpage Bike Path north through Woodbury, Oyster Bay, Laurel Hollow, Cold Spring Harbor, the Village of Lloyd Neck and then head home. These areas are part of Long Island’s “Gold Coast” (google that, I don’t have time to explain right now). Many cyclists try to convince me that the best training is on the Long Island Expressway service roads. Sure there’s nice long hills to train on, and fewer side streets, but the view is miles of traffic striping, noise walls, and loud stinky vehicles. Not my bag, baby. I go through quaint little towns (no traffic early on a Sunday morning), and I find cobblestone curbed roads lined with flowers, mansions, and waterviews. I find beaches and parks I didn’t know existed, and I think that I live in the most beautiful place in the world. By getting out there on my bike, I no longer live in my house on my suburban block. Rather I’m taking a 25 mile radius and making it all mine, and I’m seeing more of it in a few hours, than I’ve seen before in my entire life. Beautiful.
First I head up to Oyster Bay and ride past the town park near the harbor where I competed in a triathlon one week before. Last Sunday at this time it was a big party with the triathlon event. Today it is quiet, peaceful, and deserted. I ride Cold Spring Road and I ride around Cold Spring Harbor where tons of boats are moored. I pass Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Village, and Cold Spring Harbor State Park, and the question dawns on me…What and where IS this “Cold Spring” that they speak of? I gotta google that later.
I have tried to figure out how fast I am, but this route is not flat anywhere. There’s always at least a little down grade or upgrade between the longer and steeper climbs. I ride about 17-19mph when the grade is minimal. After Oyster Bay, I head to Moores Hill Lane. Pay attention to the names of streets, because 9 times out of 10, the name means something. This hill is rough. Long and steep. My speedometer says I’m going about 6 (yes 6) mph, and my heart rate peaks at about 161 beats per minute at this amazing speed. It is worth the work though, to earn those downhills. I power up the hills slow, but strong and steady so that I can earn the thrill of the downhills. Got up to 36.6 mph on one surprise downhill, and THAT, my friends, is the m&m’s in the trail mix.
I head down to Laurel Hollow Beach and it’s the only time during the ride that I get off the bike to open the Power Bar and take a photo. There is no one else there. The water is like glass. I hear only birds and insects. So peaceful. I live in the best place in the world. That break lasted about a minute and a half. Time to get back on the bike, slacker. There were so many other good photo ops along this ride, but I resisted stopping because I need to be badass.
Because this is my longest ride ever, I do a little exploring to get the desired distance. Sure I’ll take this road and I’ll make a right here on Huntington Drive even though I’m not sure where it goes. I’ll find my way back. I am a human GPS, after all. Wait, this road puts me on West Neck Road in Lloyd Neck??? SCORE! I rode up here 3 weeks ago and it was awesome. Nice smooth pavement, with a wide shoulder for safety. It leads to Caumsett State Park with waterviews on both sides. Not only do I know where I am, but I know I am in for a few good miles of premium riding. I always say, “Things just kind of work out for me.”
I turn around near Caumsett and head back toward Huntington Drive. My iPhone app gives me my statistics every mile. The manly robot voice says I’ve gone 34 miles already. Jeez, I gotta head home. But not before I climb Northern Blvd. Oh, is it starting to rain? That’s weird, because I checked the weather and there was 0% chance of rain. But it’s a humid summer, overcast day, so it’ll probably just drizzle a little, right? Wrong. More and more rain as I climb and then head south on Cold Spring Road. It’s freakin’ pouring and I can feel little puddles in my shoes, but ya know what? This is AWESOME! It feels great! What a thrill to be riding in the rain. I like doing stuff in the rain. And luckily, I’m on a road with a bike lane. I love bike lanes. Ever since I fell because that car bumped into me on Memorial Day (no bike lane there), I am a BIG fan of bike lanes. I work in the civil engineering industry and I tell every Engineer I meet to design more bike lanes. Most of them roll their eyes at me, but I’ll keep trying. So now my precious bike lane is about 4′ wide and includes the gutter line, and with this downpour it’s a freakin’ river forcing me to ride in the travel lane anyway. Ok, engineers, now I’m gonna bug you for bike lanes with extra catch basins.
I remember that I left my running shoes outside because after this 50 mile bike ride, I’m gonna run a few miles. Crap, now it’s raining on my new running shoes, right? Wrong. As I ride under the Long Island Expressway (blah) and get back to the bike path (designed by one of my favorite engineering firms), I realize the pavement is dry and the downpour was isolated up north. See, things just kind of work out for me. I’m still all wet, but God, it feels great, and my new running shoes are safe.
I make it home and my gadgets tell me I went 50.47 miles in 3 hours and 17 minutes. I burned 1,638 calories and my heart beat more than 27,000 times. The only mechanical issue I had was when I threw the chain in Cold Spring Harbor, and it only took about 15 seconds for me to fix.
This was the best riding experience for me to date. If I had no responsibilities today I would do another 50. Too bad my gadgets don’t measure how much I smiled during that ride, or how great the patches of sunlight felt on my shoulders. So much positive energy. I get off the bike and run 2.5 miles just to see how that’s going to feel on September 29th. It actually felt pretty good and for the first time, I’m confident that I am going to be able to finish this race. Training is fun and it is freeing me from the feeling that I can only do so much. Turns out I can do anything if I train for it.
Perhaps the freedom that I created out there is the most exhilarating part of it all.
Christine Gayron is a mom of three (ages 9, 7, and 4), and wife of an Ironman/NYC Firefighter. She is also President of Gayron de Bruin Land Surveying and Engineering, a 25 person consulting firm on Long Island. In addition to triathlon, she enjoys mountain biking, and pretty much anything you can do in the sunshine. Christine is an advocate of clean, organic eating, but has a slight addiction to Ralph’s Italian ices. She spends most of her time wishing there were more hours in a day.