Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"My First Steps" Charity Ride

Interesting turn of events. Didn't expect my first "race recap" of 2015 to be about cycling but here we are.

Actually, this is not really a race recap as this was not a race, but it's the cycling equivalent of a race. Sure, there are cycling races but since I don't foresee me participating in any of those at this time, these group rides will serve the same purpose for me. They are a measure of where I am fitness-wise, just like when I run in races.

When it comes to cycling, I'm just barely getting my feet wet. Up until this week my longest ride had been 20 miles. While my behind might not agree with me, the miles I have put in so far have been relatively flat and easy. I try to put some effort into it and ride fast but up until now, I have been doing the running equivalent of a short, easy run.

Which is why I found it extremely weird when an old friend invited me to a group ride for charity, that I said yes.

He literally contacted me right after I had done my first (and longest) 20 mile ride. I thought about saying no. I did not know if I was ready for that. Not only the miles but keeping up with a group. He tried to ease my concerns: "Look, we are gonna try to keep the group together. 15-17 miles per hour tops. If you get tired, you can ride in the sweep van." The flyer said it was from Toa Baja (two towns from mine) to the town square of Vega Alta (my hometown). Could I stick with a group riding that fast? Could I handle the mileage? I was scared but I could tell he wanted the ride to succeed and help out this center for children so I said yes.

Captain's Meeting and registration
 Well, as it turns out, both my concerns were not a problem at all. I managed to stick with the group for most of the ride and I managed to ride the whole 40 miles without need to van of shame. The problem my friends, were the climbs.

The freaking,  Everest-like, who-the-heck-came-up-with-this-route, someone-get-a-defibrillator climbs.

See, I was invited to this thing under false pretenses. That route in the flyer was just half of the total ride and it said nothing about riding a Tour de France-level climb. Well, maybe it was not Tour de France-like but it might as well be to me. The guy who just started cycling a month ago. The whole thing started nice enough. We left Toa Baja and rode through "La Ruta del Ciclista" then headed to the town of Dorado. Riding in the peloton (the ride group) was no problem and I was maintaining 15 and 16 mph without much effort. When you see many cyclists riding close together like that, it's because they are working together to beat the wind. I couldn't really feel any difference while in the group but now I look at the data and see that where I usually averaged 14mph I was pulling out 15 and 16 mph without any effort at all.

Ready to head out!
It was a beautiful day and we were riding along the beach. Once in Dorado we climbed a pretty steep, but short hill. It was tough but it didn't last long so I put in some muscle and kept going. We crossed Dorado from east to west until we got to my hometown of Vega Alta where we turned south to get to the town square. It was in this part where I faced my first challenge. I don't know how long it was but we started to climb, and climb, and it would not end. My breathing got heavy, people where passing me left and right and I slowed down to a crawl. I ran out of gears on my bike. I just wanted this torture to end. After what seemed like forever (actually 9 minutes) I reached the top and we did our first stop.

First regrouping stop.
I looked for my friend and told him how hard that climb was for me. His answer: "Yeah, well it's gonna get a lot worse." What?

Turned out that first stop was just to regroup everyone after that climb so we could arrive as a whole group to the real stop which was the Town Square in Vega Alta. My wife brought my daughters to cheer me up. I was so happy to see them. While there, they had the official ceremony where they handed over the donation to the children's home. They were planning on donating $2,000 and ended up giving $5,000 so it was a total success all around. I was given a pack with 2 cup cakes which I ate and put in some new Gatorade bottles on my bike. I left my bottles at home. Rookie mistake.

Two of my girls cheering me on.
Before leaving the square, one of the organizers got on the mic and warned everyone about the upcoming climb and urging people to not quit. Famous last words. Not 5 minutes after starting back up we started to climb. And we did nothing but climb for the next hour and it was some of the steepest roads I have ever seen in my life. Actually I have seen them before. It's my hometown. I just always traveled them by car. I tried all I could to stay on the bike but on two occasions, I was forced to get off and walk up the hill. Not very proud of that moment but that's what you get for biting off more than you can chew. It sure didn't help to hear one of the guys in the support crew bragging about how the sweep van was full of people.

All this climbing spread out the peloton of course, so a couple of re-grouping stops were required to keep everyone together but eventually we made it out of the mountains and unto the main roads where we made our final stop at another gas station. We were 12 miles away from getting back but the climbs were over.

Final stop before finish. 12 more miles?!
After a quick descent, it was flat all the way back to Toa Baja. Would've been a lot easier if not for a bit of trouble I ran into. On the descent I was blocked by some people on the group who were going slower and I got separated from the peloton. When I reached the flats, I encountered some pretty fierce wind in the opposite direction and it slowed me down something terrible. Without the protection of the peloton I fell behind and fought the wind all the way to the finish. As if I wasn't tired enough from all the climbing. 

But, I made it. And I wasn't last either, even though I didn't arrive with the group. They were serving lunch for all the riders but I was too fried. I looked for my friend, choked him to death, then told his corpse to call me whenever they were doing it again. Thing is, I really don't feel that sore even now. It's not like after running the marathon for example where I could hardly move and instead of wishing to never go through something like that again, I'm actually angry enough at myself to go train so I can be able to do it again except better next time. Masochism is a terrible thing.


  1. No shame in walking up a couple hills - you got to the end! Way to go, that's a fab accomplishment. I did this charity bike ride once before I was in any kind of shape, much heavier than now - and it was so hard! You will get used to the hills!!!

    1. Considering it was my first, I think I did pretty well, even if I had to walk up a couple of times. It can only get better that's for sure.

  2. Congrats for getting it done! I agree with Cynthia, no shame for walking a bit. For it being your first time I think you did great! I probably would have just sat down during that big climb and waited for the van! Ha!

    1. The thought might have crossed my mind once or twice during the climb. LOL

  3. Wow, congrats! I had no idea they have a "sweeper" bus for bike riders too!

    On a totally different note, is gasoline only 65 cents a gallon down there? ( I saw in your pic above).

    1. Nope. It's 65 cents a liter. I don't know why we measure gas in liters down here since we don't use the metric system but when you convert it to gallons, it's about as much as in the U.S.

  4. Congrats on such an amazing ride. You have really gotten into biking big time. It will only make your running stronger too. Those hills sound awful!

    1. I think it's already making me a better runner. I've been stringing together some great runs this past month and I think it's the cycling and the ability it gives me to be active more frequently without messing up my joints too much.