Monday, September 14, 2009

Not my best day on the bike, but a good day anyway

I woke up at 4:30 AM on Sunday for the annual TA New York City Century bike ride. Let me rephrase that. The words "woke up" imply that one was asleep at some point prior to the alarm. I didn't sleep at all on Saturday night. I'm not sure what caused the insomnia but the possibilities include:
  1. an overactive mind thinking about the next day's ride and waking up at an ungodly hour
  2. being overstimulated from watching football and talking to my brother before bed
  3. spending Saturday afternoon drinking beer (slowly! and with plenty of water!) and eating barbecue.
Whatever the reason, I spent nearly all of Saturday night tossing and turning, waiting for sleep that would not happen. Whenever I began to doze off, some remote corner of my mind would point out "Hey, I'm falling asleep! Excellent!" and then I would snap out of it. When the alarm went off at 4:30 AM, I was already wide awake and wondering just how much time I had until I needed to be up.

I took the subway to the start in Central Park and picked up my marshal kit and vest. The vest was a heavy-duty one made of some raincoat-like fabric that didn't breathe well. During the cool morning hours I didn't mind the retained body heat, but as the day wore on and the sun came out, the vest became a mobile sauna. I took it off late in the ride and felt immeasurably better. Next year, I'll bring my own orange vest, thank you.

With the lack of sleep and my general feeling of crappiness from the previous day, I ruled out a trip to the Bronx early on in my day. I kept telling myself that if I could make it to Astoria Park I would be only a few miles from the end of the ride and an hour from home. My mood and physical condition improved the more I rode, and I considered riding the Bronx part of the route after all. I didn't want to skip the Bronx, since that would mean I'd miss out on the official 100-mile route. It would be a personal disappointment, as well as a volunteer one. I was a 100-mile marshal, and I wanted to fulfill my obligation.

Around mile 60 the route took us to the Kissena Park Velodrome, a bike race track that has become a landmark on the ride. I always get a little excited to ride a lap around the velodrome, and I kicked my bike into high gear when I got onto the loop. I must have kicked it a bit too hard, because I felt a slight twinge in my right knee. I rode the quarter-mile to the next rest stop, aware that something was wrong with that knee. It ached every time I pedaled. I managed to get through the next 20 miles to the Astoria Park rest stop, but my knee was giving me some serious trouble. I had reached my early-morning goal, and now I knew that riding through the Bronx was a foolish idea. I sat for about a half hour in Astoria Park, enjoying the weather and trying not to fall asleep. When I started out again, the knee was slightly better, but not enough that I could finish the whole route. The pain was especially intense climbing the stairs on the Triborough Bridge. I coasted as much as I could the rest of the way and returned to Central Park with 89 miles on my bike odometer.

After another break and some stretching, I decided to try to ride home. It was a beautiful day, the pain wasn't that bad once I got started riding, and I really wanted those last 10 or so miles on my odometer. So I rode home. I rode slower than usual, and every time I pushed off with my right leg I winced. But the knee pain didn't get any worse or any sharper so I assumed I wasn't doing any permanent damage. I got home about 6 PM, with 101.3 miles on the odometer. While I was disappointed I didn't ride the full Century, I was happy to be home and able to walk without too much pain.

I spent the rest of my evening on the couch watching TV, icing my knee and taking ibuprofen. My knee feels better today. But I feel old. I may be 35, but I've always thought of myself as much younger. I guess I've reached the physical age where things are going to start breaking down. I see more ibuprofen in my future.

As for the ride itself, I think I need to try a different volunteer job next year. 2009 was my tenth time on the ride either as a participant or a volunteer marshal. I used to think of the Century as my favorite day of the year on my bike. But the past few years my attitude has changed. I still enjoy the ride, but the thrill has faded. The route doesn't change much from year to year and while I love seeing the outer boroughs on my bike and helping people, I don't like the early wake-up call or the shlep to Central Park on the subway. However, the Brooklyn Bridge is about 20 minutes from my apartment by bike. Riding across the bridge at dawn is one of my favorite things about the Century. Why not make that the focus of my volunteer experience? If I volunteered for the bridge crew I could sleep a few precious minutes longer and I'd spend my morning working at my favorite location on the route. And I could still ride part of the route after all the riders cross the bridge, or I could go home and go back to bed. Either way, it's a change of pace and I'll still get to be a part of a great ride.

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