Pan Mass Challenge 2011

23 years and about 4500 Pan Mass miles ridden. Lots of changes but some things stay the same.

This year marked my 23rd PMC (Pan Mass Challenge). I’ve always ridden the long route from Sturbridge to Provincetown. This is the first year I considered going from Wellesley, a route about 30 miles shorter. This route avoids the grueling first 40+ miles of hills. Why would I change after all these years? This year was very hectic and I hadn’t been able to put in the type of training miles I like to let me ride this course the way I enjoy, fast and hard.

I hadn’t talked to many about my planned route change as this was tough for me to come to grips with. Well, the week before the PMC all this changed. I was at the funeral for a family friend that just lost their battle with cancer. I was thinking about how courageous their battle was. I remembered a friend I lost earlier in the year and recalled his attitude and struggle. These two battled hard but never gave up. It was at this moment I decided I’d go from Sturbridge. I figured I could hack the extra miles and pain of going the long route. Pain is temporary. I’d find a way to deal with it. Or so I thought.

I got myself prepared mentally for this 23rd challenge. I had trouble on a 90 mile training ride in June and for the first time in my life I took the sag wagon in the last 10 miles of that ride because my legs gave out. Why? I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be in and I was riding “way above my pay grade” (i.e. much faster than I had trained for). This was a real blow to my ego but also a reality check. I knew I’d have to put in the miles and figure out what was going and why I was cramping up if I was to make it the two days on the PMC. I knew the 110 miles of day 1 of the PMC would be tough and I KNEW I had to have a solid game plan if I was to complete it. The game plan meant that I would not be able to ride with my friend Marc as I do every year. I knew he was in much better shape than I was. I knew if I went off the starting line with Marc I would match his pace and would be able to do it for quite a distance but I knew that I’d probably burn out if I did. My plan was to ride with other members of my team that kept a solid pace but quite a bit saner than what Marc and I usually do.

OK, so I had a game plan. I knew what I had to do. I was ready in that I had about 1600 training miles in, about 400 less than I prefer and virtually no hill training miles which had me concerned. Most of my training was done on the cape and while we have some hills they’re nothing compared to the training I usually do in Metro West. No problem. I was going to be cutting my pace back. I’d be good. I was healthy. I tapered my mileage down the week and half leading up to the event like I was supposed to. No problem. Right? Oh, and did I mention that at this point I was still injury free?

Well, Thursday before the event I was doing some work around the house. It was one of those days where Murphy was present. Anything that could go wrong did. I was doing the final prep of the bike when I noticed that the rear tire had a slice in it. OK, this is easily solved. I called the bike shop and they had a pair of tires for me that I’d pickup later. I brought a bunch of chemicals for the spa with me to the house. I put them on the counter in the kitchen. I was rushing around and knocked over one of the bottles on my way out of the house. When I returned the counter (usually white) was green. The bottle that was knocked over had a loose cover and spilled out. Luckily this was a cleaning chemical. The good news is that the counter would clean up better than before. The bad news is that the food I just picked up at the grocery store for Saturday’s post day 1 ride dinner was ruined. OK, no big deal. I could replace the food. At this point I decided to go to the beach and chill out for a bit before heading back home.

I got back from the beach and rather than just locking up the house and heading north I looked at the hot tub and thought, I have time, might as well do a quick cleaning. What could go wrong? Right. You’ve all been with me long enough to know that anything is possible. I was reaching over the edge trying to reach a section that was just out of reach. I leaned in on the edge and reached a bit to far and felt a “pop” in my lower left side. I’ve been here before and knew exactly what had happened. I tore the cartilage of my lower rib. No, I’m not kidding. Basic physics, put 180 pounds on a corner and try to balance on soft tissue. DUMB! I couldn’t believe it. I just kept shaking my head thinking, “here I go again. One more PMC where I am injured off the starting line.” OK, so now I figured it was time to head north. I got home after picking up the new tires on the way. I was in a bit of pain but figured I could hack this. Changed the tires, the bike was ready. I got everything I’d need ready for the ride to leave on Friday (the next day). I got a good night’s sleep and woke up to a very sore rib. I decided I’d take my bike out to make sure I could ride. I was OK. Sure it was a bit sore but I could compensate for it and as long as I didn’t rock my upper body much (right) I’d be fine.

Friday morning, Aug 5, four of us loaded our bikes and gear into a van and headed out to Sturbridge by noon. We got out there, had some lunch, checked into the hotel, got our registration packages and were on our way to PMC weekend. Another beautiful day in Sturbridge. Catching up with friends I’ve known for what seems like forever but some I only see one weekend a year. It’s always fun. Like a family reunion. One person in particular I ran into is my friend and ex-colleague Bob Power. Bob had been supporting my fund raising since my very first ride in 1989. Bob became a rider last year for the first time. Now he was back for ride #2, a venerable veteran. I am proud to be one of the people that inspired him to ride. The PMC is lucky to have yet another great person that “gets the event” and seems hooked on it.

Opening ceremonies had a lot of buzz surrounding them this year? Was it because WCVB channel 5 was now our sponsor? No. It was because for the first time in the history of the PMC Lance Armstrong would ride with us. I thought, so what, he’s talked about this before. We’ve had big celebrities ride. We’ve had all sorts of VIPs, this will be no different. I was wrong. When Lance was introduced and stepped up onto the podium to address us all it was electric. The place erupted in applause. Here in front of us was what most of the world knows as the face of cancer survivors and arguably the best cyclist to ever grace the sport. It’s hard to describe but it was incredible. More important was that “Lance got it”. I figured his speech would be typical and almost robotic. Again I was wrong. It was inspiring. He was talking about how someone approached him and asked how Livestrong was doing? He said “OK”. OK, Livestrong and the PMC were generating lots of money to wage war on cancer. So many strides have been made towards understanding and treating this disease. “Things were going OK, not great.” Why not great? “One day when cancer is cured and conquered and we no longer have to ride to raise money to combat this, it’ll be great!” Till then it’s just going OK. Our goal is GREAT!
Waiting for opening ceremonies

Post ceremonies a few of us headed to the pub for a drink (one, we had to ride in the morning) and then it was off to bed.
Wake-up call was 4am. We got up, got ready, put the bikes on the starting line, and were ready to roll out by 5:30 (yes, AM).
breakfast   Starting Line
It was a bit humid and overcast. Not bad but the humidity would turn out to be a tough opponent. So, remember my plan to ride at a sane pace? Not ride with Marc and my usual crew? Yeah, right, that didn’t happen. I rolled out with Marc as usual. We were strong and we did not hold back even though we talked about it. It’s hard to do when you get caught up in the adrenaline of it. And no, we were not chasing Lance. That never crossed our minds actually. We were just riding hard. We hit the first water stop at the 25 mile mark averaging 21mph. I noticed this and while I felt great I knew we had to back it down a bit. The first 25 are the hilliest part but we still had about another 20 miles coming up and quite a few miles to the day 1 finish. We took off and covered the next section quickly pulling into Franklin, the second water stop averaging over 20 mph. Yes, we backed down a bit but still hammered the hills. The good and bad was that I still felt great. I was sweating profusely and clearly wasn’t putting enough water and electrolytes back. I knew that I now had to back down or I’d never make the next 70 miles. The real blow came when my wife said “hey, you guys are only about 10 minutes behind Lance”. Ouch, any other time this would be cool. Now all I could think of was that this was not good. I went out way to hard. I should have averaged about 18 instead of over 20. There’s a HUGE difference in the energy exerted by me to make that difference. Now I was a bit worried. My side was in check and not in much pain.
Eric and Nancy working in Franklin  Marc and I leaving Franklin

We rolled out of the stop and headed towards lunch in Dighton-Rebobeth, around 70+ miles into day 1. About 2 miles from the stop my right leg started to cramp. I thought “no, this is not good. I still have about 40 miles to go. I’ll recover at lunch and be fine.” I got to lunch, ate and drank plenty. Or so I thought. I rolled out of lunch after about 20 minutes. Our group was up to 7 and off we went. The next stop was where the pedal partners are. We all were looking forward to meeting up with our little Joey and his family. We rolled in there feeling great. Met up with the Griffith’s and took some pictures with them all.
Our pedal partner and his family.   The crew riding from Lunch out.
Such great people. We didn’t stay long and were back on our way in minutes. Well, not far out of this stop at around mile 92 my right leg started talking to me again and I didn’t like what it was saying. CRAMP, bang, I had top stop. I got off the bike and tried to rub it out. It was futile. I saw a PMC support van coming down the road and flagged it down. The van took me to the next stop. I downed a bottle of gator-ade, ate some calcium pills, downed bananas and other misc fruit and food. My friends rolled in and I figured I could roll out with them to finish. Off I went, we only had about 7 miles to go. About a half mile out of the stop my leg let go again. This was it. I was cooked and it was time to get off the bike for the day. I turned and rolled back (literally) to the stop I had just left. I caught the next truck out and was taken to the Mass Maritime Academy.

I was very bummed. We were on a pace of hitting the MMA at 12:00. This was not going to happen for me this year. The truck dropped me off about a mile from the MMA and I got on the bike and rode it in. I was determined to cross the finish line on my own. OK, so I only rode 93 miles instead of the 110 that day but that was the way it would have to be. This ride is not about the bike. It’s not about winning a race. It’s about raising lots of money to fund research that will hopefully one day find the ultimate cure for this dreaded disease.

I got to the MMA at 1:30, was in a very low mood, and found my stuff, showered, and got some food and started feeling better. My mood picked up after I shrugged it off as just a bad ride. It happens. I hadn’t planned on riding the 110 miles let alone going that pace. I had nobody to blame but myself. Tomorrow is another day and we’ll finish this up. The afternoon passed quickly. A bunch of us headed back to my place where we’d eat a great meal and get a good night’s sleep.

Morning came fast. We woke to the sound of pouring rain. Ugh. Another challenge? Like I needed more obstacles. Oh well, it was the PMC, this is about overcoming obstacles and it is a “challenge” after all. What fun would it be if the weather was perfect and I wasn’t injured? I’ll tell you, a LOT OF FUN! Nothing I could do about it, off we went. We were to meet up with our team in Sandwich at the Bourne Bridge. We got out of the truck and started unloading our bikes when I realized I FORGOT MY HELMET AT THE HOUSE! I’m not kidding. So I guess this was going to be my next obstacle. I was not about to ride without a helmet. We called PMC support to see if they could dig one up. No reply while we were waiting. One of our teammates was sick and couldn’t ride day 2 so I figured that I’d just go get his helmet and use it. We went to MMA, picked him up, and were dropped on the course around Brewster. OK, so now I have to live with pulling a “Rosy Ruiz” (remember the marathon runner that took the subway). No biggie, it’s not about the ride right? Exactly right.

We got dropped on the course and hammered day 2. We were lucky in that the rain stopped and held off while we were riding. We never had more than a little sprinkle. Sure was better than riding in the downpour. We crossed the finish line, headed for the showers and checked off another Pan Mass Challenge. I figure I still rode more miles than those riding from Wellesley so I was able to rationalize it. Still wish I had put in the entire 192 miles but that wasn’t in the cards this year.

The Provincetown finish is a fun place. The ride is behind us. Now it’s time to eat, drink, and relax. We headed into town to catch the ferry back to Boston. Now the rain hit us and it hit us hard. By the time we got to the ferry we were completely soaked. The seas were rough. This was going to be an interesting party boat ride back. It was certainly different. People were turning green and worse. Thankfully I have my sea legs and I was fine. The seas were very rough but we still managed to have fun.

While this was not my best ride and I was injured (again) I still consider this to be another successful Pan Mass Challenge. Success you ask? How could this be a success? Because this isn’t about the ride. It’s about raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Thank you all for all the support you’ve provided all these years. You should all be proud to know that the funds you donate DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

If you have not yet sent in your donation it’s not to late. You can donate online by clicking here:

Once again I would like to thank you for sponsoring and supporting me in this very worthy cause and for letting me ride on your behalf.

Till next year…

3 Responses to “Pan Mass Challenge 2011”

  1. scott bleiweiss says:

    Thank you so much for guiding me through my first PMC. It was great riding with you, Marc, Joy and Dave. I don’t think I knew that you were riding injured, you hid it well. The heat and humidity were deceptive and took a lot out of all of us. I think the cool raw weather on day 2 was probably a blessing in that regard. Sell the place on the Cape and buy a place up at Loon. You will be fine for next year… I had a wonderful experience on my first ride and it would not have been the same had I not been riding with old friends.
    Thanks again,
    Scott B.

  2. Marc Mann says:

    I guess it’s the barn dog in me. If someone is in front, I have to chase. The pace and the weather were the factors. It was significantly warmer and more humid this year. Impossible to hydrate properly. Next year, we will watch our heart rate monitors keeping it in the mid 140s instead of the mid 160s. 20 years, 60,000 miles later, we have nothing to prove.

  3. Scott Stirling says:

    Bill – great story and write up. I enjoyed reading this today. It’s really quite impressive, even astonishing to me that you did this for over 20 years with hardly a hitch until this year. I remember you had an injury a few years ago but did it anyway. Regardless, you really got the point and made it clear that the PMC is primarily intended to fight cancer and the conditioning, though far from minor or trivial, is all bent toward that aim. I like the Rosie Ruiz reference. 🙂 No shame at all, man, you soldiered through admirably and I really enjoyed the write up. I’m pretty broke right now but I will cough up a few bucks anyway, in respect of your hard work and dedication.