Last weekend was my fourth Escape to the Lake MS Ride, and fourth century of 2019. It was a beautiful and enjoyable two-day odyssey up to the Lake Erie shore.
Of course, the most pertinent element of my preparation was spending the winter on Zwift, plus the three centuries I’d recently completed.
I also put into practice two lessons gleaned from the Allen & Coggan book “Training + Racing With a Power Meter”. Specifically, doing less pre-ride tapering (because endurance events require fitness more than peak power and freshness), and conserving energy by keeping a steady power output, rather than having big spikes when I attacked hills.
I also transitioned my usual course notes written on tape attached to my top tube, instead using the “Multi Page Race Notes” ConnectIQ app to load them onto my bike computer, which worked okay.
Climbing out of Conneautville
Lined up at the start
Saturday morning Inna drove me up to the start in Moraine State Park, and I set off at 7am.
I rode solo over the first 60 miles, within the first 6-8 riders on course. We had absolutely perfect riding conditions: mostly sunny, temperatures rising from the 60s through the 70s, and a cross-tailwind.
Instead of skipping the first two stops and refueling at the third stop (in Mercer), I decided to balance it more by stopping at the second water stop (Grove City) and then skipping the third, which worked out well.
I pulled into the “lunch” stop in Sandy Lake at 9:50am and downed a ham sandwich before pressing on. The whole time, I was conserving energy for the second half of the day, although I had enough spare strength to pull one guy from the PJ Dick team back up to two of his buddies.
After leaving the Cochranton stop just after 11am, the climbing got serious. Those of us doing the full century route vectored right, straight into the teeth of a gusty 24 mph headwind. My legs were tired and I’d lost top-end power, but I wasn’t suffering because I wasn’t fighting against it. I reached the 80-mile rest stop at 12:25pm and received my “century challenge” pin.
The penultimate segment flattened out and turned downwind, which provided a welcome respite before the dreaded final hills into the finish at Meadville’s Allegheny College. I still wasn’t feeling bad, and marveled as I cruised past spots along the road where I’d had to stop and take breathers back in 2016. Even plodding up the final hills, I was less preoccupied by the landscape and more with my GPS, which told me I’d completed 100 miles in a surprisingly quick 6 hours 45 minutes. I rolled through the finish with 103 miles at a personal record 1:53pm.
Saturday afternoon was the usual: I got my bag, parked my bike, got into my dorm room, showered, feasted, rested, and recharged all my devices. Brownies were a welcome snack at the finish line. And dorm rooms now come with microwave and mini-fridges, which was convenient. I watched a few anime episodes and some soccer before rolling over for a fitful night’s sleep.
Grove City rest stop
Sunday morning I was tired, achey, and stiff, but the weather was encouraging: 63°, with a strong 28 mph wind that would be behind us for most of the 65-mile run into Ohio and down to Lake Erie. Sailing along with the wind at my back, my legs came around, and I wasted no time at the rest stops (aside from a cookie I gnawed in Cranesville). My only complaint was my aching neck, which is inevitably my biggest pain-point on long rides. I shared the road from Cranesville to the final rest stop with Pittsburgh riding buddies Stephen and Miguel, but set out on the final segment alone because I was eager to finish. Riding the gale into Conneaut Township Park, I crossed the tape at a record 10:45am after 64 miles.
I finished so early that I had the men’s changing room completely to myself. With Inna still driving to the finish, I had some time to hang out and enjoy the beautiful weather, having a Dilly Bar, wading in Lake Erie, debriefing with Stephen and Miguel, having another Dilly Bar, meeting another Pittsburgh buddy Ben, having another Dilly Bar…
Lake Erie finisher
Eventually Inna drove up and we stowed my bike and bags. She asked about the blood on my elbow, which turned out to be ketchup from one of the picnic tables! We checked out the lakeshore beach, and I convinced her wade into the surf, to her annoyance.
Although we’d planned to stay overnight in Erie and visit the beaches of Presque Isle on Monday, we discovered that our hotel reservation had been lost. With ominous storms predicted to roll in, we decided to punt and drive back to Pittsburgh that night.
Sitting in the parking lot—weary after 167 miles of riding and not excited at the prospect of a two-hour drive home—I called out, “Okay Google, navigate to home”. Google Maps, which I’d apparently earlier set to provide cycling directions, promptly responded: “Navigating to home… Start pedaling!” which was met with uproarious glee by the non-cyclist in the vehicle.
In summary, it was a wonderful ride. The weather was absolutely perfect, with neither rain nor excessive heat, and the gusty wind was mostly at our backs, making pedaling a (literal) breeze. And with the record level of fitness I’ve been at thanks to my wintertime training on Zwift, I felt strong all weekend long, never feeling like I was tapped out or suffering at all.
And of course, this major event that I built up to only serves as further build-up to additional upcoming events on my summer calendar. If those go as well as this year’s Escape to the Lake, it’ll make for a wonderful year in the saddle.