The day of true reckoning of the bicycle ride that I had been training for months was quickly approaching: April 17th. Would I be able to reach the finish line? Did I have what it took to travel 150 miles on a bicycle? Would I disappoint my team? All of these thoughts crossed my mind as I took off on my bike pedaling the BP MS150.
I have been focusing on this event for months. Friends have shared their good and bad experiences of riding the BP MS150.
I had always thought about participating, but never really had the desire to train or even understand what the ride was all about or why it brings thousands of people from all over the United States.
I want to share my journey of falling in love with cycling, as well as how I was able to accomplish my goal of completing the BP MS150 at the ripe old age of 49 years old. Let me just start by sharing that I’ve never been particularly athletic in anything, but I have always enjoyed being active. I didn’t play sports in school; I marched in a band. For whatever reason I decided in the middle of my life, I was ready for sports competitions. I ran my first half marathon, as well as completed my first sprint triathlon. I am not sure where this spark came from, but I decided to go with it and continue to push myself with cycling.
Six years ago, I bought my first road bike from a friend. This aluminum framed bike cost me $250 and it came with the fancy clip-in pedals (which I will talk about later). All I had to do was buy the clip-in bike shoes and a helmet. I rode my bike regularly, in the park or with friends out on country roads on the weekends. The experiences I had brought me such great pleasure that I became a real fan of cycling soon after.
Through bicycling, I have met so many people and made many new friends. I had no idea that so many social activities were offered around bicycling!
After riding a few years on my aluminum framed bike, I decided I was ready for an upgrade. I began researching online, talking with other cyclists, and visiting bicycle shops. I wanted a carbon fiber bike with more gears and skinnier tires. I was introduced to a local bike builder & designer, Abiel Ramos, who built my bike to fit my body and allowed me to customize the paint design. I love her!
With my new purchase, I was excited to show her off. I felt it was time to sign up for one of the longest bike rides I could do, the BP MS150. I had heard about the BP MS150 but I didn’t know all the details other than it started in Houston and ended in Austin which was 150 miles over a two-day period.
This was the year of accomplishments! I was going to push myself to do things that I had never done before and work hard to reach my goals. I registered for the event online and began my journey to train and prepare for the event. This ride brings over 13,000 cyclists and 3,500 volunteers, along with thousands of spectators along the route from Houston to Austin. The goal is to raise millions of dollars to help those affected by multiple sclerosis.
As a newbie to this ride, I wanted to share with you some do’s and don’ts that I learned while training and preparing to ride 150 miles. This guide is broken up into categories to help you easily and at the end I share with you some things that happened to me along the ride.
How do I stay committed to the training for the BP MS150?
One thing I have learned is if you want to stay committed to a sport, register for an event that will require you to train. This makes you feel responsible for staying focused and dedicated to your goal of preparing for and completing the event. Once you have registered, you will not only begin a training schedule, but you will also need to fundraise!
The BP MS150 is a fundraising event, so each rider is required to raise $500 to help fight multiple sclerosis for the National MS Society. Although this may sound like a lot of money, it is relatively easy to reach your goal. Just ask your friends, relatives and coworkers to donate towards your $500 goal. Once you register, you will be able to access all kinds of information from the BP MS 150 website such as nutrition guides, training, equipment needs, etc.
What should I do first after registering for the BP MS150?
Once you have registered, get a hotel room reserved in Houston (near where you want to start. This event has many starting points). If you plan to ride with a group, get a block of rooms at the same place as this will make traveling with equipment easier. These rooms book up fast so don’t wait until the last minute! We stayed at the La Quinta Cypress.
Do I have to be an experienced cyclist to participate in the BP MS150? What kind of training is needed?
Usually, the first questions everyone asks are: should I be a professional cyclist? How fast do cyclists go? Do I have to be in shape? etc., On this ride, you’ll encounter professional cyclists as well as novices who’ve just purchased their bikes and decided to join the craziness. Although I would recommend that you prepare and train as much as you can, you do not have to be a hardcore cyclist to participate. It will make the days more enjoyable if you train and get some time in on your bike. This is a fundraiser and it’s supposed to be fun!
Being in shape is not crucial, but I do suggest getting used to being in the “saddle” of your bike for 4-6 hours as this is something you should prepare yourself to tolerate. Sitting a long time on a bike is rough on the body and shoulders. Here is a training schedule up to the week of the event.
- Start riding 30+ miles a week
- Increase miles by 10-20% per week
- Stay on flat ground and don’t worry about speed
- Over time be sure to increase speed and terrain/hills
- Include interval workouts as well as upper body strength training. Interval training works like this:
- Start with 2 minute interval – pedal as hard/fast as possible for 2 min., followed by 2 min slow, coasting pedal for 2 minute. Repeat 2 min/ hard/2 min coast, repeat 10 times
- Mid- training increase to 3 min hard/3 min coast, repeat 10 times
- Can be done on spin bike, bike trainer or outdoors.
- Don’t want to ever stop so make sure you have no traffic lights
- Average speed should be 12-15 mph
- Learn your gears by practicing on hills
- Long distance ride days should take up at least 2-4 hours covering 50+ miles
- Two weeks before the event taper off and reduce distance
- On the days OFF from riding find a different activity to do either at the gym, swim, run, whatever you wish but the idea is to keep your endurance level. I recommend only ONE day of rest with no activities planned.
People often ask: How much training is required for this ride? That is a tricky question because it has a lot to do with the shape you are in currently, but also how exhausted you are at the end of the ride. My simple recommendation is be ready to commit 12-16 weeks of training, which means being on a bike at least 3 times a week with one of those training periods a weekend where you can ride for a more extended period of time and go for longer distances.
Should I ride in other bicycling events?
Organized bike rides are great for training for the BP MS150 ride. Participate in as many of these organized bike rides as you possibly can. These rides will provide you with a change of scenery and terrain, as well as enable you to get used to riding with lots of other cyclists. You get a cool t-shirt for participating, too! Bicycle Rides Texas has a list of various rides offered throughout the calendar year. Here are some rides I chose:
Do cyclists have to know any special traffic rules?
Riding alongside cars on a busy road can be very nerve racking and scary, so I suggest you learn about road cycling before you attempt the BP MS150.
- Start riding in a park or in areas where there are the least number of cars until you gain some experience and confidence with your bike.
- Ride early in the morning on weekends to avoid cars.
- Learn hand gestures in combination. See below:
- Use verbal cues to notify those in your group of what actions need to be taken:
- “On Your Left” – meaning someone is passing you on the left so move to the right. I heard this phrase a million times!
- “Car Back” – car is approaching you from the rear. Must get in single-file so car can pass.
- “Sand/Gravel/Pothole” – alert those riding behind you of hazardous road condition.
- “Flat” – indicates that rider has a flat and is stopping and for everyone to slow down. Offer assistance as needed.
- “Slowing” – this lets riders know you are slowing down and maybe stopping. Use the hand signal as well.
- “Stopping” – Indicates a stop ahead. Don’t forget to unclip from pedals.
- Expect to stop at all red lights and stop signs. It’s the law!
- Never overlap your wheel with another bike wheel.
- Be aware of your surroundings and other cyclists.
What kind of bicycle equipment will I need? Will I have to wear a helmet?
- Bicycle – The most important thing about the bike is that you feel comfortable and confident riding it. Riding the BP MS150 is a long ride.
Know your bike: Does your bike need gears? Well no, you don’t have to have a particular bike to participate but I will say a road bike makes the ride much easier. If you own a road bike, I recommend having it fitted to your body, which means adjusting the seat and handlebar adjustments, etc. I suggest you take your bike to a professional bike shop that specializes in selling road bikes because they know what needs to be adjusted to make your ride safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. It may cost a small fee, but this service is worth the money. Don’t forget to bring your bike shoes when getting fitted! My favorite bike store is Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin.
- Helmet – You cannot participate in the MS150 without a helmet. Do not purchase a used helmet! Here is my helmet!
Image courtesy of League of American Bicyclists
Here is a guide when wearing a helmet.
- Two-fingers-width between eyebrows and front rim of helmet.
- Helmet side-straps form a “Y” shape below the ear. Adjust the tabs on the straps up or down until they are half-an-inch or less under your ear lobes.
- Less than one-half-inch (one-finger-width) between your chin and the chin strap
- Sunglasses: to protect your eyes from dirt, debris and sunlight.
- Water Bottles: Although you have water stations throughout the ride, you will always want to have two hydration bottles with you at all times.
- Cycling Shoes: These cycle shoes have a clip on the bottom that match the clip on the pedal. You don’t have to ride with clip type pedals but they do make for better power transfer. Find the type that fits your pedal, style, and comfort that you like the best.
- Bike Air Pump: A small pump that can be clipped on the bike to air up tires if needed. Most tires need to be at 80 psi or greater. Check your tires for specifics.
- CO2 Cartridges: If you get a flat tire, this is a quick way to repair the tire until you can replace it with a new one. Check with bike shops to find the CO2 dispenser you will need for your tire.
- Saddle Bag: Although you don’t want to carry too much on your bike, you will need to have a place to hold a spare tire, CO2 dispenser, keys, snacks, phone, etc. The most common bag is one that fits under your bicycle seat. You can get additional bags that fit in other places on your bike if you wish.
- Bicycle Computer: Although this isn’t necessary to have, it is nice to be able to watch your distance and track your cadence to help you regulate your speed. I have a Cat Eye. I also have a Garmin Vivoactive that is linked to my bike computer and can give me additional information about my ride, calories, etc.
- Tire Tube: Get a tube that is the correct size and valve for your bike. Carry at least TWO if possible. Learn to change a tire! I must say I am still working on mastering this skill, but it is important to learn. To change a tire, you will need one tool- TIRE LEVERS which help you get the tire of the rim or have good friends that help you out!
- Bicycle Tools: Patch kit, tire lever, multi-tool, etc.
- Chamois Cream: Apply liberally to skin where friction happens to prevent chafing.
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm
- ID, Credit Card & Cash: Snacks and other items are available for sale along the ride. Always carry your ID just in case of emergency.
- Medication: Bring along whatever medication you’re taking.
Do I have to wear those funky bike shorts? Can I just wear my gym clothes?
- Cycling Shorts: Although I did see cyclists not wearing specialized cycling shorts (shorts that are padded in the butt area), I am not sure I would want to ride 75 miles without the padded shorts! Buy these ahead of time and start wearing them during training to get comfortable as it does take some time to adjust.
- Gloves: Bike gloves come with padding to help your hands, but also to protect you in case of a fall.
- Cycling Jersey: Bicycle jerseys are designed to help pull away moisture from the skin. Although they are pricey, they are worth it for this event. Also, jerseys have features that are handy. The back pockets are a great place for your snacks and phone. If you decide not to wear a jersey, make sure you wear a type of material that will wick away moisture or you will be miserable. Also cover your shoulders.
- Socks: Again, look for socks that provide moisture wicking.
- Arm/Leg Warmers: Although I did not wear either of these pieces of clothing, they will provide protection against the cold and the wind and can be removed as the day warms up.
- Jacket: Any type of lightweight jacket that can be rolled up and put in your back pocket or in saddle bag is great. Something that acts more like windbreaker or rain jacket is really what you will need.
Can I eat anything I want?
Determining nutritional needs during your cycling training will vary, but one suggestion is to always start out at least two hours before a ride with a good breakfast or meal. If you ride less than an hour, you really don’t need to sublimit your nutrition. Once you exceed an hours’ worth of riding, take in between 100-400 calories of energy (depending on body size and intensity of your ride). I would suggest taking in something that is fast absorbing such as these items:
Be sure to try these items before the ride in case your stomach doesn’t agree with them!
Organized rides will offer cookies, fruit, as well as other snack foods at each rest stop, but it is always good to have a backup plan!
Will I meet people on the ride?
The best part of the training turned out not to be the physical achievement, but rather the social one. Join a group in your community that rides together throughout the week or on weekends. Talk to a local bicycle shop and ask if they know of any bicycle groups. Search Facebook and reach out to those in the group for information about rides, locations, etc. If you can’t find one, start one on social media! Don’t feel like you have to be an expert cyclist to join a group. Show up, introduce yourself, find out who the leader is, what the route is, let them know your pace and find someone that rides your speed to hang out with during the ride. Joining my community bicycle club has been so much fun and I have been able to meet so many new people that enjoy the sport as well.
What is it like riding in a team vs alone?
SpeedyStop Food Stores is a convenience store business in our community. They were the sponsors of our team and provided us with match donations for the MS150. All the team members received bicycle shirts, meals during the race, and a place to sleep the second night of the ride because of SpeedyStop. The entire SpeedyStop team arrived on Friday evening in Houston. We met up for dinner, socialized and talked about our plans for the following day. Although I was very excited about participating, I must say I was a bit nervous about the following day because the weather forecast called for heavy winds!
The team rode together both days. Although we had many challenges due to wind, tired legs, and sore bodies, we had a great time hanging out together. As we approached Austin, my heart was beating fast with excitement, and I looked back at the team and everyone had a big smile on their face. It was a very emotional experience! I am proud to have accomplished my goal, but also very blessed to ride alongside a great group of friends.