When Jenny Hadfield first joined Team ElliptiGO as a sponsored athlete, we began brainstorming which endurance event and epic ride she wanted to tackle first on her ElliptiGO. We were expecting her to propose a conservative metric century ride somewhere close to her home in Chicago. Jenny had a different idea. “I need to be at the Toronto Marathon in late September,” Jenny said, “So what if I rode from my home in Chicago to Toronto on my ElliptiGO?” At first, we said, “But Jenny — that’s hundreds of miles!” And then her seemingly crazy idea captured our imagination, and we felt inspired. We gave Jenny the green light and, a few weeks later, she was off on the ride of a lifetime.
Who better to tell you the whole story than Jenny herself? Read on below for Jenny’s epic tale of riding over 500 miles in six days and setting an elliptical cycling distance record for women.
I spent the better part of the sixth grade planning an expedition that stretched well beyond the city limits of the small town where I grew up. It ventured across two towns covering a mammoth 10 miles and ventured all the way to the golden arches of McDonald’s. I realize it doesn’t sound all that challenging now, but back then, it was like going to the ends of the earth and it was all I could think about. I’m not sure why McDonald’s was the ultimate destination. But as they say, it is all about the journey, not the destination. I was the type of kid who would ride for hours around the block attempting to set a world record for the most laps done by a sixth grade girl with brown hair, riding a blue Schwinn bike with a banana seat.
The first time I rode the ElliptiGO I was immediately transformed back to the days of exploring my limits and knew I had to go places on it. Although it may sounds crazy, but when the idea of riding the ElliptiGO over 500 miles from Chicago through Indiana, Michigan and across the Canadian border to Toronto in six days popped into my head, it made perfectly good sense to me. The ElliptiGO was officially being launched in Canada and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to literally ride it across the border. Giddy up!
Let’s Start the Adventure
Every adventure starts with a solid plan (and a trademark stuffed animal) and it came together in less than two weeks. I recruited two crew people to support me along the way. My good friend Deborah Dean would take the first three days and my husband John Bingham would cover the final three days. Crewing for an endurance athlete is no picnic. Every waking moment is about making constant forward progress and little to no time is spent on their needs. John has crewed for me in several multiple day adventure races but Deb was a newbie. The mission for this epic ride was simple. Ride safely. Ride wisely. Have fun.
I suped-up the dashboard (handle bars) of my ElliptiGO with a LED headlight, video camera, and iPhone bracket to be in communication with my crew without stopping. We loaded the car with food and supplies for on-the-GO aid stations. The goal was to ride 2-3 hours at a time and stop, eat and rest. Although riding the ElliptiGO is low impact, it is high intensity and burns a ton of calories. I wore a Nathan Hydration Vest for easy access fluids, gels and electrolytes on the fly. The mission was to move efficiently and with purpose and I wanted to minimize the stops as much as possible.
Stage 1 – Chicago to Nile, Michigan 98 miles
The ride started along Chicago’s lakefront path through three states, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan just over 98 miles. The course was flat as a pancake and ran along the lakefront for the first 40 miles. It always takes a few days to get into the swing of the epic ride. I made navigation errors (see tiny loop in East Chicago), stopped a little more than I should have and ate a little too much in one aid station, but I always dedicate day one to developing an efficient tempo and we did just that.
You know you have a good crew when they anticipate your next need and Deb was just that. She picked it up quick and was soon creating her own crewing style. Thanks to my husband, the crew car had official flashy yellow lights, which helped cars see us along the road. It also attracted a caravan of future ElliptiGO fans along the way. In one Indiana town, the Fire Chief followed us for 5 miles just to find out “what the heck that thing was!” I rode conservatively to avoid bonking later in the day (and the trip)! It was an amazing feeling to ride along an open road uninterrupted on the GO and cross into new states.
Stage 2 – Niles, Michigan to Quincy, Michigan -84 miles
Day two brought a gently rolling course and a corn maze. I’m the type of person who when she sees a giant ball of yarn on the side of the road – I stop and take a picture. And when I come to a corn maze in the road, I take it. The Amazing Acres Corn Maze owner Roni Hoff opened up the place just for us and let us and I do the zip-line and get lost in the maze. It was a perfect team-building opportunity and it ended with Roni testing out the ElliptiGO (she loved it). I got back to business and learned to make friends with the endless hills. It was easier than I thought, as the ElliptiGO is a lot of fun to ride on hills. It also a welcome change from the flatlands. We had another stellar weather day (sunny and 70) and ended up averaging around 15 mile per hour for the day. I finished feeling quite tired yet pleased with the tempo. I hit the pool to soak my legs, drank my recovery cocktail and fueled up for the next stage.
Stage 3 – Quincy, Michigan to Dearborn, Michigan -89 miles
Ride Stats and Map: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/49761399
The third stage proved fantastically fun and outrageously challenging. The course rolled up and down (and up and down) on long, gradual climbs through the Irish Hills in Michigan and I was starting to feel the effects of the mileage. I absolutely love riding hills on the ElliptiGO but it was the consistent headwind that made for a brutal day. There are days when the wind is at your back and then there are days when it’s smack in your face. I learned to work with it, to not to fight it and made sure to ride at the same effort level. That translated to a slower overall pace at the same effort level, but that was to be expected as I was still in conservation mode. I’m a huge advocate for a negative split racing strategy which means taking the first half out slower than the second half.
Sizing Up the Epic Ride
I knew this ride would take every last ounce of energy and had to stick with a solid pacing strategy to make it through. If I tried to keep the same pace, my effort level would be much higher and it would cost me in the end. After all, it can’t be the Chicago 2 Toronto Ride unless I made it to Toronto! Mother Nature was still on our side as I somehow missed a series of thunderstorms and hail all afternoon. I could see dark, ominous clouds creeping up behind me in my rear mirror and it was an effective motivator to keep steady progress.
As a runner and adventure racer, I’m still amazed at how long and hard you can ride the GO without anything hurting. This epic ride was feeling great. The GO was also holding its own with no mechanical issues – not even a flat tire! However, just because you don’t hurt, doesn’t mean you don’t get tired. This was the final day in the USA and my excitement was building in anticipation of the great Canadian border crossing.
Stage 4 – Dearborn, Michigan to Morpeth, Ontario -82 miles
The day started with an emotional goodbye and hello. I gave Deb a big hug and thanked her for reinventing the word crewing and welcomed my husband John to the adventure. On one hand it was like starting over system wise, and I was a bit crabby in the transition (my husband would agree). Riding into Ontario is a moment I will never forget. For one, I nearly had a melt down when I saw a sign that read 100 to our destination when I thought I had only 60 miles to go. I’d totally forgotten about the kilometers! Once I figured that out I embraced the change and rather enjoyed the fact that the K’s went by much faster!
It was a beautiful yet exhausting ride. The winds were blowing at a consistent 15-25 mph from start to finish and the course took me through miles and miles of flat farmland. The sneaky thing about wind is you never get a break from it when you’re riding in one direction. Unlike hills, you have to push hard the entire time to move forward. If you take a look at the stats in the link above you can see where I hit areas where there were a few trees to block the wind. I stopped at shorter intervals throughout the day and ended up really enjoying the final 15 miles. It was cool, the sun was setting and I could see my ElliptiGO shadow on the side of the road next to me.
Stage 5 – Morpeth to Burlington, Ontario – 133.53 miles
Stage five was a day to remember. It started out warm and just got warmer as the temperatures rose to an unseasonable 88 degrees. The initial plan was to ride 90 miles and finish the final 70 miles to the finish on the sixth day. If it weren’t for a full moon and a cool night, that might have happened. Sometimes when things click you have to go with the moment. And I did just that. Somewhere around 80 miles, I started to feel really strong and was riding almost effortlessly. This was a surprise as it was a brutal day and expected to be wasted by this time. But it was cool, I had a gentle tailwind and the light from a perfectly full moon lit my way. It was almost magical and I made a strategic decision to keep riding.
It’s a lot of fun riding at night. It’s peaceful, you’re not fighting the heat and you can only see what is in front of you. I told myself I’d ride to 100-110 miles and call it a night, but I started thinking about the current distance record set by fellow ElliptiGO teammate and amazing endurance athlete Dean Karnazes. He rode 488 miles from San Francisco to LA in five days (pretty awesome).
Checking in Along the Way
I kept riding and called my crew husband John on the phone as asked how many miles I’d have to ride to hit 489. My mind was so tired I couldn’t remember the numbers, much less do the math. It turned out to be 31 miles from that spot. So, I just kept riding. I rode through quaint Ontario towns while the nightlife was rocking. I rode down dark, isolated roads and climbed over Mt. Hamilton. I rode until I saw the golden arches of McDonald’s in a Toronto suburb. This ended up being a few miles further than the current record and enough to beat it.
As I pulled in the parking lot to and stood for a moment in complete and utter shock. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done. In my dazed state, we packed up the GO, ate a late dinner and made our way to the hotel. At some point while enjoying a chocolate shake and chilling out in the hotel room, I realized that I’d calculated the numbers wrong and I’d missed the distance record by 1.47 tiny little miles! I in fact hadn’t broken that record. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But at the end of the day, the expedition wasn’t about breaking Dean’s record. It was about exploring three great lakes, two great countries and officially launching the GO in the Canadian market. And that is what I ended up doing.
Stage 6 – Burlington to Toronto (Mississauga) Ontario – 21 miles
Ride Stats and Map: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/50123503
The final leg of the journey felt like a victory lap. It was a short 21 miler and there was no doubt in my mind I’d make it to the finish. Mike Dyon, the president of RMP Athletic Locker (Canadian ElliptiGO distributors) met me with 11 kilometers to go (7 miles) and I was greeted to a warm Canadian welcome at the finish line. It was a successful ride and I ended up setting a distance record for in the women’s division, the longest ride in a day by a woman and rode a total of 508 miles. But that’s not what I’ll remember 20 years from now. It will be the fun moments along the way, the sense of freedom I found riding the ElliptiGO for miles and miles and the world’s reception to this wonderful new elliptical cycle.
Ride Stats and Map:http://connect.garmin.com/activity/49880198