The first time Fort Lauderdale resident Keith Willard rode in the annual two-day 165-mile Smart Ride he admits he was woefully underprepared. Among other things his bike was too small and was only one speed.
“I did almost no training,” the 47-year-old admits. “I was so under prepared. I told myself ‘Of course I can ride 100 miles in a day.’ I was very innocent to the process.”
Miraculously he finished the ride despite all of the obstacles he had to overcome.
“It was a pathetic try,” he said, then added “When you get it wrong on so many different levels and still make it, it proves anyone can do this.”
Since that first try he’s ridden several more times – but with a lot more preparation.
“I went to a bike store, got measured and I bought a different bike. I reached out to other riders,” he said. And of course he trained. “A little bit of training goes a long way.”
His advice to newbies: train, ask questions and follow instructions.
"I have a bit of a competitive streak – mostly with myself to explore and exercise my personal best – so I’m nothing, if not psyched and enthusiastic, about completing my first Smart Ride." — Lance Hatch
This year the Smart Ride takes place November 18-19. And while that’s still a couple of months away now is the time for a first timer to start preparing and training.
This year will be Lance Hatch’s first time riding. The 56-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident has been rigorously training which includes “doing laps at Hugh Taylor Birch part at least three mornings a week to both build up endurance and speed.”
He plans on adding spin classes to his routine this month as well. And once the event gets closer his entire team will take some longer rides along A1A to Boca and back.
He’s confident and not nervous or afraid at all.
“I’m excited and determined. The older I get, the more I’m discovering and acting on my newly unearthed Type A personality characteristics. I have a bit of a competitive streak – mostly with myself to explore and exercise my personal best – so I’m nothing, if not psyched and enthusiastic, about completing my first Smart Ride,” he said. “I’m pretty fearless, too. I believe using common sense, training, listening to my body, and possessing a positive attitude.”
The annual bike ride raises money for local HIV-related charities and is entering its thirteenth year. The ride has raised more than $7.3 million since 2003 with $985,373 being raised last year alone.
“This year is lucky 13 and our goal has not only been to raise money to help those infected, affected and at risk for HIV and AIDS, but it has been to raise the dialogue about HIV and get people to talk about it,” said Glen Weinzimer, founder of the Ride. “To get those who do not normally talk about HIV to put it in their dialogue, to get kids (who are at the greatest risk) to learn about honoring their bodies, to understand the implications and long term affects.”
But in order to accomplish that it takes riders – a lot of them. Last year 400 of them to be exact.
For many though, just the thought of biking 165 miles is overwhelming.
Related: SMART Ride Comes Through Again
SFGN wanted to see just what it takes to prepare for such an arduous journey.
“It’s a challenge. But allow yourself to be challenged. Really take that on. Don’t give up,” said Fort Lauderdale resident Uli Schackmann. “This ride is very different. It’s a loving community that’s moving from Miami to Key West. It’s very inspiring. Something very profound takes place on this ride.”
Weinzimer tells riders not to worry.
“We have cheerleaders that will motivate you, medical support, water, Gatorade, bike techs and food. Remember you might not have some of these things when training on your own to keep you healthy.” — Uli Schackmann
“Most of the riders are not professionals. They just want to make a difference,” he said. “I tell them to look at it as five, 20-mile rides in the first day. A part of this is psychological.”
Weinzimer recommends being able to ride 60 miles two days in a row within a few weeks before the ride. He said the event is fully supported so all of a rider’s needs are taken care of during the two day journey.
“We have cheerleaders that will motivate you, medical support, water, Gatorade, bike techs and food,” he said. “Remember you might not have some of these things when training on your own to keep you healthy.”
Weinzimer recommends three months of training to prepare, which would include three 15-mile rides a week. He also recommends looking for organized training rides on the weekends, of which he said are aplenty.
This will be Danny Eguizabal’s third ride. The 30-year-old from Miami was inspired to give back after working at a camp for children that have been affected by HIV.
“I was moved by how amazing these kids were and how resilient they are and made any of the issues I face seem so insignificant. When I got back from being a counselor, I knew I had to do something on a local level,” he said. “I had recently fallen in love with cycling so when I found out about the Smart Ride, it put both my passions together, and I knew that I needed to be a part of this great organization.”
His advice to a first timer: remember it’s not a race.
Related: Glen Weinzimer - SMART Ride Founder
“Rest at the rest stops as much as possible. It is not a race and you do not get a prize for not taking a break,” he said. “It also allows you to get to know the other riders who are so great and prove what an amazing community has been generated from the Smart Ride.”
Weinzimer emphasizes the Smart Ride is not a race.
“This is not a race,” he said adding that the speeds of the riders usually fall between 12 to 23 miles an hour. “It’s about making a difference.”
He also said there are rest stops every 15 to 20 miles to rest and refuel.
Now and then there are people who do fall behind. And if that happens the Smart Ride crew will pick a rider up and move them forward to help them along the way. No one is allowed to ride after dark so everyone has to be off of the road by dusk.
Many folks, he said, wrongly believe they’re too out shape, not athletic enough, too old, etc.
“Our youngest rider was 18 and oldest was 82,” he said.
For those that take the ride seriously and thoroughly prepare, it can offer some health benefits such as slimming down, and helping to lower blood pressure.
“It’s a really great way to get in shape,” Weinzimer said.
The second aspect to the ride that scares people off is fundraising. Each rider has to commit to raising at least $1,250.
Weinzimer said once you put it out there, especially on social media, it’s easy to raise the money. And if that doesn’t work many people belong to teams who fundraise together.
“It’s amazing how many people want to give to an event like this,” Willard said. “Put a note out there on Facebook and watch how quickly $200, $300, $400 adds up.”
In addition, every rider gets a rider rep, someone who will periodically contact them to check up on their training, fundraising and answer whatever questions or concerns they may have.
Teams will often times fundraise together so those riders that aren’t good at it will be lifted by those who are better at that aspect.
"From meals to tires change, from picking up a fallen rider on the road to cheerleading, or massaging their sore muscles…the [massage therapy] crew is the backbone of the Ride.” — Marcia Chaves
“Most people surprise us. On average $2,200 is raised. It becomes a lot easier when you start asking. Write a letter to everyone you’ve ever known including acquaintances. Let them know you’re doing this. Most people make the goal,” Weinzimer said. “I encourage riders to join teams. You have more of a safety net. As long as the average of the team is $1,250 it counts.”
Even if after reading this someone still isn’t sure they can handle the ride, Weinzimer said they’re always looking for volunteers to be a part of the 300-person crew it takes to organize the event. Some of those jobs include: bike techs, driving the vehicles, people to handle the bike parking, massage therapists, medical staff and even cheerleaders.
Related: Smart Ride Breaks Record
Marcia Chaves, a licensed massage therapist from Fort Lauderdale, has been a part of the crew for the past 4 years.
“Even though I admire the riders and their commitment; I believe I am a strong support and great help for them and for the ride as a massage therapist. Our contribution is valuable to help them finish the ride,” she said. “The crew is fundamental and absolutely important part of the Ride. They offer support, logistics, hard working and an incredible support system to the riders. From meals to tires change, from picking up a fallen rider on the road to cheerleading, or massaging their sore muscles…the crew is the backbone of the Ride.”
Riders have told Weinzimer afterwards that the cheerleaders have really motivated them to keep going even when they didn’t think they could.
“The crew really do play major roles psychologically and physically,” he said.
And for all of the riders, finishing the ride is a personal triumph – and very emotional.
“Even during my second ride I still cried at the end,” Eguizabal said. “You just realize all of the people you’re helping…everything you worked so hard for is coming to fruition.”
Visit TheSmartRide.org for more information.
What You’ll Need
- Bicycle (mechanically safe and in good working order, make sure to have it inspected for bike fit prior to the ride)
- Helmet (ASTM, Snell, ANSI or CPSC approved)
- 2 Water bottles (one filled with an electrolyte replacement drink) OR 1 hydration pack (like a Camelbak), plus a bottle filled with an electrolyte replacement drink.
- Bike frame pump or CO2 cartridges
- Patch kit or spare tube that will fit your tire size.
- Bicycle multi-tool for making adjustments
- Bike seat bag (to carry multi-tool, tire irons, patch kits, tubes, cell phone, cash/credit card)
Useful, but not mandatory items:
- Insect Repellant, Hand wipes or hand sanitizer
- Lip balm w/ sunscreen
- Bike computer
- Cycling gloves
Other Items to pack:
- Variety of riding clothes for 2 days (make sure to be prepared for variable weather)
- Clothes for evening functions and Key West (shorts, t-shirts, jeans, flip flops, very casual)
- Swimsuit (yes there is a pool at Hawks Cay)
- Any prescriptions you need
- Antacid, ointments, bandages, Ibuprofen
- Earplugs (to drown out the snoring from your roommate)
Top 10 Riders So Far…
- Joseph Locke – $15,660
- Eric Krause – $9,326
- Jason Fields – $5,202
- Roland Merchant – $3,950
- Chad Daughtrey – $3,800
- Jeffrey Brizzi – $3,600
- Bill Patchett – $3,410
- Craig McKimmy – $2,850
- Robert Malan – $2,825
- Edwin Elson – $2,685
Top 10 Teams So Far…
- Mile Markers – $23,036
- YOLO – $17,580
- Training Wheels – $16,663
- Power In Numbers – $16,084
- CDTC Cyclones – $14,707
- Tampa Bay Area Cyclists – $14,692
- STEAM Cycling – $12,079
- Miracle of Love – $11,443
- Palm Beach Bike Jockeys – $8,948
- Broward House Give A Shift – $8,478