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A Beginner's Guide

A beginner's guide Anyone can sign up for the MS 150, but pulling off this cycling feat takes training and equipment. By KRISTIN FINAN Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle


SURE, everyone loves the beautiful Texas countryside in spring.But from atop a bike on a two-day ride to Austin? "When you tell people you're going to ride 150-plus miles in two days, they think you're crazy," said Aaron Jacks, an MS 150 veteran and captain of the Houston-based Old School Cycling Team. "But it's much more manageable than it sounds." If you're considering participating in the 22nd annual BP MS 150, a Houston-to-Austin ride April 22-23 that benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, you're in good company.

Although around 100 MS 150 rides take place nationwide each year, the local ride, which has 13,000 participants, is the largest in the nation. In fact, thanks in part to the donations it accumulates ” last year's participants raised $9.6 million ” Texas' Lone Star chapter is the largest fundraising chapter for the MS society in the country. So it's only natural you'd want to get involved in this tremendous source of Texas pride. If only it weren't for that pesky bicycling. And your pesky inexperience.

Don't worry, said Chris Holmes, owner of Bicycle World and Fitness, 851 Dairy Ashford. Anyone can get ready. "All of a sudden they're going to use muscles they haven't used before. Their butt's going to hurt, their body's going to ache a little bit," he said. "It is something that you've got to put a little effort into, but if you do that, the rewards are incredible." After obtaining the right equipment, Holmes said, the keys are training consistently and finding others to ride with. "Before, after the MS 150, everybody put their bikes up," he said. "Now, really year-round, Houston's a great city for riding." He said that while the idea of riding from Tully Stadium in Houston or Rhodes Stadium in Katy to Austin ” the routes cover more than 180 and 160 miles, respectively ” sounds overwhelming, it's also a great way to meet people.

"People get a little intimidated because there's 13,000 people, but if you're not liking riding next to somebody, speed up or slow down ” there's somebody else you can ride with. People are super friendly."

Hunter Jaggard, team captain of the Carney Men, an MS 150 team planning to raise $50,000 for the society this year, said camaraderie is very important for his team, which gathers for beers and barbecues after training rides and waits until all team members have arrived to cross the finish line in Austin as a group. He added, though, that the most important part of the ride is the cause, as at least a third of the team knows someone or has a family member with MS, a chronic disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and typically strikes adults between ages 20 and 50.

"We're going to ride until we don't have to ride this thing anymore," Jaggard said. "Ride till there's a cure." Jacks said that since his mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004, the ride has taken on a new meaning. "A lot of people, when they do it the first time, it is about fitness or the challenge, but when you actually know why you're doing it, it means a lot more," Jacks said. "It's definitely personal for me." He said people without a direct tie to MS can be matched with a "pedal partner," a person with MS who they remember throughout the ride. He said riders carry red bandannas signed by their pedal partner for inspiration. "If you feel like you can't do it any more, you look down and see the bandanna," he said.

The best part, he added, is when the riders get to downtown Austin. "When you get near the Capitol, you hear the crowd, and when you turn onto MLK there are 4,000 or 5,000 people cheering," he said. "That was the moment of the tour. It's powerful." Herb Feins, lead instructor for Cyclefit Houston, which offers cyclists classes about training, safety and nutrition, urged beginners to ask questions and seek help from veterans when needed. "They get very intimidated because they don't know where to ride," Feins said. "No one tells them what to do. They don't know where to go. That's a problem. I've been there." He said classes like those offered by Cyclefit Houston and at local bike shops can make a big difference in training and confidence, adding that persistence is key. "It's gradual, but like anything that you do over a long period of time, you're going to get better at it," he said. "They've got to dedicate the time and they've got to plan to get ready for the MS 150. We'd love to have them."

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