Brian MacKAY at Borella Field in Plainview.

Brian MacKAY at Borella Field in Plainview. Credit: Rick Kopstein

What do you do when you’re facing retirement?

For Brian MacKAY, an avid cyclist who retired from his job as an assistant engineer in bridge maintenance for the state Department of Transportation in December 2022, the choice was simple: He would spend 2023 riding his bicycle a total of 36,500 miles — an average of 100 miles per day, often referred to as a “century” ride.

“A century is always the gold standard of a long ride for cyclists,” MacKAY, who capitalizes the last three letters of his name, said. “So I just thought, ‘Why not try to do that for a whole year straight?’ ”

With less than one month to go, MacKAY, 62, of Long Beach, said he is on track to reach his goal, to the amazement of his friends in the cycling community.

When Howard Perlowitz, who often rides with MacKAY, heard about his idea, he said he thought MacKAY “was a little nuts.”

“The toughest thing with this whole thing is, obviously, the body has to hold up,” Perlowitz, 65, of Merrick, said. “But he’s just got this amount of dedication and resiliency and the inner peace that he gets from riding, it’s just unbelievable.”

A promise

In 2012, MacKAY said he was in a boating accident at work that resulted in a compact fracture of his right fibula and tibia (the two bones between the knee and the ankle.)

“It was a pretty serious break,” MacKAY said.

While convalescing from surgery, he said he made a promise to himself: If he got healthy again, he’d ride every day for the rest of his life.

“No matter the weather, no matter what, if I could ride, I’m riding,” he said.

At the time, MacKAY’s main form of exercise was running and competing in 10k races and marathons, but he said the accident put an end to that. Six months after surgery, though, he kept his promise to himself and got back on his bike.

“The great thing is I can bike as much as I want, as hard as I want, and there’s no pain,” MacKAY said.

Prior to the accident, MacKAY said he mostly rode on weekends by himself. But by 2016, the year he got divorced, cycling had become a near-daily activity.

“That’s when I really took up cycling to deal with the divorce. I decided to focus on the bike and to take care of myself and to deal with the pain and to be strong so my kids could see I was still strong,” said MacKAY, whose four children ranged in age from 12 to 24 at the time.

MacKAY said he started joining the Saturday rides that leave from the Wantagh shop of Brands Cycle & Fitness, and soon after that he joined the Massapequa Park Bicycle Club, which runs group rides four times a week from Bethpage.

Since 2016, MacKAY estimates that he’s missed about 14 days of cycling.

In October 2020, MacKAY said he upped his mileage, riding a 50-mile circuit to and from his Babylon office daily.

One day last year, he said he biked for 18 hours — his longest ride ever — tracing the outline of Long Island. For the most part he was on roads, though about 20 miles of the trek was on bike paths and five miles were along the Rockaway boardwalk.

“I rode down around the Verrazzano, up through Queens, along the North Shore, out to Orient, into Montauk and then the South Shore home,” he said. “That was 306 miles.”

Karen Pompay, 53, of Amityville, often joins MacKAY on long-distance rides. Pompay, who trains for Ironman competitions, said she usually wants to stop long before he does.

“I have never seen him complain or say, ‘I’m really getting tired of this’ or ‘I want to get off this bike,’ ” she said. “I think that all the time. We’ll be doing this ride and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing? I want to get off this bike!’ ”  

A day in the life

To achieve his goal of 36,500 miles, MacKAY said most days he rises at 4 a.m., has coffee and a breakfast of pasta or oatmeal and fruit, and is out on one of his four road bikes by 5 or 6 a.m.

“I like starting early because the roads are emptier, especially on the South Shore,” said MacKAY, whose bicycles are equipped with front and rear lights.

Except for Wednesday training rides with friends along the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway, MacKAY rides almost exclusively on roads.

In previous years, he said he’d joined group rides several times a week with the Massapequa Park clubs and Brands.

“This year I haven’t done as many. Because of all the high mileage I’m doing I find it hard to keep up with those guys because I’m kind of on the brink of being tired all the time,” MacKAY said.

On flat roads, the Massapequa Park club’s elite riders maintain speeds of between 19 and 22 mph. But on a typical day, MacKAY said he rides between 100 and 105 miles, spending 6 ½ to 7 hours in the saddle — an average of 14 to 16 mph.

Almost always starting from home, MacKAY said he has cycled upstate to Bear Mountain State Park (160 miles round trip), to Central Park with loops around the park (110 miles), one-way to Montauk (106 miles) and round-trip to Orient Point (200.5 miles).

“I go to the North Shore if I want elevation,” he said. “I like Suffolk County better because the roads are more open and the traffic’s a little less.”

On four occasions, when he didn’t feel like climbing hills or dealing with traffic, he said he did a century ride on the Long Beach boardwalk, which entailed riding back and forth 25 times.

Since Jan. 1, MacKAY said he has missed just one day of riding. (Last year, he missed none.)

“That’s because I helped a friend move to Arkansas and the truck I was driving for him broke down and we just ran out of time,” he said.

Traversing so many miles means countless flat tires — MacKAY has become an expert at fixing them quickly — and munching on snacks of fig bars and energy chews.

“Any farther than 100 miles, I will stop and get a real meal in between,” he said. “I’m pretty much starving all the time.”

By about 7:30 or 8 p.m., MacKAY said he turns in for the night.

“Sleep is critical. You got to eat right, you got to sleep right, you got to stretch,” he said, adding that his conditioning also includes core exercises and weight training.  

Riding in the rain

If it’s raining lightly, MacKAY said he will do a regular ride, but when it pours, he’ll ride about 17 or 18 miles for an hour, usually from Long Beach to Point Lookout and back.

“If there’s a break in the radar, I’ll go out on wet roads and get in as many miles as I can,” he said, noting that as a Seattle native, he’s used to the rain.

One extremely rainy day in August, he said he drove to Roosevelt Field mall and rode 30 miles around the parking garage.

“I went up different levels, did figure eights around in the garage,” MacKAY said.

The morning after his longest ride of the year — a 275-miler to Montauk in October, which included the Massapequa Park club’s Tour of the Hamptons — he said he did wake up with some aches and pains, but they were gone by the time he drained his cup of joe.

“Mentally I want to get back on the bike. It’s just a matter of the physical part. After I wake up a little bit, I’m ready to go,” MacKAY said.

By Sunday each week, MacKAY hopes to have hit his weekly goal of 700 miles.

“I look at the weather forecast in advance and if it looks bad, I’ll go a little longer the day or two before that to make up for it, just in case,” he said.

At the end of October, he said he reached a secondary goal of riding 1,000 miles in one week, and though he hasn’t thought of giving up on his 36,500-mile pursuit, he said the last couple of months have begun to wear on him.

“Now it gets to be pressure,” he said. “I’m so close now. I can’t stop now.”  

Shorter, faster rides

Though much of his riding is done solo, MacKAY said he is bolstered in his quest by the support of his fellow cyclists, who ride with him at times and also follow him virtually on the STRAVA app, which tracks his progress.

“They’re so supportive and encouraging, no matter how wacky I do things,” MacKAY said.

On many Wednesdays, after he completes interval and speed training with a group of riders in Wantagh, MacKAY will meet up with Pompay.

Perlowitz, who leads the Brands ride on Saturdays, has also paired up with MacKAY on separate rides.

“He and I have done thousands of miles together,” said Perlowitz, who works in sales.

As the months have gone by, other cyclists have also kept MacKAY company on the road, letting him ride close behind and draft their wheels, which reduces his wind resistance and the energy he has to exert.

Brian MacKAY, front left, and a group of cyclists from...

Brian MacKAY, front left, and a group of cyclists from the Massapequa Park Bicycle Club meet at Borella Field in Plainview.  Credit: Rick Kopstein

“We all try to help him out where we can so he’s not doing these long rides completely solo,” Perlowitz said.

When MacKAY clocks in at mile 36,500, he said he’ll celebrate with a short ride (20 miles or less) and a pizza party.

After that, he said he plans to scale back his cycling by half, aiming for an average of 350 miles a week.

“I still want to do long rides, but I want to do them one or two a week instead of every single day,” MacKAY said. “And I want to work on speed.”

And, after such a grueling year, he said, “I just want to feel fresh again on the bike, because it takes me an hour or two until I’m warmed up and feel good.”

MacKAY said he also wants to devote more time to his art: drawings and paintings of runners, cyclists, buildings, bridges, nature and animals.

As he gets older, MacKAY said he knows he may not be able to ride his bike at the level he does now. So he’s taking advantage of every moment he can.

“I want to ride as long as I can, as well as I can,” he said. “That’s why I don’t want to take a day off. I figure I don’t have that many more days to ride. I want to ride them all.”

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