Sunday, August 30, 2009

Livestrong Challenge - Philly - 100 miles

(pictures will coming soon, also a warning: this is a really, really long post. you have my permission to skim)

100 miles at the Livestrong Challenge in Philly. Did I really sign up to do a 100 mile road ride? I'm at heart a mountain biker, what was I thinking?

Sometime over the summer, Mark mentioned to me that he had signed up for the Lance Armstrong Foundations's Livestrong Challenge. I remember thinking that there is no way I'd ever consider doing that. But as time went on, I found out that Mark was riding as part of Team Fatty. Team Fatty was started by Elden Nelson, better known for his blog at I had read his blog for quite a while, and was very touched by what he and his wife had been going through with their cancer fight. Well, that certainly caught my attention. Then Mark mentioned how he was riding by himself as his wife and her sister were doing the 45 mile ride. And I had just gotten a used road bike, and found I actually somewhat enjoyed riding it (never thought I would).

Finally in a moment of weakness, I agreed to try the 100 mile ride. Mark was already several weeks ahead of me in training, and that became painfully obvious when I joined him on several training rides. Now I had been riding quite a bit because of the mountain bike races I had been doing, but road miles are different. I started doing some 40 mile rides, and found them tiring.

After a few weeks, I then saw 40 mile rides as a warm up. I did a 65 mile ride, and was exhausted. Mark mentioned he wanted to do a 75 mile ride next. Funny thing, as we talked more, he kept increasing the mileage he said we'd do. "Hey, can't wait for our 80 mile ride." "Yeah, our 90 mile ride will be some great training."

We picked a day in the 90s with high humidity. In part because it was finally a dry day, and in part because if the Philly ride was going to be a hot one, we wanted to get our bodies (and minds) ready for it. I ended up doing 75 miles that day, Mark did 85 or 90. I don't remember, I was delirious.

I first thought the fund raising would keep me from going to Philly, but family and friends were very generous with donations and in no time I had easily met my goal.

So with the thoughts of a 75 mile ride almost killing me, my wife and I headed off to Philly.

We arrived near Philly on Friday and I went to register at the Livestrong Village. I got a signed book from Chris Carmichael. He mentioned to me how he was still beat from racing at Leadville.

Saw retired running back Eddie George signing authgraphs.

Picked up some free stuff, bought some Livestrong items, and headed back to the hotel. Later that night we went out with some friends we hadn't seen in years. On Saturday Mark and his group arrived.

Team Fatty with over 250 riders strong, and over $250,000 raised, were invited (well a portion of us) to a special Livestrong dinner Saturday night. Elden "Fatty" Nelson was one of the speakers, and I think everyone in the room teared up. His speech was inspiring. We also heard from "College" one of Lance's best friends, and we heard from Ethan from Survivor who was now battling cancer. In all, a very special night.

We arrived back at the hotel, I made sure all my nutrition stuff was packed and ready to go and I tried to get some sleep.

Five o'clock came early, and off we went to find the start line at the Montgomery County Community College. There were to be over 6,0000 cyclists and runners, and it sure looked like it when we pulled into the parking lot.

I loaded up all of my Hammer nutrition, and went off to find Team Fatty. Because we, as a team, raised so much money, we were given the honor to lead out the group of cyclists - we even were to get a police escort!!!

I found Mark, and before we knew it the announcer set us off. The adrenaline was pumping. It was very cool to see the sea of black lead out (we were all wearing our Team Fatty jerseys).

My main strategy was to find big groups of riders, tuck myself safely inside, and let them pull me along as to save my legs. I knew I was caught up in the moment when Mark had to keep reminding me that our pace was too high.

The course led us through rolling countryside, not unlike the roads around the outskirts of Pittsburgh. It had rained for two days solid, but the weather that day was overcast but humid. And this caused the roads to be slick, especially on the turns.

In no time we reached the first aid station, but there was no reason to stop. We continued on, and in what seemed minutes we reached the second aid station (at approximately 15 miles). Colonial characters met us wishing us well, while others played the fife and drum. Kept it a short rest, and off we went again.

The legs had shut down a bit, and right out of the aid station was a decent hill. Arghhhh, that one hurt. After a half mile, the legs opened up again.

The rest of the ride was a blur of rolling country side, old barns, and older houses. The scenery was great. Then I was quickly pulled out of my reverie. The signs for the Landis Store aid station were seen on the roadside. I knew from the gps information and talking to some other riders that this was the biggest hill of the ride.

The hill slowly gained altitude, and it didn't seem too bad until I rounded the corner and saw the hill shoot up. Immediately, BOTH of my quads started to cramp with the increase of grade. Mark got up ahead of me, and I just put my head down and readied for some suffering.

As I continued up the hill, there were signs on the roadside trying to encourage us, there was a guy dressed in a devil suit. He yelled, "Go Fatty" and high-fived me. I wanted to tell him that this was a devil of a hill, but I was suffering too much to talk. I saw riders walking with legs fully cramped. I saw riders sitting on the side of the road with their heads between their legs, either from dehydration, naseau, or cramps. Guy beside me kept looking at his gps announcing the increase in grade. Finally he stopped announcing at 16 degrees, ouch.

And then it was over, Landis store. And it looked like the whole town was out to cheer us on as we entered the aid station, reminiscent of the Tour de France. This was advertised as the best aid station, and they were right. Live music, cool water misters, cool blown air (near the first aid station, but I took advantage anyway), cold fruit, ice water, and more. Mark and I spent too much time at this station, but who could blame us? Just as we got ready to leave, my tired instantly flatted with a loud hiss. Actually great timing, took the bike over to the Bikeline mechanic. Not only did he fix the flat, but he spotted some wear in the rim tape, which was probably what cause several recent flats.

Tire fixed, and we were off. I was really looking to a lot of downhill from here. At first that's what we got, but then the rolling hills weren't done with us, not by a long shot.

I felt really strong until about mile 75. The last 25 miles were rough on me personally. I was fine on the flats, but any type of incline at all saw me quickly falling behind any group we were in. Mark would always slow down, and he tried to pull me a bit, but I was too tired.

Ten miles to go. Somewhere in here a rain burst let loose, but it felt great. Two miles to go, and I couldn't wait to get off my bike. Half mile to go, we could see the local college that had the finish line, and Mark got a flat.

While we were fixing it, the sag wagon stopped by and offered to give us a ride to the finish line. Was she kidding? We didn't ride all this way to then take a ride to the finish line.

We jumped back on the bikes and finished the ride. I felt like I was finishing the Tour. Mark and I were riding side by side down the yellow-balloned finish. As we crossed under the arch where we first began the day, we could hear the announcers announcing our entry. We rode over to where our wives were waiting, and I gladly got off my bike. Wow, what a day.

A huge thank you to all the people who donated for this great cause. I appreciate all that you did. After seeing what the Livestrong does for people with cancer, I feel great that our money is going to a great organization.

I hope to post up some pictures soon.

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