You may recall last year I rode the Philly Challenge for the first time. And just as last year, there was no time for training or specific preparation for the ride. But I did accomplish two things by my steady improvement in a couple of areas.
When teaching I stress the importance of doing the things you’re not good at and avoiding the natural tendency to focus on the things that come easy. Since nothing is particularly easy on the bike (for me) this approach generates a lengthy list of issues. I prioritize by which things I do worst, balanced by whichever part of me is working least well. This led me to riding the hills more than ever before. I’ve learned about my own tempo, and when my IT bands allow, get closer to the edge of heart /lung capacity without blowing up and the like. I can stand and climb for longer than in the past and push that limit deeper than ever before.
And the improvements relate, no doubt, to the second aspect of my continual progress… I’ve continued to shed pounds. About 15 of them since the same time last year. Everyone who rides knows that the key to climbing is power to weight ratio, and since I don’t (and in some ways can’t) train with any specificity, weight loss makes an even larger difference.
Hill riding provides me a foundational belief in what I can do, and an understanding that I can reach deeper and more powerfully into myself to produce new levels of performance. I suspect that has greater value than anything else.
Put those three things together and you have someone who cranked out 50 miles in the rain and hail deluge yesterday with out missing a beat. I never had to walk a hill. I never reached a point of “can’t” on this route and that was a nice breakthrough for me. And while not in the spirit of the ride, I enjoyed riding past other people on the hills. It’s not often I can do that, so forgive me for enjoying myself at others’ expense.
I don’t know if I’ll be back next year, there’s other organizations to support and other rides to do, but the Livestrong Philly Challenge has taught me a lot and I appreciate that. I’d like to go back, but it can be a really expensive venture. I would like to complete the 100 miles ride, I think it was doable this year if not for the awful weather.
Last year I turned the Challenge into a marathon of a different sort by traveling down there in the wee hours of Saturday night, meeting Jenni to get my number, going to the venue, suiting up, and getting on my bike (and then waiting since the event ran late). After a quick start the short steeps beat me into submission and eventually the heat (and the Team Fatty black jersey) finished me off after about 60 miles.
This year we collectively jumped on the room thing, so I was able to go down late Saturday night. The trip was easy, there’s no congestion at that hour. Found the Hyatt, where I was given this, after a brief moment with the night clerk:
Lovely. I grab my stuff, find the elevator (about 17 turns from the front Lobby. Seriously? Who designed this place? And it was poorly signed as well.) and head on up. I see the lock turn green, I push the door, and the “don’t come in” safety lock is on. I thought briefly of calling someone, and thought I’d try a potentially less intrusive cause-the-door-to-tap-against-lock approach. Jenni noticed and came and opened the lock. Philly Jen and Jenni were still up. A number of topics were discussed, including as Jenni noted in her story an old fave of mine from the 2001 Ruck in PA. I can’t even mention what Philly Jen talked about.
In the lot that morning I said hi to Surlyrider and few other folk I met last year. I left for the venue and parked not far from my spot last year, but they had turned the event around, so line up was across the main area. I spotted Jenni making her way, and we lined up toward what we thought would be the front of the 100 mile chute. Little did we know that folks would park themselves in front of us, and then others would start to make their way toward the start line without signal all during the anthem.
Despite all the “Lance is here” stuff, I saw only two bits of him. A portion of his back as he started the ride, and then a glimpse out of the corner of my eye as they bombed down a hill with Liz Kruetz hanging out of the sunroof of the truck and Lance and fellow dudes as they motorpaced right behind. Clearly they had better weather intel than I did… I wondered why they were headed back already and a few minutes later I had my answer.
[You may sneer at Lance and Livestrong (the brand) but you shouldn’t sneer at the work being done by everyone else in the organization. The folks standing out in the rain serving drinks and food, the folks on the phone when you call in a panic because of a recent diagnosis. The face of Livestrong has been Lance, but it long ago got away from him as all these people take time to care, support, and love each other and anyone who shows up asking “Help me.”]
As the ride got started I got stuck behind a cluster f… er um of folks who were struggling to get moving, and frankly they did not help my cause. Once I got settled, I looked for Jenni up the road, and started to work my way up the outside. We rode along for a bit, and then I turned to say something and there was no Jenni. I turned around and couldn’t spot her in the crowd and thought “Hmmm. I’ve experienced this before.” I trusted that she was OK and kept going. I remembered a few bits from last year and have learned a lot about riding in such dense crowds of mixed ability people. In short, I didn’t try to ride with anyone, but instead rode in the wind between packs.
I waited at the first rest stop, when it started to rain. I grabbed my jacket out of my pocket, and then Jenni was waiving me on. The stop was poorly signed, so folks were cutting across each other entering and exiting. While I waited the only person who really came close to hitting me was the hipster on the fixie with (wait for it) no brakes. Sigh.
After the first rest stop there’s a downhill S curve where someone always seems to overcook. Last year it was a multiple cyclist thing on the first curve, this time it seemed like a white haired gent with a matching beard made a bad decision on the slick second half of the turn. Sad to see an ambulance, but especially so early in the ride.
I had expected a little rain, but not the deluge that got started shortly. I would have brought a bike with tightly sealed hubs, disc brakes, and the like. And very different clothing options. But by the time I hit the 45/70 turnoff I knew it was not a good idea for me to continue heading out. I could deal with the discomfort but not the uncertainty, and really wanted to finish the ride, even if it was shorter than I had expected. Jenni showed and we both turned, and she was already unhappy with the wetness and her brakes. We started down the hill and she and many others decided to walk. I thought if I try and walk I’m bound to slip on my road shoe skates, and felt that as long as I kept them wiping my brakes would be fine (and they were.)
Separated again, I waited at the next rest stop, but was suspicious considering how hard it rained, and how hard the wind blew as I made my way. I saw a SAG car go by, but couldn’t see in, and didn’t notice Jenni’s bike. As I was pulling out I saw her, pulled over, and learned that she had sagged out, but they were making them wait for some other vehicle to come by and get them. She wanted me to stop (it was really pouring again) but it was only just over 15 miles to the finish and I was already soaked, and the bike was still working. I pressed on, and while the soaking continued, I never realized how much hail stings when you ride through it in summer clothing. Now I know.
I was handed a laughably small towel at the finish, which was dripping wet by the time I got back to my car. I enjoyed the cheering of folks standing in the rain simply to cheer folks riding in. I was surprised at not to see Jenni there—I didn’t learn until long after than she, of course, had gotten back on her bike and finished the ride.
I threw the bike on the car, tossed some towels on the seat, and finally got out of the rain. Just then Rita walked by on her way to some lunch… I still don’t know how her ride went. Back at the Suites, I peeled off all the soaked clothes and hopped in the shower. It only took a few minutes to get clean, warm, and dry. Feeling a bit hungry, I rummaged through the leftover stuff from the Fatty barbecue, and found that the hot dog rolls and peach mango salsa were both kosher. I made a salsa dog and enjoyed. I packed up and then checked in with everyone. Jenni told me she finished the ride and was hanging at the finish line welcoming others. I ran into Gene in the parking lot. He was in good spirits. I loaded up and started the long, trafficy trip home.
When I finally got home (insert traffic nightmares here) I threw all my wet stuff into the washing machine including the towels I used to keep the car from soaking up all the water from my clothes. I made some pizza from thin chiabata rolls, sauce and blue cheese and indulged. A little while later it was time for sleep, I had work in the morning. I lost 45 minutes to forgetting to set my alarm clock. I skipped shaving to help move thing along… wound up at work on time but looking like the picture at left.
The good stuff was getting to know Philly Jen a little bit more, riding with Jenni who I haven’t ridden with in what seems like ages, saying “hi” to other Fatty’s I met last year along the way, and the power of people pulling together. Obvious lows were the weather, the start stop point seemed like a worse choice than last year, and I’ll now have to clean and re-grease my bike.