Monday, July 12, 2010

Ride Report: '10 Livestrong Challenge

I've been a reader of Elden "Fatty" Nelson's blog, fatcyclist.com, for a long while. It began as a satirical and self-effacing take on cycling at both the professional and club level, but morphed into the touching and heartfelt story of Elden's wife's battle with breast cancer. Last year, Fatty decided to mobilize his legions of followers and tackle all four editions of the 2009 Livestrong Challenge. I hopped aboard, participating in the San Jose challenge and was instantly hooked.

Yesterday, Team Fatty and I tackled the Livestrong Challenge San Jose for the second year running. As a team, we raised over $35,000. As an event, we raised over $1,000,000 for cancer research. Awe-inspiring.

Getting there was an adventure. I left the city with a friend, Kristine, via Caltrain. From the station in Mountain View, we biked to my car, installed my trunk hitch and drove to the packet pickup event in San Jose. We did the carbo-load thing at Buca di Beppo with a few members of the Google team (I was good: I only had a [chicken] salad!) and then, thanks to Kristine's sister, we snagged a killer deal at a local hotel where Kristine, her friend and teammate Andrew and I all stayed that evening.

The Ride
The best part about this Livestrong ride is the atmosphere. It's so undeniably positive. You are surrounded by thousands of other fundraisers who have had their lives touched by cancer in some way. Some of them are even survivors of the disease. And though our connections to cancer varied, our mindset was in sync. Everyone there wanted to do two things: have a great ride and kick cancer's ass.


The ride kicked off with a 10-mile rolling enclosure and police escort. Pretty cool stuff. I started in the middle of the pack and gradually worked my way up to the front. The lead pack was definitely larger (and moving faster) than it had last year and though I was fairly confident that I could've stayed with them for the entirety of the ride, I didn't want to "break" my base. I moved to the front - the very front of the entire race! - around mile 12 and took a long pull before backing off and trying to regulate my heart rate for the remaining 90+ miles.

It was cold, windy and overcast for most of the morning. I cruised by the first two rest stops and wound up riding solo most of the way to the third. The rest stops on this ride are phenomenal, by the way: well-stocked and delicious. I'm now addicted to nut/raisin/M&M trail mix on long rides. They were also supplying Honey Stinger products (which Lance has been shilling of late) - bars, gels, gummies. They were all delicious as well; there are a variety of flavors, but for the most part, they actually taste like honey - which is A-OK in my book.

I was on my own for another long while after that stop until a steam engine named Steve blew by me and I managed to snag his wheel. The guy was effortlessly pulling at 25+ miles per hour into the wind. I let him know right off that I was trying to keep my heart rate low and wouldn't be able to pull through. He was totally fine with that. So the middle forty miles went by pretty darn fast.

Once we got to the foothills near Metcalf, things started to seriously heat up. I hit the front and led the way up the climb. It was steeper (and warmer) than I remember, and my bottom bracket started making a cacophony of snapping and cracking sounds. It was borderline obnoxious, but otherwise superficial. I grinded my way up the hill, shouting words of encouragement to the folks from the 65-mile route who were wobbling up the road - and often walking - their way up.

After a longish stop at the Metcalf summit "power station," I really toned the ride down and added on a few 14-miles' worth of laps of a nice, straight, steady incline. As I got back on course, I conveniently crossed paths with some of my Team Fatty counterparts and paced them in for the big finish.

The Aftermath
After the finish, I spent a while snacking and catching up with the team riders I hadn't seen since the previous year while Kristine finished up the last few miles of her very first century. She made it in safely - scratch that one off the bucket-list! - and we packed up for the long journey back north. (After a day in the San Jose sun, I can't tell you how miserable it was to Caltrain in to the soupy, windy, foggy San Francisco mess. But that's another story.)

In short, this was a great ride for a greater cause and one that I will definitely do again next year. Team Fatty was third in the team fundraising competition this year and we know we can do better. I'll be my job to convince my Mission Cycling buddies and fellow Googlers to flock to Fatty's banner and be part something greater than the sum of our parts.