This weekend was the Seattle Livestrong Challenge. Earlier this year I circled this date on my calendar as THE ride to train for. It’s 100 miles of hills around the Seattle area, they close parts of the course to cars, and it’s for a great cause. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family, I was able to raise $1,322 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

The Livestrong Appreciation Dinner

As part of the fundraising process, I joined Team Fatty – a team headed up by a guy who calls himself The Fat Cyclist. I guess he used to be fat, but now that he bikes all the time, the name “fatty” doesn’t make much sense. Anyway, Team Fatty won the team fundraising challenge, so they got a bunch of seats to the Livestrong Appreciation dinner Saturday night. I kindly offered to take one of those seats.

Dinner at the EMP

Dinner in the EMP "Sky Church"

Congressmen Jay Insley

Congressmen Jay Insley telling us how the new healthcare reforms will help cancer survivors

Evan Handler

Actor Evan Handler talking about his battle with Leukemia 20 years ago

Card from Nike

The card Nike sent to Lance Armstrong when he was diagnosed with cancer

I got home around 9, got my stuff ready for the ride, set the alarm for 5am, and tried to get to bed early.

The Ride

Alarm goes off at 5am. It’s Sunday. Why the hell would my alarm be going off so freakin early? Oh, right….

I make a big bowl of oatmeal (more carbs!) and check the weather. I had planned on short sleeves, but now I see it’s not even going to crack over 60 degrees. And there’s a significant chance of rain. New plan – long sleeves. So I quickly get my race number and signs moved to my other jersey, fill up the watter bottles, and roll out from my house at 6:15. Rolling down to the start it was in the low 50s and cloudy, so already I felt good about my decision.

Short sleeve plan

My original plan before the last minute switch to long sleeves

It’s a 6 mile, mostly downhill ride from my house to the Seattle Center. I find my way to the start line and get in the 100 mile starting group with 15 minutes until the 7am group start.

Starting line

Lined up at the start

MK at the start

Self portrait - "Before the pain"

I’ve never done a bike event where everyone starts at once. It was a great atmosphere. It was very moving to see everyone with pins showing who they’re riding for.  The guy in front of me had one that just said “Mom” and others that were filled with lots of names in tiny print. They had some announcements to get everyone pumped up, sang the national anthem, and counted down to the start. And we were off.

The first 20 miles or so was fantastic. The roads through downtown were closed off, so we had a car and red-light free trip. Then they led us onto the I-90 express lanes over the floating bridge. The roads were all for us!

Rolling through downtown

Through the I-90 tunnel

Across the floating bridge

Then on to Mercer Island. This is a great little loop that I do all the time. Lots of rolling hills, tight turns, and lush trees. I caught the back of a pace line doing about 24mph and held on as long as I could.

At the rest stop I realized that the cleat in my shoe (the thing that clips in to the pedals) was loose. I’ve seen people get stuck in their pedals this way, so I was lucky to catch it early and get it tightened up. I crossed over to the east side and started working my way through farm country.

About 30 miles in, a guy in a Cadillac jersey looks down at the fenders on my bike and says “hey, I hope we don’t need those fenders today!”  Not five minutes later it starts sprinkling. I pull over and put my jacket on. Within 10 minutes we’ve got full-on rain. The rain is relentless the rest of the day. This is also when I stop trying to take pictures as I’m riding. I blame all of this on Cadillac Jersey Guy.

Ok, so I’m cold and wet, but my legs are feeling good. Which is fortunate, since there’s some major climbs ahead. First is Tiger Mountain. Despite the fact that this is about 500 feet of climbing, it’s a really nice stretch. Heavily wooded, no cars, winding roads. And then the descent is a blast.

Then there’s another shorter climb up through Issaquah. But this one seems much worse. It’s a straight, wide road with nothing but suburbs to look at. The route flattens out after this and it’s a smooth 20 mile loop around Lake Sammamish.

At dinner the night before, everyone told me to look out for Montreux. It’s this killer hill, they say, somewhere around mile 70. I turn off the Lake Sammamish loop, and there’s this big sign for the neighborhood. One last warning sign. All it says is Montreux.

They were not kidding.  It’s 900 feet of climbing through suburban hell. As I’m slowly working my way up, several have given up and are walking their bikes. I will NOT let this hill beat me.  I will NOT walk my bike. So I push through the pain. I get to what looks like the summit, only to turn the corner and continue the climb. And then finally, I crest over the top and speed back down the other side.

At the next rest stop, the pain is starting to set in. My feet hurt, my hands are numb, my back hurts. But I’ve still got about 30 miles to go. I get behind two guys from Detroit in full Team Radioshack kit and we pull together towards Renton and around the bottom of Lake Washington. They are keeping a good pace at around 17mph, so I hold on with them and try to ignore the pain. We get around Lake Washington, past Seward Park, and up a short winding climb back towards downtown.

I pulled over at the last rest stop to get one more PB&J sandwich. There’s a band playing – why not be festive when you’ve only got 5 miles to go?

I’m riding through the area south of downtown, on my own at this point. My tire gets stuck in a groove in the pavement and it almost takes me down. But somehow I manage to stay upright and get out of the groove. That’s when I hear “PSSSSHHHHH!” Crap. Flat tire. I just bought new puncture resistant tires a few weeks ago. What could have caused this?

So I pull over and find a one inch screw embedded in my tire. Ok, I guess no amount of puncture resistance can help with that. I get out my tools, take the wheel off and start working. I’m in considerable pain. It’s cold. I’m so close to the finish. And my hands are numb. Needless to say, I’m not happy.

Just as I’m getting the tire off, a guy riding his bike on a chicken suit pulls over. “Need some help, mate?”  Ok, one better – a guy in a chicken suit with an English accent. He’s got all sorts of tools, and manages to get my tire changed in about 60 seconds. I can’t thank him enough.

I get back on the bike and push through downtown. Somewhere near the Seattle Center I realized I missed a turn. I don’t see any course markers anymore. But I know how to get back, so I just wind through downtown and get over to the start. Somehow I ended up on the wrong side of the finish line. A lady stops me and says “Hey! You’ve got to go around and go through the right way.” Fine, at this point I’m too run down to argue. So I squeeze through the barriers and get on the correct end.

“Here comes another rider!” shouts the announcer.  People start cheering and clanging cowbells as I ride through the finish line. Ok, that was cool. I’m glad I went through the right way eventually. Some lady hands me a rose.  Someone else hands me a towel.

I see my chicken-suited angel again. I give him another enthusiastic thank you. My friend Annie is working the massage tent. She wants to give me a celebratory massage, but I’ve still got another 6 miles to get home. If I lay down now, there’s no way I get back up.

Gotta keep moving. Remember at 6am when I was glad to have a nice downhill ride to the start? Yeah, that means it’s a long, slow 6 miles back. I finally make it back to the house at about 3:30 pm, pull my soggy bike gear off and take the greatest hot shower of my life.

This was without a doubt the hardest day I’ve ever had on my bike. Everything hurts. Everything is wet. I was covered in road grime. And I can’t wait for next year!

Here’s my final stats, including the ride to and from my house:
Total distance: 116.15 mi
Total ride time: 7:30:58
Avg. speed: 15.48 mph
Max. speed: 37.04 mph