Monday, August 24, 2009

We did it(sort of)!

We made it back to Maryland safe and sound after a truly wonderful experience of doing the LIVESTRONG Challenge. This was our second year participating, so we mostly knew what to expect as far as the venue and the crowd, but it was still so inspiring to see over 6000 participants gathered in one place to tell cancer to eff off.

I say that we did it - sort of - because we didn't make it to 100 miles. We knew it was a very hilly, difficult course because Alyssa had done the 45 mile course last year, but until I got out there on it I had no real concept of just how bad it was going to be. When we reached the point where we could go to the 70/100 mile course or divert to the 45, I made the decision to divert to the 45. However, I insisted that Alyssa carry on with the big goal and head for the 70/100 mile course. Had she not waited around for me, I'm sure she would have made it to the 100 mile course, but instead it was closed when she got to the 70/100 mile option. So she did the 70 mile course and tore it up. In fact, she finished only about an hour and a half behind me on the 45 mile course. Unbelievable.

I'll give a bigger weekend report soon, but I just wanted to let everyone know that we made it, had a great time, and can't wait to do it again next year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Here we go!

We're less than 36 hours away from the Philly LIVESTRONG Challenge. It goes without saying that I am nervous. However, I am also super excited. At this point, I just want to get the show on the road. Of course, I have also been freaking myself out by repeatedly looking at the ride's elevation profile and reading blog posts from people who did the ride last year or are freaking out about doing it this year. I've made Alyssa tell me to stop every time she notices me looking at those sites, but I sneak peeks. I'm bad.

We're leaving Frederick tomorrow around noon and should get to packet pickup at the LIVESTRONG Village around 3pm. Thanks to you all, Alyssa and I raised enough money to be invited to attend the pre-Challenge dinner tomorrow night, so we'll hit that up at 6:30pm. After the dinner, we'll head back to our hotel room and get to bed so we can get up super early on Sunday morning. The 100 mile ride is supposed to be released at 7:30am, so we're going to leave our hotel no later than 5:30am. I know that sounds crazy considering our hotel is just a few miles from the start, but last year we were 10 miles from the venue and it took us nearly an hour to get there from our hotel because traffic was so bad. We're hoping to avoid the stress of thinking we're going to be late this year.

For those who are interested, I intend to post about our exploits in real time on Facebook and Twitter. If you aren't on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter. There are rest stops every 10 miles or so on the course and I hope to post when we stop to refuel and rest.

I'm guessing I won't be posting here again until after the Challenge, so check back on Monday. I probably won't have a full recap up at that point, but I'll at least post to let you know that I'm not stranded on the side of the road in rural Pennsyvlania. (But, like I said, if you want to know what's up with us as it's happening, keep up with us on Twitter.)

I hope we can make you all proud.

P.S. Thanks to you all, we managed to bust our team fundraising goal wide open! We are floored by your generosity. Thank you so much.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Well, that was embarrassing.

All last week, Alyssa was psyching me up for a group ride from Gambrill State Park down to the South Mountain Creamery and back. I was beyond nervous because I have been on exactly one group ride and I was afraid of slowing everyone down on the way back when we'd face very hilly terrain. Alyssa assured me that I would be fine, so I took her word for it. We got out to the meeting spot and set off with everyone else on the ice cream ride.

I got a little over a mile into the ride before I stopped and turned around.

Little did I know that I might have been much better at the uphill part than the downhill one. When I got home, I plugged in the Garmin to find that we had descended about 400 feet in just a few minutes. As I screamed down the mountain, I could envision only one thing: certain death. Most of the descent took place on a dirt and gravel road and we were flying. I was terrified. I somehow managed to stop without skidding or falling off my bike and I told Alyssa that there was no way I could continue the ride. I felt like a massive failure and an even bigger pansy, but i knew that I would be in a bad way if I continued with the ride. I figured it was better to cut my losses then rather than getting even further down this steep road and having to turn right back around to go up it. Alyssa admitted that she, too, was terrified going so fast down the road, so I felt a little better. However, as she is far more hardcore than I am, she felt she could continue. I assured Alyssa that I would be fine going back to the car and encouraged her to catch up with the rest of the group.

As I rode back up the hill, I was pissed. I was pissed for quitting and a little bit pissed that Alyssa had told me I'd be able to handle this ride. I started feeling sorry for myself, which is just about the worst feeling ever. I decided then that I would go and do a ride I knew - the Utica covered bridge ride - and try to salvage what I could of the day. I was unsure how long I would have to ride before having to go back and pick Alyssa up, so I didn't actually ride to the bridge(yet again - every time I've tried this ride, I haven't made it to the actual bridge). I just sort of did my own thing, took my time, and enjoyed myself. Thinking I needed to head back to get ready to pick up Alyssa, I rode through Walkersville and back to where I had parked the car to see if Alyssa had sent me a text. She had. They had made it to the creamery in about an hour and were already enjoying their ice cream. Unfortunately, after the fun of the ice cream, they had to make the return trip back up the mountain. What took an hour going down? Took around three hours going back. It turns out I would have had plenty of time to do a more substantial ride! Oh well.

So that was that. It was kind of a downer way to end a week of riding since I'd had such a good individual riding week. I did multiple rides by myself before or after work and I was really feeling a little bit competent and not like a total n00b. It could have been worse, though. I could have actually fallen going down the mountain. That would have been more than a little humiliating.

Causing me more than a little anxiety this week is the fact that we were without our bikes for several days while we got some granny gears installed. Hopefully these will help with contending with the very hilly Challenge course, but I was silently freaking out about not being able to log miles this week.

I have already accepted the fact that I am woefully underprepared for the Challenge. Yes, we have been training, but I know deep in my heart I haven't done enough. The time to train has slipped away and with just a week to go, there is little that can be done to change that reality. I'm not feeling defeated or throwing my hands up in the air, but I am being realistic. Under the best of circumstances, riding 100 miles on a bicycle is no walk in the park. I am going to be hurting in a bad way, y'all. But it'll be fine!

In other news, we did a 36 mile ride today on the C&O Canal Towpath - this time without any unfortunate collisions - and it was boring as hell. I think I've really come to appreciate the variety of pedaling and scenery that a hilly ride affords.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Tonya's Reason for Riding

Life just kicks you in the head when you need it most. I had been thinking about posting how I'm really nervous about not being able to actually pull off riding 100 miles. I've had nightmares of being sag wagoned at mile 10. I've thought about riding the 45 mile route and ditching the 100 mile dream altogether. But then I realized I was being kind of a baby. As Kenny Van Hummel, Lanterne rouge for many stages of the Tour de France this year said, "I'll quit when I fall off my bike." Unfortunately, Kenny actually did end up falling off his bike and injuring himself badly enough to have to leave the Tour. I hope to avoid that same fate, but stick with me here!

Alyssa and I got the idea to participate in last year's LIVESTRONG Challenge because she is a regular reader of the blog Fat Cyclist. The Fat Cyclist himself, Elden (aka Fatty), writes about bike stuff in a very entertaining and humorous way, but also about his wife Susan's battle with breast cancer. He was able to combine his hatred of cancer with his love for cycling and formed Team Fatty, with teams in every Challenge city. This year, they have already raised over $500,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, an incredible amount of money and a testament to the number of people whose lives he and Susan have touched. With the tagline WIN Susan, they inspired countless number of people to join the fight against cancer.

On Wednesday, I had already gone to bed when Alyssa came up to wake me to let me know Susan had died. Fatty said it best:

Susan's part in the battle is over, but she didn’t lose. She led the charge. She showed the rest of us how to fight: with determination, focus, creativity, and outrageous endurance.

The fight against cancer is very personal for me. My life changed for good in countless ways nearly 10 years ago when I lost my mom to cancer. Once I got beyond the initial gut-wrenching, debilitating grief, I realized I had only begun to discover the way cancer had changed everything in my life.

There are the big occasions she's missed out on.

I graduated from the University of Tennessee and my mom wasn't there to celebrate the humongous role she played in getting me across that stage.

Dad, Papa, Nana & me after graduation. I put a picture of her on my mortarboard to have her there with me.

I got married and she didn't get to celebrate with the rest of our family and friends.

I wore her butterfly earrings.

We bought a house.

How I wish she'd been here to tell us to run away from the Money Pit, or at least have her here to make my dad get up here to help us! (Hi, Dad!)

If we ever have kids, she won't be here for that. I won't be able to share pregnancy woes with her. I won't hear what it was like for her to raise me.

Mom holding me as we left a swimming lesson

But even more than those big events are the little things I miss. I am reminded daily that she's gone. I wish I could pick up the phone and tell her about my day, good or bad. There's no one like your mom who can set you straight or help you commiserate about the injustices of life. I see much of my mom in myself and I wish I could tell her that. And despite my actions and protestations to the contrary when I was a teenager, I'm damn proud to be like her.

I know how hard my mom fought. She wanted more than anything to experience all of the milestones I wrote about here. For a year and a half, she did all she could to make sure she was here for my dad, brother, and me. But cancer is a big jerk. When I think about all she went through—the nausea and vomiting, the fatigue, the pain, the indignity, the fear—I continue to be awed by her strength, fight, and perseverance.

When the saddle starts to hurt and my shoulders and neck are aching, I think about what my mom, grandfather, and millions of others have gone through. When my lungs are screaming and my legs are burning from pushing up a mountain, I think about them and I push on. I laugh when people tell me how amazing it is that I'm going to ride 100 miles on a bike. What I'm doing is nothing. What the people fighting cancer do every day is amazing. They stare down cancer and tell it to go to hell.

We will win. WIN Susan. WIN Mom.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Assorted Flats

I totally forgot to write about my birthday weekend ride from the Grosvenor Metro station to DC that wasn't. I'm not even sure it's worth getting into except to say that the Bethesda Trolley Trail is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually turns into a pedestrian heavy sidewalk alongside a very busy road. We got about three miles into the ride and I was over it. It was just as well - I ended up with a flat tire after running over a particularly pointy little twig that managed to puncture my tire and my tube.

My tire was really flat.

Alyssa changed my tube out for me and we cut across the NIH campus to get on Metro at Medical Center and take the train into DC. We got down into the station and found there was single-tracking going on. We waited for about 20 minutes for a train going in the direction of DC with no luck, so we scratched that plan and got on a train in the direction of Grosvenor. We went back to the car, loaded up the bikes, and drove to our hotel in DC. We were staying in DC overnight because we had a Mystics game to attend that night and then we were having brunch with my friend Mandy and others the next morning. It didn't make sense to go back to Frederick only to come back the next morning. Once we got checked in, we had just enough time to get showered before we headed out for the Mystics game.

So, our big plan to ride into DC was scrubbed, but I'm fine with that. It ended up being that the tube Alyssa replaced my flat one with had a hole in it, so my tire had gone flat by the next morning anyway. I took all of this as a sign from above that we didn't need to be riding our bikes that weekend.

This past weekend, Alyssa had plotted out a 40 mile ride near the beach in Delaware, but the weather was not very cooperative. There were some pretty nasty storms throughout the area and we had to scrub the 40 miler when it was obvious we were going to be facing a gullywasher sooner rather than later. We still managed to get in about 17 miles before we had to cede to the might of Mother Nature.

I had been excited about riding in Delaware because I knew it would be flat. I'm not anti-hill, but one of my biggest concerns about doing a century is that, well, it's 100 miles. That's a long time for me to have my, uh, ladybits sitting on a bike seat. So while it's important to be ready for climbing some fairly formidable hills on the Challenge, I really wanted to pack in some long rides on flat roads to get used to being on a bike for an extended period of time. What I neglected to realize about riding on flat terrain is that I have to pedal a lot. At least with hills, there's a downhill part. With flat roads, you're just constantly pedaling. It's not a bad thing, but it is something I didn't really think about. I daresay it was...a little bit boring. The one cool thing is that I looked down at my Garmin and realized Alyssa and I had been averaging about 18-19MPH for a few miles. Of course, that was when we had a very short-lived tail wind. Most of the ride was spit with a very hateful headwind and demoralizing crosswinds. But we made it through - and without being struck by lightning!

Our jerseys shipped yesterday and we will have them in our hot little hands by Thursday!