Last weekend was the Livestrong Challenge in Austin. My buddy Ed came with. It took 28 hours to drive to Austin (4 hour nap, 3 hours at dad's in Dallas). We left at 10 pm on Thursday night and arrived at 2 a.m. on Saturday. That was a little too close to the start time for Saturday's 5K run, so I elected to play it safe and skip the run. We drove into Austin around 11:30 a.m. to get our packets for Sunday's ride and, while stopped at a stop light, Lance Armstrong rode through the intersection with a group of about 30 riders. (The very high dollar fundraisers...) We picked up our packets, etc. and I noticed they had "In memory of" cards that you could write on and pin to your cycling kit. I filled one out for Grandpa and really had to fight back the tears. It was a little overwhelming. I also filled out a card for Jeanne's Aunt Toni.
We wandered around the Expo center and I picked up some Livestong gear. For my fundraising efforts the Lance Armstrong Foundation gave me a water bottle, a dry fit hat, a very nice messanger bag and a cycling jersey. The jersey is being shipped later since they were out of my size. Pretty cool that they ran out of them since they are only given to those who raise $2,500 or more. Despite all the shwag that I received, I couldn't resist buying a Livestrong cycling kit (jersey and bib shorts) to ride in on Sunday, a hat for Gibson (with a matching one for me), and a shirt for Chloe.
On the way to Austin, one of my co-worker's e-mailed and told me her son works for Lance in his bike shop (Mellow Johnny's) and other capacities. We got in touch with Ted on Saturday after packet pickup and he gave us a nice tour of the facilities, including the new Teeam Radio Shack service center. Mellow Johnny's is by far the coolest bike shop I have ever been to -- although most bike shops don't have 7 yellow jerseys from the Tour de France, bikes ridden by Lance, George Hincappe and others, etc. There was much shwag purchased at the shop. Thanks to facebook, a photo of Gibson in his Mellow Johnny's shirt and Lance Armstrong foundation hat is getting a lot of views on the internet. My buddy Ed and I also went to the coffee shop attached to the shop, Juan Pelota. (You see Juan sounds like "one" and pelota is spanish for ball... testicular cancer survivors can be pretty funny with their self chosen nicknames.)
Ed and I had dinner in a nice, laid back Austin eatery on its front porch. Austin is a cool city and I wish we had more time to explore it.
Sunday we had to get up early to drive 35 miles West of Austin for the start of the ride. We got there, geared up and made our way to the start. Most of the riders there were signed up for the 90 mile ride. I think the official number of riders was around 3,800. We were in the back of the 90 mile riders area. Lance spoke for a few moments before the start and I noticed he was wearing the same Livestrong kit I has on. (I know, I know, who copied who...) Then the teams that raised the most money ($700,000 and $200,000 respectively) were allowed to start first. Once we were rolling it took about ten minutes to get to the starting line.
The first several miles were really slow due to the number of riders on the road. We got moving ok around the 3 or 4 mile mark and continued until the first rest stop (15 miles). We spent too much time at the stop, partly because it was so busy. Then we were riding again. The course wasn't too difficult at this point and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped again at the next rest stop (25 miles). Again, we probably spent too much time at this stop. Bottles filled up and food in our jersey pockets we took off again.
This is where the course became more challenging. The hills started rolling, each at approximately 6% grade. Up, down, up, down. I was loving it. I had been afraid of the hills coming into the event, since my training routes are mostly flat. However, I seemed to really do well on the hills, smoothly powering over them without much effort. Ed started having a hard time. Several times I unintentionally opened up a large gap on him and had to wait for him to catch back up. The hills were not kind to Ed. I started to get concerned that we might not make the cut off for the 90 mile course, since we had to reach the 37 mile mark before 11 a.m. or we would be re-routed to the 65 mile course. I didn't have a watch with me, and didn't know the exact time. Also, despite the stops and the difficulty Ed was having, I couldn't believe we wouldn't cover 37 miles in 3 hours. I forgot to take into account that the event started late, it took 10 min. to get to the starting line, the first several miles were really slow, the time we spent in the rest stops, etc.
At about 35 miles I was really worried and jetted ahead to see if we could make the cut-off. No luck. The cop made it very clear, we missed it by approx. 20 min. I was really bummed. When Ed rode up I explained I needed to crush the second half of the course and went ahead. All my 75 to 100 mile training rides at 18 to 20 MPH were done in anticipation of riding 90 miles on this day. Since I couldn't do 90, I was going to smoke the last section of the course. I flew off, solo, and was flying at about 24 MPH on a flat section about a mile up the road when the back tire on my bike started to feel soft. I know that feeling -- flat tire. I pulled over and started changing the tire. Twenty minutes later, after struggling to get more than 40 lbs. of pressure into the tire with my small stick pump, a support vehicle came with a full size pump. With the tire now at 105 psi, I was back on my way.
This section of the course was brutal. There were several large hills. One in particular was a sustained 15% incline for several hundred yards. Many people were off their bikes walking up the hill. Others were zig-zaging from side to side to try and ride up. Once again I was shocked with how I handled the hill. I dropped into my climbing gear and started spinning hard. I never dropped below 10 MPH on the hill and got over it in good shape. I had fun attacking all the hills on this section of the course, and found myself routinely flying by good riders on the up hills. They would always pass me on the downhills, where I was being cautious, but I would get them on the next hill (and repeat and repeat). After passing a particular rider on about 10 hills in a row, I received a nice compliment on my climbing ability and a comparison to Eddie Merckx. Since I didn't have any hill training or experience I like to think Grandpa arranged for a tail wind to help me up the hills.
The downhills were crazy. I hit 42 MPH on one, while holding my back break to make sure I didn't go faster! My good ride continued all the way to the finish. After failing to cover the first 37 miles at an average speed of 12 MPH (stops included) I was able to cover the last 28 miles at an average speed of 18.8 MPH. That far exceeded my expectations.
After the ride, we ate, checked out the post race festivities and got in the car to head home. We left around 3 p.m. on Sunday. Food, gas and a two hour rest stop nap were our only stops on the way home -- but it still took a while. We got home at 5 p.m. on Monday evening.
All in all, it was a great experience and I am really proud of my ride. I am planning to go back next year (more of a personal journey without all the public fundraising efforts). Next year I will flying there... and intend to destroy the 90 mile course.
My photos are at www.gnat-man.com/livestrong2009/index.htm