Well, the Ride Day has come and gone and aside from my knees being on fire, I'm feeling pretty good about everything.
So, here's the story ...
Parking and Check-in was a bit of a backed-up nightmare. I had to park about 3 miles out from the actual race site, so I, and many others, unloaded and then had to ride in to the check-in tent. Some registration confusion meant that I wasn't able to upgrade my ride like I had thought I might (although had I known how lax the starting/finish line reps were I could've just stepped right in). Got the paperwork done, pinned on my number and headed up to the starting gates to watch some of the more experienced riders get their send off.
They called up all the 25 mile riders to the line and off I went. Sat about midpack for the announcements and started checking out some of the other riders. It was amazing to see such a mix of ability and bikes, everything from a 10year old on a Target bought Huffy, to a team of women on matching race bikes that easily cost more than my car.
There's the bell and off we go.
The beginning pack is a bit of a mess and its tough to struggle through the various riders. People don't hold a line, others try to rush through the crowd. I fell back a bit to let things open up and by the first 1/2 mile I found a nice groove and started making my way forward.
I gained a ton of ground early and moved very close to the front of the pack.
And then it was mile 2.
And there was a hill.
And it never seemed to stop.
I cleared the top and shook my head in dis-belief. Was this REALLY what I signed up for? I know the area of the race is hilly, but C'MON MAN?!? ..
Ok, nice gentle descent, hold my position and get ready for the next few hills...
Luckily they were much gentler and more manageable and I was building confidence as I tackled each one.
Mile 6 and I'm getting passed by some of the more dedicated and experienced riders and its getting a bit discouraging. Now, I'm riding a fairly entry level hybrid bike, and the riders that were passing me were on some nice road bikes which makes a huge difference. But, still, I've been training, I'm used to my bike, and I thought I was stronger than this. Like I said, frustrating.
Mile 8 and I come up to the first Rest Stop. Everyone that has passed me is there drinking water and catching their breath. Ha! I blow right on by with a wave and my confidence soars. Get a quick swig of gatorade off my downtube and I pick up the pace a bit.
Mile 12 and its half way time. A few more short climb-plateau-short climb-plateaus later and I'm back into a nice BIG downhill. First time I have ever gone over 30 mph on my bike and its a bit of a rush and a scare all at the same time.
Mile 14, Rest Stop 2, blow bit it as well and try to give it a bigger push and catch my second wind.
Mile 15, My left knee starts burning like someone is driving a hot spike through it. This is a recurring problem and I normally push through it. Pushed through it here as well, but its definitely making a difference in my ride now.
Mile 18 Pass the 3rd and final Rest Stop and back up to near the front of the pack. I hook up with a group of 3 other riders that seem to be riding at about the same pace and ability level as me and we form up into a draft line. One guy drops out when he can't hold his line and I make a play for the front. I tried shifting and pushing too hard at the same time and the chain drops off my bike forcing me off to the side of the road for a quick repair. DAMMIT!
Mile 20 catch back up to the draft line, ride to the 2nd position and start picking up pace and, surprisingly, energy. I'm now jazzed for this, check the gps on my handlebars, call out 5 miles to the Beer Tent and we all start laughing a bit.
Right about now we start merging with some of the other riders coming off the 65 and 40 mile loops and traffic gets dense and varied again.
Mile 21. Hell. we literally ride in to Hell. In front of us is a hill that would easily be a ski slope if it wasn't paved. And we are forced to climb. Draft line falls apart. I try to muscle through it and my knee is on fire with every push. Get to a slight bend in the hill and I see that the HILL GETS STEEPER AFTER THE BEND.
Emotional crash. I wobble, slow, but stay on and push. And then I look ahead and off to the side. And I see it. A caravan of riders, of all variety, have all GOTTEN OFF THEIR BIKES AND ARE WALKING UP THE HILL...
I give it one more big push but I am crushed. Telling myself there is no shame since so many others are doing it, I unclip from the peddles, step off the bike and start jogging my way up the hill.
I crest the hill and mount the bike in one big movement, look behind me at some of the riders still trying to make their way up, and I am off.
Its 2.5 miles to the finish and I. WILL. CROSS. STRONG.
Its a push, and a fight. I draft and pass, skipping over other riders like stepping stones. I feel me knee lock up and then give out and I push on.
1 mile to go and I can hear the crowd at the finish. Cowbells. Whistles. the Band. People yelling and laughing and clapping and I can see it. Right there. One, two, three big pedals with all of got and I pass a "Big-Time Racer" dude right at the line.
I coast into the grass and plant the bike. Stepping off, I am surprisingly energetic and happy. I hit the wall and passed it by.
And now I'm off for some of the complimentary pulled pork and beer!
This was an amazing experience for me. And I'm hooked. I'll be doing more rides and posting the stories afterward.
Thank you again to everyone that supported me with either words or donations. The American Diabetes Association appreciates your support and I got to meet many people that live with diabetes and found a few new friends along the way. If any of the pics of me make it back to me I will try to post a few here.
p.s. For anyone who uses the phrase "it's just like riding a bike" to describe how easy something is .. I challenge you to participate in an organized ride. Its not as easy as you might think.