Friday, August 28, 2009

Philly Phase Two - The Ride

The most exhilarating 20 miles followed by the most grueling 80 miles ever.

The alarm clock came early on Sunday morning and getting five riders and five bikes out the door on time wasn't easy. We put our bib numbers on, got suited up and had a traditional Frost pre-competition breakfast. Scrambled Spaghetti. Just as it sounds, boil up some pasta, scramble up some egg whites, mix it all together and douse with a crazy amount of parmesan cheese. Great taste, plus a great protein to carb mix. Ahh, it was just like we were at a USS swim meet decades ago. Anyway, we made it to the lobby on time and were ready to roll.Our captain Elden wore the number 247 when he crashed out of the Leadville 100 two weeks ago so I was hoping my extra 7 was good luck.Uhhh...I hope I'm not forgetting anything, like a bike.Numbered up and ready to go.You like? Very Nice! Me doing my best Borat impression sans thong.It wasn't even light out yet, but my prescription sunglasses were the only way I could see.

The Roll Out

So we met as a complete team at the hotel opting to ride the 5 miles to the start line together. It was a nice way to start the day. Since our team raised the most money we had the distinct honor of being able to start the race at the very front. This was one of the reasons that we headed out together cause we didn't want any Fatties left behind. Well, about halfway to the start, we realized that we were short about half of our team. Chad and I were in the middle and hung way back to tell the back part of the group when to turn. We waited and waited and waited until we couldn't wait anymore. The front half of the group was now out of sight and the back half was still no where to be seen. As neither Chad nor I had any clue how to get to the start line, we couldn't wait any longer and now had the pleasure of racing to catch up with the front group so we didn't miss any turns. We caught up no problem and without wasting too much energy. Finally at the starting line we had a few nervous moments as Clint was in the back group and had yet to arrive. Finally we saw a bunch of Fatties roll in, Clint included, so we were ready.

Ready to wait.

The start of the ride was pushed back about a half hour because of the sheer size of the event, so now we had some time for our legs to get tight and our minds to get apprehensive. Great. The time flew by though and before I knew it they were staging us at the front and announcing the start of the race.

Before I get into this I should outline the plan that we, the Frost group, had talked about before the ride. Since Team Fatty was so big, and to have some order at the start, Philly Jen devised a 3 category start. The A group would line up at the very front. They would not stop at the first rest stop and would travel without a sweep at the fastest speed. Behind them the B group would line up. They also wouldn't have a sweep, there pace would be a little slower and they would stop at all rest stops. And finally the C group would be the slowest, have a sweep, someone riding clean up basically, and would stop and enjoy every rest stop.

After talking about it, we decided to roll out in the very front with the A group. This is a no brainer for Chad as he is an A rider. Clint, Todd and myself however, are not really A riders, but we felt we didn't need to stop at the first rest stop and plus, how often do you get a chance like this really. Eventually we'd slow up and find our own pace. So there we were, lined up in front, ready to go.

The energy was awesome. We were all really excited and very eager to just start turning the pedals. Then with a few words from the MC and a blow of the horn we were off. The first couple hundred yards were strait with fencing on either side and a couple speeds bumps in the road, but as soon as we turned onto the real road it exploded. Like thoroughbreds released from the gates, we shot out. Team Fatty was on the move.

There were a ton of bikes, and Chad was up ahead. He looked back to find me and Clint and when he did, he gave a quick and simple, "Come on". With that, we understood that it was time to go and to follow him. We mashed the pedals, followed him through some bike traffic and then suddenly there wasn't anymore traffic. We were at the front. Two pacelines had formed, Chad leading the one on the left and our Captain, Elden "Fatty" Nelson leading the right. It was surreal. He we were flying, going well over 25 mph, with the likes of Chris Carmichael, Lance's coach, Lance's good friend College, and about 6000 others behind us and the police escort ahead of us.

It wasn't too long before we heard the first of many "Go Fatties!!!". I looked up and there was my beautiful wife Becky and Katie, Todd's wife, going bananas for us. What a great feeling, they truly were the best spectators we could have asked for. Throughout the day, they became pretty well known along the course, cheering for everyone, but maybe a bit louder for Team Fatty.

In cycling people take turns "pulling" in front because the lead position has the toughest job of breaking through the wind and leading the pack, so after awhile, Chad pulled out to let the man behind him take a turn pulling the whole group. That man happened to be my other brother Clint. It was so awesome. Clint took up the lead position like a champ and Chad slipped in behind me. A few minutes later, Clint was ready to give someone else a turn and when he pulled off, it was my turn to take a pull. I hit the pedals hard to get up to where he had just been, and then there I was, leading the entire 6000+ person ride. Elden was to my right, still pulling the right paceline but the only thing ahead of me was the police motorcycle and pace car. It was a great experience. I looked down a couple times to read the speedometer saying anywhere from 25 to 29 mph.

I had never pulled in a huge group like this, and while it was an exhilaration experience, it certainly was much, much tougher than being in the pack. To keep up that speed I was working pretty hard. Plus, for some reason, when it was my turn to pull, we started hitting some rolling hills. Nothing major and with our head of steam going, we could power through the downhill and carry enough momentum to get up the short roller in the top gear, but it was no longer flat and I could tell. After a few minutes, my turn was up and I pulled off to the side. My time at the very front was over.

I slipped back into the pack and we continued to roll at a pretty blistering speed. It's hard to describe the feeling of riding so close, with so many other riders, going so fast. I imagine it's as close as humans can get to swimming in a very fast school of fish. The whole group kind of ebbs and flows as it speeds through the streets and around corners.

The streets were narrower now, with lots of sharp lefts followed by sharp rights. And the hills kept getting a little bit bigger. Clearly I couldn't keep this up for the whole race, and after a couple good hills, I was getting dropped off the back. A couple times I powered through it to catch back up the the group but then it was clear that I'm wasting my energy and that the next time I go off, I should just stay off. And like that, I was riding alone. The lead group blasted up another hill, but I just kept on my pace and watched them pull away. Clint was still hanging on with the group, and Chad was still leading it probably, but my time was up. It was the most fun I'd ever had a bike, and probably the fastest 20 or so miles I'd ever do.

It was weird to go from the lead pack flying through the course to being pretty much alone. We had led out so fast that even though there were 6000 people behind me, no one was anywhere in sight. Besides a couple other stragglers that got dropped, the race was no where to be found. So I pedaled along at a much more sustainable (read slower) pace. The next rest stop was at mile marker 21 and I was there pretty quickly and saw a familiar face. Clint was waiting there for me. He had dropped off the back shortly after I did. We did a quick check at the rest stop for anyone else we knew, but it was clear that Chad didn't stop, Jed if he had stopped was already gone, and Todd was yet to arrive. Clint was eager to roll and so was I since the few minutes we spent there had allowed some of the masses to catch up and the roads we going to be crowded soon.

We took off and got about the business of completing this ride. The next 20 or so miles were pretty uneventful. I had some early cramping issues with my left calve and right hamstring, but more fluids and creative pedaling got me through it. Around mile 35 or 40 another mini paceline, maybe 8 guys, formed and again I got my turn pulling. It's fun, and I even got a "nice pull" from a guy in line as I slipped in the back when I was done. Around mile 40, stopping to say hi to our fans.
But really from then on the ride became about making it from one rest stop to the next. I was pretty tired at this point and this course, ask anyone who rode it, was much more challenging than anticipated. It was relentless hills, followed by fast descents. There was never any long flat road, you were either heading up or heading down. The real test came around mile 59. The longest hardest hill I've ever seen.

It started with a sign that said next rest stop one mile. Normally a good sign to see, but like 50 feet later another sign warned that that mile, was all uphill. I wish I had pictures of these signs cause they were almost as cruel as the hill. Every couple hundred feet there was another sign, telling me how tough it was going to be or how it was still a long way to go. And tough it was. I could barely make the pedals go around in my lowest gear. I was probably only going 5-7 mph which makes for a very long mile. Do the math, if I was going 5 mph it would take me 20 minutes to climb this one stupid long, stupid steep hill. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to physically endure, and 20 minutes felt like 2 hours. About halfway up a guy in a full on devil costume, horns, pitchfork and all, said the top was 50 meters around the next corner.

The devil lied.

I got around the corner and the end was still no where in sight. The anger might have helped me get through it and finally I could see the top. At this point there were some spectators that apparently like to watch people suffer, but they cheered us to the top. When I finally made it up, I legit felt like crying. It was so amazing to have that behind me and to have made it up without stopping or getting off my bike. The rest stop at the top was pretty sweet too. Clint was there waiting for me, he had made it as well and was in the process of refueling. We enjoyed that rest stop, tried to cool off, but after some quick food and drink, we moved on to get this thing over with.

We didn't stop at the next rest station cause it was pretty soon after the one we were just at, so we kept plugging along. The rest stop after that was at the 80 mile mark, and we now felt like we were really getting close to finishing it. This rest stop is where we met back up with Todd as well. He had been motoring along on his own, barely stopping at the rest stops and had caught up to Clint and I. It was great to see him and to see how well he was doing. Now we'd get to ride the last 20 together.Around mile 85, Clint, myself, and Todd

The last 20 miles was a blur of heat, sweat and slow hills. I was asking a lot of my body that day, and the first 20 miles at race pace, and this crazy midday heat were really wearing me down. We had been on the bikes for over 5 hours now and the finish wasn't going to come easy. I kept telling myself that if I just keep pedaling, at some point it'll have to be over. We stopped at the last rest stop meaning that we only had 9 miles to go. We got some ice bags for our heads to try and cool our core body temp down, and refilled our water bottles. With that we took off and the next stop was the finish line.

The three of us rolled down the finishing corral 3 wide and crossed triumphantly together. Fatty was waiting to shake our hands as he was doing for all 170+ team members. He's quite a guy. Chad was also waiting for us. He had finished about an hour ahead of us, and we learned that he stayed with the lead 5 guys until mile 70! At that point, College dropped the hammer and Chad thought it best to finally hit his first rest stop of the day and wait for us. He waited over 45 min and we still hadn't showed, so he finished the race on his own.

Becky was also there waiting. She was happy to see us and got all these good pictures that you've been seeing.

One of the smartest things I did all weekend was add another night to our hotel stay. That meant we had a place to go after the ride to wash up and such. So after a post race meal and beer, we headed back to the hotel. Clint, Chad, Jed and Laura (Laura did the 40 mile ride and did a great job), got cleaned up and the got in the car to drive back to Boston that night. Total troopers those guys. Beck and I headed out with Todd and Katie and some fellow Fatties to grab a bite, but then retired to the room pretty early and passed out.

So Philly LIVESTRONG Challenge 2009 is in the history books. We all had a blast and did it while raising money for a very worthy cause. It's safe to say that we're all doing it again next year and can't wait. We were pretty much brainstorming and planning for 2010 in the car back to the hotel.

Thanks again to all who supported me. It was wonderful and your generosity touched me. I won't forget it and you should pat yourself on the back for helping fight this imperative cause.

Thanks and Love,


P.S. More pictures from the race to be posted soon. And check back as I transition from cycling to running while I prepare for the 2009 New York City Marathon on November 1st.

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