And so, we were off. Like a herd of turtles. The first chute out of the parking lot is a slow affair, but I am fine with that because low-speed crashes rarely cause major damage. Patfish, Paul and I rode out together, onto the streets of Montgomery County. There is a moment where, as you start out, you want to do the entire ride as quickly as possible. You can always tell the first-timers by their enthusiasm and how quickly they go out of the gates. As an experienced rider, I remembered to hold back a little and just ride at a steady, somewhat restrained pace.
The first couple of miles are surprisingly difficult. Your body needs to remember how to ride, and until that happens, you actually feel winded. It's a little disconcerting, to be sucking for oxygen in the first couple of miles, but I have been to this rodeo before. My body started to settle in, and Pat and Paul and I fell into a nice, easy cadence.
The weather was absolutely beautiful. In fact, I was actually a little chilled for the first couple of miles, and unusual feeling for the LiveSTRONG event. The first couple of years I did it, the weather went to triple digits, with what had to be more than 90% humidity. We have also ridden in lightning storms, windy conditions, and a torrential downpour that caused a crash in the hills. By contrast, it was slated to be in the mid-70s, and I was ecstatic. This was, hands-down, the best weather we have EVER had.
The course starts with a series of rolling hills and we rolled up and down those hills. We talked about Paul's huge transformation from pudgy, out of shape guy to marathon-running, healthy-eating, clean living dad. We talked about Pat's kids, the coolest twins on the planet. It was good to reconnect with them in this venue. One of the things I realized last year was just how lonely the training regimen is for LiveSTRONG. There are a lot of empty miles on the road, getting into shape for an event of this magnitude. This year, I didn't train nearly as hard, and I was using this easy time at the beginning of the ride to decide whether to ride the 45 mile course or the 70 mile course. I knew I would pay for it on the ride (and especially AFTER the ride, if I went for the longer ride).
The way it's laid out, you get to checkpoints and you can decide how you feel, and if you want to go left for the shorter course or right for the longer course. Additionally, each time you take the longer course, it also gets progressively harder with longer and steeper climbs. Paul was asking me about the 100 mile course, and I was thinking about how best to temper some of that enthusiasm, so I explained the course options and then simply told him to take a wait and see attitutde at each of the checkpoints.
We got to the first refueling station and I needed to get water and Gatorade. In my haste to get everything squared away at the beginning of the ride, I hadn't made the time to fill my bottles. Still, I knew there was a station in the first fifteen miles and that I could borrow from Pat or Paul if I got into trouble. I did not need to do that, so I quickly got my liquids squared away, grabbed a banana and a peanut butter sandwich, and we got back on the bike. My experience has taught me to eat early in the event, because it's harder to eat as the day goes on. The banana has potassium which helps prevent cramps later on, so I made sure to eat that.
As always, the volunteers were AWESOME! It takes hundreds of people to put on an event like this, and the simple act of cutting bananas, making sandwiches and mixing Gatorade has not gone unnoticed. I always make a point of thanking the volunteers, because their support is so critical to this event.
Another on of my favorite things is the spectators that come out to cheer on the riders. They are so enthusiastic, and it is simply contagious. Even better is when an entire family comes out to cheer us on. My buddy Kurt makes BUTNZ! (check him out at www.butnz.com) with the Team Fish logo and we toss them out along the course. The volunteers love them, and Pat, Paul and I also make a point of tossing them to the kids.
Off we went, riding forward. Always forward. I like to ask other riders what brings them to the event. At one point, I met up with Dave, a two-year colon cancer survivor. We talked about our experience and he asked my how I knew I had cancer. I told him my story, how the doctor had found a lump after I had told him I was having some pain. I thought it was simply due to riding too much, but then I found that was not the case and my whole life changed. He told me how he felt that he was not urinating properly, that something just seemed "off" and so he decided to go see his doctor. It probably saved his life. He is my age, so routine checkups were still five years away. It would have been too late. We lamented how men in particular seem to be reluctant to go to the doctor when things seem wrong. He talked about how many men he has talked into going to see the doctor.
If something seems OFF, GO SEE A DOCTOR. Please!