Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Livestrong Challenge 2009 Summary *The Directors Cut!

On the front of the map that showed the directions for the ride I was to take the next day read, "Are you ready for a Challenge?". One thing I did notice was the total climbing elevation moved from 1600 some odd feet to 1700 some odd feet. I had no clue what I was about to undertake in less than 24 hours.

I was so proud picking up my packet and they made me feel absolutely wonderful about the money I raised. Cowboy and Lorax went out to pick up the packet with us. They wore their "Team Mascot" and "Team Captain" T-shirts. It was a family event! :o)

#569 was going to be what I wore and we paused for photos. My LIVESTRONG Challenge T-shirt as well as everyone elses reads, "Game On Cancer", I think that is well put! We kept it low key the rest of the day, to recover from the long drive up in the sheets of pouring rain thanks to Bill the hurricaine. It was still kinda soggy when I picked up my packet, but the rain eased up through the day and dried the ground some.

We slept through Tammy's alarm, but woke up to mine. This started us off 15 minutes later than we had planned. I ate breakfast and we were off. I was worried I would be late and relieved to find that I had plenty of time. In fact I ended up standing and waiting with everyone else in the bike corral. As I put my tire on once we got there, I noticed my breakfast was still in my throat and that my nervous tummy had come back. Oy vey, it was about to be a long morning I was afraid.

Wheels on, I took a spin around the lot to make sure all the bike parts were working correctly and checked out the porta-potty situation. I hate those things, they are some sort of torture device. Spun back to Tammy to finish getting ready and stand in line of the porta potties, wishing I did not have to. Breakfast is still in my throat, it might have even moved up some.

So Tammy stood with me in the bike corral taking pictures. If you look at them, I look terrified in most of them. That would about sum it up. I was also wondering when my breakfast was going to move the rest of the way down. Everyone is milling around and talking, meeting up with friends, talking, and waiting. I did not have a thing to talk about, I was stuck in my head and wondering what I was about to encounter. Poor Tammy was standing there patiently. Then quietly a voice comes over the speakers, different from the guy talking and giving us start time updates. "Oh say does that star spandled..." and a hush goes across the parking lots.

Then we all cheered and sent off the 100 mile group. It contained a guy on a fixed gear to ride the whole 100 miles, more power to him, I enjoyed my granny gear. It also had a professional cyclist, Jason Powell who rides with Team Jelly Belly. I thought that was pretty cool, to take time off to help raise money and ride in an event to help fight cancer. 70 mile group rolled out next, I have no clue how some of the ones on the mountain bikes did in that group. It seemed to have less in that group than the 100 or the 45. Not sure why.

Then we were rolling out. It was slow going for the first 5 miles at least because we were all there on top of each other. You couldn't look around much, because everyone was weaving in and out and trying to get situated and find their friends. The first "power stop" came up around mile 10. I did not see Tammy, which was also the first cheer station location. So I kept going so that the crowd could thin out and the friends I had met were skipping this stop. Sadly they dropped me around mile 12, on a long two mile steady climb and a cross street that I had to wait for. The event is not a race so the course was not closed to cars, though there were wonderful police officers all along the course at streets intersections.

Jim and Karen were the first two people I rode with and started talking to. They were riding in honor of a friend who had an intestinal cancer that had spread throughout their body. Their friend had multiple surgeries and had many organs and parts of organs removed, along with chemotherapy. They said that they went into remission this summer and was riding the 20 mile ride. As I said shortly after the first "power stop", they dropped me, I wish I had not been dropped, becuase the next eight miles were tough.

When the terrain is tough, you feel really lonely. This was when the climbing started. The rains the previous two days put a lot of rocks, debris and silt in the road, making it hard to utilize the downhills. Not to mention the downhills were twisty and around corners. It made the uphills tough, becuase you had no momentum to help you up the hill. I passed a really bad accident and was afraid of what news was being relayed back to the people waiting. So on a really tough hill, I hopped off, switched my bottles around, cause one was empty and one cage is easier to get to. I told Tammy I was not at second power stop yet, but doing ok, toughest ride I had ever done.

As I rolled into "power stop 2", I had tears in my eyes. That was the toughest milage I had put on my bike and I was only at mile 21 and more climbing to go. Being grateful for our new riding crew, even told Tammy if we had not riden with them, I would have already been in a SAG van.

Tammy met me at that "power stop", I was ever so glad to see her, with a hug, a banana and peanut butter. The 100 and 70 mile groups did not leave much by the time I got there. I think the hug was the most valuable thing! :o) I had to make a minor bike repair so I was there for a few minutes longer than I had planned. Talked to an athletic trainer from the Philadelphia area that said she was glad we got the rain, cause it had been terribly hot until that day. I said, it has been really cool in Roanoke, VA, so this was hot. LOL! We're in the south.

I headed out on the second half of the ride. Little did I know that the next 3 miles was going to be an uphill climb, with a steep decent and more climbing. It was not an easy climb either and really started to see people hik-a-bike, especially the ones riding on a hybrid or moutain bike. And God bless the ones that did 45 miles on a hybrid or a mountain bike, because a road bike makes it 50% easier to ride. Trust me, it makes a difference.

It was amazing at the end of the 3 1/2 mile climb was a family out giving the riders water. I had just hiked-a-bike up that hill, cause well, my legs were burning after the first three mile climb, then a short descent and then another 1/2 mile up. I made it up most of that hill, but wanted to finish and did not know what was ahead and my thighs were on fire! This family was so sweet, their 7ish year old daugther looked like she was splashing herself with water and very proud to have carried a bag of ice all the way out to the road. It was a "surprise generous power stop" with ICE COLD WATER. They were very gernerous. They said this was their 3rd year doing it and had it down pretty good, the first year was a little rough going.

I climbed back on and met Lela from Fairfax, VA. We chatted for a few miles, trying to help each other out through the rest of it. She was in a breast cancer pink ribbon jersey and her bib said she was riding in honor of her Mama. As we talked I learned that she her Mother has been diagnosed four times with breast cancer and Lela has set out to start organizing a "Dog Walk" for breast cancer in Fairfax. Sadly, I lost her on a hill in a very hot section so I do not have any other details. Maybe I will be able to find out more for you in the future. I wish her and her mother well and sorry we were not able to finish together.

I could not believe it when I finally made it to the 3rd "power stop" that it was only 25 miles. OMG! That last few miles were tough! There was a tub of ice and part melted ice, that I wanted to sit in. It looked like it would feel really good!!! By now the sun was super hot, so I picked up bite of bagel, filled up my bottles and got a towel to help dry my face. Saddled up and headed out. At this time we started to see people pull off with really bad leg cramps, stomach cramps and heat fatigue.

Somewhere after the 3rd stop I ran into Rob and Jason with Team Fatty ( Fatty's wife Susan is fighting cancer. I found out while riding with Jason he had done an interview with Fatty at and possibly the only voice interview he has done. Jason was riding an Xtracycle. Good God knows how he made it through carrying all of that extra bike. Well I was carrying a lot of extra person, maybe it was the same. Though his bike even had nobby tires, which cuts down a lot on the drift factor. We chatted for a while and learned that we both have family dropping like flies from cancer. Though our odds are increasing in my family and so far everyone is holding their own. :o)

At the top of one hill that most people climbed there was a chap sitting on the guard rail. He was talking about how tough this route was this year. He said last years was tough, but this one is tougher. He said Lance Armstrong was at the 2008 Philly LIVESTRONG Challenge and said it was to easy. This guy had participated in all of the Philly Challenges so far and this was the toughest. I do not know if Lance really said all of that, but it had already been the toughest ride I had done. There were more hills to come. I had learned early on that LIVESTRONG Challenge is correctly named.

Then after another long one mile climb there was another family out there. It is amazing the generousity people have to use their money to buy cups and ice and sit out there in the heat to give us ice and water. They filled bottles with that priceless water solid!!!! I wanted to sit in their cooler, but did not think the hips would make it through the top, then it would have just been awkard. So I did not ask. I climbed back on the saddle and finished that hill. Very grateful for my icy cup of chilly goodness in my bottle!

Around 15 miles to the finish there was a family that set a gallon of water out and some cups. They sat on the porch cheering everyone on and telling us we were doing a good job. I did not stop there, I had a good momentum going up the hill and did not want to stop, but thought it was kind just the same.

Let me tell you about the people on the side of the roads. It was neat to experience people out cheering you on, that have no clue who you are, but they offered an amazing amount of encouragement. One woman stood out there with this huge triangle, it was bigger than her head and had to weigh a ton. She clanged around that triangle, as we rode by. Lots of cow bells too! Thank you to each of you!

Finally at the last "power stop", about 10 miles out. I was hot. Incredibly hot!!! I was so hot I think I had steam coming off as I drank water outta the cooler. A lot of people had started to leave in SAG vans after the 25 mile stop from exhaustion, overheated and injury. Some had popped tires or other bike issues.

There were two really bad accidents that required an ambulance. That was sobering. I was extra careful after the first one and extra-extra careful after the second, because it was in a steep descent.

At that last stop, Tammy said you're still standing, I'm seeing lots of people coming in, in a SAG van, you're doing great, keep going. I filled up my bottles and headed back out. Cheered Lela as she rolled in to the "power stop". I figured that at this point if the bike fell apart or something happened I could walk across the finish line but I was going to finish by golly. I got tears in my eyes, because it had been a tough ride and I knew more inclines were ahead, though not steep hills, but knew I was going to finish.

I did not get off the bike any more, except for a few stop lights. Had trouble getting on at one light, my back was tightening up and it spasmed as I climbed back on the saddle. That startled me, so I timed the next lights so I would not have to get off the bike. About three miles to the finish I talked to a couple of medics that rode the whole 45 miles with big hot back packs on. They were nice and kinda funny, I had been riding alone again since the last "power stop", so it was nice to talk to someone. Like I said, when you're hot and it is tough, it gets lonely.

We were all starting to get excited cause we were at the finish line. One gal said ok, my odometer says 45 miles, I'm stopping here, send the shuttle. One guy said here we go, we're in the home stretch. Then as a police car comes flying up the street behind us, I shouted back that he was going to fast and needed to slow down. We laughed. It was that kind of excited chatter you have when you have just done something you did not think you would make it through.

Then I saw the stop light at the Montgomery Community College sign. I got one huge lump in my throat along with a big goofy grin!!! I have to say the past 45 miles had been incredibly tough, I was surprised to have to walk up some of the hills (something I'll work on this next year) and I questioned if I was going to make it a couple of times. I was hot, my body was tired, I was hot, hungry and AMAZINGLY proud!!!

Riding down the shoot of yellow with balloons all lined with people cheering you as you finished. I saw Tammy and smiled really big, unable to hold back the lump at that point. Gliding across the finish line with a big grin on my face and a full cup pour out!!! I quickly found Tammy and gave her a big hug.

A very nice volunteer was there offering cold water. The volunteers were amazing and many volunteered many years. One gal giving us food had LIVESTRONG tatooed on her wrist when her Dad died of cancer. She hads volunteered every year. They all had smiles and were quick to help out. Thank you to each and everyone of you, without you, it could not have happened!!! Oh and I don't want to forget Dylan, at the Lance Armstrong Foundation Headquarters who answered a lot of endless questions and helped me with a lot of stuff in preparation.

If there was a hiccup, the participants did not experience it. It was the most rewarding and unforgettable experience I have ever had.

I also owe an amazing huge thank you to Tammy!!! Who without her, I would not have been able to go to Philly. She stood and waited a lot Sunday in the blazing sun, she took pictures and was patient as I nervously waited before the ride. She was there to help me get the bike put away and get into comfortable shoes, peal the gloves off and stand patiently by my side. She was even patient when I insisted that I had to go through the cool mist tent. Let me tell you, that the cool mist tent was amazing!!! I had never been so hot that I wanted to sit in a bath of ice. Yet she stood smiling and taking pictures. She is amazing and I look forward to riding with her in the 2010 LIVESTRONG Challenge.

Thank you to everyone that donated, I was able to raise $1,145! That is really good!! Just so you know, I did not make my goal and I plan to make that goal for the 2010 LIVESTRONG Challenge. That goal is $2500, so be ready!

I really cannot recommend enough that you try a LIVESTRONG Challenge. I have participated in many cancer fundraising events before. This is the first time that I have felt like my achievements have made a difference and that I actually acheived something and that they were appreciated. They really make you feel great about everything that you do. It is truely an unforgetable experience. Be sure to plan to participate next year,, I'll see you in Philly if you go there, because there are four cities to choose from and many different events, even a walk.



  1. Huzzah! It was great to ride with you part of the way. And I'll be posting the audio I recorded soon, so you can hear how strong you sounded 2/3 of the way through the race.

    Peace and love,

    Jason from

  2. Look forward to hearing it. I'm surprised I made any sense, I was zonked! While I was riding after that I wondered if it made as much sense coming out as it did in my head. haha!
    Peace and joy,

  3. Wow Rhonda. I finally got a chance to read this post. I was able to keep from crying until I saw that pic of you. :) I have so much respect for you and I'm so happy that you have Tammy. She is such a great example of how a spouse is supposed to support us (or us them). I've learned so much from both of you. Great job!