Livestrong Challenge Philadephia Ride Summary

On September 10, 1500+ riders gathered in the parking lot of the Montgomery County Community College for the Philadelphia Livestrong Challenge. There were an additional 1000 or so walkers and runners who would be completing 5K or 10K events. I was lined up about mid-chute with the other 100-mile riders despite the fact I was planning to ride just 70 miles.

When I’d registered for the ride in the icy month of January, I’d had big plans to train like a crazy person and complete the hilly 100-mile ride. After falling a bit short in the training department, I opted for caution and a happy end to the day, and chose to ride the 70.

The start of the ride was fast. Not only was I tucked in with the 100-milers, but I’d been tucked in with the fast 100-milers. The college is located northwest of the city proper, and so the roads were an interesting mix of newer, wider, evenly graded roads, and the old, twisty and choppy hilly roads that had originally been graded by a horse dragging a board behind it. Since I was a bit slower than most, there was a lot of passing going on. There were sections of narrow twisting roads, however, where I had to kick it into high gear in order not to impede the flow of the faster riders.

The first rest stop was a welcome sight because it gave me an opportunity to fuel up, but it also thinned the crowd because I could leave it alone instead of in a group. I gave mom a call to see where she was on the course. She was a bit lost. Unfortunately, the map she had to work with was not very complete as far as cross streets to the course were concerned. I let her off the hook, and told her to head back to the start. It doesn’t always work out to have someone meeting you on the course.

The next section of road started to take us into the city through more established neighborhoods. The roads also became a bit more technical–steeper hills with lots of blind curves with no idea what was at the bottom–very sporting.

The third rest stop (around mile 35) came after a series of hills that jangled my nerves a bit. It was an interesting stop because a couple who were riding the 40-mile ride pulled in and began to harangue the volunteers at the stop. Apparently, they’d gotten off course and wound up back at the stop for the second time. They were not happy because they’d been “within 10 miles of the finish, and now here they were again.” I didn’t stay to listen to the rest of their whining. I did stock up on water, Powerade and ate some Chex mix for the salt, and then I beat feet.

The approach to the center of the city was surprisingly short. The traffic had been building during the ride, but everything is so hilly and green, that you don’t feel like you’re in the city until, all of a sudden, you are.

There was a downhill that freaked me out in the next section of road. It was a short, steep thing with a stoplight and a right turn at the bottom. I had to stop, and the bike really did not want to do so. It was a nervy moment, but it turned out alright. After dodging through traffic a bit, and riding along a row of parked cars, we made a little jog and were on a beautiful 4-lane road called Kelly Drive that ran right along the river into the city. Apparently Kelly Drive is closed off to vehicular traffic for 6 months every year and designated for recreational use only. There were riders, walker, runners, strollers and roller bladers galore enjoying a wide open bit of roadway. It was heavenly.

The road was bordered by park on both sides and there was a clear view of the river. The road was a good 3-5 miles of bliss that dropped us off right in the heart of the city. The course for the 100-mile riders and 70-mile riders had split while I was on Kelly, and I made the 70-mile split, so there weren’t too many other Livestrong riders around.

While riding Kelly Drive, I chatted with a couple of riders wearing numbers for another invitational ride (a ride sponsored by a bike club, but open to anyone). They were members of the sponsoring club which was, I think, the Philadelphia Bicycle Club. They both lived in the area and asked me what the route was like. I told them where I’d started and where I was going, and they groaned on my behalf. I jokingly said, “Oh, so it’s going to be all downhill on the way back.” They chuckled.

I’d dropped in on them in passing, so I went on my merry way. Kelly Drive dumped us out in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. You might remember the staircase out in front of the building because Rocky ran up it in the wee hours of the morning when he was training. There was supposed to be another rest stop at this point, but I didn’t see any sign of it. The course curved back out of the city by taking us up the river on the opposite bank. We were on the bike path with a lot of foot traffic at this point, so it was slow going. The slow going, however, allowed for a bit of site seeing. I even made an impromptu stop at a water fountain to refill the bottle since I had no idea when I would be seeing another rest stop.

While riding the bike path, I did run into another 1 or 2 Livestrong riders, so I knew I was still going the right way. There were route signs, too, so I wasn’t too worried. The route signs were yellow signs with black arrows painted on them posted on tree trunks or whatever was available. I’ve been on other rides that used this method, but it’s far more common to use pavement markings. I think they chose this method because of the rough state of the roads, the high traffic areas and because there was another ride going on in the area. Road markings would have been lost in the chaos, so it was a wise decision.

The return trip on the path was just as long as the trip in on Kelley Road, but it took a while longer because of all the traffic. It was wonderful to see the path put to such heavy use. The boathouses lined the river on that bank as well, so there was additional eye candy in the way of boats. There were a few rowing crews out on the river as well.

The next section of road was the most disappointing of the ride. It was graded for resurfacing, and was all kinds of rough. In addition, it wasn’t flat road so there was a lot of slow grinding on this very rough road and then a big section of fast downhill on the same rough surface. My shoulders, neck and legs instantly ached and I thought the teeth would rattle right out of my head. By comparison, the section of road to follow felt as smooth as ice.

As an aside, I have to mention that the residents of Philly took a real interest in the ride. One gentleman stopped me and asked me what we were riding for. I explained the Lance Armstrong Foundation to him. He mentioned that he’d come out for his morning paper only to discover several signs dotting his lawn. I thanked him for the use of his lawn, and told him that the volunteers would be around at the end of the day to clean up the signs. He wished me luck on the rest of my ride, and I was off again.

A bit farther down the road in the same area, there was a man standing out on his front lawn sipping a beer and watching the riders go by. There was a group ahead of me that was pulling away from me fairly quickly, and he told me to chase on. I told him, “Ha ha, not too likely.”

At this point in the ride I was about 55 miles into the thing and the climbing was kicking into high gear. I pulled into rest stop 7, and there was an ambulance there. There was no emergency, they EMTs were just standing by “in case.” This was not inspirational, but I refueled on some sugar, refilled that water and Powerade again. I took the opportunity to call mom and let her know that I would be about another hour (maybe a little more). I stood around in the shade for a bit collecting myself and getting ready for another push.

There were two more rest stops along the course, but I skipped them both. Not that I couldn’t have used the rest, but I needed to keep moving in order to keep moving.

As we drew closer to the college, there were some areas where the road flattened out to rollers, but it never really got flat. In the last 4 or 5 miles there was a series of a lot of very steep climbs. I looked down at my computer every now and then to see exactly how slow I was going, and the poor thing was only registering about 3 mph. There were people walking some of the hills, and I plodded by them not much faster than they were walking.

One group of riders who were obviously riding together had stopped at the top of a hill to wait for some of their slower teammates. I was going so slow that I was able to gasp out a complete conversation on my approach to their position. I believe my comment was, “I’m as **gasp** slow as **gasp** molasses **gasp** in **gasp** January.”

They offered me encouraging words in response–we were all in the same boat after all, and I was on my way. There was a flurry of shifting up into a bigger gear to try to get a little momentum on the downhill to get me up the next uphill. Their group had come together and they followed me down the downhill, and part of their group passed my on the next uphill, but they came to a stop again at the top to repeat the process.

Eventually, I pulled ahead of them and made it to the college. The parking lot, at least, was fairly level, but there were a few curves in the final approach to keep the riders’ speed down as they came across the finish line. I was alone when I finished–alone but very pleased.

Thanks for reading this very lOOOOOOOng post.