Monday, October 26, 2009

Livestrong Challenge 09 Weekend

Wow where do I or where can I start? To say that Livestrong Challenge 09 was an amazing weekend would be an understatement. I guess what better way to start would be to start with the kickoff of Livestrong weekend; Friday. Leading up to the weekend I was already getting excited anticipating all of the events. I already had the weekend planned out and this started with packet pickup at the Convention Center on Friday. I talked to my friend Brady earlier in the week about meeting up at Mellow Johnny's and then just walking over to the Convention Center to get our packets. Part of the experience of Livestrong Challenge is being surrounded by everyone else that's participating. Upon arriving at the shop I could tell it was going to be hectic, because there was a ton of traffic around the area. I parked away from the shop and rode the new bike in. When I walked in to the shop I thought they may have changed locations for packet pickup, it was that packed! As soon as I walked in I heard a couple of people whisper "man check out that fixed gear!" I nod to Chicken and set the bike along the side of the wall. So many people from all over the U.S. come in just for the Livestrong Challenge aka The Ride for the Roses. While I wait for Brady to arrive I grab a drink and have a seat at the counter and just soak it all in. I got to meet Cody who rode his bike, get this, all the way from California to Austin just for the Challenge! He was extremely nice and we talked about his visit to Austin and we started talking about my bike. He said "you're riding fixed on Sunday? wow! props!" Nothing like that mutual respect from 1 biker to another. Brady arrives and we head out to the convention center. If you don't know Brady Merrill then you should swing by the shop some Sunday and meet him. He's one cool cat and his story of survival is amazing. Little does Brady know that come Sunday I'll be wearing a card on my jersey that says "In Honor of Brady Merrill" I told Chicken and Hannie about this idea and they loved it. They wanted to be there to see his reaction in fact! We make our way over to the Convention Center and just soak in the awesome Austin weather. I think the high for Friday and Saturday called for 70. Brady informs me that his friend and doctor, Dr. Bob Markus would be joining us on Sunday. Sweet! the more the merrier. As Brady would say "Sundays ride is not a race it's a celebration!" I couldn't have said it better myself. Brady and I bond a little more because I learn more about his story and how close we were to losing him and I share my story with him on how I lost both my grandmother and Aunt Wu to cancer and that I would be riding in their memory. As we walk into the packet pickup area we're greeted by some of the many volunteers working. The place is pretty packed for a Friday so we make our way around the numerous vendors. After we get our packets we make our way over to the Livestrong wall and this is where meet Sarah and Brooke from Livestrong; two of the nicest people you could meet. I inform Brooke that I follow them on Twitter and she says "oh you're scratchex!" let me take a picture of the two of you. I told Brady that I needed to pickup a couple of the "In Memory of" and "In Honor of" cards. I told him "dude you have to wear the I am a survivor card!" so he grabs one. We make our plans for meeting up on Sunday then head out. "Sunday we ride and celebrate!"

Saturday morning I'm up bright and early and told my friend and co-worker Jeff Grant that I would meet up with him for the 5k walk/run. I informed him that I would be there taking pictures. I park by the shop and ride the bike over to the start/finish line. Jeff decided that he was going to go ahead and run it. He said "you should run it, just carry your fixie and run with it!" lol He cracks me up. We plan on meeting up after the run and then grabbing breakfast. There are hundreds if not maybe a thousand or so runners/walkers at the start line. There's nothing like seeing a sea of Livestrong yellow, you just have to see it for yourself. Another amazing sight to see are all of the "In Honor, In Memory and I Am a Survivor" cards on peoples shirts. I chat with Jeff before the race and he says "I still can't believe you're riding that 65 tomorrow! You're doing sixty on a fixie!" A couple of people standing by take a look at the bike and one asks me "who signed it?" I respond "Lance!" I make my way by the Capital so I can get some pictures of the race. As soon as I get to my spot and take some test pictures I see the first runner coming up! This guy is moving! Probably running at a 5 minute pace. I snap more pictures and then I look at my watch and realize that Jeff should be finished by now so I make my way back. I see Jeff and he informed me he ran it at around a 7 minute pace! Wow you were hauling! We make our way back to the shop and decide to have breakfast there. The place is twice as packed as Friday!! Seeing all of the out of town people in my local shop was so cool. People were taking pictures left and right and it looked like the red carpet at the Oscars. So cool! Honestly I could have hung out at the shop all day because the weather and atmosphere was so incredible. I did end up going back later that day because I met up with another friend for lunch so we stopped by the shop for some Juan Pelota coffee and it looked like there were even more people at the shop now then there was in the morning! I decided to head home and rest up and get things ready for Sunday. I was a little worried about my back because earlier in the week I had tweaked it some and it had been bothering me all week and was still bothering me on Saturday. No way I was going to use it as an excuse even if it meant riding in pain on Sunday.

Sunday morning I wake up extremely early so I can make sure I don't forget anything. The first thing I notice is that my back isn't bothering me at all. It was the first time in over a week that I was pain free. Thank you Grandma Wu! I'm going to make you proud today! I had a little extra step in my walk just because of this alone. This day is going to rock! I head out to Brady's house where we meet up before heading out to Dripping Springs. I meet Dr. Bob Markus and I can tell already we're going to have a great day of riding. I show Brady and Bob the back of my Jersey which has a card that says "In Honor of Brady Merrill" Bob said "man that's the coolest thing ever!" Brady "Don't get me started I've already been crying". We load up and head out to Dripping Springs. The drive out to the event was so cool. There were hundreds of cars on the road and all of them had bikes on the back of their vehicles. Game on Cancer!! We're coming to kick your butt today! We gear up and make our way to the start line. I have butterflies in my stomach just from the site of the thousands of cars and riders making their way to the start line. Brady looks over and says "dude you're a're doing this on your fixie!" we both just laugh. We make our way up through hundreds of people to get to the 65 mile start. Lance addresses the crowd as well as the CEO of Livestrong Doug Ulman. After the National Anthem Lance's group goes off first followed by the 90 milers and then our group the 65 milers. Brady knows this ride like the back of his hand, it's basically his playground. He tells us what to expect for the first 15 miles including all of the cattle guards, low water crossings etc... It's like having a personal guide! We set off and make our way out and everyone is cheering us on! It's such an amazing feeling to hear and see hundreds of people cheering you on. Here we go!

We arrive at the first rest stop and make a quick pit stop. So for the first 15 miles or so it's pretty packed with riders. We're all having a great time and just enjoying each others company. Like Brady says "It's a celebration not a race" so pace is not even a concern or issue right now. Words can't describe seeing all of the riders on the road. Everyone here has a story, whether they're volunteering, participated in the 5k run/walk, or are riding in honor or memory of someone, it's a sight to see. One of the amazing parts of the day is hearing these stories from people you come across during the ride or at a rest stop. To me that's the best part of the day, getting to meet new people and hearing their story and how cancer has affected their lives. At the next rest stop "Dell's Angels" we fuel up and stretch out the legs. The volunteers here are amazing. Their energy and attitude is infectious. We load up on water, energy gels and chow down on some pb&j sandwiches. Everyone here is chatting it up and I get more comments about the bike as well as "wow you're riding fixed?" a common theme throughout the day. Brady starts saying "if you want to take a picture with the bike it's $5 and if you want to take a picture with Chris and the bike it's $10" ha he's so goofy! We all laugh at this. We head off again and start sharing stories and cracking jokes along the ride. Something else that you see throughout the day are the custom kits and clothes. Some people are wearing socks that say "Cancer Sucks" or bibs that say the same thing. We arrive at the 35 mile rest stop and take another break for fuel and food. A couple of people come up and ask me about the bike and congratulate me for riding fixed. They ask me who signed it and I tell them "Lance!" and they say "wow! cool! do you mind if I take a picture of the bike? Of course not, go right ahead. We all wish each other good luck for the last half of the ride and we head out. Half way home!

Brady gives us the low down for what's to come which is a fast decline followed by a 90 degree right hand turn, then shortly followed by a grueling climb. I prepare myself for the decline and try to force myself to not go faster than 30mph so I can slow down for the turn. Phew! Mission accomplished! We make our way towards the big climb and from what I've been told it's going to be grueling. I'm also looking forward to the Mellow Johnny's rest stop which is shortly after the climb. I knew there would be a bunch of my friends that work at the shop at the rest stop
so I was looking forward to talking to them, but first I have to make it to them which means I need to survive the climb. Just before the climb I noticed that my right leg was cramping a little bit but I wasn't going to let that hold me back. I'm on a mission! We approach the big climb and I can tell already my legs are going to hate me after it. I'm already thinking ahead to that rest stop so I pace myself and start climbing. Every bit of that climb hurt. I got out of the saddle and just started climbing at a slow pace telling myself "you are not going to get off of this bike to walk no matter what!" You could hear everyone around huffing and puffing and I just focused on the road below me. I didn't want to look up and see that I was only half way there. The climb curved and was about a half a mile climb with a 10% incline. Legs are burning and my right leg is cramping again but all I'm saying right now is "Mind over matter, Mind over matter, mind over matter" I see it flatten out some and just sit back in the saddle and pedal harder and faster. I made it! Bob and Brady follow up and I tell them "Man every bit of that hurt!" we all agreed. Finally I see the signs for the Mellow Johnny's rest stop. Yes! I make my way up and I see Erin on the left waving at me so I ride up to her and she greets me with a big hug as does Hannie. My friends are so awesome! The greeting I received made that climb worth it. Hannie asks me about the ride and asks where Brady is at and I said he's around here somewhere. I show Erin and Hannie my "In Honor of Brady Merrill" card and they loved it. I make my way over to my friend Ben and wish him a Happy Birthday and he snaps a picture of me with his cell phone. Everyone here is so friendly making sure that everyone is taken care of. I don't want to leave! I must say that the Mellow Johnny's rest stop was by far 1 of the many highlights of the day for me. They had a ton of coffee, snacks, drinks, tables, chairs, and even beer! We take some pictures together and socialize for a little bit and then we're off again. 20 more miles till the finish line!

One of the best parts of the ride for me was getting to chat with Brady and his doctor and friend, Dr. Bob Markus. Bob is one of those people you instantly click with. He's extremely friendly and like myself has a passion or some might say an obsession with all things bike related. He was cracking us up all day. If you ever get a chance to meet him be sure and ask him about his personal "4 rules of biking" When we started the ride he said one of his rules (maybe rule #2?) was to never get passed by someone on a fixie! we all laughed and he said I was the exception to this rule. Thanks Bob! We approach a father and son riding and the son was hammering it on his Trek. I said to Bob "check out the future Tour de France rider" and we both cheer him on as we ride by. Brady later informs us that they were the father and son that saw Lance in the mountains training for the Tour. Here's the YouTube of them. Amazing! Brady told Bob "you better watch out that 8 year old kid is going to pass you!" we started laughing and this is when we learned rule number 4 from Bob. Rule number 4 according to Bob "If I have eaten a sandwich bigger than you, then there's no way I'm going to let you pass me!" I almost had to stop pedaling I was laughing so hard. Bob says we should find a group and follow them through to the finish line. I said "let's do it!" So we pick up the pace a little bit and just focus on the last 20+ miles. Brady again gives us the low down on the road ahead; which is a little scary how well he knows this ride. We tease him and ask him "which articles of trash will we be seeing on the way" we all laugh at this. Brady just to punish us says "we have a couple of more small climbs before the finish" Bob and I said "oh great just what our legs need after 50+ miles, more climbing!" The 3 of us just laugh and embrace the challenge. As we're riding someone passes me by and tells me "I have much respect for you...much respect!" that got my 4th and 5th wind going and I tell myself to ignore the cramping in my right calf. For me it wasn't about getting attention about the bike or about riding fixed (yes the compliments were nice) but for me it was about accomplishing something grueling for my family and friends. Everyone has their own story and to take part and participate in the Challenge is an accomplishment in and of itself regardless of distance or what you ride. I told Bob and Brady along the ride "if Brady can go through chemo then the least I can do is ride 65 miles on a fixed". Bob tells us about "Team Colleen" a team of riders we had followed for quite some time. He informed us that "Team Colleen" came in from all over the U.S. but mainly from Arizona to ride in memory of their good friend Colleen who just lost her battle with cancer weeks before the challenge. Her husband was there riding with the team in her memory and honor. Colleen may you R.I.P.

We have a couple of more miles till the finish line and this is when we realize the ride is almost over. We couldn't believe it. Where did the time go? Did we really just ride all of those miles? We make the turn approaching the event entrance and this is when Bob tells Brady "take us home brother!" it was so inspiring to hear those words. Brady pulls up to the front and leads us in. As we approach the sign "Time to Celebrate" Brady spots his kids on the right. They spot him and do the coolest thing. They start yelling and ringing this cowbell and run along side him yelling "way to go Dad!! you did it!! way to go!" It was such an amazing moment to see! We roll into the finish line and I watch Brady grab his yellow rose which signifies surviving cancer! Way to go Brady!!! 3 years and counting! We all take time to soak in what we just accomplished and gulp down a bunch of water and energy drinks. We cheer on Team Colleen as they cross the finish line and the yell, scratch that, the roar they received as they crossed the finish line was amazing. We take some group pictures and then head over to the food tent to refuel and relax. We decide to pack it up and head back to our vehicles. Riding out of the event signifies another year accomplished at the Livestrong Challenge and I'm already looking forward to 2010. We take another group shot at the end and Brady tells me "dude your family would be so proud!"

So there you have it another Livestrong Challenge in the books. I can't begin to thank everyone who has supported and encouraged me throughout my training. All of the Twitter and Facebook messages I received before and after the event were incredible. Your comments got me through the day. Padmasree you truly are an amazing human being, I kept your inspirational words with me the entire day. I am so blessed to have an amazing gr
oup of friends. Without your support and donations I know I would not have been able to accomplish this. So Brady as long as you continue to grace us with your presence I will be honored to ride in Honor of you. Grandma and Aunt Wu this day was for you. I will always ride in memory of you. Love and miss you both.

Cancer, for the 2010 Challenge we're putting a team together so you better watch out! Here we come!

Flickr gallery for the run/walk can be found here.
Flickr gallery for the Livestrong Challenge ride can be found here.

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