Yesterday I rode in the Tour de Cure, a fund-raising ride for the American Diabetes Association. A co-worker organized a team and one of my initial reasons for signing up was to ride with the County Executive (my boss's boss's boss), Ron Sims. I also thought it could be a good motivator to push myself a little harder and farther as a cyclist than I've done before. I was a little worried about the fund-raising aspect, as that's not something I particularly like to do, but since the required minimum was pretty low (if worse came to worse, I could pay it myself), I thought I'd go for it.
70 miles is farther than I've ever ridden before and May is pretty early in the riding season here where it isn't dependably warm and dry until July. The ride had a training program, however, as well as clinics on various riding skills, so I thought I'd utilize those resources. I didn't end up going on any group rides or clinics, but we had a few really nice weekends and I got in the long rides I felt I'd need (starting at 35 miles a few months ago and peaking at 65 miles a few weeks ago). My training consisted of a long ride almost every weekend, the daily commute (7 miles round trip, 3 or 4 days a week), a weekly commute extension (add on some hilly miles on the way home once a week or so), and some running (3 days a week, two shorter and one longer run).
After putting it off for far too long, I finally followed some advice I'd heard years ago: I sent an email to almost everyone in my address book telling them about the ride and asking for sponsorship. (I did filter the list a bit - not sending it to those I hadn't seen in a while or anyone I felt had too much on their plate already to worry about another cause.) I did feel a bit guilty about this for a little while. Of course, I don't like asking for money, and don't like the potential guilt that a request like this could incur. But then, I was only sending out information - no one had to donate, and they weren't sending me money; it was going to a very deserving cause. As the donations started rolling in from my very generous family and friends, I was touched by the support. One friend reminded me that diabetes runs in her family and I felt even better about the ride. I raised so much money in such a short amount of time, I won a prize that had been donated.
We got very lucky with the weather: a hot and sunny weekend! By the time I left the house a little before 7 am, it was already warm enough to be comfortable in short sleeves and sandals. There were loops of various distances for riders to choose from and riders were supposed to leave at staggered times based in the distance they were riding. This meant that I was supposed to leave at 8 am, and the crowds were pretty small for the 70-milers (the 100-mile riders had already come and gone). Everything was well organized, volunteers were friendly, and pre-ride food plentiful (I seemed to be one of the only people taking advantage of the snacks provided). While I think we were supposed to start as a group at 8, most folks rolled out whenever, and I started at 8 with only a dozen or so people. Everyone was a little slow getting going and I found myself leading out the group for several miles.
There was a team of guys in red and black jerseys behind me who I could hear chatting as they rode. Eventually they got organized and passed me, after thanking me for the lead out and offering that I could join their group. I fell in behind them along with another woman who I chatted with as we rode to the first rest stop at mile 15.
Riding with the group made for a must faster and easier ride, and I was determined to stay with them for as long as I could. The "put the hammer down" (I think that's the right cycling-phrase) at one point between the second and third rest stops and I dropped back, but I rejoined them again after a break and stayed with them until the group more or less broke up on the hills in final 15 miles. I knew intellectually that riding with a group is faster and easier than riding alone, but I have very little experience riding with others. It is really amazing the difference that a pack can make. They didn't form a formal paceline, more like a loose group, which enabled conversation and made it easier to hang on at the back.
It was a beautiful route and a lovely morning, and it was great rolling through shady trees, past pastoral landscapes, with the occasional appearance of snow-capped mountains. It did get hot as the morning went on, especially at the later rest stops. We actually got to the point where we wanted to ride to escape the heat. The ride didn't have too many tough climbs until we had to climb out of the Snoqualmie Valley. We climbed for several miles, but it was cooler in the trees and I felt really good, thanks to the team's effort earlier in the ride. I ran into some of my co-worker team mates and the rest stop who were also having a good day.
I finished the ride at 1 pm, almost an hour earlier than my projected finish time. Volunteers were ringing cow bells and I was handed a medal. The finish area had lots of cold water and sports drink as well as Chipotle soft tacos (we were powered by...) and live music.
All in all, a terrific experience, one that I would gladly do again next year.