Monday, September 11, 2006

Ride Report - LiveSTRONG Challenge Philadelphia

Sunday, September 10th
LiveSTRONG Challenge Ride
Philadelphia, PA

70 mile Option: Total Ride time: 6:50:00
PACE: 11.5 MPH with 4 rest stops

(Author's Note" There is a bit of colorful language at the end..but it
suits my emotion so it stays ... Consider yourself warned).

Our race morning started early with a 5:30AM wake-up. My first priority
after throwing on my bike clothes was to hop onto the laptop and surf over
the the Columbia Triathlon site to register for the June EAGLEMAN 70.3
TRIATHLON - a half Ironman distance race that is my "A" race goal for the
2006 season. There was a chance, if I waited until late in the day, that
the race would already be full so I wanted to get my name in early. After
much searching and grumbling, I found the site, charged my credit card and
Jim and I were out the door to grab a quick bite to eat and head to the Ride

We left the hotel at 6:20 AM. The Ride Start was 5 miles away. After
sitting in traffic for 40 minutes, we finally pulled into a parking space at
Montgomery County Community College. We were not alone in arriving late and
the organizers kindly delayed the ride start to accommodate the number of
folks that got caught up in the logistics of parking 2600 riders/runners and
their families.

Jim and I unloaded our bikes, stuffed our pockets with a PowerBar and Gu,
pumped up the tires and rolled over to the start line just in time to hear
the last speaker talk and to see the Century Riders be released for their

The announcers said "There goes Team CCC looking fine!" and Jim and I let
out a big "Hooray" and followed the other 70 mile riders to the corrals for
our release. In terms of numbers of riders. It appears that the majority
of folks chose either the full 100 or the 40 mile option. The number of 70
milers was much smaller than either of those groups.

With the blare of the air horn, we were off on our 70 mile ride and on our
way. The terrain for the first 15 miles to the first Rest Stop on the 70
mile route was beautiful. We gently rolled through Valley Forge farmlands.
It was the kind of ride that I love with some power rollers and low traffic.
The first 10 mile was a little congested while people found their pace and
Jim stuck with me to the first rest stop.

This is how we have ridden together throughout the entire year. Jim will
ride with me to the first rest stop, then we kiss and he is on his way. It
is too hard for the two of us to come up with a pace that works for both of
us. This year my pace has been 12 MPH on a good day, as compared to 14-15
MPH in years past. Jim averages around 18-20 MPH. It wasn't so hard to
have Jim do a recovery ride and have me do a hard workout in years past
where we would average 16 MPH together but this year was different and we
both accepted that. We agreed that Jim would call me when he reached the
final Rest Stop at Mile 55 and we would see how far behind him I was. If I
was having a good day, he would wait for me at the stop and we would ride
the last 15 miles to the finish together.

Miles 15-28 went well for me. I was still feeling strong and doing a good
job of keeping on top of my hydration alternating Water and PowerAid and
really continuing to enjoy the rolling terrain. The climbs were still short
and required little more than a hop out of the saddle on occasion to power
over them.

I stopped very briefly at the second Rest Stop, topped off my PowerAid,
grabbed some salty Chex Mix, ate a few bites and continued on my way.

**Brief REST STOP NOTE: I think that LAF did an excellent job on the rest
stops over all. The food was very bike friendly and they had plenty of
water and PowerAid. With the exception of the first stop, which had only 1
port-o-potty (a snafu of the delivery company from what I understand), all
the other stops had plenty of Port-O-Potties and amenities.**

Miles 29-35 - More of the same terrain, with perhaps some more downhill as
we headed toward the River and along Railroad Lines in the outer Philly
area. I stopped at the third Rest Stop and ate 1/2 of a PB&J sandwich, hit
the Port-O-Potties and immediately headed out. In retrospect, I should have
taken the time to eat more at this point and I paid for this mistake later
in the ride.

Miles 35-55 - For me, the "Challenge" part of this ride began at the start
of Mile 36 as we climbed away from the river valley on our way toward
central Philadelphia. There was about 3 miles of good, long climbing that
had me spinning in my granny gear. Slow and steady. I simply focused on
the cadence and jumped out of the saddle when I felt I needed an extra boost
but that bit of climbing quickly took its toll on my energy levels. Not
long after that climb we descended into Philadelphia by way of Manyunk and
along River Road, which was closed to traffic on Sundays (very similar to
Rock Creek part for those familiar with Washington, DC). I saw lots of
fellow recreational cyclist as well as several local teams out putting in
the miles. It was around this time that three things happened that really
changed the ride for me.

1. My speedometer started turning itself on and off randomly - leading to a
mileage reading that was 10 miles shorter than the actual distance covered.

2. My overall nutrition was falling behind, in relation to my effort on the
increasing longer, larger climbs.

3. Jim called to tell me he was at the final Rest Stop.

Up until this point, while I was getting progressively more tired, I had
been able to keep my spirits pretty high and recover after every climb by
focusing on the miles I had covered already. Early on, around mile 25, I
had lost my cue sheet while fishing a Fig Newton from my back pocket. So
while I didn't need to worry about getting lost, because the course was well
marked, I also didn't have a "backup" reference for the squirrelly

I could only "keep riding", keeping an eye on the time since my last stop
and estimating where I thought I was. Between my frustration over my lack
of knowing "how far I had to go" and my increasingly diminishing energy
levels, my mood was rapidly declining.

Then my phone rang. And my first thought was: OH NO, Not already!

I knew that meant that Jim was at the final Rest Stop and I thought that I
was closer but no close enough for his wait to be less than 1 hour. I
stopped and called him back and belly ached about my squirrelly speedometer
and the missing cue sheet and told him where I though I was (River Drive)
and we talked about how far he thought I was from the stop. His estimate
was that I was about 10 miles away and he told me that there was a pretty
significant climb to the final Rest Stop.

I did the math in my head and knew that at the very least, I had an hour of
riding to get to him and I knew that I didn't want him to wait that long for
me. With a catch in my breath, I told him to finish his ride. He said he
would be happy to wait and I said, "No" because I knew that asking him to
wait would put too much pressure on me (from myself) to ride faster and it
would only upset me more and slow me down and make me angry and take away
from the "celebration" that I intended this ride to be.

Jim understood and told me that he would be at the finish line to cheer me
in and that he loved me and to enjoy the rest of my ride. I mumbled "Okay"
got off the phone and spend the next 5 miles in the midst of my own personal
"Pitty Party" - wishing my speedometer worked, wishing I could ride faster,
wishing I was riding with somebody else, wishing I had done the 40 mile
route, and most of all wishing that I had never gotten Cancer because then I
would still be riding 15 MPH or faster this year.

Just around the time that I was at my lowest, I began to see LiveSTRONG
riders from the century route catch up to me. Several folks gave me words
of encouragement and commented on my "In Memory of" signs on my jersey and
complimented me on being a survivor. I thank God for these people because
they instantly pulled me out of my self-absorbed funk and reminded me "WHY"
I had decided to take on this ride in the first place.

I resolved at that moment to make the best of it, keep spinning and if need
be, stop in about 20 minutes and take my own rest stop if I had to. I
recognized that I was probably in pre-BONK mode and needed to try to reverse
some of my nutritional issues.

The route took us to the end of River Road and then onto a multi-use path
that led past the Phili Art Museum (and the famous "Rocky" stairs) past some
other downtown sites and back up through Manyunk to the final Rest Stop for
the 70 mile route. Just as I was about to stop, for a rest stop of my own
making, I saw the "One Mile to Rest Stop" sign. I decided that I was close
enough, I could make it to the stop and took on the challenge of that climb
head on. I thought about Rose C and Jeanne G who were gone and my Uncle Jim
and so many other people who were fighting hard to simply survive their
diagnosis and I put my bike in the granny gear and just kept spinning.

I passed several riders who were walking the hill and each time that I
passed somebody I made it a point to tell them to "Keep it up, get to the
top however you can"... It was as motivating for me as I hope it was for

At the 4th Rest Stop, I took a 10 minute break to stretch, eat an entire
PowerBar and a caffeinated GU and fill up my water bottles. I hoped the GU
would help in the short run and the PowerBar would kick in for the last 5
miles or so.

Miles 55-70 - The first 5 miles or so went better. I was having a surge of
energy thanks to the brief rest, the GU and the caffeine. I had looked at
the watch and knew that worst case scenario, I would be done with the ride
in one hour and thirty minutes. I gave myself my "Traditional" triathlon
mantra that I use in my races: "I can do anything for 1 hour and 30 minutes
longer" and headed out on the road.

The route was a little better in terms of terrain, more rolling downhill
than climbing as we headed back in to the Philly suburbs. I was hanging in
there, saying "Hi" to as many century folks as I could (we were on the same
route for about 10 of the 15 miles) and thinking about getting to the finish


UGH! Unfortunately about 1 mile of the route was in the process of being
repaved and so the pavement had been milled in prep for that. It was what I
could only imagine it must be like to ride the Pave (Cobbled Road) in
Northern France. Every inch of road could be felt in your hands, arms,
legs, teeth.... It was miserable and I remember saying out-loud: "What is
this, freaking Paris-Roubaix?" At least I got a laugh and some "No kidding"
from the fellow riders that were passing me.

I struggled on until we hit better pavement (thank goodness!!) and had a
respite for the next 5 miles with some gradual down hills with moderate,
quick climbs. At around an hour into my last segment, a group of 100 mile
riders passed me on my left and we passed a large group of folks who started
yelling and hooting and hollering. It turned out to be friend and family of
one of the guys in that group and he stopped with his ride partners to give
hug and kisses and thank them for coming out.

I don't know if it was the exhaustion, or simply the fact that I knew that I
must have less thank 5 miles to finish but seeing this group of people
affected me deeply and I began to sob and cry. One one hand I wanted
nothing more than to be done with this bike ride and on the other hand, I
was sobbing because I was so happy to be on this bike ride. I was a mess
and really had to focus on stopping the tears because I was finding it hard
to ride and cry at the same time. More to the point, I was having trouble
breathing and felt like I was going to fall of the bike.

With my tears under control, I tried to simply focus on spinning and
finishing this ride. There was no doubt that I was struggling because the
negative thoughts began to fly around my head - "I'm NOT riding next weekend
- I don't want to see my bike for a week!", "How do I expect to finish a 1/2
IRONMAN next spring if I can't even finish a 70 mile ride?", "Why didn't I
choose the 40 miler?"

I put a clamp on my brain as quickly as I could by reminding myself that
somewhere out their on the same course that I was on, was John O'Toole.
After 3 surgeries and chemo for Brain Cancer, John was riding the 70 mile
route, in spite side effect from the last surgery that basically left his
left hand, arm and wrist paralyzed. If John could be out here on the course
then so could I!

The last 2 miles had one last climb in store for the riders. That climb
wasn't particularly long but it was steep and my energy, physically and
emotionally, was waning. Twice during the climb, I stopped by the side of
the road, head hung over the handlebars, breathing deep, trying not to cry,
willing myself to get on and go. The first time, I was able to get back on
and peddle a few hundred feet. The second time, with about 200 feet to go,
I was at a loss. I stopped, sobbed a little, clipped into my peddle and
slipped right off and almost dropped my bike.

For a moment, I thought to myself, are you kidding? I have less than 2
miles to go and I am going to quit here? And then it came to me - if I can't
ride my bike these last 200 feet up the hill, I can sure as hell can WALK up

I pulled myself off the bike, and walked those 200 feet, holding my head
high and refusing to cry. "Whatever it takes..." I said out loud to nobody
but me. In that moment, I remembered that it wasn't about riding every
mile, it wasn't about walking up a hill, it was about Living STRONG. It was
about doing what I could, AT THAT MOMENT, to keep moving forward because by
moving forward, I was not quitting.

At the top, I got back on my bike and rolled onward for the last mile. I
thought for sure that I would be a hysterical sobbing wreck as I rolled
around the corner and to the left finish chute that was designated for
"SURVIVORS" but it wasn't tears that I felt or sorrow.

Just a profound sense of relief and anger. As I past over that finish line,
I pumped my fist in the air the same way that I did last October 30th, 2005 at the Marine Corps Marathon.

And that fist pump had only one meaning then and it had the same meaning
yesterday: "F*CK Cancer!"

How many more people do we have to loose? It's stupid and I, for one, do not
plan to go down without a fight!

In Memory of Rose Collins ...
In Memory of Jeanne Gannoe ...
In Memory of Ron G ...
In Memory of CCC riders who have sat up...
In Support of my uncle, Jim Bowdish ...
In Support of the Melanoma Patients Info Page Warriors who are in the fight
of their lives ....
In Honor of my fellow Survivors ...

My name is Holly Gannoe, I am a 17-month Melanoma Survivor and I LIVE


nancytoby said...

As always, Holly, YOU ROCK! Your report brought tears to my eyes! And don't you worry, that Eagleman ride is in the bag. It's FLAT

Bolder said...

you are so hard on yourself!

let's celebrate you signing up for a 70 miler! that 1/2 is next year, lots of time for recovery!!


don't ever forget it.

TriFeist said...

Don't forget a 70 mile ride is almost the entire distance you'll swim/bike/run at Eagleman. You'll rock! You won a great battle over mental demons. That's awesome.

And you're a cancer survivor who lives strong. Go Holly!

kozzy said...

Holly, thank you for riding for those who can't. Keep living strong!

surferchickHG said...

you make me cry!!! i love you sister, i'm so proud of you!!!

kerihadley said...

i'm honored to be your friend and race partner. now i'll stop putting tonites workout off, if you can do it...

XF-15DCC said...

YOU DID IT! Great job!...Damm Fig time go for the strawberry fig newtons:-)


Downhillnut said...

RASPBERRY newtons are the best, and they have attitude, just like you.

Awesome effort, and I'm proud of the way you dug deep to accomplish this amazing ride!

Thanks for your honest and heartfelt description of your struggles - very inspiring.