Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My first STP

Sometime in February I decided it would be fun to do the STP. I've lived in Seattle over a decade now and although I could hardly be called a road biker, the STP has always had the kind of draw to it that over time wears you down. Just like climbing Rainier, it is not something I think most people really so much enjoy doing as much as they enjoy saying they did. And so it was for me, and I decided that this year would be a fine year for it, the ski season coming to an end it sounded like a good way to get in shape for the summer.

As I've not really a road biker, I emailed the usual suspects stating my intentions to try to do it in a day and that I'd love some training partners as the date approached. From this came the most dangerous seed of all, a response from Chad, who at the time I had never even met:
From what I hear of your riding you should have no problem doing STP in one day, even on your fixie.
This I laughed off. Do the STP in a day on a fixie? He must be insane. I've never ridden 100 miles in a day on my road bike, much less over 200 on a fixe. But the seed was planted and try as I might, it started to germinate. As montain biking season began and I started doing the bigger rides that came with it I also started to take the idea more seriously. Why not? Everybody says the course is really flat and as I ride the fixie every day to work I feel more comfortable on it anyways. And so it became a hedge, I would jokingly tell people I was going to do it on a fixie, but leaving the option to back down the day of if I didn't feel ready.

As it turns out my July turned incredibly busy and the date snuck up on me quicker than expected. But I did manage to do a few longer rides on the fixie before the fateful Saturday and decided that it would be worth trying, after all, it would make for a good story.

I woke around 4:00 AM on Saturday to find some perfect riding weather. After coordinating with my mother on where to meet, I took off down to Lake Washington to meet the riders. I have to say the first 25 miles were just hilarious fun. Having hundreds of bikers around you, in front, behind and around as far as the eye can see was just incredible. I had never ridden in a pack before, but it was immediately addictive. My goal was to finish the STP, not set any record times, and as such I really wanted to maintain a fairly low average, say 16mph, such that I wouldn't bonk before arriving. That proved to be impossible right from the beginning. Even as I found a group traveling 18, another would pass at 20 and I would tag along. Then they would be passed by one at 22 and I would take chase. The rabbit chaser in me just couldn't hold back, especially as drafting made traveling those speeds fairly effortless.

In short, the first 40 miles passed in a blur as I learned to draft and take turns pulling. At my first break 50 miles in I was feeling strong and eager to get on the road again. After a short break and some Facebook updates I hit the road for the next 50. By this point the riders had spread out significantly and there was less passing taking place, letting everyone settle into a rhythm. Sometimes this would lead to being 'stranded' alone for a good while, which made me appreciate being in a pack that much more. It required more energy to go 18mph alone than it did to go 22mph in a group and I vowed to be more careful with my departures from the stops to find partners to share the workload with.

I arrived at the 100 mile mark averaging a little over 19mph. This was far quicker than I expected and at this point I was still feeling relatively good. I felt confident that I would finish one way or another. My mother met me here and we organized our next meeting spot before I took off once more. I immediately joined up with two other guys, one of which was on his seventh STP. We took turns working over the next twenty five miles and although far easier than working alone, it also made me appreciate the bigger packs, for having to break wind at 20mph every five minutes was still getting exhausting.

Somewhere between 125 and 150 miles in is a series of rolling hills, and it was at this point that I really started feeling the ride. Perhaps I hadn't drunk enough, or perhaps just my 48/16 was too tall, but each hill took a heavy toll and by the time I arrived at the 150 mile checkpoint I was fighting cramps in my quads and calves. I took a long break here, drinking and eating and gave Vaughn in Portland a call to see if he wanted to meet me at the 175 mile mark and ride me in. We agreed on a rough timeline and I took off once more.

Thankfully the next twenty five miles were far easier than the previous and although I didn't find any big packs to ride with it went by reasonably quickly. One of my pedals started pre-releasing at this point however and this made the downhills especially tricky as I spun out and then lost a foot entirely. But overall it was bearable, especially knowing that the end was near.

At the 175 mile mark I found Vaughn waiting for me in his brightest green outfit and with his very own fixie, ready to accompany me in. I can't thank him enough for this last hurrah of assistance, not so much for the pulling which he did but for the company as we came into Portland. By this time I was starting to feel thoroughly trashed and having someone to talk to made it all the more bearable.

And so we rode the last 25 miles into Portland, through the last hills and around various curves to the final celebration area. I got my one day badge and then immediately wanted to pass out. I have to say the toll was very real, my system in a bit of a shock after 11 hours on the bike and countless energy foods consumed. Vaughn was gracious enough to put my mother and I up for the night, but I was too exhausted to stay up and feeling too funky to eat, so didn't make much of a guest.

The biggest problem was that my bike fit wasn't quite right and in the process I pinched my ulnar nerves something fierce. This is known as 'handlebar palsy' and the symptoms are having completely numb pinky and ring fingers. Sadly I am now going on two weeks of not having much use of those fingers which makes my work challenging to say the least. Treatment consists of rest and rest only, but apparently almost everyone recovers within a few months. I had no idea that I could injure myself so easily so let that be a warning to any other newbies taking on the STP.

In the end I enjoyed myself far more than I thought I would. I think the ride being novel, as well as the pack dynamics being new to me made it all go by much more quickly than I expected. It did not mentally feel like I was on the bike for so long. But I think for that very same reason I would have trouble ever doing it again, as I fear it would drag on far more slowly. And if you are thinking about doing it on a fixie, then I say go for it! It wasn't really much of a handicap at all and you'll get all sorts of encouragement and gasps from other riders along the way.

Final stats:
Miles ridden: 202
Hours in saddle: 11 1/2
Average speed: 17.7
Rice Crispy Treats: 3
Cliff Blocks: 18
Bananas: 2
Sandwiches: 2
Sports Drink Bottles: 8
Fingers lost: 4

And the best part of riding the STP on a fixie, total number of pedal Strokes: ~46,500


Ted Diamond said...

"I arrived at the 100 mile mark averaging a little over 19mph"

I...I...I...I...I am dumbstruck.

Chad Richmond said...

SO awesome. Great write-up.

I too had the numb fingers after doing STP on the fixie, although I think it was a bike fit issue not a fixie issue, since the bike was about 12 hours old when I started.

When Randy and I did the one day I was surprised when we rolled into Centralia before 10 AM after starting at 5.

pssst hey Nic Cannonball 2010 on a fixie

bikejuju said...



Rob said...

Nice! I rode it for the first time this year. Like you I said why not do it on my fixie. I didn't have the stones to commit to knocking it down in one day though. My only complaint was the constant passing. There were tons of bikes on the road and if you were riding fixed and maintaining a solid pace it seemed like you passed the same people four or five hundred times. They'd blow by on the downhills and then bog down on the way back up over and over and over. Next year it's going to be a one day ride!!! Thanks for the inspiration.

Nic Pottier said...

Rob, what kind of gearing were you running? I got passed now and then on the downhills, but surprisingly not that often, I could usually spin out.