Monthly Archives: June 2009

Livestrong Seattle Century 2009…

T-35 hours

At this point, I think I’m ready. Or, as ready as I’m going to be…

There are two main philosophies that people use before a big event. Well, perhaps “philosophies” is a bit too grandiose of a word, so I think I’ll use the word “approaches” instead.

The first approach is to ignore the impending event and do whatever . From a psychological perspective, this may make a bit of sense, but from a physical perspective, doing a really hard 50 mile ride the day before a really hard century would seem to be an obvious thing to avoid, but I see it all the time.

The second approach is known as “tapering”. The goal is to reduce the amount of the training load to allow the body to recover while doing a tiny bit of fine-tuning to reach a finely-tuned edge at precisely the same time. It’s a time-proven technique that is used by top professionals all over the world. And it works, but really, you’re only training like 7 hours a week, and pretending that you’re getting ready for the Giro is a bit over-the-top.

I prefer a policy of benign neglect. Take some time off, let your legs stop aching when you walk up stairs, and do a few short rides to help things along. So, I haven’t been on the bike since last Saturday, and I only did about 30 miles then. I plan to go out for an hour tomorrow, and then make sure my bike and gear are ready.

The bad news is that it’s raining tonight, raining like it was June in Seattle. Everybody is acting as if this doesn’t happen ever single June in the Seattle area, but I am not really looking forward to riding in the rain. I’m thinking that I might put my race blades on my bike, which at least would help keep some of the rain off me. If its wet you can either get wet from the rain or you can wear something to keep the water out, and get wet from the sweat.

The other thing is a little souvenir that I picked up about 46 years ago, a nice case of the chicken pox that revisited this year like a long-lost cousin who shows up when your cool friends are over for dinner. It shows up as Shingles, and I felt a bit under the weather for a couple weeks this spring when I got them, but some rest and expensive meds fixed me up. Two days ago I started getting these weird numb/sensitive places across my torso that feel like I got a bad sunburn the day before. I’ve decided I’m just going to ignore it until after the ride.

Fundraising has been great – thanks to donations from people I work with, people I ride with, and blog readers, I hit $330 by last Wednesday, so, I put in $335 and Microsoft matched it, netting nice round $1000. Add in a late $100 donation on Friday, and my total is $1300 (as soon as the MS matches make it to the Livestrong folks…)

T-23 hours

I’ve been playing around with taking some time-lapse pictures from the bike – I mount my Canon Elph 850 IS on the front of the bike, and then use the CHDK firmware add-on to run a script that takes a picture every 3 seconds or so. Then, a bit of software from the Internets, and you end up with a time-lapse movie of the ride. I’m considering doing it for this ride, but I’ll need an extra battery and a bag for the camera if it rains.

T-10 hours

All checked-in, and my alarm is set for 4:45 in the morning, so I can get there in time to get our team picture taken. It’s not like I’m going to get much sleep tonight anyway, and they say it’s the amount of sleep that you got the night before that’s important, so I’m happy that I got to bed early. Except I didn’t. Drat.

T-some hours

(I’m writing this up home sick with the cold, so I apologize if it is up to my usual standards).

I wake up unhappy. Not just because of the hour, but because the hint of a cold that I felt last night has become a real cold. I eat breakfast, grab my keys and pre-mixed bottles out of the fridge (put the keys in the fridge and you don’t show up late because you forgot the bottles), phone and wallet from the cabinet (same reason), and get into the truck. A few drops speckle the windshield when I pull into the gas station, and then it’s on to the ATM, where the BoA machine eats my card. I take I-90 across the lake (520 is closed this weekend) and find a place to park a block or so from the Key. I’ve wearing my yellow Rails to Trails Gore jersey, arm and leg warmers, and my Fatty hat underneath the helmet. My pockets hold 5 snak-pak ziplocs full of accelerade (orange, because Performance Bikes seems unable to keep the far superior mountain berry flavor in stock), a ziploc of endurox for after, plus a couple of slices of good bread, which helps settle my stomach on big rides.

II mount the camera and make sure it’s set up. Trying to make movies from the pictures is a work in progress, as testing has mostly generated a few sharp pictures and lots of blurry ones, but at least I’ll have some pictures during the ride to keep (that was foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch it…).

I roll past the ex-home of the Sonics, and find my way to the stating point. Since Team Fatty won the team competition, we all got to be in a separate spot in front of the rest of the century riders and right next to the stage. I don’t usually do rides that have group starts, and doing something important as part of the ride made it pretty emotional.

We sign the team banner (sorry for the other locations – my guess is there’s not going to be much space left for you), stand around, catch a few rays, and then finally we roll out.

About two blocks in, I see Per and Shanna – two ride leaders on the group ride I sometimes lead – next to their tandem that they will be riding as course marshals. We head south following the lead group (or, to be more correct, with the lead group visible in the hazy distance), and immediately miss the first turn, but I use my made belltown skilz and navigate us from 2nd back to 5th without incident.

Yellow light, but we’re not stopping. There’s a police officer waving us through. Turns out you can get from the Seattle Center to the stadiums pretty darn quickly on a bicycle if you don’t have to stop for lights. On the last descent, the lens of my blinky jumps off. That was a point of mention at least 5 times during the ride.


We head up the onramp onto the I-90 express lanes entrance and then head into the Mt. Baker tunnel. All the pavement here and across the bridge was really nice, and there was a lot of whooping and hollering to take advantage of the excellent acoustics.

In this section I get passed by a number of pacelines. If you have great fitness, then that’s a great thing to do, but I spend my time spinning along.

We exit off the freeway and onto Mercer Island. The Mercer loops is a really nice ride with a lot of swooping curves that I really like, and only a few steep climbs.

On the first steep climb I pass a guy riding a nice bike with a really low cadence – say 50 RPM or so. If you’re doing that on this climb, I think you’re the guy who brought a pillow to a knife fight (or, to be more cycling-specific, the guy who brought a 42 tooth chainring and 11-21 cassette for an minimum development of 52.6 gear inches to a hilly century).

We head around Mercer Island, and head south to the next stop at Newcastle beach park. I make a pit stop, remix more accelerade, and look over the food. Grapes, oranges, powerbars, cheesy (or perhaps “cheesish” is a better description) crackers, and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches.

I’m not really feeling very good at this point. I’ve had a low-grade headache the whole morning, and my legs hurt. I’m going to ride to the next stop, see how I feel, and then see if I need to revise my route choices.

Nothing notable happens on the trip over to tiger mountain. I pass a few people, get passed by a few more people. We have some nice gravel to ride through at some construction, and I think it’s bumpy enough that the camera switches off. I leave it off at the stop. The stop features (wait for it) the same food as the last one. I’d really like some variety on the food and particularly would like something salty rather than sweet, though I have been talking my salt tablets and my frequent trips to the porta-potties indicates that my sodium levels are fine. Forgive the details, but as a salty-sweater, it’s important to me.

I decide to climb tiger mountain, and see how I feel.

And surprisingly, I get on the climb, and I feel a little better. Not good, but better. I settle into the climb. The pavement is wet on the way up, and on the way down, there are EMTs helping out a rider who fell in one of the corners. The rider appears to be sitting up, which is generally a good sign. It’s downhill almost all the way to the next rest stop, which features the usual food. I’m having a hard time staying warm, and I’m debating whether to put my vest back on when it starts to drizzle and settles the question for everybody.

We head out through Issaquah to the second climb, Highlands drive. There’s a bike path off to the side of this road that I expected to use, but instead we have a lane to ourselves as we climb up. On the way up, I converse with a course marshal, and we try to decide who is more foolish – me for having paid to do this, or him for having volunteered. The question is unresolved when I ride off ahead. This climb is a step up from Tiger in steepness, but not as long.

Once again, I feel a little better on the climb than the flat. We descend back to East Lake Sammamish and head north on the drying road. I do a small amount of gentle pacelining here with another rider (thanks Sean (or Shawn (or Shaun))), and we end up collecting about 10 people. Just north of Inglewood we get passed by two triathletes (aero bars and seat bottle holders), who move in front and then ride 2MPH slower than we were leading the paceline. Side by side. If I felt better, I might attempt a bit of paceline education, but I just hang back.

5 minutes later, we’re at the next stop (which I should have been calling “Power-stops”, since they’re sponsored by power-bar. I understand that they sponsor the ride and Armstrong, but the classic powerbar is so 1983, and I don’t know many people who consider them edible, much less desirable), you have the choice of the usual. I eat a package of cheeseriffic crackers, refill my bottles, switch batteries on the camera, and catch these two fellows taking a break:

The next section is West Lake Sammamish. It’s the easiest way to get to the south end of the lake, but once you get into Bellevue, the pavement really, really sucks. So bad that I want to apologize to all the riders that go by. There are better ways with a bit more climbing, but this is the one we’re on, so I just let it suck.

With how I feel it’s really, really tempting to turn to the west and ride the 1/2 mile to my house, but the whole point of doing this is for the challenge, so I hang in there.

Eventually, we get to the base of the climb. Note the little arrow on the sign, which simply points up, ’cause that’s where you’re going. This first part is perhaps 10%, but then it flattens out a bit. Then…

you turn the corner and are greeted with this. That run-up section is around 8%, and the section where it kicks up is quite a bit more. Feels like 13-14% to me. I’m doing okay – my heart rate is in the low 140s, just above my lactic threshold, but I feel hungry.

That is bad. Exercise suppresses hunger, and my experience is that if I’m hungry on the bike I’m pretty close to bonking. But nothing to do but keep climbing, and note that my legs really, really hurt.

After the next corner I pass a guy – which takes forever when you’re only riding at 5MPH, and then come on this:

The front rider is a kid (10 years old, I’ll find out later) riding with his dad. His dad gives him a push now and then, but they make it to the top without stopping. That’s some serious chops for that age, and they’re doing the 70 mile ride.

Finally, the road turns to the right, and you hit the steepest section. If you are climbing at the limit, your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, and you might see the purple tunnel that Elden has told me about. Or, you might see this:

I thought I heard something about “25 meters to the top”, but I think it was probably a hallucination. Not only is there another pitch left, but seriously, who in the US would say “meters“?

I briefly drop below 4MPH at this spot.

We top out the climb, descend 100′, and then have to earn it back again up Lakemont. I’m barely holding on, but I ride down the south descent (with a surprising “control speed” sign, not really an issue on this route), do the short climb, and then thankfully see this:

All the stops have had tons of volunteers, and here they clearly don’t have enough to do, since the 4 in the foreground are holding up bikes for riders who are taking a break. I politely decline, since I really need to sit down and I don’t want to leave somebody standing for 20 minutes while I rest.

I’m having food fatigue from the accelerade, so I get some trail mix, another packet of orange-filled crackers, and sit in the sun, stretch, and talk with other riders.

After a while, I feel much better. I turn the camera off because there’s really nothing to see on this section, and because there are reports of thunder.

We head off on the second half of my favorite climb, which takes us all the way to the north side of Kennydale hill. We cross 405, and it starts to drizzle, and the hills to the southwest look really hazy, so I put my vest back on, and put a bag over the camera.

And then it pours. My race blades keep the rain off my butt, but nothing is going to keep my feet dry, and I work my way south, accompanied by a rider wearing a jersey and shorts, a dripping wet jersey and shorts by this time. There’s a nice way to get around the Renton airport that has very little traffic and good pavement, but the course takes airport way, so named because most of the drivers attempt to achieve flight by driving really fast. I’d expected that they’d do something to help control traffic, but no, we have to ride the wet road with traffic whizzing by, and then do the same thing when we turn right on Rainier. So far, I’ve liked their routing, but this was a bad choice. Somewhere in this section there’s another stop (mostly for the 45-mile riders), but stopping in the rain isn’t my idea of fun.

We work our way northward, on wet roads but no more rain, and work our way up the Seward park climb, a really annoying one because you can’t get any useful velocity on the descent, and out onto the closed to traffic Lake Wa Blvd, which is something the city does now and then in the summer. We share the road with pretty much all levels of cyclists, from race teams to 3-year olds on trikes. I feel a little bit better on this section, as there’s not much of the ride left. I turn the camera back on.

A chance self-portait from the last PowerStop ™, where I dump the rest of my accelerade and refill that bottle with Endurox for after. I’ve learned that many rides don’t think to provide water at the end, so I’m planning ahead. Plus, I can’t stomach the stuff any more, but I do eat another packet of radioactive orange pseudo-cheese crackers.

And it’s on the road again…

At this point, the ride needs to route us up and over the hill to get back into downtown. The Cascade spawning cycle has a nice one that hooks around the northern part of the hill, and there are a few other ways to go. We head south, and here’s what we see:

That’s not one of the nice ways up, and the two riders in front of me have some coarse words for the organizers. We climb up that one, climb up another pitch, top out, and see this:

This little bit of Yesler is not on Seattle’s list of top 20 steepest streets, but one of the nearby ones is 19%, and I’d bet that this half-block is in that range. I’m standing in my low-low gear, and I barely make it up.

I don’t understand the point in this. Sure, it’s short enough that you can walk it if you need to, but I don’t see why you’d want to set people up for failure so close to the end of the ride.

We head west on Yesler, do some swoops and stop at a bunch of lights, and end up on a really steep descent south of the courthouse (another surprise), and then it’s riding to the south on 3rd avenue through Sunday traffic. There’s another turn in here that I miss along with 3 other riders (surprised that there are no volunteers in sight, since there have been so many at the easy turns), but we get back on track, and finally we’re done:

I drop my bike at the bike check, and head inside to get some food. They have pizza, burgers, salad, drinks and ice cream, all free for the riders. I sit with a few other Fatties and talk for a while.


  • 102 miles
  • 6:55:17 (pretty slow, but given my sickness and the difficulty of the ride, it’s okay)
  • 14.8 MPH
  • 4905 feet of climbing, according to my Polar (bigger than the 3900′ advertised, but I think it’s pretty accurate, and I’m sticking to that measure because it makes me feel better.
  • 4606 calories burned (probably only 4000, as my polar is a bit optimistic).
  • 52321 Heartbeats

Considering being sick and not eating enough, I think I did okay. The organization was pretty good overall, and I loved the closed streets and after-rider food (delta the coffee-flavored ice cream).


  • Better variety in food at the stops.
  • Bike racks at the stops. They had barricades rather than racks, which just don’t hold enough bikes to be useful. Call up cascade and see if you can borrow the ones they use.
  • Re-route the last 5 miles. Seriously. Neither the climb up Yesler or the descent down are good choices. If you don’t like the north route, you can easily come back through the I-90 bike tunnel.

There are a few more pictures that didn’t make it to the write-up here.

Livestrong 2009 Course Preview

[Update – I added an improved description of Montreux based on a ride I did today, and added some new options if you don’t want to do that climb.]

Since the bulk of the course – at least the century course – is right in my backyard, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what you’re in for. I’ve linked to climb descriptions from my site. Note that while the average gradients are pretty close, the maximum ones are a bit speculative.

But first, an introduction. I’m Eric Gunnerson (aka “Lo-Phat”).

I know Fatty from when he lived in this area and worked for a large software company. Back in 2005, we teamed up for “The Double-e half-hour of pain“. Fatty had – in his usual “mature” way – trash talked about how he was going to be the first to the top of the hill. I had little chance of beating him (I’m light for my size, but I *am* 6’2″), so I took the mature way out, and offered $20 to the first person up the hill that beat Elden. And then he complained about it, and called me “evil”.

Where were we? Something about a ride, right?

70 and 100 mile Routes

Before I start with the description, I’d like to note that these are nicely designed rides. I would describe them as “pretty hilly”.

The ride starts at the Seattle Center, and spends a couple of miles winding through downtown towards the two stadiums, at that point, you reach the first hill – the climb up on the I-90 express lanes. I’ve never ridden it, but it looks like it’s about 150′ in height, and my recollection is that the first little bit is fairly steep.

Once you get on that, you wind east, go through the I-90 tunnel, and then down onto the I-90 floating bridge, and then up at the other end. At the island you climb up 75 feet or so to the exit.

The next 10 miles takes you around the south end of Mercer Island, a really nice section. It’s fairly flat/rolling, with great pavement, not much traffic, and wonderful curves. You will like this session. Halfway into this section (at 14.7 miles) there’s a stop.

Next, you cross the east channel bridge on a bike path. This is a pretty popular route and there isn’t that much room, so watch for other cyclists or runners coming the other direction.

Off the bridge, the next 4 miles loops north and then back south. A few small (75′ or so) climbs. After you head south under I-90 (which should be obvious), you’ll come to a bike path entrance. There are some blind curves and rude riders here, so be careful. A bit of up and down takes us to Newcastle Beach Park (sorry about the descent from the trail, and yes, you do have to climb the 75′ of steepness back after the break). That takes us to 24.1 miles, and stop #2.

The next 2 miles climb up about 300′, and then a nice 10-mile section of rollers but no major climbs.  That takes us to around 36 miles total.

At this point, the century route makes a loop of about 9.5 miles, with about 680′ of climbing on it. The major part of it is the Tiger Mountain Climb, which averages about 4.5% and peaks at perhaps 8-9%. Oh, and stop #3 is early in this loop, but only for century riders.

Then it’s back on a flat road into Issaquah, and stop #4. Once there, the 70 mile route diverts to the Northwest, on a fairly flat section. You’ll rejoin us at the base of your next major hill. As you ride, look to the left to see Zoo Hill, one of the local benchmarks for stupidity. Be happy you are heading straight.

The century heads a bit east, to take on the next hill at the 50 mile point, Highland Drive. This climb has an maximum gradient of ouch (over 10%), and long sections of 8-9%. It’s about 350′ up, and you are going to notice the whole thing.

You may have noticed a progression in maximum gradients. It’s going to continue. But first, we’re going to take a steep descent that drops us onto East Lake Sammamish Drive. The first mile or so is a busy 4-lane road. You will want to stay right, but the pavement is more than a bit sucky there, so watch yourself.

After that, it’s one lane each way with a decent shoulder for about 9 miles. There is one 150′ climb and several rollers along the way. There has also been some construction at Inglewood road about halfway along this stretch, and I expect that it will still be there, so expect some delay from this. This section is a good section to paceline on, and my goal will be to be around 18-20MPH in a group for this section. That takes us to Marymoor park at 61.5 miles, and stop #5.

We are now on West Lake Sammamish Drive. It will be nice for a couple of miles, then the shoulder will get rough, with lots of holes and a nice ridge between the shoulder and the pavement. Don’t plan on making too much time here. There is no bike lane on the lake side of the road, so it’s legal for bikes to ride the opposite way on this section, and you need to pay attention. Along the way are some rollers and a 100′ hill. Did I mention the road is junk?

Eventually, you’ll hit the lowest point, at Vasa Park (big red barn on the right side). Put your climbing shoes on here. We start with a 160′ climb as a preamble, and rejoin the 70-mile route at this point.

At this point, after 71.5 miles (43.2 for the 70s), we arrive at a little bit of joy I like to call Montreaux, because that’s its name. Livestrong calls this NW Village Park Drive, but it’s hard to ignore the giant sign for the development, and the ostentatious water feature. The water will help drown out the labored breathing of the other riders on the course.

Montreux is, to put it simply, a beast. If you have a climbing cassette for your bike, bring it. If you have a small electric assist-motor, bring it. If you have a supply of EPO, use it. If you are like me, you will be spending about 20 minutes of time on this hill. On the upside, the pavement is excellent, and there’s also a view, if you have the oxygen to turn around and see it.

Right from the start, it’s at about 10% for the first little bit, then it will turn a bit to the left and ease down to around 7%. Then it will kick up to about 14% for a bit, taper down to 10%, up to 14%, and then there’s a nice section that’s even steeper. I was climbing at about 3.9 MPH on that section.

I really recommend finding time to pre-ride this hill, so that you know what you’re in for.

After the top, we’re going to lose 100 feet and then have to gain it right back, up to 850′, the same as the height we hit on Tiger Mountain.

And,we’re in for some fun. We worked hard to get up that high, and over the next 5 miles we’re going to lose 800′ of it, on a glorious descent, my favorite in the area. There are some flats and some short climbs, but if you have the legs, this is a good spot to spend a bit of them, as you can keep your speed up and we can all laugh at your folly on the last climb before the finish. After the first 3.8 miles, we end up at stop #6, at 78.5 miles (49.5 on the 70).

After a short 50′ climb and a really fun down/up hill, we have another 400′ of descending, taking us down into Renton and to the shores of Lake Washington. 3 miles of mostly flat road take us into Renton, to stop #7, at 84.7 miles (55.7 on the 70).

The next 4 miles are flat flat on decent road (make sure you make the right turn onto Seward Park Avenue), then a 160′ climb towards Seward park, only to lose it on a quick descent back towards the water, unfortunately with a stop sign at the bottom.

Then it’s onto Lake Wa Blvd South. If you have a group, you can paceline here. As we near I-90, we climb back up the hill (100′ or so) to stop #8, at 94.7 miles (65.7 on the 70).

Then, it’s up and over the hill (another 200′ of climbing), down Yesler into downtown, and then a short spin back to Seattle Center.

Emergency Wimp Option

So, you’ve been going along fine on the ride, feeling great, but you realize that the only way you and your bike are making it up Montreaux is in the back of a pickup. But you don’t want to give up.

So, here’s how you “get lost” to make it a bit easier. Instead of heading up Montreaux, you head west on Newport, straight at Lakemont, and then turn left on the stop sign at 164th. Climb to the top, turn right, and you’re right where you would normally be, with a lot easier climb. Not sure how I got lost, but I did manage to get back on course.

Super-Emergency Extra Wimpy Option

Your legs are toasted and your best hope seems to be to ride straight into the lake and hope for a freak shark attack. Not much chance of that, since Lake Sam is fresh water, but there is a way to salvage some pride.

  1. Head west on Newport.
  2. Straight at Lakemont
  3. Straight at the 164th stop sign.
  4. Right on 153rd (there’s a bike route sign here)
  5. Down the little hill
  6. Left when road ends (SE 38th)
  7. Straight at the light (150th)
  8. All the way to the bottom of the hill.
  9. Get in the rightmost left-turn lane.
  10. As you turn left, get on the left sidewalk of the exit ramp coming straight towards you (diagram).
  11. This puts you on a bicycle path.
  12. When the path ends, turn left.
  13. This puts you back on Lake Washington Blvd, where you were just after Mercer Island. You can now follow the 40 mile signs for the rest of the ride.
  14. Wow, did you ever get lost.