How not to ride STP

9

by Kelli on Jul 19, 2006 at 8:52 AM

With the perspective of a seasoned cyclist and the training of a complete novice, here’s my how-not-to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.

No bikes in this area.

When my husband and I were transplanted here nearly two years ago, I quickly discovered the cult that are STPers and knew that I just had to join. Despite many years on the bike, I hadn’t yet completed a full century (though I’ve come darn close) and longed for the challenge of a double-century. Unfortunately, while on one of my first rides following some intense spring marathon training, I suffered a broken collarbone from a fall. With just over seven weeks before STP, I was uncertain whether I would make the ride at all, and knew that my whole training plan was scrapped. At best I would be riding as a relatively seasoned cyclist with the training of a complete couch potato. With two weeks to go, I could reach my handlebars without too much pain and managed a quick 35-mile spin around town. That was enough for me, I was in.

  1. Do Not ride STP without adequate saddle time.

    Believing myself to be a hard-core bike chick, I’ve long since forgotten all of the novice rules. Rule #1 in training for a long ride is to log enough time in the saddle. While my legs and the rest of my body were up for the challenge, my rump had been in the saddle for only a few quick spins in the preceding weeks.

    If it means strapping a bike saddle to the top of your office chair, be certain that your ass is quite familiar with the shape and firm texture of the saddle. For as much training as we should be devoting to our heart and legs, ensure that your butt is given the same consideration. If not properly trained, I assure you that it will command the attention so rightfully deserved around mile sixty, in a most unforgiving way.

    Needless to say, this a lesson re-learned the hard way. The second half of the day one and most of day two found me on the back of the tandem wincing in pain. Standing helped for a split second, but only after I managed to pry myself up off the seat while holding back the tears.

  2. Do not ride STP on a tandem that you’ve never trained on.

    With my training plan scrapped and my arm in a sling, my riding partner tells me that she’s bailing. Desperate to make the ride, I put in an emergency call to my father, and personal cheer-leader, and ask him to ride with me. It had been thirteen years since I tucked in behind him on a tandem, but we were excited to ride together again and quickly went about renting one. He’s a much stronger rider than I, regularly logging 150-mile weeks. At the very least, I knew that he was ready for the ride and figured that I could just kick my feet up and let him take me all the way into Portland. After some final adjustments to the bike, I was as ready as one could expect to be only seven weeks after a breaking a clavicle.

    What I failed to account for is that in the last thirteen years, I’ve become my own cyclist. The control-freak in me has only grown up and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the novelty of a tandem ride had quickly worn off. I’m not saying I will never enjoy a tandem ride again, there’s much to be said for having your riding partner with you at all times, not having to really pay attention to the road and being able to pick all the music.

    The trade-off is having to ride as one unit. I was unable to stand or coast when I wanted to, shift weight at a whim or even reach down to grab water with

    1. Do Not ride STP without adequate saddle time.

      Believing myself to be a hard-core bike chick, I’ve long since forgotten all of the novice rules. Rule #1 in training for a long ride is to log enough time in the saddle. While my legs and the rest of my body were up for the challenge, my rump had been in the saddle for only a few quick spins in the preceding weeks.

      If it means strapping a bike saddle to the top of your office chair, be certain that your ass is quite familiar with the shape and firm texture of the saddle. For as much training as we should be devoting to our heart and legs, ensure that your butt is given the same consideration. If not properly trained, I assure you that it will command the attention so rightfully deserved around mile sixty, in a most unforgiving way.

      Needless to say, this a lesson re-learned the hard way. The second half of the day one and most of day two found me on the back of the tandem wincing in pain. Standing helped for a split second, but only after I managed to pry myself up off the seat while holding back the tears.

    2. Do not ride STP on a tandem that you’ve never trained on.

      With my training plan scrapped and my arm in a sling, my riding partner tells me that she’s bailing. Desperate to make the ride, I put in an emergency call to my father, and personal cheer-leader, and ask him to ride with me. It had been thirteen years since I tucked in behind him on a tandem, but we were excited to ride together again and quickly went about renting one. He’s a much stronger rider than I, regularly logging 150-mile weeks. At the very least, I knew that he was ready for the ride and figured that I could just kick my feet up and let him take me all the way into Portland. After some final adjustments to the bike, I was as ready as one could expect to be only seven weeks after a breaking a clavicle.

      What I failed to account for is that in the last thirteen years, I’ve become my own cyclist. The control-freak in me has only grown up and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the novelty of a tandem ride had quickly worn off. I’m not saying I will never enjoy a tandem ride again, there’s much to be said for having your riding partner with you at all times, not having to really pay attention to the road and being able to pick all the music.

      The trade-off is having to ride as one unit. I was unable to stand or coast when I wanted to, shift weight at a whim or even reach down to grab water without methodically balancing myself such that I didn’t throw the weight of the bike too much. In addition, the stoker (rear rider) bears the worst of all bumps in the road, which did not help the aforementioned rump issues.

      By the end of our 200-mile journey, I wanted my own bike. The idea of another long tandem ride definitely appeals to me, but only if it’s on a bike and with a partner that I’ve trained with for longer than one afternoon. The same rules should be considered when riding a single bike. Do not make any severe changes within the last few weeks before the event and ensure that you’re training the way you expect to ride.

    3. Do not leave home without pain killer.

      Two-hundred miles is a long, long way. Whether attempted in one day or two, your legs are bound to be tired your butt very sore and, if you’re lucky, your knees will only ache a little bit from grinding up the rolling hills. I realize pain killer can be tricky and many fear that it might mask pain from more severe injuries that should be looked at. But it’s a beginner’s trick and despite being a pain-freak, I haven’t a clue why I didn’t jump on the drug wagon earlier.

      With a very sore behind and my knees slowly beginning to complain, three hours into day-two I finally doped up on some pain killer to help pull me through. About twenty miles before we hit Portland, it finally kicked in. I rode strong the last few miles, my butt and knees comfortably numb, and kicking myself for not having popped pills the previous day.

    4. Do not ride with your life on your back.

      Having just recently completed two very well supported events, I’m consistently surprised by the amount of crap that people insist on carrying themselves. A minimalist by nature, I do my best to pack as light as possible and only carry necessities, but I can certainly appreciate a less-experienced rider wanting to carry some of their own items.

      I was seriously shocked, however, to find so many people with bikes and backpacks loaded with gear. Since the ride provided baggage transport, plenty of food and maintenance support, I cannot imagine what on earth these people considered so indispensable that they had to add another twenty pounds to their load.

      In a ride as well supported as STP, you can expect to find adequate food, drink and bike services approximately every 30 miles. With a couple of water bottle cages on board, a small tool kit, and a three-pocket bike jersey, there is plenty of room for all of the necessities. Do yourself a favor and drop the backpack off at the luggage truck, your legs will thank you for it.

      How exactly do you fit everything in? Glad you asked. Here is a packing list of the very basics that you’ll need.

      In a saddle pouch:

      • tire irons
      • multi-tool
      • patch kit
      • compressed air pump (unless you have a hand pump on the bike)

      On the bike:

      • hand pump (unless compressed air is in pouch)
      • two water bottles (one for water and one for electrolyte drink)
      • bento box (if you must)

      In the jersey:

      • route map
      • two of the following: energy bar, half of a bagel, banana or other portable food
      • cell phone (if you must)
      • spare tube (unless it fits in the saddle pouch)
      • a gel or two (if you’re really afraid of bonking).

      Only if you must:

      • jacket - make sure it’s light and can either be tied around your waist or stuffed into a jersey pocket, tyvek jackets are great and portable
      • water pack - only if the ride does not offer water stops every 20-30 miles or if you absolutely must have your own electrolyte drink in both of your water bottles.

    5. Do not expect flat to really be flat.

      Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere, the STP route is surprisingly flat, which for many, translates more directly into rolling. With a few big hills, either steep or particularly long, there are equally as many fast descents and a good portion of the route is quite flat with a bit of a downhill. Throw in a good tailwind and this year’s route was one of the best I’ve ever ridden.

      Read the route map and do some asking around, most of the veteran riders will attest that this route is not flat. It is, however, beautiful and worth the extra effort of getting up those rolling hills. Find your lowest gear and your happy place and sit in up those long hills. Trust me, you will get up them eventually.

    6. Do not stop at every pit-stop.

      It is tempting to stop when you see a hundred or so other riders all gathered around, laughing, eating and having a great time. But finishing a long day’s ride without being completely burned out also requires managing your refueling stops. Prior to setting out, select stops between twenty and forty miles at which you’ll stop to refuel. Use the other small stops for emergency refueling or repairs only. As important as selecting the stops, riders must be careful not to stop for too long. As the body cools down, it becomes only more difficult to get back on the bike and ride on.

    7. Do not use your own Personal Support Vehicle (PSV).

      Touchy subject, but I’m going there.

      With 8,907 riders taking to the back roads, most often two-lane roads, we must remain vigilant and alert. By adding additional vehicles to these roads, we are only increasing the danger to ourselves and the many other riders around us. Too often throughout this weekend’s ride, we were passed by caravans of cars with bike racks on them. Several times, cars awaiting their riders would be parked on cross-streets or driveways, positioned as if they were headed into traffic. Each time, we as riders must assume that these cars do not see us and that they could pull out in front of us without notice. We slow our pace until we are able to ensure our safe passage, all the while slowing those behind us and creating greater risk as riders bunch up on narrow roads.

      STP offers sag support for riders with mechanical or other issues and will get riders and their bikes to the next stop where they can receive the assistance needed. Although I understand riders wanting the option of a personal vehicle to take them all the way in if they are unable to continue, there is no need for their PSV to ride the exact same route as the riders. If you must have a PSV, consider having them take the main highway and meeting you at a more convenient stop, than simply waiting for you in an empty driveway and following you all the way in.

    8. Don’t ride STP without some decent training.

      I’m proof positive that it is possible to ride two centuries back-to-back without little more than some bike knowledge and a decent fitness level. But I wouldn’t recommend it. At the very least, a beginner should expect to plan four to six months of training to allow adequate time to work up to the distance.

      In my original training plan, I had intended to ride a minimum of 50 miles each week, counting commuting, in the two months preceding STP. My long rides would increase from approximately 35 miles to 100 miles and I had planned to ride two 70-mile days back-to-back.

      Still recovering from a very sore bum, I’m happy to have survived my first STP with as little training as one might possibly be able to get away with. That said, even the bike chick in me wouldn’t dream of riding it again without more serious training.

    Though challenging on so many levels, STP was one of the best routes and most organized rides I’ve ever been a part of. Many thanks to the wonderful volunteers that did everything from haul luggage and bikes to preparing the most wonderful peanut butter tortillas at the first food stop. Kudos to Cascade and its many partners for such a wonderful event.

    I had many mixed feelings after we rode across the finish line on Sunday afternoon. I was moderately bitter at my lack of preparation while excited for having made the ride at all, upset at the few cyclists that continue to make the roads unsafe for the rest of us and so thankful to everyone who had a hand in putting on such a great ride.

    Over the last couple of days, I’ve been uncertain whether or not I would go ahead with my plan to train for the one-day ride next year. That is, until I realized that the one-day riders get a different patch. Instead of simply reading Finisher, the one-day patch reads One-Day Rider. I must have one.

    out methodically balancing myself such that I didn’t throw the weight of the bike too much. In addition, the stoker (rear rider) bears the worst of all bumps in the road, which did not help the aforementioned rump issues.

    By the end of our 200-mile journey, I wanted my own bike. The idea of another long tandem ride definitely appeals to me, but only if it’s on a bike and with a partner that I’ve trained with for longer than one afternoon. The same rules should be considered when riding a single bike. Do not make any severe changes within the last few weeks before the event and ensure that you’re training the way you expect to ride.

  3. Do not leave home without pain killer.

    Two-hundred miles is a long, long way. Whether attempted in one day or two, your legs are bound to be tired your butt very sore and, if you’re lucky, your knees will only ache a little bit from grinding up the rolling hills. I realize pain killer can be tricky and many fear that it might mask pain from more severe injuries that should be looked at. But it’s a beginner’s trick and despite being a pain-freak, I haven’t a clue why I didn’t jump on the drug wagon earlier.

    With a very sore behind and my knees slowly beginning to complain, three hours into day-two I finally doped up on some pain killer to help pull me through. About twenty miles before we hit Portland, it finally kicked in. I rode strong the last few miles, my butt and knees comfortably numb, and kicking myself for not having popped pills the previous day.

  4. Do not ride with your life on your back.

    Having just recently completed two very well supported events, I’m consistently surprised by the amount of crap that people insist on carrying themselves. A minimalist by nature, I do my best to pack as light as possible and only carry necessities, but I can certainly appreciate a less-experienced rider wanting to carry some of their own items.

    I was seriously shocked, however, to find so many people with bikes and backpacks loaded with gear. Since the ride provided baggage transport, plenty of food and maintenance support, I cannot imagine what on earth these people considered so indispensable that they had to add another twenty pounds to their load.

    In a ride as well supported as STP, you can expect to find adequate food, drink and bike services approximately every 30 miles. With a couple of water bottle cages on board, a small tool kit, and a three-pocket bike jersey, there is plenty of room for all of the necessities. Do yourself a favor and drop the backpack off at the luggage truck, your legs will thank you for it.

    How exactly do you fit everything in? Glad you asked. Here is a packing list of the very basics that you’ll need.

    In a saddle pouch:

    • tire irons
    • multi-tool
    • patch kit
    • compressed air pump (unless you have a hand pump on the bike)

    On the bike:

    • hand pump (unless compressed air is in pouch)
    • two water bottles (one for water and one for electrolyte drink)
    • bento box (if you must)

    In the jersey:

    • route map
    • two of the following: energy bar, half of a bagel, banana or other portable food
    • cell phone (if you must)
    • spare tube (unless it fits in the saddle pouch)
    • a gel or two (if you’re really afraid of bonking).

    Only if you must:

    • jacket - make sure it’s light and can either be tied around your waist or stuffed into a jersey pocket, tyvek jackets are great and portable
    • water pack - only if the ride does not offer water stops every 20-30 miles or if you absolutely must have your own electrolyte drink in both of your water bottles.

  5. Do not expect flat to really be flat.

    Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere, the STP route is surprisingly flat, which for many, translates more directly into rolling. With a few big hills, either steep or particularly long, there are equally as many fast descents and a good portion of the route is quite flat with a bit of a downhill. Throw in a good tailwind and this year’s route was one of the best I’ve ever ridden.

    Read the route map and do some asking around, most of the veteran riders will attest that this route is not flat. It is, however, beautiful and worth the extra effort of getting up those rolling hills. Find your lowest gear and your happy place and sit in up those long hills. Trust me, you will get up them eventually.

  6. Do not stop at every pit-stop.

    It is tempting to stop when you see a hundred or so other riders all gathered around, laughing, eating and having a great time. But finishing a long day’s ride without being completely burned out also requires managing your refueling stops. Prior to setting out, select stops between twenty and forty miles at which you’ll stop to refuel. Use the other small stops for emergency refueling or repairs only. As important as selecting the stops, riders must be careful not to stop for too long. As the body cools down, it becomes only more difficult to get back on the bike and ride on.

  7. Do not use your own Personal Support Vehicle (PSV).

    Touchy subject, but I’m going there.

    With 8,907 riders taking to the back roads, most often two-lane roads, we must remain vigilant and alert. By adding additional vehicles to these roads, we are only increasing the danger to ourselves and the many other riders around us. Too often throughout this weekend’s ride, we were passed by caravans of cars with bike racks on them. Several times, cars awaiting their riders would be parked on cross-streets or driveways, positioned as if they were headed into traffic. Each time, we as riders must assume that these cars do not see us and that they could pull out in front of us without notice. We slow our pace until we are able to ensure our safe passage, all the while slowing those behind us and creating greater risk as riders bunch up on narrow roads.

    STP offers sag support for riders with mechanical or other issues and will get riders and their bikes to the next stop where they can receive the assistance needed. Although I understand riders wanting the option of a personal vehicle to take them all the way in if they are unable to continue, there is no need for their PSV to ride the exact same route as the riders. If you must have a PSV, consider having them take the main highway and meeting you at a more convenient stop, than simply waiting for you in an empty driveway and following you all the way in.

  8. Don’t ride STP without some decent training.

    I’m proof positive that it is possible to ride two centuries back-to-back without little more than some bike knowledge and a decent fitness level. But I wouldn’t recommend it. At the very least, a beginner should expect to plan four to six months of training to allow adequate time to work up to the distance.

    In my original training plan, I had intended to ride a minimum of 50 miles each week, counting commuting, in the two months preceding STP. My long rides would increase from approximately 35 miles to 100 miles and I had planned to ride two 70-mile days back-to-back.

    Still recovering from a very sore bum, I’m happy to have survived my first STP with as little training as one might possibly be able to get away with. That said, even the bike chick in me wouldn’t dream of riding it again without more serious training.

Though challenging on so many levels, STP was one of the best routes and most organized rides I’ve ever been a part of. Many thanks to the wonderful volunteers that did everything from haul luggage and bikes to preparing the most wonderful peanut butter tortillas at the first food stop. Kudos to Cascade and its many partners for such a wonderful event.

I had many mixed feelings after we rode across the finish line on Sunday afternoon. I was moderately bitter at my lack of preparation while excited for having made the ride at all, upset at the few cyclists that continue to make the roads unsafe for the rest of us and so thankful to everyone who had a hand in putting on such a great ride.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been uncertain whether or not I would go ahead with my plan to train for the one-day ride next year. That is, until I realized that the one-day riders get a different patch. Instead of simply reading Finisher, the one-day patch reads One-Day Rider. I must have one.

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Comments: 9

Kelli, nice writeup. Reminds me of doing Cross Florida on a tandem with a friend. It’s one day, 175 miles, and for the last 35 miles, we had major cadence mismatch issues. I wanted to push, he wanted to spin. We made it, but not before a sag stop where he went to stretch his quads, and his hamstrings cramped up, so he switched to stretching his hamstrings — and his quads locked up!

Great post, Kelli! You make some excellent (and humorous) points. Ah yes, the old Vitamin I(buprofin) does do wonders. Congrats on finishing!

Kel,
Great recap of the STP, but despite all the negatives STP was fantastic and had great weather! Being able to spend time with you made it very special. Next year let’s be “One Day Riders”,on single bikes, are you in?
Love Dad

Kelli, this was good for me to read. My husband and I are planning on making the ride this year for the first time. We will be on singles. It’s good to be reminded about training the behind. I use other methods as well as cycling to get in shape and need to remember how important it is to spend time in the saddle. Thanks

So glad that this helped a bit.  STP is a great ride, well-supported, challenging and I have no doubt that you’ll have a wonderful time.  Be sure to log enough saddle time and you’ll do just fine.

Good write up. Definitely information I’ll pass on to other first-timers for STP. Being that I’ve always tried to do STP in one day the last 5 years, ONE DAY is much harder and requires even more discipline and time in the saddle (and on the SAME bike AND saddle you intend to ride STP on). The ONE DAY RIDER patches and t-shirts (for sale ONLY on the Saturday) are worth every drop of sweat and calorie burned to get them but if you have any doubt in your training, LEAVE EARLIER THAN 4:45AM. Get someone else to throw your gear in the appropriate truck (this time to Portland) when the truck arrives and hit the road as early as you want. It’s not about what time you leave, but crossing the finish line in Portland BEFORE it officially closes and all the shops close for the night.

I enjoyed you account of the event.  I am thinking about doing the ride this year.  I would probably fall into the undertrained category.

I keep trying to get someone to commit to ride it with me.  I get a lot of interest but I am pretty sure when the time comes they will bail.

I learned my lesson (again) this year on my first ride to work.  I forgot the body glide and had chafing that kept me from riding for a week.

I was thinking of trying to get past the half way point on the first day so the second day would be shorter.

I was also thinking of going farther the first day for the same reason.  Anybody have any comments of the wisdom of that?  I am a first-time rider of STP at age 69 and feel that I am sufficiently ready to tackle it in two days.  But 125 miles plus on the first day?  I don’t know.

If you can manage it, I would highly recommend going beyond the midpoint for your overnight stop.  When I rode the two-day course in 2006, we stopped in Napavine (about 125 miles) and it was well worth the effort.

The first half of the course is more flat than the second (at least I think so), so you’ll save yourself some effort by cutting miles on the second day.  Additionally, the last 40 miles into Portland are brutally dull; longest 40 miles I’ve ever ridden. 

Getting ahead of the game on the second day also keeps you ahead of the craziness down the line.  Less riders around you, more food at the stops, etc…

If you can find it in you, I’d definitely suggest tacking on a few extra miles the first day.  You’ll be glad you did.

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