Rookie’s Perspective on Training for the STP: Riding the STP

Crossing the finish line in Portland, past a loving crowd cheering congratulations, I looked up through floating bubbles at the blue sky and shouted in exhilaration and pride and relief.

We don’t get moments of joyous intensity like that in our lives very often.

It was worth every minute of those long training rides and the long push through the STP’s 200 miles.

On Saturday, we set off from the start about 7 a.m.  I was ridiculously happy for the first 25 miles, happy to show off my beautiful city to my older brother, an experienced cyclist who had flown in from Vermont to ride with me, happy to be riding familiar roads I had trained on all spring.

What was all that training about, I wondered to myself as we glided along the flats. What was the grueling CTS training on all those hills for?

But by lunchtime the reality of another 50 miles had begun to sink in and we lagged too long over our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the hot sun. I perked up with the calories, and we flew down some trail through the middle of the state, relieved to escape the traffic for a bit.

“Come on, Dolomite Guy!” I shouted, passing my insanely strong 59-year-old brother, who likes to bike in European mountains.

And then there were road signs for Centralia and we knew we’d gotten somewhere, arriving at our mid-point around 3 p.m. We stayed in private housing organized through the Centralia Chamber of Commerce and fumbled around on our bikes, tired and stupid from our ride, trying to find the address.

A MillerLite never tasted so good. We were full of talk about doing the ride in one day in 2014. I tried to stay up until 9 to be a good guest for our kind hosts, who had opened their house – and their kitchen! – to us, but I disappeared around 8 p.m.

“I’m just going to stretch out for a minute,” I said. “But I might be in my pajamas, and I might brush my teeth first…”

Everyone talks about how hard it is to get back on the bike the second day, but I didn’t see what the big deal is. It felt very  reasonable to be back on Beautiful Blue in the pink dawn, rolling through rural southwestern Washington.  I think I got uncannily lucky with my seat.

Everyone else also talks about how the STP is a flat ride. Now that is a load of crap. Lots of rolling to serious hills on Sunday.  My brother and I decided there was no way we were ever going to want to do the STP in one day, short of a national emergency.

I started petering out a bit in the afternoon and stayed tucked in behind my brother. Every so often I would have to call out, “Hey Dolomite Guy, slow it down a bit. Your little sister is getting tired!”

Crossing the Columbia into Oregon was a thrill. Like the rest of the ride, the logistics were carefully orchestrated and we rode in bunches of 500 riders, owning the bridge high above the ships and docks and water.  I laughed out loud as we passed the Oregon flag welcoming us into the state – now we were getting somewhere.

The heat and the wind started cranking up in the second half of the day and the ride got long and endless along the highway into Portland. Neither my brother nor I were using a bike computer and we ticked the miles off from the highway signs:

Portland 43 miles – “That’s like a Sunday ride,” my brother said. “Piece of cake,” I agreed.

Portland 26 miles – “That’s just a marathon,” I said. “Easy bike ride.”

Portland 13 miles – “Okay, I could run the rest of the way,” I said, thinking what a hurting puppy I’d be if I actually had to start running.

And then, suddenly, through the trees, I caught a glimpse of Portland’s tall buildings and knew we’d made it. We wound through Portland’s outskirts, endlessly stopped by red lights and then, finally, there were the bubbles, the cheering people, and that blessed finish line.

I did a mighty thing, biking myself down to Portland last weekend. More mighty, though, was the journey from that first rainy 12-mile ride back in February – that first, tentative step into the impossible.


Kathryn Saxer is currently enrolled in the Cascade Training Series, a 13-week training series designed to prepare Cascade members physically and mentally for  the Group Health STP or RSVP. She’s a personal and professional coach in Seattle. When not learning how to bike long distances, she likes to run in the mountains, share adventures with her 7- and 9-year-old children, and cook terrible dinners for her beloved and long-suffering partner. She’ll be reporting on her CTS journey weekly.