The annual Seattle to Portland (STP) bike race is legendary in the cycling community. Clocking in at just over 200 miles, 10,000 participants have a choice of taking one or two days to complete the summer ride through beautiful backcountry between Seattle and Portland.
If you’re a casual cyclist, 200 miles can sound downright impossible. So we set out to interview a first timer to hear what goes into training – and crossing the finish line – of this iconic Northwest bike race.
Meet Andy Buhayar
Let me preface this by saying Andy isn’t your average guy. He’ll gladly wake up for an early morning bike ride before work, clocking up to 20 to 30 miles before your alarm even goes off. That said, he’ll be the first to tell you that 200 miles is an accomplishment for anyone, regardless of cycling ability. Andy set out to do the race with a good friend over two days. In the end, he inadvertently completed the entire 200 mile ride on the first day. Solo. Crossing the finish line before 6 p.m. Here’s how it all went down.
Even the most seasoned cyclists need to train for the demanding race. While there are training tips, clubs and workouts available, Andy set a simple goal to ride at least 100 miles every week for three months prior to the race. He can often be found on a bike throughout the year, but the training focused his preparation for the ride.
The Night Before the Race
Andy had trained the full three months with his race partner and was looking forward to having a good friend along for the ride. Unfortunately, he had found out that his friend wasn’t going to be able to join him for the trip, so Andy went to sleep that night a bit nervous about the now solo race ahead.
Andy took off on his bike from his Capitol Hill home and headed for the official start line at the University of Washington.
Go time was 6 a.m. Crowds were cheering, fans were honking their horns. The early morning excitement was contagious.
Lucky for Andy, he breezed through without any maintenance issues or flat tires. The first five miles can be the worst for riders. Problems arise early and many riders have to stop to deal with unexpected issues. (Pro Tip: make sure you do a full bike check before heading out).
By mile 27, Andy had reached a good momentum averaging more than 20 miles per hour most of the first 100 miles of the ride. To keep a strong rhythm, he hydrated constantly, switching between water and a sports drink. And instead of taking long breaks to refuel, Andy tried to eat small bites of granola bars every 1 to 2 miles.
By mile 50, Andy felt initial fatigue. Even though he rode 100 miles per week leading up to the race, he rarely did more than 50 miles in one day. The onset of soreness forced him to get serious about mapping out each break to manage his energy levels for the rest of the ride.
By 11:30 a.m., Andy cruised into Vader, his planned sleeping spot for the night. All of his sleeping gear would arrive on a bus soon. He was struck with the realization that he was more than halfway done with the entire race and it wasn’t even noon. After taking a quick look around and spotting the cot he would be sleeping on, he knew he wasn’t going to stay. Less than 100 miles away was a real bed and a hot shower.
After chowing down on a massive burger and arranging for his bag to continue on to the finish, he sent a quick text to his brother who lived in Portland: “If I can’t make it all the way, will you come scoop me off the side of the road?”
Andy left Vader feeling accomplished. He never anticipated riding this fast – he had never trained that hard. (Thank you, adrenaline!)
At this point the ride became much more of a mental game. Andy vividly remembers the temperature starting to rise as clouds and light rain faded away. The hills then started to kick in and riders began to thin out.
“When is this going to end? When is this going to end?” were the words running through Andy’s head as he trudged on. The miles ticked by slower and slower.
The finish line
Just before 6 p.m. and after riding for 200 miles, Andy finally crossed the bridge that divides Washington and Oregon. It wasn’t until that moment he truly believed he could finish the race. With the finish in sight, he gained a new boost of energy from the cheering crowds.
Andy finally finished at Holladay Park in northeast Portland and officially became one of the 1,000 or so riders (out of 10,000) that complete the race in one day. He breathed a sigh of relief and checked in at the first aid tent. His legs were wobbling. He was mentally out of it. But he felt a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. In the end, he pushed his body further than he thought it could go. And isn’t that what matters most?
Have you completed the STP yourself? We’d love to hear about your personal experience in the comments below.
ANW is featuring a series of weekly bike articles to celebrate National Bike Month in May. Check out what we’ve covered so far:
- 23 Ways to Celebrate National Bike Month in the Northwest
- Health in Action: Meet this Seattle-based Women’s Mountain Bike Team
- No Horse Required: Get Inside Seattle’s Bike Polo Community
- Car-less Commute: The No Gimmicks Guide to Northwest Bike Commuting