When Rex Miller showed up for his first 25-mile training ride for Obliteride last year, he was wearing cargo shorts, tennis shoes and a baseball hat. He didn’t have bike shorts, a cycling jersey or special shoes. He didn’t even have his own bike (he borrowed one). None of that mattered, though, as much as the one true essential he’d left at home: water.
“I hadn’t been on a bike for over 10 years and at mile 15, I almost died because I didn’t bring anything to drink,” he said. “I was totally ‘what not to do.’”
Miller borrowed water from another rider and made it through the ride, but he made a similar rookie mistake a month and a half later during his 50-mile training ride. This time, he had cycling gear and plenty of water, but he forgot to bring something to eat.
“This time, at mile 25, I almost died again,” said Miller, who’s currently training and fundraising for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s big orange bike ride to obliterate cancer. “I guess I had to learn all my lessons the hard way last year.”
Luckily, Miller and other participants are only too happy to share their hard-fought lessons with those who are new to cycling, long-distance rides, volunteering and/or raising those much-needed cancer research funds (last year’s riders brought in $1.9 million).
Herewith, a few tips from four Obliteride veterans to help you rock your ride.
A 41-year-old married father of three, Miller rode the 180-mile route in last year’s Obliteride and is currently training for the two-day, 150-mile ride that kicks off Aug. 9. For Miller, the annual Fred Hutch ride is not only a way to raise funds to kick cancer to the curb, it’s a way to get fit and healthy.
While training last year, he slashed sugar and alcohol from his diet and dropped 30 pounds, weight he’s managed to keep off. And although he experienced a few ups and downs while training, his fundraising has been on a steady uphill climb. Last year’s donations totaled more than $4,500; this year, he’s already raised close to $9,300, thanks to a silent auction he held in June.
“I tried to think outside the box,” he said. “It’s great to ask family and friends for donations but I thought, ‘How else can I help raise funds?’ So I went around and asked different businesses and people to donate goods and services, like a resort that donated a two-night stay and sold for $350. Or the family who donated a week’s stay at their house in Palm Springs that sold for over $1,500.”
Miller primarily focused on restaurants and other businesses that he had relationships with but made a few cold calls, as well.
“Don’t get frustrated by hearing a no,” he advised. “Most of the companies that didn’t get involved were still very supportive.”
Training tips: “The two most important things I learned from last year is to drink before you’re thirsty and eat before you’re hungry. Keep the machine going.”
Fundraising tips: “I utilized every resource. There’s a promotion with Value Village where you can take in two bags of clothes and they give you $25.” (Check out the fun “Thrift Shop” style YouTube video here.) “That was $100 towards my fundraising goal. They also had an event at Elysian Fields where with every guest you brought in, they gave you $10 towards your goal. I did that, too. “
Motivating tips: “You will have a moment where you feel like you can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too grueling. It’s too hard. But you just have to dig deep. I thought about a lot of things to keep me going – the people I’ve lost, my kids, those who had donated. I kept thinking, I can’t face my donors tomorrow and say, ‘I couldn’t do it.’”
When Malia Hardin, a 42-year-old Seattle marketing consultant, signed up for Obliteride last year, she’d never ridden a bike on the street before. In fact, she thought Obliteride was all done on bike paths.
“Quite frankly, I was terrified,” she said. “I was definitely not a cyclist. I’d never used clip-on pedals before and had to learn how to pull up to a stop sign without tipping over. I started out training with a stand-up trainer in my house and got really comfortable using my pedals. And then I started riding short distances, first for a half hour, then an hour, then built it up from there. Then I started adding routes with hills.”
Hardin rode 100 miles in 11 hours last year – coming in last – but the slow-but-steady cyclist still felt triumphant about the $3,000 she was able to raise toward cancer research, particularly since a dear friend recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I rode last year because of her,” she said. “I thought Obliteride would be a way to keep the people in my life who were battling cancer close to my heart. I’m doing something to honor them.”
Toward that end, Hardin invited potential donors to write names on her bike as a way to mark their – or a loved one’s – battle with cancer.
“I told them that anyone who donated – or even anyone who didn’t – could put a name on my bike,” she said. “It could be a survivor or someone in the midst of their fight or someone who had died. They all got to go with me.”
Training tips: “I did training rides with people with experience so they could give me tips, like when you go around a sharp corner, make sure your inside pedal is up so it doesn’t hit the ground. They also taught me how to communicate with other cyclists, to let people know if there’s gravel or a pothole coming up. Also, if you’re an inexperienced rider, spend the money and get the padded bike shorts and the cycling shoes. Gloves and sunglasses were also things I’m happy I spent the money on.”
Fundraising tips: “Raising the money was much easier than I expected. I think the people who can’t ride or volunteer – especially in Seattle – like the idea of still being involved. But I got donations from all over the country. It also helped to post training updates and milestones on Facebook, like the first time I rode 60 miles. It made people feel like they were coming along on the journey rather than me just asking for a donation.”
Motivating tips: “Beginning riders have a lot of support. I took enough food for a week and didn’t need any of it because they had so much stuff on the course. They have refueling stations like every 15 miles where you can stop, eat, go to the bathroom. Plus there are med techs and bike techs on hand. If you pop a tire, the crew will come and help you.”
Brain cancer survivor Nina Garkavi isn’t physically able to train for Obliteride yet, but the 25-year-old dynamo may just be its biggest booster.
“I did a promotional video and held a sign that said ‘Ride to help me stay alive’ and I strongly believe that,” she said. “I have to be involved. And if the only way I can help right now is to volunteer and help spread the word, that’s the little piece I can do. That’s part of what can lead to finding cures.”
Diagnosed with a brain tumor at 22, Garkavi has endured two brain surgeries, months of inpatient and outpatient chemotherapy, weeks of radiation and multiple treatment side effects, including hearing loss on her left side and severe balance and coordination issues on her right.
“I’m still rehabilitating my right side but I’ve come a long ways,” she said. “After treatment, I wasn’t even walking on my own.”
As a power volunteer for Obliteride, Garkavi has devoted dozens of hours to the cause both this year and last, handing out information and doing outreach at regional fun runs, marathons and other community events.
“I helped set up tables for the party at Gasworks last year and handed out flowers to all the riders that finished,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever is needed.”
Volunteer tip: “You can sign up as a volunteer and look through what’s a good fit for you and sign up for that role, whether that’s sitting and checking off people’s names at a table or greeting riders at one of the rest stops. If you can volunteer a little bit of your time and be part of this amazing project that makes such a big difference, why not do it? Even if it’s only a couple of hours, that’s great.”
Motivating tip: “I was diagnosed while in Florida but was extremely lucky to say I was from Seattle and come home and receive the best care. People come to Children’s, to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, to UW Medicine from all over the place for their treatment. You can be involved in this humongous project, this local research center that’s here, but you’re helping the whole world.”
A 50-year-old health care business executive from Seattle, Steven Schellings was inspired to ride by one of Fred Hutch’s rock star researchers, Dr. Jerry Radich. Last year, as part of Radich’s team, Schellings rode 100 miles and brought in more than $1,800. This year, he’s riding 150 miles and hopes to raise another $5,000 to obliterate the blood cancer that runs in his family.
“If we do this as a large group, we will make a difference,” he said. “And we have to – funding is down. I tell people, ‘We need to do this because we have to keep the labs open’ and every dollar raised with Obliteride goes back to research. That’s a very important point to make and when people understand that, they get behind it. People want to see that their contribution is going toward research.”
A busy professional, Schellings said he greatly benefited from Obliteride’s resources, like the online acceleration plan, a week-by-week guide to training and fundraising.
“I suggest people utilize the resources Oblitieride has on the website,” he said. “They’re great. They’ve made a very comprehensive workout schedule with tips and everything’s very sequential up to the point of race time. It’s a very thoughtful script to prepare people to ride.”
Training tips: “If you’re going to do 50 miles or more, make sure you have a decent bike. And you need to be on that bike, riding hills and flat surfaces. I can’t emphasize that more: it’s all about time on the bicycle riding.”
Fundraising tips: “Focusing on social media is very important. You can reach more people in very little time and it’s a very efficient way to ask. I’m using Facebook and Twitter and Gmail. And I’m also talking to people in person and on the phone.”
Motivating tips: “When you’re stressed and tired and hot and thirsty and hungry, just think about the patient. Or the researcher behind the patient who’s trying to deliver better treatment and a cure. Focus on them and the ride will go faster.”
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has also written extensively about health issues for nbcnews.com, TODAY.com, CNN.com, MSN.com, Columns and several other publications. She also writes the breast cancer blog, doublewhammied.com. Reach her at email@example.com.