Go, Patty Jo, go!
Some athletes are just gluttons for punishment. Take Patty Jo Struve, for example, a 51-year-old Carnelian Bay resident who continues to push her body and mind to the limit from the seat of her bike.
This past weekend, the former North Tahoe Middle School music teacher put in another couple hundred-plus miles with her third completion of the annual Race Across Oregon. This time, however, Struve split the seat time ” a total of nearly 40 hours and 535 miles ” with fellow long-distance cyclist and friend Sandy Earl of Portland, Ore.
“I think the difference in this (race), for me, was that I was able to help someone else accomplish their goal,” Struve said. “My motivation was to get Sandy back into racing.”
Struve said Earl, whom she met at the Davis 12/24-Hour Challenge in 2002, once was one of the top ultracyclists in the country before taking time off from racing. Now she’s making a comeback to the sport.
In April the two cyclists met up again at the Davis 12/24, where Struve covered 346 miles in the allotted 24 hours; Earl did the 12-hour race. Back in 2002, Struve said, Earl rode 408 miles in 24 hours while she covered 350.
“She’s an amazing rider,” Struve said. “She really inspired me.”
As part of her comeback, Earl planned on competing in the Race Across Oregon, and Struve was penciled in as a member of her support crew. That changed when Earl invited Struve to team up for the race.
“I was glad because I’d rather ride than crew, so it didn’t take much convincing,” Struve said.
And so Team She-Cat Flash was formed.
Although the Race Across Oregon has multiple divisions, including male and female solo, tandem and two- or four-person teams of both genders, Team She-Cat Flash was the first two-woman team ever to take on the race.
What a relay team they made, Struve said.
“Our weaknesses are each others’ strengths,” she explained. “I did the steep climbs for her and she did some of the steep descents that I didn’t want to do. On the flats we’re pretty equal.”
There’s no way around the grueling climbs and white-knuckle descents that define Race Across Oregon. The ride, according to its Web site, features 14 uphill stretches, 40,000 feet of total vertical gain and 535 miles of road.
A continuous loop, the course begins at the Portland Airport Holiday Inn early Saturday morning and culminates at Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood on Sunday. The cutoff is 48 hours.
Last year Struve posted a time of 47 hours and 40 minutes while struggling through physical and mental exhaustion to the point of delirium.
This year, with Struve and Earl averaging 45-minute pulls ” with each putting in a single hour-and-a-half stint at night so the other could sleep and a couple 30-minute pulls near the end ” Team She-Cat Flash finished in 38 hours and 33 minutes.
Although she split the 535 miles with Earl, Struve said the feat was nearly as difficult as last year’s solo ride because she set a faster pace ” averaging closer to 18 mph as opposed to 14 mph.
The pace took its toll. At one point during a 13-mile climb on the second day, Struve said her pace slowed to about 4 mph as she began to tire.
“I was sleepy,” she said. “I just sort of went through the motion of riding, but I don’t remember it.”
Struve recovered, however, enough to do most the work on the final, six-mile climb to the finish when Earl was suffering from muscle cramps.
The men’s solo winner completed the course in 35:30 and the two-man relay team in 27:13. No women entered the female solo race.
In fact, there were fewer cyclists altogether this year, Struve said, guessing that last year’s triple-digit heat and high humidity is to blame.
“This year it was easier because the weather conditions were better,” she said. “The hottest it got was 94 degrees, so that was a lot better than last year.”
With three Race Across Oregon finishes under her belt, Struve said she has no plans to hang up her bike.
Asked why she puts herself through the punishment of ultracycling, Struve said: “Because I like being in the moment, and it allows me to be there and not somewhere else. And when you get done, you think, ‘Wow, I did that.'”
– Total distance: 535 miles
– Amount of climb: 40,000 feet
– Cutoff: 48 hours
– Start: Portland Airport Holiday Inn
– Finish: Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood