It’s not that Colleen Balestreri didn’t already know how to ride a bike. But, she had never gone on long rides, peddling for hours and piling up the miles.

“I think maybe my longest ride was something like five miles,” said the 37-year-old Olympia resident.

And that’s what made her decision to do the challenging 205-mile, Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride so intriguing. Yes, she told her friend Mike Murray, she’d ride the STP with him. But, she will not be riding on a tandem bike July 15 and 16 when the ride travels through Yelm and Centralia enroute to Portland, letting Mike do all the peddling.

Instead, Colleen bought her own bike in December, determined to complete the STP on her own over the two days in July.

Colleen Balestreri
Colleen rides with friends in preparation for the STP. They are (from left to right) Mike Murray, Joe Westcott, Abe Backus and herself. Photo courtesy: Colleen Balestreri

With her background in sports – she turned out for gymnastics in high school at Auburn Riverside and has lifted weights – she’s familiar with the challenge of pushing herself. She’s used to sweating.

“My friend got me riding,” Balestreri said. And, that’s all the push it took. Completing the challenge, not the thought of having a joyous, fun-filled ride, is the drive that keeps her going through the long training rides.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be fun,” Balestreri said with a chuckle. “It’s just another challenge I can add to the list of things I’ve done.”

Balestreri won’t be the only first timer pulling up to the STP starting line at the University of Washington at 5:30 a.m. on July 15. Of the 10,000 riders entered in the STP, 4,545 are first timers, riding their first STP.

Despite her novice status, Balestreri is no stranger to physical challenges. Last fall, she was training to run a half marathon.

Colleen Balestreri
Besides riding a bike, Colleen Balestreri also works out running and has competed in the Tough Mudder. Photo courtesy: Colleen Balestreri

“Then I got runner’s knee,” she said. “I figured it was just time to do biking for a while. Hopefully when this is done I can start focusing on running again.”

One constant shared by everyone riding in the STP will be fatigue. It’s a tough race for even seasoned riders. Balestreri accepts the challenge, but to soften the challenge and improve her endurance riding in the saddle, Balestreri has been training as much as possible. But, a busy schedule – she works three days a week drawing blood and takes classes at Clover Park Technical College five days a week – has limited her weekly bike rides.

Because of constant rain and some occasional icy conditions, Balestreri’s bike rides didn’t start seriously until February.

“Then again, it was still hit or miss,” Balestreri said. “We had a pretty rough winter. It was icy. I hadn’t been on a bike in a long time, so I wasn’t feeling real comfortable and stable on it.”

By April and May, the weather started clearing up and they were able to do longer rides. Balestreri and her training group, consisting of Murray, Joe Westcott and Abe Backus, completed their first long ride – a 30 miler. And, it was no treat.

Balestreri will wear this number when she rides in her first Seattle to Portland bike ride on July 15 and 16. Photo courtesy: Colleen Balestreri

“We referred to it as the dirty 30,” Balestreri laughs. “But now, 30 doesn’t seem very long.”

A 40 miler followed and they’ve done a couple of 50 mile rides as well. She’s ridden one 60 miler, her longest ride. After peddling for those long distances, Balestreri made some comfort investments – padded shorts and gloves. And she took a class on how to repair a bike from Joy Ride Bikes, where she also purchased her bike.

“It’s an expensive hobby I’ve found,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s not like running.”

But Balestreri is always up to the challenge. She’s all about setting goals and staying busy, understanding and embracing a physical challenge. She’s already talking about doing the STP again next year, but in one day instead of two.

Squeezing in long rides has been difficult with her busy schedule. “Hopefully I don’t die during the race,” Balestreri said only half joking.

For many like Balestreri, the attraction to riding and surviving the STP is being a part of the event itself. It’s a worldwide attraction with riders from six different countries and 42 states. However, most of them – 8,363 to be exact – come from the state of Washington.

STP 2017
Balestreri completes many of her training rides on the Chehalis Trail.
Photo courtesy: Colleen Balestreri

And while Balestreri has been up for the challenge of biking, she admits she’s still more of a runner. “I think I like running more,” she said. “It doesn’t take quite as much time. You need quite a few hours just to get in a decent bike ride. I just don’t have that much time.”

Before her knee injury, she’d run 10 miles and that would take about two hours. Riding 60 miles takes about 5 hours. “Hopefully next year I can pick it up when I’m not going to school,” she said. “Maybe even do a triathlon. I’ve already got the bike!”

And that’s just Balestreri being Balestreri. Always looking for the next challenge.

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