We all have an identity. It’s those few short words we use to describe ourselves when meeting someone new… or when looking in the mirror. For some, it’s their familial role. Others identify with their career. I like to think of the identity as that part of us that yields the memories we turn to when searching for motivation, inspiration, and some sort of sign that yes, we have persevered in the past and can do it again. Personally, I’ve always thought of myself as an athlete and while I do have plenty of inspirational recollections I can replay when in need of a little psyching up, many of those past experiences are growing stale. It’s been a while since I’ve impressed myself.
The shelves of this corner of my memory have just been restocked.
We made the four-hour drive to Riverside State Park in Spokane, WA early Friday morning and quickly laid claim to a prime camping spot right on the trail, about 50 yards before the Start/Finish line. The race didn’t begin until noon on Saturday, but having an easily-accessible pit area is essential for solo competitors. So far so good. For those who are unfamiliar with the 24-hour mountain bike racing format, the rules are simple. This particular course consisted of a 14.4 mile loop of singletrack and doubletrack trail with 820 feet of elevation gain on which racers compete for 24-hours to see who can do the most laps. The majority of the entrants are there in the form of 5- and 10-person teams who typically alternate riders at the start of each lap. There were also a few 2-person teams. Then there are the solos.
“You see that yellow race number? That means he’s sick. You have to be one sick bastard to ride your bike 24 hours. Good luck, dude! You rock!”
– Unidentified cameraman sometime Saturday evening.
I knew there would be a day that I would eventually solo a 24-hour race, but I didn’t expect it to come so suddenly. After all, I only just got back into mountain bike racing this past February after a 5-year hiatus and I certainly haven’t rebuilt my endurance base to where it needs to be yet. But, like I said the other day, I often suffer from the deadly combination of zeal and ignorance. Which is how I wound up at the starting line of the 24hrs Round the Clock endurance race this past weekend… with the telltale mark of insanity — the yellow racing number — attached to my bike. Fortunately, those of us riding yellow could point to the 7 guys with the blue racing numbers as the true lunatics. The blue numbers are reserved for the solo single-speeders.
The race began at high noon on Saturday under clear skies with the temperature in the mid-70’s. The gun went off and the entire field of entrants began a 500-yard hilly run as part of the customary Le Mans start. I immediately settled into a super-slow jog and happily let the hundreds of teams move to the front — less people I’d have to get out of the way of once on the bike. The course is a fast, flowy route with several moderately-technical rock-gardens and six noteworthy hills, the first of which is a half-mile of very loose, sandy double-track. The second one, “Devil’s Up”, wasn’t as long but was quite a bit steeper and much rockier. One of my goals for the race was to maintain an average heart rate of 140bpm, which meant keeping myself in check during the climbs — I never walked any of the hills during the 24-hours on the bike and actually found that riding one-handed and meditating on my breathing helped to lower my heart rate during the climbs. By riding the hills one-handed, I forced myself to relax and just sit and spin, instead of grinding up in too high of a gear and stressing my upper body. I passed a lot of people pushing their bikes up the hills throughout the entire race and I think this trick really worked out for me, as I never felt winded at all.
When i say I never felt winded during the race, I should add that I also never felt all that fatigued, sore, or “bonked” either — not on my first lap, not on my fourth, and not on my tenth. I owe this to a perfect hydration/nutrition plan that I strictly followed, thanks in large part to Kristin’s help. I had a water bottle of calorie drink on the bike (175 calories of PowerBar Endurance drink), a 45oz Camelbak filled with electrolyte-only drink (Nuun) around my waste, and a packet of Gu (100 calories) tucked up a leg of my shorts. Each lap took an average of 1:22 excluding my time in the pit area and I routinely drank most of the Nuun and at least half of the PowerBar drink during each lap. I also took the Gu (or sometimes a 100 calorie stick of Panda licorice) at exactly the same point on the course, right around mile 8. After each lap, Kristin would quickly swap out my water bottle with a fresh one of calorie drink and would top off my lumbar-Camelbak with more Nuun. I’d tuck another Gu up my shorts leg and would down a chilled 5 oz can of V8 (my secret weapon). I’d then either have some Cliff Bloks, some more licorice, or a bagel w/cream cheese or banana while in the pit area to ingest a few more calories and carbohydrates. I also made a point to drink plain, cold water while in the pit area as sipping nothing but the equivalent of dilute saltwater for 24-hours can wreak havoc on your throat and lips.
Night had finally come after my 6th lap and it was time to take a longer pit stop and change my clothes. I took my time washing the dust and grime off my legs, arm, and face and switched to a pair of three-quarter length tights (ahhh, fresh Chamois Butt’r!), a clean jersey, and arm-warmers. The sun had set and the temperature was dropping into the 40’s. My plan to ride until midnight and then call it a night was moved to the back burner. I was in 10th place and feeling great. I put on the 12-hour light that I borrowed from Erik, downed a pound of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, and got out there for another lap. Halfway through the lap I had to take a 10-second break to vomit some of the Mac n’ Cheese. Apparently I didn’t fully chew all of it. Game on!
I couldn’t believe how fast time was flying by. By the time midnight had come around I had already ridden over 115 miles and was still, shockingly, feeling great. I had long since memorized the placement of every rock on the trail (even “Devil’s Down”) and was having a great time riding along, alone through the night, singing aloud with the tunes on my iPod. Although I pity the young kid who had to endure two miles with me while I barked out my own hoarse version of Journey’s “Faithfully”. Speaking of which, “earbuds” were outlawed before the race but I got around this by duct-taping them into the vents of my helmet while I went through the Start/Finish line, then would pop them back into my ears when the eyes of the law were out of sight. I always kept the volume low enough to hear those around me, though. I noticed a number of other solo riders with an iPod as well. It’s practically necessary equipment, rules be damned!
I finished my 9th lap at 2am and was contemplating a 3-hour nap. I had a bit to eat (a delicious chicken caesar pasta salad from SafeWay) and drink, and took a minute to stroll past the results table. I was in 8th place! Holy shit! I ran back to “Basecamp Walsh” and asked Kristin to reset the alarm clocks to 4am. Two hours of sleep would have to do. When I awoke at 4am, I had dropped to 12th place. It was time to get back to work.
This is probably a good time to make a confession. I have never before ridden more than 105 miles at once. Not even on a road bike. I was deep into uncharted territory. And I feel I owe some of this to my bike. While it’s obvious that I have indeed been training well and that I had the very best support person I could ever wish for, I have no doubt that my Mooto-X YBB was a big part of my success. Not to sound like a commercial, but not only did I never get a flat tire or suffer any mechanical problem beyond a momentary sticky chainring, the titanium frame and softail suspension did enough dampening of the rocks and stutter-bumps to leave my muscles feeling fresh throughout the ride. I was originally going to switch to the full-suspension bike if my back started to hurt, but I never did. And I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that other bike again. I couldn’t imagine a better bike for endurance racing (and apparently neither could the dozens of people who complimented me on the bike during the race). In the words of Ferris Bueller, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
A funny thing happened as daylight broke: I started passing tons of people. From soloists to 5-man teams to 10-person corporate teams. If I saw them I passed them. And it felt great after having fresh-legged racers blow by me all day Saturday. My 11th lap was my third fastest lap of the race and I was in a great mood and feeling wonderful. Even the support crew for other teams started commenting on my “freakishly high energy level”. Every time I said the next lap would be my last, I came back to the pit area psyched to go out and ride another lap. It doesn’t hurt that the course was so much fun. Who would have known an area called “Little Vietnam” would be fun to ride over and over in the same day? At first I was happy to ride 10 laps. Then I was shooting for 12. After my 11th lap I told Kristin that 13 would definitely be it for me. And while I was out there on my 12th lap, I did the math and realized that 14 laps would put me over 200-miles. Fourteen laps it is!
And fourteen laps it was. The way the end of the race works is that if you swipe your timing chip before noon on Sunday you have to go and do another lap. If you swipe your timing chip at 11:59:59, you have to go and do another lap. Swipe it at 12:00:01 and you’re done. As noon draws near a lot of racers will actually line up in the finishing stretch just so they don’t have to go and ride another lap. They wait for the noontime gun to go off and then they swipe their timing chips one by one.
I finished my 13th lap at about 10:50 in the morning and while I was definitely happy with how far I had gone (and was starting to feel the soreness), a big part of my doing a 14th lap was because of how silly I would have felt to just sit there for an hour. The number of laps you do is the first determining factor in finishing place, so it doesn’t matter if it takes you over 25 hours to finish so long as you finish that one extra lap. So I went out there and did one final lap and thanked the volunteers at the checkpoints as I pedaled by and rolled into the finish line at about 12:20 on Sunday afternoon. My first 24hour race was done. And I doubled my longest bicycle ride ever.
- 14 laps = 7th place overall in Solo Men out of 29 entries.
- 201.6 miles of trail.
- 11,480 feet of elevation gain.
- 1 crash
- 2 dabs
- 0 steps walked
- 0 flat tires
- 0 mechanical problems
- 2 hours sleep
- 1 giant snake encounter
- 1 kamikaze dragonfly
- 1 incredible wife who I couldn’t have done this without.