Though not really a standard post-ride report, I’m compelled to jot down a few of the highlights from the experience that my brother Terry and I had at the 24 Hour TT Championships last weekend. First, for my friends who are not familiar with the race format, you get on a bike and ride as far as you can in 24 hours. The true champions of this event do it solo, but old guys like us do it as a 2-man team, trading off every hour-or-so until we’ve managed to live through the full 24 hours.
I’m not really an Ultra Cyclist
I met Terry in Borrego Springs around 9:30AM on Friday. We got Betty (our race support vehicle) parked in an appropriate location at the very back of the pits, and then went out to find some breakfast. As things go with us, we happened to sit next to one of the solo racers, a fellow named Meurig James.
We hit it off with Meurig pretty quickly as he began laying down stories of his solo RAAM efforts in 2013. At one point, he told us he’s “not really an ultra racer”. Uh yeah…but you finished solo RAAM, and now you’ve flown half way around the globe to compete in the 24 hour worlds? THEN, to make the story even better, Mr. James (without any support and being very far from home) lays down an incredible 24 hour performance…completing 484 miles in 24 hours…just 9 miles short of winner Stuart Birnie’s winning run. Again, he did it WITH NO SUPPORT! Cheers Meurig, one hell of a performance!
OK, so on to the race. After a bunch of equipment wrangling, butterflies in our stomachs, a racer meeting, and a big Mexican food lunch that would come back to bite me later…we were finally racing! The race started at 6:00pm, putting us in the dark for the first lap. I went out a bit hot (of course), finishing the first 18 mile lap in just under 47 minutes, averaging 23mph (no, I’m not going to bore you all with the stats from every lap…but hey, that’s not a bad lap for a 51 year old dude, right?). Anyway, I managed to stay in control enough as to not completely destroy myself, and handed off to Terry at the pits. He was off racing and I headed back to Betty to get some calories and as much rest as I could before heading back down to the pits for the next exchange.
That’s how it went through the night and into the next day. At some point we were adopted by the crew of friend and fellow racer Greg Musser, that fabulous crew being, specifically, Teresa Beck (California Triple Crown Hall of Famer) and Mark Shalauta. They kept us company with stories and words of encouragement as we waited for one another to arrive back to the pits for the exchange. Thank you Mark and Teresa, you made the long cold night immeasurably shorter!
Smiling in the face of adversity
On one of those occasions while I was waiting, Terry came rolling into the pit with one leg hanging off the side of his bike. He rolled up next to me and said nonchalantly, “I broke a cleat…did half that lap with only one foot clipped in.” He was smiling like it was the funniest thing he’d ever said. My brother doesn’t react to difficult situations like most people do…which is why I always want him around when I’m doing something tough! As he stuffed the timing chip into my jersey pocket I shouted, “I have spare shoes in my bag, take one from there”, and I was off.
At something like 3 in the morning, I suddenly couldn’t figure out how to get the timing chip out of my jersey pocket to hand it off to Terry. I fumbled at the back of my jersey and started swearing and panicking. Luckily, as I said, we had been adopted by Greg Musser’s all-star crew, and Mark calmly walked over and said, “You have a vest on”. Thankfully he left the word “Moron” off then end of the sentence, though he most certainly would have been justified in adding it. Not really his style though, it seems. Anyway, he lifted the vest out of the way, retrieved the chip, and handed it to Terry. Some things get much harder when you’ve been awake and pushing your body to the limits for too long. Thanks again Mark!
Just after 5:00am I started a lap that would have me riding into the sunrise. That lap was the coldest one I did, but it was pure heaven. I posted to Facebook at the end of that lap that there is no drug better than sunshine. My average lap splits dropped by about 2 minutes, just from racing in the light and warmer air.
Hey, are you METAL?
At 6:00AM, the 12 hour racers started, which included Andrew “METAL” Danley, a friend and former team mate of mine (I just love saying that). We had raced together in 2012 as part of the 8-man ViaSat RAAM team. On my next lap after they started, METAL came screaming by me like I was standing still, letting out a banshee scream that lifted my heartrate and bumped up my speed by 2MPH. I had to concentrate to relax and slow down, for fear of completely blowing myself up. METAL went on to win the 12 hour race, finishing with 254 miles, and an average speed of 21.5MPH! That’s 21.5mph for 12 hours straight…yeah…that’s METAL.
A few laps later, we were visited by another member of the 2012 ViaSat team, rising ultra-cycling star Adam Bickett (aka Wildebeast). Adam was out for a little training ride…he had ridden 115 miles from his home in Del Mar, just to say “hi” to Terry, METAL and me. We chatted and relaxed for a while as Terry was pounding out miles on the course. Eventually he filled his pockets with Ensure, Mountain Dew and a banana from our food stash, and was off! That break, talking with Adam, gave me a boost that would carry me through to the end of the race.
On my next break, Larry Bice stopped by to see how we were doing. Larry is the man who is responsible for starting the ViaSat RAAM team some 9 or 10 years back. He rode his motorcycle out just to be part of the experience, and it was fantastic to see him. Thanks for stopping by, Godfather!
So it was a great morning, all in all. Terry and I were cranking out the laps. We had our exchanges working smoothly and neither of us were having any issues with nutrition or hydration. Everything was going along swimmingly, until…
More adversity please, we’re Irish
OK, I don’t even know what that subtitle means…it just popped into my head and I’m going with it. Anyway, everything was going great until lap 21, when the winds from hell hit. I swear on that lap that I rode into a headwind the entire way around the course. Don’t take my word for it, check out what one of the most legendary ultra-cyclists in the world has to say about it… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nKdx4L5APQ (fast-forward to about 2:00 in). Once I got to the little section of 2-3% climbing (which, until this lap, had been my favorite part of the course), the winds became a direct gale-force headwind. I had been riding this section at 16 to 17mph, but now couldn’t even sustain 10mph. I felt like a feather tossed in front of Etta James’ mouth, as she belts out Stormy Weather. Yeah, stretching that a bit thin I know…but you get the idea. Anyway, we fought our way through the winds, and at 3:30ish, the race officials mercifully moved us onto the short lap, about 1.5 hours early.
Terry banged out 3 laps there before handing it back to me. The short lap was fantastic…a really great way to end this crazy thing. I cranked out 4 laps as hard as I could possibly go. My body was about done with aero position at this point, but I knew METAL was still out on the course, and there was no way in hell I was going to let him come by me and catch me sitting up! I handed the baton back to Terry with less than 30 minutes left, and challenged him to get us 2 more laps. That he did, with plenty of time to spare!
In the end, we covered 457 miles at an average speed of 19.2 mph. We finished 4 miles behind the 1st place 2-man team, but incredibly, Meurig James completed 27 more miles than us, and winner Stuart Birnie did 36 more for a total of 493!
Shortly after finishing, I got the following text from my incredible wife, who was keeping everything together back home while I was out screwing around with my brother in the desert…
You're awesome (pet name that I won't share here). I could cry. I am crying. I'm so glad you're done. Take it easy. Satch (our dog) says he's prod as shit.
Yeah…who could ask for any more love and support than that!
One more brush with greatness
That night, we relaxed in Betty as the rest of the racers packed up their gear and headed off to hotels and the banquet. By 10PM we were all alone, and basked in our own glory for a bit until exhaustion finally got the better of us and we finally dozed off. The next morning we packed up our own camp and headed off in search of breakfast once again. We found our way back to the same breakfast place and sat in nearly the same spot as we had 2 mornings prior. This time we found ourselves sitting next to the winner of the 24 Hour Women’s Solo division, Danielle Grabol. Danielle is yet another incredible athlete, who finished 420 miles at 17.7MPH in the 24 hours. She was super gracious, asking us about our race and telling us about how things went for her. Another shining example of how open and friendly the superstars of this sport are!
After breakfast, it was time to split ways with Terry, sending him off toward Phoenix in Betty, as I made my way back up the glass elevator toward San Diego (but in a car, unlike the Wildebeast). This 24 hour race format is perfect for anyone looking to enter into ultracycling. The short-course format makes it very easy to race with minimal support, and the whole event was very well run. I highly recommend it!