(sorry for how long this post is, being my first bike race ever and my first race of any sort in 4 months I feel very interested in covering everything)
By all accounts this race was a success for both Jill and I, but probably the best thing about this past weekend was that we got to go to Whitehorse for 2 days. If you've never been to The Yukon then you're really missing out. Whitehorse is a great town surrounded by hundreds of miles of beauty in every direction. Why can't it be easier for Americans to just move to Canada if they want to? If it were, Whitehorse would be right on top of my list of places I'd like to live sometime.
We hopped on the ferry out of Juneau on Friday afternoon and for the first time in 3 days I could just sit and relax without needing to be working, running, or preparing for the weekend. We were an hour late getting to the Friday night race meeting but no one seemed to mind. It's was pretty obvious right away that this was going to be a very laid back and fun event. Within minutes I felt like we knew everyone that was still lingering around and 30 minutes later we were on our way to a barbecue somewhere on the other side of town. We got some great food into our stomachs and headed off to another side of town were we had been offered a place to stay with one of the riders from an 8 person team, He even had a bed for Jill and I to sleep in. To call the people we met in Whitehorse friendly would be a major understatement.
View from the ferry heading out of town
Saturday morning it seemed so strange to be facing a 24 hour event with almost no anxiety or stress. I'm used to running races in which I have a lot of performance anxiety and other feelings of stress involved with knowing that you're about to go out and thrash your body for hours on end. With this though I just didn't have any understanding of what I was about to do so I had nothing to be anxious about. This would in fact the first bike race I have ever done!
The race started pretty uneventful. Some dude yelled, "go" and the racers ran a Le Mans style start around a small loop and back to the bikes. Or at least most of the racers ran. I walked. Jill walked. A few others walked. As I biked away I thought about the irony. I was probably the fastest runner out there and yet here were all these bikers, many who had probably not run this far in years, sprinting around a small loop in the forest completely intent on being the first rider pushing down the trail.
There were over one hundred riders in the event, but only 6 solo riders. I knew that one of the soloists, who is from Seward, Alaska is a strong rider (he finished 2nd at the 24 Hours of Kincaid last year) and I decided to check out his pace for awhile and see how that felt. I rode most of the first 3 laps within sight of him and another solo rider who was up all the way from Winnipeg. I was pretty sure that none of the other 3 solo riders had any intentions of "racing" the event so it seemed pretty certain early on that if I wanted to win the event these were the two I would have to beat. I guess it took me about 2 laps to decide that I did in fact want to win the event. Going into this I kept telling myself that I just wanted to ride for 24 hours and see how I felt about it. After a couple laps though I pretty much got into the mindset of racing. As long as I was going to be out there riding my bike for 24 hours I may as well try to ride it further than anyone else...
Sometime near the end of the third lap I began to pull away from these other two riders. They had been riding most of the technical stuff faster than me but I had noticed that on any stretches that simply involved fitness and strength to go fast that I could close any gaps on them almost instantly. I finally decided that it was pointless to ride behind them any longer and pushed on ahead of them on a long flat stretch leading into a 3 mile stretch of somewhat technical singletrack. I kept expecting to see them right behind me again before this stretch was over, but i glanced back a few miles later and I couldn't see anyone.
Now I had a chance to ride several laps on my own and really get a feel for the course. It was a fun course, for the most part. It could have been a lot more fun if it flowed a little better. It was tough to get in a good rhythm. There was always a hairpin turn or a really steep hill just as you felt like you got going nicely. It had a lot of climbing... about 1,000 feet in 7.9 miles. It had about 4 miles of singletrack and 4 miles of doubletrack. The singletrack was really windy, mostly flat, and relatively slow due to roots and soft dirt. The doubletrack was almost all either uphill or downhill so you were either grinding it out at 5 mph or racing through the forests at 25, very little in between. I would have preferred a course that had more stretches in which I could get in a steady rhythm for a mile or two at a time, but that was certainly not the case on this course. The best thing about the course by far was the scenery. I'd love to get back there sometime to do some riding when I have more time to stop and enjoy the surroundings
I lapped Jill somewhere near the end of my 4th lap. I had been riding pretty hard and expected to catch her sooner than this since she was riding with a bad knee. I was worried she was over doing it but she assured me that it didn't hurt at all and she snapped this picture of me as I headed out ahead of her:
Here's another picture Jill got of me sometime later in the day near the start/finish area. I particularly like the guy off to the right in the cutout jeans and no shirt. People in Whitehorse rock!:
Laps 4 through 15 kind of went by quite uneventful to me. I just kept riding in circles, stopping every other lap to shovel in food and next thing I knew it was midnight. I had not seen either of these other two riders in this time so I knew they were still on the same lap as me but since they had not once caught up to me in about 9 hours time I figured they probably weren't too close behind. I easily could have asked the timers where the other racers were but I really didn't care all that much. I just wanted to ride my pace and see how that worked out. Then sometime on my 16th lap I caught up to Chuck (from Seward) on a stretch of singletrack. I followed him for a mile or so and he seemed to be feeling OK but when we broke back out onto doubletrack I took off and almost instantly I couldn't see or hear him behind me. I now had more than an 8 mile lead on him but I had no idea still about this other rider from Winnipeg.
Now it was the middle of the night but it was still light enough to ride without a light. In fact one of the only rules this race has is that you are not allowed to use lights! That's right, so much daylight in Whitehorse this time of year that you can ride all night! Did I mention yet that Whitehorse rocks? I did have about three laps though in which it would have been nice if it were a little lighter. I took a couple of minor falls from running into trees/roots that I couldn't see very well. I came close to a couple bad falls on fast downhills throughout the race but luckily the couple of falls that I did have were really slow and painless.
When I came in at the end of my 17th lap Chuck was at the pit area and told me he was dropping out. He said he just wasn't feeling mentally and physically up to continuing. It sounds like he doesn't do any biking in the winter and didn't start riding this season until the second week of May. I was pretty bummed about this because I really enjoyed knowing that there was at least one other rider out there trying to catch me. Now there was only this guy from Winnipeg but I had no idea where he was, or if he was still out there.
Sometime later in the night I discovered that they actually had a leaderboard posted and as of 10pm there wasn't another rider within 2 laps of Chuck and I so I realized that this other guy must have stopped for a long rest or pulled out or something. Finding this out I was really bummed. It was about 6am, I had done 19 laps, and I already knew I was going to win the race. I was also feeling pretty shitty at this point. For most of my 20th lap I was thinking of stopping when I came around again, but instead I just took my longest break of the race (about 15 minutes), drank a Pepsi, ate about 1,000 calories, and headed back out. Laps 21 and 22 were great. I felt really strong again, it was warming back up after a chilly night, and I was enjoying the course more than I had since the first few laps. And then it hit again, that desire just to eat and go to sleep. I had no energy left when I finished the 23rd lap. I still had over 2.5 hours before noon so I had no chance of getting in 3 more laps but I was pretty certain I could get in 2 more. The question was did I want to? I downed some coffee, ate whatever I could still find left in my cooler, and headed back out... and I'm sure glad I did.
Laps 24 and 25 were easily the most enjoyable of my entire race. On lap 24 I discovered that I could ride out of the saddle again without my knee hurting (for some reason my left knee had been hurting me whenever I stood up on the bike since lap 14). I rode most of that lap standing up and it felt so nice to take the pressure off my arms and butt and use some different muscles. I came around the pit area and noticed that I had just busted out my fastest lap since well before midnight! I headed back out for one more lap planning to cruise along easy as sort of a victory lap. I had 90 minutes to complete the lap before noon (this event required laps to be completed by noon to be counted) and my slowest lap so far had been about 65 minutes so I knew I was going to get one more in pretty easily. About a mile into this lap I stopped to take a leak and when I got back on the bike I suddenly felt stronger than I had felt in about 20 hours. Just about this time I was passed by a team rider and decided I'd see if I could stay with her for awhile. Earlier in the race I found that I could usually stay with relay riders for a mile or two as they passed me. I liked doing this because I could just follow another rider for awhile, usually have some conversation with them, and take my mind off of staring at the empty trail ahead of me for awhile. As the race wore on though I couldn't keep up with these riders for more than a minute or two. Now though I was on my last lap so I had nothing to lose by pushing to stay with this girl. And as I followed her I kept feeling better and better. I was riding faster than I had ridden in over 15 hours but I was also feeling better than I had felt in that time also! I stayed right on her rear wheel for the rest of the lap. She rode a perfect pace for me, and we had some great conversation, and my last lap clocked in at just over 50 minutes, probably my fastest lap since number 4 or 5! It was such a perfect way to end a great event.
I talked with my new friends for awhile, drank a beer, ate some food, and then they had a short announcement of all the finishers. I won a trophy, but they don't actually give people the trophies, they put your name on it and then display them somewhere in Whitehorse (I forget where). I think that's cool. I'd so much rather have my name on a trophy somewhere in Whitehorse than somewhere in the back of my closet.
From what I hear 25 laps is a record for this event! That's pretty cool I guess. Records are made to be broken though and next year I'll either be out there riding to break it or if I'm not there I'll be rooting for someone else to break it.
In all I rode for 198 miles (94 miles further than I had ever pedaled in one ride). My riding time was 21:55 and I finished at 23:19 so I had 1:24 of stopped time throughout the race. In the future I could easily cut this stopped time significantly but I just saw no reason to put so much emphasis on that in this event. I just wanted to go out and ride for 24 hours and get a sense of how my mind and body feel about endurance cycling in general.
I learned a lot from this race:
1) I am not a fast technical rider compared to most
2) I am very strong on flats compared to other riders
3) as I get tired my strength on uphills fades drastically
4) Biking for 24 hours is so much less abusive on my body than running for 24 hours (when I ran the Susitna 100 I could hardly walk for 3 days, today I'm not even really sore from this race, unless I sit on a hard chair :)
5) Whitehorse kicks ass! (did I mention that already?)
6) When I bike I can pretty much eat anything without digestion troubles. Here's a list of some of the different things I ate: pizza, cereal bars, perpetuem, hammer gel, cookies, pasta, smoked salmon, corn chowder, bread, avocado, watermelon, bananas, powerbars, fruit leather, cytomax.
7) When I do eat biking I feel a boost in my energy level almost immediately. In running I always feel like there's a delay from when I eat to when I feel the benefits of it but yesterday I felt like I could stop to shovel down some food and within minutes I would feel strength from the calories.
8) This will not be the only bike race I will ever do!
9) This will also not be the longest bike race I will ever do... 24 hours was just about when I started to get warmed up :)
Totals for last week (including Saturday's portion of the race): Run 30 miles; Bike 142 miles; in 19.25 hours.