Recently I “sat down and talked” with Cameron Chambers, a highly successful 24-hour mountain bike racer, via email. The Specialized Stumpjumper Trailcrew rider’s success on the around-the-clock scene has been and continues to be amazing. He was the 2003 Under 25 World Champion, 24-Hour Solo Racing. He raced on the Subaru/Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team from 2004 to 2007. In 2004, he won 24-Hours in the Old Pueblo, besting Olympian Tinker Juarez. A year later, in 2005, he was the Elite 24-Hour National Champion. Switching it up a bit, he placed 5th in the 2007 Cyclocross National Championships, Singlespeed Category. In 2009, Chambers changed teams, joining the Specialized Stumpjumper Trailcrew. That year he was a member of 4-man team that won the 24-Hour National Series. In 2010, Cam took 2nd place in the Cross Country Nationals, Singlespeed Category. He also took 1st place last year in the 24-Hour Solo National Championships, Singlespeed Category. Earlier this year he placed 2nd in the Men’s Open division at the Breck Epic 6-day stage race. When he’s not racing, Chambers works as a sales manager for Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs where Cam and his wife live.
dailymile: What’s an average training week/day look like leading up to an important event?
Cam Chambers: I generally block together training in 3 day workloads and then two recovery days. Working at CTS I obviously have the luxury of having tons of people that I can pull advice from and an outstanding number of resources available. Even though by and large I write my own training I still joke that I am coached by the entire company of Carmichael Training Systems. I ask a lot of questions of our coaches, but I try and spread it out to get a collection of answers, and so they don’t get sick of me. Throughout the year I probably average around 12 hours a week of riding. When I am ramping it up during bigger training blocks, it will often knock up to 18-20 hours a week. Overall we have a philosophy of quality over quantity. I try not to spend a lot of junk miles in the saddle. If I am riding, I am generally either going really hard or really easy. You get spit out the back if you are lukewarm.
dailymile: How do you determine your ride/rest strategy? Does your strategy change depending on the race, conditions, course, etc.?
Cam: If I am doing a 24-hour solo race there is no rest strategy. I want to keep moving forward all the time. When I am racing my best, my pit stops will be shorter than 3 minutes a pop. That never changes no matter the conditions. You will only rest when it is over. Now of course that does not always work out. Sometimes you do have races where you get to a point you cannot put one foot in front of the other and you just are forced to rest. I have had it happen before that all I can do is walk forward, so that is what I will do. The course does determine the effort level you are forced to ride at and that can change your approach on the bike significantly. Sometimes courses are punchy and you have to put in some really hard efforts just to stay on your bike, those are races that really wear on you. A race like Old Pueblo outside Tucson does not require huge power spikes. You can find a rhythm and pedal.
dailymile: So you don’t stop?
Cam: No stopping when things are going good. Last year at Moab I bet we averaged a minute and half stop for the entire race. I had an outstanding crew, as I have always been blessed with. I eat 400-500 calories an hour. You do not need to replace all you are burning – in fact you could not – but you have to keep glucose present in your blood to keep the aerobic energy system burning primarily fat for fuel. The order of importance for racing is hydration, sodium, and then calories. You can come back from not enough food quickly. Getting dehydrated or becoming hypernatremic is a much bigger deal.
dailymile: What’s the worst time you’ve had in a 24-hour endurance race?
Cam: That is easy. I have had many dark moments out there, but one sticks out head and shoulders. This is a pretty embarrassing story, but while racing 24-Hours of Conyers one year, when it was the World Championships, I was trying hard to win the Solo Singlespeed race aboard an all-new bike that my sponsor had just released. I was in the lead somewhere around 3:00 AM and I started getting sick and my stomach just bloated up. Soon it had to go somewhere and it was up and out. As I stood beside the trail puking, and then dry heaving, both legs cramped completely and I fell over in my vomit. I laid there just completely in awe of how stupid this all was and vowed I would not race Solo 24 again. Of course that did not happen and I won a 24-Hour National Championship last year.
dailymile: How do you keep enough batteries charged for your lighting systems?
Cam: NiteRider is a sponsor of mine and they provide me with enough lights and batteries that it is not an issue. After two laps, I will get my battery on a charger and get a fresh one on my bike. I always rotate each lap so that I have a totally fresh battery either on my head or on my handlebar. But I have not had any problems with lights running out on course. Back in the early days before sponsorship I did. I had all kinds of problems. It is hilarious thinking about jumping wheels and trying to hang in someone else’s light to finish a lap at Moab. It happened more than once. Now I have a new 3000-lumen light by NiteRider on my handlebar, The Pro 3000. This thing blasts the night to smithereens.
dailymile: What motivates you when you’re nearing the end of a 24-hour race, and probably tapped out, to push across the finish line?
Cam: I often wonder about my motivation to race and then race well at 24-hour races. It is a pretty strange format of racing and there really are no monetary rewards for being successful in this ultra-niche style of mountain bike racing.
Overall I think 24-hour racing represents to me some sort of ultimate culmination of mountain bike lifestyle. Racing all day, all night on your bike is the strongest statement of, “This is who I am. This is my life.” It is always my desire to be an authentic individual. To me that does not mean having blue hair and a nose ring. It does mean that you recognize the passions of your soul and are not afraid to carry them out to the highest means possible. For me that is 24-hour mountain bike racing.
At the end of races you are tapped out for sure, but you have come so far and weathered the mental storms through the night. It is just the same thing, grit your teeth and keep turning the pedals over. Every time of I have given all that I could and reached the finish line I am immensely satisfied. For me that is an end in itself.
dailymile: What is the average winning margin in a 24-hour race in time and/or miles?
Cam: I would say 30-40 minutes is pretty normal. Once the gaps grow to a reasonable amount and everyone starts getting tired, it tends to settle in at about those type of gaps. Of course it can be close. One time I was doing a team race at Old Pueblo and after 24 hours of racing we were like 30 seconds ahead of the 2nd place team. My guy put me out for a final lap and we drove the dagger home, but it was super exciting. I like seeing a close race, but being a part of one is super stressful. The tension lasts for a long time. But it is fun when it is over, especially if you win.
dailymile: Tell us about your current team.
Cam: I am beginning my third year riding and racing for the Specialized Stumpjumper Trailcrew (trailcrew.specialized.com). I have been a member of the crew since its inception and our basic purpose is to promote the Stumpjumper lineup of bikes. Which is pretty darn easy because this bike really is phenomenal and is equally home at the XC start line or ripping backcountry gnarl. It becomes this beautiful vicious cycle of you ride fast, so you have fun, so you get stronger, so you ride faster, so you have more fun, and on and on. We all blog on the site and post videos, I am so happy to be part of this and excited for year three.
dailymile: Hardtail or Suspension and why? Do you prefer one over the other due to the terrain? 29er or standard and why?
Cam: I am totally sold on dual suspension 100%. I climb faster, corner faster, descend a ton faster and just generally enjoy myself more. Modern duallies blow away their predecessors of just a few years back. Five years ago I would have switched back and forth depending on terrain. Now, there is no way. I am riding suspension all the time. And I am riding 26-inch wheels again and really loving it. I like the short wheel base and snappy nature of the bike. It leans side to side better that a 29er and is just a ton of fun to ride. I have ridden and raced and won on 29ers and was one of the pioneering 29er riders, being the first to win a National Championship aboard the big wheels. I know better than anyone that they have their place and are a great weapon for many people. Just for the experience I am looking for right now, a 26 is money.
dailymile: What questions have you always wanted to answer and never been asked?
Cam: Would you like to run for President? Yes!
How often do you change clothes during the race?
I used to change fairly often. Now I basically ride the whole race in the same clothes. I try to go as long as possible without putting on any arm warmers or knee warmers. But usually I end up in them for the last couple of night laps. I use chamois cream every 3 or 4 hours. Actually I have started using chamois cream over the corn starch I used to use. Corn starch keeps things dry, but it is pretty messy. New Chamois creams like Assos are not as greasy feeling as I used to think of them. Your butt still gets pretty messed up no matter what you do. It is going to hurt for a few days afterwards.
dailymile: If you picked a dream team for the Tour de France, who would be on it?
Cam: Jens Voigt, Lance Armstrong, Eddie Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich, Alberto Cantador, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, all working for ME!
dailymile: What is your next major race? What challenges do you foresee in riding in this particular event?
Cam: 24-Hours of Colorado Springs is my next race and it happens to be the 24-Hour National Championships this year. Pretty sweet to have it in my own backyard on trails I ride a lot. It looks like the race will be here for two years. So this year I am undertaking a new challenge. I have gone Solo, Solo Singlespeed, and 4-man team. This year I am doing my first ever Duo 24 race. My teammate is friend and Co-worker Daniel Matheny. He is a beast on a bike and one of the smoothest fastest riders through technical terrain you will ever see. That is not just talk, this dude is fast. We are going to be a solid team and we are both fit right now and ready to tangle with anyone. We believe there are going to be some fast teams, probably some stronger out the gate squads than ourselves. We are just going to get find our rhythm and be relentless. We have been watching YouTube videos of the Honey Badger to get pumped up! That is not true, but I have officially made it our mascot for the race.
dailymile: What challenges do you foresee in riding in this particular event?
Cam: One thing that is going to be challenging in this race for me is that there are no major climbs. I rely heavily on those long climbs to get my gaps or make up time. That is where I tend to shine. Sometimes my mind starts to wander on flatter trails. I am really going to have to focus and just stay riding hard through whatever terrain is in front of me to keep turning good laps. But I will do it.
dailymile: Thanks, Cam, for your time! Enjoyed this interview immensely.