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Richard Carlsen rode: Training, equipment a...
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- 73 miles
- 05:36 time
- 13.1 pace
- 3817 calories
Training, equipment and preparation are not all that are involved in a race/ride. At least that what it was for me in this year’s National 24 Hour Challenge.
Judy and I arrived at race HQ Friday afternoon to register and set up our screened room that would serve as our ride/rest area. I saw a couple of riders from years past. We struck up a conversation with Fred and Anne, a couple from upstate New York, in the tent next to us. They had decided to do something special for their 60th birthdays. Anne will do a triathlon next month and Fred chose a 24 hour bike race. Fred peppered me with questions and shared some of his concerns, never having done anything like this. We talked and found that our projected pace was nearly identical so I suggested we try riding together and see how it goes. He agreed and just like that, I had a riding partner.
Pulling into the race site Saturday morning at 0630, temps were already a comfortable low 70’s. The forecast called for a high of 91. It was going to be hot. As 8 o’clock drew near, Fred revealed that he was nervous about starting in a mass of riders, never having ridden with a lot of bikers before. So I told him we could just start at the back of the start. After all, it is a 24 hour race. We lined up at the back of the pack. Just before the start, I commented to Fred that no matter what happened today that we were both victors since we had trained hard for this ride and were convinced that we were capable of doing well. Just toeing the line meant that we had accomplished much.
At 0800, the bagpipers began to play and we were off to the haunting sounds of pipes and drums. During the first mile, I made sure that we quickly settled into our pace. Fred followed my lead. At about 3 miles, I noted that there was a police car behind us. The sweeper was right behind us. That meant that of the 350 riders, we were running in 349th and 350th place. Fred commented that the group was quite a ways in front. However, we were right on our desired 14.5mph pace so I was not worried. A couple of miles later, Fred commented again about the distance between us and the rest of the riders. I told him not to worry; they will come back to us. Sure enough, about 10 miles into the ride, we picked off our first two riders. From then on to the first check point at 34 miles, we kept passing the occasional 1 or 2 bikers. They were certainly coming back as we continued to hold our pace. All the while the temperatures were rapidly climbing. Thankfully, there were some high cirrus clouds that kept the sun from beating down on us but the temperatures continued to rise as did the winds.
Pulling into the 1st Checkpoint, we were right on schedule with a 14.35mph average. I did note that there were a lot of riders who had arrived ahead of us who were just standing around or looking like they were taking a longer than normal break. We made a short potty stop; I refilled my water bottles and Fred his Camelbak. Half a protein bar and after about 12 minutes, we were off toward Checkpoint 2, some 37 miles to the south. And here is where things started getting very tough. The wind continued to increase up to 10-15mph with higher gusts out of the SSE, nearly always directly into our faces. Temperatures at this point were approaching the 90’s. The heat index was higher. We continued to ride our pace until, after a short west section we turned south only to discover that the road had very recently been tarred and pea gravel applied. This surface just sucked the energy out of the tires. My first thought was that we would just endure this for a short bit and then be back on the normal road surface. However, this continued on for over 3 miles. At one point, the gravel that had been applied had migrated to the side of the road, covering a turn marking. We could see about 6 riders up the road when after going about 60 yards past the road, I remembered from years past that there was a turn after a short west section. A quick check of my map confirmed this and we turned around and reconnected with the route. The other riders a half mile up the road just kept going. We later learned that some 30 riders missed this turn.
Shortly after our recovery, we moved into an area of hard rolling hills. The temperatures were now into the 90’s, the wind was coming off of the open farm fields directly into our face and shortly thereafter, we ran into more fresh pea gravel. The combination seemed to be unrelenting in trying to hold us back. There were many times when we were only able to ride at 10 or 11 mph. Cresting some hills right into the wind, 6 mph was not unusual. We just could not build downhill speed in order to roll up the next. The combination was sucking the energy out of us. I estimate that we had a total of between 10 to 12 miles of pea gravel roads. We just slogged on. I could tell that Fred was struggling. At one point he mentioned that I should go on. I told him that this was my pace. We continued to ride with him usually just off my rear quarter. The hills, the heat, the road surface and the wind were just relentless.
Finally, 5 hours and 36 minutes after the start of the race, we pulled into Checkpoint #2. Judy was there to meet me. After pulling off my helmet, gloves and halo, I headed straight to the water hose and ran cold water off of my head. I grabbed a bottle of cold water and set myself in a chair in some shade, joining Fred who was seated with a cold clothe on is head. He looked at me and said that he hated to tell me but he was not going on. I told him that I too was calling it quits myself. Over the last 4 miles, I had been analyzing the situation. Physically I knew I was capable of continuing. But I also knew that the next 2 hours were the hottest section of the course and that we still had at a minimum of 6 hours of high heat left in the day. I could see that Fred was in no shape to go on. He told me later that if it had not been for me, he would never been able to ride the last 10 miles. The last 37 miles had, in fact, been the hardest 37 miles that I have ever ridden in my life. To continue would be in very adverse conditions which would have been in conditions that were dangerous. Judy was visibly relieved at my decision. I could tell by her smile she agreed with me completely.
So we sat in the shade for a while longer, talking, drinking more water and just gathering our forces. Meanwhile, more riders kept straggling in. Most of them appeared to be calling it quits also. We loaded the bike on the car, headed up to Hastings for a quick veggie sub and then back to race HQ. Pulling in to the parking lot, it was evident by the number of riders loading up bikes and taking down tents that a very significant number of riders had made the same decision to abandon.
I was and remain very content with my decision to abandon the race. No regrets. Conditions were not right in my opinion for a safe ride. It was a good decision. I know I’ve looked forward to this race for the last year and have designated it my “A” race but I am also happy that my experience has brought me to a point where the desire to continue riding does not exceed good judgment. I’ve already noted the date for N24HC for next year on my calendar. I look forward to starting the 24 hours again.