Written by John Sumner Tuesday, 29 September 2015 18:04
When the confirmation arrived in my inbox, I thought, what have I gotten myself into? I have never done a 12 hour solo race and the closest thing I did was the 2001 Aids ride from Bear Mountain NY to Boston. This consisted of several century rides and a couple 80 mile rides over 4 days. I recall how the pits were every 15 miles and I would fill up on food to the brink of vomiting then euphoria while riding hard.
I live 3 miles from Bradbury State Park and consider it my backyard. I rode there weekly all summer and knew all the lines. As race day approached I was appreciative of Teddy Homer offering me his mountain bike as a back up. On the nights leading up to the race, I trained on my roller trainer and prepared my race food including protein bars, clementines, bananas and water bottles. (I missed some important items, more on that later!)
I went to Bikeman.Com/race reports and had SIRI read (I drive a lot for work) all endurance race reports as research for the race strategy. I concluded that a moderate pace in the beginning was appropriate for the first couple laps then settling into a sustainable pace for the remainder.
At 8am on race day it was close to 80 degrees, dry and sunny! Pat (Race organizer) said, "Go" and we were off. I was in the front but not charging hard and the usual lap traffic was pretty heavy so I was slowed down. At the end of lap one, I had a 53 minute lap. This pace was eight minutes off my best lap last year however, this pace more or less continued for the next three laps, then I encountered my first mechanical. A spoke popped out of my rim. Thankfully, Bikeman's team mechanic Mark Syron, whisked my bike away and said he would be waiting for me at the beginning of the next lap. I grabbed my backup bike, filled up on bananas, protein bars, water and was off.
The backup bike was vastly different from my own and I found it hard to ride. Also, fatigue was setting in and this is where mental toughness was starting to be challenged. My fingers and wrists began to really bother me. The bananas I had been eating decided they wanted out of my stomach and I was dry heaving. However, I managed to power through the banana revolt and for the remainder of this lap all I could do was pray Mark fixed my bike. I was not sure I could keep riding on the back up all day.
Fortunately, Mark was there waiting for me with my bike as I rolled in to the Start/Finish area! He said all set, so I took to my cooler which was stationed at the Solo rider area right after the Start/Finish tent. I switched from bananas to clementines as they were a lighter snack with natural sugar that would keep me going. I threw some peeled slices in my jersey for the ride, downed a protein bar and headed out.
While on my 5th lap, Eric Olds from Bikeman.com caught me and as he was passing said "You are in second place!" I had not taken time to check the results thus far as I was just trying to lay down some good laps. I was excited to hear this but wondered, what about the guys in first, third and fourth? This motivated me to push harder and those clementines were giving me an energy boost. I had to be careful, occasionally when I did pull hard for a couple minutes my legs would cramp up. So it was a delicate balance of being light on the pedals, reserving energy where I could and maintaining my pace.
I was fortunate to have the Single Track Sisters (one of them is my sister) ensuring my water bottles were always full and ready for me each lap. My parents came from CT and my wife and sons were there helping take my mind off the task at hand during each 5-10 minute rest between laps. My father reminded me to drink more water as this could alleviate those leg cramps. Also, I started paying more attention to the results and watched my position go from 2nd to 1st between lap 5-6.
This routine continued until the end of the race. However, I noticed the guy in second start to throw down some fast laps around 4 pm, so I knew I was going to have to do 3-4 more laps. By this point my back was hurting and I had to perform a sort of yoga move on the bike to sag my back and relieve the pain. I was standing on the pedals as much as possible and pedaling only when necessary in a energy saving move. This sped me up, the bike seemed to roll better with me off the seat.
Looking at the results, I saw I was guaranteed a podium spot by 5:44 pm, several riders only had done 5-6 laps for the day. I had nine laps in the books and realized one or maybe two more laps was all I needed to maintain first place. However, my nemesis was still behind me and pulling hard. I decided to leave on my last lap at 5:55PM. If I had a sub 65 minute lap, I would beat the 7 pm cutoff and could slow roll lap 11 to victory if needed. Off I went playing it safe as I did not want a mechanical or injury.
I found fatigue setting in. I did not make it across the long narrow bridge and was dropping a foot here and there. On to the final turns and with my LED light leading me home, the clock was at 6:55 when I crossed the line. I waited for 2nd place to arrive. However, my wife and his wife had been talking and she told me he was not going out again. When he crossed the line I asked him if he was done, he said yes. Once the clock rolled to 7:00PM the deal was done. The math boiled down to ten, seven mile laps, totaling seventy miles in nine'ish riding hours, not factoring in rest stops between laps. First place!
I headed to the Bikeman team tent, had a beer with Ryan Littlefield and a Bucks Naked Burrito. After a painful shower, I was on the podium and thrilled with the days work! The schwag was great - truckers hat, shirt, medal and mug. As a bonus, I scored impressive saddle sores and was walking like a cowboy for the next three days. It was worth it! Lesson of the day, bring extra bibs and a bottle of Chamois Butter!!!
Thank you family, friends, Alyssa Gagnon, Ryan Littlefield, Rick Nelson from Bikeman who offered vocal support during my ride, Jesse from the shop completely rebuilt my trusty steed over the summer, and Mark Syron, a true professional! The Panaracers rolled over everything and corners as if I were on rails. The new SRAM drivetrain was silent, solid, and ready for more brutal punishment! Jagwire is the smoothest shifting cable and housing I have ever used!
I think more endurance mountain bike races should be in my future!
Now it's on to Cyclocross and Bond Brook Treadfest!
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