Ever since I first started looking at ant participating in 24-hour MTB racing (which was last august), I have been fascinated by the Solo riders. Chico’s race guide document says they are all slightly crazy and that everybody loves them. However, the thought of doing a 24 solo myself was a distant thought for ‘some day’.
After my first 8-hour solo last September, I gained even more respect for this discipline – after 8 hours I had pain not just in my legs, but in toes, feet, lower & upper back, neck, arms, hands and even fingers. Still, sometime this spring after seeing the initial benefits of a strength and mobility exercise program, I began toying with the idea of trying it on in full 24-hour scale. Optimally, I would have liked to try upgrading from a 4-man to a tag team in June and then if that went well, solo in August – but for some reason Chico Racing decided not to put on the Hot August Nights Race this year. If I was going to do this it would have to be at the Summer Solstice Race already in June.
I used the spring 8-hour race to gauge the feasibility of the project – and as it turned out I was nowhere near as beat up as the first time. Strengthening exercises appear to be working. At that point the decision was easy and I secured one of the last Solo spots for the 24 Hours of Summer Solstice.
I brought the family (Wife + 3 young kids) along to support me on this one. The format of a 24 hour race where we would be camping and I would be coming by the camp/pit area several times is well suited for everyone to be a part of, and with a day off on the Monday would provide 3 nights of camping to boot (well, just 2 for myself). We set up tent in the Solo area, just 10 meters from the race course, an excellent setup that allowed the kids to hang out in our own area and I would come right by to pick up my bottle and whatever else I needed.
I spent the morning stretching and getting myself ready, and arrived at the start 10 minutes before noon. Instead of lining up at the back, I entered the field near the front, and got a good start with no one slowing me down on the singletrail sections. Most of the other solo riders started from near the front as well.
Being greeted by my family at the camp site was awesome. My youngest daughter handed me the first bottle and my son a Banana, and I was off again. The first 5 laps were like that, and I kept a fairly steady pace, advancing from 12th to 9th place in the process.
The nutrition scheme was once again my own all-natural blend. Each 24oz/700ml bottle contained 60g fresh pitted honey dates, 3g chia seeds, 125ml coconut water, 500ml plain water and 0.2g salt. The mix yields 240 Calories primarily from fructose/glucose (46g) with all the needed electrolyte minerals and a minimum amount of fat (1.0g, mostly omega3&6) and protein (1.6g with all essential amino acids). I can make it more concentrated for more calories per bottle, but preferred to combine with one to two bananas per lap for an additional 1-200 Calories each lap. A well-trained mountainbiker can ride and eat a banana no problem (the trick is to chew it down before hitting the singletrail). The nutrition strategy worked out great, I never had any hints of muscle cramps, and only needed one toilet-break. When I got really hungry I would eat more bananas on a break.
When I came through on the 6th lap, it was time to strap on the lights (more than 7 hours elapsed) and I needed a break. Stuff was starting to hurt – toes, lower back, knees and my behind – the latter bad enough that I did not look forward to the next 17 hours.
My wife who is a physiotherapist and certified touch-for-health practitioner helped me out with the lower back issues, and after a bit of balancing and acupressure, I was back on the bike. It helped. Lower back symptoms were definitely improved.
The toe pain thing had been bothering me massively in the 8-hour races was exactly as bad as it had been in those after 7 hours – but I got an idea: doubling up to two pairs of thin socks. I’d like to say the idea was well thought-out and came from my hiking boot setup, with the underlying theory that the inner sock will stick to the skin while the outer one sticks to the shoe, and any movement then results in friction between the two layers of sock, and not the sock against your skin. In reality however, I was resorting to desperate measures, willing to try anything I hadn’t already tried – but it worked. The toe-pain did not bother me for the rest of the race.
With the break, I had lost 2 places down to 11th place, and I still had worsening knee-pain and saddle sore. I was unable to keep my heartrate up, due to the knee pain than to my energy levels diminishing. Then it got dark. And cold. In retrospect, this is where the real race started.
I put in 2 more laps, and then needed a break again. Winston (Brauns Cambridge store manager and resident wizzard) was kind enough to offer to tape up my knees with kinesiology-tape, which I knew had helped me in the past. Interesting scene – me sitting outside on a bench washing and shaving my knees in the dark of night using nothing but a razor and water in my kid’s beach-bucket. Sorry, no photo.. The tapejob did take the edge off and the longer break meant my legs were a little more powered up.
I put in 2 more laps in the dark. I don’t really mind night-riding, but doing it continuously at this point in the race was.. challenging. People around you are less chatty (as in not at all), and the beauty of the nature surrounding the trails, which I had been using for motivation earlier, is cloaked in darkness. I was getting tired as well, and for a while I was debating whether taking a long break to sleep for a while would mean I had given up. Around 4am the decision got easier. I was so tired I was starting to make mistakes, and feared I’d crash if I didn’t take a real break. My new challenge would now be to do a short nap and not sleep in for hours.
I slept exactly one hour and spend another half hour or so getting back on the bike, so not too bad. When I crawled out of the tent, the sun was already up and I was kind of sad I had to miss riding the dawn lap, which I’m sure would have been a nice unique experience. Kudos to the few riders who do push through the night, that’s definitely the hardest part to this. I quickly got over it, and with the sleep and daylight, I felt transformed. I was delighted to see I was running in 9th place after my nap – apparently the night had been worse on others, and I had moved up 2 places despite my breaks. I felt energized, knees were a little better and I was better able to ignore the saddle-sore. I think it’s called motivation.
I pushed out 4 laps with minimal breaks only enough to consume a banana or two (or four). I think it was on one of these laps I had the opportunity to ride with my young TeamBrauns teammate Mark Brouwer, and it was nice to be able to chat with him for a while. When there was a climb, he would leave me behind, a couple of times out of sight, and several times I would sneak up behind him again on the twisty sections. Mark will be an even more awesome rider after getting better at gliding efficiently through the singletrail sections.
The last lap was awesome, with the end near in sight everybody around me were even more energized than I was, save for some of the other solo riders. I passed or lapped 4 of them on that last lap, in my high on adrenaline rush towards the finish of this great event. It’s usual to get kind words of encouragement or respect from fellow riders, but one female rider who was passing me went further and both encouraged me, offered me a draft through a flat section of double-rail, and then edged me on to go harder through the last climbs and singletrail sections. I ended up murdering the last couple of kilometers, on the strongest endorphin-rush I have ever felt, and finished significantly ahead of this person who reminded me of an excellent spin-class instructors from the past.
Went to check up the results screen – I had finished 6th out of 21 starters in the solo 40-49 age category with 14 laps (~235Km) in almost exactly 24 hours. I was speechless. My family came and joined me, and it’s difficult to describe the mix of sensations I felt.
I have the deepest respect for the 5 persons who finished ahead of me – the winner in my age group had 21 laps and the two runners-up had 20 and 18 respectively. Also congratulations to my young teammate Mark Brouwer on taking 3.rd place in the under-40 solo category in his first go at this, with no less than 20 laps.
My dream had been to push on through the night, mostly uninterrupted. However, I can’t help feel a slight sense of accomplishment from my performance and the way I finished – I did after all stay on the bike about 18 hours total and beat 15 other guys in my category at my first go at this. I will also cherish the valuable experience I have gained. Now I have a better sense of how to prioritize energy expenditure throughout the race and I know what my weak points are and what I need to work on to perform better… yes, I will be back next year, stronger and wiser.