Remember Yuri Hauswald? Back in March he asked some very pointed questions on how to train for and execute your first 24 hour race. His questions served as the launchpad for 5 posts on the topic, which to date have had collectively about 15,000 hits.
The articles seem to have been effective. Yuri is by no means a rookie, he’s one fast rider – but still he won his first 24 hour event, garnering him a spot for 24 hour worlds, and went on to a top 10 finish in his first worlds. Wow!
He wrote an article on what it was like to compete at worlds. It’s detailed and especially goes into the mental aspects, painting a vivid portrait of what it is like to hit insurmountable troubles, push beyond them, do it again, then do it again, then keep pushing. It really begs the question “where are the limits.” I don’t really think Yuri has found them yet.
Its a long article, but if you read all the way through I guarantee some goose bumps will come your way. Yuri, super congrats on a great ride and result!
After 13 hours in the saddle of my Soulcraft steed, vision blurred around the edges, the linear sense of self begins to bleed out like fresh blood on cotton. “I love the smell of napalm in morning!” …..a distant fantasy that kept running through my head in this “heart of an impenetrable darkness”, and how the hell did I get here? I trudged through the midnight woods which began to, in my sleep deprived state, take on a sinister tentacled look, something straight out of Ichabod Crane’s worst nightmare in “The Tales of Sleepy Hollow”. I felt like a paratrooper dropped behind enemy lines, lost and alone, instinctively knowing that I had to move if I was going to survive.
Being that I’ve never served in the armed forces, I can only imagine that preparing for my 24 Hour Solo World Championship journey may very well be similar to what a young GI might feel while training to be sent off to battle. Please don’t think I’m making light of our soldiers in uniform just for the sake of my analogy, as I honor those individuals’ commitment. It’s just that I believe that demanding physical training and meticulous logistical planning can be equated to some of the preparation for Solo Worlds. For me, my training began ten years ago, when I first picked up a mountain bike. Those years of residual fitness have helped propel me to where I am today. Next, was laying out the necessary gear to be shipped to Conyers, GA. Would I need cold weather or rain gear? No, I’d been following the Conyers’ weather for two weeks and no rain was forecast. I brought some anyway, just in case. (Case in point: the recent 24 Hours of Moab that was shut down eight hours into the race due to rains of biblical proportions and severe course damage.) Anyway, I digress. Clothing for pre-riding, multiple race changes, two pairs of shoes, two helmets, two bikes (my ti Soulcraft and my Soulcraft 29er were my weapons of choice), an extra set of wheels, lights, and my energy food and bottles were all laid out in my living room. Once all that gear was crammed into two bike boxes, two duffle bags, one cardboard wheel box, and a giant cooler, we stuffed it, (along with my mom’s luggage), into my van. My wife Vanessa drove us to the San Francisco Airport.
After slipping the Skycap a fiver, we were able to get our mountain of luggage to the Air Tran kiosk…..this is where my blood pressure began to rise and I nearly pulled the pin on the frustration grenade I’d been hiding in my camos, but didn’t. Too much Homeland Security. After much “official language” from the manager, the Air Tran attendant told us,” that the baggage costs were in the airline’s literature,( which they weren’t), and that we would have to pay $115.00 per bike, both ways! I grabbed my ankles and gave them the cash, what else could I do? I was still rubbing my backside when we had to go through security, where my mom, due to her pacemaker, had to undergo a full body “onslaught” by one of the “friendly” white gloved security personnel. It wasn’t a surprise that when we boarded our flight for Atlanta at 9:30 p.m., all we would be eating on this five hour “red eye”, were pretzel sticks and peanuts. I hunkered down, burrowing into my “fox hole” of anonymity, seeking solace in my stiff seat, but was bumped all night, while a lady across the aisle from me had a sedated cat that periodically let out a guttural yowl that sounded drunk and pissed off! We landed at 5:15 a.m., Atlanta, GA time, and piled our belongings haphazdardly onto a cart and rolled off to our rental car.
After renting our mini-van we realized that we had over six hours to kill before we could pick up our RV. Like Richard Dreyfus in “Close Encounters” we wandered towards an Atlanta suburb called Stone Mountain, an area that was punctuated by a gigantic, bare granite mountain of rock that jutted incongruously out of suburban Georgia. Unlike Dreyfus, we did not encounter any alien life forms, but we did get a chance to circle Stone Mountain, briefly cat nap in a parking lot, and then realize that we had to go back towards the Atlanta city center to find a market and do our weekend shopping. On our quest we discovered a very hip suburb on the edge of Atlanta called Decatur, where a strong shot of espresso from the Java Monkey helped shake off our flight drowsiness. We were then directed to a local breakfast joint were I satisfied my hunger with a plate full of eggs, sausage, biscuits and lots of gravy…heaven! Whole Paycheck lived up to its nickname, significantly lightening my wallet in the process and making me feel right at home.
The town of Snellville, our next destination, was deftly found by my mom, who navigated the Georgian freeways with ease. We arrived at “Camptown” to find our behemoth of a 32 foot RV awaiting for us. Being that she has years of experience driving horse trailers (and may have been a trucker in a past life) my my mom got the nod to be the driver and thus had to listen to the 45 minute tutorial on the intricacies of our moving chateau. While she was being enlightened about our two t.v. , air conditioned home on wheels, I was able to build up one my bikes. Our trip from Snellville to Conyers was without incident, my mom’s adept RV driving skills were on display as she zoomed down the road.
When we arrived at the Conyers Olympic Equestrian Center I was suddenly struck by the magnitude of the event. Seeing the Barnum and Bailey circus type tents dotting the infield, course makers, my name on an official athlete sign in front of my pit tent, and other banners that were being erected, caused my legs to get weak and the first butterflies to appeared in my stomach. We parked the RV and took a long overdue nap. Around 5:00 p.m. I went out for my first preride of the course and had the distinct honor to “briefly” ride with Trek’s Chris Eatough, the reigning six time 24 Hour Solo World Champion, who was very approachable and down to earth…extremely fast as well, even when “taking it easy” on our reconnaissance of the Conyers single track. My preride with the World Champion albeit brief, was a shot in the arm and got me fired up about my chances in the race.
The first thing I noticed about the Conyers course, beyond the humidity that clung like a wet towel and sucked the moisture out of me as I navigated the twisty wooded single track, were the ruts and stutter bumps that were impossible to avoid in search of clean ride. Being that I was on a hard tail made this discovery even more painful. The eight mile figure eight loop concluded with a three mile stretch that took riders over a Moab granite slick rock section that was undulating and bumpy, making it very difficult to be fluid and smooth. This section was dotted with steep little climbs and rutty sylvan single track that twisted and turned, making it difficult to get into a rhythm, further emphasizing the importance of being able to carry one’s momentum through this rocky wooded maze. I made mental notes of “clean” lines, rock obstacles, and areas that would need my utmost focus and strength to navigate. I returned from my first of five prerides excited, soaked through, and acutely aware that the technical nature of this course, combined with the humidity, would make this race an epic battle testing body and mind.
From Wednesday to Friday I rode the course five times, hydrated, read every bike magazine I had from front to back, put the legs up, ate copious amounts of food, visualized the course, began a “mental mantra” of positive thinking, talked with the promoters and other racers, and slept as much as I could. Friday evening Matt and Vanessa arrived. Matt and I did a short lap of the granite section of the course, Stans’d my 29er tires, talked race strategy, did random bike mechanic tweaking, and enjoyed another amazing meal cooked by my mom. The butterflies returned that evening as I went to bed and besides the sick feeling that they created in my stomach, all I was sweetly sung to sleep by the roar of a neighboring RV’s generator that howled late into the night.
Saturday dawned clear and there was a definite air of excitement building as people made final preparations for the chaos to come. My favorite early race meal of eggs and bacon went down well, followed a few hours later with a bowl of oatmeal. By 10:00 a.m. the butterflies were in full force and I began to drift off into my own world of focus, trying to prepare mentally for the suffering that quickly approached. While I was doing my best impression of a Zen Buddhist Cycling Monk, the rest of the crew was filling bottles with GU2o, Endurox, Ensure, and electrolytes, making almond butter and jam sandwiches, cutting salami and cheese, doing last minute bike adjustments, and getting the pit tent ready. At 11:00 a.m. it was time to sequester myself in the back of the RV, get my gear on, breathe, and visualize what was to come. D-Day was approaching and like the allied troops who landed at Normandy and suffered horrific loses in their noble quest to defeat the Germans and liberate Europe, I was about to embark on a journey that would surely be ugly in its physical and mental toll and whose outcome was definitely anything but certain to be a success, but a battle that I knew I was going to complete whatever the costs.
AC/DC blasted over the loudspeakers as the competitors gathered in the staging tent. It was 11:40 a.m. and I was 20 short minutes away from organized chaos and pain. The race would begin with a Le Mans start, which meant that we would have to complete a quarter mile out and back run, grab our bikes off the staging racks, and then head out onto the course. From having ridden the course five times and knowing how hectic and jammed the start was going to be with over two hundred competitors spread out in various categories, I knew that getting a good position going into the woods would be crucial to my overall success. Standing in the line of competitors waiting to be called up, my body was coursing with electric excitement and energy, making it hard to focus on what was to come. Waiting nervously in the teeming colorful mass of lycra clad racers, with the exception for the guy in a grass skirt and coconut bra, I thought about all of the encouraging words of support that I had received from family, friends, sponsors, and students. A deep sense of pride and duty, solidified the realization that my competing in this event was more than just about “me” or the race. Rather, I represented my father(who died of cancer a little more than a year ago, and was also my biggest fan) and mother, my wife and friends, my sponsors, my school community and was obligated to finish, no matter the physical or mental toll, to honor all of those who had helped me get to where I was today, this moment.
11:50 a.m. I stepped closer to the end of the timing tent, realizing that with each successive call up I was that much closer to the edge of a huge personal precipice, the 24 Hour Solo World Championships. Whatever was to follow couldn’t be scripted or anticipated, much like battle, and that what occurred in the next 24 hours would most likely force me to explore physical and mental exhaustion that I’d never experienced. . I was called up ninth, and as I ran down the starting shoot my breathing became more deliberate and slow. I lost all peripheral vision as I intently focused on the quarter mile run’s turn around point. Camera crews and photographers where standing on the other side of the starting tape, eagerly snapping shots of Eatough and Gordon, adding to the overall excitement that would explode in a matter of minutes. Since I was called up ninth I was able to stage on the front row, shoulder to shoulder with some of the World’s best 24 hour solo athletes. As the clock began to wind down towards noon I ignored the tumult around me, I kept a steady and intent gaze on the turn around maker, my breathing slowed, and I readied myself for the ensuing chaos……BANG!!!
I was surprisingly calm as the gun went off, all distractions were gone, it was now time to race. I settled into a brisk running pace, sandwiched between Chris Eatough and eventual winner, Craig Gordon of Australia. I knew better than to go too fast on the run, but I was also aware of the importance of getting my bike and entering the single track in the top 10 to 15 riders. At the turn around I was about 7th or 8th runner and made it to my bike staging area quick enough to avoid the crushing melee of people scrambling to grab their bikes off the racks and, more importantly, was able to get in the front group of 15 riders as we headed out into the woods. By the time we finished the first 3 mile section of the course and doubled back by the venue, I was in 9th overall and 6th in the solo elite riders, closely following Subaru Gary Fisher rider Cameron Chambers. I tried to keep my heart rate in check, but in the heat of the battle I had a hard time controlling my energy output. I was so stoked to be riding in the front group, minus Eatough and Gordon, who had already put the “wood” to all of us mere mortals. I finished my first of 25 8 mile laps in 43 minutes and was basically shadowing Cameron Chambers, as he was one of my “marks” for the race. I continued like this for three laps, riding within my limits, or so I thought, ticking off consistently fast lap times. Around lap four I realized that in my excitement I had not been eating enough, in fact, the heat was suppressing my appetite and making it hard for me to stomach my race food. I was hydrating, consuming 50 to 70 oz. of electrolyte water via my Camelbak every two laps, but this was not giving me the calories that I needed to sustain this kind of effort. I began to slip into serious caloric deficit, which manifested itself in a loss of power and caused me to fall from 6th to 16th by the sixth hour of the race. On top of the caloric black hole I’d dug myself, I began to suffer from leg cramps and severe foot pain, so bad that my mind began entertaining thoughts of quitting. At hour seven I couldn’t take the pain anymore and did a quick shoe change, which helped, but didn’t negate the fact that I’d been going backwards for the past few laps. My pit crew was nothing but encouraging when I would slur these concerns, reminding me that I could do it , while trying to get me to eat so that I could rebuild my energy stores for the night. At this point in the race I was beginning to feel beat down from the physical punishment the course was inflicting and mentally defeated by my drop out of the top ten in less than five hours. As night approached something changed, my focus sharpened, my stomach started accepting the calories that I was ingesting, and my mental attitude improved with every place I gained.
I rode my pink 29er for the night laps, the change of bikes was refreshing and helped me navigate the course just as quickly as I had during the day. I changed clothing at 10:00 p.m., a light dusting of Baby Powder increased my comfort in the saddle and gave me new found focus to battle into the night. The Light in Motion bar and helmet light system that Matt and I were using was super illuminating and allowed me to rip through the black forest just as fast as I had during the day. At some point in the evening I “went native”, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and began chasing my spirit animal through the Conyers woods. It was during the night that I refound my wings and began to work my way back up.
By 12:00 a.m. I had scratched my way into 10th and by 1:00 a.m. I was 8th, locked in a see saw battle with 9th and 10th, swapping places on course and during pit stops, which I had been limiting to under a minute. Around 2:00 a.m. disaster struck. As I came out of the wooded opening loop, my helmet light went dead. No problem, I thought, my bar light will get me through the next five miles and then I’ll get Matty to change it out when I come through the pits. After crossing the road which led into the technical granite section,which had been sketchy during the day, my bar light began to flicker. At first I thought it was my vision playing tricks on me since it had been getting slightly blurry around the edges during the past two hours. But unfortunately it wasn’t, and my bar light died, leaving me stuck on the most dangerous part of the course, too far to run/ride back to the pits, and with no other option but to “solider” on in the dim moonlight. At this point I was physically beginning to implode again, and the added mental stress of my situation nearly sent me spiraling backwards into despair. The gravity of my predicament weighed on me like the infamous albatross, and certain that my demise was secured, I began to mentally unravel. I soft pedaled through the rocks wondering what to do when I heard a mumbled greeting from the darkness behind me, “What’s up Hoss?! Everything O.K.?”
I’m not a very religious person , but if there is a god, my savior had just appeared. I quickly regrouped mentally enough to blurt out in a semi-slur, “Brother…my lights went out, is there….????” My night angel rolled up on me, haloed in an aurora of blue light, silent , and drawled, “ Get on board Hoss! Let’s go. I’ll get you through this section.” I think I replied something incoherent like, “Thanks, I’ll stick to your rear wheel as best I can…..I’m hurting pretty bad.” Charles, a member of the Pink Turtle Racing four man race team, proceeded to light my way through the “valley of darkness”, deftly checking his speed to help keep the perimeter of light within a certain distance so that I was able to follow his line. Every once in a while he asked, “You O.K. back there?”
With us was a competitor from South Africa who had been forced to ride a single speed because he had sheared off his inner ring. He rode behind, creating a “light sandwich” with me as the filling. We slowly navigated the rutty wooded singletrack, walking some of the climbs, actually most of them, and making small talk. As Charles and I rode, side by side, into the timing tent, I told him how grateful I was for his help and kindness and that he should give me his address after the race so I could reward him with some Soulcraft gear….Unfortunately, he never came by, but my faith in the goodness of humanity was restored, and my race had been saved!!
After surviving my light brown out, I spent the majority of the night swapping places with 8th, 9th, and 10th, each rider surging and receding in a tidal flow of expended energy until 5:00 a.m. The next seven hours were particularly difficult as my body was reaching its physical limits and I was having to basically “will” myself to keep going. Matt and Vanessa were very instrumental in keeping me moving forward, even as I mumbled about really thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to physically finish the race. These hours of physical pain and mental exhaustion reinforced the notion of “mind over matter”, because it was my mind that made me keep going, one pedal stroke at a time, one foot in front of the other.
By the 21st hour I was ready to quit. The pain in my feet, which had never really gone away was now beyond manageable, and the lack of upper body control I had, made every lap an interesting proposition of Russian Roulette riding. The urgency of holding on to my top ten position coupled with the fact that I was forced to ride safely, created a hard balancing act to maintian. But there was no way to ride stutter bumps safely, especially when all the clean lines had been ridden out. It was during these last few hours that I went “robotic”, my mind controlled every action in a slow mechanical way. I put on my “death mask” and went into survival mode, I focused on forward progress, whether I was pedaling or walking.
The last three laps were shrouded in a mental fog and I was forced to overcome physical pain I’d never experienced before. Let’s just say that I was able to stumble around the course and finish somewhere around 11:40 a.m., 25 laps, 200 miles, and 27,500 vertical feet later, completely shell shocked and hollow. My sunken cheeks, coal miner sooted legs, and ashen appearance were, along with palms purple from bruising, my reward for finishing. My fuzzy vision didn’t stop me from finding the nearest chair to collapse in, languishing lethargically there while my pit crew took care of me as best as they could. After visiting the medic’s tent to get ice packs for my bruised hands, where the newly crowned World Champion lay covered on a stretcher doing the “tuna” with an IV in his arm, I hobbled back to the RV and took a shower. Unfortunately for Vanessa I couldn’t bend over, so she had to give me a sponge bath. I was a pathetic sight. Vanessa claims that after drying me off, I sat down on the bed and fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. I’m pretty sure that the puddle of drool I woke up to on my pillow and the dry “snorers” mouth were signs that I had slept hard. The rest of the crew also took a well deserved nap after the frantic evening and 24 hour duty in my support. They were my rock. Their inspiring words, amazing food, and mechanical wizardry kept me going, long after my body told me I couldn’t. I can’t thank them enough for their selfless love and support.
T.S. Eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” It is now two weeks later,I’m finally not walking like Fred Sanford anymore, and I can honestly say that I’m willing to risk again. The endorphin rush alone was better than any high out there. I know I’m starting to feel “normal” again, because my appetite has been voracious and I’m actually able to look at my bike without cringing now. I’m really surprised how much Georgia took out of me, both physically and mentally. Having survived the battle, being able to “soldier” on in the face of adversity and pain, made me proud to have finished ninth in the world. It definitely gives me motivation for next season…….