If there's one thing I've learned from doing the 24 Hours in the past, it's that at some point during, you will find yourself questioning your life decisions. For me, this time, it was at 3:30 am, as I sat on a portapotty, glamorously located at the Canmore Nordic Center. My bike sat, leaned haphazardly against a fence back along the race course, a lone red light blinking on the seatpost.
I exited the portapotty, pulled my bibs back up, and got my jersey back on. Racing the 24 Hours Solo is not as glamarous as you might think.
The 'what did I get myself into?' look
It all started in December of 2014. Excitement around my entry into the 2015 Cape Epic had me energized to take on more large-scale events. The 24 Hours was a perfect fit. I justified it by telling myself residual fitness from the 8 day Cape Epic in March would help propel me to an all-time personal best at the 24 Hours in Canmore. Seemed like sound logic at the time.
I had also convinced Coleman to give this race a shot, which gave us the benefit of setting up a fantastic pit area, rounded out with what I'd argue is the best support crew ever assembled at a 24 Hour Race!
A runner, I am not, so I very, very, very lightly jogged the lemans start. After that, it was off for a very leisurely lap, keeping the pace in check and conserving as much energy as possible.
The weather was great, the track in phenomenal shape, and things were going well, although it was becoming clear I wouldn't be able to average the speed I was hoping for. I had gone into the race hoping to be pulling 1:30 laps (including pit-stops) until the night. I wasn't far off though, finishing my first 4 laps in 6:43.
Not long into lap 5, the curse of Race Plate #13 struck. I'm not one for superstition, but it seems a little too convenient, doesn't it? About halfway up the first major climb of the lap, the front end of my bike started sagging down into its travel, unwilling to return to fully extended. I debated turning around and going back to my pits, but with some creative riding (frequent wheelies), the fork would extend back out and become a little more rideable.
As the lap went on, the fork got worse and worse, eventually no longer extending, regardless of whether it was weighted or not. A few near-misses ensued on the descents as I wrapped up a frustrating lap and rolled into the pits. Mechanic Brad quickly ran through a diagnosis, realizing that it was not any simple, quick, or easy fix.
Luckily, Coleman had brough his wife's bike as a backup. It was a great bike, carbon, nice wheels and the same drivetrain and brakes as my bike, so not much to adjust to. Oh, aside from the frame size. It was a medium! Although we could get the seat very close to my ideal height, it still felt exactly like what it was - a bike two sizes too small. But it was better than quitting!
The sun had set, and after completion of my first lap on a new bike, I made a few more tweaks to dial in the fit as best as I could. Back out for some night riding!
All things considered, I was feeling decent. Starting to feel a little fatigued and ready to sleep, but still a few hours away from the dreaded 3-4 am time, where things always seem to go bad.
As I rolled back into the pits, a surprise was waiting for me. My bike, back in working order!
Huy from Pedalhead had driven down to Canmore after the shop closed, and no sooner had he arrived than he and Brad got tasked with trying to get my bike back and rideable. My Dad, on a corporate team, offered up the Lefty off his bike. Huy and Brad got things going in record time, including swapping over (and bleeding) the hydraulic lockout, all in the dark. Like I said, kick-ass pit crew!
It felt fantastic to be back on a bike I was familiar with, although my lap times didn't exactly improve because of it... At least I was comfortable on the bike again!
After the drama of bike repairs, swaps and more, the rest of the night was uneventful. I had checked the standings before nightfall - I was far off the top 5, and had long since given up on checking the results after every lap. Which is why as I came in from my 8th lap at 2:30 am and told my pits I was going to take a bit of a nap, I was bluntly told to keep riding. My steady pace had vaulted me back into 4th place, but only by a few minutes. Back out on the bike it was.
I've always found the time around 4 am to be the roughest at the 24 Hours, and this year was no different. As I finished another lap, I started to make some dumb mistakes as my vision started to go a little blurry. I was out for another lap as the sun came up. Most people say that this can be the best lap of the race. However, those people are probably on a team. When you've been riding a bike for that long without sleep, the sunrise does nothing more than give you better sightlines - there's no extra energy that comes to you as the sun comes up, or at least not for me.
I rolled in from another lap at 6 am, slightly delirious and exhausted. I made the call to take a quick nap. I had ridden through the night, but not sleeping at all was proving to be too daunting of a task. 45 minutes of restless sleep later, I woke up ready to vomit. 18 hours of cramming food down your throat does not bode well for your insides!
I took off to the bathrooms and emptied my stomach, rather violently. In case you are wondering, protein shakes, clif bars, peanut butter sandwiches, electrolyte drink, etc, do not taste any better coming back up than they do going down...
Sometimes the strangest things make you feel better. I was feeling back on-point, ready to ride. With the podium, as well as my goal amount of laps both out of reach, I had been ready to pull the plug. Now, thanks to a freshly emptied stomach, as well as a little motivational speech from my Dad, I was back on the bike.
I found my legs, and a few laps later, I was heading out for my 12th. Things had been going so smoothly, but lap 12 was when the little aches and pains started to rear their head. My left achilles was a mess, enough so that I was clearly pedalling one-sided, getting most of the power to propel me forward from my right leg. I had left for Lap 12 at 9:30 am, so I knew I'd have time for a 13th, however now I had started to do the math as to when 5th place would have had to start their 12th lap in order to give them the time to do a 13th as well.
I rolled into the pits and immediately asked to see a results sheet. With the podium out of reach and my achilles in some pain, I was ready to be finished. Thankfully, that would be the case. 5th place was too far back to leap-frog me in number of laps. Not much tops the feeling of the wave of relief you get when you learn you can stop riding your bike! I finished my 12th lap just after 11 am.
No more running through the transition area! Walking over the finish line after my last lap.
6046 m vertical
4th place is a result I'm incredibly happy with. Last time I raced this Solo, I wasn't anywhere close to Top 5. As long as I keep improving, I may have to keep revisiting this event as a Solo rider...
When I raced Solo in 2012, I don't think I touched my bike for 4 weeks. I was an absolute wreck. This time around, I'm already itching to get back on the bike. It's been a long season, so I'm forcing myself to take a bit of time entirely off the bike, but the fact I feel good enough to even consider going for a ride is a huge improvement over last time. Some of this credit definitely has to go to River Valley Health. Starting an event with no nagging injuries, tigthness, aches or pains means recovery at the end of it all comes around a lot quicker. Add into that weekly visits with them after the fact, and it becomes a little more clear why I feel like I could start riding the bike again already! Huge thanks to them!
Speaking of thanks, the support crew myself and Coleman had was fantastic. There was seemingly nothing they couldn't get done and they kept things rolling smoothly for me, even after a few bike issues. In no particular order, a huge thanks to: Brad, Randi-Lynn, Lyle, Huy, Grandma, Uncle Steve, Mom, Dad and Blake. Truly couldn't have done it without you!
Clean bike is a fast bike
As always, thanks for reading! August is a bit of a non-event month for me, so don't expect any exciting updates. I'll be busy with a bit of training, a job with the Tour of Alberta, and getting ready to go back to school in the Fall. But as soon as the 2nd weekend of September hits, it's time for some Cyclocross!