2017 When you pack on the km's over a winter, and then race a gruellingly hot stage race in March, a go at a solo 24 hour race only seems appropriate.... right?For those of you who have ridden or raced at the Nordic Centre in Canmore Alberta, you know it's primo terrain for some mountain biking. I've raced the 24 Hours of Adrenaline(HOA) for the past five years; as part of a five person team, a two person, and twice now as a solo racer. The HOA has quickly become one of my favourite races on the calendar, and if it's still around next year, I'll likely race it.
Post Epic - HOA Lead-up
After the post Epic glow had faded, and I was back on my bike, I wasn't in a good mental space when it came to riding and was oft questioning why?! I was still logging time/km's and my riding and fitness were improving, but the "yeah lets go" was gone, and I was dragging my feet before my rides. I wanted nothing more then to park the racing and do some 'just riding around', but I knew as the HOA grew nearer, things would change and I'd became more excited about the preparation.
Coming out of a winters worth of hard endurance training, and the gains of racing the Cape Epic, I was in some good 24 hour solo shape. To keep on the right trajectory, and avoiding my dumpy brain, I was quick to get back to The Base (ATHX Performance). The training done at ATHX, being specific to all the ultra-endurance cycling I've gotten myself into this year, has given me the legs to perform, while remaining to be enjoyable (unlike the bike).
I've heard of solo riders doing a 24 hour event truly solo, with no one in their pit, but usually they have someone or even a couple people, who they know well enough, to feed/fuel, and keep motivated. Evan was on a walkabout for the two+ months after the Epic, so he wasn't planning on racing the HOA, and he agreed to be my pit manager. Evan has seen me plenty of times in dire straights on a bicycle, and I'm not sure I could find a person better suited to ruin me, I mean run my pit for a solo 24 hour race.
Too, a pit often has someone who can handle a wrench, and I was lucky that Huy, a good friend and mechanic at Pedalhead, was on this side of the country to lend a hand. Huy was in Evan and my pit the last time we both went solo. He made a bike two sizes too small fit Evan, swapped a Lefty fork at 3am, replaced spokes in the dark, and adjusted/lubed two bicycles every hour and twenty minutes for 24 hours.
To say I was dialled in the pit department was an understatement!
As predicted, things inside me head, came together a few weeks before the race. I had spent a few days with my brothers and sisters, and had got my "mind right". Training was going great, and thanks to ATHX, I wasn't dealing with any nagging aches or pains. We over loaded the car and made our way to Canmore on a bright and warm Friday morning.
The trip down was nearly as exciting as the race, what with the "90's on 9" challenge in full effect. It's a simple challenge really, the radio channel is set to "90's on 9", and the first one to change it, loses. It's made more difficult by not being able to turn down he volume. Annnnd when you like a song, it's hard not to turn it up. It lasted over two hours, and the volume became so loud, our ears hurt. When we hit the race check-in, we all agreed, even shook hands, that we could turn it off, but none of us would do it. I climbed out of the car and shut the door to speak with the race crew and get my parking pass. It was a difficult conversation to have with the volume outside being so loud, we had to lean in and almost shout to be heard. (I'm not sure the parking guy found it nearly as funny as we did).
Check-in and set-up:
As I went about my check-in, the crew went about getting the pit set up. It's not easy sitting back watching it all unfold, but not being the one who would be operating in the tent, my input was useless. The sun was blazing and I stayed in the shade, water in hand. The tent was quickly prepped, and then we were off, back to town for dinner, shopping, and rest.
A solo race shop is a bit of a crap shoot. I never know what I'll be wanting in the middle of the race, but there are a few staples that I wouldn't race without: Ramen noodles, chicken noodle soup, potatoes, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, ham/peanut butter sandwiches, coke, perrier, and large h2o jugs. Inevitably I buy more junk, but the former will get eaten for sure. In races past, I "enjoyed" cheese tortellini, and pre-cooked chicken, but I parked those ideas this time with the thought that I'd get pizza instead.
After a quick shop we set off for the hotel to check-in and change - we were supper bound.
I've parked the carbo-loading pre race meal a long time ago, rather opting for a clean, well balanced meal. Lean steak, salad/veggies, and a starch, Basic idea that all calories are good calories, within reason.
This was quite the dine and dash, especially after Evan launched his full pint on to the floor and glass and beer went about the joint: "Check please".
Back in the hotel we had a quick chat about the AM and enjoyed a pre-race staple of "Border Security". I was off to bed but sleep didn't come easily. The hotel was hot, and my mind was churning. I didn't mind much, I was horizontal and content.
Lets go racing
Breakfast was awful and I choked down what I could past the nerves. The sun was up and you could tell it was going to be a warm one. We stopped for coffee on our way up to the Nordic Centre and quelled the idea of another 90's on 9 challenge. The parking lot was nearly empty, a sad sight for sure, especially when you hear HOA veterans talk about the race days past - traffic downtown Canmore caused by all the cars heading up to the NC - Parking lots overflowing - shuttles driving racers and spectators back and forth to town. This wasn't the case and we drove right to the gate without stopping.
We raised the tent and the pit was immediately abuzz of activity. Huy was hard at it from the gun, bleeding a soft brake, changing pads and dialling in my bikes suspension. Evan was prepping the pit, making great use of the 10x10 space.
With the sun just over the Three Sisters, the tent was providing shade as I sat collecting my thoughts, munching a pb sandwich. Huy turned some more wrenches and sent me out on a couple quick test rides so I could shift through the full range of gears and check the suspensions air levels. A couple more tweaks made, and the rig was dialled.
We all gathered for one last chat about the day, and agreed on 'gas-n-go's' for the few laps. We also tried to pen a menu of what I thought would be appetizing, taking in consideration the heat was going to be a factor, forecast of mid-30's; drinks became a high priority.
Parting comments from the pit were:
Evan: "eat and drink everything I give you. Don't go negative!"
Huy: "communicate the tweaks [shifting/suspension/etc].. don't break anything!"
All 12 loops rolled into one:
And we were off. The course starts uphill, with just a couple downs until almost the 4km mark. Nothing too taxing, just well packed switchbacks winding through the trees. The hard part for the first few laps, is taking this easy. When my legs are fresh, and liking this sort of grade in a climb, I have to be relaxed and just spin easy. The first bit of respite, at least it is for those that can go downhill, is the stretch of trail around the 3.5km mark. It's rocky in spots, with exposed roots, and apart from riding it at 3am, it has great lines and gives me a chance to catch my breath.
The trail taking me past 4km is lovely, rooty, with some turns and short climbs, rolling through the shade of a dense forest, offering respite from the sun. Out of the woods, just before the short 'Sherwood Forest' climb, we hit the first check point/aid station. It's on a access road offering trail conducive to eating more than a quick bite. I usually passed the volunteers with a mouth full of food, shouting my race number for them to record that I passed, and wasn't eaten by a bear.
Having been to Canmore just the week prior, I was lucky to have ridden the next section (the Meadow) with two of my brothers, and it made me smile. There is a fast wide-open descent that gets dusty and brake rutted as the race goes on, and then a super fast turn as the trail turns back almost upon itself, and takes us up and out of the wide-open. The meadow is gold! Weather permitting, it's a place where you're gifted a sunset, moon and star scape, and a sunrise, and this year was extra spectacular. I don't care for the nagging false-flat climb out of the meadow, so the sibling memory, gorgeous weather, made it a bit more bearable.
Brothers Coleman in the "Meadow' - Photo by Brad Once A Racer Chisolm
In races like this, when the day goes on, I have to divide the course into sections, not laps. Sometimes the divisions are as small as a single climb, or root, or a decent. The sections of trail out of the Meadow meld together in my mind, and I had to dissect a couple km's into minuscule partitions, just to keep it from being too daunting. I find/found that doing such division helps me stay engaged with my bicycle, and not my fatigue or bad thoughts. Funnily enough, some of the dissections change throughout the 24 hours. Some lines require more effort, some lines get faster, it's fun to see how the course and my mind change, and how I adapt.
Around the 9.5km point, I enter the biathlon shooting range. I see people, and soak up the cheers and it spurs me on. I love and hate it here. I love the well wishes, but I hate seeing the racers on teams sitting and relaxing and in the morning, it's also where I catch a whiff of bacon/pancakes/etc, and it makes me want for a meal where I'm not rushed or nauseous.
Somewhere on course at dusk or dawn (lights off) - photo by Sportograf
Leaving the range, we get roughly 2km on wide ski trails. Rolling, fast, and offering some "free" speed, it's a great time to get some more food down. I spin my legs as much as I can, even when coasting, to keep them from hurting when the track gets hard again. (something about lactic acid)
The first real test of the '2nd half' comes with the "Matching Jerseys" climb. It's short, shaded, and on any other day it's but a blip. It starts off straight and rooty, with a couple spots which requires pressure on the pedals. The bulk of the climb is switchbacks, around 8 I think, and then a slightly punchy final few metres. (at least it's punchy when you're cooked).FYI. this was the first place I walked. The start of the climb required more energy than I was willing to give and around midnight, I was hiking up some of the "Jersey". So too, I wasn't riding the switchbacks, instead opting for a walk around the corner, and then would roll between the turns.
When we exit 'MJ', we hit yet another wide open trail/road and have to climb just a bit more - yup, you guessed it, drink, drink, drink, eat, eat, eat.....
Then comes the KM's that hurts me the most, downhill! My hands and low back scream at me on the "Coal Chutes" decent. It starts with flowing twisty trail, loaded with berms, and turns into an even faster almost straight shot down with a few rocks. My mind keeps calling out to 'relax', and my hands cramped and aching reply f%$# you! Even when the Chutes turn as wide as a road, and literally covered in crushed coal, my hands and back hurt so badly, I was stopping to shake them out in order to be able to modulate my brakes for the last few FAST metres of the descent. It's embarrassing how poorly I descend, and can't be believed until seen. I also can't explain the excruciating pain I feel - it literally makes me want to puke!
Going down - photo by Sportograf
The result of going down (post race) - photo by Huy Ngo
Just past 14km's, comes the last bit of energy sucking trail of the '2nd half', and arguably the hardest bit of climbing of the entire loop, "Long Road to Ruin". It's a shit sandwich when you're bagged: steep at it's start and finish, with a mix of switchbacks, and steep ups in the middle! Knowing the loop is about done is what keeps me peddling up the climb. It's actually a great climb (when fresh), and it offers shade when the sun is high.
At the summit of the Ruin climb, we bounce from singletrack to ski trail for the remaining few KM's. There is trail for me to finish what food or drink I started with, and a nice spot for a nature break (at the top of a hill, so I can coast, post) I think the trend post 'Ruin' is up, but it doesn't feel that way, maybe because the end is nearer. The last couple hundred metres brings us back onto the paved trail that circles the biathlon range. Rolling around race camps, I usually try to recall the lap, and try and remember if I needed to communicate anything to the pit. Back amongst people, I can also catch some cheers, as I make my way to'Solo Row' - the enclave of solo and 2-person team tents along the finishing stretch. I always stopped at my pit for a reload before finishing a lap.
The lap ends at the finish arch, just before the timing tent. The timing tent is exactly that, a huge white "I'm having a banquet outside" sort of affair, that has long tables, maned by volunteers who catch your number, and record the time you enter, and exit, each lap. When you're in need of a pick-me-up, this is the place to get it. For the full 24 hours, it's the only place not shrouded in curfew whispers. Timers call out; friends from other teams call out; strangers call out; it's a huge boost going into another lap!
Making my way to the finish line for the last time - Photo by Huy Ngo
Odds and ends
I did twelve laps! Enough for fourth overall, and third in 'Solo Male 40+'. Each lap was unique, even though it was the same course. I saw/felt the full gamut of emotions over the 24 hours: I'd hurt, feel sick, be happy, miss my kids, cry, be dizzy, get mad, cry.... I'd be lost in thought and come back to reality a couple kilometres from where I was or I'd be so aware of every pedal stroke, I wasn't able to escape and notice every meter.
I'd finish a hard lap and hit the pit, often only managing enough wherewithal to not puke or fall over. I knew I had to eat, and with no appetite, Evan would have something waiting, and more importantly, he'd have a plan of how to make it seem like it was the right thing to eat. "Look delicious coffee and noodles" he'd say while handing me a bubbly h20. Huy, busy with my bike, would lend a hand as I'd sit in a dizzy fog, fetching me this laps fancy. I'd get an update on my pace and standings while I choked down a bowl of soup, and then be coaxed out for another lap.
Wait till you see the video of me crying if you think this is bad - photo by Huy Ngo
On the AM laps I felt "better" on my bike than I did off it but I still was starting take more time in the pit (changing kits, eating, etc). A couple laps I was told I would get a 20 minute break and I thought that seemed like a long time, I'd consume, get lost in the moment, and not notice that they only gave me 10-15 minutes. I clearly remember thinking that the break seemed rather short.
I can't thank Evan and Huy enough for the hard work to get me on the third step. It was a hard race and I'm positive I wouldn't have done it without their help. Also I need to thank ATHX Performance for not only keeping me healthy in the lead-up, but putting me back together post race.
Three sisters on my lap
Bet I'm snoring! - photo by Huy Ngo
I'm not sure what the future holds for the HOA, but if it lives to play another day, I will for sure give a solo HOA another go.
As always, thanks for reading!