Friday, August 8, 2014

1,440 Minutes

My awesome support crew clearing a path to the canopy.
I've long thought that the key to endurance racing was mastering the art of quickly forgetting how much each race hurt.  I know it might seem like I'm a glutton for punishment, but really, I'm not. I just have a really short memory.

Somehow this memory got me to the start line of a 24 hour mountain bike race with the false hope it might not hurt that much. Yes, I know that's ridiculous, but I'd never line up if I thought about the pain so I choose to start each race clueless.

That said, I'm sure there were numerous people who actually thought I really was clueless when I stood right at the front of the group for the Le Mans start of Wausau 24. What that means is this: I'd chosen to stand in front of a couple hundred people, most of whom were bigger than me and all of whom were about to sprint full-speed for their bikes, which were placed a few hundred yards away.

Let's just say that when the gun went off, all I could do was sprint like hell and hope I didn't get trampled by a bunch of dudes with metal on their shoes.

That said, I made it to my bike safely and even beat Big E to the start of the singletrack. (Don't worry, I let him by, but only because I knew if I crashed in front of him he'd yell "ramp" and run me over!) For once, I actually had a good start. No one was yelling at me to get out of the way. I wasn't trapped behind anyone. I was, miraculously, actually having fun less than 2 minutes into a race.

This was probably a good thing since I had 1,438 more minutes to go. 

I will spare you every detail of the next 1,438 minutes. Long story short it went like this:

The first 8 laps were a breeze. Well, at least the first 7.9 laps were a breeze. At that point, just a few minutes from the end of that lap, I ate shit. Or to be more literal, I ate dirt. I'm still not quite sure what happened. Basically, I was simply riding too fast on the last bit of singletrack, hoping to finish that lap before 10 hours. I drug myself up out of the dirt and coasted into the transition area. Big E was waiting, having finished his 6 hour race already. All I could say was, "You might want to check me out and make sure nothing is broken." Thankfully, he makes a great medic. He rubbed my shoulders, checked my eyes and sent me toward the hose. A half an hour later, he had me back on the bike, ready for my first lap in the dark.

The next two laps weren't too bad.  I even rode one of the bigger rock gardens on lap 10. Lap 11, however, was one of my worst. My coordination was shot, I was exhausted, all I wanted was a nap. When I finished that lap a little after 1, Big E was waiting. I expressed my need for a nap. I must've looked like crap because he didn't argue. We prepped my bike for lap 12 and crawled into the tent.

It was then that I learned the real challenge of 24 hour racing. Sleep is impossible. You can be absolutely convinced you're going to fall asleep on the bike, but the second you lie down, everything will change. You will have to pee. You will be cold. Your legs will refuse to stop moving.

At 3 am, sleepless, I finally gave up. I put on a fresh kit and headed back out. Two hours later, on lap 13, the sun came up. I'd been looking forward to that moment for hours. It was then that I realized that 24 hour racing is totally worth it, just to get to feel the sun rise.

At the end of lap 14, I stopped to grab a snack. Big E called out from the tent. I told him I'd do one more lap, but just one. I was convinced I wanted to do just one more.

Big E met me at checkpoint Charley on that lap to remind me of the rules. If I finished before the 24 hours was up, I needed to wait to cross the line. If I crossed at 23:59 I'd have to do one more lap. I took my time for most of that lap, not wanting to do one more, but somewhere about 2/3 of the way through, I suddenly wasn't so tired. I sped up. Perhaps I could do just one more.

I came around the last corner at 23:55. There was time. Thankfully I'd asked Big E to meet me there, just before the line. He must know me well. He wasn't just waiting. He'd brought a chair. In that moment, I was so torn. I knew there was no sane reason to do one more lap, but then there was really no sane reason to have ridden 15. Would one more really be so bad?

In the end the chair, and Big E's voice of reason, won. It was then, while I waited for the clock to reach 24:00:00, that I realized one last thing. While the key to endurance racing might be to master the art of forgetting the pain of each race, the key to 24 hour racing was to master the art of forgetting the pain of each lap or even each moment. It's all about starting over and over and over and over- no matter what.

A little like life, I guess.
Nothing to help you forget the pain like a little nap on the way home.