Well, it was time to tackle my first 24 hour race. On Thursday morning, my family and I packed up the van and the trailer and headed off to Middleville, MI. My first 24 hour would be the National 24 Hour Challenge, which is one of the largest 24 hour events in the US. This meant I knew that there would be some pretty stiff competition. But, I was headed there to win. That was what I put on the entry form when answering, "Why are you doing this race?".
The trip up to MI was a chore in itself. I had planned on taking an easy day and a half to get there. The road construction and stopping every 2 hours to gas up (the van only got 10 MPG while towing), turned into a long day and half. We made Champaign IL about 8 pm on Thursday and were ready to get started again at 7 on Friday, but we had to wait out the tornado warnings.
We finally made it up to Middleville about 1:00pm and began the setup process. N24HC has a special place for people with trailers - about 1/2 mile away from where everyone else gets to setup. So we dropped the trailer in the parking lot and started mixing the bottles, assembling the bikes, and all the other little prep stuff necessary to the race. Number pickup wasn't until 5:30 so we took off to pre-drive the course. I had heard that the road conditions weren't the greatest and wanted to visually verify the status of the course. We found some fresh chipseal near mile 15 and one section just after the 2nd checkpoint that weren't great but other than that the course was pretty nice.
We got back to Middleville at around 5:45 - timed perfectly so that the line was nice and small - and went thru packet pickup. Then we loaded up and headed to Grand Rapids and my favorite prerace meal at Outback: Rack of lamb with mashed potatos and 2 loaves of their great bread and two big blokes of Fosters to complete my carb loading.
Saturday started out too early with a wake up call at 4:30 - Me and the first shift of the support crew, Trisha and Allen, were up and headed out to the race site by 5:30 and at the trailer way before 6:00. I had the bike loaded with food/drink and the van loaded up with everything Trish would need by 6:30. Oops, race doesn't start until 8:00. This is a bad habit that I picked up from racing tri's - always get there early to get the prime TA.
Since I was ready to race with more than an hour to spare, it became social hour. I talked with Jim Hlvaka (from PAC Tours), Paul Danhaus (Big Dogs), and Bryan Kortness (Facebook) and just did a little riding around to loosen up. Trish and Allen hit the Crew prerace meeting at 7:30 and were on the frontline to start the race at 8:00.
We started at 8:00 straight up with no delays and I was off the front to lead the pack out. I know that Larry told me to draft, draft, draft and when you get tired of drafting to suck wheel, but I still like to lead the race out :-). The first section of the race was rather uneventful with a group of about 35 or 40 riders in the pack and about 8 -10 of us doing all of the pulls. At about mile 10 we hit a couple of hills and 2 riders went off the front, but the group, at the urging of Chris Ragsdale, (last year's winner), sort of let them stay about 1/8 mile ahead of the group. They rode out there for about 10 miles when I decided that it would be fun to break away from the group and ride them down. You got to play games or it gets boring. So I rode them down and the group caught up and we rode off toward checkpoint 1 were they had 4 lanes for you to get punched.
Once we hit checkpoint 1 the fun ended. We turned south into a 15+ mph wind from the southwest which would be with us all day. The group rode together down to checkpoint 2 with the same 8-10 people doing most of the work. As we were pulling into checkpoint 2, the group started attacking hard. This checkpoint only had 2 lanes to get punched, so it was a big cluster and I was the last person thru the station, but Trish and Allen were there with everything I needed so as soon as I got punched I was ready to head down the road. I was afraid this cluster in the checkpoint had cost me the main group, but I was wrong. Just after stop 2 is the unofficial Pee break. So the only thing that I lost was a chance to take a leak.
We cruised on toward checkpoint 3, riding the the roughest section of the road and dodging a lot of tree debris that had been blow down from the storm the previous night. At mile 80 the debris caught me, or I caught it, and the front tire made the s's's's's sound as air was escaping. I knew it was my wheel, but it was funny to watch all the other rider's start looking a their bikes to see if they had a problem.
Time for a quick tire change. The race had just been lost. There was no way I could win without riding with the lead group into the wind. Oh well, I had a new goal. How many of the 30+ rides could I catch and pass riding on my own? Someone had said that there was often a 2nd group that forms and works together, but I never saw them. I just rode my own pace, pushing as hard as felt good, and made it back to the finish of the big loop in just over 5:30 for 121.6 miles.
I had talked with Larry Graham before the race and he said that you wanted to do as many middle loops as you could before getting put on the short course at 7:15. I started pushing hard because I wanted to make sure I completed at least 5 middle (23.7) loops. This part of the ride was rather uneventful until the 5th lap. During the laps 1 thru 4, I would ride by people but never was passed. My support crew kept me flying around the track giving me bottles and food every lap, but I was waiting for the fast group to catch me and put me 23.7 miles down. About 1/2 way around lap 5 I was flying down a downhill section at about 25 when a car passed me and started to make a right turn in front me. I screamed F!!!!!! Thankfully, they stopped and I didn't become imbedded in the side door of their car.
About 5 minutes later, a group of 5 riders including Charles Knott came by me. So, I jumped on with them and started chatting with them. They said they were the second part of the fast group with the fastest 6 riders riding in a group ahead of them. This sort of confused me because nobody had passed me. Then I found out that I had passed these guys in transition. I had worked my way up to a top ten spot by mile 240. They were also impressed that I had ridden alone and was in front of them.
Charles, one other rider and I rode away from the rest of the group to finish up our last middle loop with 240.1 miles and start riding the 5.5 loop. As I transitioned to the short loop, my night crew showed up for work. Trish had taken Allen back to the hotel and picked up Rachel and Katelyn to work the night shift. Support on the night section of the race wasn't nearly as set as the day section. When I wanted something, I would tell my crew the lap before that I would stop and what I needed.
Night riding was mostly a mind game of setting a goal of the number of laps to do and counting down while continuously riding hard. My goal when I started was to get 40 laps. So I just kept counting down and riding. I switched from Boost at the stops to Starbucks coffee and my food went from sausage to a slice of pizza, but only one - it didn't settle all that well. I also downed a bag a frito's.
I was passed once during the night by Chris Ragsdale (494.8) and Chris Gottwald (483.8) and jumped on and rode with them for 3 laps before they stop to refuel. I hadn't told my crew I was stopping so I kept riding, then on the next lap I told them I was stopping. Just as I was pulling in to stop, the Chrises caught me so I lost the fast group again.
The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. Just riding and getting a little slower. Once the sun came out a lot of the riders that had stopped to sleep came back on the course, so there were more people again. I got together with Charles Knott a little after 6:15. He was on mile 399.6, about 16.5 miles behind me. He said his goal was to set the new 55-59 record and he needed to do 5 more laps, so he and I started working hard and pushed. Charles had the record with 20 minutes to spare. We took the last lap pretty easy, (20 minutes), and we came in with 20 minutes left. I decided to go out for one more lap. I time trialed the last lap in under 16 minutes, which was probably my fastest of the day, to end up with 449.1 - 38 short laps - 2 short of what I had set for my goal about 12 hours before.
I had come to win or at least challenge for the win. A pretty lofty goal for a first time 24 hour race. That went out the door with the flat. I set my new goal and passed all but 4 of the racers
ending up as 5th overall finisher and 1st in 45-49.
The Competition was pretty good.
1st - Chris Ragsdale, (494.8), Furnace Creek 508 Winner
2nd - Chris Gottwald, (483.8), Solo RAAM Finisher 2009
3rd - Bryce Walsh (460.1) Solo RAAM 2006
4th - Dennis Delong (454.6) RAAM Qualified
After the race is pretty hazy. We waited around for awards until 9:00 - then went to pack up the trailer to head back to the hotel, but we couldn't find a key for the trailer hitch. After searching high and low, Trisha found it in her shirt pocket. We were all really tired. We finished hooking up everything and drove back to the hotel at about 11:00. I went to the front desk and said I needed a wake up call for 1:30 and she looked at me like I was crazy. I explained the reason for late check out, (it's good to be a member of their club), and crashed for a couple of hours.
At 2 o'clock we were on the road heading for Ludington and the Ferry to WI. We had a 3 hour drive up to Ludington during which I slept again. We had enough time to have a picnic with KFC at the park then drove up to the dunes north of town and walked on the beach. We got on the ferry at 8:00pm and I walked back to the state room and slept until we reached Manitowoc around 11:00pm . I then drove 1 mile to the nearest hotel and fell back asleep again :-)