Me and Andrea Matney from DC Randonneurs decided to combine forces and do the national 24 hour Challenge. I was not planning on participating but this is the last edition until further notice and I wasn’t going to miss it. Things were so much easier that way. This would be my first 24 hour event and second attempt for her.
Our plan was to drive 3 hours away before reaching our final destination in Middleville , Michigan. We decided to stop and sleep at a small town called Perrysville in beautiful Ohio and I highly recommend it. We ate some good Mediterranean food and walked down to the water. It was gorgeous !
There was plenty of bike travelers the next morning. Few miles before we arrived, we saw few ladies pushing the pedals. They were on their way to Seattle , Washington. Our 24 hour race now looked like a walk in the park !
The planning was brilliant. We arrived a little before the campground was about to open , and few friends were already there. They saved a nice camping spot for us. We parked the van and started socializing. It was a great location , next to the turnaround and right after the time station.
We had a chance to chat with plenty of riders from all over the country and share stories. To top that we met the very first organizers from 1983 – Skip and his wife Diane. It was so inspirational to just listen to them. They were so excited while speaking about the event. We heard a lot about it and what changed over the years. Later that day Skip was volunteering and punching the riders numbers as they passed by.
I also met few cyclists from the DMV area. One of them was Gary Waggoner. He has plenty of experience on this course and we pre rode the short loop together.
Skip and his wife Diane
It was so sunny during the day and I was enjoying it while working on my bike. It took me probably 30 minutes to attach the headlight clamp on those flat handlebars. The sun was so strong that by dinner time my neck and head were on fire !
Rider package pick up
I was told not to be shy and tell the organizers where I am from. Other riders saw my country flag displayed on the van and were eager to ask me about my nationality. As soon as the organizers found out, they got excited.
I don`t know how to thank my favorite volunteer Kathy enough ( Picture below ). Always full of energy and very helpful . She was so excited to have a Bulgarian rider for the 1st time. As I was receiving my rider package, she started asking the other volunteers to find a Bulgarian flag sticker for my race number. Someone was also instructed to get the Bulgarian anthem ! She just didn’t know where to find Bulgarian flag from. I promised to bring mine. Coincidentally it was the same size as all others. It is their tradition to display all foreign country flags as well as playing their national anthem at the start. How cool is that !
My favorite volunteer – Kathy
Photo By: Christoper Cavaliere
Big responsibility . A whole country to defend on my own !
Later that evening we joined everyone else for the official spaghetti dinner. It was carb loading time . . . We had good time socializing while sharing awesome stories. It was great hearing from Nancy and John Guth and their RAAM adventures !
Around 10 pm the lights at the camping area and inside the school were turned off . It was time for some beauty sleep . I got comfortable inside the tent and fell asleep almost immediately . I told you already about being deep sleeper. Well , maybe not this time . . .
Around 4 am we heard a storm approaching and few thunderstorms followed. The lightning came around next. I just kept my cool and decided to sleep through it. Everything developed so quick – we were in the middle of a major storm. And I mean right in the the middle. The weather app notified me of a lightning strike 0.2 miles away. I am not sure that I really need an app to see that. The wind gusts were up to 41 mph !
I was holding the tent with my hands so it doesn’t collapse. It started filling up with water pretty quick as the rain top came down . Fifteen minutes later I was sitting on 3 inches of water. There was only one corner where the water was not as deep. I think is safe to assume that my sleep was over.
At sunrise it looked like a war zone! Tents all over the place, silence and dark skies !
My partner in crime Andrea was sleeping in the van. I tried checking on her as the storm slowed down. I called and called but nobody answered so I took shelter inside the school.
Few hours later we began gathering our gear to prepare for the start.
I heard bagpipes all of a sudden. They are actually part of the Bulgarian tradition and it felt so good to hear it 🙂 I was even able to get a nice video. While doing so, I noticed my country flag on the pole. Nothing can describe the feeling. As we say –
Bulgaria is where at least one Bulgarian is
Bulgaria was one of the only 4 other countries not named USA to be represented at the event. Apparently I was also the first Bulgarian to ever participate. It felt so great to be so far away, and yet so close to home !
I decided to wear my rain gear, wool jersey and a neoprene shoe covers. Andrea did the same !
We lined up at the start and quickly found our riding buddies John and Jancy Guth – ultracycling legends I would say !
Andrea Matney ( on the left ) and Nancy Guth ( on the right )
The moment before the gun went off
We wanted to be in the front. Not with the top 10 or even 20 guys. I was almost certain that they will put a blistering pace of at least 23 mph on the first loop ( 124 miles ) . Drafting is allowed ,therefore fast times are to be expected.
On the other hand I did not wanted to be way back. Plenty of inexperience riders there. Expect water bottles flying , chains coming off , braking hard in the turns. The goal for the first 10 miles is always to ride safe and find a group that will suit my speed.
There was a decent group of about 20 riders and we decided to stay with them. In the front we mainly had John and Nancy setting the pace, plus few others taking turns.
Sadly, all the young guys were letting the older folks dictate the pace. It didn’t seem like they wanted to waste much energy. Maybe they are just being smart or perhaps inexperienced. Nobody will stick around a group where riders are not willing do some work . Me and Andrea joined the fun and started taking turns in the front. Unfortunately, it was only half of our group that was helping. Everyone else was just hiding behind the train.
Andrea leading the way
After the first 50 miles we were still averaging over 20 Mph . This is way faster than what my plan was ( 19 Mph ).
Lesson 1 – Stick to your plan , or pay for it later !
All I got for my hard word was :
Great job setting up a nice pace in the front
I felt like a dummy doing the work while many others were saving energy in the back . Lessons learned is a good motto for my first 24 hour race .
Lesson 2 – Stop doing all the work in the front. Save that energy for later !
At this point Nancy and John took off and we backed off. The best decision of the day. While I was wearing all available rain gear, the result was baking myself like a dahm potato 🙂
Looking like a baked potato !
On the next control someone offered to take some of our excess clothes back to the start . They asked where our crew is ? Some laughs followed. We took the offer immediately. Thank you. You know who you are !
Checkpoint 1 – Picture by David Manning – DavidManningPhoto.com
It felt like 100 lbs of weight just came off our shoulders. We kept going while most riders stopped for a lot longer with their crews. With 100oz Camelback plus 2 water bottles there was not need for me to stop for at least 5 hours.
It was nice utilizing the garden hose on one of the next controls 🙂 How about the great suggestion by a volunteer to squeeze an orange in my water. They were so awesome and helpful ! More Thanks flying your way.
My race number was manually punched – no chip on this race. It takes so much manpower to do everything manually. I believe there were about 150 volunteers . . . This is definitely the biggest 24 h race in the world as far as ridership. I don`t know how to thank all volunteers enough.
Andrea was setting the pace for me towards the end of Loop 1 while I was suffering. She is f … strong ! After the first long loop we decided to take well deserved 5 to 10 minute break. I am not going to lie to you – My head was already cooking and I was burning on the inside. I just laid down on the ground while pouring cold water all over my head and chest. It felt so good.
Hmmm, Is this what paradise feels like ?
Soon thereafter we headed out for our first Loop 2. It was 23.9 miles long.
I felt a little better and decided to take over and stay in the front for a while.
After only about 3 miles I was not feeling it again and Andrea took over. My stomach was not cooperating now . . . I am sure she can hear all the suffering behind her. My head was down almost all the time, and my tongue out. I am feeling like a dog.
This is going to be great !
She did not ask me how am I feeling constantly and I really appreciate that. Letting me deal it with in piece is the way to go. I just got some ginger from her for my stomach and that helped tremendously.
Things did not change much on our second loop 2 . I was pulling hard in the beginning like a fool, just so I can run out of gas quickly.
Lesson 3 – Don`t punish yourself immediately just because you feel a little better at the moment !
We realized that our pulls were too long on a drafting event and started alternating every 3 minutes to conserve energy. It worked well and we were able to maintain better speed without getting tired as much.
Around this time I got bit twice by some stupid bugs. I told Andrea that the only thing I am allergic to is bees. She didn’t quite understand why I am not carrying EpiPen !
Lesson 4 – If you are allergic, it is probably a good idea to carry some medication !
Official National 24h photo album
You think that she had a perfect race. No worries. Her time of bad luck was coming. She had a nice ham and cheese sandwich as a reward for job well done . It was time for her stomach to respond to that. Just great. Now is 2 of us begging for our life 🙂
She told me that I kept saying :
No worries , we are survivors ! 🙂 🙂 🙂
She is still smiling ( Official National 24h album )
We were moving a bit slower and yet still fast and steady. I had to stop at one point and told her to go. Longer break was needed. My plan was to go inside the school, cool down, clean , eat and regain my momentum. It was already raining by this point and they let us do few short loops before the race was placed on hold !
It was time to change my bibs since it was wet already. I should have used the locker rooms but the restrooms were closer. As I was changing my uniform I heard – “Excuse me gyues ” from my restroom neighbor ! I don`t want to tell you what I heard and smelled next. This is not helpful for my stomach at all.
Towards the gym I headed next. The big fan was so inviting and I laid down next to it. I fell asleep instantly. My plan was to sleep 20 minutes but actually slept for almost 1 hour. I got up feeling fresh and a bit disoriented. On my way out I decided to use the porta potty near the start line for a first time. Guess what ? I was urinating purple (red) color! Wow !
What else did I do to my body today?
I was a bit worried but didn’t wanted to make any noise. I remember drinking some Beet juice. This could explain it I thought. DC Randonneurs and 1200 km specialist Hamid Akbarian suggested I get a bottle. Maybe he forgot to tell me about the effects 🙂
BTW , we were already on the short loop as night was approaching. It was flat with one climb before the school. There was also spot lights on all 4 corners and Police presence. As I was entering the school after each lap I saw Andrea exiting !
Now rejuvenated , my speed was increasing again. We were going around the short loop for so long that you start memorizing the pot holes and other weird stuff. As you head out and make the first right turn and then another one, you get close to a farm. It smelled awesome and just kept me awake all night. There was also some fat bugs flying around in the same area until we make it to the next stop sign. How cool is that !
At every corner on the short loop they had Police presence and a huge spot light. Some kids were also helping by placing some of those glow in the dark sticks on the ground as we were entering the school. I told you already – Very well organized event !
It felt great when the temperature went down right before midnight. I guess there is still hope after all. We were riding again with Andrea at this point and even had a chance to slow down on the hill before the school so we can chat with some other riders.
Things were looking good for me , but mother nature decided to throw another challenge at us. As we were finishing another loop, there was even bigger storm approaching. We were told to stop. The race director had to postpone the race until further notice !
It was around midnight. All we had left to do is sleep and wait. I got up at a little after 3 am while emerging from under the stairs in the gymnasium. It was still raining , but a sign on a board was claiming that we will be able to race again at 4:15 am.
Race suspended for over 4 hours
At this point I probably had only about 220 miles . My hope of 400 miles was long gone. The race was stopped for over 4 hours. Final result of over 300 miles will be very respectful I thought.
Small goals, remember. If the main goal evaporates , a new goal must emerge to keep the mental edge.
I actually did not leave for another 45 minutes after we had a green light at 4:15 am. There were some mechanical difficulties to be taken care of first.
Around 5 am I was out on the course and giving it all I had left. I was powering down the the road, and my best short loop was 23 min 23 sec at 19 Mph avg speed.
The rain stopped completely around sunrise. It is so close to the finish time now and I was ready for assault. Five short loops later it was time for a fast one before the time runs out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t riding anymore with Andrea until the end. We did not leave together at 5 am and that is ok. Later, I found out that she had a great time out there and made lots of friends.
With 1 hour left It appeared that I was close to 275 miles. If I go full blast and lap 3 times I might get 300 miles I thought.
There was about 25 minutes left to 8 am according to my speedometer. As I was heading out few riders were completing their last lap. One of them was wishing me good luck. I didn’t even know why yet ! I was just going so hard and felt alone on the course. Nobody even passed me. On the last hill before the school I can see few riders behind in the distance, as well as the event car. If is 8 am then they will come to me , stop and take my race number. Until then I am racing. So I put down the hammer and increased the pace. Up the last hill I went and I could see the school in the distance to my right. Unfortunately the time has expired . . .
I still had to face the wind pass the school. It was always windy in that corner, as if somebody had the winds locked in a box and kept releasing them as soon as we approached.
It turned out that I ran out of time already. My speedometer was not even synchronized with the real time and was 5 minutes off .What a bummer !
As I entered the school flying the official told me :
Great effort, but you know the last lap will not count.
At least I tried. My final mileage was 285.1 – good for 4th place in my age group. Second race of the year and 4th place once again.
I am actually happy with the result as this is my first 24 hour race. Despite all the physical , weather and other issues I finished with very respectable result.
In about 16 h 50 min of riding ( according to strava) I had 285.1 miles with moving average speed of almost 18 Mph. The person behind me had 20 miles less and the person ahead of me a 30 mile lead. I could have done a lot better, but also a lot worse . . .
Official breakfast supplied by Subway
I am so proud of Andrea .
She finished Third in her age group with 292.7 miles
How about Nancy Guth finishing first in the 65- 69 age group with 324.3 miles. Impressive !
And John finishing 5th in the 60 – 65 age group with 300.3 miles
William Smith finishing 14th in the 55 – 59 age group with 253.5 miles
Hey, almost forgot. I got an award too. It is so small that I had to really zoom in to show it. I guess I need to work harder for a bigger one 🙂
Next up – Big Jay’s Fat Ass 12-hour Race.