My very first Ultra Race was at Calvins Challenge in 2016. It appeared, we will reunite again with Andrea Matney 2 years later. Greg Conderacci was also coming to complete the DC group. The event was actually not on the Calendar for 2017. Previous race director Larry Graham passed the torch to Maria Vazquez , who took over and had big plans for it. We exchanged numerous massages from the beginning , and I knew she was serious about it. What I didn’t expect was that she will have a 24h RAAM Qualifier on her first year and she actually pulled it off. I do have some constructive criticism, and hope that she will adjust and improve the event for the following edition.
After disappointing performance at Sebring 24h earlier this year, I was hungry for redemption! Failures are actually part of the learning process and I embrace them. I usually take notes, look back and work hard on improving in any aspect I can. How else would we know what to improve on, if we are not making any mistakes in the first place?
For this race I invested in new Groupset – The Ultegra R8000. My new 53 tooth Chainring should power me through the flats at higher speeds and lower cadence. The dual pivot brake calipers claim 40% improved braking and the ergonomic shifters look awesome, plus they are more comfortable to hold uphill . . .
By now you know that I build my own bikes and this time was no different. On top of saving $$$ , I actually enjoy doing it since I was a little kid. The other important reason is the fact that I can fix my own bike in the middle of the night, in a different state , without waiting on any help or loosing valuable time. When racing unsupported , this is very important skill to have. I’ve seen way too many riders relying on mechanic, and when things brake in the middle of a ride they are stuck.
I also started using Smart Trainer paired with TrainerRoad / Zwift. Not much Zwift to be honest – Their training plans are way worst compared to TrainerRoad. Unfortunately , I had no time to complete a full 8 week plan, but still noticed a nice FTP increase after just 3 weeks. It was now time to put all this preparation to the test . . .
I arrived in Ohio the day before the event and spend hours fixing my bike. It took me over one hour placing reflective tape on my wheelset, cranks, chainstays … etc. Since my cable guide for the dront deraileur broke the day before the event, I decided to find a way around it and lock it on the big ring. My chain was unopened the night before the race ( Not a good move). It took some time, but it all worked well. New tires were installed on the old Wheelset in case the winds were as strong as predicted. The new Groupset practically had 0 miles and what better test than a 24h race. I am known to experiment with new equipment on big rides. Not the smartest thing I know , but no disaster has struck so far. Last year I went extreme and changed my seat prior to the National 24h. I am glad I did, and now my new #Infinity seat is the only seat I can tolerate for long distance.
The course was hillier than I expected , so reaching the 400 mile mark will be a little tougher. However , 380 miles was needed to Qualify for Race Accross America. The weather forecast was actually not bad , maybe raining for an hour or two in the beginning and some strong winds, but great afterwards. As usual , I arrived hours in advance to the start since I hate stressing and doing last second tweaks. Andrea Matney and Greg Conderacci were already there. They were parked in the back of the parking lot, but also told me that the timing mat will be at the front , by the main street. The mat was not even there yet. I decided to reserve the first parking spot next to the street and start the long meticulous preparation process that I have 🙂
My tactic proved golden. As I moved there and continued with my final preparation, the rain started pouring down on us. I was practically ready and had almost 2 hours before the race start. What better time than this to take a power nap I thought. I jumped in my car , cracked the windows open and fell asleep almost immediately under the soothing noise of rain drops. When I opened my eyes an hour later , the timing mat was placed on the pavement , right in front of my face 🙂 The timing was flawlessly performed by Amanda who was up all night just like us. It is the same sophisticated timing used at the WTTC in Borego Springs.
I am doing this self supported ,so reducing time in the pit is very valuable. The plan was simple – Carry 100 Oz Camelback that can last me around 4 hours, some Hydration Mix by #Scratch ( Thank you for backing me up). I had about 8 SIS Isotonic Gels in my water bottle , plus chocolate covered coffee beans in my top tube bag. This time I decided to also have real meal sitting in my car that will hopefully prove valuable later on.
We received final instructions from the Race Director Maria Vasquez and learned about the wave assignments. I was in the first wave, right behind the big Favorite and great person Billy Volchko. Maria told me not to race him, but I knew that better by now. . . .
This is what the long loop looked like – 23.2 miles and we were going to be doing this for the first 22.5 hours …
Immediately after the start , Billy Volchko took the lead as expected. He ended up finishing his first loop in 1h20sec (the fastest Long loop time for the day). I finished in 1h6min44sec and this was the second fastest time on the Long loop for the day.
The worst part so far was that immediately before the Start / Finish line we had to go down a steep hill, over RR tracks and up a hill. A bit dangerous , especially towards the end of the race I am sure. The race director also notified us that the train might actually end up coming across at some point. I tried not to think about it as this proved horrible at Big Jays last year – I waited for a train to pass for about 10 minutes.
But remember Georgi – pacing, pacing . . . By now, I was sure that Andrea will be mad at me for stating so fast 🙂 I need to slow down since this is just the beginning, but slowing down is not easy to do when fresh. My idea was that we will bike in daylight for the first three hours , and might as well go a little faster while i can still see clearly. Starting at 6 pm actually would be really beneficial for my pacing. Luckily, it rained an hour before the race start, and not a single drop during the race. The temperature was also excellent – average at 58 degrees and lowest at 45.
My first 3 laps were withih 1h15 min and I was feeling good. The bike was also performing as expected. Without crew help, I had to be very efficient in order to reach my 400 mile goal. This event was hilly ,therefore 380 miles was the requirement to qualify for Race Accross America, so perhaps 380 miles is my minimum goal.
My lap times increased from 1h21min on lap 4 to 1h27min on lap 7. The stops in between were between 10 seconds and 3 minutes for the firstst 7 loops (161 miles ) , or roughly about 13 minutes. Lap 9 was my worst at 1h39 min. That was expected once we hit that dead time between 2 and 3 in the morning. It must have been during this lap that my tail light fell off and I had to stop and go find it. I then stopped for about 2 minutes on the following 2 laps trying to zip tie it to my seat bag. This was definitely messing with my head , and I was checking if the light is there every single mile. Finally, I used a large Zip tie and things were looking good.
The speed slowly dropped from above 20Mph , to 19Mph and then 18.5Mph at sunrise. I almost fell asleep twice and had to down few cans of RedBull. There was also some rubbing on my drivetrain. Inspection after the race revealed that my chain was not placed correctly and was rubbing onto the metal plate next to the rear derailleur jokey – Completely my fault.It got so cold at this point that I was forced to stop and add some layers, even thought I didn’t wanted to stop. This was another huge time waster and it took almost 12 minutes ! ! !
It was time for real meal that I had sitting since the beginning of the race. The plan was to eat some now and the rest for lunch. I learned that no matter how much beneficial liquid diet is , real food is better . The risk of few extra bathroom breaks is there, but I felt so much better afterwards.
It was not noticeable on my splits , but the fatigue was setting in fast. At this point , I just wanted to maintain and not loose time. The next few laps were below 1h30min and during lap 12 I must have felt pretty good because i finished in 1h24h minutes – My fastest lap since lap 6 . . .
It was so nice to see all the riders on the course in the morning and early afternoon. We were joined by the 12h and 6h racers and they were just flying. We definitely felt encouraged as other racers were giving us thumbs up and some words of encouragement. At this point I wasn’t sure about my position and didn’t want to ask either. All I knew was that I am still on pace of braking my 400 mile goal. I also knew that Billy is way ahead, they might be a rider or two behind him , but I felt like I raced hard and should be in the top 6.
The course was challenging for a 24h race with plenty of cracks, holes and such to worry about. They were few dogs as well, but luckily it was more noise than action. The promised second Aid Station was nowhere to be found either.
At around 4:48 pm I was done with the Long loop and completed 372 miles, just 8 miles short of RAAM Qualifying Status. This will be accomplished on the short loop.
The short Loop was about 5 miles and only full laps count – My math was telling me that in order to finish with 400 miles I needed to complete 6 short loops. There was no way I can Pedal 30 miles in 1h12 minutes with this much fatigue ( 25 mph ). I decided to settle with 380 miles and took a nice 9 minute break , then did 2 Short Laps and left 10 minutes on the clock.
This was my second Non-Drafting 24h race and I improved with 120 miles over Sebring. After 2 short years of racing I was able to get RAAM Qualifying Status. Maybe this Long Distance racing is something that I will continue doing. Changing my Bike, equipment and training routine proved valuable. The skinsuit was a huge advantage and the most bang for your buck when it comes to purchasing speed. I almost hit 1000 watts according to the estimated power curve by Strava – This might be sufficient to power up a toaster and eat a sandwich after the race 🙂
Qualifying for Solo attempt at Race Accross America is one of my biggest accomplishments. However, I’ve been doing long distance cycling for almost 18 years and know very well not to take RAAM lightly. Even If I wanted to participate, it will take years to prepare for something that big.
In 2019, I will be on Marco Baloh support crew and this would be great learning experience. I am not going to lie, it is very tempting to attempt and be the first Bulgarian solo finisher at RAAM. Trans Am Bike Race might be something I can manage easier logistically and financially. There are still 2 big events remaining for me this year – a 1200 km Grand Randonee in Bulgaria and one in North Carolina. This will give me early registration for Paris-Brest-Paris and a spot at the first wave. My last 24h event will likely be the Mid Atlantic 24h in North Carolina.
I finished 1st in my age group , 4th among all solo riders, and 6th overall. The average speed for 24h was 16.2 Mph
Congratulations to Andrea Matney for being the fastest Woman on the course and Greg Conderacci for finishing 2nd in his age group. All 3 of us raced over 350 miles and finished as RAAM Qualified !