This was my 4th time racing at the Mid Atlantic 12/24 in Washington, North Carolina. The challenge here has always been the humidity and heat beyond believe. This is also one of the flattest courses gaining just about 300 feet elevation in 400 miles of racing. There is no timing chip system or short loop for the night portion of the race and I don’t really mind that. Kind of old school, you pass by the start/ finish line, yell your number and keep on racing. At the end of the last lap, the racers would record their location and typically we see the official car come by to verify each racer final mileage. From 19 registered racers in the 24h non drafting RAAM qualifying event there were 17 of us at the start line.
I was definitely not ready and skipped the National 24h the previous weekend. Having finished a 3500 mile race across the country just 25 days before, I was still dealing with some lingering issues. My longest rides after that were few 65 milers and it hurt. The skin damage was still obvious and my upper body ,back and hands were part of the problem. In fact, any hand position seemed to bring pain and memories from the big race. Mentally, I was also not fully recovered but my fitness was not bad at all.
This year I was racing here with a good friend of mine, the powerful Misha Heller. She has been on a tear this year in the Randonneuring world and also shocking everyone ( but me ) during the National 12h event in Maryland. This race would actually be her very first 24h event. We also had Jose Blanco as a one man crew from our club Northern Virginia Randonneurs. It was nice to see many of our Ultracycling friends here as well- Nancy Guth, John Guth and J Michael Phillips rocking Speiegel Bikes, the powerful RRT4G team, Jessica , Dave and many more.
The morning of the race we set up camp near the finish line (thanks to Mimo and Andrew for the canopy, cot, cooler and comfortable folding chair). My goal was a very realistic 430 miles in 24h having done 410 previously. Each lap was about 26 miles long and that made it super easy to plan for nutrition and hydration. I was pretty much fueled by 1/2 bottle of ensure every hour and a bottle of Skratch Labs Hydration plus some SIS Isotonic Gels and Skratch Labs Rice cakes. To make it more convenient I also had my Walkie Talkies so Jose knows when I am coming and is prepared with what I need for the next lap.
The gun went off at 7AM and there were about 40 of us at the start since the 24 relay, 24h non drafting and 12h events also started at the same time. We were the only ones not allowed to draft. The race began in a typical fashion with Alvin in the official car escorting us for the first few miles in a neutral start. As he moved away, few went all out and specifically Ryan Collins ( current 12h National Champ) who had big goal of reaching 300 miles. Behind him there was a bunch of us, some were talking to one another and some were trying to establish decent tempo.
My goal was to have a strong but measured start. I didn’t want to blow up early but also needed to create separation and establish good average speed while the temperature was still in my favor. My power was somewhere in the 250W range and I only noticed one rider with a 24h race number pulling ahead of me but he was never out of my sight. Kind of typical for these kind of events, few recumbents were glued to my wheel and drafting until they got tired of being slowed down.
My goal for the first few laps was to average above 21 mph and I stuck to it. It was kind of hard to tell who races what race as the only way to tell was the first few digits on each racer jersey. My minimum goal was 400 miles or about 15.5 laps. After the first two laps my average speed was still at 21.5 mph and everything was going according to plan. The temperature now was already pushing 90 F and I can tell by the faces of my fellow racers. The exchanges with the crew were fast, efficient and I was feeling great.
To my surprise, midway through lap 5 Ryan Collins zoomed passed me and gave me some words of encouragement! I mean, lets do some math here – I am averaging just under 21 Mph, the course is 26 miles and here he was passing me on lap 5. He must be cranking up 5 to 6 mph more than me at this point, just unbelievable! In my estimation Ryan was averaging a little over 26 Mph and that was truly remarkable. To achieve his goal of 300 miles he need to have 0 minutes stoppage time and average 25 mph for 12h ! ! !
By this time the temperature was reaching all time high at around 102 F and real feel was something like 110 F but the humidity was making it even worse. I was constantly drenched in sweat and covered in salt. One of the highlights of the race was passing by the finish line each lap and hearing the encouragement from all the crews. The RRT4G team was very vocal and super supportive. Thank you ! They had participants in about every type of race that day and every category.
I started noticing racers laying down on the ground with Ice bags on their bodies, just complete carnage. All I did in the heat was just slow down a bit and try to contain my heart rate. Honestly, I was surprised that my head acclimation from Bike Nonstop US was still very reasonable. The laps were slower but not by that much and my HR never went above 140 to 150 BPM. I remember vividly my first few days in Oregon and Idaho and seeing my HR spiking to 170 BPM constantly. My proven cooling trick of carrying a sprayer bottle was not even needed. I did plan on stopping in the worst heat to cool off and eat a sandwich. Although I wasn’t overheating as much, I did stop and sat in my car with the A/C on max for a few minutes and it felt great. The sandwich however was attacked by ants so more rice cakes and sugary drinks were on the menu. I was so tired of them to be honest.
As evening approached around the midway point of the race, my mileage was around 215. This was slightly below my expectations and the 430 mile goal was slowly slipping away. It was time to attach my lights and continue onwards. I never asked what my position was compared to others and just tried to stick to my plan.
Honestly, this race hurt way more than most days on BNUS having to go full gas all the time. I had way worse saddle sores from being constantly covered in sweat in this humidity, my back was completely locked up and hands pretty much useless + no position was giving me any relief. It became a norm to stop after every other lap and try to stretch a bit so my back was not killing me as much. My aggressive position was part of the problem but being aero was super important as well.
The lights I used were powerful and I could maintain decent average speed at night. I was tired of sugary drinks and started drinking some pure water every now and then plus more SIS Gels that were very easy to stash in my socks as my skinsuit have no pockets and I cannot carry much food with me.
In the early hours of the next day I was nearly falling asleep. It was so bad even after taking some caffeine pills that I almost crashed out. There was a right turn into a main road through town about 5 miles before the start / finish line and my eyes must have closed for a split second. Next thing I see was me rolling through some grass and rocks and that woke me up.
It was around 4 am and I kept doing calculations of the average speed and mileage needed to get over the 400 mile marker for the day. However, I turned my GPS on 3 minutes into the race and the device froze 3 times as well. Some of the mileage was missing and that was making it difficult to understand what was needed to accomplish my goal. I went old school and started calculating laps, each was about 25.7 miles but apparently the race director is using 26 miles as a multiplier ( I never knew that until after the race) . 15 laps should be around 385.5 miles and I would need 14.5 additional on the last lap.
I realized that all this work I did can go quickly into the drain and had to go for a final push. Jose was expecting me to stop after this lap but I knew there was no time for it.
The sun came out and I was few laps away from finishing. There was no other option but to go nuclear. I zoomed by the start / finish line and was on a roll. My heart rate was in the 150 BPM range constantly and the power as high as when I first started. After finishing this lap I needed another 14.5 miles on the last one. As I entered the pit area before my final lap, I noticed having 50 minutes left on the clock and went on a full out effort. My heart rate shot up to 170 BPM and the power was regularly in the 250 -300 W range with few huge sprints on the small ascents. I needed all the miles I could get because the smallest mistake now could cost me getting to 400 miles.
As I kept pushing I noticed very few racers left on the course and perhaps some were way ahead or done for the day. I went through mile marker 12, 13, 14 and finally 15 so I knew I had it but there was no way I was slowing down now. I learned my lesson in the past to race until there is no time left as I have lost few by just few miles.
With about 5 minutes left I passed by mile marker 16 and then a racer on a recumbent. He was not really moving that fast. I kept going and at the end finished at mile marker 16.8, took a picture of my GPS and slowed down to recover for the next 9 miles.
Soon thereafter Alvin came from behind with the official car and the recumbent racer on the passenger seat. I did not know until the awards ceremony that this gentleman was the leader of the 24h race up until that point. His name was Steve Morton and according to the race director this was the closest finish for the overall win in the history of the event.
My final result was 408 miles and 1st Overall + Solo RAAM Qualified once again. This was truly a surprise as I had no idea what my position was the entire race and my mileage was not extraordinary in my opinion. The race director shared at the awards ceremony that due to the heat and humidity, everyone’s results were about 10% lower than usual so this made me feel a little better. Considering that I was off the bike for over one hour, I was happy with this performance.
Misha on the other hand completed astonishing 390 miles despite having flat tire during the night, not having working pump but with assistance from the race organizer she was able to get back on the road. And shout out to fellow randonneur Dave McDonald who helped her in the middle of the night when her light apparently stopped working.
Misha was the first overall female and 3rd Overall while also becoming solo RAAM Qualified on her very first try. I am impressed but not surprised.
I believe that Ryan was off the bike for over one hour and still won the Overall in the 12h race with impressive 260 miles
Mike Phillips won 3rd Overall in the 24h
Nancy Guth was 3rd Overall in the 12h
Dave was 2nd in his age group in the 24h
The 4 man RRT4G Team shattered the course record with an impressive 502 miles
Congrats to all
For the stat nerds: