Alex Alexiades raced the NY Hardcore 24 and finished third, an amazing achievement for his first 24-hour mountain bike race. Read his awesome race report below for more!
(Editor’s note: the stupid photo captions are from me, not him).
Two weeks ago my partner for the NY Hardcore 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race (http://www.thehardcore24.com/) called me up to inform me that he was pulling out of the race since he’d come down with mononucleosis. Rather than lost my entrance fee; I had the bright idea to do it solo, despite not having trained for such an ultra-endurance race. In fact-the longest I’ve ever spent on a bike (road or mountain) was 6 hours for the Suicide 6 hour race last year. Still, I figured I might as well give it a go since I could drop out whenever I wanted or just take long naps between laps. I had no major expectations for the race-I was just in it for the experience.
Abbey (my wife) and I drove out to the race on Friday evening after work to set up our pit station and sign in for the race. Luckily we set up when we did; because at about 4am Saturday morning it started pouring rain-literally pouring-it was more like buckets than drops! Naturally, I was freaking out and [characteristically] pessimistic; however, the sun ended up coming out roughly 10 minutes before the race began-so the trails were soaked but at least we weren’t getting rained on ourselves.
The race started at noon on Saturday with a mass start-and I tried to stay towards the back. My plan going in was to ride as slowly as possible in the first 6-12 hours to save energy for later on; so it took absolute discipline to hold off the gas while other racers were passing me in droves. The format of a 24 hour race is particularly difficult for a solo rider since most [sane] people do it in teams ranging from 2-10 people. This means that team riders are going full speed; making you feel extra slow. I knew I had to block that out or I would never make it for the full 24 hours. I just needed to keep on pedaling.
The course was actually quite difficult for a 24 hour race course (according to veteran riders I spoke with) with nearly 1,000ft of gain/drop per lap, off camber trails on steep hills, lots of slippery roots, and constant tight switchback turns. It felt harder and harder as the day wore on. After the first lap my knee started killing me; to the point where I contemplated pulling out of the race-but I managed to block it out mentally and after a few hours the endorphins kicked in and I didn’t notice it-and I kept on pedaling.
I was able to stick to my strategy even as other soloists began to lap me; though I started to have a gnawing suspicion that I was woefully unprepared for the event. A female soloist even lapped after 3 laps(not that there is anything wrong with that :)! But I just kept on pedaling and riding my own race, regardless of what others were doing.
We had set up our pit station at the end of each lap, just before you went through the pavilion where you checked in for another lap. Each lap was about 8 miles on hard terrain and took me a little over an hour during daylight hours-so roughly every hour I got to have a quick pit break. Abbey did an amazing job managing my pit station. Every lap she would cook something different for me and try to make me eat. She also had a variety of drinks prepared, balms and talcum powder(for my sore bum), bug spray, you name it-ready for me each time I came through. Additionally, she cleaned/lubed my bike chain as needed, got my headlights ready, and even swapped out my wheelset at hour 18! She was definitely the #1 pit crew of the race! Due to Abbey’s efficiency and my drive to keep pushing, we kept our average pit time to less than 5 minutes for the entire 24 hours!
Just as I had settled into a nice rhythm at about hour 9-the sun sunk below the horizon, adding an entirely different element to the race. I had an ultra bright halogen light mounted to my helmet and another on my handlebars which enabled me to see, but its still very different from daylight riding. Black roots blended well with the dark mud-making it really hard not to slip and crash; so lap times slowed down substantially at night. Furthermore, as you get more and more sleep deprived, your balance and ability to process information also slow-making the course seem downright terrifying by about 4am! Still, I kept plodding along, sticking to my plan.
The night part of the course, while incredibly difficult, is also what makes these [24 hour] races so memorable and exciting. The only other sport I know that requires pushing yourself through an entire night in a hostile environment is big mountain climbing; so [given my high altitude climbing experience] the night portion of the race was where I excelled. An added bonus was that the course begins to clear out as racers start dropping out of the race or taking long breaks during the dark hours giving the night soloist long interludes of actual solitude in an otherwise busy race.
As the racers who had lapped me at the beginning of the race began sleeping/taking long naps/dropping out, I kept on pedaling. 2am is when the real race begins (or so I had read online). I wish I had known that at the time-I still figured I was doing terribly-though I did notice that I wasn’t seeing any other solo racers in the wee hours of the night-only team/group riders. Surprising, I thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours of the night part-but by about 4am, I started feeling like I wasn’t going to make it. My body just wasn’t working properly and my mind was starting to go to mush-but I just kept on pedaling.
At about 6am, the sun began to rise through the thick forest canopy-and along with it, my spirits. This is when I realized that a race like this had little to with ability-its all mental-and I knew I was going to finish strong. Before the sun came up, I could barely ride my bike and just wanted to stop and sleep. As soon as it was bright enough to see; however, I felt completely rejuvenated. I pulled into the pit station right at sunrise and called out to Abbey that it was time to swap my (crappy) wheels for her high end wheels and tires. While I was trying to force down some food (it was very hard to force down any food at this point) Abbey changed out my wheels for hers and I was off riding again within 10 minutes. I immediately noticed a difference. Her wheels weigh about 3lbs less than mine and roll over terrain so much better than mine, that the riding felt [almost] effortless. Even after 18 hours of non-stop riding I was able to hammer out my fastest lap of the race! I even passed the leader on that lap (though he was already too far ahead for me to compete with). It was an amazing experience-I still can’t believe I had that much in me after so much punishment.
Abbey informed me that after my glory lap at hour 18 I had positioned myself in a strong 3rd place, only ~30 minutes behind the 2nd place rider. I was actually 2 laps ahead of the 4th place rider…I couldn’t believe it. Going into the night, I was one of the last placed riders-by the end of it was in position for a podium finish. My strategy was starting to pay off.
That “hour 18” lap, while glorious, turned out to be a mistake. I had used up the last of my energy/mental reserves yet I still had nearly 5 hours of racing to go! I didn’t have enough energy left to try to compete for 2nd place. The 2nd place guy actually increased his lead as the morning wore on.
My laps returned to a plodding pace, but I kept on pedaling. By hour 22, I was riding so slowly that a fast walker could possibly have passed me, but I was able to keep going-and that’s what counts in a race like this. I had to keep adding laps, however slowly, until my lead made it impossible for the 4th place rider to ride as many laps. 24 hour race rules allow you to begin another lap until just before the 24 hour mark-so if the race is close, you might have to race more than 24 hours!
Fortunately, by approximately 11:45pm on Sunday I had clinched my spot on the podium, otherwise I would have had to start another lap! The sense of relief was immense!
As soon as I crossed the finish line, the adrenaline that had been coursing through my veins for so many hours flushed out of my system-and a wall of pain, confusion, tingling, nausea, and weepiness hit me like a ton of bricks. I was tearing up uncontrollably like a school girl-not out of emotion, but out of a sense of release. It took me about an hour to return to some semblance of normalcy. It took even longer for it to really register that I had achieved a podium finish in my first ever 24 hour solo race!
I’m paying for it now-every inch of my body hurts-but it was worth it.
I hope to add more endurance training to my schedule for this winter and try to get a first place finish in a 24 hour race next year!