Michigan 24 Race Report - 7-11-08
Attached is my race report for Michigan 24; a 24 hour race that started from Middleville, MI. Yes folks, that means RIDING for 24 hours. The report is more of a story outlining some of the key moments in my memory. I also reference PBP – 750 miles from Paris to Brest back to Paris – which I rode last summer. Please read and enjoy!
There were many memorable moments to Michigan and I look back on them with more fondness than I felt at the time. Below is more of a story than a summary. So read and enjoy. For those of you who are in a hurry and interested in the outcome, jump to the end. I don’t want to spoil it for those who want the full story. J One final note: I did my best to capture the emotion and personal aspect of the race, but I don’t think my words do it justice. The impact of the experience was phenomenal and I hope some of those feelings leap off the page into life as you read.
Michigan 24: a 24-hour race starting at one of the schools in Middleville MI. Prizes are awarded for high mileage by age group in male and female categories and overall high mileage male and female. The race format included 3 separate loops with their own rules and time cutoffs. Only loops completed before the time cutoffs count towards a rider’s total mileage. Laps are counted by a punch card pinned to the back of the rider’s jersey.
The Course: The 1st loop was 127 miles with 4 checkpoints and terrain that ranged from flat to rolling hills to hills with more up than roll… Everyone had to ride it just once, and then start into the 2nd loop. The 2nd loop was a 23-mile loop (also hilly) that could be completed as many times as possible before it closed and the 3rd loop opened. The 3rd loop was a 7.5-mile night loop that was traveled as many times as possible until the close of the race. Oh yeah, the hills get steeper as it gets further into the race.
Weather: Sunny and 85+ during the day, humid and windy – particularly difficult on the unprotected course. Evening brought a spectacular sunset and a storm. There were 50 mph winds and driving rain for a half an hour before the storm subsided. Night brought cooler temps in the 60’s at the dew point. Morning brought sunrise and warming temperatures.
It was 7:55am – 5 minutes to race start. I looked around to take in the scene. I know from past experiences that a first ultra start at any given course is a special moment that can’t be repeated and I wanted to fully appreciate the magic of the moment before it passed. As they played the national anthems of all countries represented I took look around. Riders were waiting in one massive clump at the start line. They were cyclists of all ages both male and female brought together by their love of riding long distances. The crews waited on the sidelines showing support to their riders. Ed was there wishing me a good and safe race. I was so happy to have him there to share the experience! Further out were the tents where most people camped the night before. They would become feed zones, nap areas and generally act as base camp for the rider and their crews.
The sun shone down on us as they counted down in 30-second intervals… “Couldn’t they just get done with it already??” The anxiety was killing me. And then we were off rolling down the driveway that I would become VERY familiar with. Riding out of the start line in a pack of ultra-cyclists felt similar to the race start in Paris with one exception: In Paris the crowd collected for MILES after the start and here in Michigan the crowd was much smaller (but no less enthusiastic!) Still, it was a pretty amazing feeling riding with 280 cyclists and all the cheering in the background – “So *&^%ing cool!” (to quote my reaction in Paris!) Unfortunately I think I was the only rider who really felt the magic of the moment.
127 Mile Loop – 8:00AM:
My plan was to stay with the fast peleton for 35 miles until the first checkpoint. Hopefully from there I could find a group going my speed and share the wind. Easier said than done! The lead pack seemingly ignored the wind and left at about 26mph. At first it was easy to stay with the peleton but as people grew tired the wheel-catching techniques were more drastic. It became difficult to find a stable wheel. Not to mention that everyone was all business and no chatting. Such a shame!
Into the first checkpoint! Ed was waiting with sunscreen and food – Thanks Ed! I opted for an Ensure and headed out quickly. I passed many riders spit out by the peleton – they were moving slowly after pushing themselves too hard for the first 35 miles. I rode along in TT mode alone for some time and when I noticed someone finally gaining on me. I covered a mile or two before he caught me and (much to his surprise) I started chatting with him as he passed. Turned out he was trying to beat his only competition. I think he was in his 70’s and certainly still riding strong. How cool is that??
So, we decided to ride together and share the wind. We picked up two other racers who were good drafters and strong riders. However, I had to teach them how to paceline; when to pull off, etc. so could ride strong and as a group. I was happy they let a GIRL instruct them. The instruction mostly worked. J (Thanks to NEBC for holding the race-training course!)
Just to show you how far talking can go during a race, consider this: I stuck with the 4 guys and compensated for different riding styles for about 30 miles before it became too much. I mentioned to one of the guys “You know, the fundamental difference between men and women is on the hills. Men get to the most difficult part of the hill and push REALLY HARD to the top and coast down. Women don’t have that extra push that men have.” He said ” Oh yeah! My wife has that problem. She could ride with us now at this speed except for the hills. Maybe I shouldn’t push myself so hard on the hills – it will be better for the endurance.” The rest of the men agreed and we all took hills with a healthy amount of energy instead of killing ourselves. It was so cool to have them understand and adjust their riding style slightly to accommodate me!
I was ready for a brief brake as we pulled into the second checkpoint. The port-a-potty’s were surprisingly clean, probably because the men used the side of the road… A baby-wipe bath removed the old sunscreen; new sunscreen; another ensure and I am off. Thanks again Ed! I headed out alone having lost the other three riders in the confusion of the checkpoint. I cranked along into the wind for what seemed like forever. The hills were not feeling very gentle or rolling. I wanted to wash my mouth out with soap for saying that Michigan was flat! A rider passed me with gusto as I tried to say Hi. Even though he rode at about my speed he did not want to ride with a GIRL. So, I kept riding.
Oops, what happened?? A cyclist was changing a flat but he had abrasions all over his body. He was shaking and looking a little out of it. I paused to ask him if he needed help. “Yes, do you have a pump? I had a CO2 cartridge with me but this is my second flat.” Yeah, right, only 1 CO2 cartridge and no hand pump… He added, “I did not bring a hand pump – maybe I should have.” It was apparent many riders had passed him and I was the first rider to offer help. I asked him about his road rash and he said “its nothing and had happened a while ago.” In true Ultra spirit he had no plans of quitting due to his injuries.
As he finished with the pump my friend pulled up and asked me “You ready to go little lady? I need you more than you need me!” He was being far too flattering but I was grateful for the company and help in the brutal wind. I secured my pump and we were off. We mostly drafted but rode side-by-side for some conversations. It was amazing the depth of our conversations even though we only met 2 hours ago. The conversations ranged from what we eat while riding the health of parents/grandparents to reasons/motivations for riding ultra races. I gained tremendous respect for him and his heart is in the right place. I really wanted him to win his age group; he deserves to win.
We pulled into the 3rd checkpoint and agreed to meet before heading out. I found Ed in the crowd and sat down on the edge of the car in the shade. I had been overheating for a while in the harsh sun on the unprotected course. Nothing to do except a baby wipe bath, more sunscreen and fluids. We added extra salt to my water bottles and I prepared to leave. Then my friend pulled up and asked “You ready to go little lady? I don’t want to rush you…” I introduced Ed and we chatted while I finished getting ready. I give Ed a huge hug and thanks before getting back on the saddle.
The rest of that lap was a bit of a blur. It seemed to take so long but pass so quickly at the same time. I was dragging but so was my friend. We rode past a lake and I couldn’t even look at it for fear I would stop riding and jump in. I was so overheated I could have ridden straight in… “NO, NO, stay on the bike!!” It was a good thing I had the mental support of a riding buddy or it would have been an impossible temptation.
And we arrived back in Middleville at the school. Before we parted ways, I told my friend “If you don’t beat your competition, you are going to give him a damn good run for his money!” So true!
23 Mile Loop – Lap 1 – Mid Afternoon:
Back at the car I paused for a few minutes once again for a baby wipe bath, sunscreen and chocolate milk. I got back on the bike after a bathroom break (Yay, running water!). On my way down the driveway I met up with another guy on a bike and we rode together switching off every 2 minutes until we got to the checkpoint in the middle of the loop. On the way out of the checkpoint we picked up two other riders and worked together and chatted. I knew two guys were stronger than me the original guy but I knew we would get further sharing the wind as a group of four. We all arrived back at the school together but it was obvious that our abilities were not a close match. But regardless, we agreed to meet up in 10 minutes and head out again…
23 Mile Loop – Lap 2 – Later afternoon:
Back to see Ed! Screw the sunscreen; I was so sick and tired of that stuff. Also, it was late enough… I chugged more chocolate milk, had some cheese and just enough time for a bathroom break. I thought I would be the slow poke in getting back on my bike… But it turns out I actually had to push the guys to leave the checkpoint to get them moving again.
Once we were on the road it was clear that one guy couldn’t hold on. He said to us “Just keep going. I don’t want to hold you back. I need to go at my pace for this one. Thanks for the lift!” I felt so bad leaving him behind but I really needed to work with the faster guys while I still had the strength.
They rode hard towards the first checkpoint. Sigh. I was having trouble hanging on. Actually, it became apparent that one of us was much stronger and it wasn’t me! So we sent him along with a faster group continued together as a group of two. Hummm… someone jumped on from a slower group. She did not look like she was feeling well so I dropped back to chat with her. She was slurring her words and did not look stable. She said she had thrown up and was trying to make it back to the school for a rest. We started talking about Paris when she suddenly said “Did you get a ride back from Villain with a stomach flu? Because I think my crew gave you a ride home!” Her name was Michelle and her crew HAD given me a ride back to the hotel. And what a ride it was – they gave me a Benedryl to put me out; if I was asleep I wouldn’t throw up…
So we chatted and the time seemed to fly by. In France she made it to the time station after Villain only to be sent to the hospital with pneumonia. One of the nurses took her home that night and cared for her until her crew could drive out to get her. It was amazing how the French people just took us in and were more than happy to do anything to help. It brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about it. But just imagine poor Michelle – only 100 miles from the finish of a 750 – so close but so far!
23 Mile Loop – Approaching evening:
Back in Middleville I paused for a few minutes and headed out again. I would have gladly ridden with Michelle and shared more stories but she did need a rest before heading out again. So I rode alone to the first checkpoint and paused there to drink water from melted ice. I needed to try and get my body temp down. While stopped, I chatted with the girls who were helping out at the station. They were thrilled to see women out there competing. I was pleased to see the girls happily helping out and made sure to tell them that. It is really great when kids can get involved too!
Back on the bike I met up with another guy on a bike (kind of a theme here) and exchanged stories most of the way back to the checkpoint. He was traveling a little slower than me but I needed the human contact to keep my brain sharp. I did accidentally lose him 2 miles from the checkpoint… But someone else pulled up and said, “Catch a wheel!” He slowed down a little so I could get in his draft and started chatting with me. It was clear he would be one of the front-runners. I was flattered that he was interested enough to take a break and talk with me for the last 2 miles into the checkpoint.
7.5 Mile Loops started at about 8:30:
A storm was looming so I left immediately for my first night loop. I had one major complaint after completing the first night loop—the unashamed wheel-suckers. The dark brought out the suckers who don’t want to share in the workload…
Back to the checkpoint and the shelter of the van. Those storm clouds looked pretty bad so I decided to pause and try (unsuccessfully) to eat. I asked Ed if he would give me a back massage because my muscles had tightened so much I could hardly breathe… I know I have an amazing boyfriend when: he is willing to give me a back massage in the back of his van after only a baby-wipe bath 14 hours into a 24 hour race. Now that is love! I love you too Ed!
The storm moved in and kept me in the car for another half an hour. Probably for the better – my stomach would not settle down. The wind picked up to 50 mph and the rain was insane. I saw many riders scramble for the shelter of their vehicles, pack up their bikes and head to their hotels presumably quitting for the night or the race. However, I did not travel all the way to Michigan to head home due to a little storm! Once the storm passed I took out the fenders and headed out again.
Time became a blur – nighttime highlights follow:
I made many laps through the early night and had many enjoyable conversations with other riders whose only identity was their tail light pattern. I solved the wheel sucking problem by riding through puddles. J I thanked the policemen who were patrolling the intersections along the course. It was a nice change to have the cars wait for us! However, I think the policemen were thinking, “Don’t thank me again, Please!” by the time the night was over. Later in the night I lost my voice due to talking too much. Talking to myself worked for a lap, then I had to start singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for another lap to drive myself nuts so I would stay awake. Thanks (or no thanks) to Ed for suggesting that one!
The volunteers at the checkpoint were always enthusiastic and welcoming. Early in the evening they asked me where I was from. Upon learning I had traveled all the way from Cambridge, MA they called out “Go Cambridge” or “Go Massachusetts” every time I passed through. As the night progressed, the cheering got louder and I stopped feeling embarrassed and started looking forward to the encouragement. It was really cool to have such a crowd of enthusiastic volunteers. Shortly after 3:00 AM one of the women asked me how I was doing. I told her it was getting lonely out here with the policemen gone. She said “Don’t worry Massachusetts, we will be here for you next time around.” It was just what I needed to hear. I fought back tears and said, “I know you guys will be. Thank you SO much for volunteering and hanging here all night.” It was so amazing to know these people had willingly given up their day and night to help us have the best ride possible. As I left the checkpoint one of the other women said, “Boy, I really have to work on my pep talks…”
Dawn ~ 6:30:
I had mixed feelings about sunrise. It was great to be able to see the road (and potholes) again, but the nighttime is a different world and it felt bizarre to be riding and watching the sun rise. It is a special breed that can ride all night and I was proud to be part that group. Oh, and now that the sun is up, all the sleepy-heads get on their bikes and try to ride hard after several hours of sleep. Slackers!
The last two laps stand out from the blur of the night laps. I met up with a David from Ontario and we rode the laps together. I know many very good people by the name of David and this David was no exception. It was his first 24-hour and he, like me, was plodding along on his final laps. We shared stories and an amazing chunk of our lives in just over an hours worth of time. I told him about my aspirations for RAAM and my goals for this ride. David told me of his future cycling plans.
David knew he did not have a chance of placing (there were MANY fast riders in his age group) so he made it his mission to get me through that last lap in hopes that it would earn me a high placing in my age group. I was (and am) VERY grateful and I REALLY need the mental support. Everything in my body was screaming at me to get off the bike. It was everything I could do to ride forward on the course and not turn around. David kept saying (in that fantastic accent of his) “Come on, it is further if you turn around than if you keep going!” even if it was not true! He talked me through it mentally and I couldn’t imagine that his encouragement and my completion of that loop was what earned me my final placing.
With the completion of that lap I was done with the race. David wished me luck one last time before we parted ways. I thanked him profusely for being my mental support through those last two laps. I truly felt I could not thank him enough! And in thinking, I realized the same was true for Ed and the volunteers. All are amazing people and I am indebted to them.
I accumulated 313.3 miles over 24 hours at Michigan which earned me first place in my age group. David rode about 270 miles, which is nothing to sniff at for his first 24 hr race. Michelle received 2nd in her age group with about 270 miles. Only two women rode further with their distances being 328 and 349 miles. Was a little disappointed that I did not ride at least 350 mi, but I am okay with the result given the conditions of the race.
I was called up to the podium but I was in a daze not really feeling present. I also was feeling a little embarrassed that a wimpy 313.3 miles placed me first in my age group. But then I heard “Go Massachusetts” from the audience and I just had to give a sheepish smile! Oh yeah, I got the social award as well!
Once the award ceremony was over I sought out the volunteer (she told me her name but unfortunately my brain could not retain it), gave her a hug and thanked her for all her support. I tried to tell her how much it meant to me (and the other riders) but the words escaped me and feelings were not adequately translated to speech. Still, I think she understood just by the way I was holding back my emotional tears.
Many thanks to my wonderful and loving boyfriend, Ed. Without his help, I could not have even started this race, let alone ride until the finish. He is my voice of reason when my body yells at me to stop: “Just keep putting in a little effort and you will get there.” I also have his qacky sense of humor to thank for my 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall trick. Also, thanks to Michelle, David, the volunteers, my friend who called me “Little Lady,” the volunteer who cheered “Go Massachusetts!” and everyone who I chatted to death on the ride. So much more happe