24 HoC

"You're not going to be drunk when I get back from loop 2 and then refuse to ride loop 3, are you?" Mickey had asked on race eve.

As if! I mean, the race HQ was at a bar and all, and there were going to be tons of awesome people hanging out while I was between loops, but still. I'm a trustworthy teammate. "Of course not," I'd indignantly replied.

As it turned out, after the 60 tough, hilly miles of loop 1, the last thing I wanted to do was get back on the bike in a few hours, sober or not. Why didn't I sign up on a 4-person team? And how did I ever finish Dirty Kanza?

Two years ago I'd registered for my first 24 Hours of Cumming (four 100K loops of gravel in 24 hours or less) as post-DK inspiration to stay on the bike and maintain my endurance past June. Instead I mostly ignored my bike, showed up undertrained and unprepared, and had my ass handed to me, DNF-ing after 97 miles.

This year, without a long gravel race to inspire big miles, I had no illusions about my ability to ride a successful solo 400K, so when Mickey suggested teaming up for the relay I was all for it.  Adding to the fun, Virtus sent two more racers as well, Chuck and Jim riding on 4-person team Whiskey Fixes Everything with Steve and Aaron.

Friday pre-ride on a glorious day
Mickey and I arrived early enough to enjoy a short shakedown ride before packet pickup. The weather was gorgeous, and our Garmin routes worked perfectly. My weirdly low rear tire, newly tubeless, made me nervous after double flatting the last time I was at this race, but we added some air and it never had an issue the rest of the weekend.

Mickey: That had me *slightly* concerned as well.

Janie not only spent here weekend at a bike race -- she spent their anniversary weekend at a bike race. Basically, my guy friends have won the wife lottery.
Jim and Janie had arrived at the Cumming Tap -- otherwise known as race HQ -- in our absence, and we spent the next hour or so visiting with them and catching up with some of our Iowa bike friends. After race director Steve raffled off swag from Bike Iowa and Velorosa (where I ended up with my favorite new shirt, even if it's a little small on me), we all headed off to dinner near the Virtus hotel, impressing our waitress with our mad plate-cleaning abilities. Seriously, she remarked on the fact that she'd never had a table eat all of their food before.

No pictures of the clean plate club, but here's my awesome new shirt.

The rest of the Virtus-Noah-BOR crew showed up just in time to miss that dubious compliment, and after hanging out for a while we all went our separate ways for the night, everybody else to their hotel and Mickey and I to the house of friends of a friend (thanks to Shawn and Jen for their hospitality and to Jacob for the hook-up).

Mickey: Yes! Thank you!

Saturday's 11:00 start time made for a pretty leisurely start to the next day, leaving me plenty of time to wander around and socialize (my favorite part of most any race) before the pre-race meeting. It wasn't until then, 15 minutes before the start, that I finally started getting super nervous. Why? I don't know. It's not like a 60-mile ride is intimidating at this point, and I was studiously not thinking about the second 60-mile ride I'd be doing later in the day.

Masking my nausea with a smile
Loop 1:

Steve and I staged ourselves way towards the back. The front of the pack shot away while the rest of us started with a less aggressive pace. I quickly found myself in a loose group of three other girls until the first downhill. They took it more slowly than I wanted to; I held back at first, knowing they'd zoom past me once the road turned back uphill, but then decided it was silly to let my lack of confidence steal away some effortless speed.

I pulled ahead briefly, and as expected, all three quickly passed me back.  That was the last I saw of the two Emporia girls, but Megan and I yo-yo'd back and forth. "What's your goal?" she asked me.

I hesitated for a moment. Mickey thought I could ride the loop in 4:30, but after looking back at Emily's training log from last year's race I thought his estimate was wildly optimistic. "Um, under 5 hours," I finally replied. She nodded her head and rode on.

Before long, we were back together again. "Here's what I'm thinking," she told me. "I want to get to 92 in an hour. That'll put us on pace to finish in about 4 hours. Then we can back off a little for that middle section."

We agreed to work together as long as we could. She was stronger on the uphills, I was faster downhill, and we'd come together on the flats. Even when we weren't successful drafting, it was really nice to have the company, and I think I rode faster with her than I would have otherwise.

We did, indeed, make it to 92 (mile 15) in an hour, and if I'd been able to maintain that pace I'd have smashed my goal for the loop. The next 30 miles, though, featured climb after climb, and the gloriously comfortable weather was a double-edged sword. The unseasonably cool temperature kept the ride from feeling like a death march, but I didn't keep up with my drinking as well as I would have in hot weather.

We were still loosely together on the first B road -- I'd had no memory of this at all, assuring Chuck that the first 97 miles was definitely all gravel -- which was fantastic, hard and smooth as pavement. I was definitely starting to drag behind Megan, though, and lost her for good when I stopped to take some electrolytes to hopefully make my legs stop cramping. From there my ride got a little grumpier (another hill? another hill?), though I did at least recognize the second B road.

#24HOC abridged edition. 4 dogs (3 friendly, 1 scary), 4 deer, 2 big birds, 1 tiny snake, 1 bobcat, countless screaming downhills and climbs, 1 minor panic attack when a car passed me and then pulled over on the road and waited for me to go by, lots a rea
The road was in WAY better shape than in this shot from 2015.
I was trying to keep up my pace but hurting especially on the hills. Still, as I crept up, I'd think about how hard I knew Mickey was going to ride to make up for my slow time and ask myself, "Can you pedal any faster?" Usually the answer was yes, even if the difference was small. Despite this, my occasional time checks showed that my hoped-for 4:30 ride time was escaping my grasp.

I pictured Mickey waiting at the starting line and decided to text so he had a more accurate idea of when I'd be back. Voice to text didn't work through the baggie around my phone, so I put it back away rather than losing more time with a stop.  When I dropped my chain on an uphill, though, I figured that was the perfect time to send a quick text. "At mile 55. 4:30"

Now, I hadn't even looked at the time of day because I'd been focused on how close I was to that 4:30 ride time we'd hoped for, so to me that text meant "I'm at mile 55 at 4:30 into the race." I even added the 4:30 in case the time stamp was screwy and they were confused about when I was at mile 55. Then I put my phone away and finished off the final 6 miles of the loop, coming into the start/finish  at 4:58 ride time (or 3:58 p.m.) to see...nobody.

Loop 1
I looked around in confusion and then headed over to the shelter to see what was up, catching Mickey's eye and making a "what the hell?" gesture before realizing his bike was up on the workstand. Apparently they'd noticed a gash in his rear tire, and interpreting my text to mean I wouldn't be in until 4:30 p.m., decided there was time to fix it.

Teamwork makes the dream work!
Loop 2: 

We only lost a few (3) minutes on our miscommunication, and once Mickey was off I changed out of my bike clothes and belatedly shut off my Garmin, which informed me that my recovery time for the first loop was 41 hours. Um, yeah...almost 4 hours is basically the same thing.  I didn't feel that bad, but I had zero desire to do any more riding.

I rested up and ate a large amount of food -- Skratch recovery drink, Greek yogurt and a nectarine,  half a bag of honey mustard pretzel pieces, a bun-less burger (because they were currently out of buns), a BBQ pork sandwich (with bun this time), a Diet Coke, and a Moscow mule ("Vodka is made from potatoes, and it has lime juice. It's basically a salad."), then moved my car to a closer spot and got my electronics charged for loop 3.

Mickey sent a text saying he'd be in at 7:45, so I headed down to the start/finish a little early. A woman came up to me as I waited and introduced herself; I said hi as I frantically scanned my memory for her face and name, coming up with nothing. "You're such a badass," she told me.

"I'm really not," I replied, still stinging from my very unimpressive first loop.

She started to argue the point, but I saw Mickey coming and had to leave.

"Congratulations on your race!" she called as I started to ride away.

Ahhhhh. It clicked. Sarah and I are both about the same height, with long dark hair, and were both wearing the same jersey: she because she'd worn it to win Race Across America and me because I'd bought it from her fundraiser. If you ignore the fact that I outweigh her by a lot we look vaguely similar. "I'm not Sarah," I told my new friend as I rode away.

Loop 3:

It was 7:43 when I headed out on my second loop, and I had about an hour left until sunset. I'd plugged my Garmin into an external battery before starting so it would stay backlit in the dark and I wouldn't have to mess with the cord and batter later, but the connection was loose and the Garmin beeped every time my bike bounced on the washboarded gravel. It was driving me crazy, so I pulled the cord free and decided I'd go without the backup as long as possible.

The evening was already cooling off. I had arm warmers and a headlamp in my jersey pocket but had forgotten a buff and was a little worried my ears would get cold as the temperature dropped. For the time being, though, I was perfectly comfortable. A beautiful sunset lit up the sky. What a great night to be on a bike.

My legs didn't seem to remember they'd already ridden 60 miles. You've done this before, I reminded myself. This is like the second leg of Dirty Kanza, or an adventure race bike leg without the pesky paddling or trekking in between. I thought it was possible that my weak second half of loop 1 could be due to an overly aggressive start, so for this leg I decided to ride a more measured effort and see if it made a difference.

Even after it was so dark that I couldn't make out the screen on my Garmin, I held off stopping to plug in the backup. It would still light up in advance of turns, so I wasn't worried about getting lost, but eventually I realized not knowing anything about my route except the road directly in front of me was leading my to ride more slowly. Besides, I was freezing on the downhills.

Around mile 25 I finally stopped to plug in the Garmin (which thankfully didn't do the annoying beeping for the rest of the ride) and put on my arm warmers and headlamp. In retrospect, I should have just started with the light and sleeves rather than give away the time during the race, but oh well.  From that point on the rest of the race was just a series of stepping stones...

5 more miles til you're at 30, then you're halfway there...
Then 10 miles until you're at 40; that's 100 miles for the day, plus you only have 20 left... 
10 more miles until you just have 10 miles left...anyone can ride 10 miles...

In that last 10 miles I saw a guy on the side of the road, the only other person I saw the whole loop besides Shawn, who'd passed me about 20 miles in. I asked if he was ok, but he was just taking a break. A solo racer 170 miles into the race, he deserved a break!

Mile 55! You can text so Mickey knows where you are.

This time, in order to avoid the kind of miscommunication we'd had earlier, I just sent my mileage and put my phone away. As it turned out, Mickey had had his phone off, so the time stamp on the message reflected when he turned the phone on rather than when I sent it, but I was too busy riding to get his question. Back on the part of the route we'd seen on our Friday pre-ride, I gleefully checked off the remaining hard parts.

Yes! This is the last hill...

...OK, I guess THIS is the last hill...

...what?? Another motherf****** hill??

At some point my Garmin beeped the 15-min interval that signaled 5 hours of ride time and I hung my head in a brief moment of mourning my failure to even equal my time on the previous loop. Eventually the hills came to an end and I was bouncing along the familiar washboards leading back to the Cumming Tap. Done! I wished Mickey luck as he rode away and then, very thankfully, climbed off my bike.

Loop 3
Loop 3 ended up taking me about 5:12 total time and 5:03 moving time. Without the 9 minutes I wasted leisurely putting on my arm warmers and such (9 minutes to put on arm warmers?!?!?!?!?! LOL) (and plug in my garmin, and put on my helmet, and go to the bathroom, and eat something...you must have missed the "and such"), my two loops were only 5 minutes different, and though loop 3 felt dramatically easier it only had about 100 feet less elevation gain than loop 1.

Loop 4:

After changing out of my clothes, the next order of business was food. Jim had left to take Janie back to the hotel, so I called in the hopes of catching him in time to grab some food for me. He told me he was already on his way back, and then mentioned, "But I do have a hot chocolate with coffee in it here in the car."

"You're my favorite person in the world! Well, unless it's not for me, in which case you're just mean."

It was for me. :)

I'd intended to go back to the house to shower but quickly realized that I didn't know the address or even the last name of the people we were staying with, so that plan was tabled. Instead, Jim and I scored the last two pizzas of the night (huge thanks to Bob of the Cumming Tap for fixing them at 1:30 in the morning instead of finally relaxing).

Once Chuck got in from his loop and we cheered Aaron off, I rode with Chuck back to their hotel. We took turns napping while the other showered, getting not nearly enough sleep, and made it back to the finish line in plenty of time for Mickey to roll in about 5 a.m.

It took him over 2 hours less to do the two hardest loops than I needed for my easier ones. Thanks to his strong effort, our combined time was fast enough to come in third of the teams in our division and 8th overall. Granted, we were helped in our divisional standings by the fact that the fourth team didn't finish, but Mickey made our total time far better than an average of my times would have been.

Aaron was still out for Whiskey Fixes Everything, so we went back to the house for Mickey to shower and me to sleep. The 7 a.m. alarm was most unwelcome, but we made it back in time to see Aaron finish.

That's a wrap!

Other than a little miscommunication, I had a really smooth race: no navigational miscues or mechanicals. I could have done a little better on drinking water during loop 1 and taking electrolytes before starting to cramp, and I should have started loop 3 with my arm warmers and headlamp on rather than wasting time mid-ride, but otherwise the only thing I could have done better was just be faster. Story of my life.

Doing the relay was a lot of fun and such a good reminder than you can do more than you think you can. The last thing I wanted to do was go out for another 60 miles, but I did it. I also was not looking forward to riding another loop. As much as I was looking forward to chasing Jacob, -- who did not get caught -- between the long time awake, the hard previous loop, the lack of rabbits, and the fact that we were getting our tails kicked, I just had nothing to give that last loop. :( 

My experience, helped by the fact that I didn't ride my first loop nearly as hard as Mickey did and am accustomed to getting my tail kicked, was much better. I found loop 3 really enjoyable...much more so than the first loop.  Not quite enough to make me want to race the whole thing next year, but enough that with a week's amnesia I'm no longer completely committed to dropping down to the the Spotted Horse 150 in October.


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