300 days ago I signed up for something I didn't know much about and 300 days later it ended with a statistic - 24:40:06. Twenty fours hours, forty minutes and six seconds of racing, a long time to race a mountain bike by any standard. My math shows it worked out to approx 270kms covered and over 25,000 vertical feet gain all while ripping it up on technical singletrack, doubletrack, fireroads, brutal hill climbs and sweet descents. But what does all that mean? Did I get an award? Why do it?
I've purposely resisted blogging for the last 36hrs so I could sit and think about the weekend's activities for a while in order to get some reasonably decent perspective on things. When you compress so much intensity into a weekend it can require a bit of digestion. And still, after sitting and thinking about things I still don't have all the words I need to describe... the feelings, experiences, the highs and lows, the excitement, friendship, frustration, bonding, camaraderie, focus, sacrifices, generosity and so much more.
The Solo 24 Hours of Adrenalin event in Canmore was hard and disturbingly enjoyable. I've done harder things in my life and learned a lot about what a person can endure if they put their mind to it, still, this race was a serious test of fortitude. The interesting outcome of this weekend was that I learned less about my own limitations and learned more about the people around me.
I enjoyed the solo part of racing simply because it was me against me and when I signed up for the event 300 days ago I thought that was all it was going to be - I wanted to go out and lay it on the line "do it all by myself" and have nobody but myself to hold accountable. It turns out this weekend wasn't about me doing a solo it was about the people who did it with me.
Unfortunately there just aren't enough photos to demonstrate all the important elements of this story, pretty much all the photos that were taken had me in the middle of them so some of the photos you see here are just fluff to break up the boredom of my writing. ;-)
Yup, 300 days ago I was confused (that's a much nicer way of saying I was completely wrong) when I decided I would do it all by myself. 300 days ago I didn't even have a local bike shop to call my own, how crazy is that. I had chosen the solo category so it would minimize the burden on all those around me, you know, keep it simple, just rely on myself. I'm sure it's possible to do a solo without any help from anyone but in order to give it your best shot the "do it yourself" part slowly gets eroded away until everyone you know is doing it with you. I gained more from the solo event by not being able to do it solo. Huh? What are you trying to say Shaun?
Simply this, I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who cared enough to help me get to the finish line. Interestingly, the full importance of the previous sentence didn't hit me until I had a realization out on the race course, an epiphany if you will, an epiphany that was more fulfilling than the race itself. It was the striking realization that my solo effort had always been a group effort from day one and more importantly without that group I wouldn't have been sitting in that saddle on the 23rd hour. A group effort that had grown from day one with a grassroots feel to it, one that developed a slow and quiet momentum almost unnoticeable and eventually it involved all kinds of people. What kind of people? Some were only names on Internet forums talking about ultra-endurance sports science and other such things, some were notable athletes, some riders halfway across the world, a bike shop, riding buddies, friends and family - a lot of people. You know, grassroots.
I worked hard for 3/4 of a year with a focus to do well at the solo event. Everyone tells me I did well, I guess I have to believe it. And yet my results feel bittersweet and for good reason. About six months ago I came up with a plan, a plan that came together during a particularly brutal workout on the CompuTrainer in the basement by myself in the middle of the night. I decided I was going to try and have an impressive result, I wanted to make a mark, let it be known that with perseverance and researched knowledge a base amateur could claw their way to the lofty heights of near-podium level at a tough competitive endurance event - and I was going to do it by myself. No coach, no big infrastructure. I went at it with 100% commitment. Nobody knew that plan to make a mark - nobody. With the plan in place I started to work towards my goals. Things were progressing along quite well. Then about a month ago I started to realize how much this grassroots movement around me was helping push me along towards my goal. People were making sacrifices for me. It shifted my plan. I wanted to pay them back for their generosity. Now I wanted to claw at the podium as a sign of gratitude for everything that everyone around me was doing to help me reach my goals. My goals intensified, my resolve stiffened. It was going to be my way of saying thanks. My mission was the podium and the mission had priority. I never mentioned podium to anyone, it was a crazy notion too crazy to talk about but it's what I wanted.
I'm generally not a mission-failure sort of guy but I missed the podium. I placed 8th out of 80 solo riders. Do I have excuses why I didn't do better - sure I do - but excuses don't change much. Could I have done better, I think I could have but on the day not everything is in your control and that's what makes it a challenge. I learned quite a few things about the event this weekend and I'm glad for it I'm sure I will learn a few things more over the coming days. Here's some things I do know after finishing...
Its hard on the body. I can now feel the toes in my right foot and the numbness is just starting to disappear from my left foot, my butt is still raw and the cuts and scrapes are a visual reminder of high speed mistakes. My trapezoids feel like piano strings and my weigh scale tells me I had 3% body fat after the race. It's hard on the body.
You need good gear, I had two bikes but only rode one of them the entire time, I loved that bike. I never changed shoes, socks, bike shorts or shirt and they did not smell good.
There was always someone cheering for me as I came within 100 meters of the pit, coming up that dirt road towards the pits it made a difference.
There was always someone doing something for me in the pit, or visiting me in the pit, it made a difference.
There was always someone cheering or giving me a kiss as I left the pit, it made a difference.
I really enjoy night riding.
And enjoy being looked after in the middle of the night.
I also learned that my normally really strong stomach can decide to be difficult and 12 hours into a race it is possible to vomit. A lot. A few hours later I vomited again then later on some more vomit. Bananas come up way easier than Cliff Bars. I pretty much raced on zero calorie intake from midnight on, the final 12 hours of racing were interesting to say the least. People were starting to get worried, I was getting a bit concerned, I wasn't feeling real good. Looking at my racing split times I lost at least four hours to the stomach-nonsense, sure would have liked to apply those hours against a saddle in that race.
Even when you have a racing buffet in front of you sometimes the stomach pain has other plans.
No matter what's going on during a race like this, there's always time to ham it up and point at a friend taking a photo.
I went pretty hard, I laid it down without any regrets, wish I could have done better. I wanted better than 8th, I wanted to be able to say thanks while standing on a podium.
Like I said earlier, there aren't enough words or pictures to help me describe the last few days, so I think I close this one up. Sometime this week I'm going to make a decision on going to Worlds Solo Championship in Monterey, California on 01/02 Sept. I qualified to race as "Elite Status" though I don't feel terribly elite at the moment. Doreen thinks I should go, she's the best. Going to Worlds will take a lot of resources.
Worlds - I'm thinking about it.
Drop me an email, give me some advice.