October 2, 2007

From the Archives: MV24 2003

The Mississippi Valley 24 Hour Challenge
(Another stepping stone in the long road to RAAM!)
August 9th - 10th, 2003
New Baden, IL.
All the dirt: www.mv24.org
Obsessive planning…Time-tested gear…The perfect fuel…The best crew…An iron will…
A desire to ride past EVERYONE… Did it pay off???

The Dude, before sunrise – getting ready to head out…
My rider number is 108 – and known to others as “the guy with the sandals”

Rolling up to the start line – Dude in the center of the shot.
The flash catches all the reflective tape nicely…
It was time to put all the planning and preparation aside, and just ride.

With no more fanfare than “mark….set….go…”, the 2003 MV24 Race is on.
With dawns early light in the background, I had no idea how long of a day this was going to be, but there was hope in the air, and a little jockeying for early positions.

Sunrise on August 9th, captured thru the spokes of the spare wheels on the
support car. We are well underway, probably 15 miles north already – Warbird and the rest of the support drivers are simply waiting for the morning to play out, before beginning to hand off food and water to the riders.

Another sunrise shot from Aug.9th’s morning… you can almost feel the humidity hanging in the air.
It was so wet, riders were often pausing to wipe off their glasses enroute. As the heat of the day built on, the humidity would eventually drop a little. It turned out to be a very tolerable day – except for the persistent north wind, which only seemed to get stronger.

You have to zoom in a little on this shot, but the Dude is in the center of the frame, just after taking up new water from Warbird at about the 25 mile mark on the day loop – the lead group is JUST around the bend on front of me. It was a good first lap, but the leaders were going strong early on, and I made the wise choice of not worry too much about hanging on to the pace. After all, we were only a little over an hour into a 24 hour event – and some of the lead pack was composed of 12-hour competitors – since I couldn’t tell the difference, why rush?
In a 24-hour event, riding your own pace is paramount.

The handoff at the end of day-lap number one. 55.1 miles down – who knows how many to go…
Shot one is a half-second before the drop of the empty bottles, and shot two a half-second before grabbing the musette bag with fresh bottles. Warbird, the ultra-deluxe crewman extraordinaire, was flawless with the hand-ups – not a single dropped bottle all day long, and never a missed cue. The only thing I had to worry about was pedaling. After this shot, photos took a backseat to the tasks at hand.

Wilma, the Ultra-Dog,
enjoying a day of sun and fresh-air
from the backseat of the battle wagon.

Warbird, from the driver seat.
When he’s not riding, rider support is his game; and there is none higher.

Despite a brutal north wind that made the day loop a gargantuan task each time, I managed to achieve my first goal – getting a fourth day-lap. I finished the third day loop at about 3:45pm – falling a little off of my three-hour lap pace, but still getting back to the checkpoint in time to beat the 4:00pm cutoff to begin another day loop. I was having a pretty good ride, considering. I finally stopped for a few minutes at the 25 mile point on lap 3, just to stretch and take on more water – instead of taking another hand-up from Warbird. This set a new personal record for me for longest continuous stretch in the saddle – I had not stopped pedaling for 135 miles. After about three minutes, I was rolling again, but fatigue was starting to play a role. My average speed would start a slow decline for the remainder of the day, but I was still ahead of schedule for my ultimate goal…

Meanwhile, out on the road, I was struggling to maintain pace. After completing a horrid third lap into a 15 mph headwind northbound, I was too whipped to take advantage of the tailwind on the south-bound leg, but I still managed to sweep up a couple riders and hold off a few chasers. Everyone was starting to suffer, so falling off the pace was not a huge concern. I was holding my position for my age group at the moment. Lap 4 went much better – a few words of logic from Warbird got me back on focus, and the northbound headwind section was over before I knew it, and I was fresher for the tailwind on the way back south – plus a double hand-up of water on two parts of that last lap REALLY helped. I was running on a hydration deficit up until that point, which likely accounted for some of the fatigue. Adding to the fun, my right Achilles tendon got a good yank at some point, and was swelling up like a balloon, which put a little hitch in my pedal stroke – but not enough reason the quit. “I can heal on Monday” I kept thinking – between mental verses of “Stuck on You” by Elvis, and “I’m on Fire” by Springsteen. Those were but a few of my own mental distractions that ultra-riders usually have running through their heads to keep from thinking “why am I doing this?”
Staying on task was difficult, otherwise –
I remember when I looked down at my clock, and it showed 6:00pm --- “ONLY 12-HOURS TO GO???!!!” I wasn’t sure if I should have been excited, or should have just bust out into tears.

I finished the 4th lap at about 7:45pm – checked in, and took a promised 30-minute break off the bike – got a quick rub-down of the neck, shoulders, quads and calves from Warbird (thanks, man) and got prepped for the first night lap. Switched over to my regular glasses, took a shot of caffeine, fresh water, and was off.
The torture of the day-loop was behind me, and so was the satisfaction of achieving a 4th day lap. I was officially ahead of the other contenders in my age group – they each only managed 3 day loops. All I had to do was stay on the bike until dawn, and I was going to be in fine shape.
The sun dipped, the headlights and taillights came on, and the second stage of battle began.

But, a lot can happen in 24 hours.

That statement holds more truth than you can possibly imagine.

I was excited about the night loop mainly because it was shorter. As the night drags on, you get more of a sense of accomplishment as you count off the laps, and the pavement was marked to indicate how many miles into the lap you were, so every few minutes you got a little pat on the back –
one more mile complete…keep going.
A big full moon helped light the terrain a little, and the dipping sun finally took a little energy away from the howling north wind – things were calming down, and cooling down – at the end of lap one I paused to grab my jacket, partly to keep off the chills of the wet air, partly to keep the hailstorm of bugs at bay. The humidity was coming back up fast and it was starting to feel colder that is was.

Lap two, no problems – a little more caffeine, and carry on. Plus, the bugs finally calmed down. I was ticking off laps at about 50 minutes a-piece, so far.

Lap three – still no problems, but I was starting to get a little bleary-eyed – between the hectic ritual of getting the car ready on Friday afternoon, Driving all night and not being able to sleep in the car, hitting the parking lot at the start at 4:15am, and still not being able to sleep – and now riding all day; I was running deep into the sleep bank. The last winks I got were on Thursday night – I was on about my 36th waking hour, and the caffeine was not enough anymore. I pressed on, and finished my third and fourth laps without incident, still keeping the pace high enough to keep lap times under 1 hour. Considering how long I’d been pedaling, I was not complaining.
I was already surpassing my highest total mileage for a 24-hour period – 254 miles, from the 400K earlier in the year. I was in unknown territory.

After a short break, and a reload of vitamins and food, I was ready for lap five. It was midnight – only 6 hours to ride, and only 6 laps to go – if I could hold pace. Six more laps would put me at 342 miles for the day – game on.
My 5th goal of hitting 400 miles was slipping into impossibility, unless I could seriously pick up the pace, but I could still capture my age group.

I departed the checkpoint and began lap five.

But then the demons came…

When your brain decides it’s time to sleep, it will do whatever it takes to shut your body down to get it. If your mind does not reset, you will start to pay the price. Hallucinations, chills, extreme fatigue… the next 30 minutes would introduce me to all of these phenomenon, culminating in the scariest of incidents:
As you approach the 4.5 mile mark of the night loop, you have to cross Illinois state highway 160 – not a major highway, but there was still traffic on it at 1am – I had crossed it 4 times now, no problem… but this time, I was having serious trouble staying awake, despite the physical activity. I approached the intersection, and suddenly realized my eyes were not open. I was seeing the road in my mind, but hearing traffic approaching from both sides. OPEN YOUR EYES!
I did, and stopped well short of my doom – but it was a wake-up call, or rather a sleep-call.
To continue at this point was DANGEROUS, so I turned around and rode about an 1/8th mile back to a little school just off the loop, rolled up to the building, leaned the bike up against the wall, and laid down on the pavement – complete with little rocks sticking into my back. Did I care? No. I probably didn’t even realize it.

Still focused on my goals, I elected to sacrifice just one hour to the sleep-monster, so I could at least finish without any close-calls with traffic or pavement, a decision that I would later be commended for.
After all – it is just a bike race – I have two kids and a wife at home, and this event is not worth endangering my life. Besides, my mileage buffer over the others in my age group was still strong enough I could give up one lap/one hour, and not be in any danger – despite the hardship and pain of the day, I was still in the lead for my group.

One hour, and then back on the bike.

I closed my eyes at about 1:07am.

The next time I opened my eyes, I was staring at the shoes of two people I didn’t recognize.
One was a volunteer, the other was the ride organizer, Mike. In the background was their white van.
I rolled my eyes up to meet theirs…

“You okay?” Mike asked.

“yeah….. what time is it?” I asked back.

“4:20” was the reply.

And like a dove off of a roof-top, I watched my goals flutter off into the early morning sky…
Sleep deprivation won the day. I’m a guy that can’t really sleep anywhere but in his own bed, and I was SO tired that I slept on gravel-covered concrete, and did not hear passing traffic, people calling my name, and Warbird calling on the support radio in my ear trying to find me.

Suddenly depressed, I knew that I did not have enough banked to cover a 3½ hour nap, no matter how badly my body obviously needed it. I sent them off to find Warbird and get him to me so I could regroup a little, and a few minutes later he was there. Apparently I gave everyone quite a scare – Warbird had been looking for me since about 2am, when he realized my last check-in had been midnight and I was not back yet. Most of the available crews were looking for me, but I was nicely tucked JUST far enough off the road that no-one saw me, until Mike had pulled up.
Warbird arrived, and I crawled into the car – Warbird got the heater going… keeping in mind it was still about 70 degrees outside, I was FREEZING – the pavement had effectively drained all the body heat out of me, and I was like ice. My legs would not move, I was shivering, but surprisingly still focused.
I had to ride on damage control now. Surely the others in my age group gotten at least one lap per hour while I was snoozing, which meant my extra day-lap buffer was certainly chipped away.
Desperate for comfort I put on some sweat pants, zipped up the jacket tight, put a ski-cap under my helmet, and started out to complete my 5th lap. I’d just have to see what I could get after that.
The sun was just starting to illuminate the sky from the other side of the horizon, so there was not much time left.

My legs warmed up slowly, and the stiffness was beginning to melt a little as I worked off the last few miles.
I pushed as hard as I could, clawing up the road and fighting against the coming dawn that would not wait.

I finally rolled thru the checkpoint to applause, as I announced my rider number to the checkpoint volunteers at about 5:43am – fifteen minutes to ride. There was no way I was going to get another lap in, but I had to try – I muttered those very words to Warbird as I shakily rolled past the support car and back onto the loop – every little bit would help. After all, the extra day-lap that I achieved was a big hunk of mileage, and the others in my age group would have had to get 5 extra night laps to make up that deficit --- I could still pull this thing out in the last few minutes.

Completely exhausted, and cold after my unscheduled nap, I finish my fifth lap
at 5:43am – but somehow manage to press on in attempt of a sixth lap.
The sun is just starting to light up the sky in the background.

Suddenly, the pain of the previous 23 hours and 45 minutes had gone.
I rode on pure frustration with myself for sleeping so long, for not setting an alarm, or leaving my taillight on so someone could see me from the road – if only I had awoken 1 hour earlier, I would have gotten 300 miles at least.

Only 15 minutes left…..14…….13…..12…..11… 10…..

I pedaled relentlessly, out of the saddle at times, trying to wring out another mile as I counted down the minutes in my head, checking the clock. If I could make it back to the school I was sleeping at, it would be at least another 4 miles added to the total. But the sky just kept getting brighter…

Push, push, push!!!

And suddenly, there was Warbird in the support car, waving me down…
It was 6:00am, August 10th, and this ride was OVER.

I had to roll back to the nearest mile point on the road – 4 miles… and about 100 yards short of the school that I was sleeping at only a short time before.
At least I got that much back – but I was a little short of my goals for the day.
I did, however, achieve my primary goal – to FINISH.


That, alone, was worth the trip. I’ve said it before; a lot can happen in 24 hours. Don’t I know it!
Even with the best laid plans, with awesome and unwavering support, the perfect fuel, there is always something unexpected waiting to throw a wrench into the works. This time it was lack of sleep. When your brain says stop, you stop. Had I ignored that impulse to stop and sleep, I might have been integrated with someone’s front bumper, or in a ditch on the side of the road – an interesting local news item at the very least, instead of an official MV24 finisher.

The official results are in, and I ended up with third place for my age group – only 10 miles shy of 2nd place!

But, I have no regrets --- I FINISHED a 24-Hour race!

Resting on the roadside, I peek over my shoulder to
see the ride organizer rolling up to collect my numbers.

Getting things wrapped up – the sunrise of August 10th is just
peeking over the trees to the right – it is an awesome sight, because it means I’m DONE

The final numbers from my computer…
Because of a slight miss-calibration repeated over so many miles, my computer is
a little off from my official total of 285.45 miles.
If only I had awoken earlier…

Sadly, Since 2004, the MV24 is no-more.
I anxiously await the return of this great ride!

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