Week 6: Six Reasons Why Everyone Should Do a Twelve Hour Solo Race

Inspired by the rapidly approaching Taupo Day Night Thriller and the realisation that in eight days time I'll chalk up my fifth twelve hour solo race, Week 6 is an ode to why everyone should go do one.

OK. I'll fess up. Twelve hours of mountain bike racing is not for everyone. If you're staunchly in the, "No way, you can't make me do it" camp then stay put. I'm not about to turn into some sort of dirt endurance evangelist overnight. But, if you're sitting on the fence and are a little bit tempted by the idea but need a few good reasons to nudge you onto the startline, read on.

#1 Achievability

Let's face it, doing twelve hours of any one thing continuously is a challenge. Even sleep (although I intend to tackle that test head on this Friday night with no alarm set for an early morning training ride on Saturday for the first time in a few weeks, whoop). But, like twelve hours of sleeping, twelve hours of cycling is within your grasp. You've just got to want to do it enough. You don't even need heaps of uber rides under your belt, but doing a couple will make your body a little more accepting of what you are asking of it and the overall experience a little less uncomfortable. The longest ride I had done before my first 12 hour race was two hours, which I’ll admit made the remaining ten hours of racing a little bit ouchy, but I still made it through to tell the tale. The sweet taste of success over long races like these is all down to pacing, nutrition, and headspace. Get ready for the long haul and you'll be right.

#2 Bragging Rights

There aren’t many things more entertaining in the workplace on a Monday morning than the perplexed look your colleagues will give you when they ask what you got up to on the weekend and you reply casually, “Raced my bike for twelve hours”. Try not to look too broken physically for maximum impact. Your reply will invariably be punctuated by chomping mouthfuls of food and destroying the entire cookie stash in the staff tearoom along with anything else that looks vaguely edible. Be prepared for questions pertaining to the deeper meaning of such an unusual weekend pastime. I’m yet to come up with a thought provoking response to, “Why, the hell would you do that?”

#3 Dialling the Perfect Line

Ever done a race and kicked yourself for screwing up a line? Or felt frustrated by a bad lap? Fear not. In a twelve hour solo race you’ll have many, many, many laps to enjoy. These will invariably provide endless opportunities to test a variety of lines, some less intentionally than others. By twilight, you’ll have them all dialled and will achieve suave and poise as you drill the perfect line despite the fading light (this may or may not actually happen in real life). The occasional bad lap will provide but a brief interlude and give you something different to think about before rediscovering your mojo and getting back in the groove (hopefully).

#4 No Gear

Well, you will need some gear. Like a bicycle you love enough to want to ride it for twelve hours non-stop. And some lights for when the sun goes down. But, unlike endurance point-to-point courses or massive grand loops of hinterland, mountain passes, and other forms of beautiful character building terrain, a twelve hour solo race is run on a multi-lap format. Never straying too far from home means you only need to carry enough Scooby snacks for thirty to sixty minutes at a time before being reunited with endless fresh supplies. No Sherpa duties required.

#5 Mates

Solo. You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds a bit lonely. But these events have a cool vibe and you’ll no doubt be surrounded by a bunch of other racers and team riders giving you big ups and encouragement. Not to mention your mates in the race village who will offer endless heckling and banter lap after lap after lap. Even if you’d prefer they didn’t. And you never know when you might end up riding with another solo racer for several hours. Solo, yes. On your own, no.

#6 Cheesecake

One of the best pieces of cheesecake I ever ate was after last year’s Day Night Thriller. It was washed down with a glass of bubbly and promptly followed by a power nap. All before prize-giving. This year, the gorgeous Megan Ward has promised to provide a homemade delectable dessert. Racing a twelve hour solo gives you ownership rights over a whole heap of pudding choices. Choice is probably the wrong word because you’ll be able to eat them all at once.

Hopefully, the promise of bragging rights, dialling the perfect line and cheesecake will do the trick. See you there.

If you're looking for a South Island event to cut your teeth on check out the Giant Day Nighter in MacLean's Forest in October or Timaru's Alpine Energy 12 Hour in November.

Week 7: Dream Team

Down to the line. In the final hours before the clock ticks over to Week 6, I finally managed to sit down and get my blog on. It's been a busy time lately. More hours on the bike have led to a feeling of connectedness that I haven't reached before. And I don't mean only the contact points. Cranking out some big rides has provided blood, sweat and tears but most importantly heaps of good vibes. Even the more-regular-than-usual bike cleaning activity has been therapeutic, in some sort of Mr Miyagi inspired "dirt on, dirt off" way.

The last ten days have also provided plenty of opportunities for me to realise how many cool people there are out there providing encouragement and support along the way. Some experiences since my last post have been a little surreal to say the least.

Like having an Olympian arrive to save a damsel in distress (aka me) on a particularly stormy day on the South Coast, chuck a new wheel on the bike, then wish me luck as I finished off my training ride commenting that I was "keen" on a day like that. I owe you Robyn - it would have been a really long ride home on the rim and I suspect the wheel would have liked it even less than me.

Like horn toots and yelling from car windows while out riding representing encouragement rather than "get off the road". Thanks to all yous out there. Clearly, more time "on the road" provides more of those random opportunities for our paths to cross.

Like having a newly crowned National Champion share his excitement with his result and suggesting "rocking their socks off" in Canberra would be the most appropriate course of action. Go hard overseas in that fern adorned skinsuit, Alex! I will endeavour to rock socks off in almost only six weeks.

Like sharing some epic dirt rides with kiwi Marathon Worlds representative and enjoying the simple pleasures of pedalling, chatting about Life, the Universe and Everything, and making each other hurt just a little bit now and again on some uphilly bits. The answer, Justin, is not 42 but 29. Twenty-niner big boy wheels. Go on, you know you want to.

The list could go on and on. But it's nearly bedtime.

When my head hits the pillow tonight, ready for some zzzz's ahead of a well deserved easy week, I'll be content in the knowledge that I'm super lucky to have the best support crew out there. Some (that's me) would call them the Dream Team. Today, Justin asked that I leave them to him in my will. I'll need to consider that matter carefully - unless, on one of our rides I may meet a Shakespearean sticky end. Slackboy and Cowbell Coach always have my back. It's cool that there appears to be a whole bunch of others that can be added to the supporters list. Amen, to that. Night, night.

Week 8: Freedom Machine

Cycling is full of controversial moments. OperaciĆ³n Puerto. Tragic Tom Simpson. The Festina Affair. The Armwarmers Incident.
This week, in an attempt to fend off any future controversial misdemeanours, I decided to revisit the Rules (for the uninitiated, click here). Rule 5 is quoted regularly but my favourite is #72. Legs speak louder than words. However, this being a blog (and having peaked to soon and already featured a picture of Ms Spitz's guns last week), I'd better come up with some words.
Yey! Check me out. No baggy armwarmers!
While perusing the Rules, I came across one of the best short articles I have read for ages. It will become my reference point for those moments when I get asked, "but why do you do it?" forever more. Handy and timely because those questions seem to crop up a little more often with a 24 hour race approaching.
Boots were made for walking. Bikes were made for travelling. The human-powered, pedal-driven, singletrack vehicle known as the bicycle or bicyclette (depending on your side of the Channel) was first introduced in Europe in the 19th century. Being awesome, it had a huge effect on society. Even before Strava. One off-spin in those bygone olden days times, was the unprecedented mobility it gave women. The humble velo became recognized by rad chicks as a freedom machine forever after. Wikipedia says so.
The freedom machine. Go sister! I can relate to that.
"Let go, but stand by"
Rad chicks learning to shred
Once upon a time, almost twenty years ago, a naive sixteen year old pedalwan learner wanted to know if it was possible for her to crank out 160 kilometres on her own. It was back in the motherland so the aim of a century of glorious imperial miles seemed like a good number. The young pedalwan learned lots that day. Most importantly, that it is possible. Solo with two Mars bars and a sandwich stuffed in jersey pockets. And a fifty pence piece for company in case you need to call your Mum because something has gone wrong. She also learned that you will inevitably ride through three seasons in one day (just no summer) and that calculating the distance of your route pre-ride by counting up the little distance numbers on a roadmap is not the most reliable method (and means you will cycle an extra twenty or so kilometres to get back home).
Last weekend, I realised not much has changed. While my jersey pocket food source has moved to a much more sensible training snack option, and my fifty pence coin has been upgraded to some sort of fandangled android device that requires more than a medical degree to operate (trust me, I'm a doctor), many familiarities endure. 
My long tempo sejour of the Wairarapa granted me the experience of riding through three seasons in one day (you guessed it, just no summer) and confirmed that Wairarapa country roads are as effective at creating Flemish tan lines (artifical tan lines caused by mud, grit and cowshit) as their Welsh counterparts.
More importantly, the same feeling was there. The answer to why I enjoy riding my bike for a long time and up big hills today is much the same as it was then. The sense of travelling. The sheer feeling of freedom and state of bliss. Going into the tunnel. And the best bit about ultra-endurance racing is that I get to do even more of it. 
Rule 9 needs an addendum. This is a rider who loves the work. And the feeling it gives them.

Week 9: Egocentric

"You've got no ego. And you need one!"

Not really the sort of thing that you hear every day of the week. But it was the recurring theme of week nine. I'm not sure that I'll ever quite fill those shoes but in an attempt to achieve what has been recommended, I have filed a request with Visa to sponsor financing one of these bad boys to get to the startline for Karapoti 2014. With a gold stripe rather than a blue one.

After all, it's important to have matching kit.

I've also been practising holding my bike as well. It's seems poise and pout are important factors too.

A little less like this...

...and a little more like this (but this isn't me)...

  As well as tensing my quads for those special podium moments (this isn't me either),

and fist pumping like a boss (this is me).

Clearly, it still needs some fine tuning and further development but I think it's a good start. Next on the Christmas list will be adoring fans, a large entourage and eye catching skinsuits (Mario's gold skinsuit concept...obviously, not me).

Then I'll definitely be there. The ego will have landed.

I guess the cool kids would call it swag. I'll need to start wearing my cap at a jaunty angle, don some baggy clothes* and get all down with my bad ass self.

*Unfortunately, my first attempt at baggy clothing was an epic fail with some fans...

But I do kinda like the swag thing. To represent yourself. That is kinda cool. Sometimes, it's easy to lose a bit of that.

Yesterday, was my first MTB ride on kiwi soil since the whole crazy BC Bike Race experience. I loved it. My route selection was a bit ad lib and it was only when I rolled across McGhie's Bridge that I realised the last time I was riding that piece of trail was five months before. In the sunshine. Racing my favourite bike race in the whole wide world. On a super fly race steed. Against a bunch of super cool mega talented chicks. Representing myself.

I'm a eyes-forward-look-ahead-to-the-next-thing sort of a person. But I must admit it was cool to reminisce about how awesome it felt to be lead dog (that should probably be dawg) on the way up the gorge and still at the front of the race on the way back to the finish line. I don't think I'll ever be able to ride down the gorge again without a wee smile. It was a special day on the bike.
I read a cool quote recently by an American 10 kilometre runner fella, "racing is a celebration of my training". That was one way to celebrate.
So, wherever you are riding this weekend do it with style, panache, bravado and swag. Remember the awesome rides. And races. Represent yourself. Just remember though, it takes a certain sort of swag to pull off baggy armwarmers.

Week 10: Just A Number

Week 10. The numbers are almost down to single figures. Little numbers counting down. And that's not the only set of digits in my life. In fact, your average cycling geek is surrounded by them. Even more so if you have a coach with a penchant for data analysis. Small ones you want to make bigger, big ones you want to make smaller. All sitting there in brutal black and white honesty.

Numbers everywhere! Coach adds some gadgets.
The little white watch and RPE was all I used to use before!

Speed. Cadence. Power. Power to weight ratio. Peak power output for five minutes. For twenty minutes. For sixty minutes. Average speed for forty kilometers. Number of reps you can crank out. Kilometers pedalled. Meters climbed. Hours in your biggest week. Hours available in the day. Daylight hours. Sunshine hours. Time gap to the nearest rival behind you. And to the one behind them. A whole heap of digits that inspire a grin when they go up.

The mighty SRM.
What (or watt!) is given can be taken away!
What goes up, must come down. And it's not always a bad thing, sometimes there's nothing sweeter than seeing certain figures dropping. Time left struggling to get home in a headwind. Resting heart rate. Weight of your humble steed. Wait for your new steed. Number of reps left to crank out. Kilometers left to ride. Intervals left in the session. Minutes left in the interval. Seconds to go. Laps to go. Gap to the racer ahead of you. Time to finish your bell lap.  Meters left to climb. Down to the line.

Down to the line at Coppermine

There are also those which inevitably divide the masses and opinion alike. Little figures that provoke debate over a beer or coffee at cycling geek haunts, trendy two wheel friendly cafes and bike shops all over the world. Best wheel size. Ideal bar width. Optimal millimeters of travel. Number of gears. XX1. 2x10. Singlespeed. Not to mention the mother of all digits. The one that countless races that got away and moments of lost traction are held liable for. Every mountain bikers Holy Grail, perfect tyre pressure.

Wheel size is a very serious matter

There is, of course, one more. It cropped up in the interview I had on Friday. Nice journalist man says, "It's a cool story. Do you mind me asking...how old are you?". I chuckle. Mainly to buy time. For the first time ever, I had to give it some thought. Just like those old people who forget their birthdays and how many they've had. In a moment's clarity I realise the answer is thirty-four.

How did that happen? I remember the thirty milestone. It heralded the idea of hanging up any hope and dreams of elite performance. Resigning myself to the "way past it" basket. Funny how things work out. I'd kick the twenty-something me's butt on a bike right now.

Ass kicking mode
Photo credit: Simon Watts/bwp.co.nz/bikeNZ

I reminisce about an article I read that was written by Ironman legend Cameron Brown. Forties are the new thirties, he says. I enjoy Rebecca Rusch's stance. The 43 year old powerhouse greets questions of age with laughter and acts of defiance on the bike. I watch Sabine Spitz and Gunn Rita Dahle-Flesjaa draw swords. Twenty years of racing experience. Each. Forty-two versus forty-one. Kicking arse at altitude on a brutally physical World Cup course. Proving that age really is just a number. Now, that's a figure I'll settle for.