Thursday, June 23, 2011

24 Hour Cycle Race: Exhaustion to Elation!

Road tripping to southern England last weekend to crew the University of Birmingham cycling team in the UK national 24 hour cycling race.  Best decision ever.  The whole weekend turned into an epic adventure and an experience that I will take with me for life.  

Xav and I drove down together (rather, he drove, I entertained, as me attempting to run/bike on the wrong side of the road is bad enough without throwing in the operation of vehicles flying at 60mph into the mix).  We arrived at his house where we met Nic and Mark, two of the other three who would be racing on the four man team.  We went shopping at the local grocery store that night, made dinner (a kilogram of rice with chicken and veggies, bread with hummus, nuts to snack on before/during/after, Mrs Disley's amazing homemade lactose-free cookies and cakes, JELLY BABIES, the list probably goes on), and went over the race plans for tomorrow.  When I say race plans, I really mean that the guys went over every watt and power calculation that they might need to get and strategies for drill times/swap times that they would need to win the race.  Then came the bike prep, which didnt take too much time considering these multi thousand $$ beauties practically take care of themselves.  Xav and Nic seemed pretty confident that they would be able to take home the winning title in tomorrows race. 
Saturday morning we all had breakfast together (my first crumpet ever! mix between english muffin/pancake..I like it).  The race didnt start till 2pm, so the guys got there early and I set out for my last long run before the Isle of Wight multistage ultra the next weekend.  When I first stepped foot outside that morning, all I could think was how glad I was that I was NOT the one going to be riding in this for 24 hours.  It was rainy and cold, with winds gusting at 25-30 mph.  My run went really well.  Better than expected, as I was feeling pretty fresh, probably from taming my miles for the two previous days.  Despite the weather, I felt great.  I didnt mind the rain if it was at my back, and of course the tail winds were my favorite, where I was probably running close to 6:30 min mis.  I ran along the side of the shore, sometimes taking the small roads to avoid running on the stones that covered the (currently) narrow beaches.  I did about 22-23 miles total, at which point I was barely tired, but wanted to stop early both because I wanted to get to the race and because it was probably best for me.
 Beach here is pretty, but kind of different.  The water is much greener and the waves are much bigger.  Saw quite a few surfers while running along the coast. 
I rode my bike the 12 miles to the race and it was raining for most of the ride.  When I got there, the first hour of the race had gone by and the UB guys were winning and up about 2-3 minutes from the second place team.  Third place was not even close.  Everyone was still looking fresh.  Soon after my arrival, they took the first lap.  They were planning to structure their race so that they rotated teammates every hour, or as someone needed to come out.  The course was a 2.4 mile loop around a motor speedway, relatively flat with one small incline, and a good headwind and tailwind section on this day.  
 Mark warming up before his first bout.
Nic and Xav make the time chip swap.  30 second transition times.

It didn't take long before things started getting more intense.  The guys wanted to gain as much distance as possible between themselves and the second place team, who was also looking strong.  Any unexpected mechanical failure could cost valuable minutes and seconds of time in this race if it was close.  

Will and I decided to take a field trip into the center of the city (downtown) for dinner.  While there, we visited the cathedral, which was beatiful. 

Cathedral, right next to the bishop's garden (behind you, not shown).  

Night came and the wind and rain started up again.  Still, the guys were going out there and killing it every single time for their hour.  Sometimes, they would go take a nap in the tents we had set up at the campsite nearby.  Meanwhile, I played the personal team physical therapist, stretching hamstrings, releasing hip flexors, manual massage therapy when needed.  There was actually a building where they were giving out free massages, and people later asked where the team had been the whole time.  

They were getting tired, but still fought relentlessly.  I don't think I have ever seen such determination.  It was awesome. 

Around 5am, going into the 17th hour.  Xav still killing it coming in from his fourth hour bout. This is why I came to this event!
 Nic enjoying his quad massage after a nice night of riding.

Field trip number two came Sunday morning, when I realized that the amazingly beautiful mountains behind us were, in fact, the South Downs that I had read about in my US trail running magazine race series on my flight over!  I had my Mizunos on before I could blink and Will and I set out to hit some trails.  What was planned to be a "less than 10 mile" run turned into a 13 miler, according to his Garmin.  

And it was probably the most magnificent 13 miles I have ever run in my life.  No lie.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale.  We finally found some of my beloved single track that I had been searching for for about three weeks now.  I felt back a home again when my foot hit the muddy root covered path.  It was great.

Single track Yayyy!!

Then we ascended another longer steep hill, and when we finally crested the peak, I lost my breath a bit, and I dont think it was completely attributable to climbing that hill.  The view was amazing.  

 And the pictures don't even do it justice.

Jackie heaven.

Then came the descent.  I went out hard down the little downhill footpath, and only accelarated harder.  The running was less than effortless.  It was just straight pleasureable, and appealing to every sensation in my body.  We weren't running; we were flying.  If I looked over my shoulder, I'd see a pair of wings right behind me as I soared through the clouds beneath my feet and all around me.  We ran the mile with that hill descent in 5:55.  I will never forget that feeling of being on top of the world. 
Also, no justice, but you get the idea.  Will is having fun too:-)

 Bottom of the descent and still flying high.

 We took some country roads the rest of the way back, since we were struggling a bit to navigate back on the trails, and it did not sound too appealing to some people to run back up that hill.  We took it pretty quick on the way in, but I was still feeling good.  And hearing the guy who was just kicking your butt up the hills on a 100 mile ride last weekend asking you to please slow down felt almost as good as that hill descent:-) 

When we got back there was just a couple of hours left of the race.  The guys were still going strong, and up by 5 laps at this point.  The senstation of victory had begun to wash over the team, which only seemed to push them harder through the last laps, giving it everything they had. 

Xav brought in the final lap and the celebration began.  The UB cycling team were the United Kingdom 24 Hour Cycle champions and a free trip to France for the 24 Hour world cup in August was on its way!

Mark, Nick, Xav and Ollie with their team PT.

 Accepting the award just in time for the (5th?) rain storm.
 Hmmmm maybe next year solo rider... ;-)

To appear on the cover of some Euro cycling magazine.  Who knew I could become a UK celebrity is such a short amout of time.

And of course, no ultra distance endurance event or trip to the beach would be complete without a polar plunge in the English channel!

"Crazy American girl..."

  One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen with the Isle of Wight in the distance.

And now to physically and mentally attempt to prepare myself for next week's adventure, the 70 mile multi stage ultra.  Dun dun duhhhhhh

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