Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Saturday AND Sunday in Hell...

I came across this poster (link now broken) on the internet a few days ago. Initially, I was almost giddy...the 20th of June?!?

Having participated in this glorious hypercycling race only once, in 2006, I had resigned myself to missing it in both '08 and '09 because it is normally held in September each year. Even if our visas had arrived on time 10 months ago, I still wouldn't have made it to the 2008 edition, and in September of this year, we'll be cosying into our new place in Champaign-Urbana, gearing up for the academic year.

"But June 20th?" I thought to myself. "I could actually swing that."

And then my newly cultivated Inner Voice of Reason said, "What are you trying to get us into?" While my experience racing in 2006 was sometimes enjoyable, it was also plagued by periods of intense pain and delirious soul-searching, and many questions of "What the #@!* am I doing this for?"

Here's my account of riding in the same race (a little shorter and with different cities) which I wrote after finishing in 2006:

The 23rd of September was the start of the 3rd 24-hour race in Holland. I'd seen somethings online about the previous ones. I was planning on being in Europe for my friend's wedding in Scotland a few weeks prior, and decided in July that I should stay and do the 24-hour race in Holland 2 weeks after the wedding.

I got to Holland on Thursday for the race which was scheduled for Saturday. I spent most of Thursday and Friday finding maps, getting a rear rack for a track bike, helmet, bottles, bottle cages, and adjusting fenders.

track bike ready for 400km ride
My bike from 2006 that is currently in the U.S. in storage. I miss you.

The race started in Utrecht, about 35km from Amsterdam. There was food and drinks at the start to try and build up the energy reserves. I had 2 water bottles, extra clothes for the night time, nuts/fruit, cell phone for emergencies, mp3 player, 4 maps of Holland or parts of Holland, rain gear, and bike tools.

24 hour race 2006 start banner in Utretch
The start of the race in Utrecht: hot bikes + random cute toddler

Almost 60 people took off at 12:10PM from Utrecht to Amsterdam for the first checkpoint. I was riding a 46x16 fixed gear (with a 17t freewheel on the other side) 'cause I wanted to be able to keep up with the leaders as long as possible. About 15km outside Utrecht I lost the leaders. We were cycling mostly on bike paths which were too narrow to do a lot of passing. When the group in front of you got dropped, so did you. Soon after we lost the leaders, there were navigational problems. We managed to ride an extra 4km from what race organizers stated it would be between Utrecht and Amsterdam.

At the checkpoint in Amsterdam we had more food, drink, and a quick group map-check and we were off to Zwolle, 138 km away. Much more getting lost ensued in the suburbs around Amsterdam. We never got too far from the intended path, but we spent a lot of time looking at maps or asking directions. Around 15 km from Zwolle my legs were hurting, and I was no longer able to go very fast. Our group of 6 from Amsterdam (Eva, Hannes--both from Stockholm, Louise from Dublin, who lived in Chicago for 6 months, Pedro from Madrid, Chris Berling from Amsterdam, and me) was still together. I got leg cramps just outside of Zwolle and I wasn't sure if I would continue after that.

After more map checking we found the checkpoint in Zwolle. We spent 45 minutes there. More eating (rice and pancakes), drinking, switching to the freewheel (after 90 miles), stretching, putting on some cold weather clothes, engaging front light, hooking up the mp3 player, and we were off, plus one lone German (Tibor Sillo, from Hamburg) who had showed up while we there.

We made pretty good time to Arnhem, with Tibor, Louise, and I sharing most of the pacemaking. The freewheel made all the difference, so did the music I started to listen to; it really took my mind off the monotony. It was nice to be a group because you had more eyes to look out for signs in the dark pointing the way. We went through one decent-sized city, Apeldoorn, and the cobbled bike paths and streets were brutal on the hands. I knew they would only get worse in every town for the rest of the trip.

Arnhem was the site of the Open Dutch Messenger Championships a month before this, which Tibor attended. So he showed the way to the checkpoint, a messenger service headquarters. After 30 minutes of food, drink, and a little beer, we were off again to Nijmegen.

Outside of Nijmegen we asked a man pushing his bike for directions. He said he was going to the same neighborhood and would show us the way. En route, his bike broke down twice while he was riding. Once, his bungees got caught in his chain, and then his chain fell off. Luckily, there were three people there who had tools to work on the problem all at the same time. Nijmegen checkpoint: more food, drink and we were off to Eindhoven.

arrival times at the checkpoints
Checkpoint times for our group. Left Utrecht at 12:10.
Arrived in Amsterdam at 13:50, Zwolle at 20:00, etc.
By the time we reached Eindhoven, everyone was lagging except Tibor and Louise. I didn't quit in Eindhoven because there was no place to sleep and there was a drunk guy yelling at at everyone about how they 'had to keep going, it is ONLY 85 km.'

We left Eindhoven for Maastricht as the sun was coming up. About 30 km outside of Eindhoven we started encountering clubs out for a Sunday morning training ride. There was a lone cyclist from Eindhoven following us. Once he found out where we were going he decided to join us and show us the way because he was out for a 'leisurely' 160 km training ride. We followed a canal for around 60 km, it was really boring, and clogged with morning exercise traffic, but it was the shortest way.

Once into Maastricht we had to ask for directions every few kilometers. There were a few small hills, but there was one leading right up to the finish outside Maastricht that was 2km long. It was torture after riding for 24 hours. Everyone in our group finished except Chris. There was a short awards ceremony after the race, not really any prizes, a few trophies and patch kits.

Tibor Sillo at the 2006 24 hour race in Bemelen
The race finish at a campground in Bemelen.
Tibor getting an award for finishing in exactly 24 hours; 2 minutes ahead of me
It was a lot of fun, even if it wasn't as much of a social event as it would have been in the States. The checkpoints along the way were more fun than the finish.

Race checkpoint in Arnhem at the headquarters of Velocity Couriers
Race checkpoint in Arnhem at the headquarters of Velocity Couriers

So back to the present...

Tickets from Paris to Amsterdam aren't too expensive, I'm better prepared both physically and equipment-wise for something like this than I was three years ago. But it still kind of scares me. Any misadjustment of your bike's fit or minor discomfort will be enormously magnified after performing 90,000 pedal revolutions. Not only is this year's race the longest version yet (490 km=305 miles), there are only 23 people registered so far, nearly all of them Dutch. The more people that race, the better your chances of finding a group to ride with that is going your pace. And the Dutch aren't much help: they are cycling robots, capable of inhuman speeds over vast distances. The 2006 winner (Dutch, of course) finished the 400km race in 14 hours, for an average of 18 mph, an incredible pace for 14 hours straight.

Now the Inner Voice of Reason is wondering how I'm going to consume 10,000+ calories while riding my bike for 24 hours straight...

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