It was a much different race at 24 hours of Sebring this year. Same course, same bike, same rider, but my experience was very different. Personal circumstances going into this race made it much more challenging mentally, and events during the race made things very difficult for me to stay positive and focused. Yet it also at times felt more like a happy family reunion than a cycling race. This was surprising to me considering I started doing ultra cycling events just last year, and yet not surprising because that is how friendly almost everyone is. Notice I say almost… I found “that guy” again. Every so often, I meet “that guy” during a race who can’t seem to coexist peacefully with his fellow competitors, but more on that later. I completed 460.6 miles, set a new Sebring course record for women on standard bikes, and finished fifth overall in a talented field.
A significant portion of my training this winter was indoors on the trainer, usually in the hours before my kids get up at 6am for school. Any intervals or hard efforts I prefer to do inside due to poor road conditions, cold temperatures, and the fact that it’s technically still night time and dark when I’m riding. I have a few more race numbers on the wall now, and I occasionally dust the top of the hot water heater, but otherwise I have done nothing to improve my indoor training situation. I’m essentially staring at a hot water heater and the wall for hours. My husband calls it my ‘serial killer corner’.
I did manage to get in quite a bit of outdoor gravel riding this winter. Usually on weekends with a group, or solo as a second ride after my trainer session. This was my first full winter of outdoor training. Last winter was ridiculously cold, and prior to that I never had need to ride so much during the winter. Initially it was quite a struggle dealing with the cold, but I felt that it was an essential experience for me to adapt to. Almost every event I did last year had long stretches of time where the temperatures were in the 30s or below, and I felt like I mentally struggled with the cold more than I should have. I had the gear I needed to prevent hypothermia, but being cold during a race wasn’t a discomfort I could tune out very well. I have a much better handle on that now, although I still don’t like it. I will celebrate when spring arrives.
Training went relatively well over the winter. I had a brief time off after the Silver State 508 and over Thanksgiving, but the weather was so nice in November and early December I ended up doing a lot of gravel riding. Nice weather is relative to where I live, and not California nice. Iowa nice means cold temperatures and high winds, but dry roads and very little snow. The only disruption to my training schedule was a minor bike crash in January when I hit a dog on a 200K permanent brevet route in northern Missouri. Fortunately I was only going 15mph when I hit the dog, so it survived with minor injuries and I ended up with bruises and a hip hematoma. I did my best to be stoic and continue training through that, but injuries were a lot easier to accommodate when my training volume was about half of what it is now. It could’ve been a lot worse though. The temperature at the time I crashed was in the teens with a significant windchill, and I was alone in the middle of nowhere. Frankly, I was very lucky I wasn’t seriously injured.
Sebring race day weather was very similar to last year, windy and cool during the day with highs in the upper 60s and night time lows in the 30s and 40s. My milage goal for the day was 450 miles, although that wasn’t a number I shared with anyone who asked. Last year I managed 433.8, so I hoped with better fitness and a little more efficiency on the pit stops I could crank out a few more miles. For pit crew, Rob White and I were sharing Leanne Short and then Brian Arnold would jump in to help after finishing the 12 hour race. My friends from Iowa, Bill Lorenz and Saraleigh Monroe would be there to represent Kyle’s Bikes as well. Saraleigh was crewing for Bill for the 24 hour race, and was available to help me out if needed.
At the start of the race I wore shorts, a short sleeve jersey, sun sleeves, time trial shoe covers, and a light jacket with two sets of cotton throwaway gloves. I was amazed at the amount of clothing almost everyone had on relative to me. Maybe the cold weather training did me some good. After 3 laps of the track, even though it was in the 30s I was too hot in my jacket and I stopped to give it to Lucia Parker before I left pit road for the big loop. I ended up having numb hands and feet and my face was cold, but my core was warm from the effort, and I never felt too cold despite being dressed for a summer day. It warmed up to 50 degrees 3 hours into the ride, and then 60s by afternoon.
Shortly after leaving the track to the 89 mile long loop, a draft pack caught and began to pass me. It was pulled by my Panache Elite teammate Wayne Dowd who was racing the 12 hour. If I were to ever race the drafting category, I would definitely jump onto his pack as he is a big, strong guy with a great smile who looks like Captain America. Since I was RAAM non-drafting, we just said a quick hello, and he gave me his million dollar smile and moved on. Unfortunately though, only a few guys out of the large group of people in that pack actually passed me, the rest just stalled out next to me. I hollered at them that I was non-drafting and that they needed to move on, but they did not. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see if I could drop out the back, but I could not even see the end of the group as they were too many and filling in behind me. I was trapped. One of the guys started to crowd me, and move into my space. So I yelled at him “I’m on your right”. He must have taken great offense at that, because I was then told in a streak of profane language exactly what he thought of me. My intent had been only to let him know that I was still there, as I feared he was going to cut me off and cause a crash. At that point I decided it was time to end this situation before I got hurt, so I did pass several men on the right while dishing out my own heaping dose of profanity and rode up to Wayne and told him to get those guys out of there pronto. He looked over his shoulder, and it was clear that he was surprised to see one angry woman and a large mass of men behind him. He put down the power and pulled them well out of my way while I coasted out the back of the pack.
I have no desire to call this man out by name, or make any sort of issue out of this. I believe I ended up passing everyone in that pack as it broke up into smaller groups well before the turnaround in Frostproof, and I certainly passed all of them before the end of the race. He was clearly excitable in the early stages of the race and took offense where none should have been taken. What I would like my fellow athletes to realize is that as a RAAM non-drafting competitor, once their draft pack failed to overtake me and essentially trapped me, they were interfering with my race. I understand that it was not intentional but it is not acceptable! If you are not strong enough to completely pass me, then don’t pass. You are not allowed to ride next to me, or draft off me. Don’t assume that because I am a woman, you are faster than me or that you should pass me because you see me on the road in front of you. And when you are asked to move along, please do so. Not one guy out of that group of 20 or more moved to the front to inform Wayne of the situation, or made any effort to move faster when I asked them to leave. As a woman, I realize that many men can hold a similar speed as me in the early miles of a 24 hour race, especially those that are drafting. I need you to have some respect and give me the space I deserve.
As the group passed me, a few men made fun of the guy that was a jerk, a few had supportive comments, and I got one nice pat on the ass from a good friend. I was also told I needed to chill out and pace myself. I found that very insulting. I came to Sebring to win. I put a lot of time and thought into my race plan, I know how to pace myself, and I was riding well within my ability and according to plan. You chose to ride next to me when I did not want you there, despite being given explicit pre-race instructions not to do so. If I appeared impatient with you all, it was because I knew that if the draft marshall had happened upon that situation before I was able to escape, I likely would’ve been the one penalized even though it was not a situation that I entered into willingly, or had any good way out of. I will not cheat, but there is no rule to protect me in that situation, and I am not willing to allow a black mark on my record that I do not deserve.
The rest of the trip out to Frostproof was blissfully uneventful. I was largely alone for long stretches of time on the return trip. The wind had picked up quite a bit by then, and at times the crosswind gusts felt like someone was punching my front wheel.
At mile 70, I saw Rob White standing on the side of the road with an obviously broken collar bone. He had two people tending to him so I rode on, but I lost it emotionally for several miles. Rob is a good friend and one of the nicest guys I know. I am crewing for him at RAAM this year. I spent some time dwelling in worry about how he was doing and what this meant for RAAM.
When I got back to pit road, I stopped at the Cruz Bike tent and was told that Leanne had taken Rob in my rental car to the hospital, but that he was ok and would be back later. I had finished the first loop in 4:41, pretty close to on schedule. Saraleigh jumped in to crew for me with help from Lucia Parker, but initially nobody knew where any of my stuff was, or what I meant when I told them what I needed. Saraleigh asked me if I needed a chair, which made me laugh. I’m pretty sure I can’t set a course record in a chair! We weren’t the efficient machine I was hoping for, but we had a lot of laughs, and she kept me fed, hydrated, and rolling on schedule. She has now been drafted into my pool of forever crew, from which there is no escape.
The volunteers controlling the intersection at the stop sign on the 11 mile short loop did an amazing job of keeping things under control. I only had to yield to other cyclists once, and they kept all traffic under control. Cars were stacking up periodically, and I felt like my life was literally in the hands of those volunteers as they held everyone back so I could barrel through the intersection without slowing down. In order to avoid slower cyclists and cars, I ended up threading the needle between the two volunteers each time, and they never flinched. They were fantastic.
There was far more traffic this year at that intersection and on highway 98 than there had been last year. It was quite a circus. I felt like I was choking to death on car exhaust. Very different from last year, and much more stressful. Only one car honked at me the entire day, but he took time to roll down his window and yell at me before cutting me off and forcing me to nearly stop to avoid his rear bumper. Between the traffic, Rob breaking his collar bone, crew switching, and random angry men yelling at me, it was a very stressful race compared to last year and more work than usual to keep a good attitude.
There is so much to think about in terms of time management in 24 hour racing. You need to plan and consider each detail of your stops and when they will happen. Time off the bike is just that, time off the bike, and the less time you spend moving, the fewer miles you accrue. I tried to minimize my stopped time throughout the event, but at night there were more things that needed to be done, and I had to stop for them. I needed to put full winter clothing on because the temperature dropped rapidly as the sun set. I wore a wool base layer, long sleeve winter weight jersey, tights, and wool socks. I switched from vented triathlon shoes to full cycling shoes with winter shoe covers. Initially I wore only lightweight cotton gloves, but later added lobster claw mittens and a windproof coat. Full winter ninja cycling gear.
I had my clothing bag organized so that I pulled out what I needed in the order that I put it on. Very much like an Ironman transition bag. And my shoe covers were already on my spare shoes, so I saved a few minutes not needing to wrestle them on. I also made another stop to air up my tires, as I had latex tubes and they just don’t make it 24 hours without going soft. I needed to charge my Garmin and my light, but my charger had disappeared in the chaos of the day and was no longer in my gear bag. Rob had come over to the track to help out with crewing and tried to help me find it, but he was pretty limited with his broken collar bone and one arm. We had some laughs about the situation, and I did have a spare that I found straight away. I also had a spare USB cable, but it was super long and I had a big mess of cable flopping around on the front of my bike driving me crazy for the next 10 hours. Yet again, I was not the machine of transition efficiency that I aspire to be. But I am improving.
Brian Arnold came to the track with french fries for me, and I stuffed them in the chest of my jersey. Because I had a wool shirt on, I couldn’t stick them in my sports bra like I normally would, I just zipped the jersey around them. I jiggled my fry cleavage at the guys and took off down pit road, but I didn’t make it very far before the fries slid down my shirt and settled on my stomach, just out of reach. That was a bummer. By the time I got to them several laps later, they were cold and icky.
Because it was cold and I knew I could get away with it, I took in just the bare minimum of fluid. It’s playing with fire, but I’ve done enough self supported training and endurance racing to develop confidence in just where that line is between tolerable dehydration and disaster. In gravel races, you often have long stretches of time with no access to services and only have what food and fluids you can carry. I’ve had a lot of practice at rationing. As a woman and especially at Sebring, stopping to go to the bathroom consumes a huge amount of time. There is really nowhere that doesn’t require a trip far off the road or into a bathroom during the day, or behind a wall on the track at night. The men have a definite time advantage in that regard, especially at night. They were stopping anywhere in the dark and a lot of them didn’t even pull off the track. They don’t even have to get off their bike. Each stop for me took several minutes, and I stopped once during the day on the short loop and twice at night on the track. On one of those night stops, I did not get my tights properly situated in my hurry to get back on the bike, which led to painful chafing. I should’ve stopped to fix it but I didn’t want to waste the time, so by the end of the 24 hours every pedal stroke felt like it was removing skin. It was horrible.
Midnight was a tough moment. It was dark and cold with still over 6 hours to go on that bumpy track. I don’t have accurate temperature records for the night because my Garmin was right next to my light and the warmth from the light made the temperature read much warmer than it felt. Judging from the state of the crew and racers I saw huddled in blankets on pit road, I’m guessing it was every bit as cold and windy as last year.
There were times when I felt cold, especially in the headwind sections, but then I was able to forget about it. I did much better at tuning it out this year than last year. My chemical foot warmer packs were another item that had gotten lost in the gear and crew shuffle, so I did not initially have them when I switched shoes. Rob was later able to locate a set for me, but even though my feet were a little numb I opted not to take the time to put them in. I would’ve had to stop and take off my shoes, which is not a quick thing with shoe covers. It would’ve cost me several minutes. I also considered whether I truly wanted to feel my feet 18 hours into the race, and decided that I really didn’t. I had smashed one of the toes on my left foot prior to the race, and it was still pretty bruised going into the shoe that morning. Judging from the state of my feet the day after the race, I’m really glad I opted not to warm them into full sensation. In a 24 hour race, these are the things you can get away with. In a longer race, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to neglect myself in quite the same manner as I did throughout this race.
Night time nutrition has been and continues to be a struggle for me. Last year at Sebring, there were several hours during the night where I consumed no calories at all and became hypothermic because I no longer had the energy to keep myself warm. Leanne Short took on the majority of the night time crewing hours, and thanks to her support I did manage to keep adequate nutrition going until probably 1am, and then it just became a trickle of chocolate milk and the occasional random stop to have her or Rob shove potato chips in my mouth. I had mittens on by then and couldn’t feed myself. I felt pretty decent until after 5am despite falling off the calorie goal, so it was a huge improvement over last year. I’m not really satisfied with that as this unwillingness to eat or drink during the night appears to be largely mental, and certainly something I should be able to fix in future events.
The finish line was fairly anticlimactic. I finished with time left on the clock because there was not enough time to complete another lap, and only finished laps count. So suddenly it was just done. My time off the bike was 39:35, which was almost 10 minutes longer than I had planned. I was still very satisfied with 460.6 miles and the new Sebring course record, but it was a few days before the accomplishment really set in.
A few days after the event, a friend contacted me about the UMCA 24 hour record. I was not aware of what the record was, or that I had been close to breaking it last year. My mileage total of 460.6 miles at Sebring exceeds that of the current 24 hour record of 439.65 miles. I have since learned that there is a process for establishing UMCA records within events, but I was not aware of it, and did not follow it. The process is laborious, and far better suited to individual record attempts on a small loop. I have no plans or desire to attempt an individual record outside of an event, and plan to remain focused on preparing for the events I have chosen to do.
Thank you to everyone who sent me texts, emails, and messages before, during, and after the event. When I turned my phone on late at night to put my music on, it literally went crazy with all of the messages. I didn’t take the time to read them until after the event, but I was very touched. Thank you!
Thank you to Daren Munroe for stalking the weather and my flights to let me know if I needed to make any changes when I got off the bike. I successfully dodged the ice storm and made it home on time. Even when you are not crewing for me, I find things for you to do 🙂
Thank you to Saraleigh Monroe for jumping in to crew for me last minute during the day, and to Leanne Short for managing most of the night. I couldn’t have stayed on record breaking pace without good support, so you both had a big part in that record. Thank you to Brian Arnold and Rob White for helping out as well. Rob you went above and beyond the call of duty crewing with a broken bone. I will see you in Oceanside.
Mike Wilson, Kyle Robinson, Katherine Roccasecca, and the entire staff of Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply: There are countless little decisions I make over the course of a race. To push the pace when I’m tired, eat when I don’t want to, stay in aero when it’s uncomfortable, and stick it out when the conditions get bad. There are equally as many decisions made during training, and so many ways I could let myself off the hook. I never take it easy, and I never quit. I know that you all have made sacrifices on my behalf, fixed my equipment in a hurry, and spent time helping me to be well prepared for these races. Knowing that you support me and have my back helps me to be fierce out there during races, and stick with it when it gets tough. You guys keep me strong, and I thank you!