12 Hour Bike Race at Sebring - Feb 16, 2013
Well, the morning after the night before and everything feels relatively good all things considered. There was no crying like a baby yesterday despite an unrelenting wind that seem to buffet us in most directions and despite the unflorida like temperatures, there were no rains and enough sun to give our pale winter white skin a sunburn. So all good. In terms of the results, they can be found below. BCC put up a good showing, with 3 top 10 finishes in the bike category. Jonathan and I tied for 6th and James was 10th. In our age category - the middle aged, you think you are still "Young" bucks category, we were tied for 2nd and 4th.
My overall impressions and thoughts about this event. The Bike Sebring 12/24 hour race is an excellent, well run bike race. For a race that covers a 100 mile long route and a different 13 mile short loop, this is well signed, and lots of volunteers. For those who ride the hairshirt ride locally (niagara falls and back) you will know that it is entirely self supported. In this case there is an expectation that you self support but volunteers provide lots in the way of nutrition and liquids at strategically placed aide stations. The route itself is very safe and allows for no stopping given the nature of the route, rolling all stop signs is possible with little concern over traffic. At key intersections, volunteers and police ensure you make it through safely.
The race day and race itself.
With the veteran James at the helm, we had completed our shopping on Friday. Who would know the amount of stuff that three guys would need to race for 12 hours. 3 coolers, 8 mini cokes each, PB, jam, fig newtons, cliff bars, gatorade, v8, milk???, specialty sandwiches, advil, 4 x 4l jugs of water, hawaiian buns (these are a thing of beauty with pb&J), and of course heineken! We carb loaded twice at Olive Garden on friday in prep. James wanted to be at the start line for 6am at the latest (6:30am start) and so counting backwards, we had to be up for 4am to have breakfast at the ihop at 5. Everything went smoothly, greatly aided by James knowing exactly what he was doing and JT and I along for the ride.
Unlike triathlons and UCI bike races these ultramarathon cycling events are a labour of love for the race organizers and competitors. I say this because they require significant planning and yet the number of competitors is a quarter of the typical event. The good news is that there isn't lineups everywhere and things are accessible with no delays to be built into your planning time. There was a good buzz going on as we parked the van near the turnaround area inside the pit at sebring. We would pass this spot a total of 10 times during the race and it became our pit stop every couple of laps of the short course. We got to the start line at 6:20am, time to get some last minute instructions, take a couple of pictures and be ready for the start. Funny, how despite having at least 12 hours in front of you or perhaps 24, people still get hyped at the start line. Within 20 feet there were 2 crashes. Scratch your head. Later we would have a guy move past us with ripped shorts and bandages up his arm, no doubt the result of a crash on the race course.
You start in the pitch black on the 3.7 mile loop of the race course. This takes some acclimatization as you try and figure out who can ride a straight line. Unique to this type of event is the very large contingent of recumbents. These guys are fast but you are always trying to figure out how they fit in. Too low to draft off them, yet they take up a large chunk of asphalt. After 3 laps you exit the race track as daylight hits and make your way out on the long lap that will take us 100 miles in total before we return to the racetrack and start the short laps. The first 50 miles went very well as we knocked off 28 minute 10 mile sections, ahead of plan and yet still only ticking over about 205 watts, well within zone 2 work effort. Seemed like everyone in our group of 10 or so was prepared to take a turn at the front except one rider who was 76!! We felt he had well earned the right to sit in the pocket. The turn around arrived in no time at all and everything felt great. A quick stop for facilities (the orange grove grows really well with all of the irrigation at this point). The wind had largely been in our face going up, and so we expected a good tail wind coming south. It really didnt happen as the wind had started its shift to a westerly. Cross winds are never supportive! The boys from Toronto, as we came to be known where being supported by a young guy (they are all young guys at this point) from tampa on a fixie and a couple of others who would fade in and out. It is interesting to watch people decide that they can step it up, break from the group, work themself silly only to be gobbled up again by our little train.
One thing I learned from my ATOC experience is listening to Chris Carmichael - Where there is a wheel there is a way. If you aren't pulling the group then get on a wheel - added effort hanging out in the wind is wasted effort!!! All great advice and should have been headed by many yesterday. Another piece of advice was keep drinking. You can't let your body go into deficit of nutrition or hydration. I managed that very effectively yesterday although at times the stomach felt bloated, it just meant I needed to sip water and let things settle which they did.
We made it back down with little incident with the last 5 or 6 miles going directly west into the teeth of the wind. There was an expectation of 20-25km/h winds with gusts to 40 and we felt all of that at this point. We got back to the start line and did a quick regroup at the van. The 20k loop would be interesting, we would come out of the race track with the wind in the face going west, turn south for a few kms and the sidewind was a bit to overcome, followed by a 5km or so westerly "climb" into the teeth of the wind, 8 kms of easterly rolling terrain and then the reward - 5km of down hill, down wind fun. (note defn of climb and downhill is probably about 5m of vertical!!!). This went on for 9 laps, and while one might think you get bored, for me I was looking forward to the climb as something to overcome with steady power, and then regroup, then let it all out on the downhill. It became a real rhythm. At 5:27pm with dusk setting in, they brought us onto the race track, at this point James pushed JT and me to go get 3 laps done, figuring that we could knock it off with 11 mins laps. After a bit of back and forth, Jonathan and I took off to try and get it done. The key is that any partial lap doesn't count, so if you don't complete that last lap by 6:30pm, you have wasted the effort (at least for the official result). Jonathan had some left in the tank and ramped up the effort, it was all that I could do to hang onto the wheel, but as highlighted above, where there is a wheel...... We were blowing past riders, trying to make sure nobody could grab our wheel. Frankly at this point, i don't think there was anyone out there who had the energy to try and hang onto us. The wind was constant, with little relief given there are few straightaways. Of course the back straight was directly into the wind. We clocked 2 laps at just over 10 minutes fighting the back straight each time. This meant that we had a decision to make, with 11 mins 40 seconds left, could we bust another lap? I figured it was still left in us, so off we went for one more hot lap. Again, jonathan was finding energy where there was little left so I just hung on. Nobody paid attention to us at this point as the crazies were pushing through. By the time we hit the back stretch, we had precious time left and I had been redlining. JT said he would lead us out and after 30 secs yelled out he was spent and done. I yelled at him that we weren't giving up and to grab the wheel, because we werent leaving this effort out there. I pulled through and we kept the pedals turning. As we made the last turn back to the finish line, we could see the clock left us with 45 seconds to finish and there was now a tail wind - yesssss. We crossed the line together with 32 seconds to spare, fully spent. We immediately found james (who had flatted on his last lap and brought it home on his rim) and had congratulatory high fives all around. After, we would find out that indeed we had been delivering some hot laps, the last two being done in an identical 10:42, the fastest of the day (the don't record the morning laps individually) by 25 seconds.
A great day had come to an end. 12 hours is tough even on a flat course. It was extremely well run, well signed course and two great riders/boys of BCC to spend 19 hours with. At the end of the 12 hr day, we put it in a very good effort. Was there more to give - maybe, but we worked together extremely well and each pulled the other through some tough spots. I greatly appreciate JY and JT welcoming me aboard at the last minute and letting my partake in the grind. Two guys who you want at your side as you push through these types of mentally tough rides. I can't wait to follow their exploits when they race the two man RAW (oops let the cat out of the bag!). It would be hard to ride this on your own as the RAAM riders were doing, a very tough adventure, mentally and physically. Funny, one of the biggest challenges for me is soreness of the neck. Legs are good, shoulders a bit tight, but otherwise none the worse for wear.
This is a race that BCC should put on the calendar. Stay at the inn on the lake, and ask for a room in the main hotel facing the lake. Ask for a very late check out even perhaps paying for an extra night as you need a hot shower following this race.