RacenLog July 13, 2007


Welcome to the third installment of my RacenLog. It's been an exciting month to race, with many new events and experiences now under my belt. I hope that this RacenLog will encourage you to give racing a try and to join the Rapid Wheelmen Race Team.

There are perks (free stuff!) to joining the Race Team. Join or find out more by calling me at 616-633-8601, join our yahoogroup at RWRace@Yahoogroups.com, or email me at race@rapidwheelmen.com. I know some of you are racing as Rapid Wheelmen who aren't on the team. If you're one of them, join the team by contacting me. There's no downside, only camaraderie and free stuff!


National 24 Hour Challenge (June 16-17, 2007)
Race Team Racers (RTRs): Joel Bierling (443 miles)

The most physically challenging event of my life. That was what was in my head as I prepared to ride the National 24 Hour Challenge (N24HC). Also were my words of a year ago as I berated a few fellow Rapid Wheelmen for doing something as crazy as riding a bike for 24 hours straight. Though, at the time I did say that given the rapidly increasing time I was spending on my bike, I just might be that crazy in a year. Truer words couldn't be spoken. Crazy I've become.

I'd heard that most of the participants had a crew supporting their ride. So I asked my wife if she'd mind staying up all night serving me food and drink. She said yes; she must love me. It would be tricky, as we have a 7 month old. So, we arranged to have my mother take care of him starting at 5am and then trading off to Sara's parents taking over watching duties in the afternoon and bringing him to the race, since he still needs his mother. So things started coming together. Now for planning for the riding. What to ride, how to ride, what to eat, what to drink?

I have a variety of cycling equipment, some of which I use for competitive racing around a circuit, some I use for time trialing, and some I use for training and casual riding. The challenge with the N24HC is that it's a combination of all three. Much of it is, for all practical purposes, circuit racing. But at any minute you could find yourself all alone time trialing. You also want to use equipment that's up for the punishment and is going to get you through the whole day. Another part of the equation was the night riding. I had a perfectly adequate lighting system for 3 hour rides, but nothing that would get me through 7+ hours of darkness. In the end, I decided to use my disc wheel and aero helmet.

Depending on the exertion level, you can potentially burn about twice as much energy as you can eat. That difference is usually fine during shorter rides, since your body also stores enough energy for a couple hours without having to eat anything at all. But if you need to keep going for 24 hours, that difference becomes a bit of a problem. The whole nutrition thing is a balancing act. If you don't eat enough, your body will run out of fuel. If you eat too much, it will just sit in your stomach. Much of my preparation for the event was figuring out how much food and drink to bring along. So I did my best to plan out my eating and drinking.

Hopefully both the bike and I would survive the experience.

Post ride/race report.

Summary/stats: 8am Sat - 8am Sun. 443 miles. Highs in the mid to high 80's. 4th overall out of 366 riders. (502 miles, 458, 450, 443, 426, ...). Total pedaling time was about 22:56, not including the time left at the end (partial laps didn't count). My stopped time was about 53 minutes. 19.3 mph moving average.

The N24HC is billed as an individual challenge ride, but make no mistake about it, among at least the guys in front, it's a race. It's a race to personally do well, it's a race to stay with a group for a draft, and it's a race to ride more miles than the guy riding next to you.

The first loop went well. I was planning on picking up some food at the first checkpoint, but as I rode through I couldn't find the official food stand. It would have been helpful if it were a little more obvious. But I had plenty of food with me and I didn't want to lose the lead group, so I kept on pedaling. I was considering stopping for a nature break but decided against it. In retrospect I probably had plenty of time, since other riders were stopping and others were somehow managing to do it from their bikes. What a skill!

The ride to the second checkpoint on the first loop was uneventful, other than one of the riders trying to get a proper pace line going. A few riders were insisting on pulling though so I finally mentioned that we might as well just let them. I did end up needing to stop for a nature break though and had a little worry about catching the group, but I managed to time trial myself back on. Thankfully this was probably the only point during the day where I had to put myself a little into the red zone, putting my long term endurance at risk. At the second stop I managed to find the official food stop and grabbed a couple bananas.

We kept rolling on through the rest of the first loop. One of the riders who would later go on to win the event kept trying to get more people to pull to increase the pace above 22+mph. At this point, I think most of the riders that had been insisting on pulling had burnt off their extra energy and had gone into energy conservation mode rather than “look how fast I am” mode. There was some frustration at the slowish pace (it probably could have been 23-24mph) and at one point a break was tried (it's easier to get a real pace line going if everyone in the group is helping), but the "break" got bridged and that was that.

By the time we completed the first loop and arrived back at the school, the lead group had been whittled down to 12 riders. I hurried through the checkpoint, grabbing a sandwich from my wife Sara on the way because I didn't want to lose the lead group. I felt kind of bad for Sara since I couldn't explain why I wasn't staying to chat a little. A group of 5 formed after leaving the school for our trek around the second loop. At the point I lost the leader on the second time around the second loop (while I was taking another nature break—I guess I have to learn to do this on the move!) the lead group was a group of two. After my second second loop, I switched socks and adjusted my shoes too. I hadn't been using insoles in my shoes, and my feet were killing me.

At this point the N24HC was probably pretty much an individual event for most of the riders. I hooked up with a few others, but usually lost them after every checkpoint. I used my aero helmet until roughly 3:45pm when I switched to my lightweight vented one, and it was actually after that point that I felt the pressure of the heat. I wasn't hungry or thirsty, which was a bad sign. But I recovered from that within an hour or so, and after that felt fine.

Around 7:50pm I switched to the night loop. While the rider density was higher, I kept riding mostly by myself (or pulling with a couple brief drafts) mainly because I couldn't realistically keep up with the one group going faster than me. This group was made up of the eventual winner and as I found out later, several other riders who were specifically helping him by pulling him around the night loop. I couldn't keep up with his group without killing myself; there weren't any other groups going slower than his or faster than I could go alone. Perhaps more significantly though, I came to the epiphany during the night that I just don't enjoy riding in pace lines while it's dark.  There's a certain zen that's lost when your headlight is brightly lighting up some other guy's butt right in front of you (one guy's butt was soaked and literally dripping with some sort of chamois cream).  Plus, my riding style during the night wouldn't have worked too well in a group. During the flat parts of the loop I was constantly accelerating and decelerating to vary the effort so I could stay out of the saddle more than just when I was going up the hill. My butt needed the break!

Aero equipment wise, as I mentioned, I ended up using my disc and didn't have any trouble with it. The winner was using a softride time trial bike after the first loop and used an aero helmet at night. There was one other person who wasn't among the top riders using a disc. So, other than the three of us, there was no other aero equipment in use.

If I changed any equipment next year it would probably be to mount my helmet light to my aero helmet for night use, as I rode alone almost the whole time, and the air was plenty cool. Other than that, I was happy with my equipment choices. I'm sure the aero stuff didn't help me a whole lot, but when you're riding that distance for that length of time, every little bit helps.

There is one thing I think I could improve. I didn't realize how much the little stops to switch water/food, chat for a second to my crew, and hit the porta jon would add up. While I technically did just stay on my bike, only stopping for bathroom breaks, getting food/drink passed off, and mounting lights for the night, I think I could have taken 20 minutes off the downtime had I been more conscious of the time I was burning in little chunks.

There is one more thing I'll mention. I had a close call around 3am where I and 6 others were approaching a 4-way-stop intersection staffed by a sheriff standing in the middle with lights. A car just blew right through the intersection at what must have been 50mph or so. The sheriff could have been easily hit, never mind some of the cyclists.

Except for the late afternoon heat and the period around 5:30am where I couldn't quite see the end in sight yet, I had a great time. With only 10 more minutes I could have completed another lap, gotten a 450-mile pin instead of a 400-mile one, and tied for 3rd overall with 450 miles. Oh well, there's always next year. ;-)


Rapid Wheelmen Time Trails (June 25, July 2/9, 2007)
RTRs (June 25): Joel Bierling (35:45)
Others: Well everyone there is a Rapid Wheelmen member, so how come they're not all on the race team? Hint hint hint…
It was a hot day but I was determined to stop my backward slide in times. I managed that to some degree, but still not at my peak.

RTRs (July 2): Joel Bierling (36:09)
Out for a nice Monday ride ;-)

RTRs (July 9): Joel Bierling (36:42)
I was absolutely sure I was going to get rained on at some point so my enthusiasm was lacking, and the result showed. I also decided to use my deep dish back wheel rather than my disc. I wanted to mix things up a bit and I figured the disc wheel wouldn't fare as well in a rainstorm. The rainstorm never actually materialized but I wasn't too disappointed with my result since I was hoping to conserve some energy for Grattan and, more importantly, for the events of the coming weekend.


Grattan (June 20/27, July 11, 2007)
RTRs (June 20): Nick Christensen (B's 11th)
I spent the day still recovering from the N24HC, but Nick put in a great result. Good job Nick!

Nick is a new member of the Rapid Wheelmen race team. He's going to help me manage things specifically with the junior development squad. Thanks Nick!

RTRs (June 27): Joel Bierling (A's Pack fodder), Nick Christensen (B's 29th)
I got into a break again, and we pedaled our hearts out. After only 5 laps or so the peloton reeled us back in. Or so I thought. In fact, just after I sat up and resigned myself to getting eaten by the group, the peloton slowed down and the remaining members of the break took off in a renewed effort. Lesson learned—the break isn't over until it's over. Don't give up too soon.

RTRs (July 11): Joel Bierling (A's 8th), Nick Christensen (B's 22nd), Mark Bailey (B's 7th)
We have a new Race Team member for this week. Welcome Mark! Mark is the first rider to join the Rapid Wheelmen race team development squad.

This week I repeated my now normal strategy of starting in the front, but was rewarded with missing the rather large break. “Muttering” to myself, I did my best to help the peloton bring the break back and just 50 ft short of doing so, the peloton basically sat up and stopped. It was sort of a repeat of the previous week, but this time the situation was reversed. I told myself it's now or never, gritted my teeth, and jumped solo after the break. My memory is hazy at this point but after a couple laps or so I finally caught them. Whew! The effort pretty much wiped me out and at the intermediate sprints for points and primes, I mostly took up the rear. But at least I was there and collecting some points. I finally felt somewhat recovered by the final lap and managed to finish 4th in line, 8th overall.


Stay tuned for more next month. I'm doing the 5 Mile Hill Climb cancer research charity ride in a few days and will have a report of the event. We will see how many times I can climb the hill in two hours! Also on the todo list is the Ada Criterium. See you there.