Monday, September 12, 2005
|Photo By Mike Bitton
|Matt Hart at 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Solo Championships
On Saturday, September 3, 2005, at noon, in a light drizzle, I started to run. I was running in my mountain bike shoes with my mountain biking gear on, chamois and all. The run was just less than 1Km, in a circle, around the campgrounds at base II in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. With me were the top endurance mountain bikers in the world. I was competing in my second-ever 24-hour mountain biking event, the creme de la creme of 24-hour mountain bike racing--the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Solo Championship (www.24hoursofadrenalin.com). En masse 150 solo athletes, who qualified via endurance events across the globe, started to run like crazy people who had somehow forgotten they had 24 hours left to ride their bikes. Whatís the rush? The Le Mans start is a tradition in 24-hour mountain bike racing and its purpose is to spread the field out and lessen the inevitable bottlenecks on the trail at the beginning of the race.
Solo 24-hour mountain bike racing began in 1996, until then 24-hour racing had exclusively been a team event. This was until ultra-endurance god John Stamstad decided that he wanted to go it alone. Race directors refused, saying it wasnít possible. So John signed up as a team using four variations of his name, and won the race by himself. And so this wonderfully masochistic sport was born. The races are simple: Ride the course more times than the next guy in a 24-hour period and you win. At stake in Whistler were a $10,000 purse and the prestige of being a world champion.
The course was a 14.3 Km (nine-mile) loop with 460m (1,509 feet) of uphill, climbing the beautiful trails around Lost Lake. It included some very fast, packed gravel trail and some signature Whistler terrain--technical singletrack. The loop ended with a steep dirt road climb of a few hundred feet before a blistering decent to the finish line.
My morning started out much slower than a typical race day. Being an elite adventure racer, Iím not used to sleeping much before a race. A noon start affords you time to sleep in, get organized and eat. Mostly I just ate while my wonderful support crew took care of everything. For this event my support crew consisted of my girlfriend, Tina Vu, Canadian endurance queen and my adventure racing teammate Jen Segger (http://www.dirtworld.com/races/team/dart/segger.asp ), team Purefit adventure racer Duncan Sailors and adventure photographer Mike Bitton (http://www.bittonphoto.com).
After calling each solo athlete up to the start line, we were off, running our loop to the bikes and starting the first lap. I started on the bike in a good spot, Iíd say top 15 riders or so. I knew I wanted to start out pretty fast and stay up front, but I also didnít want to overdo it on my first lap. I finished the first lap in 56 minutes. My second lap was a bit more interesting. During ultra events Iíve found the best fuel for me is Hammer Nutritionís Perpetuem. Problem is when you stack and you donít notice your bottle falls out of you bottle cage; itís hard to drink what you donít have. So on my second hour of a 24-hour event, I bonked! Yep, this was a rookie mistake, no backup fuel, I had the one bottle of Perpetuem and that was it. Iím not sure if I ever fully recovered from that calorie deficit.
Rolling into my pit, I instantly became a princess. Basically I would sit there and my crew, working with NASCAR efficiency, would clean me, change my clothes, make me eat, give me my various e-caps and send me on my way. No messing around, 10 minutes and I was out. The pros that win these events work with the same efficiency but donít even bother to sit and they are out of the pit in seconds--amazing.
As the day wore on, the rain increased to a full-on downpour at times. The trail worsened as massive puddles formed and sections of mud turned to pudding. This weather started to take its toll on the racers, as well as our bikes. The mud and grit piled up in my shorts. Dismounting and remounting my bike felt like I had sandpaper instead of a chamois in my shorts--just awful--and no amount of wet naps would fix it.
Ignoring pain is something Iíve become pretty good at, so I pressed on. Through the day my team would let me know how I was doing. After a few laps, they told me I was in third place. I wasnít riding very fast but this was a pace I felt I could sustain. After four laps (36 miles) my bike started to fall apart, so I took Jenís bike for a lap. The bike geometry made it very difficult to ride the technical sections and she had the new Shimano shifters that I wasnít familiar with. Letís just say it wasnít my prettiest lap.
My 14th lap was one of the hardest. I was not able to shift into my smallest chain ring in the front because my cable housing was packed with dirt. This meant that on the two sections I should have been on my small ring, I had to walk. This was <i>not</i> part of the plan. All I could think about was some random (and possibly incorrect) fact I had read somewhere that biking was five times more efficient than walking.
In the pit after my 15th lap, the crew reassured me that I was most likely still one hour ahead of third place, firmly in second. It might sound strange but, because of my mental state, I was starting to question if they were telling me the truth or not. All I remember them saying was that if I saw number 36 to ride like hell. I started out on my last lap just trying not to kill myself on the dangerously slippery rocks and roots. I wanted to believe I had an hour lead and could just ride safely and take second place. Within 20 minutes I couldnít believe what I saw. A rider passed me, which isnít uncommon because we were sharing 95 percent of our course with team riders. As this rider passed, I glanced at his number plate. To my horror, it was number 36. I started thinking, "Is it 36 or 34? I was riding with number 34 earlier, right? Hmm, I think itís got to be 36Ö. Thatís him!" Number 36 had just passed me and moved into second place. I followed closely for about a minute and just didnít have it in me to stay on his tail and make this a race for 2nd. It broke my heart. I looked deep within myself for further strength and tried to get out of the saddle and climb hard a couple of times, but I was too weak. I wanted to chase him; I wanted to have enough strength to put the hammer down. I just didnít. It was all I could manage to keep pedaling my granny gear up the seemingly endless climb. Finally, at the top of the last climb, I bombed into the finish line at 24:19:10, 14 minutes behind second place. As the announcer called my name and put the medal around my neck for finishing, all I could do was smile with this dazed look on my face. He smiled back and said, "You did awesome, man! You left it all on the course huh?"
Yes, I did.
In this 24-hour period, I rode approximately 144 miles with 24,144 feet of climbing. My epic journey was overÖat least until October when I do it again in Moab.
Matt Hart (http://www.dirtworld.com/races/team/dart/matt.asp) is an elite adventure race with Team DART (http://www.dirtworld.com/team/dart.asp). They are currently ranked 9th in North America. As a solo endurance mountain bike rider, he is sponsored by Hammer Nutrition/E-Caps (http://e-caps.com) and the Downhill Zone (http://www.downhillzone.com). Contact Matt (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org).