It started like this. Matt Struckman, of @2timingGuys notoriety, messaged out “Who wants to race as a 24 hour 5-person coed team for the #Wausau24 at the end of July? That gives us 4 weeks to find some fitness. Sunny, the coed part is very dependent on you…” To which I responded, “I’m game.”
ASIDE: I rarely say "no" to team endurance events without seriously considering them (remnants of my childhood humiliation of getting picked last for team sports in gym class?). This is exactly how I ended up racing as part of a 4-man adventure team for a few years, always competitive and winning a few 12- and 18-hour(!), and spending countless hours burning calories in the woods with only a paper map to guide us (ironically with two guys I went to middle school with!). This is also how I found myself flying halfway across the country in 2010, being picked up by a stranger, and racing on an elite Masters running team in the Hood-to-Coast Relay with strangers (who are now friends, Go Slughunters!). I was invited back year-after-year to help break the 20 hr mark, leap-frog-running for 200 miles, and collecting accolades.
Back to the #Wausau24.
Only one of our teammates, we would find out later, had ever done a 24-hour team mountain bike event. I had done one 24-hour team running event for charity (brutal, on an indoor track). And my years of racing Hood-to-Coast left me with a sense of what would be required physically and mentally. Not-to-mention the certainty that I would be riding through the woods in the middle of the night, cold, hungry, tired, and exhilarated. Who wouldn’t say, yes to that?
So, what is involved?
10 AM A lemans start - somewhere in the ballpark of 200 mountain bikers, running (there were 600+ entrants, a record). The lead-off man (in this case, woman, yours truly) runs in helmet and bike shoes, to where the bikes have been lain in a corral, some distance from the start line. I sort of remembered where I stowed my bike, thanks to years of transition practice for triathlons. Once located at the far end of the transition - no sense in having it near the front and then having to navigate through a herd of helmeted runners. At which point, if you’re me - flying cyclocross mount that full suspension! And I'm off, hopefully in the right direction.
Note about Pre-ride: On my pre-ride the day before, I made on wrong turn and ended up riding backwards on the course. Once I got turned around, I was rewarded with the opportunity to ride with Amanda and Scott, eventual winners of the two-person coed 12-hour event!
My teammates wait anxiously at the start, Brandon ready for the hand-off, and his crack at the single track. I kept it rubber-side down, by riding aggressively enough to have put the team in a good place (no way of knowing during the race, but I handed off in 3rd in our division). The leap-frogging with other teams ensues. And with a 5-man relay, there are combinatorial ways to put a line-up together. Only two rules - everyone must do within two laps of everyone else. I.e., if I do 5 laps, everyone else must do at least 3 laps. No fair having your fastest rider do a bunch of laps! By the end of the first round, we were holding on to a small lead. But with only 5 hours down, and 19 to go, including several night laps, anything can happen.
Over the course of the day, we endured whatever weather. Partly cloudy, the threat of rain at one point (oh please, God, no). Some, heat, but nothing like Missouri in July. Basically, perfect conditions. My first lap may have been the fastest female lap of the race! But, it takes a team, and my guys delivered.
The race was not without its challenges. Our lead extended and shrank, never getting out of range of an ill-timed flat tire. Or, electronic snafoos: One night lap complete at 9:00 PM (my 3rd of five), I plugged my lights into the charger, ate some food, and headed to the transition to watch the next exchange. The charger is plugged into a generator. And the generator turns out not to be on. Hmmmm… Which doesn’t really dawn on me until 2:30 AM when I am ready at the start line to take the exchange from Sean. My handlebar mounted light starts to blink (the indication that its charge is spent). My headlamp is probably not far behind. Brandon sprints to the camp to grab his handlebar mount, and we get it positioned as Sean rolls in.
Ride fast, carry lights
Within 10 minutes, my handlebar light is dead, and I switch to Brandon’s. The trail is twisty, and the helmet light is key. Without it, I might only be able to see 10 yds of trail in front of me before we hit a turn, berm, bump, or rock garden. On the previous lap, I was the cream in an oreo trio of fasties, including the eventual two-man 12-hour winners(!). The lead lit our way in an epic fast-paced bob-and-weave that had us all repeating over and over "that was fun" as we exited the woods and approached the start/finish. But, that was not to be on this second night lap. My helmet-mounted light began to fade half-way through Ho Chi Minh, the technical section with rocks the size of toasters, basketballs, and the occasionally sea turtle. I poured on the gas to complete it before I lost the head lamp, success, but failure.
Yang and Yin
The twists of Yang-and-Yin were coming up. I tried not to let myself think about it. Glad to have at least some light, thanks to Brandon's quick feet and quick thinking. I realized as I plunged into this section of trail, that I would need to let off the gas, ride loose, and accelerate out of every - and there were a lot of them - corner. Thank goodness for the woman with the squeaky toy in the woods. That sounds would herald the eventual end of a section that took me 14 minutes - 4 minutes longer than any of my other laps!
My team and I rode through the night, a glorious moon, all but blotted out by the thick trees on the single-track. As dawn approached, Brandon and I knew we would be doing a 5th lap. I donned the last of the clean chamois and sport bras that had accompanied me on this trip (absolutely essential). No lights needed for this lap. I took the high-five from Sean, and bolted into the woods. On this last of five laps, I felt like I knew every rock, stump, and root. I railed corners chasing the invisible riders whom I'd been riding "with" for 24 hours. My goal was to lay a down a lap that would inspire Brandon. And, as I rounded the corner for the exchange at the end of my lap, rubber-side down the whole time, I informed him that I had put down a respectable 1:04 and that he better get crushing!
All together we rode 22 laps of the ~11.6 mile loop in 24 hours, or ~255 miles. According to my Garmin, I burned 3,999 calories (yeah, it was probably more like 4,000). Good thing we supped on Red Eye Brewing burgers the night before. We topped the podium, made some new friends, and vowed that we would be back to experience this fantastic race in the Nine-Mile Forest again.