Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Reeport

"It was a dark and stormy night".. well no actually it was a beautiful night compared to my hometown of Calgary Alberta where Santas balls were probably frozen to his leg, after the last 3 weeks of -20. In Sebring, we were experiencing a nice and clear evening sky with an all too evident Gulf breeze, blowing across the Florida panhandle from the W/NW. The palm trees swaying to and fro as the sun set around 7pm, Valentines Day, 2014. Tentative forecast was highs of 25 and lows of 7 to 8 for tomorrows 'race day', with official race start for 6:30am... and so off to bed I went.
...But no sleep would be found; as I tossed and turned relentlessly, my heart rate pounding and not able to relax my body. Emotional queries running through my tired mind of the journey that led me here, and the past two years since my last 'event'. My two roomies were out enjoying the night with some other race volunteers, leaving me to rest, as I tossed and turned. Them arriving back to the room around 2am, myself still awake, we chatted a bit.
With my pre race alarm clock set for 5:10am I rolled over once again to check the time, "4:40am... might as well get up", I thought to myself. I was just starting to feel tired, but have a 24 hour race to go do, tentatively.
After a quick plate of scrambled eggs and a coffee, my two support Bro's Trev and Brad round me up from the restaurant and we head over to the Start Chute with my Enduro ready Bianchi Infinito; I estimate there were probably 60-70 riders in total, in various categories.  I know of 7-8 world class Ultra Marathon riders here from around the world, but whatever, I'm not here to beat them or contest anything as pretentious as a pre determined win, it's mid February for gods sake, I'm from Canada,  and I've ridden outside maybe 12 times since November. 
I wish Speed Theory Mike Healy good luck, he looks solid and prepared as always. And like a good Irish lad we both enjoyed a cold beer the night prior, catching up a bit.
The race Start goes off with a blast, and already the pace is hot, 45-47 km/hr. You need to understand that within the Mass start are several other racing categories,  the Century race, the 12 hour, and two 24 hour events, Drafting allowed, and Non Drafting 'RAAM Qualifier', then each divided into the Bike Category, Standard, recumbent,  etc.
After 15 kilometers I'm in an early break with 5 other riders... and we're slaying it; like Berserker retards I think to myself. Problem is; only myself and one other  rider are in the full 24 hour, and we Really Dont Need to be going this fast! But I need to stay on so I dont lose Claudio and vice versa so we each battle on.
This scenario was a total bi-polar opposite of the two years previous event I was in where a huge peloton stuck together for nearly the entire Century race, allowing conservation of energy etc... not this time.
Nearing the end of the Century event there were 4 of us, being driven by Marko Baloh (Current Guinness World Record Holder for most Miles ridden in 24 hours on a Track) and Ultra standard 12 hour racer Kurt Searvogel from Arkansas who just wanted to ride Berserker was all I could guess? Basically pulling through from 45-46km/hr and ramping us all up near 50???
Boom!!! I get blown off about 5 km from the finish of the Century race and Claudio has to attack and bridge under enormous effort to regain Kurt and Markos wheel.

"Well ok, here I am now", I tell myself, nearly bonked, alone, in 2nd position, 20+ hours racing to go. Claudio is with two guys who will either destroy him, or tow him along for their 12 hour race? Either way I need to collect my shit and get my head screwed back on and remain steady.. riding into the West wind... I make it to the Sebring Track/ Century Finish. I enjoy a feed from my guys and then roll out onto the 17km 'Short Loop'. Within two laps I catch Claudio. .. and we are once again competing for 1st, I didn't really get the sense that anyone was catching up to us anytime soon either. I ask him again to confirm he's in the 24 event, in broken English he says "Yeah, I am in 1st".
Ok then, he thinks I'm in the 12 hour maybe? huh...

Back to Claudio, the man is a fully fledged Solo RAAM Finisher, times 4, and probably the most prominent Endurance cyclist in South America, definitely Brazil, fully sponsored by Specialized. Built like a brick shithouse as well, he more resembles a Mayan Incredible Hulk, rather than the svelt Euro Pro physique of the likes of Marko Baloh... but oh man was this guy powerful.
After so many laps on the short loop I've recovered enough that Claudio and I are rolling well, but I can tell he's fading a little on the one climb. Exactly at the 8.5 hour mark, we pass 300km completed, his Garmin matching my Cateye Odometer.. dang not only are we on Course Record pace, we're in World Record neighborhood! But 16 hours to go?

Into the next lap I place a well timed attack on Claudio on the one and only 'hill' of the entire event, and it works!! Bam, I make a break and stick it hard, I know I have two more laps alone on the short loop and then will be onto the Sebring Raceway, where my cornering ability will shine through. Knowing I probably can't drop Claudio anywhere else, this is my only chance...

At the 12 hour mark, Marko Baloh has dropped knuckle dragger Kurt for the 12 HOUR Win, and the rest of us 24 hour saps are directed onto the raceway.  I'm clearly ahead of Claudio by 5 minutes or more now, and knowing I have solid cornering ability on the race track I slowly increase my lead, meter by meter, second by second.. as the sun starts to set, and I've now been awake for 34 hours.
Somewhere around the 17 hour Racing mark, I lap Claudio on the race track and he's now a full lap (13minutes or so) behind me, but more so suffering that psychological blow, I know, I can feel it. But once again we are together as men battling our own demons in this common outlet known as Ultra. We count the hours down, we fend off other attacks and riders who are 4-5 laps down on us.. trying to drop us, lap us, make up time somewhere. .. as we go round and round, drilling it continuously.

It gets very cold, near freezing.. my support team has been the foundation of success and although I contemplate a DNF for my own safety, after falling asleep on my bike; I turn it into anger and adrenaline and continue driving, driving, driving, driving...
My event finishes at 6:30am February 16, I've won the 24 Hour,  drafting legal event, barely, a simple flat tire or puncture and Claudio could have easily rode away from me. Instead, crossing the finish line together with my new friend from Brazil,  my new brother,  a fellow Ultra champion, we are both exhausted and elated.
I/we, didnt break any records and that wasnt really a goal. But if the stars aligned there is potential there that's for sure, but man we battled some high winds and some cold temps that basically hampered all attempts at the course record. I think I figured out I would have had to average the last 6 hours at 36km/hr to make up for the Bonk recovery hours...

Overall I think I managed 465 miles (755 kilometres)? Or somewhere about 4.5 Ironman loops in a row, on a flat flat course, with no coasting.
Then.. I miss my Medal award presentation as I was in the bathroom, releasing the other demons... but heading back to my room and shower with a New medal for the collection, I've now been awake for 50 hours, a new PB :) ... and somehow, managed a victory in between.
I'd like to thank my support team Trevor and Brad, and my Coach Preston Smith at Winsport, and of course all my homies and friends who cheered from afar, thank you!
... I need a massage.