Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sebring 24 Hour Bike Race Report

Race Start

The Sebring 12/24 hour bike race took place Saturday, start time 6:30 AM. I came down here last year and did the 12 hour event. My overall impression was that I would never try the 24 hour race, it seemed out of reach. The weather in central Florida in February can seem quite nice from the perspective of a Calgary winter, in 2013 it was cool and windy, by 6 PM it started to get really cold. All day the wind was up, around 25 mph. It was good to get off the bike and have a hot shower.

In late 2013 I decided to do the race again and signed up for the 24 hour race. I felt I could always stop anytime and didn’t have to go 24. And we all know the other reason - do it because it is there. There are 2 categories in the 24 hour race, a draft legal race and a RAAM (non draft) qualifier. The RAAM qualifier is hard core, to qualify for RAAM the minimum mileage in 24 hours is 400 and you need to be fully supported, no stopping for lunch! When I arrived in Sebring on Friday evening I looked at the race roster and noticed everyone in my age group had signed for the RAAM qualifier, so all I needed to do was show up on Saturday and I would win my age group!

This year’s race had a lot of elite competitors including Marko Baloh, holder of a few world records for endurance cycling. The forecast was for a sunny and windy day with temps dropping to about 5 degrees C at night, winds up to 20 mph during the day so probably not a day for breaking records. The 24 hour record for draft legal race is held by Chris Ragsdale at 502 miles.

Already riding solo
A few people have asked me why I signed up for the 24 hour race, the easy answer is I’m trying to find my endurance limits, that seems to satisfy their curiosity. And it’s probably a fair answer. Stephen Kenny introduced me to the world of randonneering last year and I did a 200, 300 and 400 km series which seemed to go ok. Two weeks before Sebring I did the 300 km Gila Monster in Arizona so I felt I was in good enough shape to try the 24.  In the motorsport scene, Sebring is known as the most punishing track in the world, if something is going to break, it will break here.

Nothing really broke for me. I was tired, all contact points were sore, my gut was angry, but I seemed to be able to just crank out the miles at a reasonable pace for a long time. I found my limits - I just could not stay warm. The temps dropped by about 1 degree C for every hour after sunset, by midnight it was single digits. Sometime before midnight I stopped riding and took about 45 minutes to get in my car, warm up with some soup and change clothes. I brought what I consider winter riding gear for Calgary and I put on about 4 layers of thermal clothing, more than I would wear on a minus 15 degree commute in Calgary. Yet I still shivered and could not retain heat. Eighteen hours on a bike can do that I guess. Possibly dehydration related?

I didn’t have a clear goal going into the race, as the race progressed I thought I could get to 550 km, I adjusted that goal to 500 km sometime after midnight. My Garmin shut down after 18 hours use and my brain had trouble calculating as well so it all became a bit fuzzy and I really didn’t care in the end. The format for the last 12 hours is to ride around the 3.5 mile Sebring road race track. Everyone’s support crew was located in pit lane so food and bottles were handed off to the guys who didn’t want to stop. For those of us who welcomed a break every now and then, we just zip into the pits and refuel.

On Stephen’s rando rides we stop for a break and some food about every 100 k and that seemed to work well. That became my plan for this ride.

The format for the Sebring 24 is to start the day with 3 laps of the track then go out into the central Florida flatlands for a 100 mile out and back through mostly orange groves and farmland. There are almost no hills and almost always wind. Then there is an 11 mile loop around Sebring which you repeat until close to 5:30 PM when you are directed back into the race track. If you are doing the 12 hour ride you may only get 3 to 5 laps in before 6:30 PM however if you are doing the 24 hour race you could be doing anywhere from 30 to 80 laps depending on your speed.

The usual mix of cyclists and equipment was evident at the start line. Regular bikes, full on time trial bikes with discs, recumbents, old school and very high tech bikes. There was one fully enclosed recumbent style bike, he did close to 500 miles, every time he passed me on the track cruising at about 42 kmh it sounded like a Prius. I wondered what kind of motor it had!

My Roubaix seemed like a sensible choice for the 24. Clip-on aerobars were absolutely necessary, for the aero advantage and to facilitate a riding position where you can rest your hands and arms. One thing that would have been great is Di2. My hands got very sore from changing gears all the time (first world problem). Both GoPro and Garmin need to cater to the ultracycling community and offer longer battery life.

Anyway enough of a preamble and on to the race report.

The girls in pink were too fast
At the start of this race, as with many races, the pace starts off really fast. A few groups of riders try to shake off the wheelsuckers and then the pace settles. I had no hope or interest in being in the lead pack, the second pack was also too fast for me and even a third pack was a little on the fast side for a 24 hour race. So I settled into a no-pack solo race right from the start. I rode with 3 other riders for maybe 25 km, it seemed like a perfect pace until these guys stopped for their support crew and took a break. That was really it for pack racing for me. The 100 mile out and back was uneventful and I rolled back into Sebring in under 6 hours. I felt good even though fighting the wind a fair bit.

My 6 or 7 loops around Sebring town were also uneventful and I was back on the racetrack at 5:30 PM looking forward to 13 hours of riding on the track. I stopped to eat, add a layer and put on some lights. A big shout out to Dallas Morris and his support crew Trev and Brad, those guys also became my support crew and helped me through the night.

 I don’t know how many laps I did and I would also say it was not monotonous at the time, there was always something going on, the front of the race became quite interesting and as they lapped me every so often I had a front row seat. I was also amazed to see the hard core RAAM qualifiers racing, they seemed to never get out of their time trial position and just kept cranking the laps probably 10 kmh faster than me. It was just the cold that got me in the end. I had enough after 23 hours knowing I had gone over 500 k and I didn't have any competition in my age group. I had no idea I was high up in the overall race. I had no reason to ride for another hour.

It was interesting that my heart rate for the first 100 miles was up in the 150 range, I tried to limit it but at the same time not conserve too much. I also tried to limit my power output and not surge much. Then for maybe the last 8 hours, riding solo around the track my heart rate was at 132, no more, no less. My legs could probably not work any harder.

Dallas won the 24 hour solo event logging 464 miles. He spent the last few hours riding with the second placed guy who was one lap down. I’m sure he will have his own race report. I managed 6th overall with 315 miles. Currently not contemplating any long distance events.


Ken Erdman said...

Mike, congratulations on your great effort and results at Sebring and thanks for the fascinating story, which I really enjoyed reading.

Trev said...

Great report Mike. Thank you for writing that up!


AAR said...

Awesome job Mike! Nicely done.


ECosman said...

Great read Mike, congratulations!

Bow Cycle said...

Mike, congratulations! Those ultra distances are incredible tough and you put up a great number!

Clarence Poon said...

that's some crazy ass riding Mike !

congrats !


Emily said...

Awesome report, congratulations Mike!

Rick C said...

Very impressive ride Mike. Very.

Scott Curry said...

You're a legend! Congrats Mike!

Darryl said...

You need to re-think the ultra race thing. The longer it goes the stronger you get. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Impressive Mike.. And partly insane:) Well done!

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