My first 24 hour race: Wow, what a day!

Wow!  Where to start?  I was going to title this 523 miles the hard way, but Kurt Searvogel took my title!  Tired minds think alike.  Honestly, he may have had it a bit harder than I did.

Lets get the equipment information out of the way:

Bacchetta Carbon Aero 2.0 Large 700c, Euromesh seat with custom pad. No headrest.

Zipp Firecrest 808 front wheel, HED Jet9 C2 rear with a Wheelbuilder.com cover.

Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 320tpi tires, with Michelin latex tubes, broken in with 300 miles.  See Al Morrison’s data for why I chose this combination.

SRAM 10s drivetrain

Bent Up Cycles Aero Bag

OK, no more plugs for a while.

I have never done very well at Sebring, at least in my own eyes.  I dropped out of the 12hr early on two occasions, once nutrition issues, then physical issues.  The one time I finished I was not in my right mind, and it was below freezing at the start.  That’s a shame, as it’s a really nice course, and by that I mean a fast one!  Plus the fact that Bacchetta’s headquarters is close by means tons of riders a supporters.  I was almost sad to be doing the 24 this years as I would miss the big party in the pits at night!  Alright, forget the almost part.  I made a bunch of important changes in my life a few months ago, and one side affect was the loss of about 15 pounds.  I was not in great shape at the time, but I had been riding.  My CTL was about 40. In ’07 I set an UltraCycling 12 Hour Challenge total mileage record that still has not been topped.  Back then it was called the John Marino Challenge.  Kurt Searvogel, you have a good start to top 768 miles this year!  So, I thought that maybe this would be a good year to give the 24 a shot, and where better to start than Sebring?  My only previous rides through the night had been 2 26.5 hour 600Km brevets, so I had the confidence that I could keep going for 24 hours if I had too.  So I started a training cycle on 12/15 and made plans to travel.  Here we go!

Training went pretty well.  If you read my article on training for Ultras, you know I am a quality over quantity kind of guy.  I covered 775 miles in January.  That’s right, I average under 200 miles a week.  Some riders do that in one day prepping for an Ultra race!  At first it seemed my threshold workouts were a bit sub par, but then I realized it had been eons since I had done any hard work over my threshold.  Usually thats the kind of work I usually get from training races and hilly group rides.  I had not done much of that for a year and change.  I tried not to let it worry me.  My ability to ride hours of tempo seemed undiminished though!  That was good!  I stayed on a completely aerobic program until I got my CTL up to about 70, when I finally let myself do a few training races.  This was with 2 weeks left in my plan.  The first one hurt a lot and I did not do well.  The second one was a home run though.  Waiting until I had a solid aerobic base and a good CTL number before doing anaerobic work meant I responded very quickly to it, and recovered quickly enough to maintain the amount of tempo work I was doing on the weekends.  The last weekend of my training involved 2 very hard tempo rides back to back.  I took a chance and tried a new nutrition solution, you know, the stuff you put in your bottles.  Sara Kay Carrell had been raving about Infinit Nutrition and it sure seemed to work for her for 45 hrs straight on her record setting Furnace Creek 508 ride.  I’d be happy with 24 hours!  Well, it worked really well!  So I tweaked the formula a bit and took a big chance on Sebring.

A big thank you to Dana at Bent Up Cycles, my ex boss, for helping with the plane ticket!  Rich Pinto picked me up at the Tampa Airport Wednesday night.  Rich pretty much invented the highracer style of recumbent that has been so successful in ultra events.  We started talking non stop as we had not seen each other in a few years.  Thursday I got to pick up the CA2.0 that John Schlitter had built for me, and put a few of my pieces on it.  He even made me a custom seat pad insert for my back, and did a few subtle things he knew only I would notice and appreciate.  Thanks John!  I threw on wheels, lights, RotorCranks, computer, camera, and bag.  Then Rich I were off to Costco to get food for his famous annual Sebring BBQ.  It’s now a 2 night affair, Friday and Saturday.  Well on the way I notice some funniness in the trucks behavior and we start diagnosing it based on the symptoms, mostly thumping and smell.  We are both engineers, so this is inevitable.  Long story short, we did not leave for Sebring until 3pm the next day because the truck was getting new brakes!  That left me time for one loop around the 12 mile day loop to get my position fine tuned and check that everything was ready to go.  Of course, it rained on me most of the way.  This was good though, as I realized that the rain was not that cold, making it easier to dress for the next day.  I thought I remembered a hill at the far end of the day loop, but I seemed to have completely missed it.  This was a really good omen!  I got back to Chateau Elan, added a touch of recline to give me some more leg extension, lowered the bars a bit more for visibility, and set about making final plans.

Rich and I were staying in the Fangio suite, named for Juan Manuel Fangio, the greatest Formula 1 driver in history up until 10 years ago.  Another good omen.  I took  final look at the forecast and took a stab at clothing.  My plan was not to stop at all if I did not need to. So, as a hedge against the rain I wore an undershirt and a cap.  With the cap I can squint between the top of my glasses and the brim and see, no matter what is coming down.  I picked my tightest team jersey, as aerodynamics matter for clothing too.  Some white arm coolers, and new Garneau gloves I bought at registration.  I packed a light rain jacket in my bag too just in case.  Along with that went a spare tire, tubes, pump, tire irons.  The TSA took my CO2 cartridges!  We had a lot of Team Bacchetta visitors in the room, so I could distribute the prototype Surefire bike lights I had built up in the preceding week.  I got in bed at 10 and was asleep by 10:15.  That was really good!

I woke 5 minutes before my alarm at 5:55am.  Took my time getting dressed and getting all my bottles and mix to Rich.  I got to the startline just in time to check my timing transponder, and plop myself in the middle of the front row.  Boy it was foggy!  Not too cold though, good!  I turned on my video camera for the pre ride lecture, but I had to use the waterproof housing as rain was forecast, so there is no sound.  My teammate Kent pointed out Kurt Searvogel to me as we waited for the start signal.  I did not know Kurt at all, but he had voiced some pretty strong opinions about my training/coaching principles, so I winked and blew him a kiss.  It was hard to tell how he reacted in the dark.  When the start signal was given, I yelled YeeHaaa at the top of my lungs.  I did this so loudly in fact that I have no idea if anyone else did!  Well, once we were rolling the big problem became apparent.  We could not see diddly in the fog, and neither could the pace car driver who was to lead us for 3 laps and off the track.  I tried to stay in the front 5 riders to reduce the chance of hitting someone in the confusion.  I was doing that pretty well, leading in fact, right at the point that the pace car driver led me off the track and into the grass on the inside exit of turn one!  Would not have noticed except that I seemed to be slowing down and the ride got bumpier.  I got lucky that the ridge back onto the track was not sharp, and that I only lost a few spots in line.  This may have happened again, and to more people. The driver of the pace vehicle could not see any better than us!  At the point that we exited the track the driver did something else tricky.  He/she, did not drive the route we were to follow, instead parking in the grass just beyond it.  I clicked out of my pedals not knowing what was coming next, but made the right choice and led the whole way out the the main road.

Upon getting to the main road, there was a flag person, and traffic to be flagged, but with the visibility we were on our own. You can see on the video how close we all were, the flagman, the racers, and a big silver BMW.  No one got hit as far as I could tell.  We headed out of the track and up a grade.  I remember how hard this usually felt in previous years.  I was totally relaxed this time.

JV Leads the pack off the track at Sebring

Doyce Johnson came to the front on his long wheelbase recumbent, with fairing and body sock.  It was hard for most of us to keep up with him.  Before the race my teammates had been concerned about the affects of the new 100 mile race, and how fast/aggressive those racers would want to go.  Was Doyce doing the 100?  Nope, the 12 hr.  Still, this was a new variable.  Could any of us hang with a faired bike for the duration?  Well eventually Doyce and I open up a gap on the rest of the group.  We rode through several traffic lights.  Police were stopping traffic and letting us go straight, even the last one.  About a mile after that last one, both Doyce and I got a bad feeling.  We hit the brakes, got off our bikes, jumped the median, and rode back from whence we came. As we got to the light, we could see the other racers being directed to our left, their right.  Oh well, maybe we did not look like the kind of bikers she was expecting, plus the fog.  So, here I am at the 18 mile point of the race and what have I done?  On one hand I felt like I had blown it right then and there.  On the other, well, whats the plan JV?  That’s right, keep riding!  Thus began Doyce’s and my chase of the front group.  We figure we lost 5 minutes or so.  But there are only 2 of us, against a pack of probably 20 at the front.  Only one goal at this point, catch them!  I remember passing Mark from Catrike and his buddy, and explaining why we were there.  There were a lot of riders to leap frog, which helped with the navigation.  Just follow ‘em.

We caught a bigger group eventually, with teammate Allan Duhm.  He had a GPS.  The man’s a genius I tell you!  We still had a few miscues, but only from not listening to Allan.  He gave me a list of the next few turns to memorize, and eventually Doyce and I got away from that group.  Doyce is a master bike handler by the way.  I swear he carried so much speed into a tight 90 degree right hander that his tires were sliding.  Scary, but he kept it up.  After this it was just lonesome me.  I started to remember the coarse more.  I finally thought to try and wipe the fog form my glasses too.  Holy cow!  Californians don’t have very good fog skills I guess.  Now I could see the road markers!!  Duh!  I kept picking off riders.  I new after the right hander before the turnaround point that it was fast road, and that I should eventually see my prey and get a fix on them.  Well, I was only a minute out of the turn when I passed them going the other way.  Good, progress!!  I managed to remember the poker chip, turn without hitting the dirt, and get a fresh water bottle from Rich.  He later admitted wondering what I was doing so far back at that point.  OOoops.

So I keep passing folks……..    and finally, out of the clearing fog, they appeared, a group too big to be anything but the front group.  A few minutes later I was in it, vowing to myself to be very lazy and focus on eating and resting for the rest of the century.  I thought I had just emptied most of my match book.  I was happy to see that none of my teammates were driving the pace at this point, maybe they had been thinking of me and wishing for my return.  Then one of my teammates says they had been trying to get away from the bunch.  I did not know what to think, but its hard to understand anyone at 25mph.  Based on what I was seeing, maybe he was talking about Kurt. Ah, Kurt!  Time to play.  He seems very powerful, but he has to move a huge amount of air out of the way.   ……and those silly looking support hose…..    ;-)  He does a few attacks and gets a few gaps, so do I.  The second he gets on my wheel, I stop pedalling.  When he goes to the back of the bunch for something, I pull harder.  Playing, not serious playing though.  I wind up spending much more near the front than I planned.  I am also starting to notice teammate Jacquie Hafner.  She is taking the occasional pull just like the rest of us.  When she is in the group she is very quick to get on a wheel and close a gap.  Fantastic instincts.  As we neared the end of the century she was one of 2 women left in the front group.  Kent was looking good, but said his hamstring was annoying him.  It looked like the 12 hour would come down to Kurt, or 2 Austrians.  Given how much work Kurt was doing, and how cagey the Austrians were, I was betting on 2 to beat the one.  I still did not get just how strong Kurt was.

Here I am making Kurt chase me.  Look at him pushing all that air! …and those funny socks.

Some has to teach me not to make silly faces at the camera!

So, we roll through the 100 mile mark at about 4:20.  Just about right for me, except for my empty matchbook, or so I thought.  The great thing that happened here is that most of the riders in the front group did not stop!  This usually breaks the front group into much smaller pieces.  Not this time.  It gets warmer.  I start proactively watering my arms and neck a few times a lap.  By the time you feel hot, its too late.  Somewhere in here I made it a point of telling the 12hr riders, all on DFs, that they were all in the 12hr race, and that we were all in the 24.  That meant that they could not expect us to be closing the gaps when one of them attacked.  Just after that, Uwe Brockman, one of my roomates, got dropped.  He had hung with us for most of the first 12 hours, despite being completely new to all of this, and on a not so aerodynamic Bacchetta.  We start lapping riders and they joined the group.  I found myself playing at the front a bit.  One time I wound up off the front with Jacquie, until John chased us down.  Told you she was attentive.  The 2 Austrians try the feeding zone attack a few times.  Smart.  Kurt and my teammates are still there though.  Later Kurt gets away and Kent goes with him.  I was OK with this as the gap was not very big.  Then I see that Kent is taking pulls!  This surprises me.  I did not have my powermeter set up right to follow the mileage, but I did not want to see one of us helping Kurt beat John Schlitters 12 hour course record.  So through the feed zone I launch after them, catch, and have a word with Kent.  There went my last match, right?  It does not take Kurt long to see that we are not being any help at all, and I cannot say he was happy about it.  He did understand the tactics of the situation, and he accepted his grim fate.  Gotta respect that.  Still, with us doing less than 5% of the work, he is pulling us away from the main group!  Wow!  At one point we passed Sara and I asked her to relay the message to the rest of the team that Kurt was doing all the work.  After enough of his pleading, and a bit of sympathy from us, Kent and I start doing a bit more work for him so he can rest.

Then something happened I did not expect.  We got to the turnoff to head north as I was about to take a pull.  It slopes down and rolls a bit there, and I just rode away from Kent and Kurt.  I was not pushing hard, its just a fast section of road.  I rode up to Tim Woudenberg and said hi.  Then continued on.  I expected they would catch me as I was not pushing hard.  As we got on the main road back to the track, I realized I was riding away from them.  I made sure I was going easy enough and just kept pedaling.  Through the feed zone I got a fix on where they were, and where the main group was.  I picked up another bottle from Rich and headed out for a solo lap.  Next time I came through the feed zone and exited, Kurt and Kent had been caught by the main group, and John was on the front pulling, and it did not look like things behind him were very tight.  Also, my gap to the main group was unchanged.  This is a drafting race, so I just assumed we would be drafting most of the night.  The only point in me continuing to ride alone was to get close to 10 minutes up on the pack before we hit the track.  At the peak of the gap it was only 2:20.  So a lap up did not look likely.  Plus, I really needed to go, if you know what I mean.  I also wanted to figure out why my left cleat was stuck to the pedal.  This was going to make my stop a bit tricky. Well, I took a few minutes off the bike for the first time.  Felt a lot better and managed to get my shoe free of the bike so I could put it back on.  Then I got back on the road and caught up with Sara who seemed to be going a lot faster than I thought.  We rode west until I saw the main bunch coming, at which point I wished her no more flats and rejoined.

Going onto the track at 5:30 is new to me, and caught me by surprise.  Luckily Rich was in just the right place with a bottle for me before we climbed the bridge over to the track.  Once on the track I make it a point of riding on or near the front as I wanted to learn all the turns and figure out the best lines up the straights as soon as possible, and before dark.  I also wanted to help get teammate Kristy Halvorsen another lap to add to her already clinched 12 hour record.  She has been riding for a total of 4 months.  In the words of Rich Pinto, unbelievable!  I was also hoping that my teammates would get a feel for the fast lines around the course.  Jacquie was definitely picking it up.  Quick learner.  Well, it turned out that Kristy pulled off realizing that we would not make it.  We would have needed an 8:20 lap I think.  I had just done an 8:36, and could have done 8:20, but I think only Jacquie would have been left on my wheel.  As we backed off, Sara uncorked a major sprint to finish out her 12 hour.  Congrats to Kurt for getting 271 in the 12hr, a new record!

We all calmed down a bit.  About 10 seconds before the pit on the next lap, John announces he is pitting and Jacquie says she will stay with him.  It’s race lap 20 at this point.  I am not sure what Kent is doing, or how long this stop is going to be.  John’s stated goal before the race was to help get Jacquie get a new womens 24h drafting record, hopefully over 500 miles.  Mine was to get over 502.9 to top Chris Ragsdale’s drafting record.  I also did not plan on stopping more than absolutely necessary.  If folks like Sara Kay and Chris Ragsdale can ride for 45 hours straight, I could manage a measly 24, right?  Not knowing how long they where stopping, I kept riding steady as I could, cautious not to go to hard.  Kent must have stopped too, so I thought if it was a short stop, surely 3 of them will catch one of me.  Well I got into a rhythm, and Doug Morgan kept giving me bottles of Infinit.  Big thanks to Doug who I did not get a chance to thank post race!  A few laps later I dropped my sunglasses off for cleaning and rode bare eyed for a lap.  They surprised me with my clear lens glasses, but no mirror.  Riding at night with traffic I usually flip it out of the way anyway so I did not make a fuss.  This might not have been the best idea.  My feet also really started acting up, so I loosened my shoes about all I could. As I write this a week later, I am still waiting for feeling to return to the front of my left foot.

From lap 32 to 37 I rode with Kent, this was from 14:17 to 15:10 race time.  I got this from the lap times.  I had a chance to draft for a bit.  Kent is pretty smooth too so it was good.  Unfortunately his rear H3 bearing was seizing, so he went from taking even pulls with me to hanging on after a while.  Without the mirror I don’t know when I dropped him.  He caught back on later, now much happier with a disc wheel on the back.  Cool!  Together we rode.

So, at lap 45, at about 16:23 race time, Kent and I caught John and Jacquie.  Now I had discovered with Kent that if he had his brights on (Surefire lights have a remote switch and 2 levels of light) and peaked inside me on corners in an attempt to light of the road better, all it did was give me peripheral glare and keep me from seeing the apex.  Well John did it too, and I asked him not to as well.  I thought it was just me with this issue, but it should have dawned on me that even though they did not say it, it was bad for John and Jacquie too.  Sadly I gave them the good cables, mine was a damaged one.  I had no dim.  I figured I would be OK with my the extra 2 cells in my battery pack.  Well I was, but in retrospect I think the 2 of them swerved the most in the corners when I was behind them.  When I was pulling I kept on pulling away and without a mirror it was hard to know when.  With all the chaos in the corners, there was a lot of acceleration out of them, which was really starting to kill me feet.  John was also picking up the power when the wind hit on the back straight.  The key to my speed had been keeping power very steady and shifting down for the wind.  To top it off, Jacquie would ride away from us every time she got to the front.  One of here hardest surges dropped Kent, again.  She is really very strong.  I wonder if the 2 of them might go faster if she took longer pulls than at Sebring.  She is an amazing talent.  So I was with them until 18:44 race time, lap 57. For the last half of our time together I was just drafting and trying to save my feet.  I figured if I did not I would get dropped like Kent.  On lap 57 I wound up at the front pulling anyway, and all I could muster at the time, 120 measly watts.  I did that for 3 straight laps, expecting John and Jacquie to ride by at anytime.  It did not happen.

After that I was able to start picking it up.  Good, but carefully.  The whole night I was passing people and saying hi to those I knew, and a few I did not.  I was really happy to have such an amazing head light.  I saw a lot of riders slowing and struggling to find the apex of corners.  I saw riders exit corners and not know the straight line to the next turn in point.  I had my light aimed straight ahead so that these were non issues for me.  I think riders I was passing also knew I was coming.  My apologies to anyone who got blinded by peripheral glare.  Next time I will have a working remote cable.  I started looking at my watch too.  I was looking to see just how long I had to keep this up.  I kept looking more often too.  Sometime past midnight, Rich abandons his grill and starts giving me times to John and Jacquie.  At one point I think he said 3 minutes.  It was then that I stopped to dehydrate a bit.  I was thinking it was better with me riding alone anyway, so why catch them sooner than I need to.  That was my second stop of the ride.  I had to leave my shoe on the bike again as it was stuck.  Next time through, Rich says 525, which I assumes meant I had taken a 2:25 stop.  Later I learned thats not what he meant, at all.  Sometime later I remember the words “overall course record.”  I figure it’s late at night and he is confused.  He might mean Jim Kern’s 516 mile RAAM Q number, but maybe he doesn’t remember Dennis Grelk’s 522 in the Barracuda.  Who knows which he means.  I’ll be happy with 503.  Still his words and tone are motivating.  So I try to pick it up some more.  Looking back, that must have been around 470 miles.

As I came up on John and Jacquie again, I resolved to ride right by if I could, as we had not been a very good combination for each other last time.  Unfortunately I killed myself doing this.  That was about mile 500 with a bit over an hour left.  My lap speed dropped from 22 down to 20.  If I had only stayed in more control of myself……..       Now it was just a matter of doing what I could, grabbing my last bottle, and keeping an eye on the clock to see if it was going to be close on my last lap.  When I figured there was no way for me to pull of an extra one, I came through the pits and gave everyone in reach a high five.  That was really fun.  The pits looked so pretty with the lights.  I went straight to the hotel, very sadly missing awards.  I am told Rich stood in for me with pride!

Not once did I feel like I was falling asleep.  Probably the glutamine in the Infinit.  I had Hammer Espresso with me and took 2 small tastes, but no more.  There was no caffeine in my Infinit mix either.

From the data I looks like Jacquie and John may have made a few more short stops.  When riding we were almost the same speed, just different pacing strategies and my light issue made us incompatible.

Sara calls her steady pacing self Steady Betty.  Am I Steady Freddy?  This is the first time I am proud to be a Fred!

Shoulda coulda woulda racing says we all could have had another lap or 3.  I know where I messed up a bit.  Adding it up, I spent more than half the race by myself.  Given that, there is value to more even pacing than you get with the drafting bunch.  Next time if I go it will be for the RAAM Q.  But it’s a long race, and a year away.  Lots can change.

Really happy for Maria Parker setting a new RAAM Q record in her first 24.  She went a bit farther than we thought!  As her coach I am glad for her and for me, as this is a small vindication (2 data points) of the quality over quantity approach to ultra training that I wrote about.  Her training was a very close mirror to mine in all respects, except for 2 things: I did not have time for the recovery rides, so she got a few more miles in.  I also did training races instead of structured intervals at then end of the build.  Congrats Maria, you did it!!

It was not until over an hour after the finish, trying to get some food down in the hotel restaurant, that I got the number.  I honestly did not believe it until I had 2 friends confirm it.  Then I got goose bumps and a bit teary for a while.  Holy crap!  Yeah, it was pretty fast weather, and a pretty fast 12hr group, and I had the best nutrition ever on the bike, and a really fast bike, and very close to my best fitness ever.  Thanks again to teammates Jacquie Hafner, John Schlitter, Kent Polk, Doug Morgan, and Allan Duhm.  A big thanks to Ann and Rich Pinto for treating me like their long lost son for a long weekend.  Thanks to Sara Kay Carrell for helping me get my mind right.  Without that I would not even have been at Sebring, or have accomplished a lot of other amazing things in the last 4 months.  The world is looking so much brighter for me.  This race was just one sign of it, and what a race it was!

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About the Author: RPI BS 1996 and USC MS 2003 Electrical Engineering. Moved to Southern California in 1995, worked primarily as electrical engineer, project manager, and manager. Former bike shop manager (twice) and expert fitter. Currently Director of Quality Engineering at SureFire (tactical lighting manufacturer) in Fountain Valley, CA. Single, active in ultra cycling for 10 years, after years as a Cat2 road and expert MTB racer. Member of Team Bacchetta for 10 years. Coach with JBVCoaching and powermeter user for 8 years. World 12 Hour Time Trail Champion 2012, 24 Hours of Sebring overall course record holder (523.9 miles). Highest overall UMCA Ultracup 12 Hour Challenge mileage: 768 miles in 3 events, 2 are still course records. All this on <12 hours a week on the bike. Quality over quantity I say!

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  1. Dan Fallon says:

    Amazing. Calculating. Humble.

  2. Thanks for the insights into how the race panned out. I was camped on the race results updates and could see you were not lapping with JH & JS, and at the time I was perplexed!

  3. JV says:

    Just fixed the Infinit link so you see my formula and not a bunch of sliders in the middle.

  4. Stegosaurus says:

    Congrats JV. What an epic day. And frickin fast, dood. What’s next … Solo RAAM?

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