It was an accomplishment that no other racer has achieved in the 30 year history of the National 24hr Challenge (N24HC). In fact, prior to this year’s race, the organizers of the N24HC have never seen a woman race the event on a recumbent. Enter Maria Parker.
I’m not sure if Maria realized the absence of a women’s recumbent record or not, but I’m suspecting that she did. In fact, She and her husband Jim Parker, also a recumbent ultra racer, had their sights set on the overall husband and wife record of 773 miles held by veteran ultracyclists John and Nancy Guth, who at the time of this years N24HC were racing the 2012 Race Across America (RAAM) as a two person team.
With Maria setting a Women’s overall mileage record of 474.5 mile at the Sebring 12/24, and Jim setting a 12hr record at Sebring of 259.7, you had to believe that they had a good chance at a couple of records at Michigan.
Story by Maria Parker,
My mom wrote me a note last week before the National 24 Hour Challenge in Middleville, Michigan telling me she would be praying for me during my second 24 hour race, despite the fact that she didn’t understand why I was doing it again. At 3:00 am in gusty wind with severe stomach cramps and 5 long hours to go, I wondered why too. When my husband Jim and I were planning our cycling season over a glass of wine during a February vacation at the beach, it seemed like a good idea. We would both do the 24 hour race and try to set a new husband and wife high mileage record.
The National 24 Hour Challenge (N24HC) is a beautiful event in rural Middleville Michigan on rolling hills through some of the most beautiful farm country I have ever seen. Organized by the gracious Kathy and Pete Steve, the N24HC is extremely well planned with the most friendly wonderful volunteers I have ever experienced in an athletic competition
Jim and I lined up at the front of the start hoping for a group of fast cyclists to take us through the first 124 mile loop. Unfortunately, about 2 miles into the race, my chain jammed and I had to pull over. I watched in sorrow as every cyclist went by. I spent the next 30 miles trying to catch up to the front group, which inched away from me mile by mile. At the first rest stop, my crew (wonderful sons Steven and Will and nephew Kent) let me know I was about 7 minutes behind the front pack. I gave up on my hope to set a new course record which began to seem like a rather arrogant goal to begin with.
Somewhere between 35 and 65 miles I met up with a strong cyclist named Tom who worked with me to try to gain ground. We were having a great time alternating pulling when we came to a stop sign with no course markings indicating which way to turn. We soon realized we were off the course and spent the next few minutes trying to figure out where we were. A helpful motorist indicated that we had gone miles off course and helped us to figure out how to get back on. We later learned that the course markings where we missed our turn had been paved over on Friday morning and that there were many cyclists who went off course (we were later given the extra miles).
At that point, the heat was starting to get very intense – and I came up with a new goal – finish. The first big loop was finished, but I was starting to really feel awful from the heat, and a too hard earlier effort. My stomach was trying hard to reject any food or water I put in it and we were only about one-quarter of the way through the race. I had not seen Jim at all since the first mile, but I heard from the crew that he was having a great race. The three daytime loops were miserable, hot and windy. It was great to get onto the nighttime loop which had fewer hills and of course more frequent excuses to stop. Each time we went through the checkpoint the volunteers were wonderful. I barely grunted at them when they told me I was doing great or asked how I was. If anyone of you is reading this, please accept my gratitude and apologies. You were great, I was cranky.
The seven mile nighttime loop had its own challenges. The weather was difficult. We had sustained winds of 15-20 mph and gusts up to 35 mph, which bothered me and the other riders a lot more than the light rain. I spent several loops forcing myself to try to eat one or two pretzels or drink a sip of water. Each time something hit my stomach it would squeeze and cramp excruciatingly. I also worked on the mathematics of my ride trying to figure out if I could do more than 400 miles. My brain moved so slowly that kept me entertained for a couple of hours. At one point I went by the tent and Jim was sitting eating with the crew. I yelled at him to get going. He later told me that the crew was motivating him by showing him how many laps he would have to do in order for us to take the husband wife record. Jim had logged more “daytime” miles than anyone, but that early effort was now costing him.
The crew, including my coach JV kept trying to tempt me with food and drink options and telling me I was doing well. At around 4 am, a light but steady rain started and the gusty wind eased up. I began counting down the laps I needed to do. Nine more, eight more, seven more….. Finally the sky lightened and I knew it was almost over. Jim caught up with me on the last lap and we did the last couple of miles together.
Getting off the bike, showering, eating, resting …. these simple things become incredibly pleasurable luxuries after a long bike ride. The egg sandwiches served at the awards ceremony tasted like manna from heaven. What a thrill it was to win the beautiful Silver bowl for the “high mileage” female and to become the first woman on a recumbent to participate in the N24HC. I finished with 407.9 miles which included the extra 4 miles we did off course. My favorite moment however, was winning the award for the most miles done by a couple with just over 800 miles. Jim won the recumbent male division and put in enough miles to cinch the husband-wife record. Thank you, Jim, for persevering!
I am incredibly grateful to my wonderful sons and nephew who supported us and worked as hard as we did under more stress so that all we had to do was ride. I’m also grateful to my excellent coach, Jim “JV” Verhuel who came to compete but due to mechanical issues had to stop early. Instead of crawling into his comfortable warm bed, he also stayed up all night to support Jim and me. Thanks too to the other recumbent riders out there, your enthusiasm and waves helped keep me going. Finally, thanks to Cruzbike’s John Tolhurst for his brilliantly designed bike. It makes those of us who ride them look so much better than we are.
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