Bike Sebring 12/24 Survival Guide

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Larry Grahamby Larry Graham,

Background

Numbers are what we can relate to, so here are mine.  My total mileage for my 3 Sebring races is 1,257.71 miles.  I averaged 419.24 miles per race for an overall 17.47 mph avg.  During those three races, I learned quite a bit about myself and the event itself and I would like to offer that knowledge to you.  Please keep in mind that this is meant as an overview for what has worked for me in the past, and some suggestions may not be helpful to you, especially fueling – everyone has their own regimen.  But for some, especially newcomers, I’m hope you’ll find at least a couple valuable take aways.  I also hope that have a fantastic race and are successful in achieving your goals.

The Race Plan

  • Organize, Organize, Organize.  Have the things that you most likely need close at hand.  I have a set of clear drawers that I have my most needed stuff in.
  • Try and imagine anything that could go wrong and plan for it.  Example; I use Speedplay pedals so I have an extra set of pedals and shoes/cleats.  If you use anything out of the ordinary, you need to have spares.  Like, 80mm stemmed tubes for those deep rim wheels.  Having an extra pair of shoes that have a loose fit is always good idea.  Your feet can do funny things after pedaling for 18 hours and that extra pair of shoes just might be a game saver.
  • Taking a spare wheel set?  Be sure they are pumped up, and ready to go.
  • Premix as many bottles of your liquid nutrition as you can fit in your cooler.  I like to aim for 350-400 calories intake per hour. Keep in mind that you will be burning more than that, but your body is limited to what it is capable of processing.  I generally use a liquid diet and can load 1,000 calories into a 24 oz water bottle using Ensure Plus.  I also use Hammer gel and will munch on solid food only when I’m off the bike, and then only really to satisfy the urge to eat something.  I use two bottles for my liquid calories and a water bladder.  I have a couple of bladders filled and waiting so all I have to do is change out the empty one. You should also have an electrolyte replacement plan, I use E-Caps.
  • Plan how long you are going to be off the bike.  For the 12hr you should be off the bike no more than 30 minutes, self supported my best is 6 minutes.  For the 24 hour, aim for no more than 1 hour off the bike, self supported my best is 45 minutes.

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    ©UltraRacePics.com

  • Plan where you are going to take bathroom breaks.  On the 100 mile leg there is a restroom at the turn around in Frostproof.  I’m not sure if this has changed, but in the past you had to get off the bike and walk 30 yards through sand and dirt.  Not good for Speedplay cleats, so I always plan to have support along the road AFTER the turn around to take care of my needs.  ( 1-28-14 update from Race Director - We have a port a john at the corner of Arbuckle and Riverdale Rd and will put a sign on it so people know it can be used.  It is also a rest stop on way back from Frostproof, just not manned when you go by it on way to Frostproof.)  The 12 mile mid loop which brings you back to the track area has a restroom at the U-turn. If you plan to use it, then I would also plan to set up your pit near it.  For the 24 hour riders on the track at night there is no restroom on pit lane.  The restroom is behind the grandstand which is very inconvenient and will cost you time.  At most races I have a “pee bucket” in the van or my pop up tent and that alone has saved me valuable time over the years.  Always be thinking of ways to save time, be imaginative, some racers use a condom catheter, but not me.  When you do stop to go, do everything else you need to do such as new bottles, changing clothes, make bike adjustments, take pills, again, saving time an additional stop would cost you.
  • Take your mileage goal and divide it by 11.5 or 23 hours, this is a realistic measure of average speed goal with stops included.  I also like to give myself three different mileage goals. 
    1. “The Everything +” a perfect high mileage goal.  
    2. “The Everything – ” an OK mileage goal.  Maybe there were high winds or it was cold and wet.
    3. “The Minimum” mileage goal.”  For the Race Across America (RAAM) qualifiers, this is 400.  Aim higher than that.  I have found that I often ride short of my target, so my answer was to set a higher target.  
  • For 24 hour racers, your night speed could be 20% slower than your day speeds.  The track has no hills but it does have 17 turns which will slow you down.  In the dark you lose perception of speed, and well, you have been on the bike a long time.
  • Many of you are going for 400 miles ( RAAM qualified).  You need to plan to ride well over 200 miles during the day loops because your average speed will  most likely drop though out the day and at night.  I would be focused on getting 220 or more miles on the day loops.  Pedal strong the entire lap and avoid the urge to “soft pedal” through the pit lane unless you are planning to stop.  Set a goal of how many laps you will do between each pit stop.  Your mind will try to talk it into stopping every lap, don’t listen.  I make it a point to avoid looking at my mileage too often as It can be very discouraging not seeing the numbers going up very fast.  The track is 3.7 miles long so it takes a hell of a lot of laps to run the numbers up.  I try to look at the computer on the hour.  The track laps start to feel very long at 2am and it can be discouraging clicking off lap after lap with only a slow mileage climb.  Stay focused!
  • A helmet light at night is a huge plus for riding on the track at night.  There are 17 turns, some very tight.  With the helmet light you can easily light the fastest track through the turn.  If you happen to run off of the track edge in the turns, be prepared for deep sand pits that quickly slow you down. 
  • After the day loops the 24 hour racers move to the track.  This means everything you had set up for a pit during the day must be moved to the track pit area.  If you have no crew, you will need help in moving your stuff to the pit lane. You will need to have your lights at hand ready to go at this point as well.  Plan now as to how you are going to make this happen. 

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2 weeks before race:

  • Do your last long ride.  You cannot gain or lose much fitness to make a difference at this point.  I have found that it is better to be under trained and rested than to be over trained and tired.  Experiment with any food/liquids now.
  • Do any bike repairs and part changes. Test to be sure bike(s) are in perfect working condition.
  • Start packing your toolbox/spare parts.
  • Pack your cycling clothes.  Bring something for every kind of weather, I’ve seen everything from 30 degrees and icicles to 90 degrees hot and humid.  But, it will definitely gets cold at night, you can count on it.  Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Week of race:

  • Travel and rest.  I only do a couple of EASY rides because I want to feel hungry for a longer and faster ride.
  • Eat and drink well.  Gaining a couple of pounds before the race is not a bad thing.
  • Relax and think positive thoughts.  Envision your race going great and you achieving your goals. 
  • Check weather and plan accordingly.

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    ©UltraRacePics.com

Two days before race:

  • Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty is what the old Randonneurs say.
  • I start taking regular doses of Ibuprofen ( works for me) and my upset stomach medicine like Zantac.  I also start my E-Cap electrolyte replacement.  Again, this is what works for me, you may have other issues that it would be helpful to pre-dose for to reduce problems down the road.
  • Take pain meds before you hurt  and take stomach meds before you need to throw up.  Take electrolytes before you cramp.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  You may not be able to sleep the night before the race, so make this one count.

Day before race:

  • I like to arrive at the venue as soon as possible because it gives me time to calm down and get my head on straight.
  • Get everything organized so the you and your support crew (if you have one) know where everything is.
  • Take the bike out for final test ride to ease nerves and to check that the bike is ready.  Pre-ride portions of the course for familiarity and pay close attention to areas that could cause problems during the race.  Get a good feel for how the 12 mile loop will work.  Scope out the track entrance point.  There are a couple of hills on the 12 mile loop, so check your gearing.
  • Connect with old friends and meet new ones.  Hatch plans if you want to team up with others.
  • Eat an early dinner and then take care of last minute issues.
  • Mix fuel bottles and fill my pill rack.  Check the weather, lay out clothes and get to bed at a normal time.
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Day of race:

  • Get up early and eat something light. Drink some liquid calories and take my cocktail of pills and meds.
  • Do a warm up walk and do some yoga/stretching.
  • I’ll run through everything I want to accomplish in my head, project positive energy.
  • Get down to the start area early as you can always count on last minutes issues.  It will be dark and it will be hard to find anyone you are looking for, so make plans ahead of time as to where to meet.
  • Get to the start line early if you plan to ride in the lead group.
  • Surrender all decision making to your crew.  They say go, you go.  They say eat, you eat.  They say go faster, you go faster.  They say get back on the bike, you get back on the bike.

 

The Race:

  • The race starts at the track entrance adjacent to the hotel and heads to an access road to the track.
  • Once on the track, 3 laps will be completed before heading out onto the road.  These will be unbelievably fast laps.  Don’t give up, the pace will settle down after you get out onto the roads.
  • The turn off of the track is abrupt and may catch you by surprise.  Pay attention!
  • Be safe around other racers especially at the start with high speeds and lots of congestion.  Be vocal and make your presence known.
  • Riders get so caught up in the race that they make poor safety choices.  You will see many riding left of center and blowing through stop signs and taking risks.  The $5 winners medal is not worth dying for.
  • If you are in the 12 hour class, try to enjoy the 3 track laps, these are the only ones you get to do as your race will finish on the 12 mile loop..

    ©UltraRacePics.com

    ©UltraRacePics.com

  • The track was once an airport, and while most of the track has been updated and is very smooth, the pit-in, the pit lane, and the pit-out are the old runway concrete slabs with sharp expansion joints.  You will take a beating and you need to find the smoothest line.  For this reason, anything that can break or vibrate off is suspect.  For me last year, it was my light bracket.  Caution: Parallel expansion joints in the pit area have been known to catch tires and also cause flats, pay attention to this and pick a line so as to avoid.
  • In the drafting legal race I always like to let other burn off their energy while I sit in and get a good warm up.  It can take 30 to 50 miles before I’m hitting on all cylinders.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel good at the start, I always see this as a good sign as I know that I will feel better later on.  I just need to take care of myself right from the get-go and everything will work out.
  • Start taking in calories and fluids as soon as possible.  Don’t get so caught up in the race that it’s 2 hours in before you realize that you haven’t taken on fuel or water.
  • Watch out for sand in the corners, it is as slick as ice. It’s worse than loose chip/seal.
  •  If you plan to just pull off the track and do what you need to, be careful, there is soft sand right off the track’s edge.  I’ve seen more than a few riders take a spill when they rode into the sand.
  • Ride your own race.  Every year that I have raced at Sebring, I have gone off the back of the lead group for one reason or another and still went on to win my class each of those years.
  • Do not ride so hard that you feel that you have to get off the bike and rest.  If you do need to take a rest, make it count. So take in fluids and calories.  Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down.  Get back on the bike and slow your pace till you feel better.
  • Despite what you read about what you should or shouldn’t eat, I find that sometimes you just need sugar and caffeine to get you through.  Find an energy drink that you can stand the taste of.
  • Have a plan, work the plan.  Nothing ever goes as planned, so Adapt, deal with it, keep moving, preserve.

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    ©UltraRacePics.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ride to the finish:

This is true even if you have a problem and spend time off the bike.  Get back on the bike and stay on it until time runs out, even if it’s just the last hour.  I have had a few DNF’s in my time and the mental pain of a DNF far outlasts any reason that you might have had to quit early.
Never say I’m going to TRY the 12 hour or 24 hour, but rather I AM racing the 12 hour or 24 hour event.  Never let doubt about finishing enter your mind.  Figure how to do it and make it happen.  You will make mistakes along the way, but that is part of the fun of discovery.  I can ride as far as my mind will allow me and I try to never judge my self-worth by an arbitrary number I generate while riding a bicycle.

Final thoughts:
Remember, this is just a bicycle ride/race.  You are here to have fun, challenge yourself, extend your limits, meet others, and encourage others.  Be gracious in both Victory and Defeat.

Best of luck, and have a Great race!

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  1. Ed Tepper says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ll be there with 8 teammates from Team Novo Nordisk. Team Novo Nordisk is an international athletic team of cyclists, runners & triathletes all of whom are living with diabetes. I was looking for information like this — very helpful.

  2. Slo Joe says:

    Larry,

    Most excellent. As a “virtual” racer this has given me a very helpful insight of what you ultra folks go through before and during a race.

    Honest, one of these days I’ll get to Calvin’s Challenge to lend a hand. :o)

    Ride Long and Prosper

  3. Maria Parker says:

    Great article Larry. You really nailed it. Even though I have some Sebring experience, I got some good tips. Thanks for encouraging others by making it seem doable.

  4. Mark Andrews says:

    Larry, excellent article. There is a port-a-john at corner of river dale and arbuckle creek.

  5. Damon Taaffe says:

    Muchas gracias. I’ll be taking my first crack at a 24-hour race in two weeks’ time, and logistics are much on my mind. For the long loop, would you recommend GPS guidance, using a cue sheet, or is the course sufficiently well-marked to not be of concern?

    • Larry Graham says:

      Damon,
      The route has always been well marked and easy to follow. If this is your first Sebring I’d download the route to a GPS unit if you use one. Nothing is worse than bonus miles that don’t count.

  6. Kevin says:

    Good advice. Thanks.

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