The Rider

July 13, 2010

The Saratoga 24-Hour Challenge

Filed under: Steve's Stuff — The Blog @ 6:01 AM

I just got back from upstate New York, where I rode in the Saratoga Challenge 24-hour race. It’s sort of like the 24 Hours of Lemans car race, but on a bike instead of in a car. In a car? Come on, what’s the challenge of that?

Here we are at the start at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Only 24 more hours of riding to go.

This was my first – and maybe last! – venture into the world of 24-hour ultra bike races. It was a bit surreal … we started at 8 a.m. … in the rain … then it was gray and overcast … hot and humid … the sun set and it was cool … and then it was dark. Really dark. For a long time. And then the sun came up. And through it all, we kept riding, up and down hills, past little towns and farms.

Why?

I’m still not sure, although the words “mid-life crisis” spring to mind. There were about 18 of us in the 24-hour race, mostly men, but a few women, and another 20 or so who did the 12-hour race. You go around a 32-mile loop as many times as you can, sucking down sports drinks and gel and bars until your stomach rebels and starts doing flip flops. And then you eat and drink some more.

Part of the route was along the Hudson River.

I wound up doing about 312 miles, which was great for me, my first triple century, but only average for the field. I don’t know how far the winner went, or even his name, as the results haven’t been posted yet. But I did see him once during the race, at the check point at the 15-mile mark – in the middle of the night. He said he had done 9.5 laps. I had done 7.5 at the time. He also said he was going to take it easy since he had a big lead – and then, 5 seconds later, took off at a fast pace. So much for taking it easy. I think he did about 400 miles (last year’s winner did 412 miles).

This was the first time – other than commuting up High Street – that I’ve ridden at night. It was kind of weird at first, as if you were in an endless, dark tunnel and every noise or shadow was something from a Freddy Kruger movie. After a while I relaxed and began to enjoy the night riding. As one rider told me: “I take it easy during the day when it’s hot and then pound out the miles at night when it’s cool.” I was careful to avoid the dead chipmunk by the side of the road at the 12-mile mark and the cow poop on the road by the dairy farm at the 24-mile mark.

Other than this guy, there weren't many spectators along the rural route

Another rider told me: “You’ll probably get tired late at night, around 2 or 3, but when the sun comes up, you’ll wake up and feel great.” The sun started coming up a little after 5 – and it went from dark to light in 15 minutes. I thought it took longer. I did feel refreshed and awake when the sun came up. Thanks internal clock!

To prove how stupid I am, I went the wrong way on my 8th lap, going right when I should have gone left. Hey, it was dark out. This meant I had to loop back around – and do an extra 6 or 7 miles that didn’t count toward my total. So really, I did 318 or 319 miles.

I think his ghost is still here

It’s now a day later – and my quads are killing me. Walking up and down steps is a challenge, but other than that I feel OK. Not that I’m encouraging any of you to try this. Although maybe, just maybe, you might want to try a 12-hour race sometime in the future. Be careful: it’s addictive.

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