Working the 24 Hour Shift

By Rebecca Rusch

Mountain Bike Style


006 marked the beginning of my 24 hour solo mountain bike career. A long term adventure racing team sponsor bowed out and I was left with the task of redefining myself as an athlete or getting a real job. Fortunately, my sponsors Red Bull and Specialized were supportive in my quest to avoid a nine-to-five existence. For lack of a better idea, I decided to take my endurance experience into mountain bike racing. I knew I could race for days on end from my adventure racing career, but had no idea if I was fast enough or good enough on a bike. I had never actually entered an official mountain bike race or ridden against any women. I won the first 24 Hour race I participated in that year in Spokane. It was my test run and I beat everyone in the race, including the men. I took it as a sign. Nine to five would have to wait. The 24 Hour Solo Nationals in Wisconsin was my second 24 hour race. I went in as a complete unknown and with a lot of trepidation. This was a huge step. The reigning 24 hour solo female champion from the previous year was there with a gigantic motor home parked right on the course and a host of professional looking assistants and more bikes than I could count. There were other pros in big trucks with their names painted on them and lots of logos. In contrast, I had brought my mom, my uncle, and a bike mechanic friend from home. The intimidation factor was huge. What was I thinking? How could I possibly make a proud showing against all these pro badasses? I cried during my practice ride and figured I’d made a huge mistake in coming to Nationals this soon. The course felt very technical. My self-doubt multiplied.

Wisconson. We knew we’d get rained on, it was just a question of how much and when it would strike. The next thing I remember was the starting gun. For the first couple of laps, I was ecstatic to realize that I was not very far off the lead rider. I figured it would take a while, but I’d try to reel her in over the 24 hours. My confidence increasing, I was soon shocked to see her uniform from the back on a small climb during the third lap. I felt a surge, passed her while trying to act as if I wasn’t working hard, and promptly fell off my bike right in front of her. A wave of embarrassment and another surge of adrenalin got me back up. I rode away frantically and never looked back. From that point on, I rode like a hunted animal. I crashed hard shortly after dusk. In a tight tree section and trying not to scrub speed, my handlebar nicked the side of a tree, causing a wobble. Like a slab of meat I impacted a large oak to the left of the trail and was thrown to the ground. I didn’t have time to brake, so the smackdown was hard and fast. Trying to get right back up, I knew my shoulder was in trouble. Desperate to regain momentum, I raced off into the night. About 4am, the wind started howling, the air turned cool, and it was clear that we were about to get absolutely hammered with rain. Sure enough, the downpour was incredible. Immediately the pace slowed because visibility was drastically reduced. I squinted and focused on staying upright, trying to ride by feel. Shortly after, race officials waved me down and forced me to stop. I was about one-half the way around my lap at an aid station. There were about thirty riders there and the officials were handing out trash bags for us to wear. As we all crammed under one tent, lightning was cracking all around us at very regular intervals. I shivered in the fetal position inside my trash bag and tried to relax my cramping, seizing legs. I huddled with

total strangers and wondered how much of my lead I was losing by being stopped. I kept scanning through the buckets of rain for another female rider to arrive in the tent. My biggest fear was that they’d restart the race from here and I’d have a head to head battle for the last 6 hours. I could barely stand, let alone race a bike. We were held there for about 45 minutes and a chaotic re-start was attempted from various stop points around the course. I finished that lap wearing the trash bag, turning the pedals like molasses.

At 9am, with just one hour to go in the scheduled race time, I pulled up to our transition area ready to swap bikes and head out on my final lap. The balls of my feet were numb, my wrists felt like they’d been jackhammered, and I had crusty mud in my eyes. However, I was machine-like in my determination. As far as I was concerned, I still had one hour to ride and one more lap to complete to seal the deal. Approaching the pits, my crew was lounging around and my 2nd bike was not ready to ride. I was a bit delirious and confused. Turns out the officials had stopped the race again due to more approaching storms and had given everyone an official finishing time from the first stop. It meant I’d ridden an extra two hours that I did not get credit for, but I didn’t care. I was officially the new National Champion!

We staked out camp, bagged the idea of sleeping outside, got a hotel and clicked on the weather channel. There were severe thunderstorm warnings for the weekend. The radar showed a big red blob right over Wausau,

“Immediately the pace slowed because visibility was drastically reduced. I squinted and focused on staying upright, trying to ride by feel.” ven turespo rtsj o urn m 11

If you are curious about twentyfour hour mountain bike racing (24hr mtb), you are certainly not alone. As more NorCal athletes participate in these events, the positive buzz is growing exponentially. Simultaneously, the confusion level regarding 24hr mtb has grown as well. Is 24 the most painful, brutal race format ever, or is it really just an excuse for good friends to party all night long? Is it a chance to achieve new levels of agony with fellow ultra endurance monks, or is it a way to metabolize gallons of beer with fat tire enthusiasts from all over the world?


How to Survive Your First 24 Hour Mountain Bike Event

“There were other pros in big trucks with their names painted on them and lots of logos. In contrast, I had brought my mom, my uncle, and a bike mechanic friend from home.”
Once the race was over, the pain set in. I realized I could not lift my arm. My legs were beginning to swell and I felt my body and mind shutting down. I needed help changing my clothes and had to be directed where to go and what to do. I was too tired to take a shower at the venue and fell asleep in a chair before awards. The award ceremony woke me up like a jolt when they announced my name and held up a shiny, new Stars and Stripes jersey. I needed help putting it on over my injured shoulder, but it was like a healing salve once it was on. As I stood on the top step of the podium at my first National Championships, all the pain, the doubts, and the fatigue all subsided as I raised my good arm high above my head. Yes, nine to five would have to wait. Rebecca Rusch has been a professional ultra endurance athlete for over 10 years. She has raced at the elite international level in adventure racing, outrigger canoeing and most recently mountain biking. She has finished 1st or 2nd in every 24 hour mtb race she has entered. In two short years as a 24 hour solo mtb racer, she has also earned the titles of 2006 National Champion, 2007 USA Cycling Ultra Endurance Series Champion and 2007 24 hour solo World Champion. When she’s not racing, Rebecca is a part time firefighter/EMT and cross country ski coach in Ketchum, Idaho.

As it turns out, the correct answer is “all of the above.” Cyclists from varied backgrounds are enticed by these events and quite often are hooked after their first race. The reason? To put it simply, 24 hr mtb events are a blast. More specifically, the team format of the race appeals to one of the core values of riders everywhere: good friends hanging out on bikes. Unlike adventure racing where each team must race together, 24 hr mtb is relay style and allows riders of all ability levels to race on a team together. This removes the stress of slower riders not wanting to enter the race and also nixes the frustration of faster riders having to wait for teammates. Basically, you get to ride as hard as you can on your lap, then sit back, cheer for your teammates, and enjoy the spectacle. More competitive riders will combine with other strong teammates for the greatest possible total lap count, but the bottom line is everyone gets to push his or her own personal limits. It’s a friendly combination of a team event paired with solo efforts. The circular lap format of 24 hour racing also makes it viewer friendly for teammates, friends, and family members. This sort of course design beautifully accommodates a festival type atmosphere where vendors, elite riders, recreational riders, and spectators can all get a taste of the action in one place. Add the novelty of staying up for 24 hours straight and riding in the dark and you have the perfect recipe for a surrealistic pain carnival you’ll be talking about for months. At the other end of the spectrum are the solo riders, and 24hr mtb is quite popular with this group as well. Riding a bike for 24 hours straight

is a lonely endeavor, but completing every lap to the applause of spectators and vendors eases the pain. Solo riding is not for everyone, but apparently the endeavor is quite rewarding as the number of soloists increases every year at every event. I personally have raced both as a solo rider and in the team format, and have appreciated both options for different reasons.

Choosing a Race
If you are reading this and you are ready to take the plunge into 24 hour racing, you will need to choose a race. This is an important decision since each race has its own character and flair. I look for two key things. First, I consider the location. Do I want a race close to home? Do I want a race that’s a desirable riding destination that I will treat as a vacation? Do I want to get out of the winter weather and head to warmer climates? I discuss all these options with my teammates since I will have to spend time in the car with them to and from the event, and making sure everyone is psyched is half the battle. The second thing I look for when choosing a race is the reputation and style of the race director. Most race websites will claim that they have the greatest race on earth. It’s great to check out the race website to find course descriptions, logistical information and format of the race. However, I also like to get unbiased feedback from racers who’ve been there before. Many times you can find online forums that will discuss the quality and style of a given race. has a great calendar section for endurance racing and is also a good place to read race reviews. Race reviews, forums and blogs are the best way to research an event, but keep in mind that often times it’s just one side of a story and you ultimately must make your own decision. Choose a race that sounds well organized, that you can afford (in time and money expenditure), and one that inspires you. Adventure Sports Journal highly recommends the Coolest 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race held near Auburn every year May 2nd-4th. This event rocks hard and raises money for cancer research at the same time.

12 ASJ—March/April 2008

Check out www.globalbiorhythmevents. com for more information.

Choosing a Team
24 racing can be raced in a multitude of formats: solo, duo, three person, four person, co-ed, male only, and female only. Choosing your teammates and crew is THE most important step to ensuring a successful race and a good time. Often the best riders do not always make the best teammates and the best spouse does not always make the best crew boss. It’s best to choose people who can ride a bike, but also have a great sense of humor, good organization and are fun to road trip with. Select people who have the same agenda as you. Are they out there to win, just to finish or to see how many beers they can drink per lap? All valid goals, as long as you all support this agenda. Make sure the team is well organized, as there will be many crucial details to sift through such as nutrition, equipment, maintenance, clothing changes, hydration and motivation in the wee hours of the morning. The smaller your race team, the bigger role your crew and mechanic will play, if you are fortunate enough to have them. On a four-person team, many times the racers end up helping the rider who’s on deck. Essentially, there is enough down time that you can act as crew for each other if needed. As a solo or duo, you’re just too busy trying to ride your bike and recover to be worrying about filling water bottles and checking tire pressure. Still, if you don’t have friends saintly enough to fill these roles it all gets down to foresight and organization.

here. Check out www.bikelights. com for what’s available out there. Lights are expensive, but oh so worth it. Riding at night is a skill and a blast! Practice before the race. Make Lists. I make a list for packing bike gear, clothing, food/nutrition, and personal gear (sunscreen, lube, sunglasses). I also make a list for my crew with a general plan of what to put in my water bottles, what I would like them to prepare for food, what time I expect to need to eat. The more organized you are pre-race, the more fun you will have race day. Ask your crew/teammates to make lists of your lap times and lap times of your competitors so you can keep tabs on your race and re-live your experience afterwards. http://www.ride424. com/training/training.php is a good reference for a packing checklist. Practice Eating. This might seem strange to practice, but what you put into your mouth becomes the fuel to push the pedals. Garbage in = garbage out. For a really great, free reference to nutrition for endurance sports check out The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success which can be downloaded at downloads/fuelinghandbook.pdf. It includes really good information on how to eat before, during and after a hard effort or event. It is worth it to try to incorporate some of these simple strategies to have the most energy possible on race day. Bring treats and comfort food too!

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Pre-Race Preparation
Physical preparation. You must do your homework and get the miles in to prepare for an event of this length. Again is a good reference for designing a realistic training plan. You don’t need to go out and ride for 24 hours straight to train, but you do need a good plan that will prepare you for that distance. I firmly believe that ultra-endurance events involve a high percentage of mental toughness. However, the stronger you feel physically, the easier it is to maintain a strong mental attitude as well. Technical Training. There’s no better training for cycling than just cycling. You know what your weaknesses are, so work on them. It’s no fun to work on what you suck at, but it’s really fun to find that you no longer suck at those things! Do you need to work on climbing and fitness? Downhill? Nutrition? Go do it. Night Fever. GET GOOD LIGHTS! Beg, borrow or rent them if you don’t have them. Many 24 Hour races will have a lighting sponsor with a loaner program for the race. Your basic camping headlamp is NOT the way to go. You will be sorry if you skimp

Race Day
On race day you will ideally be fully prepared and relaxed. By now, all the hard work should be over. On the other hand, expect a few snafus, especially if this is your first 24 hour mtb event. Inevitably something logistical will cause headaches, but just laugh and solve the problem. Stay loose and plan on having the time of your life! Are you interested in riding solo? Read Rebecca’s tips on going solo online at ven turespo rtsj o urn m


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