It is 3:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the temperature has dropped into the 30s. The sweat pouring out of me would freeze to my helmet strap if I wasn’t giving off heat like a glass blower’s furnace. I have been pedaling way over my lactic threshold for the past 20 minutes riding like a scared rabbit being chased by a pack of angry coyotes. Our team is fighting hard to maintain that 3rd place position on the podium.
While thoughts should be focused on how to reel in the team in front of us, the doubt is creeping in… can I hang on? How much more will my legs take? Where is that big rut that almost killed me on the last lap? This is lap number 14 at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo bike race and I am fighting hard for my four-person single speed team.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a gifted athlete but have somehow survived the madness of endurance racing through an uncanny ability to spend the darkest hours dwelling deep in the pain cave and the ability to turn myself inside out when the pressure is on to avoid letting the team down. But now as I suffer through the darkness, my headlight illuminating the narrow singletrack framed by giant chollas, the only thought in my head is: WHY?
Why do I suffer like this? Why do I pay an entry fee to do it? Why do I spend cold winter mornings on the cyclocross bike trying to build up a tolerance to the pain that I know is coming come race day? Why do I spend winter evenings of misery on the indoor trainer watching the seconds tick by without actually getting anywhere?
Another rider’s beam of light in the distance brings me back to reality and re-motivates me to turn the pedals over a little quicker. I have done this enough times to know that the only way to get through is to concentrate on attempting to pick off each rider that comes into view instead of drowning in the thoughts of what most sane people are doing at this time… like sleeping in a warm and comfortable bed. Ouch.
This incessant game of chasing and being chased, carries on for a full 24 hours; and then as soon as it started it is over. Next, a very strange thing happens. We begin to reminiscence about how much FUN we had. A quick review of the results has us saying things like, “if only I had pushed harder on lap number 7”; as if it would have been that easy. On the drive home I anaesthetize my wife with play-by-play details of every pedal stoke, every close encounter with the cholla, and every grueling climb. As after every race, I swear to come back in better shape next year, knowing full well that my busy schedule will never allow me to be the racer I would like to be.
Endurance racing. Love it, hate it or both!
Jeff Fox is Osprey’s bike marketing manager and is a dedicated — love it or hate it — to endurance racing.