The Dirty Kanza mud fest and my failed attempt at an attempt to complete the TNGA route back in September left me feeling a little bummed. I needed to do a hard race of some sort to help me bounce back so I made a last minute decision to register for 24 Hours of Georgia solo.
I drove over Friday afternoon through some sweet Atlanta rush hour traffic and arrived at Conyers Olympic Parkway to immediately discover that I had made big mistake #1 - a rigid fork. My eyes were as big as pie plates when I saw tape on the left side of the parkway as I drove in. If you aren’t familiar with the Conyers trail, it is basically a loop split into two sections by a paved road. One side is primarily made up of fun singletrack with roots and logs that are pretty negotiable without a suspension fork. The other side is basically this relentless, pound-you-into-submission washboard granite that shows no mercy for foolhardy, rigid retro-grouches. Oh well…it is what it is…and it’s probably gonna suck.
The next morning, Zach and I line up at around 11:00 to see a lot of familiar faces and shake a few hands before we get going. In the first couple of laps I begin to familiarize myself with the trail again and plan my strategy for which hills to ride and which ones to push. Very important in a race that long. I set a good, steady pace and was moving along pretty good until about 2 or 3 hours in. That is when I realized that I had made big mistake #2 - brand new shoes. I had finally destroyed my old shoes beyond repair during the previous week’s ‘cross race and picked up a new pair before I left Birmingham. This proved to be a bigger mistake than the fork. Not only did I already have blinding pain in the balls of my feet, but I had worn a hole in my socks and was rubbing raw blisters against the back of my shoes. Pushing the four steep climbs were unbearable by this time and I was just getting started. I stopped after lap 3 to layer my feet up with two extra pairs of socks to cover the exposed blisters (Zach’s idea. Zach’s always thinking). I can walk again. Crisis averted, but I could already tell that my chances of finishing were going to depend more on my tolerance for pain than my fitness level. Fun times.
Back on the bike, I decide to start putting some laps away while I’m still fresh. I settle into a nice rhythm for the next few hours and into the evening completely oblivious to not only what time it was but how I was actually doing. Sometime around midnight, as I’m approaching the start/finish, I can hear Bruce Dickman’s marathon pipes echoing through the woods saying something about the Singlespeed category being a tight race. Clueless, I pull up to the tent to refill my bottles and Zach informs me that he is dropping out of the race. Bummer. 13 hours is still strong no matter how you slice it. Kudos to the Red One.
I get back on my bike and ride up to the scoring tent past some dirty hippies cranking some live Widespread Panic (a face-melting version of ‘Arlene’). Resisting the urge to dismount, grab a beer, and noodle by the fire, I check the sheets to find out that I’m in third. No backing out now. I’m in it.
Pedaling on through the night, I found myself going back and forth with the guy in fourth and at sometime around 3 or 4 we begin riding together for a while. At one point he tells me that he is going to stop to eat after this lap and mentioned something about his girlfriend and a massage. Time to strategize. Knowing that my new friend is about to make a big mistake, I pretend to have to piss in order let him ride away from me. I check my food/water and decide to stay out for two laps without taking time to refill. I figured that by the time he ate and got his rubdown, I could get at least a half an hour ahead if he even got back on his bike at all. Sure enough, I shine my light over at his campsite a couple of hours later and he is passed out in a chair with his mouth wide open.
With him off my back and second place just out of reach, I was about to settle into a more comfortable pace until I checked the sheets to find a new threat slowly gaining on me. It was still dark and I knew there was a lot of riding left to do. I thought that just by staying out for a couple of more laps he would get the hint and give up. But everytime I checked in when I would ride through, he was still riding. I tried turning faster laps. He would turn faster laps. I even tried putting out the word that I wasn’t stopping for shit, but alas, he just kept going out. By daylight it was clear that this cat was going to make me earn my swag.
With some newfound energy in the morning, I was making better time and started pulling away from fourth. A couple of hazy hours later, I finished my 14th and final lap to clinch 3rd place at around 23 hours and 168 miles. I handed in my chip and waited around to see who had pushed me so hard in the last few hours. Turned out to be a guy John and I had met at Kanza back in June. Small world.
Looking back, this was not the hardest race that I’ve done physically but definitely the most pain that I have ever had to overcome. Between the unavoidable foot pain and the merciless hand/arm beating that I took on those rocks for all of those hours, I don’t think I have ever had to endure that much suffering. “You can’t have the sweet without the sour”, they say…and that podium was definitely sweet.