My local 24hr Mountain bike race is coming up. It got me thinking. Why is it that every year this event rolls around and every year ordinary people go and do something quite extraordinary? It can sound overwhelming, riding your bike for 24hrs off-road. Yet there's something about it that keeps us coming back for more.
I thought I'd delve a little deeper and maybe cobble together a few hints and tips for those of you out there that are thinking of giving it a crack.
Firstly though, a bit of a lesson about the who, what, where, when and touch on the why of 24hr Solo racing.
Where did it all start?
It would be remiss to pen an article about 24hr racing without crediting the pioneer of this mad event: Mountain bike hall of famer, John Stamstad.
Having previously competed in 24hr events as a team rider, Stamstad entered the 24hrs of Canaan as all four riders on a pro team, (using four variations of his name so his entry would be accepted), and rode the event solo beating many of the teams. The following year there was a solo category which Stamstad won, a trend that continued until he retired in 2001.
A self appointed "World Championships" emerged in North America in 1999-although much like other American sports they forgot to invite any other countries. (I jest here, anyone who qualified was able to enter but the races were all held in USA and Canada and garnered little interest outside of North America.)
The early years of 24hr solo world championships were dominated by English/American Chris Eatough. A full time professional rider, surrounded by a dedicated team, with a meticulous approach and a season built targeting the World Solo Championships. He took the title every year from 2000-2005 until he was famously beaten by part-timer Craig Gordon. (NOTE: To describe Gordon as a “part-timer” isn't quite right. He did however hold down a full time job while racing and training throughout his preparation for the 2006 world solo championships)
After Gordon's breakthrough win the next three years saw three different riders take the title including Jason English who has gone on to win every year since 2009.
What's it all about?
At its core, 24hr racing is very simple. On a course, usually between 10 and 20 miles riders generally set off at midday on Saturday and no more laps may be started after midday Sunday. Whoever rides the most number of laps, wins. If two riders finish on the same number of laps, then the rider across the line first is the winner.
Okay, maybe "easy as" is selling it short. There's no doubt one of the prime places to see what a zombie on a bike looks like is at about 2-4am during a 24. Without wanting to start a fight I'm putting it out there that 24hr solo racing is one of the hardest one day races you can do.
Who can do it?
There's an old adage in endurance racing that goes a little something like, "if you're feeling bad or feeling good, don't worry, it'll soon pass". Don't let that scare you off though. With most 24hr races you can ride as little or as much as you like, making them accessible for anyone. If you want to push your limits, you are going to go through some tough times.
Age is no barrier either. Tinker Juarez was 47 years young when he won the elite title at Laguna Seca, almost twice the age of James Williamson who won in the mud of '08 in Canmore.
Well then....Why do it?
I personally think the difficulty of the 24hr contributes to making these events so fullfilling. The sense of achievement at the end goes a long way to offsetting the dark thoughts and aching body that hallmark this type of racing. Plus, it's good fun when people ask what you did on your weekend and you get to see the looks on their face!!
It's not all mindless suffering and caffeine fuelled hallucinations, there's definitely a strong feeling of camaraderie. There aren't many sports where you'll be chatting to the world champion at 2 in the morning. All of the top guys (with the exception of one rider who shall remain nameless) have been unfailing cool people to interact with both on and off the course.
Where are they held?
24hr races are held all over the world. Usually in autumn and spring as this lends itself towards gentler weather conditions and a decent amount of sunlight hours. There are dozens of races worldwide every year.
The biggest is the Scott 24 in Canberra Australia, attracting over 2,000 riders every year. Held at Mt Stromlo this event has been around in one form or another for 25 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
After a hugely successful World Championships in Australia in 2010, 24hrs Of Adrenaline struggled to secure a venue for the following year but still host a number of races throughout North America. The “World Championships” are now conducted by WEMBO-the World Endurance Mountain Biking Organisation which has taken the worlds to Italy, back to Australia and the next two years are in Scotland and California.
How can I get involved?
A quick "Bing" search will turn up any events near you. As always your local bike shop will be a gold mine of information. I almost guarantee there will be someone working there who has competed in a 24. They will have some tips on what to expect in your area. Courses and local conditions vary so it's best to talk to someone who has “been there, done that” on the course you are looking to race on.
In the end though the best way to find out if 24 solo racing is for you is to pump up your tires, drop some coin on an entry fee and go out and see if you like it. I can't promise that you will but you'll never know for sure until you give it a go.
Alternatively if solo is biting off more than you can chew you could try for a team event of 4-6 people. Be as casual or as serious as you want!
Until next time, grab your mates, throw a leg over your steed and get some mud on your face.