In my pursuit to qualify for the world’s toughest bicycle race – the 3,000 mile Race Across America – I took on the 24hr virtual World Time Trial Championships on the 16th & 17th of January. Thanks to Covid, the event normally held on an 18 mile flat course in Borrego Springs, California, was being held virtually on the app FulGaz.
400 miles was the target, all I needed to do was to get out (in) and push myself to ride the furthest I’d ever done in a single ride.
I wasn’t sure how the start of the race would play out for me – you sort of get used to starting races in the morning, but because the vWTTC is a US event the time difference meant that in the UK we’d be kicking off at 5pm on the Saturday.
My prep has become pretty much routine now, a big bowl of Power Porridge (courtesy of the Cycling Chef), a mix of oats, caoco powder, peanut butter, chia seeds and chopped nuts. I normally eat this with an electrolyte drink about 90 minutes before the start…the kids couldn’t believe I finished it.
I’ve discussed this before, while I called this part of the blog the race – because it is – these challenges aren’t really about racing the other guys and girls on the course. I had one goal in mind, getting over the 400mi distance required to qualify for RAAM, placing on a leaderboard is a very secondary thought for me and only something I tend to worry about in the last quarter of the race. With more experience behind me (so I am actually in any way competitive) I guess I might start to think differently.
The ride countdown ticked down and on 00:00:00 (or 5pm) we were off down the dusty California road. My plan was to ride somewhere on the cusp between Zone 1 and 2, around 2w/kg, so I could just tap out the mileage. That said, I wanted to try and get a good, strong 6-12hrs ridden while I still felt fresh and hopefully awake, so I pushed a fraction harder off the start.
I thought I went out strong, but seeing some of the numbers being pumped out by the front guys – riding at or above 3w/kg – I was frankly amazed. I guess this is one of the differences with this kind of virtual event, its harder to get sucked out of your own game plan, feeling the need to keep up or chase someone down.
I rode the first 3 laps at around 55mins each, averaging between 18 and 19mph, feeling good and strong. I’ve found the first 6hrs is where you ride in to these kind of events, settling the nerves and bedding in to your rhythm. It helped that Matt, who was also riding the 24hrs, and I could chat as we rode using Discord. We were joined for an hour by a friend and fellow Spokes athlete Stewart, who rode around the course (in sympathy). These early chats are a good way to keep the first few hours light and hopefully pass quicker.
8hrs and a 1/3 of the time ridden, I had no idea where I was on the track but the inevitable slump starting but I was trying to keep my focus on the halfway mark. The challenge with indoors, the miles and the hours tick by but often nothing changes – I’d watched 3089 Miles Across America (a documentary about RAAM) and Terminator Salvation and had some music on.
I popped my first Pro Plus around 12 – 1am, which was earlier than I had hoped – even Matt was surprised when I shared that fact with him a bit later – but in my mind I was preparing early in order to minimise any crashes like I had at vRevolve24.
I was feeling generally, pretty sick by this point, my stomach hurt and I just didn’t feel like eating even though I knew I needed to. I’d bought a couple of bottles of Chocolate breakfast drinks and spent the next few hours sipping them slowly. It did the trick, I was just left wishing I’d bought more!
You think going over the halfway mark makes it all that much easier, because now every pedal stroke takes you closer to the finish than the start. I’ll admit, I was struggling, I was tired and my left foot was on fire. 5am arrived and I pushed on to finish the current lap before jumping off the bike and changed my bib shorts (my go to are the dhb Aeron Ultra bib shorts because the pad is excellent and their are lightweight) and socks,. I just wanted to feel as fresh as I could and avoid too much salt build up and the risk of chaffing. A quick application of Veloskin chamois cream on the clean pad and a refill of a few bottles (a challenge with riding solo, having to do all the support work myself) and I was good to go again.
A few of my social media followers began to question my sanity, noting that the pictures I was sharing had my bib shorts on the wrong way. I was developing a hot spot on my bum and double shorting (a pairs, worn inside out over the top of the normal pair) was a trick I’d been told about. I did this for a couple of hours just to try and take some weight off that area for a while. Looking after the race, my saddle had turned slightly – another thing I need to remember to check pre race.
Figured I’d try and push harder for the final two hours, so off I set – using the map and my fellow riders positions as motivation. I began pushing, back up to the pace I had at the start of the race, chasing people down and pushing harder on what little elevation there was. I managed a lap and a half before I realised my mistake…in my haze of tiredness what I though was two hours left was actually three. Idiot.
We were finally in to the last stages of the race, a battle between head and legs to just keep the pedals turning. I was hammering it as best I could with the very welcome distraction of chatting to Tom (who was riding the 6hr), Matt and Pav (who now coaches all three of us) as we rode through the afternoon. It was nice because we talked about what we were going to do when the race was over – for me, it was a beer and a takeaway and so to keep myself motivated for that reward I jumped on the JustEat app and ordered it to arrive after the finish.
5pm and 24 long hours later and we were done. That was physically and mentally so much harder than vRevolve24. The flat course gave you no respite, that and pushing to get over 400 miles had all taken it’s toll. I was done!
Fueling to endure
Endurance rides, anything over three hours you should be looking to take in a minimum of 60g of carbohydrates per hour – the key is little and often. Why, because you can keep topping up those glycogen stores without overloading your stomach, affecting digestion and causing unwanted gastric issues.
My diet and fuelling has been a huge part of my learning and every ride is different at the moment. I suffered during the vWTTC’s – my stomach was sore, eating became painful and I was struggling at points to stave off bonking.
I make a habit of keeping wrappers and packaging after an event, so I can check what I’ve eaten and if overall I was hitting the required intake. From the devastation, I’m estimating I took in between 750g and 800g of carbohydrates during the 24hr event, through a mix of food and fluids. Now, based on the guide intake from earlier, that’s really a little over half of where I should have been pitching. This is something I need to keep working on.
I try and mix homemade with pre-packaged products and get a good balance between sweet and savoury if I can, I find it works well most of the time. For the vWTTC I was eating;
- Homemade Egg & Rice soufflés, Chia Seed Flapjacks and Pizza Rolls (I’ve found the book Feedzone Portables to be an excellent resource for easy to make, on-bike food).
- I tend to buy products that are as natural and have as few ingredients in as possible, KMC are a great choice because its high carb and packed with electrolytes too,
- Sweets – now I don’t advocate fuelling adventures on sweets, my go to Jelly Babies serve two useful purposes. 6 babies will give you the same carbohydrate hit as a Gel and allow you to spread out the intake, avoiding any sugar spikes, but also, mentally they are a treat and when you are in a dark place a treat is a good thing.
For drinks I tend to stick to a mix of water and KMC Iso Mix as my main source of carbohydrates and electrolytes, alternating between the two. I really like the KMC products, it tastes good and its natural and kind to my stomach, which I need.
Early in to the event, normally around 10-12hrs I will have some Green Tea (from Mission) – it’s gentle on the stomach and gives a more sustained (albeit lower) caffeine boost than coffee. If I need coffee, which I did in this event, I’ve found using cold brew cans to be a convenient choice – I can drink it straight or empty it in to a bidon with a splash of oat milk.
As it stands I believe I rode 405mi which is over the RAAM Qualifying distance, I’m just waiting for official word now – keep your fingers crossed.
If you’d like to support me and the two amazing Charities I’m fundraising for, you can donate using the link below. Alternatively, some of my partners pay me a small commission – all of which I declare and donate annually – so any purchases you make using my links and codes goes towards the fundraising total.