28th June 2019
Written by Rishi Fox
I've been involved in the world of Ultra Endurance Cycling for a few years now. It started with cycle touring and then progressed to Solo Unsupported Bike-packing races.
Up until 2015 I was a mountain biker. I had never ridden a road bike. I was racing a fair bit at the time and found that I was a lot more competitive the longer the races were. I bought a road bike with the intention of using it for training for mountain bike racing. But I started to really enjoy the long training rides and the adventure of the journey that you can get on a road bike. So, the rides became longer. And longer. And then I heard about the Transcontinental Bike Race (TCR), a solo unsupported bikepacking race from Belgium to Turkey, some 4000km. And that was the start of me truly "going long". I joined Audax Australia and used their rides as training. When I first joined I had never ridden more than 150km in one go. My first Audax ride was 300km, backed up the next day with 100km. I remember thinking about the distance and that I couldn't possibly do that, but I just broke it down into 50km sections, complete one, then do the next, and yes, I made it to the end. Training continued and eventually I got to the point where the distances didn't phase me anymore.
I raced the TCR in 2016 and 2017, both times pulling out approximately 2000km into the race. The first attempt I ended up in hospital with dehydration and heat exhaustion. My second attempt I pulled out when I felt the heat exhaustion starting again combined with the start of Shermer’s neck which left me feeling very unsafe on the road on my own. In 2018 I was determined to do a race I could complete. I had the fitness but my body does not respond to extreme temperatures well. So I went to Ireland and raced in the Transatlantic Way. A race guaranteed not to be hot! Well it was hot! But within my tolerances. Again, a solo unsupported race, this time 2500km, with a stack of coastal climbing, some headwinds, and one storm. I finished in 8 days and placed somewhere midfield. I was elated to make it to the end after three years of training both body and mind.
I heard about Revolve24 not long after I got home from Ireland. It intrigued me. I am used to racing long distances and I had ridden for more than 24 hours on several occasions, but never at intensity or with a support crew who could help me reduce my stopped time even further. I was compelled to enter to see what I could do. How far I could go? How much I could push myself?
I am good at riding without stopping. I am good at pacing myself. I knew how fast I could push and maintain for 24 hours. But how would my body hold out without any breaks for that long? I had a plan, and that was pretty much to never get off the bike. Only for toilet breaks. The goal was 600km. Based on my usual speed for endurance events I thought this would be achievable. I totally underestimated Revolve24. It’s very different to a regular endurance event without support, where you stop where you like, you have constantly changing scenery and weather and you have days on days to make up time. For me 24 hours seems a short amount of time. It’s a long time on the bike, but it’s a short race.
The race started off pretty fast. I tried to stay with the group for the first two laps but it was too intense for me and I wanted to hold my own rhythm. Unfortunately, it was also very hot and there was quite a bit of wind. My heart rate would just not come down, it took a few hours before my body finally got into its usual endurance mode. Then it was smooth sailing. I was happy. I had my routine. Ride 2 hours, go through transition, switch bottles, fill up feed bag, repeat. I tried not to waste too much time but my stomach was also very upset. I was on antibiotics during the race. There were a lot more toilet breaks than I had anticipated, so I tried to hold a higher average speed to make up for it. I felt great all through the night. Night riding is a welcome relief for me. I enjoy the quiet, the cool air and it becomes a bit of a meditation. I only had one episode of the sleep monsters. Dropping my bottle quickly woke me up though and I spent the next few laps looking for it! By daybreak I was ahead of my schedule to hit the 600km mark. I also had no idea but was told that I was in contention for a podium and had been catching up during the night while others were taking extended breaks. I was to come to grief later in the day though when the average speed dropped dramatically due to an injury. I had torn my left sartorius while racing in Ireland and a very similar pain had started. I immediately freaked out thinking the same thing was happening again. That had been on an 8 day race and I had managed to continue racing on it for 3 days in excruciating pain, so I was fairly sure that I could get through the remaining hours of the race without doing too much damage. So I just kept on pedaling. It hurt so badly. I could no longer stand up on the pedals to climb, and I had to click down to my lowest gear and push with just one leg. The headwinds became the same as the hills for me. I didn't know if I was going to be able to hit 600km anymore so the goal just became to finish. I kept going even down to the last lap, being the last rider out on course. I have a rule.... if you have time for another lap you have to do it. I could barely unclip when I crossed the line. 594km. How cruel! 6km shy of my target. In the end I was happy with my result. I scored myself second place, and to continue riding (even at a snail’s pace) when I had injured myself again was a win for me. My stopped time was more than I liked but still a reasonable 40 minutes within the 24 hours.
While I was riding I told myself "you don’t have to do this again", but it only took a few hours post race for me to decide to enter again. I couldn't not. I know I can do more. I really do love riding my bike and it was nice to be able to share that with my partner Ben and my Mother Lynne who usually watch me through a GPS transponder on the other side of the world. So, I will be back for Revovle24 again! I am working on preventing a re-occurrence of the injury, and I have a new goal of 650km! See you there!
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