I was pretty sure I could ride farther this year than last. Last year I rolled up to the start only 3 weeks back on the bike after rehabbing a major injury—definitely not in race shape—and just kept turning laps for 24 hours through pure stubbornness. Last year I felt like my race was a celebration of being back on the bike, and a celebration of the great city of Atlanta from which I had only recently moved away. FM.24.08 was also a hell of a lot of fun, and pretty much how I ended up racing for FM in 2009.
This year I rolled up to the start in pretty good condition, having raced about a thousand miles on the mountain bike since January. My not-too-well-formulated goals for this year were:
1. Race at least one really fast lap
2. Ride 100 miles before the sun set and more total miles than I did in 2008
3. Hang out some with my Atlanta friends and teammates
4. Drink a beer at some point mid-race
5. Er... well... win the women’s solo category (and place in the top five solo overall)
I rode my road bike, a titanium Lynskey R330, with almost no modifications for the excessive mileage I was about to throw down. I did move one headset spacer to raise my stem 5mm, and mounted some new Conti Gatorskins, but that’s it.
The start was a run about 50 yards around some Jersey barriers to where our bikes were staged on a closed bridge. Lemans starts are bad enough on dirt roads in mountain bike shoes, but it was nearly impossible on cement, in Speedplay road cleats. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry for my first lap, though, and just tiptoed over to my bike in my socks.
The Lemans start. Photo by Laurence.
I hadn’t gotten a chance to pre-ride the course, and didn’t know exactly where a couple of the RFID-activated checkpoints were. So I took the first lap as a warm-up and kept the pace pretty mellow. The 12 mile laps were pretty tough. There was one steep-ass climb (Tenth in Midtown); a couple long gradual climbs (Virginia in VH, Euclid in Inman Park); some punchy little rolling steeps through downtown near the end of the lap; and one long straightaway where, as long as your traffic and pothole skills were highly developed, you could really put the hammer down (Marietta from Downtown to Georgia Tech). There were a few sketchy diagonal road crossings. Near Piedmont Park, due to an Arts festival the fastest route would change depending on the time of day: either through the Park, going the wrong way up Piedmont Ave, or dodging pedestrians on a sandy, cracked-up sidewalk. I got to revisit some of my old familiar Atlanta bike routes every lap too: Grant Park; the Krog St tunnel; going up Colquitt to Little Five Points.
The next several laps were pretty social, there were lots of people out on the course and I was still fine-tuning my route. It was Atlanta, though, so there was always something happening. Riding alone on Marietta, a car directly in front of me suddenly swerved out of its lane, through a fence, down an embankment, and smack into a tree. My first thought was, if I had been a little faster I would have been hit. My second thought was, I hope they are ok so I don’t have to stop racing and help. When I got up to the wreck I saw the two passengers looking stunned but unhurt behind their airbags, the driver already on the phone, so I rode right by. The next lap there were five cops on the scene and the two passengers were talking with them. The next lap, a tow truck was loading the wreck onto its bed. The next lap nothing remained of the crash but some caution tape on the broken fence.
On lap 5, I flatted riding a really rough line on some broken pavement downtown, in tourist central right between the Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center. Families wearing souvenir t-shirts wandered past, staring at me while I swapped the tube-- only to discover my only cartridge was dead. I started walking the half mile back to the start-finish when Leslie, who was also racing solo, stopped to loan me her pump. So nice! I had already lapped her a few minutes before I flatted, but I thought I’d let her gain back some time on me so I wouldn’t feel like I was taking advantage of a good Samaritan. I chilled for a couple minutes at the next checkpoint, Gear Revival, sampling their free keg of Victory Ale and watching people unicycle for the team points competition. It was too hot out, and too early in the race, for me to drink enough there to achieve my #4 goal, “drink a beer," but that was damn fine ale.
On Marietta Ave downtown, pretty soon after my first flat (Leslie is just behind me). Aaron took this photo while riding a lap on the cargo area of the back of Nico's Big Dummy.
Back on track, I started motoring through some laps to try to finish my “hundred miles before sunset” goal. By the time the sun started to drop and the traffic thinned out, I was warmed up and had my route dialed in precisely. The next lap I hit a lot of greens, stomped it up all the hills, blew some lights, and just felt really fast the whole way. According to the results, that lap was 36 min 59 seconds, which would be the second fastest women’s lap of the day and which put me over 100 miles.
The lap after that I flatted for the second time, about a block from No Brakes. I nursed the bike up the hill happy to change a tire in the well-lit shop and not on a dark sidewalk. I ended up spending about half an hour in No Brakes chatting, fixing the flat, buying a new tube, pricing anodized blue chainring bolts, and petting dogs. I also managed to find time to slam a PBR, which not only allowed me to achieve one of my race goals but also gave me five points. During the entire race, while some teams competed for fastest or most laps, other teams were competing for maximum points by doing all sorts of other things. I believe I am the only solo racer who also won bonus points, and yes, I am extremely proud. And that beer tasted so damn good after hours of sports drinks that as I started riding again I began to seriously consider leaving a PBR in my drop bag at my next 100 mile mtb race.
Cutting through the park around 1am, me, Eddie O’Dea, and a couple other riders got stopped by a cop for riding through the park while it was closed, but he let us go after a lecture. The night laps got lonelier and started blending together. The less-serious racers were calling it a night and the roads were emptying out. We weren’t racing on singletrack and there wasn’t much need for constant focus, so it was possible to just let the mind wander and keep turning the pedals. Nutritionally I was doing fine, eating pretzels and drinking a gross, but effective, homebrew of maltodextrin/sugar-free red bull/sea salt/water (during warmer daylight hours I drank maltodextrin/nuun/sea salt/water). My toes started hurting in my ancient road shoes, and I was fatigued, but other than that everything felt pretty much ok physically.
Around 8:30 am I started to feel like I was not having fun anymore. I was closing in on 300 miles. And the traffic was picking up again—with a Falcons game in the Georgia Dome and church and brunch in the neighborhoods, suddenly navigating through the streets got difficult again. It was really hard mentally to roll out for the lap around 9:45 after seeing some of my friends relaxing in regular clothes and eating solid food. I was definitely winning the women’s solo, but I was told I needed two more laps to secure fifth place solo overall (later I would find out that this was incorrect and that I had a comfortable 2 lap cushion on sixth place). But fifth or sixth, I didn’t care. I decided to do one more lap and then be done with it. The idea of finishing, changing out of the lycra, and eating a sandwich really appealed. My last lap of the race was 49 min 26 seconds, almost 3 minutes faster than my first lap of the race had been.
The race was great. I rode about 310 miles and climbed 16,900 feet (my Garmin battery only lasted 17.5 hours so these numbers are extrapolated from the data I did get). Official race results are here (if you care, my lap times are listed in the pull down menu under my team name, Star-Fangled Nut). And I met all my race goals.
More than that, I rode the race I wanted. As this race has gotten faster and better known, people have gotten more serious about strategy and support. I raced this in minimalist style, unsupported but for a giant duffel bag full of pretzels and homemade sports drink. I did my own repair, relied on the kindness of strangers (thanks Leslie!), I didn’t have anyone sag me or give me updates. I didn’t arrange to have anyone draft me or pace me during the race either; this performance was pure Emily, baby! And I didn’t complain or demand things during the race (although I did cry some when I couldn’t get my long-dreamed-of sandwich right after I finished). I’m glad I won my category but it was more important to me to ride the race my way than anything else. I was taking it pretty serious, but I mean, I also pounded a beer ten hours in.
Anyway, I think next time I am gonna race on a team and just focus goals #1, 3, and 4. I’m an endurance racer at heart and it was great to see how far I could ride in a day. But I am not a natural lap-racer and it got pretty tough to keep going over the same twelve miles of streets again and again. If I ride 300 miles in 24 hours anytime ever again, I better end up somewhere 300 miles away from where I started.
This race is a hell of a lot of work to put on. Major congratulations to the organizing team for pulling it off again in epic fashion. You simultaneously threw a great party and a great race, and gave 350 racers something to talk about for a very long time to come.