Another 24 Hours on the Test Track

The 2021 Subaru CASA Cycling Challenge

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Joy and I arrived at the track a couple of hours before the 10:00 AM start. It was the hottest, most humid, and windiest of the four times I'd participated. We originally set up at our assigned location next to the large, noisy Caterpillar company relay team, but quickly decided to move to a quieter spot near my friend Marc. Marc was the first bike riding friend I'd ever been able to convince to participate in the race. As we got ready, I offered him some probably annoying unsolicited advice ("Don't start out too fast and burn all your matches at once", etc.) Fortunately for him - it turned out - he did not listen to me, and wisely did his own thing instead.

Marc and me before the start of the race on Saturday morning.

Participation was lighter than in previous years, maybe because of the pandemic, but there were still a lot of people on the track for the mass start. My strategy this year was to maintain a 17.5 to 18.0 mph average, take a short break every two hours, and not push myself too hard. I wanted to avoid the terrible bonk when I ended the race prematurely in 2019, lying in the infield and vomiting

Predictably, once the race started, I wasn't able to stick to my plan faithfully, and sped up. It was too hard for me to resist the pressure of the faster riders. The heat and humidity took its toll by mile 92 in the hot early afternoon when I experienced pretty terrible leg cramps. I stopped for a while and sat down. I cleaned off my salt-encrusted face and drank a fruit smoothie Joy made for me. I decided to switch from my road bike to my back up bike, my Wabi single speed with its 48x16 gear. I thought that I might be able to push the smaller gear more easily while I tried to recover from the cramps.

Back to the race, but now on the Wabi single speed.

I got back on the track, riding much more slowly now. The cramps returned from time to time the rest of the afternoon, but I was able to avoid the worst of them by spinning the smaller gear on the single speed, standing up on the bike more often, and rehydrating as often as possible. Still, more than once I had to get off the track and lie down in the grass until the painful cramps stopped. Once one of the relay team riders who was waiting his turn to ride noticed me and told someone nearby, "Hey, the 'Cramps Guy' is down again." Great! My nickname is now "The Cramps Guy." Another time I stopped and lay down and Marc happened to be riding by. He advised me to elevate my feet on the guardrail. That seemed to help.

By early evening the shape of the race was clear. Four of us were bunched at the top of the standings in the individual male category: Marc, in his first time in the race, and having ignored my advice about starting off too fast, was way ahead in first place. Two riders from Evansville, Indiana who appeared to be working together - taking turns pulling and drafting - were at two and three, and I was farther behind in fourth place. The other riders were far behind. Clearly none of them were threats now.

After my ordeal with the cramps, I altered my plan. I decided to do whatever I could do to just keep riding, even if that meant going more slowly and taking longer breaks and hydrating and eating more frequently. My assumption was that at some point at least one of the three riders ahead of me would have to slow down or maybe even stop entirely if they kept up their faster paces.

Sure enough, by 12:30 AM when I belatedly hit 200 miles - my original plan had been to accomplish that by 10:30 - one of the two Evansville guys quit the race. His friend, a smaller, wiry guy on a Tri Bike, continued on at his fast pace. Every time I saw this guy during the race he was very low in the aero position on his bike. I don't know how he was able to maintain that presumably uncomfortable position for so many hours. Marc was substantially ahead of the Evansville guy, who was in turn substantially ahead of me now. But finally, at some point in the early morning before Joy went to sleep for a few hours, she reported that Marc had gotten off the bike, and was taking a long break. I sped up, and counted the laps as I rode past Marc's campsite, where his bike was parked for about an hour. By the time he got back on the track, I had cut his lead to one lap, and the Evansville guy, who had also apparently rested for a while, was now a couple of laps ahead of Marc.

Unfortunately for me I was getting tired by now, and Marc and the Evansville guy pulled ahead again while I sat in the food tent trying to force myself to drink the various sports drinks there, all of which disgusted me. As I write this, I never want to drink Gatorade or similar products again.

My cramps had finally subsided though, so around 3:00 AM I switched back to my faster Cannondale road bike with its clip-on aero bars. I was still riding at a fairly measured pace. Now that third place was secure, my goal was to simply finish, and also get my personal record for the event. My best performance had been the first time I'd ridden, in 2017, when I did 155 laps (310 miles.) Maybe either Marc or the Evansville guy would crack and I could get 2nd place as a bonus.

As the sun came up, and it got hot and windy again, though, it was clear that neither Marc or Evansville guy were going to crack. During a couple of my brief stops to eat and drink, Joy reported that the Evansville guy (and Marc, to a lesser extent) "looked bad." However, back on the track neither of them looked that "bad" to me. Both were still riding faster than I was, and time was running out. I was overcome with lassitude and stopped at the food tent, where donuts had recently arrived. I quicky ate two of them, causing a simultaneous painful toothache and urge to vomit. I glanced at the computer screen showing the standings to see that Marc was now uncatchable unless his wheels completely fell off. I got back on the track. I really wanted to beat my 2017 PR.

At some point Joy called out from the side of the track "He stopped! You're behind by four laps!". The Evansville guy had finally given up, and I had a chance for 2nd place. Marc, who looked very, very tired by now, pulled me for a lap. And then I did another lap and narrowed the lead to two. However (I found out later), friends of the Evansville guy noticed that I was still riding and was catching up, and literally picked him up from the reclining lawn chair where he was resting, put his helmet on his head, put him on his bike, and insisted that he get on the track. Despite reports from Joy and Marc that he now looked "very, very bad", the wiry dude passed me on the track, still low in his aero bars. Once he was one lap ahead, and there wasn't enough time on the clock for me to catch up, he stopped. I finished at a minute and a half before 10:00 AM one lap behind him and five laps behind Marc.

Marc, triumphant after his first-place finish.

Immediately after the last lap.

Me with the second-place finisher, who appears to be unconscious.

Final results:

  1. Marc Pawsat: 164 laps (328 miles)
  2. Drew Swonder ("Evansville Guy"): 160 laps (320 miles)
  3. Me: 159 laps (318 miles)

Perhaps as impressive as Marc's first-place finish was the fact that he actually drove himself home, a distance of about 240 miles, immediately after the race. I slept most of the way home while Joy drove the four hours. I stayed awake long enough when we got home to eat many carbs, including a large bowl of mashed potatoes, then slept for several hours.

Mashed potatoes, potato chips, naan bread, Stauffer's Whales cheddar crackers. That's what I needed.