Singletrack Magazine Issue 118: A Glamorous Job

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Jason Miles tells us a few home truths about the indignities of 24 hour racing. The physical battle doesn’t end at the finish line.

On reflection, rounding off a cycling weekend by sitting in a hot bath shivering uncontrollably and shouting for my wife to come and help me get out of the tub wasn’t entirely normal. 

Neither was screaming my lungs out one time because one of the kids had just accidentally elbowed me on the leg. 

Having to keep stopping the car on the way home so that I could walk around and relieve some of the pain in my knees. That was a good one. 

Or how about the time I fell asleep in the dining room of a nice hotel, head resting on my nice comfy beefburger? 

I’ve got loads of these rather grim anecdotes, all of them relating to 24-hour solo racing. Ever fancied riding a 24-hour race, solo? Yes? Well, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you about some things that tend to happen that you may not know about, dredged up from the dark memories of about 30 of these damn things, but be warned – some of this stuff might put you off… 

Let’s start with an old friend of mine – to protect the innocent, let’s just call him ‘Mister Poo Pants’. All was going well in this particular 24-hour solo race for Mister Poo Pants – he was worrying the top three at least, until he had one too many sugary treats and literally had a poo. In his bib shorts. Halfway around the course. I believe he had to walk like John Wayne all the way back to the start. He didn’t stop pooing for a while, so his race was over. Better luck next time, Mr P!

I raced for a number of years on a fully rigid bike. This wasn’t an attempt to prove to others how hard I am – it’s just that I find climbing much easier with a rigid fork and, to be fair, not many races had a course that warranted any more than a large tyre up front. But, over time, the vibrations took their toll on my nerves and to this day I have very little sensation in either of my little fingers. It really doesn’t bother me… until I start cycling. Then the tingling starts.

Going back to the hot bath story – that was a few hours after a particularly hard 24-hour race. I’d got into a warm bath and decided to put more hot water in. You know, just to make my legs feel better. That’s when the fun and games started and I went into shock. Sweating, shivering, blurred vision… I had no idea what was going on at the time; it took me a few hours to recover and ended with a few litres of fluid exiting my body via my pores later that night, all over the bed. 

Some reading on the internet later led me to believe this was a condition called lactic acidosis – caused by severe physical trauma, extreme fluid depletion, and all the stuff in my muscles and blood being all over the place. Apparently, it’s life-threatening and, even worse, I let my beef satay go cold. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in the shower days after a race and large sheets of dead skin have peeled off my backside. This is especially prevalent after wet races, where no amount of chamois butter nor the greatest pair of shorts are going to stop your arse being worn away. 

Do you like sleeping? So do I. Unfortunately, after a 24-hour bike race you’re not going to get much of that. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, if you bear in mind your arse could be falling off, your heart rate is permanently elevated much higher than it should be (because your body thinks you’ve contracted a horrible disease), and you’re hot all the time, sleep isn’t very easy to come by. 

You can’t grip anything properly. You can’t walk properly. You can’t ride your bike to work or sit down properly. You can’t stop eating sugar. You can’t stop eating pastry. Your partner gets really annoyed because you’re eating the food before it makes it from the shopping bag to the cupboard. Your kids get annoyed because you’re eating all their sweets and stash of Easter eggs. Your hormones (I don’t know which ones – in my case the ones that regulate unreasonably grumpy moods and sarcasm) are up the spout so you’re an unfriendly tosspot. You’ve spent all your money on food and spares, most of which are discarded, unused, in a massive muddy heap in the garage. And your bike is ruined. Not that you care – you hate your bike anyway. 

You’ve trained for months for the race and have been out of the house for dozens of hours every week just to be ready and at your physical peak, but you’ve quite literally spent all your fitness in the race and now you have none. You’re as weak as a kitten. 

And you look like a bag of crap. A combination of being incredibly run-down and all the greasy food you’re ploughing through means that your skin is a zit-infested disaster. 

If you’re still seriously considering a 24-hour solo, good luck, train hard, and I’ll see you there! 

Just remember to take your pillow to the post-race meal. 

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