Time is running out, the 24 Hours of Hell in Paradise is less than a month away! Are you ready? I’ve put together a short guide to help you prepare mentally and physically for the race, whether it’s your first time racing, or you’re a repeat offender :)
Go On A Long Ride
This is a 24 Hour race. You’ll be putting your body through something it’s probably never done before. You are going to want to know what this is like before race day. I’m not saying go ride for 24 Hours, that’s just crazy! But you are going to want to try and ride longer than you ever have before. I recommend at least 4 hours.
Now this isn’t a casual ride where you get off your bike and rest while waiting for the group to catch up. This is a, “I’m going to sit in this saddle and pedal until I can’t go anymore.” type of ride. Pace is not that important, go as slow as you need in order to stay in your saddle for as long as possible. When I train for 24 Hour races I usually do a couple of 4-5 hour rides a month and one 7-8 ride a month. It’s to close to the race to be doing that, but I recommend you get out and do at least one long ride. And do it as soon as possible. Don’t be doing a 5 hour ride two days before the race, your body will need to recover.
So why do this? Good question, there are many reasons. First, your body is going to start hurting from being in the saddle for so long. Aches and pains that don’t show up on your regular ride will surface on these longer rides. You’ll be more prepared for the race if all these aches and pains aren’t a total surprise.
Second, it gives you a chance to work on your diet (more about food later). Eating a Clif Bar might get you by on a regular weekend ride but eating them for 24 hours might be painful. These longer rides are a great way to sort out how much food you’ll need to eat to maintain energy and which foods digest easily while riding.
Third, it’s just a good test of your fitness. If you can’t ride for 4 hours, you can’t ride for 24 :) But if you can, who knows how much further you can ride if you set your mind to it!
Lastly, 24 Hour races are as much a mental game as they are a physical one. Often winners aren’t the most fit riders, but the strongest mentally. The ability to sit on your bike and keep pedalling through the rain, mud and pain is what sets finishers apart. Your mind will keep telling you to quit, you’ve got to fight it and keep going. On these longer rides you’ll mind will start telling you to give up, go eat lunch, there’s no point in this… and you’ve got to tell it to shut up and keep pedalling.
Food and Nutrition
What food and how much food varies greatly between riders but I’ll mention what I have learned in my years racing 24 Hour events. You need to eat! Even if you don’t think you do, you do. For me it’s about 400-500 calories an hour. That’s tons of calories! Every lap I’m eating and drinking, and I don’t miss a lap. The first few years of racing 24’s I ate only when I was hungry, but I paid the price. You are constantly and consistently riding and burning energy. You need to constantly and consistently be replenishing that energy. If you don’t, it’s going to catch up to you. It’s hard enough to keep going when you brain is telling you to stop, or when your body is telling you to stop. It’s nearly impossible when both your brain and body are yelling at you to stop. Keep eating!
What you eat is entirely up to you. Some folks do chips and burgers, others grow their own food and prepare an organic natural feast. I’ve seen winners do both. Experiment on your rides leading up to the race and see what your body digests easily and sits comfortably in your stomach. What’s important is that you have enough food and drink, and you keep shoveling it in there! Just a note, if you want to finish, keep the beers locked in a cooler. Once the beer comes out, your race is probably over.
Also, prepare your food so that it’s easily accessible between laps. I actually divide my food up into 24 separate little meals (including drinks), so they are easy to eat and I know exactly how much I am eating every lap. It will also save you from wasting time on race day.
Your Bike May Break
Now is a good time to start ordering some replacement parts for your bike. What to include? Tubes, patch kit, extra chain, chain quick links, pump, compressed air, spare derailleur hangers, shift cable, brake pads, tool bag for under your seat and whatever else you might think of. One snapped derailleur hanger and your race is over if you don’t come prepared. Believe me it can happen, one year I busted two derailleur hangers in the same 24 Hour race… I had to run home and grab another bike. Which brings me to the last point, if you have a spare bike, you might as well bring it. Even if it’s not the ideal 24 Hour bike, at least it will keep you riding. When I broke my derailleurs the only other bike was my downhill bike. I completed 12 more laps on that beast and took 3rd place in Solo Mens.
Half this race is done in the dark. Proper lighting is key. If you only have enough lights for two hours, that’s 10 hours you won’t be racing. Be sure to pick up enough lights and or batteries to last the entire night. Nowadays there are alternatives when buying lights. It’s possible to buy lights pretty cheap on Ebay and Amazon that work just fine. They might not be as high quality or long lasting as big name brands but they won’t break the bank either.
How much light to have is equally important. Some folks use both a handlebar light and a helmet light. Some just one or the other. It’s up to each individual. What I can say is that the more light you have, the better. Good lighting helps prevent fatigue since you can actually see what is coming sooner and are able to pick smoother lines. Dim lights mean banging into more objects. It takes more concentration to ride with low visibility and concentration uses mental energy. You’ll need all the spare mental energy you’ve got to stay motivated and on your bike.
Your campground is your home base, it’s your happy place. It’s where you will take shelter from the storm, collect your thoughts and motivate yourself to continue. Take the time before the race to get everything setup and ready so your campground is a tool to help you complete the race, not a distraction from the race. Bring a good strong, waterproof tent or covering with enough room to change comfortably in. At 3am you don’t want to be tripping all over your gear while changing clothes. Believe me, you don’t need that frustration! Have your tools, food and supplies easily accessible.
If you are coming to party, you’ll probably want to setup your tent as close as possible to the center of camp where most of the action is. It’s a bit louder and turns into a part in the wee hours of the night. If you want to finish the race, setting up your tent on the fringes of the camp is probably your best bet. It’s much quieter and there are less distractions. Also recommended if you have kids and you actually want them to get some sleep.
Clothing: If you’re not soaked in rain and mud, you’re going to be soaked in sweat. Riding 24 Hours in the same stinky clothes is not fun. Putting on a new pair of riding clothes at 2am, after 17 hours of riding is like being born again. If possible, bring several extra pairs of riding clothes.
Butt Butter: Some folks are uncomfortable with the idea of Chamois Butt’r. I promise you you’ll be more uncomfortable without it :) If you’re not sure what it is, it’s basically butter in a tube you smear on your rear and other parts that make contact with your seat. It prevents friction and in general saves your butt from severe unhappiness. It’s absolutely worth it! Even with the Chamois Butt’r it’s going to hurt, ease the pain, butter up! All the local bike shops carry it.
It’s easy to start taking everything too seriously. There is so much to think about, training, food, your bike, camping etc etc! Don’t let that happen. 24 Hour races are special. It’s not about entering one race, getting everything right and winning. Think of it as starting a new tradition. Every year you learn more and more, make adjustments, go further, get faster, make new goals and keep going. It took me 5 years to finally win one of these things! The first year I had knee problems, got angry and left early. So silly! I could have stayed and cheered my buddies on, camped, BBQ’ed and had a great time, but I was taking it too seriously. Honestly, the years I’ve performed the best are the years where I’ve determined to have a good time no matter what.
So have fun, that’s an order! If you haven’t registered, do it now: Online Registration
About the Author
Mike Solis has raced in five 24 Hours of Hell in Paradise races and four 6 Hours of Heck races. He’s taken third in Solo Men’s at the 24 Hour three times and has won the Men’s Solo SS once. Mike and his teammate John took first place in the Men’s Team event at a 6 Hours of Heck in Paradise. Recently he’s turned into a lazy bum and helps organize both the 24 and 6 hour events and therefore doesn’t really get to race much.