November 7, 2019
On November 1-2, 2019, I competed in—and won—the World 24 Hour Time Trial Championships (Women’s Solo Division) in Borrego Springs, California. While it was my only race of the 2019 season, it proved to be the cherry on the cake in an amazing year of cycling and personal growth. If I had updated my blog regularly, you could have read all about how I crewed for RAAM, sped from Turin to Norway in the NorthCape4000, buried myself in croissants and coffee during Paris-Brest-Paris, and launched my first book, but alas. Perhaps I’ll still get around to it.
After finishing second in my rookie year at the 24 Hour World Time Trial Champs in 2018, I looked forward to returning and improving my mileage. I decided that if I was going to get good at time trialing, I would need a dedicated time trial bike. So I found a used Cervelo P2 on Pink Bike and e-transferred cash to some dude in Ontario.
“What have I done?” I wondered, imagined that I would never see my hard-earned savings again.
Two weeks later, the seller showed up at the airport en route to a ski holiday in BC with my precious cargo in tow. I exhaled, and set to work configuring my new steed, which I christened Sarah Cervelo, to my dimensions. I also hit the gym a few times a week with the goal of strengthening my core and increasing my range of motion and flexibility, but ended up swinging on the monkey bars and gaining pounds of upper body musculature that most cyclists would shun. Fail.
In terms of actual cycling, I completed the full 200 to 600 km series of brevets (required qualifiers for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris 1,200 km) at a 27 km/hr+ pace, with minimal break time, and set a new BC women’s time record on the Marysville 600 with a sub-24-hour finish. Win!
After a stint driving across the States as crew for the fabulous and inspiring Serpentine Golden Girls in their Race Across America attempt, I found myself in Switzerland, staying with training partner/coach/friend Brian Welsh and putting on hundreds of miles every week on a playground of winding roads surrounded by bucolic cow pasture and stunning mountain views. I rode as much as possible, pedalling to Brussels to celebrate the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, snaking a 4,400 km line from the Italian Alps to Norway’s Lofoten Islands that terminated at the end of Europe’s most northern paved road, touring the mountainous island of Corsica, and seeking out hilltop fromageries with new friends. It was, in a word, heaven.
Back in Kelowna
I returned home in late September to frigid temperatures and redneck drivers who cursed my very existence on their roads. Last year, I had spent the fall months training in sunny San Diego, and I now I really wasn’t keen on long rides in low temperatures. After being set back by a nasty cold in early October, I decided to move my training indoors to protect my lungs. Note: I ride a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine. It’s not a smart trainer, and I don’t have a power meter, or Zwift. While I was relieved to continue cycling without irritating my lungs, it was frustrating not to be able to Strava my rides—everyone knows that if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. Additionally, I now had no way to measure speed: I relied entirely on heart rate and RPE to gauge my indoor intensity. Nonetheless, I completed a mix of long endurance rides (accompanied by Netflix binges), shorter interval sessions, and sweet spot workouts that fell somewhere in between. I rounded off my training by jumping in the sauna—protein-recovery drink in hand—with the aim of acclimatizing my body to the desert heat.
South Away! (Insert shameless plug for my debut travel memoir by the same title, available for purchase here)
Blue skies, palm trees, and my parents’ Pleasure-Way van greeted my arrival at Palm Springs International Airport. They had driven down from Canada over the previous two weeks—with stopovers in Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon—carting my spare bike along with them. In addition to my mother and father, who had upgraded their crew skillset from amateur to expert over the course of the Golden Girls RAAM attempt this summer, Trans-Am racers James Folsom and Max Lippe had volunteered to help. I was thrilled to have four people on board this year; I would be able to zip though the pit much quicker with all hands on deck.
In the days leading up to the event, our team (minus Max) met to review race goals, as well as clothing, nutrition, and hydration strategies. My father and James made sure that both of my bikes—Sarah Cervelo (my primary) and Epona the Cannondale (my backup)—were tuned up and ready to go. I also pre-rode the course several times in different conditions to gain familiarity, ease my nerves, and decide which wheelset to use. Since wind was forecast to be minimal, I opted for a pair of Zip 808s that a friend of a friend had lent me, as I believed these would provide the greatest aerodynamic advantage.
We were lucky enough to stay with Borrego Springs local Mary Olsen, as well as another fabulous retiree named Fran. Access to a kitchen, living area, workspace for the bikes, not to mention pool and hot tub, proved to be a huge bonus.
I delegated as much as I could to my crew in the leadup to the race. Having filled out the waiver and collected my race package the evening prior, I didn’t turn up at Christmas Circle until 3:00 pm, after a nap, spaghetti lunch, and quick visit with some friends from San Diego who had just arrived in town. After a quick tour of the pits, I did some dynamic stretching in the shade of Christmas Circle, and laid down in the back of the Pleasure-Way to take it easy until go time at 5:00 pm.
This year, I headed out with the first wave of racers. I felt honoured just to be on the start line alongside the A-listers, but was quickly dropped. No biggie. My plan was to go out with a heart rate in my endurance zone, and just keep it nice and steady for the next 24 hours. Excellent pacing had seen me through the 2018 edition, and I believed that it would work this time around as well. I hoped that my endurance zone would align with my desired speed of 32 km/hr (19.9 mph)—which would have resulted in 760 km (472 miles) with breaks—but since I hadn’t actually trained outside for the previous month, or ridden with deep aero wheels before, I had no idea how it would go down. Imagine my surprise when I found myself flying effortlessly along at 35 km/hr (21.7 mph)—“I could do this all day!” I thought. “I’m on my way to the 500-mile club!”
Of course, this completely ignored the fact that my heartrate was through the roof. After a few laps of the 29 km (18 mile) course, I realized that I should probably ease off and settle in on my stated 32 km/hr pace. After dark, I stopped a couple times to layer up and pee, swapping out my lights and water bottles during the breaks. It was cold, but that was no surprise: race organizers had conveniently posted the weather forecast, and even though I still don’t get Fahrenheit, I came prepared with an assortment of clothing. Still, the frigid air was wreaking havoc on my lungs, and the after effects of my silly speed demon laps were catching up with me. After midnight, I found that I could no longer hold onto my target pace. I was scared, actually: with 17 hours still to go, how much slower would I become?
“Caffeine,” I barked into the mouthpiece when my crew called to ask what I needed. “I need Red Bull.”
At the next pitstop someone popped open a can while my front light was swapped out and my iPhone plugged into an external battery pack. Even in darkness, I admired the efficiency of my crew. To have four individuals—two who weren’t even related to me!—rushing to take care of my every need just seemed insane, a complete 180 from the self-supported style of events I was used to. I went back on the course rejuvenated, keen to keep my pace from slipping and not disappoint the people who had come all this way to help me succeed.
“Lap by Lap,” I reminded myself. “Just take it lap by lap.”
Thanks to Red Bull and Boney M, I was able to maintain a 31.7 km/hr (19.7 mph) average though the night, despite protestations from my poor, tired legs. I had asked not to be told my ranking until after sunrise, since I knew my steady approach wouldn’t land me in a top position until others started to drop.
And that’s exactly what happened.
At 9:00 am, long after the sun had climbed the mountains to illuminate the serpent’s rusty scales, I discovered that I was 10thoverall, and 1st in the women’s division.
“I’ll bet Jen Orr is nipping at my heels,” I said, with more than a hint of bitterness into the mouthpiece.
“No, she pulled out a few hours in,” my father answered.
“Christie Tracy?” I asked.
“She’s way back.”
“Crystal Spearman? Seana Hogan?”
“You’re in the lead, Meaghan. But don’t slow down.”
I grinned. It had been a hard night for everyone, it seemed, not just me.
With the sun up and the 12- and 6-hour racers now on the course, I found it easy to stay motivated. My pace continued to slip—accompanied by a brief outburst of swearing every time my computer notified me of this unfortunate fact—but with my closest competitor more than a lap behind, I wasn’t stressing like I had during the night. In fact, if it weren’t for the gut bomb that was contracting in my stomach, I would have 100% enjoyed myself.
After last year’s failed fuelling strategy of egg salad croissants and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, I decided to stick to a more basic diet, with a focus on liquid calories and fast-digesting gels. I tossed a few Madeline cookies, bananas, sweet potatoes, and bite-size Halloween chocolates into the mix (as well as the occasional salt pill and ibuprofen) and slurped down baby food every time I landed in the pits. For most of the race, this mushy concoction seemed effective, but 18-20 hours in, my stomach had started to turn. Looking back, in the balancing act of trying to hydrate but avoid rushing to the Porta-Potty every lap, I probably wasn’t getting enough liquid to digest the ultra-dense gels. While not a total roadblock, I felt pretty wretched those final hours.
I knew that I would have to knock out six laps on the small course (7.7 km, or 4.8 miles) to break my previous year’s mileage of 456 miles (733.8 km), as well as best the course record set by Jen Orr in 2018. I flew into the pit moments after race officials had opened up the short course, amid shouts of encouragement from crew members, friends, and event supporters. This would be my last stop until the finish, I realized. My father shoved an ice sock down the back of my jersey. Someone slapped my handlebars and told me to get moving. I hit the pedals and rolled out, relieved that I wouldn’t have to tackle the hill on the back half of the course again. Once on the short loop I tucked low and found my rhythm.
“You’ve got this,” I told myself. “Enjoy it.”
My crew counted down the laps as I passed the pit:
LAST ONE! GO-GO-GO-GO!
Like last year, I loved those final laps of the finishing loop. I absorbed energy from the 6-hour racers as they zipped by, and swapped words of encouragement with familiar faces out on the course. I knew that a bottle of bubbly awaited, as well as the promise of real food. At 23 hours, 54 minutes, and 50 seconds, I crossed the finish line, setting a new women’s course record with 460.8 miles (741 km) with an average page of 31 km/hr (19.3 mph). Total stop time: approx. 15 minutes. Rank: 1st in the Women’s Solo Division & 6th Overall (four men and one team finished ahead of me).
I wish I had come closer to my initial goal of 760 km, but feel like it’s poor taste to complain upon winning a world championship. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll say that I have learned my lesson about going out hard, and in future will stick to the plan, even if blinded by delusions of grandeur, or an impossible conviction that I am Wonder Woman.
Final Thoughts, or, Hackinen Tells All: Race Secrets Revealed!
Over the past year, I’ve focused on setting goals that, as much as possible, I can control. Nonetheless, when I first looked at the women’s roster for the 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships, I was intimidated—sick to my stomach, actually. But then I reminded myself that if was going to put in the effort, and travel all this way, I want to compete against the best of the best—even if that meant I might not make the podium. I actually thought back to when I played roller derby with the Terminal City All Stars, and our coach had scheduled us to play a series of early-season games in LA against some of the toughest teams in the league. Even though the odds were against us, he believed that by pitting us against higher-level teams we would have a chance to grow, despite the losses.
That was my strongest season as a skater, and I was grateful to identify my weaknesses early on and improve.
So, going forward, I aim to be excited—not intimidated—by the competition, and continue to focus on goals that I can control. As a non-contact sport, I guess there’s no need to worry about who I’m up against in ultra-cycling events anyways, since I’m in no danger of being laid out by a swift hip check.
Now, onto the juicy training secrets…
Actually, I got nothin’.
All of my rides are on Strava, aside from the ones on my indoor trainer that I have no way of accurately uploading. I commit to strong training efforts and try to explore new routes. I aim for eight hours of sleep a night, wish that I stretched regularly (maybe in 2020?), and eat loads of leafy greens. I’m super low tech, rely on an eTrex to navigate, and don’t use a power meter; I literally just discovered the benefits of a heart rate monitor, and had James adjust the settings on my hand-me-down bike computer for me on the morning of the race. I make an effort to talk to cyclists who have more experience than I do, and listen to athlete interviews on podcasts like Finding Mastery and Rich Roll. I rely considerably on the kindness of friends and strangers to let me crash their sofas in places that I couldn’t otherwise afford to train, and accept both criticism and praise from those who take the time to deliver it to me.
Oh, and this year I discovered that compression socks aren’t just for dweebs—they’re actually amazing. I’m a total convert.
Now you know.