Luke 11:9 and 11:10.
Normally, in these tales of my adventures, I list those who helped at the end of the write-up. Not this time. That wouldn’t seem quite right this time. No. Those who supported and helped and encouraged and believed. Yes - Believed. That was quite some winter in 2011. I felt alone as things ended, it seemed. But together we had a summer to remember. There are a lot of people who I consider friends, but those who believed in me the most when my stock was at it's lowest were at the velodrome for a very special day. This was our Record. Our "Team of Ten"...
Ruth: You are awesome. I told you that I needed to give this everything, and you knew that coming from me this would be quite some effort. At my lowest moments I didn't long to stop the ride - not once - instead I thought of the time I'd have with you and the kids over the winter and beyond.
Mum and Dad: I am so pleased you were there to help in my goal. Our goal. Mum was at the Enduro and Maxi Enduro, and on this occasion made the (now world famous) egg sandwiches. Dad has now been at my favorite triathlon and also favorite ride. Your support is very appreciated. I hope you enjoyed the experience, and thank you both for a fantastic effort on the day(s!!).
Eugene Collins, Mike Kelly, Bronwyn Jones, Tim Neal, and Harold Robinson: Thank you for being there guys. You each made a difference, and I hope you realise that collectively you helped influence how the day went. If you ever feel that you were "just handing me drinks" (as one of you commented after the ride), then please be aware that seeing you arrive gave me a boost, and I had complete peace of mind that I was safe in your hands. This all added up to something special.
My 'Three Wise Men'
Paul Rawlinson, Pete Foster, and Matt Oliver: 'Yes' - I know I was a pain in the arse. Thank you for not telling me this as I gave you tasks that may have taken my attention off my training. In 2011 I said "I can do this". I knew I needed to reach out and get help from people I trusted. Each of you took a LOT of stress and pressure off my shoulders, and pretty soon I realised I was saying "We can do this". I look forward to these times ahead of us. We know we can do anything if we work together.
Silas Cullen and Karren Kerrisk: Thank you for leading me to the water. Ultimately I had to believe I could drink, but you got me to a point physically and mentally whereby I believed I could do this. With the right preparation I believe I can be any man's equal on any given day, and it seemed fitting that this race was planned for a Sunday. This is a world of opportunities, and you both coached and mentored me to a place whereby I could see that I was surrounded by the incremental differences that are all around us. Those "breaks in the game", those "runs", those "passes" that are everywhere. I learnt - finally - that fighting for every single moment around me would produce a tangible outcome. It would make the difference. The difference between winning and losing. And for me, the difference between living or dying.
Sponsors / Event Sponsors
Hammer Nutrition: Thanks Rachael. Your support has been awesome. This meant a lot, and I hope I have shown you that I am serious about my goals. You sell the best endurance foods on the market, and I’m happy to help where I can in the future.
Also thanks to: On Yer Bike, Southend Cycles, Levin Cycling Club, and Kapiti Cycling Club: You all helped me reach this goal by believing in me enough to provide the resources I needed. Thank you.
Thank you to my Brothers. Those who enter and complete endurance cycling events throughout this beautiful country of ours. Those who can complete 500kms of cycling. Those who do not fear the ‘what ifs’. Those who can cycle through an entire night. Those who smile when others would cry. Those who later shed a tear when recalling a ride's happier moments. Those who know that BS will only get you to the start line. Those who are not here for trophies, or money, or 'placings'. Those who participate for the love of this sport. Those who hear ‘three hour ride’ and immediately assume it’s a recovery session. And those who know that sleep is overrated. Yes. Those few people who truly understand what makes me tick. I understand you also. I am so very lucky to know each of you - The start lines often mean as much as the finish lines.
Where do I start??
This journey. Our journey.
So much has been said about what happened. I have been quoted (and misquoted), people have spoken, and many have told their tales of the day. But these are my words. This is what happened on that day, and the days that led me to a place where I would find my start line, my arena, and finally my rest.
A power pole. A power pole at midnight, at the Levin velodrome. Two power poles. Months ago. And three hours into (one of many) 12 hour overnight training rides. One is bigger than the other and they sit across the road outside of the velodrome. When you ride in a darkened track the power poles are silhouetted as the lights shine on them. Two crosses. I saw them so many times, and every minute I'd pass them again. And again. And again. And again. It got me thinking.
I'd leave the track the following morning, and everything would look normal again, but I wouldn't be the same. No overnight ride has ever left me unchanged. But unlike 2011 (where a part of me ceased to exist), these rides left me focused, determined, and full of hope. I would find myself surrounded by people complaining about the weather, or petrol prices, or delays in traffic, or anything - and everything - and all I would see would be solutions. Everywhere. I still do.
But that is not where this journey started. I still wonder where that was. But really, this journey started in many places. Conversely, 2011's journey ended in one place - Paekakariki Hill. I know that now. That Aka's Double loop. Paul Rawlinson patiently riding with me for the 200km circuit. He waited at the top of the hill, and eventually I reached the summit. "Are you ok Stu??", he asked. I looked down, burst into tears, and simply said, "No. I'm not alright". 105kms into a ride and absolutely exhausted. That's not right. We turned around and he never once complained about missing out on the second half of a ride he’d been looking forward to. He did ask a question though. "Can you do this??". I didn't hesitate - "Yeah, I can". Perhaps that's when this journey started, but it didn't feel like it at the time.
I used to have a long list of future goals. That was quite some list. Not a 'Bucket List', so much as a Who's Who of events, adventures, and outings. Every single one as unique and different as they are special. Each one the kind of challenge that gives you a shiver down your spine the first time you think of it. All of them though, became meaningless after I pulled the pin in 2011. I could not carry on, and leave behind this shadow. Not a shadow this size. No. Everything else, no matter how 'Big' (whatever 'Big' is) was going to be "Doing the other goal" if I didn't finish this.
|One lap down...1536 to go.|
I knew that this was not a day for words. No. Only actions.
So I took a break. A real break. A 'do bugger all and get to know my wife and children again' type break. And 2011 became a bit of a blur, with a normal life returning. (I’m not going to lie - 'Normal' is overrated). And away from training and sports and focusing on the ‘next ride’ I had time to think. Really think. And I thought about something important. Who was I?? Who are we?? In this country. We are so far away from everyone else, and we are unique. We are not embarrassed by the differences that exist. It is our strength. And we thrive on others often seeing us as inferior, as it gives us something to prove. I hadn’t thought about that in a while. And I hadn't realised until that moment how similar I was to this country of ours.
Refreshed now, a break in 2011 had been enjoyed then. I was fresh and motivated, and looking for a challenge. I then arrived at Taupo for the 2011 Taupo Challenge. Not to race though. No Maxi Enduro this year. Or Enduro. Or Solo. No. I'd assist Rachael Verry on the Hammer stand, and thoroughly enjoyed doing my bit to help a friend. The next day I did a sneaky 40kms with a buddy, and courtesy of a drop bag sticker on my helmet even managed a start on the main street. This meant riding with the masses. Good times.
Two thoughts crossed my mind as I cycled back to Taupo that day. Firstly, I think I was the only person in Taupo happy with the winds that weekend. The planned 24 hour ride was planned for the Taupo Challenge weekend, (at Taupo), and it would have ended in tears. I suppose if Paekakariki Hill hadn't ended that part of the journey, then those 'once in a century winds' would have. This opportunity to freshen up was therefore seen as a good omen. Secondly, I thought about this special place - Taupo. So many happy memories exist. But more so however, it was New Zealand where all my truly happy memories existed. I needed a new goal, and it occurred to me that I should do the most New Zealand thing I possibly could - a New Zealand Record sprung to mind. This was the same goal that I had already attempted once. But it would be different this time. I would have differing reasons, and this time I'd be surrounded by those who supported me when I was down. And out.
The summer seemed to last forever for me, and I cherished the long rides, long weeks, and ever increasingly shorter recovery times. The day of the race would arrive however, and I knew that this was it. No second chances. And everyone watching. I was wound up like a Swiss watch in the days leading up to the ride. This is very unlike me. I'm usually relaxed and ready to go. No. I was Abrupt, agitated, and stressed out. And not sleeping. Four to five hours of sleep for the two nights leading up to the race. I needed sleep. Just one night would do. The night before the ride I took a sleeping tablet at 6:45pm, and I was asleep by 7pm. I then awoke - It was 11:15pm, and I was wired. That is stress. Real stress. Knowing you have nine hours to the biggest ride of your life and you sleep now, or the last five months of training were for nothing.
I saw the entire ride start to crumble. Then I recalled an image I thought of often. Me. Sun tanned from head to foot, a white goatee, muscle bound, and 70 years old. This image leaned forward and said four simple words - "You can do this". That image was incredibly powerful. I drifted asleep and awoke at around 4am. Three more hours sleep. "That's all I needed", I thought. "I'm ready!!". This day that would have no end had begun.
|Fun times at trackside.|
Eight hours into the ride and I felt better than I had at two hours.
In hindsight I’m not entirely sure the lack of sleep was a bad thing. Mentally I didn’t look forward to that first drop in energy, from ‘Fresh’ to ‘Slightly Tired’. On a 24 hour ride this could potentially be mentally crippling if it happened after just five or six hours. As it was I felt better at ten hours than I did at the start line. So this may have been a big plus for the mental side of the ride. So would I use this in the future as a race strategy?? You have got to be joking!!
At the track quiet handshakes were exchanged with the crew as I met them, everyone got on with the task at hand, with no fanfare or hype. I went to the changing rooms and got changed. My final thought as I walked back to the velodrome was wondering of it was possible to die on a bike. I knew the average speed I needed be beat, and it mattered very little what effect this would have on me. I felt no fear though, and was thankful for the start line, the track, the crew, and this opportunity. I had just one day. And knew there were no second chances. As I walked towards the track I became acutely aware that this would not be the ride of my life. No. I would be riding for my life. I knew this now.
I asked Tim Neal to move the potato stand. He had made such a big effort to be there, but I needed to see those crosses once it was dark. Little else would keep me going once the race truly started.
A warm-up. A quick confirmation we were ready. And one final sedate lap. No countdown on this day. I was told that the timer would start when I crossed the line. A final thought then, of my speech on this day. A speech to tell the crew why we were here. I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
The speech at the start line (that was never said)...
"In 2007 I did the Taupo Enduro. I shouldn't have been there, and fully expected to be asked to leave the starting area before the race. My stomach was hanging over my cycling shorts, and my thought as we departed was me being lucky they didn't spot me. I reached the 80km mark, and for the first time started to think I may actually finish. I did finish. The following year I finished the Maxi Enduro, and then multiple Graperide Ultimate's. And even the Ironman...with just seven months of swimming behind me. Always getting to the end. Always getting the job done. Always finishing. And we will finish this. This ride. This day. This journey. We will get to the very end together".
|Quite a view from the grandstand.|
Paul Rawlinson held onto the back of my seat, I clipped into the pedals, and knew that this was not a day for words. No. Only actions. I looked to my right, said "Can I go??", got the nod, and called out "Let's do this!!". I pushed as hard as I possibly could on the pedals. From a standing start that first lap took me 46 seconds (for a ride that would last 24 hours), and the tone for the race was set.
I've heard various comments about the winds that day. Trust me - They were there...and I loved them. Levin's velodrome (like most I assume), gets fairly warm. So as the laps were being tapped out I became aware that I was melting. Literally it would seem. Sweat not so much dripping off me, as flowing off me. Down my arms, and all over my legs and bike. Yes. The 'dreaded wind' was awesome, and it flowed (and later blew) from the north west. I felt it in my face for half of each circuit. Those moments were like taking my shoes off at the edge of a meadow's stream on a summers day.
Other moments I recall fondly include seeing the support crew eating and drinking. Looking after themselves and each other, and thus having the ability to look after me. One memory I have from early on in the ride was seeing Dad eating an egg sandwich. I recall every detail. I also thought I may like one. That would become one of two cravings I'd have on this ride. Luckily I wouldn't be craving cheese on toast with onions on top - I often longed for this whenever I did the Aka's loop, until one day I returned home famished and smelt a freshly cooked batch of 20. I ate the lot.
The afternoon arrived, and with it the countdown began. 'The Night'. My special place. Riding at night is another world. Not the 'early commute to work', type night. Or 'late evening session before bed', type night. No. This is the 'sun set six hours ago and I have another six hours until dawn', type night. All night. No light. Just right. Only me and the bike. And the support crew. But all that was later. I had the countdown until it would be dark, or at the very least a bit cooler, and focused everything on waiting. Just biding my time until I was in my element.
And it arrived. The cooler evening. I had felt sluggish all afternoon, and wanted to let my pacing be dictated by my energy levels, but now I felt alive. Eight hours into the ride and I felt better than I had at two hours. There was so far to go, but I felt I was on a great adventure - This endless loop, taking me nowhere it would seem, but if I tried hard enough it would take me everywhere.
|It finally got cooler once we got to 12 hours.|
I missed the bottle with my hand and caught it with my face…giggling away for about the next 20 minutes.
At this point I had one of the most surreal moments of my life. I simply thought, "Just 15 and a half hours to go". It was like the time left was mere seconds, and I felt like I could put my hand out and touch the finish line.
The pace picked up, and I really started to push for the first time in this ride. Ten hours. Felt good. Felt great. Food and drinks spot on. No issues. I looked towards the support crew, sitting and chatting and drinking hot drinks and calling support - and I realised that if they knew what I was experiencing, then they'd probably want to swap places. I had been 'in the zone' from the start, but this was something else again. I pity anyone who reaches this point of the ride feeling out of sorts, and I suspect they'd crumble before the halfway mark. Actually – If you are tired at ten hours, then it may be best to think how much this is worth to you, as things may get messy.
I had known for months that at several key points in the ride I'd find out how much I really wanted this ride to be a success. I now felt my entire world close down around me, and ahead of me was a single white line, and nothing else. Apologies to those who visited the track and will be offended by this, but apart from Kirsten Taylor, and Brian Bushe (and their respective families), I didn't see anyone. It was just a blur to my right. Speaking as someone who is relatively focused on the task at hand, it was scary how single minded I become at around ten hours.
12 hours. Ruth had her shift for the second half of the ride, and I could feel the whole mood change at the track when she arrived. Bouncy and buoyant, she called out and waved. This was a little unnerving, but I treated the new mood as a new phase of the ride. Our first 'chat' at the ride was interesting also, as I called out "Running!!" as I passed her (standing still) for the bottle handoff. Next lap around she had a smile from ear to ear and was jogging on the spot. Needless to say, the handoff didn't go to well and I missed the bottle with my hand and caught it with my face. Eugene was standing there next time around, (I suspect to avoid a mid-ride divorce!!), and I carried on - truth be known giggling away for about the next 20 minutes.
13 hours. It was now 10pm, and while I felt ok mentally the body went through something odd at around this time. I didn't want to alarm the support crew, but after a drink, something to eat, and a wait of five minutes (never stopping of course), I felt the same. Maybe it was the heat. Darkness had initially brought about a slightly cooler temperature, but it seemed to warm up thereafter – Maybe it was just me. I wasn’t slowing down as yet, so suppose I was generating a fair bit of heat. The increased warmth left me feeling off colour, and the next lap around I simply called out, "It may be time for Rule Five". I never normally make reference to this 'rule' and a few people were confused. Enough knew what it meant though. Within half a lap everyone was running to a differing point on the course, and everyone was shouting encouragement. Lap after lap I listened, and I felt better and better. And it passed. The fatigue. The ride continued and I continued to tap out a pace I felt comfortable with.
|No slowing down once we got to midnight.|
Drizzle was forecast to start 'around midnight', and it did.
My short term memory blew at about stage. I could recall random memories, facts, and quotes with no problem - but I was forgetting the time left to my next drink within seconds of checking my watch. Fantastic coping mechanism, but things started to get a little surreal when I'd tell myself "Two minutes until a drink", and 20 minutes later I'd see if the two minutes has elapsed. Pretty scary stuff at times.
This ride. This ride of endless laps. It was going well. I won't pretend it was perfect however. Few things 'twist my tits', but one thing that I wanted spot on was the handoffs. I was worried about the drink bottles and we never missed one. Perfect. Very cool. But the bars and smaller bottles were a different story. That lap heading back around would have me thinking, "We better get this right", and several times a second handoff didn't work either. I noted that no one hung around for a third go, with someone new always standing in their place.
Then there was the 'egg sandwich incident'. I got a craving for egg sandwiches on this ride. No idea why. I like egg sandwiches, but probably eat them just once a month. Not on this ride. So I called for drinks, a bar, and an egg sandwich. The handoffs went well. Drink all good. Another lap. Smaller drink all good. Another lap. Bar all good. Another lap. Egg sandwich flying in the air and spraying everyone within five feet. I came back through again and notice two things – firstly multiple brooms were out, and secondly everyone was frantically looking for an egg sandwich. Another lap. "I've had the last one", I thought. However, next lap around they had an egg sandwich ready. As I grabbed it I joked, "Not the same one I hope!!". I did however double check. Looking down I saw big teeth marks through the end of sandwich. I now know how people can eat out of rubbish bins - things were getting primal, and as I ate that sandwich I knew that I really was having the last one. It was the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
14 hours. This wasn't riding – It was racing. No breaks. No groups. No drafting. Everything relentless. At around 11pm I thought, "How can I go on??". I looked towards the silhouetted power poles across the road. A cross in every sense when seen at night. I pictured Jesus on the cross looking down to me, with his head and torso covered in blood. "Are you with me??", I imagined him asking. "Yes", I imagined myself replying. He looked at me and said, "You are not dying on a cross. But you will suffer greatly if you stay with me on this night". "I am with you on this night", I thought. And then out loud I said, "I am with you forever". Two words followed, and I said them over and over and over. "Let go". And I did. The stress. The worry. The tension. The expectations. The pressure. The planning. The mapping of every single possible outcome in a ride that can have a million things go wrong. Everything. And I thought of just racing. And that is all that was left. To race to the finish line, in this 'race of truth', where every weakness you possess is spread out for all to see. Where 'winning' or 'losing' is seen - by everyone.
15 hours. Drizzle was forecast to start 'around midnight', and it did. No turning back now. No next week. No tomorrow. No next lap. Only now. Wet track and painted lines, with me drawing on every ounce of concentration on every single corner. Touch the white line and this may be over. No mistakes. And so it was, with nine hours left I reached a new place. No words can express the feeling of pushing on this hard when you know the light at the end of the tunnel is yet to be lit. This was the true 'middle game'. I looked to the crew and took mental photos that will last forever. Drinking hot drinks. Walking the velodrome. Calling to me. I was starting to get close to the start of this ride. The true start. Not where 'the tough get going'. Not where 'you give it everyone'. Not where 'you step up'. Not where 'you man up'. Not where you 'dig deep'. No. The true start. ‘The Grind’. No glory, or glamour, or flare, or being great, or 'looking cool'. No. Ever wondered why most endurance cyclists are fairly humble?? I’ll tell you – They remember the true start of the race. All the clichés dry up and you suddenly discover if you’re racing for the right reasons. A lot of people have asked, “What was it like??”. That question is almost as naive as it is simplistic. Why would someone ask?? Really. Ok. You get this once…
|I had to stop for eye drops - Everything was starting to fog up!!|
I simply called out, "It may be time for Rule Five".
This is where you constantly feel sick, want to throw up, feel like the runt of the litter and always feel hungry, but you also feel too full every time you eat. Or drink. This is where you sit up because your elbows have gone numb - the elbows that (literally) have calluses due to leaning on them for every minute of every ride for the last five months. The elbows that hurt when you straighten them. The elbows that hurt when you don’t. Sitting up you feel the chaffing on your backside, with skin long gone on every single contact point of the seat, despite training rides having no issues. So you get back on the bars again. And then you remember other parts hurting. And then there’s your tongue – For some reason developing an ulcer the size of a 20 cent piece on this ride, and it reminds you it’s there, and sore, every time you eat. Or drink. Your eyes by now have the dull ache that goes hand and hand with the vision going, and everything you look at has a ‘romantic’ halo surrounding it. And your neck – There is a reason why you prefer to look downwards on the track for extended periods. But after a while you tire of even that. But you push on. You push harder, so this ride can be done sooner. Then you remember once again that it’s a race by time, and you are out here for 24 hours regardless of how you’re feeling. So you push harder anyway. You push harder on the pedals - despite your feet feeling beaten. Not going numb like on the training rides. Just beaten. 'Beaten' meaning not discomfort, but pain. 'Pain' meaning clenching your teeth whenever you stood up to stretch your legs. But it also hurt to ‘just pedal’. Part of you wants to pull over and curl up in a ball, and cry on the far side of the track. But not the part of you that died last year – Not the part that failed at this goal first time around. Nothing feels as bad as that. That is a comfort of sorts for you on this ride. So you carry on, with all of these feelings, and you know that soon - very soon - this race would truly start. This was just the entrée. You know that too.
Yes. A lot of people have asked, “What was it like??”. I’m not complaining – I do this sport because I love it. This is another world. To live in this world of endurance cycling is a blessing few will ever know or experience. But that’s what it’s like with nine hours to go. And now, when someone asks, “What was it like??”, I’ll just refer them to ‘Hour 15’ of this write-up. If they want to know more, then I’ll have just two more words for them.
16 hours. "Keep a straight line". "Keep the cadence smooth". "Get back on the bars". "Don't stand up". "Get your head down". "Get that drink down". "Don't you slow down". The calls continued, but truth be known, I wasn't listening. A call of "The world ends later today", would have had me puzzled why I was being about told about something happening after this race. I probably would have told the crew to start focusing on the task at hand. This world of mine was rapidly becoming smaller and smaller, and the laps seemed to be going by quicker, but only because I thought of nothing but following the white line. Not a single thing in this world mattered but that strip around the velodrome.
17 hours. "Think of your happy place Stu". Seven hours to go and I gain a New Zealand Record if I can hold this together. And I felt good (relatively speaking). "This is my happy place!!". Carrying on, the rain set in for the first time. Drizzle came and went, but the rain visited for a while too. Wide on the corners. More distance to cover. More distance wasted.
18 hours. Everyone was calling out and being very supportive, but at around this time I locked in on Paul's messages - I am pleased he didn't stop walking those laps. Paul was walking endless laps now. And it had started. The race had truly started. And our conversations too. "Looking good". "You are on track". "Keeping that smooth pedaling". On and on and on and on and on. Occasional I'd pass him and he'd say nothing. My first thought would be "What's wrong??". Paul had become my life line between this place I was in, and where ever it was everyone else was at. I had forgotten about that other world, the one I had once known, and I was now near the depths of some deep ocean floor. He just didn't stop. And neither would I. Not because I didn't want to let down the others. I was passed all that - that's not real. It's BS written by someone who had a hot chocolate while they imagined what this was like. No. I wouldn't stop, because I would feed off every single word Paul would tell me. Another lap. "Look at this stadium - It's full of people".
|"Stay on the bars!!"|
My short term memory blew at about stage.
More drizzle. More wet track. Wider corners and more distance wasted. "Seize the day". Another lap. "Seize the hour". Another lap. "Seize the second". Another lap, and my thought was one of how Paul was going to top that. "What is this!!". That threw me. What is this?? And I came around once again and called out, "This is the Record Ride!!!". There, I said it. I had waited so long to say those words. Banished in 2011. Never to be said again, as they were nothing more than a memory of struggling and not reaching a goal. Memories of feeling alone. Memories of some people walking away from me. Another lap. "And who's Record Ride is it??". That was easy. Another lap. "Our Record Ride buddy". Paul didn't say anything for the next few laps, and that felt right. I looked around saw this team. Our team. And looked upon how busy everyone was. We were fighting for every lap - together. Yes. This was a team in every sense.
19 hours. I passed Paul and called out, "Long way from Paekakariki Hill eh". One lap later he replied, "Yeah, and the view is better here". Yes. That day seemed a lifetime ago. Another life. Tears on a training ride are seldom a good sign. Even in races the emotions should be kept in check, or they start to control you. I let my guard down for just one moment in this race. I was getting tired now, and pictured in my mind a group of men arrive at the velodrome. Despite this being my thoughts, I actually had no idea where this was all going. The group started to walk towards grandstand. Another lap. The group walked in front of the grandstand. Another lap. In front of the grandstand, half the group were behind the fence and the other half were actually on the track. This was not looking good. I imagined myself cycling right past them. Another lap. The group were now crutched down. Half a lap - far side of the track, and I heard a massive, "HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE". In my mind it was the Levin Rugby Club - It was a Haka. That was utterly surreal. And they continued on, lap after lap after lap. If I had gone mad, then you can keep 'sane'. I carried on, and slowly composed myself. Then I thought, "Kiwi's are meant to be flightless, but no one told us. We can do anything!!". Yep - That set me off again...
20 hours. "Keep the pedaling smooth Stu!!". I was now consciously editing out my first response for those yelling to me (and at me). That wouldn't have helped. My second thought was, "I show you smooth pedaling!!". Tap tap tap as I passed by. "Nice!!", came the call. Another lap. I was getting tired - "Pleased a day doesn't have 30 hours", I called. Everyone laughed. Everyone but me.
21 hours. The egg sandwich cravings were long gone, (as were the egg sandwiches), but I still wanted a strawberry shake. Unfortunately both small drinks were also gone. I'm not even sure why I took them, but at some point I asked for one and later the other. More were on the way - In an hour when the supermarket opened. Nice. I was being a bit of a pain in the arse now, and am pleased I was too tired to complain much more than I was already. The faster start was catching up, but to be honest I knew it would be a package deal, so carried on, with the occasional enquiry about the shake. (It arrived at the track at 7:02am - I had changed my mind by then).
22 hours. Bloody hell. I now knew why people who have done events such as this are so quiet and humble about what they went through. They must have a wry smile on their face when they read about others stating that they intended to do longer endurance events, with the thought being "Win or lose - You'll earn it - Welcome to the club". Eating and drinking now a serious pain in the arse.
|After a while the whole ride became a blur.|
"Get your head down". "Get that drink down". "Don't you slow down". The calls continued.
The call of "90 minutes to go" was about as useful as "only three weeks, two days, 14 hours, and 27 minutes to go". Thanks. Who are these people?? Speed up the clock and yell louder!! I was still getting over the call of "five hours to go", with (an hour later), the call of "five hours to go". That REALLY threw me. Thereafter it was clock watching. And we all know how that does wonders for making time slow down. Getting out of the saddle was a major problem now, and I only stretched to try to avoid cramping. "Where are my cherubs??", I asked Ruth. The children were being brought up from home to watch the end of the ride, and I felt it would be nice to see them.
About this time Paul was wandering from the support crew area back towards the edge of the velodrome to walk laps again. "Get the support going!! I'm dying out here and everyone's just watching!!". Possibly not my most objective comment during the ride. Everyone was very supportive, but by now I felt like I had a large weight squeezing me from above, and with every lap I was being (mentally) crushed. Paul took this with good grace and the support got going to a new level. In fact, within about ten minutes I was a bit annoyed with myself, as I was now being told off every time I so much as freewheeled. This was the business end of the ride, and frankly anyone close on laps at this point would probably breakdown before the end of the ride. You're on flumes, and any efforts take about two laps and you're knocked sideways from the fatigue. I called out to Ruth, "Where are the kids??". At this stage only one thing in the universe exists, and it's not that white line - you occasionally imagine the sight of you sitting on the banking of the track broken and distraught. You imagine the outcome if you didn’t push hard enough, and what would happen if the ride blew up and the record distance wasn't reached. Worst of all, you imagine yourself saying, “We tried our best”, as an apology. That sight. That sight kept me pushing. Out loud now I called out "push push push" after every corner. The jokes and small talk with the support crew were long gone, and we all knew this was getting serious.
23 hours. "Where are my children!!". Another lap. Just 20 to now for the Record. "Just about here Stu", came the call. 18 laps. 15 laps. 13 laps - "Looooooooook!!!", and EVERYONE was pointing at Alex, Amy, David. My glasses were off by now, as my eyesight was disappearing quickly, but I saw them - just. All three waving at me. Yes!! I will do this. We will win this together. All of us - including the children. I suspect the pace picked up dramatically, as I heard the crowd getting decidedly louder lap after lap. No more calling or yelling. Any noises were screaming, and I think it's safe to say that most people had pretty much let the occasion get to them. Tim Neal later said there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Five laps to go. Four laps. Three. Two. One. And then everyone went mental. Not me. I was buggered and wasn't wasting energy with so much as a smile. This wasn't over, and I set myself a goal - 30 laps. Just 30 laps and I could stop. That was the first time on this entire ride where I actually thought about the end. Ten laps head. 15 laps head. Dad was standing next to the spot where the previous distance (on that part of the lap) had been reached, and Paul was walking laps again, as were several others including Matt and Tim. "Bloody hell - I'm out of gas". And I was. On the far side of the track I started to throw up, but managed to stop before it came up. In the process I almost fell off. 20 laps ahead.
At this point I decided that everything could wait. The pain. The nausea. The vision disappearing. They could all wait 20 minutes. I got down on the bars for one final time and pushed. My feet had been screaming for about eight hours now, and hadn't gone numb like they normally did. I had simply told myself that this was good - it meant I was pushing hard enough to win. 27 laps up, and the calls changed. Time now. "Stu - 12 minutes to go". This was quite refreshing. Time. Now there's a novel concept. Imagine counting down in minutes rather than laps. 10 minutes. Winding it up now, and it was like the final 100 meters of the Ironman, where the pain just disappears. (That was probably the only similarity to the Ironman. A day that went to crap at 27kms into the run. I still recall that day with disappointment, despite finishing - eventually).
|Family photo at the finish.|
Carrying on, the rain set in for the first time.
Eight minutes. This race was mine. No celebration. No smile. Just a few more laps. Six minutes. Another lap. "...er...that's four minutes", someone said apologetically. "Fine with me", I thought, "how about one minute?? Do I hear one minute!!". Three minutes to go. Two minutes. And then a final lap. The crowd was screaming as if their lives depended on me getting all the way around one final time. Top gear now. Literally. Click click click, and I wound it up. Those last few laps were one big blur. Someone called out, "They'll sound the car horn when the time is up - Then you stop". "Try to stop me!!", I thought. I passed the start line (and thus small crowd), for the last time and kept going, and a little over a 100 meters later I heard the horn blasting across the field. I thought of three things in that moment. Firstly, "Get into the lowest gear", which I did straight away. Secondly, "Come on. Celebrate!!", and I smiled, made a fist as I sat up, and looked across the velodrome towards the support crew. Thirdly. Thirdly I thought of my two grandmothers. Both passed away. I had my family at the velodrome, and for that I am very grateful. But a part of me wished my grandmothers could have been here to see this ride. I know they were watching up above though, and truth be known they probably had the best seats in the house. I love you Granny and Nana.
"Where do I stop??", I thought. I decided straight away that I didn't care!! No more pedaling now. Not once, and I figured I'd see if I could freewheel all the way to the start line. No yelling now. Just cheering and clapping. And I made it. (Freewheeling to the start line that is). Bit of a mission to get off the bike. And Ruth asked, "How do feel??". I simply replied, "Well, I'll put it this way. If you want a speech, then you are out of luck". She looked very worried and looked over my shoulder. I turned around and there before me were half a dozen photographers, and several reporters. One had a tape recorder held in front of my face. "Is it ok if we ask you some questions??", she said. My answer surprised me. I had worked myself into a frenzy on that ride, had been running on empty for the last six hours, and had focused so hard that sensations such as pain were no longer truly felt. My response was calmly saying, "Sure, I have the rest of my life to recover. We can talk as long as you want". (Meanwhile - I was thinking, "Stu. Don't throw up"). Everything after that is a blur. Well the whole day was really, but thereafter I only remember bits and pieces.
After the interviews everyone came over one by one. Saying "Well done" or "You did well". And for every single person I thought, "No - YOU did well". And they had. Every single person. I was 100% happy with the support crew and felt honored that they were supporting me. And I then sat down with the kids and ate one of Tim Neal's famous filled potato's. I had never had one before, and the closest I had previous come was on my Four Hills ride, where I cycled right past Tim’s stand and (despite looking for him) didn’t see The Potato Guy. It was good to stop. At last. David ate most of the potato, and I was too tired to care. I lay down. I closed my eyes. And I truly stopped. It never felt 'like a dream', like some bigger situations do. It had been 100% real, and that velodrome was exactly where I had wanted to be - all those months of training. All the rides. All the early starts. All the sacrifices. They were all worth it. It was all worth it.
Date - 15/16 April 2012.
Location - Levin Velodrome.
Track Distance - 450 meters. (Track distance surveyed by True Bridge and Associates - Levin).
Laps Ridden - 1537 complete laps, with an additional 114 meters ridden on lap 1538.
Distance Ridden - 691.764kms.
Bike NZ: The ride adhered to Bike NZ protocols, with a Bike NZ Commissaire onsite to oversee the ride. This provided complete transparency and ensured the ride's validity in terms of the distance ridden in the 24 hours.
I commented to someone that my reward was not having to pack all the gear up, and I slowly got up and headed towards the waiting car. I stopped at the edge of the track and looked at the asphalt. So many hours here, and I had publicly said that I was walking off the track for the last time in 2012. "No more", I had said. I then stopped. And looked. It was strange looking back. I had finished this goal, and didn't have to go back onto this velodrome ever again. Thus, for this very reason I felt that never coming back would be a sad thing indeed. Then I smiled, and walked away. None of that mattered now. Time to go home. Time for my rest.
|Mantra for this ride - Over and over and over - "Chasing" "Leading" "Winning".|
Paul had become my life line between this place I was in, and where ever it was everyone else was at.
Several days after the race it occurred to me that immediately after the finish I should have gotten the support crew together for a group photo. Apologies for this not happening. I was so focused on this race that I consciously avoided any thought of anything after the finish line. These words are to the other members of our Team of Ten - I hope they express my gratitude…
He mihi tenei ki a koutou aku kai tautoko I nga wa taumaha I ngaro au, I whati au, I konetake au. Engari I piri koutou ki au Ahakoa, kaore he tohu toa ma koutou, I tu pakari koutou. Koina te wa I haere mai koutou ki taku taha , I Tu toa ahau. Na tatou taua rangi Na tatou I toa. I nga wa o mua, he hoa tatou. Inaianei, he whanau tatou He rangi whakamaumaharai tenei. Kua rereke tatou. No te mea Ko tatou nga kaitiaki o a totou wairua inaianei.
I don't 'own' the record - I have simply cycled further than anyone else. (For now at least). What I do own are the connections with my family, my friends, and the kindred spirits who are my Brothers in endurance cycling.
So I have found it interesting when several people have asked me, "Are you worried about the record being beaten??". Let me be as clear as I possibly can - The record will be beaten. Maybe next week. Maybe next year. When it is, it will be on a different velodrome, on a different day, with a different support crew, by a different person, with different goals, and different reasons for their record attempt. I wanted to gain the New Zealand 24 hour (outdoor) track record. I did my very best in the pursuit of that goal. Not trying hard. Not giving what I thought was 'enough'. Not ‘doing more than others’. No. I did my very best. At the finish I was empty. As with the Maxi Enduro I was in a physically and mentally vacuum with nothing left to give on any level. Perhaps the difference was that this time, spiritually, I had some gas in the tank. So am I worried?? Am I worried that somewhere else, someone else, will do something different to what I did for different reasons?? No. I had the most special day of my life, and I am so happy that the day was shared with people who I care about. That will never be beaten. That can never be taken. And for the rest of my life I can always say, "I once gained a New Zealand Record". How cool is that.
So it was done. A perfect day. A perfect ride. A perfect team. And my goal was complete. And that's what this was all about - achieving a goal I once thought of. Twice thought of I suppose. It's not about beating others, but bettering yourself. And I am better. No more "I", but "We". This ride belongs to the support crew as much as myself. I gain a deep sense of satisfaction from that thought. Finally, and most importantly, this ride is my gift to God. It took an immeasurable amount of strength to succeed, and I never felt alone.
***** The Ride's End *****
This journey was almost done then. And for months I knew how I wanted it to end. Away from the fanfare, the noise, the hustle bustle. Yes. This journey would end in a quiet place. The kind of place that journeys like this begin, so it seems fitting that it should be a similar setting where it ends. So we sat there, Amy and myself, on the top of our small hill behind our home. The lawns looking decidedly long. The day calm. And the sun's warmth felt everywhere.
I said 'Thanks' to Amy, and told her what a difference her comments had made. Her note to me. Imagine that - My eight year old daughter giving me a note (on the day I was at my very lowest) saying, "You will win the 24 hour record". Not "I hope you do". Not "You might". Not "You can". No. "You will". She was a little bemused by my gratitude, but she was stunned at the solid silver bracelet I gave her. I had gotten it engraved with "Thank you for believing". It seemed like an appropriate gift. I found it on the side of SH1. Dented, bent out of shape, and no longer wanted - But now polished, cherished, and given a new life. Yes. That seemed fitting.
I asked Amy to look after the bracelet, and said she could wear it whenever she wanted, and there were just two occasions I insisted she wore it. To remember me. To remind herself that she too can achieve anything. I said she needed to wear it for her wedding, and also my funeral. It seemed a little heavy - saying that to a nine year old. But frankly, if she thinks I'll live forever she'll take me for granted. If that happens there may be no more notes, and I'd like several more like this one before it is all said and done.
Finished then. And no more. I want to stay active, and cycling is a part of that - endurance cycling also. The Graperide Ten lapper happens in 2014, and this will be a very special event. But before then I need to enjoy the rides again. Time with mates, an adventure over new hills, or a commute to work via a new road. Or maybe just off road. An adventure. Every single day having a little adventure. Here or there. Or everywhere. No summits bursting through the clouds. Instead just smaller moments. And no expectations. No winning. No losing. Just living. For as long as I want.
Average speeds, splits, wattage, heart rate zones, 'winning and losing', stress, sleepless nights, ice baths, and endless laps of the Levin velodrome - all a memory. For now. And you know what I like best about this race's result?? I could make this decision on my terms. It is time to see my home as a place for more than recovery meals, washing of my cycling clothes, and a bed to sleep in. It is time for family, and living other lives. Watching my children play sports each Saturday morning, and actually being around the house in the weekends. Yes. That was worth striving for. The prize was coming to know that what I wanted most was right in front of me.
I recall discussing some of my future goals with someone once. It was one of those random 'water cooler' type conversations, and we simply talked about what lay ahead of us. After a short while they simply stated, "Who the hell do you think you are!!". Who am I then??
* I am Stu Downs.
* I am an endurance cyclist (and I am only truly understood by my Brothers).
* I am someone with a potty mouth (and I won't apologise for being passionate about life's moments).
* I am the one who'll point out that there's an elephant in the room (with no fear of being ridiculed because I know I'm right).
* I am motivated to climb the mountain so I can shout at the top (not ‘look at me’, but ‘get up here and check out this view’).
* I am able to say I have feelings (being ‘tough’ is almost as overrated as being ‘normal’).
* I am the one who smiles if you throw a knife in the room and say “Only one person walks out” (not because I’m better than you, but because I’ll want the battle the most).
* I am aware that throwaway comments hurt (and to the person who said “Maybe next year eh” – ‘Next year’ wasn’t this year, it IS next year. So watch out!!).
* I am on a great journey, called ‘Life’ (which is meant to have surprises and twists and turns and sometimes hurdles - which are always overcome).
* And lastly - I am a father, a husband, and just one member of a "Team of Ten".
***** Journey's End *****