Team Terminator and the National 24 Hour Challenge – 15-16 June 2013

One of the first and best bosses I ever had was John Connor when I was an engineer starting my career making car parts at GKN Automotive in Sanford, North Carolina. Our professional careers have diverged, but we've stayed in touch through the years, and I still use and apply many of the work and life lessons I learned from John.

John recently did something impressive and remarkable with his friend Pete Newbury: They rode their bikes for 24 hours straight. It's a great story, which John recently typed up and emailed out to a few friends. I'm wildly impressed, and I think the telling deserves a web presence and exposure, so I'm handing over my blog to him this month to share the tale. Here's his story in his own words:


Team Terminator and the National 24 Hour Challenge – 15-16 June 2013
by John Connor

A better title might be “24 hours of Pain and Suffering”. Though it is a better descriptor, I don’t think it would attract more riders. For those of you who have not heard of it, it is a personal challenge (not a race) to see how far you can cycle in 24 consecutive hours.

As many of you already know, this is the third year Pete Newbury has done this event. I considered joining him last year, but other engagements took priority. I talked to Pete about it this year; he agreed to man the helm of the ship and advise me in the deep mysteries of marathon cycling. Then off we went on long training rides.

I have to admit, it took a while to talk myself into really doing this event. Deep down inside of me, this epic, primal struggle of “man versus bicycle versus nature” drew me. As a 50-something, I’m supposed to me more mature, to have out grown that sort of thing. So, logically I searched for a reason to justify this to myself. These things have to make sense to me and I could make no sense out of any of it. As Pete repeated a number of times during our rides: “When you find a good reason let me know!”

Finally, the only justifiable reason I could give for participating in this was that it was there. It’s kind of like the people who climb Everest or do the ultra marathons. Ultimately, it’s the challenge and nothing else. I wondered for a bit if this was a stage in my mid-life crisis and maybe I missed the first couple of stages (no Porsche, still happily married). Maybe it was because of some prehistoric urge, some deep rooted DNA to continue to press my physical limits to even further than I had imagined possible. Maybe it’s because I like the look on my wife’s face as I casually announce that this as something I want to do. She rarely says “no,” but sometimes (and this is what I live for) she will pause, look up at me to ensure I’m serious, give me that “you’ve hit your head again haven’t you” look, deep sigh, and say something like “just make sure your insurance is paid up.” Maybe I’m still trying to impress her 30 years later.

Pete provided patient instruction on how event day would progress. We put in several hundred mile-plus training rides, we strategized, made mileage spreadsheets, and calculated calories. Mary loaned me some gear, I made more lists, tested my lights, went shopping and prepared my pit crew. I even did research and a comparison on different chamois creams; which, by the way, is really an incredibly vital, high usage, key piece of gear in this event.

Pete and I at the Start!

So this is how we found ourselves on 15 June at 0800, lining up to see how far we could get in 24 hours. Pete’s goal was 338 miles, which would put him at the 1000 mile mark across three years in this event. Not to mention, he gets a cool jersey too. My goal was 350 miles, only because my spreadsheet said it was possible to accomplish if we averaged 15 mph. Pete had his wife and daughter as a pit crew, my oldest daughter and niece were my pit crew. Initially, I thought a pit crew might be a bit of over kill, but they were wonderful, essential for support and morale, and gave us a great cheer of Happy Father’s Day when we came through the pit areas at midnight.

The “Team Terminator” Pit Crew

Pete and I had an agreement that if either of us had a mechanical problem, the other would keep going. At the 68-mile point, my pedal came apart. Luckily, we were not going that fast. The plastic part of the pedal was still clipped to the bottom of my shoe with the pedal spindle and bearings still attached to the crank arm. I told Pete to keep going, but he came back to take a look. What happened next was an unselfish, unrehearsed picture of great teamwork. I held his bike with one hand, called my pit crew with the other hand and had my bike between my legs. Pete unclipped the petal from my shoe, found the issue, reassembled the pedal and was ready to go before my pit crew could find their way to the car. The call ended with a sheepish, “Well, I’m pretty sure we can make it to the next checkpoint.” Pete saved the day on this one! The mechanic at the next stop spotted a crack in the pedal. My pit crew bought some epoxy and at the next stop, a different mechanic glued everything together, which is how we finished the event.

We polished off the first loop of 117 miles just before 3 pm. There was the 25 mile loop, which we covered three times by 7:40 pm. With less than 12 hours under our belts, we had 188.7 miles, which was keeping us on track to beat our goals. We commenced the 7.5 mile loop, which we would do until the end of the event. The wonderful part of this loop is that the organizers have police stationed at four of the key intersections all night to ensure traffic and bikes stay separate. The other reason for this is that during the night your mind starts to depart from reality, to lose its ability to make good rational decisions. As the pain and exhaustion sets in, you fight your battles in your mind, and on the road (and the saddle / posterior interface). Pete and I fell into a rhythm, alternating leads on parts of the loop, and quietly put miles underneath us.

Pete ready to roll just after midnight

Around 12:15 am, it began to rain and we donned our rain gear. About a half-hour later, we pulled into the checkpoint to hear the organizer say that he was aware of lightning (couldn’t miss it), and though it seemed distant, he would stop the event if it came closer. Undeterred, Pete and I set out for another loop. About a mile in, there was a flash and a boom that seemed to this untrained weather man to be much closer than the others. Even in my muddled mental state, I thought that a prudent person would get off the course and sacrifice some miles. I don’t know where this moment of lucidity came from, but the next time around the organizers stopped the event for three hours.

While this was a nice excuse for a snooze, we lost miles. When we did make it back on the course there were leaves and debris on the road with wind gusts of over 20 mph. We covered as much ground as we could but simple math told us that with three hours eliminated from the event we wouldn’t reach 350 miles; and unfortunately Pete wouldn’t reach 338. We finished the event with 323.7 miles. Though we didn’t reach our goals, Pete and I tied for 16th overall in the event of 309 people, which was a pleasant surprise.

At the finish, still smiling!

I’ve had a week or so to reflect on the event, to think about lessons learned, what I’d do differently and wonder why I would even consider doing the event again. In the lessons learned department there are a few, though I have to compliment Pete for helping me avoid the numerous mistakes a rookie can make that would have the first year be a disaster. One mistake I didn’t avoid was planning the food a bit closer. Though we did plan pretty well, stomach cramps started around the 200 mile point. Later, I discovered that I had ingested two liters of Coke in 12 hours. I do not recommend this. What I would recommend are chocolate covered espresso beans (pit crew bought these on a lark and they were WOW energy), energy packed but bland food (which also includes pizza in my book), and a change of clothes after 12 or 14 hours.

And yes, in the epic, grand, and heroic struggle of man versus bicycle versus nature, I’m actually open to the idea of doing this for another year. I already made sure my insurance is paid up, though I hope the statement from my wife will be “Didn’t you learn your lesson last year?!” Come on out and join us, it’s a memorable, stretching and satisfying event.