Tuesday 7 June 2011

The Aftermath of a 24 hour Race

So you’ve sat on your bike for 24 hours, pedalled your socks off all night, created several buckets of sweat, burnt off 23,000 calories, consumed 30 energy gels, drank several gallons of liquid, and not slept for 30 hours. How do you recover from this?

Oh, and your legs ache, your arms ache, your back aches, your neck aches, you’re covered in mud, you don’t know what you want and you can’t think straight.

You’ve just competed in a race at European level, everyone is praising you for your achievement, and you feel like a jabbering wreck and want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep.

I gulp down a recovery drink as I’m escorted to the shower with wobbling legs. Anyone would have thought that I smelt or something. I’m handed my prepared ‘Finish’ bag with a change of clothes as I shut myself in the tiny cubicle. Fumbling with my fingers that had little sense of feeling, I awkwardly operate the shower controls to eak out a squirt of mildly warm water.

Removing my sodden clothes with arms and legs that didn’t bend very well while bashing against the walls, must have looked like a poor impersonation of Houdini getting out of a straight jacket in a box.

Eventually, looking relatively mud free I emerge from the closet and wobble like Scott Tracy from Thunderbirds back to the pits.

It’s an odd experience; you’ve spent many months slogging away in the gym and on the bike, pushing your body that extra bit each time. You’ve deprived yourself of indulgent foods and alcohol, limited your social life as you focus on your race. You’ve thought for hours about the logistics of the event and meticulously planned every item of equipment. You set out on a journey that will last all day and all night, where you only have yourself as company. You’ve then gone and pushed your body far beyond where it has ever been before, tolerating immense levels of pain until they hurt no more.

And then you cross the finish line. You’ve done it. You can get off your bike and say “Yes! I’ve completed the 24 hours of Exposure” which no one can take away from you. The achievement is awesome.

Discovering I had qualified for the World Championships was doubly awesome. The feeing is just amazing, making all the training so worthwhile.

So how do you recover from a 24 hour race?

I couldn’t eat much immediately after the race so I consumed recovery drinks and found a fruit salad the most palatable form of solid food. I stretched my limbs as much as possible, but the 7 hour drive home cramped up in the car was most uncomfortable.Sleeping very well that night, I had a massive protein craving in the morning. Whole packs of sausages and bacon were cooked and devoured for breakfast.

A gentle swim loosened up my joints and a sauna helped to sweat out the toxins. Compression tights encouraged the blood flow and a gentle spin the following day finally made my legs feel more normal. Gentle Pilates sessions and regular stretching loosened up the limbs to regain some mobility.

Amongst the physical recovery, the car needed unpacking and the vast array of kit had to be cleaned and put away. It took virtually all week. Hitting the caffeine after a month of deprivation improved my state of consciousness to just above Zombie level.

Also, in my muddled condition, I had to write reports for my blog and the Surrey Mirror. This in some ways was harder than the ride itself.

A physio session sorted out a torn muscle in my calf and the various knots that appeared in my neck and back. The nerve damage causing a pins & needles sensation in my left foot took longer to heal.

It was 2 weeks before I got back on a bike, which was a slow and social ride with friends. The next week I ventured a bit further but still had to take it easy.

Four weeks after the race I set out for a ride with nothing much planned, only to find my legs were like coiled springs wanting to pump the pedals and power the hills. I take advantage of this renewed vigour and complete 50 very hilly miles in a personal best time. From this, I consider myself suitably recovered.

Was it worth it?

Ask a new mother if it was worth going through pregnancy and labour pains to have her baby.

How often can you get a pass to spend all night doing what you enjoy most, being on your bike?

Bring on the World Championships as I want to do it all again!