Team SRAM at 24 Hour National Championships
What do you say when the 6 time 24 Hour World Champion asks you to race on a team with her for 24 Hr National Championships? How do you feel when you know you’re racing on a 4 woman team consisting of Rebecca Rusch, Jenny Smith, and Kelly Boniface? You say GIDDY UP!!!! Our team name for the event was “SRAM.”
2011 marks my third time racing 24 Hr Nationals(once in Wisconsin, once at Moab, and now CO Springs). It wasn’t my first time racing on a 4 woman team, but definitely my first time racing with that level of talent! In my head I worried, “Am I good enough? What if I’m too slow?” The funny thing Rebecca said to me was, “Don’t worry, we are all worried we’ll be too slow!”
People were calling our team the “dream team.” Announcer Larry Grossman said, “If they were racing against each other, it’d be places 1-4 and hard to know who would win!” True, the four of us normally race against each other battling for the top of the podium, and last saw one another at the Park City Point 2 Point. We were all very excited to race with each other on a team for a change.
After we got our little place called home for the next 24 hours set up, we decided on the rotation order. It turned out to be Jenny Smith, Rebecca Rusch, myself (Sonya Looney), and Kelly Boniface. The 13.5 mile course in Palmer Park was pretty technical and downright treacherous in places at night! It was definitely a power course with only 1300’ of elevation gain in a lap, sand pits, punchy climbs, and lots of pedaling. The course was great for a team, but would prove to be incredibly difficult as a solo course since there were no good places to rest or eat.
My long time friend, Nina Baum was set up right next to us racing and eventually winning the coed duo category. She brought her brothers whom I later labeled, “2 men and a box truck” to support her, and they ended up supporting us as well. Nate Bird also was helping us out. Rebecca’s friends, Shanti and Mark came out as well to do some acro yoga stretching with us. We were so lucky to have such great support. The acro-yoga was really great too!
At noon sharp, the chaotic Le Mans start went into action and Jenny threw down a smoking fast first lap. Our lap times ended up being very consistent and fast! We were all within a minute or two of one another per lap as well which was fantastic! I ended up riding 3 night laps and 2 day laps. Everyone on the team rode 5 laps each totaling 270 miles in 23.5 hours.
Normally, I have moments of misery in a 24 hour race. Getting out of my warm sleeping bag at 3:30 AM to flog myself in the dark on a lap wasn’t as painful as it had been in the past. It was easy to get up and get out, and dare I say pleasant! In the past, I would drag myself out of bed and feel like road kill. Not this year!
The trail very tricky at night and I got in a little cyclocross practice from errors in the dark; things like not anticipating a sharp turn or choosing sloppy lines. My field of vision wasn’t as deep as it is in the daylight so it was harder to see what was 30 yards ahead. Descents were slower, depth perception was lost, everything was black and white, and there were weird shadows. On the other end of the spectrum, riding at night was peaceful. The bugs chirp rhythmically, things are very quiet and you hear your breath and tires crunching on the dirt as one of the only sounds(well, except for the occasional rustling in the bushes), it’s hard to tell how fast you are really going. On one of my night laps, I heard footsteps next to me and turned to see a life size chicken silently running alongside me. I was completely discombobulated. It took me a few seconds to decide if I was hallucinating, if the chicken was going to try to hurt me, or what the hell was actually going on. Once I figured it out, I clucked as loud as I could and took off into the darkness following my tunnel of light.
I got about an hour of sleep total over the 24 hour period. It was difficult to ride as hard as I could, eat, and then try to make my body go to sleep. It was great being on an evenly matched team because we all got about the same amount of rest in between laps. I’ve ridden as the only woman on coed 4 person teams, or as a coed duo and it’s really hard when you’re the slower rider on a team of flying pro men. You get the least amount of rest when you actually need the most!
Jenny Smith greeted the dawn. I hadn’t ridden a lap in daylight since 3:20 PM the day before and was excited that I could actually see the course in front of me.
Some my favorite moments were in the transition periods. I’d see Rebecca came raging in from a lap looking strong, and she’d roll up with a toothy grin plastered to her face, breathing hard, hooting and hollering. There was no question that she was having fun and it motivated me to do the same! I would come in from my laps and see Kelly there exciting and waiting, and ready to go crush another smokin’ lap – it was all very inspiring and fun.
When Kelly was due back for the final lap of the race, the three of us waited at the finish line for our teammate. Kelly came in smiling and the four of us celebrated taking the national title in the shadow of the finish line. There were definitely some group hugs! It’s hard to explain how it felt to be on such a powerful and encouraging team. There was no complaining from anyone and a very warm energy. It made me feel so thankful to know and regularly race with or against such inspiring and great people. It even made me want to do it again!