July 14, 2009/ Jim Parker
Preview: “After stopping a little before the 12-hour mark with 211 miles, Maria Parker not only set the recumbent 12-hour course record for women, but she went farther than any previous female road biker had ever done in the race. She also went farther than any woman on any recumbent bike at any UMCA non-drafting 12-hour event. At Bike Sebring in Florida, which appears to be the place where 12-hour records are set for recumbent male riders, the 12-hour record for a recumbent woman is 137 miles.” ————————————————————————
Maria and I have never been competitive cyclists. Now in our mid-40’s, our main fitness activity has been recreational/fitness running. While Maria has had success running several marathons, I tried to run one once. I finished the 26.2 miles, but my time was slower than Oprah’s. When we started riding Cruzbikes a few years ago, we enjoyed it so much we started riding in a few group tours, like the Ride Across North Carolina, or New York’s Bon Ton Roulet. We noticed that we were faster on our Cruzbikes than all the other recumbents out there, especially going up hills. When I shared this observation on Bentrider Online, it went over about like passing gas in a crowded MINI-Cooper. I guess no one who dropped big coin on a fancy RWD recumbent wants to be reminded that their bike climbs hills like a tranquilized tortoise. Some of the online critics suggested we enter a race, and then come back and tell everyone how it went. Finding a race we could get to on a weekend wasn’t easy, living in North Carolina… but we finally did. We joined the Ultramarathon Cycling Association (the UMCA, the outfit that puts on the RAAM), and entered their 12-Hour race in Saratoga County, New York, which was just held this past Saturday. We put the bikes on the back of our SUV and headed north with two of our children, Lucia and William, who would serve as our support crew. Our training consisted of our usual weekend rides, increasing our distance up to a maximum of 150 miles for Maria and 135 miles for me. Those were the farthest distances either of us had ever ridden in our lives up until this point. On race day, we noticed that we were the only recumbent riders there. After a few laps, we figured out why. This course had some serious hills that would have discouraged most recumbent riders. It also had a lot of motor vehicle traffic that would have been particularly scary on a low bent with little wheels. This was a non-drafting event, and we had to follow all of the traffic rules. I confess that I rolled a lot of stop signs (after checking for traffic, of course), but Maria came to a full stop at each one, she tells me. I actually didn’t see much of her all day. I was ahead of her by a couple of miles for most of the first 80 miles. Then I made a novice mistake. I made a wrong turn that took me 5 miles off the course. Doing an extra five miles that doesn’t count toward your 12-hour total is NOT cool. By the time I got back on course, Maria was way ahead of me and her lead would only grow. There was a wicked 15-20 mph wind on the southerly stretch of the course that I heard another rider describe as “tree trunk bending”. Working as hard as I could, I could manage about 11 mph through this section. The eleventh hour was memorable for its hard driving rain and bleak darkness. I could hardly see anything ahead of me. When a car approached behind me, I just got off the road, assuming they couldn’t see me either. We had brought one rear light with us and I told the kids to put it on their mother’s bike. When I came to the checkpoint at 11 hours and 50 minutes, my official distance was 195 miles. Adding my 5-mile sojourn into the wild, I had made my goal of a double century in less than 12 hours. I got off the bike and ate a Pop-Tart. Everything tastes good right after burning 9000 calories. Maria stopped a little before the 12-hour mark with 211 miles. She not only set the recumbent 12-hour course record for women, but she went farther than any previous female road biker had ever done in this race. She also went farther than any woman on any recumbent bike at any UMCA non-drafting 12-hour event. At Bike Sebring in Florida, which appears to be the place where 12-hour records are set for recumbent male riders, the 12-hour record for a recumbent woman is 137 miles. We knew these bikes were fast and good climbers. It’s nice to finally have some objective evidence to back that up. I’m very proud of Maria for smashing everyone else’s expectations of what a woman on a recumbent can do. I never doubted that she and her Silvio could do it.