Sebring 24, pictures by Lisa Avila

February 22, 2013/ Maria Parker

We kept watching the Sebring weather forecast and it just didn’t get any better. It promised to be cold and windy at night and hot and windy during the day, so Jim and I packed up and headed down to Florida with lots of different clothing options. Jim planned on doing the 12 hour and I was going to do the 24 hour solo race. The weather on Friday afternoon in Sebring was delightful and we enjoyed socializing with other ultracyclists who have now become our friends. This year was even more fun because Jim and I were both racing on Team Vite, the new recumbent racing team put together by Jackie and John Schlitter.

The race start was exciting as usual with a great mix of recumbents and upright bikes. Those minutes before the start of the race are always scary for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the pre-race jitters. The goal for me was to race relaxed and fairly easy and to work on my nutrition. I had in my pocket a list of names on a card in … Ed, Jenny, Karl, Lewis, Amanda, Graham and others. These people all are fighting or have fought cancer. I hoped to ride to honor their battle. Their names also reminded me that I was fortunate to be able to ride and had a choice in being uncomfortable.

The first 100 miles were a dream. The weather was perfect, the wind wasn’t too bad and my nutrition seemed to be working. The 11 mile day loops became challenging as the afternoon wore on. There was a right hand turn into the wind that was laughably strong. I remember looking over and seeing the palm fronds on the palms trees waving around like medusa’s head full of snakes.

By the time I got onto the track, I was feeling bloated and the nutrition was starting to go out the window, or more accurately, down the tubes. As with last year, the night laps on the track were really tough. Despite having better lighting this year, thanks to Surefire Lighting and Jim Verhuel, I still struggled to see the track.
It was cold out there too. My teeth were chattering and I was adding a layer after each lap for about five laps. My crew had me dressed up like a 4 year old going out to play in the snow with my arms stuck straight out to the sides. The mittens kept my hand warm, but effectively kept me from eating my granola bars, which went slipping out of my grasp and onto the track. The liquids weren’t going down well either.
I felt grateful for a few laps in which I rode next to other friendly riders. During the last 5 or 6 laps, the more fit, or rested riders passed me like I was standing still. There is a unique discouragement in the sound of a rider coming up behind you about to blown by. I won’t complain, they deserve their moment.

I had by far the handsomest crew out there, three strapping, fit ,young men ranging in age from 18 to 27. Next year I’ll create a calendar of them – in different poses handing out food, nutrition bottles, or dressing me up. It will be the beefcake best seller of the ultracyling world. Below is two of my three handsome crew, nephew Kent and son Will on a better dressed day. Not pictured, but equally handsome and important is my other nephew Charlie.

The centerfold for my calendar (I guess that’s July) will be my incredible husband Jim who did his own 12 hour race and then came out at 3 am to support me and then help me off the bike and into the hot shower when it was all over. Jim is pictured below during the 12 hour, photo courtesy of Jay Copp.
At the end of the race, I was disappointed with my 410 miles, but glad to have qualified for RAAM and so so glad it was over. I continue to learn from each event.

Once again I have to express my gratitude to my coach Jim “JV” Verhuel who guides me extremely effectively and who I trust completely and to John Tolhurst who designed my bike which makes me fast even when I am actually putting very little power out.

My friend Dan Fallon is helping me to understand why I keep doing these long difficult races. For right now, it is to raise money and awareness for brain cancer research. My sister is fighting it now. I do this to honor her, the people on my list and all the others fighting cancer. I will do Race Across America for the same reason. It is the biggest platform available to me to shout out to the world that we can make a difference if we each give a little. Please consider donating to
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