– How long have you been riding, and how did you start?
I have been riding continuously since I learned how, at age 7. Cycling is not something that I stopped and rediscovered as an adult.
– Where did you hear about N24HC (or ultra-riding), and what made you interested in trying it?
This is hard to say exactly. I heard about the GABR (predecessor to the Race Across America) via a radio interview with John Howard on NPR. At the time I was working with a man who knew Lon Haldeman, and he told me a little about the sport. I can also remember reading about 24 Hour Series‘s record crossing. I had always been more interested in going further than going faster. As a child, this meant going for multi-hour rides on my 3-speed Raleigh Sports. I did my first double century in the summer of 1983, and my second one two weeks later. Of course, a big catalyst for me was the TV coverage of RAAM, which I suspect is the case for a lot of people my age. I first heard about the N24HC through an ad in the Velonews. I had just ridden my first 24-hour event (on a 9-mile loop, featuring cold rain and then a frost) and was looking for another one. I saw the word ‘National’ in the name of the event and figured it must be something big. That was in 1985.
– How did your expectations compare with the reality of your first ride?
Well, that was 30 years ago, so it’s hard to say. I knew that the key was staying on the bike, more than anything else. I did that, more or less, and it worked out okay. The mileage standards were far lower then. There was one 400-mile result, and fewer than 20 triple centuries. I was happy to have achieved one of the triples. That was, I think, the wettest edition of the event ever. It started raining early on and rained for the rest of the event. I had a good two-person crew and we had driven 800 miles to the event. There was no way I was going to quit. We had to ride into the pavilion at Douglas Walker Park to get hot drinks, etc, but the event seemed well run and worth returning to. Of course, Skip and Diane Obermeyer were always organizers beyond compare. The event very much reflected the depth of their commitment, their sense that even in such a demanding ride, the goal was to be supportive always and to give everyone the best possible experience. I guess I haven’t really said anything about how it compared to my expectations. I can’t really remember what they specifically were, but surely they were exceeded, or I would not have gone back so many times.
– How do you train? (Miles per week? Cross-training?)
‘Training’ is a rather strong word for what I do. For the last three years, I have put in about 8,000 miles a year, which is as much as I can fit in. I live in New Hampshire, so my sense of ‘hill’ is different that the Michigan version. I also ride a lot in the winter on my mountain bike. The idea is not so much to build speed as it is to acclimate myself to staying on the bike, regardless of conditions. I also do varying amounts of hiking, walking, and if I am being good, running. I did a marathon once. That was enough. I don’t do any racing, though I did a little, both on the road and in the woods, years ago.
– What are your key words of wisdom for new riders?
Stay on the bike. Let me add a little to this: If you eat and drink properly and take care of your body, it hardly matters how fast you are going, unless you are aiming really high, say for a quadruple century. Take care of yourself and remember that it is just one day, and that it will be over at 8 AM. After that, you will hurt for a little while, but you will have done something that you will carry with you forever.
– Anything else you’d like to add?
The N24HC is a really special event. We are all lucky to have it, to benefit from the vision of Skip and Diane, along with the work of the volunteers. It is like nothing else that I ever do and provides a great focus for my cycling. Anyone who is on the fence, thinking about doing it, but a little intimidated, should go ahead and try. With maybe a few exceptions, it seems to me that the participants are almost all perfectly ordinary people who, in the right circumstances, can do extraordinary things. The Challenge is a unique way for each of us to extend ourselves in surprising and gratifying ways.
Also, the night portion of the ride can be difficult, but it is also rewarding. The course is flat (almost) and the camaraderie is strong. I don’t converse much, but the sense of togetherness between
all of us out there is palpable. And there are unforgettable scenes. I think it was in 2008 that there were squalls early, followed by clearing over the course, even though there were distant thunderstorms visible in several directions, all lit up by a moon just a few days short of full. I rode most of those moonlit hours with my sister, an experience that could happen nowhere else.
Jonathan completed his 22nd N24HC in 2015, riding 408 miles – his first quadruple century. He’ll be back in 2016
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