Andrea Engel, RN, LMT, CPT

Aesthetic RN, Ashiatus massage therapist, health coach near Rhinelander, Wisconsin.


Wausau 24 (2013)

Wausau 24

I went into this weekend well-fed and well-rested. Friday morning TJ and I left, stopping in Merrill along the way to meet up with Steve and go get in line for a good camp spot in the solo riders area. On the way down, it was absolutely pouring rain and I wondered what we were in for. By the time we got in line on Red Bud Road to wait for the gate to open, the rains had stopped. We set up camp and Steve rode the course while I waited for registration to open. I made the switch from 12 to 24 hour competitor, and we left. We had a short visit with my sister, Becky, and then we were off to Merrill for a good night of sleep in a real bed. I painted my nails “Red Carpet”, ate sweet potato/grass-fed beef hash, and was in bed by about 10pm.

Saturday morning I recall waking around 4:30am. I was excited, like I was my first day of kindergarten when I was waiting for the bus at 5 or some ridiculous time. Thankfully I was able to go back to sleep, and got up around 6 to get ready for the day. Typically on the morning of a race I am shaky and nervous. I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation, but in the car I worked on deep breathing and remaining calm. “The eye of the hurricane”.  That’s how I want to be. We arrived at the venue shortly after 8.
I sought out a friend who had offered to tape my Achilles. Both bother me but particularly my right, and it had been painful leading up to the event. This friend happens to be an athletic trainer, and did a pro job of getting me all taped up. It immediately felt better!
The weather was cool and it rained off and on. To me it was perfect for mountain biking. Perhaps unexpected at the end of July, but very much welcomed.
This is how I run. I walk.

Racer’s meeting at 9, and then I got my bike ready and waited. Around 9:40 I went to place my bike out of everyone’s way for the Le Mans style start. This is the kind where your bike is laying near the start and you run to it. I think it’s kind of funny, and had never done one myself. However, I know fully that if I run at all my Achilles will take me out of the event. So, I found some folks who intended to walk. One of them, a teammate of mine, suffered from a stroke a few years ago and there he was, racing the 6 hour solo. Absolutely amazing to see his progress! That guy is so inspirational.

Goin’ for a bike ride

Before I knew it, we were off! I walked, half-joking that I was setting my pace for the day. I walked with a fellow who was doing his 3rd 24-hour solo race, from the Twin Cities area. He gave me some advice on when to rest as we walked briskly to our bikes. I saw a friend along the way and stopped for a hug. Hopped on my bike and set out at an easy pace. It only took a couple of minutes and we were all stopped on the trail where hundreds of riders were funneling into the singletrack. See? What good would it have done to run to my bike, anyway? It was quite awhile of very slow riding but people were in good spirits. We stopped several times just due to the number of people trying to ride on rocky, rooty terrain. I was glad it was easy to make that first lap slow and keep an easy pace. I know if I pushed it hard I would regret it later. I enjoyed the energy of the people around me. It seemed that lap 1 and 2 went by in a blur.

1 down, a few more to go!
Ho Chi Min Trail (partial)
Ho Chi Min Cheerleader

One section of the course, lovingly referred to as “Ho Chi Min”, includes an uphill rock garden climb. I’ve never been able to ride it and was not about to expend extra energy trying during a 24 hour event. Walking it gave me the opportunity to cheer on riders, and for several hours there was a guy out there cheerleading, playing music, and drinking beer. I stopped to visit with him for a couple of minutes and took some photos.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is about 7.5 miles into the 10+ mile laps. These guys had a bar set up with a variety of alcoholic beverages and were blending margaritas for whoever would like one. Lap 3 I indulged in about 1/2 of a shot of tequila. I swear I had an immediate buzz. The trail turns right here and it’s so fun! You barely have to pedal, just hang on and make sure your front tire doesn’t hit a rock the wrong way, and you’re good to go! I decided alcohol would have to wait until after the race. I did stop here every lap through my 7th for a bootie break (get off my saddle for a minute) and water. It was fun watching them play beanbag toss and run the bar. Late in the night I’d ride by with a “WOOOHOOOOOOO!!!” and they would all yell. I proceeded to burp tequila for the next 3 laps.

Lap 2 done, checking Steve off my list of people to ride for.

Speaking of “Woohoo”, I was riding each lap with someone in mind. Of course my mind would wander all over the place as I rode along in my slow rhythm, but I would reel it in and set it on whoever I was riding for that lap. I would imagine them surrounded in a pink light of love and send positive thoughts their way. When I got to one point on the trail, I would jump this dirt bump and catch just a little air, and holler out a “Woohoooo!!”. Around lap 4 a guy was behind me and he just laughed. He said something about some riders being far too serious out there, and when he passed he said he knew I would have a great day 🙂 My last lap was for my inspirational friend, Brenda, and I almost lost the bike out from under me on that dirt bump!


My Achilles was nagging a bit, but not threatening to take me out just yet. I felt it while I rode but especially on my breaks between laps. Typically I’d come in to the pit area, eat, use the bathroom, maybe stretch or change some clothing, and get back out. Anywhere from 5-20 minutes. I was on an adventure, after all, and not racing like those other folks. I had time. I’d feel my Achilles stiff and sore as I walked about, but I could ride alright.

Steve had been watching results and noted I was not in the list of 4 solo woman riders, so he got that straightened out. Thank goodness! I found it motivating to know I was in the lead, but early on that doesn’t mean anything. Just the idea to have led a 24-hour race made me smile. My goals had nothing to do with the outcome. It’s a much bigger picture that I have in mind.

Lap 4 I rode with a friend who was also doing his first 24 solo. It was nice to have the company, especially of someone who was also not in a particular hurry. Steve joined us for the last few miles. He was riding a lap for something to do, and it was nice to visit with him. Lap 4 I rode for Denise, who, if she didn’t have a broken pelvis, would certainly be racing this event. She had told me over the phone a couple of days prior that my lap for her had better be my fastest lap! I figured with the guys riding with me it probably was this one. I sure didn’t intend to go any faster!
Around lap 5 I noticed a pain in my left knee, on the outer aspect. I thought that was interesting. I’d never rode this bike very far since I got it this spring, so I figured it was some positioning issue. Also I was trying to sit as much as possible to avoid aggravating the Achilles. The longest I’ve mountain biked was last year, 62 miles on my singlespeed Rig, and never had a knee issue. On singlespeed, though, there is a lot of standing.
End of lap 7?? Happy happy.

I found some ibuprofen when I came through for a lap, which kind of helped. By lap 6 or 7, though, I was seeking to be taped or something because it was getting quite aggravating. My athletic trainer friend made some neat little bands that went around and just above the knee. She immediately identified it as an IT band issue based on my description of the pain. The funny thing about that is, a few weeks back I was using the foam roller to roll out knots the size of peas in my IT bands (the outer part between the hip and the knee, iliotibial band) and it hurt so bad at the time, I started rolling it with a LaCrosse ball instead but was inconsistent about it. So, I knew they were tight but did not address them properly. Oops. The bands helped keep me going at any rate, although it still hurt. I probably waited too long to ask for help.

I look like I’m in a hurry, but I assure you I’m not.

My pace was slow and steady. On the longer climbs I would get into my easiest gear and really just soak up the beauty of the forest. It’s a lush green with ferns and rocks, moss, birds singing and the crunch of gravel beneath my tires. At times I’d imagine breathing energy into my legs, or little creatures under my wheels propelling me up the hills. I just go into a different state on something that may otherwise be painful. I was actually finding it easy to go slow. I realize it’s something I’m good at. I can ride a long time as long as I go relatively slow. I resisted the urge to “race” at all. I’d pull over to allow “racers” by and encourage them on their journey. In fact, the entire 24 hours I never felt once as if I were racing. I was riding. Adventuring.

A couple of sections of trail would have rocky and rooty descents and I recall thinking “How can it get any better than this?” So fun!
Crossing Red Bud Road, the party was going strong with spectators and encouragement. They would yell “wheelie!!” Yeah right! I’d certainly crash. I’m actually kind of clumsy and have never done a wheelie. One time I laughed and picked my front tire like an inch off the ground saying “There you go!”. Another time they were all lined up with high fives. Must have gotten 10 high-fives in a row there. Shortly after the crossing back was the gal from Big Ring Flyers team with the rubber chicken squeaking. I love that! Cracks me up every time.
Lap 7 I got wired up with lights, as it had started to get dark in the woods. TJ had warmed the gluten-free chicken, garlic, bacon pizza that Steve had made for me, so I sat and ate supper. I also grabbed my iPod for intermittent music. One of my favorite sections of singletrack I relished the music of a hooting owl at dusk. The change to night was exciting and renewed my energy. Mind you, I’m used to going to bed shortly after sunset these days. I did not look at the time of day at all. It didn’t matter. What mattered was getting 10 laps/100 miles before I laid down.
My stomach wasn’t feeling very great despite my homemade “fuel”. I think I’m just not accustomed to so much carbohydrate, and perhaps the agave nectar doesn’t agree with me as well as maple syrup. It wasn’t unbearable, just annoying like heartburn.

The transition area is very motivational. There are lots of folks waiting for their teammates so they can go out for their lap, and every time I came around I’d hear cheering. That really felt nice. Thank you, friends!

A note on my bike: it is a singlespeed frame. I love riding singlespeed. I’d planned to ride it single and keep my old 1×9 around as a backup. However, leading up to the event, every time I rode my singlespeed my Achilles would flare up for several days. I ran the 11-speed Shimano Alfine rear hub for this event. Lots of guys passed me and because it *looks* like a SS they would say “go singlespeed!” I felt like such a cheater. I really had no time to explain. I’m a singlespeeder at heart, ok? I’ll get back to it, I promise. I do have to say, though, that the upper body strength required for SS is significant and I’d imagine upper body fatigue could have been a major issue had I done it that way.

Riding a mountain bike through the woods at night is pretty incredible. The lights are high-powered, but what is so different is not being able to see so much peripherally. It really takes some anxiety out of the equation. Towards the end of the lap there’s a long, hard-packed downhill section and especially at night it felt like flying through a tunnel.

Lap 8 I rode with Maja, who, as a teen, decided to do a 24-hour duo with her friend Emily. Ambitious girl! She had asked if I’d ride a night lap with her, which I was happy to do. I did find that at night, the rock gardens I had been riding all day had me bouncing precariously and thinking it would be far safer to walk, despite the pain in my legs when walking. I do not currently have health insurance and the risk of a major injury is simply not worth it to me. So, I walked the rocks. No big deal. On an adventure, after all. It seemed every time I was ready to remount and continue my slow pace, there was a line of headlights coming through the woods. So I’d just keep walking until it was clear. No sense in getting started just to have to move out of the way and I certainly didn’t want to hold anyone up! Lap 8 was also the lap I was thinking of trying a different line in what I call the “ninja section” of woods where it is very twisty, tight, and close to trees. It’s just after a really fun section of whoops and speed. I am not a ninja. So I was evaluating how to better negotiate this tight right turn and avoid a tree as well as a couple of rocks, and the next thing I knew I was tangled up with my bike, on the ground, rather unintentionally. I fell on the painful left knee. Maja was there as I extracted myself from my bicycle and assessed things. I was not broken. I knew that would leave a mark, though! It didn’t tickle! It was the kind of bruising you feel when you go over bumps. Good thing there aren’t any of those out on the course (sarcasm).

Lap 9 I rode with me, myself, and iPod. I sang a little. I played dubstep in the singletrack. It was really fun, although I was getting really tired. I think it was on this lap, although it’s a blur, that I was climbing a rooty section and the gal with the rubber chicken was out there squeaking. That made me so happy. At the pits after dark the fire and friends looked inviting, but I was firm in my mind about 10 before I rested. I asked Steve to join me for my 10th lap. I kind of doubted my ability to ride any more than that due to the pain in my left knee. I was afraid when I stopped it would swell like a balloon. Of course the usual stuff hurt that would after riding a long distance. Neck, shoulders, hands, saddle area, fatigued quads… I expect that and it’s no big deal. I had some impressive callouses going on my hands and the couple of times I forgot chamois butter on my pit stop I certainly regretted it. We rode past Checkpoint Charlie and I overheard one of the guys saying it was 3:00am. Goodness! I had kind of hoped to lay down from 1-4, actually. I wanted to get up at 4, have a coffee at Muddy Cup, and catch a sunrise ride. On that 10th lap I enjoyed Steve’s supportive presence. I played my music (mostly Imagine Dragons songs) on the climbs and paused it for the rest, so we could talk or just enjoy the ride. I don’t even remember what we may have talked about. I was exhausted. We came through around 3:30am and there was Denise in the transition area. She encouraged me to head out for 1 more. I couldn’t do it. I had crossed the 100 mile mark and I needed to lay down for a bit. My head hit the pillow at 4:00am.
TJ teaming up with Big Pig Racing

From 4-5:30 I laid there. I dozed off a couple of times but would wake up. I think it was because there were 2 names left on my list of people to ride for and I was concerned it would take me a long time to accomplish that. I get a goal in my head and unless I am broken, I will get it done. I particularly wanted to ride a lap for Brenda. Although winning this race was never my intention, I knew the lead I had accumulated made it humanly impossible for me to have anything other than 1st place. At that time I had 10 laps and the next woman had 5. By 5:30 my bowels had me out of my warm sleeping bag, shivering my way to a “Tupperware Toilet”. It was 40-some degrees out. Brisk for sure! I took care of business and then wandered to the Muddy Cup. They had a fire going and there were a few people I knew. I sipped a cup of dark coffee and visited with folks. By a little after 6 I was changing in my car, taking my time. I had missed the sunrise ride but that was alright. I needed the rest. I noticed my friend, Beau, was in the car next to mine and his support person was offering him encouragement to go ride. I opened my car door and suggested we go for a little bike ride together. It would be fun. Pretty much every lap I’d leave the pit and say “I’m going on a bike ride, be back in awhile.” I finished getting ready, Beau got ready, and we set out at my super slow pace of getting warmed back up. Everything hurt. Ibuprofen had long since worn off. I may have whined out loud a little. I definitely swore. When I transitioned from sitting to standing or vice versa, the pain in my knee made my eyes water. It felt like a knife stabbing from the outside. Any time I put any force whatsoever into the pedals it would send shooting pains. When I walked it hurt. My Achilles hurt on the right, but that pain in my left knee was excruciating. I wanted to cry. I wanted 12 laps. I wanted to finish with a lap for my childhood best friend, who left this world when I turned 18 at the hands of someone else. I thought maybe I’d consult with my athletic trainer friend and ask her, if I continued, what would the worst case scenario be? The decision to go sit down in the pit and think it over was made. I did not cross the finish line, because to do so would require I go out for another lap. I ducked under the tape, found a chair, visited with friends around a fire…. at 8:00am I opened a celebratory beer (yes, beer in the morning, gluten-free of course). I was up by 5 laps and saw the 2nd place gal go out for another. I knew I was done. My body was broken. However, I had met my goal of at least 10 laps and was still smiling. I had taken a long adventure and loved every moment. I had to wait until 10:00 am to cross the finish line. Our pit neighbors, all the way from Texas, were cheering on the racers with a microphone and TJ joined in with the vuvuleza. Those guys were hilarious! Dollar bill butt crack handups, beer handups, pro level heckling, cowbell and vuvuzela into the microphone…. great for morale! Big Pig Racing. Hope to see them again.



At 10:00 I put my bike shoes and helmet back on. TJ got on his bike and, vuvuzela in hand, rode with me to the line, cheering me on. It hurt sooooo bad to pedal. I had to ride in my easiest gear. My knee was in such pain I was glad I had made the decision to be done at 11 laps.

Finish Line. Thanks for the encouragement, TJ!
Officially DONE

I could never have done it without my support crew. Steve is absolutely the most supportive partner I’ve ever had. I know I can count on him no matter what. My youngest son, TJ, has a heart of gold. One lap through he had bacon waiting for me. Another lap through it was a cup of dark coffee. Anything I asked for, they made it happen. I hope I give them enough appreciation and gratitude. Shannon with her skill and willingness to patch my legs together and keep me pedaling for so long…. friendly words of encouragement everywhere I went…. I am truly surrounded by love in this world. It’s beautiful.


Winning the Wausau 24 solo was never on my radar. I know other women who can ride double my laps in that amount of time. I wanted to check this experience off of my bucket list, and see how far I could ride my mountain bike in a place that I love. As it turns out, I won by over 40 miles. I guess I’m pretty good at going slow for a long time. I guess my body is very amazing and capable even with a few extra pounds. In fact those extra energy stores may have helped in this case. It seems kind of surreal to me that I won. This morning (the morning after) my body is sore pretty much everywhere. Talk about a hangover!! I move like an old lady. Stairs are not my friend. I will take some time to rehabilitate and nourish myself, looking forward to life’s next great adventure :-).

Podium shot. 3, 2, 1.
That pretty much sums up how we feel today!

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