Goal: To set a world record for the most distance travelled in 1 day by human power
Adventure Status: Complete
Read the Blog: 24 Hour Distance Record Blog
On July 18, 2006 Greg pedaled his specially built human powered vehicle
647 miles or 1041.24 kilometers in 24 hours setting a new world record
6 years ago, on September 13, 2003 I started the Adventures of Greg.com blog with my first blog post about my goal of setting a trans Canada human powered crossing record. You can read that blog post here. I was able to learn how to weld, and eventually built my first recumbent bike. Then I discovered that my plan of crossing Canada in a fully faired streamlined recumbent bike on the Trans Canada Highway which consists mostly of a single lane without a shoulder probably isn’t a very good idea. Read that blog post here.
In an effort to salvage all of the work that I had invested into construction of my human powered trike which I called “The Rocket” (see The Rocket here), I started to look into going for the human powered 24 hour distance record which was 1021 km. Read more about the challenge here.
I quickly learned that there was no way a clunky three wheeled streamliner was ever going to get anywhere even close to that 1021 km record, so I started planning a brand new, state of the art human powered vehicle which I named Critical Power and planned my first attempt at the 24 hour distance record. Read that blog post here.
That first attempt was on November 25, 2005 at the NCAT test track in Opelika, Alabama. I had a fatal mechanical failure after 16 hours of virtually non-stop cycling around the 3 km test track and had to quit. We returned to Calgary to regroup and plan another attempt. Read about the Alabama record attempt here.
I found a new race track in Eureka, California, and returned to tackle that challenge on July 18, 2006. This time I was successful, traveling 1041.24 km (647 miles) in just one day which was a new world record. The full event report is below:
The 24 hour HPV record attempt at Redwood Acres Raceway in Eureka, CA
July 18, 2006 (click on the thumbnail photos to enlarge)
I was getting used to this – the same old pattern that I had started in Alabama during my first attempt at the 24 hour HPV record – habitually and perpetually checking my seventeen bookmarked weather web sites looking and wishing for the wind forecast to cooperate so that I could make a run at the 24. During previous testing, I have found that winds in excess of 20 kph are too difficult to manage the Critical Power streamliner at speeds of 50 to 60 kph. I found that to especially be the case on the 3/8 mile Redwood acres race track. The track is very small and it feels like you are constantly turning. It’s this continual shifting of the relative wind direction that makes it very taxing to steer and balance the streamliner at speed.
We had the track booked for a full week in order to find the best weather window, but I was concerned about efficiently using every bodies time. With me was my mom, my dad, my wife Helen, my two kids Cody and Krista, my sister Theresa, her husband Pat and their two kids Nick and Andy along with my two best buddies John Mackay and fairing shell codesigner Ben Eadie. Also in attendance for the event were my faithful HPVA officials Al Krause, Rob Hitchcock, and Raymond Gage, along with their respective families. Many, many individuals gave up their time to help me achieve this goal and I do not take that for granted. If not for the generosity and kindness of everyone who was here to support me, there is absolutely no way this would have happened. I was very concerned about the balance between what I needed in order to accomplish a world record, and the toll it would take on everyone there to help.
I had tentatively planned on the earliest attempt at the record for July 19th which was tomorrow, and so far, the weather forecast looked OK – not perfect, but not too bad. Winds were forecasted to peak at about 20 kph late afternoon and fairly calm in the morning and through the night. If I could ‘hang-on’ for the few hours of gusty conditions, then tomorrow morning I would lock myself into the carbon fiber capsule for a 24 hour suffer fest.
Things weren’t going all that well at the track though…. It was pretty windy – gusting to 30 kph’ish and the forecast called for winds of only 20. Was this a preview of tomorrow? The most concerning problem though, was for some reason my steering bar was slightly offset during my runs on the track. I found that I could easily straighten it by simply twisting the steering bar while gripping the front wheel between my legs. This was NOT good! 24 hours of vibrations could easily loosen the steering tube and it would end up a repeat my disastrous crash in Alabama which prematurely ended my first attempt at the record.
We tried to tighten the star nut, but it wasn’t working. So, we used what we had – some quick cure epoxy and wire. John Mackay spent a couple of hours coating the headset / steering tube connection with wraps of wire packed with epoxy. After drying it was very hard and seemed to work. Hopefully, this was going to hold for the record attempt.
There was good news. I had my front wheel re-laced to move it 1/4″ to the LEFT to allow the wheel to spin freely without rubbing on my right thigh during my perpetual left hand turns. The wheel was working perfectly – there was no rubbing at all. And Robs work on the mylar disc cover was top notch – this wheel was ready for some serious distance and speed.
Pat, Theresa, Al and the kids all helped lay a 3/8 mile long duct tape line on the track. The reason for this line was to make the track slightly longer than it’s inside edge. The professional land surveyors from Kelly-O’Hern Associates were kind enough to donate their time later in the afternoon to survey the distance around that duct tape line. As long as I never rode inside the line, my minimum official distance for each lap would be exactly 1872.53 feet
Everything seemed to be ready – we all arranged to meet for dinner that night and then 9:00 am sharp tomorrow morning to get my long day underway. Dinner that night at an Italian place in Eureka was a lot of fun. The local NBC TV station came by the restaurant and dragged me outside for a quick interview. It was really great – a fun group of good people kept my mind off of a rather unpleasant appointment with the Redwood Acres track for tomorrow morning.
I had a great sleep, woke up at about 8:00, hopped into the car with Helen and the kids and headed off to the track. We met John and Ben there who had been working away getting Critical Power ready. Rob, Al and Raymond were also there getting the timing system working properly.
I didn’t see any need to delay this – I just wanted to get on with it, so shortly after we arrived, I quickly checked with Ben and John to make sure that Critical Power was completely ready – stocked with water and food, and tires pressurized, and then checked with Rob and Al to make sure that the timing system was working and that they had tested it properly.
I got in and my crew went to work sealing me up for 24 hours of relentless left hand turns! As soon as I was fully ready to go, Rob gave me the count down as he listened to the atomic time clock on his cell phone. 3,2,1 – I took off. This was it. I was committed.
My first few laps felt fine. There was no wind at all so I thought that I had better ramp up the speed to take advantage of the good conditions. I knew that I might have to slow down later in the afternoon if it got really windy, so I wanted to make sure that I could bank all the distance I could while the weather was good.
I was maintaining 150 to 160 watts of power and mid to high 50’s (kph) for speed. The corners came fast, but they really gave me something to focus on. As my speed increased to 60 kph, I noticed a scraping sound coming from the rear wheel. I used the two way radio to ask John to take a closer look and we figured out that my lean around the turns at that speed was causing the rear wheel fairing to rub on the pavement. It didn’t seem that bad and I didn’t think it was rubbing on the tire at all, so I wasn’t concerned.
After an hour I was starting to feel a sharp pain in my glutes. What was this!!! I never had this problem in training and I was fairly certain that my training bike – the M5 was exactly the same geometry as Critical Power. So why was this happening? I was getting very concerned about that, as the pain only got worse each lap.
It was also getting VERY hot in the fairing!! I measured 35 degrees C on my SRM meter inside the fairing shell. I was going through water like crazy trying to stay hydrated. I radioed in for an early pit stop to replenish my water, as I knew from experience that you can’t let dehydration get ahead of you, or you will be chasing it all day. Staying hydrated in this heat was extremely important, so I pulled in for an early stop at 1:22 into the day, 139 watts average power, 132.5 heart rate average and 52.6 kph average speed.
The pit stop lasted only 1 minute, 32 seconds which was great. I had planned on stopping every 3 hours for 4 to 5 minutes, so a premature stop of only a minute and a half wasn’t going to cost me. I was way ahead of record pace anyhow, but it was still very early. By only the second hour, I couldn’t stand the pain in my glutes anymore and radioed in for another unplanned pit stop. I had to solve this issue now, or it could bring an unwanted end to my quest. I was having another problem – my super high heart rate. Typically at 150 watts, my heart rate is around 115 bpm, and for the last 2 hours, my heart rate was soaring above 130 !! I figured this must be due to the heat and I knew it would cool down later in the day, so I wasn’t that concerned. I could open up a small slot in my canopy bubble, but that would slow me down and I wasn’t quite ready for that.
I figured that because I was so far ahead of record pace, I could afford a longer pit stop to get out of Critical Power and have that awful pain in my rear massaged out. I radioed in and gave the crew a few laps notice before I pulled in.
It was like a NASCAR pit stop!
A flurry of activity pulling the shell off, pumping out my pee bag, refilling my water and food. I drank a red bull, ate a bar, changed shoes to see if that would help my glutes problem and laid down on the pavement while Helen walked on my rear. That felt soooo great! Total stop time was almost 4 minutes at 3 hours, 29 minutes in, 132 watts average power, 125.5 average heart rate and 52.7 kph of average speed. Way ahead of pace. I was sweating a ton, and had requested that someone find me something that I could put over my head under my helmet to absorb the perspiration that was dripping into my eyes. Pat found a Ali-G cap at it seemed to work pretty good.
My heart rate slowly started to creep down, the pain the my rear was fading and things started to fall into a sort of trans-like routine. Left turn, left turn, left turn, left turn (you get the idea). I made my third pit stop at 5 hours, 36 minutes for a super quick minute and a half. My heart rate was down to an average of 118 bpm (much more responsible) and I was slowing a bit to 49.49 kph average on 117 watts of power.
Here is how a typical pit stop goes:
1. I make a radio call that I want to pull in, and make any special requests like if I want a Red Bull to drink, a power bar, or whatever.
2. I do a couple of laps until all of the crew has gathered near the pit area.
3. I coast the last lap to bleed off speed, then squeeze the hand break on the final corner
4. As I come out of the corner I pull the landing gear cord with the right hand and extend the landing gear.
5. After the landing gear has been extended, my hand immediately goes back onto the steering bar to hit the break again, slow down and allow Critical Power to tip to the right and land onto the extended gear wheel.
6. I try to plan my stop at about mid-way between the two banked track corners.
7. As I am coasting to a final stop, I unhinge the elastic straps that hold my plastic canopy bubble down to the body.
8. John lifts off the canopy bubble top and I open the valve from my pee bag with my left hand. The pee bag is a plastic hospital bag that is fastened to the inside of the left hand fairing shell. There is a plastic tube that runs to an external catheter that I wear, and another tube that runs to the rear of the streamliner and exits the back. When the valve has been opened, Helen takes a small plastic hand pump, connects it to the tube exiting out the back of Critical Power and pumps the waste from the bag into a bottle.
9. Another crew member pulls my two water bags out from behind my seat. There is a very small space behind my head where two plastic bags hang. One bag contains water and the other Boost energy drink. Both bags have tubes that run to my face with bite valves for drinking. The old bags get pulled out and are replaced with 2 new full bags.
10. While the bags are being replaced and the waste is being pumped out, I drink a Red Bull energy drink, and take a Power Bar, Cliff Bar or sandwich that Helen made me.
11. The canopy bubble is replaced and I re-fasten the elastic bungies
12. When everyone is clear and start pedaling. When I get up to speed, I jerk the steering bar right which lifts me up off the landing gear. I reach down with my right hand and unhinge the landing gear cable, then with my left hand I reach back and retract the gear fully. I need to get the gear fully up before entering the first corner or the corner bank will push up on the gear and knock me over, so retraction of the gear is typically pretty frantic.
13. Once the gear is up and I have rounded the first corner, I pull the landing gear hatch cover cord with my left hand and secure it. This closes the door that covers the gear.
My forth pit stop came at 8 hours in and lasted for 4 minutes, 36 seconds and I don’t remember why it took so long. Things were running pretty smoothly now, the temperatures were cooling, my heart rate was down to an average of 113 bpm, watts still at 117 and average speed slowing slightly to 48.32 kph which was still pretty far above the record pace.
While the temperature was dropping and my heart rate relaxing and the pain in my butt fading, another problem was starting the bother me. During long training rides, my feet would go numb after an hour, and I would coast for about 4 minutes, then I would be good for another 20 minutes before I had to repeat the process. I tried every possible foot position and shoe, etc, but could not alleviate the problem. I had the same problem training for the Alabama attempt, but for some reason, I didn’t have the problem at all when I was on the Alabama track with Critical Power during my first attempt at the 24. I was hoping that the same thing would happen here in Eureka – that this mysterious foot problem wouldn’t be an issue in Critical Power. BUT, that was not to be. Every 20 minutes I would had to stop pedaling and coast about 2 laps to allow the blood to flow back into my feet. I was loosing a lot of potential distance from these coasting intervals!
I was really looking forward to sunset because I knew the temperatures would cool even further. Eureka hit a near – record high temperature this day of 21 degrees C. Yep – only 21 in the middle of the summer. That is a key reason why I choose Eureka to attempt this record. It never gets hot here! Also there is lighting at the track for night time use – This lighting was great, as it lit the whole track up almost as bright as a cloudy day.
My fifth pit stop was at 10 hours and my average power was staring to increase due to the cooling temperatures. My 123 watts of average power cost me 119 beats per minute. And that was the last bit of data I have from the SRM meter, as it went dead at about 12 hours. The reason was because I had set the memory incorrectly and the memory filled up – stupid!
After it got dark, Al and Rob went around and turned on all of the over head flood lights. Then things slowly got quieter and quieter and quieter. The kids started to go to sleep, and most of the crew started to take naps between pit stops. John Mackay stayed up all night long and kept me company when I needed it via our radio contact. Rob, Al and Raymond took turns in the timing tent and performing their official observing duties (watching me to ensure that I never drifted inside the duct tape line).
The night was long. Very long and very mentally tasking. The most difficult aspect of an endurance event like this is definitely MENTAL. I found that it was just too depressing to think about how far I had gone, because that immediately brings to mind how far I had still to go, and that was hard to take. So, I just listened to my iPod music and focused only on the NOW. How was I feeling, what hurt, how can I alleviate that, what is my pace like, am I falling behind record pace, how is my hydration, do I need to eat some more, etc, etc. I was still coasting for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so due to the pain and numbness in my feet, but I had no choice. I knew from experience that there was no other way to alleviate this problem.
I continued to make radio calls to inquire about my pace – I knew I was slowing a bit, but I was really not sure how much because I didn’t have my SRM computer feeding me my vital data anymore.
At each pit stop during the night I was given the feedback that I was still above record pace, but that I was slowing down and I would need to start thinking about picking up the pace. When the sun started to rise, I started getting excited because I knew then that there was a very strong possibility that I was going to break the record. 4 hours to go, and all I had to do was to continue doing what I had been doing all night.
By now, the skin on my elbows, shoulders the back of my neck and the outside of my left hand pinky finger was getting pretty raw from the constant rubbing. There was so little room in Critical Power! My elbows were rubbing against the fairing sides, my shoulders were pressed into the fairing sides, I couldn’t move my head forward, back or from side to side even 2 millimeters. Nothing could move except small turning movements of the steering bar and my pumping legs. Talk about being buried alive for 24 hours! And my feet were going numb every 10 minutes now – what a pain!
At about 8:00 am, things started to get pretty exciting. Everyone was there – the local papers, TV stations, and dozens of people from town. Most importantly, I knew I would make it and I was almost there. Now I could FINALLY start to think about the end, and how totally exciting that was!!! As I approached the current record of 1020 km set by Axel Fehlau in 1998, everyone lined both sides of the track and Krista held up a sign to cheer me on!
Then it just sort of happened. At 11.5 hours, I had passed 1023 km and had set a new world record. Tears came to my eyes – not just because my iPod had died, but because this was it – the cultivation of years of effort, stress, training and organizing. This was my journeys destination, and I had arrived. What a feeling!
So I pulled in for a super quick pit stop to re-fill my water, empty a very full waste bag and prepare for my last half hour. Helen was unable to pump out the waste, so I reached down to see what was up with the pee bag and noticed that it had fallen off it’s mount and was jammed between the bottom of the fairing and the frame. The drain hose must have been pinched. I tried to rip it loose, but it was jammed in there pretty tight. So I told them to forget it and proceeded to take off.
I got up off the landing gear, then tried to pull in the gear leg and it was stuck! The landing gear leg was jabbing into the pee bag. This was not good! I was nearing the banked corner and knew that unless I was able to quickly retract that gear, the banked corner would hit the wheel and knock me over. This was NOT the time for a crash!!! SO I reached down with my left hand and pulled the bag with all of my might. I finally came loose and I quickly yanked the gear leg up with my left hand. Whew! I was not able to close the hatch door because the cord was tangled in the whole waste bag mess, but that was OK.
Now it was GO TIME – time for me to protect my record. I had 1/2 hour to add on as much distance to that 1020 km as I possibly could making it tougher for any future challenger. This was it, this was the time where I needed to dig deep and find the Critical Power guy that lies dormant in all of us. He’s the guy that says “F You” and gets on with the task at hand. Get the job done. Forget about the pain, forget about the discomfort, forget about the fatigue. Just grit your teeth and do what you need to do.
“Pain is temporary. Pride is forever”
“If you’re going through hell, keep going!” – Winston Churchill
“Pain is weakness leaving the body” -USMC
“Those who are warriors can master anything,
but first they must master themselves.” -USMC
“The body is telling the mind to stop.
The mind is telling the body to shut up.” – 1994 Lance Armstrong
“Only those who risk going too far can
possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot
“I am building a fire, and everyday I train, I add more fuel.
At just the right moment, I light the match.” Mia Hamm
And so I turned it on. I instantly ramped up my speed to match what my first laps were – about 55 kph or so. Believe me, it felt like 100 kph! I was SOOO TOASTED. My legs throbbed, my feet ached and my heart rate soared Krista held up a sign that displayed my lap time each time I rounder the track.
I was on fire and going for broke. During that last 30 minutes, I was able to add on an additional 26 km to Axels record of 1021 km bringing my total to around 1047 km. Rob Hitchcock got on the radio and told me that when I see the checkered flag, I need to do one more lap and then I was done.
Wow – done? I couldn’t believe it. This was such an amazing moment for me. Feelings of relief to finally be finished mixed with this overwhelming sense of satisfaction that I had covered more distance in 24 hours by my own power than any other human being in history. And the icing on the cake was my having my family there. Helen, Cody, Krista my Mom, Dad and Sister there to witness this moment and share in my celebration was almost too much – a bit of an emotional overload for me.
“A man does things for two reasons. To impress his girl and to make his Dad proud” –
John and Ben took the fairing shell off, I rolled out of Critical Power and stood up. It took a few minutes for my sense of balance to come back and I fell back into the fence a few times. Everyone was cheering, shouting and clapping. Cameras were flashing and Champagne was spraying all over me.
from left to right – John Mackay, Al Krause, me, Rob Hitchcock, Ben Eadie
After about 15 to 30 minutes of celebration, I was interviewed by the local press while the HPVA officials calculated the final numbers
I went back to the hotel and we all slept for a few hours, then met for dinner. Then it was back to the hotel for a GLORIOUS night of restful, peaceful SLEEP! The next day I joined Helen, the kids, Pat, Theresa and their kids for a hike in the Redwoods and along the beautiful shore line.
The final numbers were:
Track lap distance: 1872.53 feet (.35464 miles, .57074 km)
# laps: 1833
Total distance: 650 miles, 1046.1 km
(the exact # of laps and total distance is just an estimate, as I completed an additional partial lap within the 24 hour period. The HPVA records committee is currently calculating this along with a small discrepancy between the atomic clock and the computer clock in the timing system. The process of ratification will include a release of the final, actual distances)
Approximate time of megameter record (1000 km): 23 hours, 1 minute
Average speed: 43.58 kph
Average Watts: It was 121.4 watts at 12 hours when the SRM died,
so I am estimating 115 watts as an overall average
Average heart rate: It was 120 bpm at 12 hours when the SRM died, but the first 8 hours were unusually high due to the heat of the day. By the end of the 12 hours, my heart rate had calmed to an average of 113 bpm at 120 watts of output, so I would estimate that my overall average HR for the 24 hour period to be about 115 to 118 bpm (my maximum is around 175)
24 hour HPV record