Race Diary: Solo Mountain Biking for 24 Hours Straight!

By Clifton Lyles, Team Onyx athlete

Team Onyx is a Nuun-sponsored team and a groundbreaking force in the world of adventure sports. As the first all-Black expedition racing team, they have competed across the globe in some of the world’s toughest races. Below, Clifton Lyles shares the challenging and rewarding experience of riding around the clock in America’s Solo 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships.

Back in early July, I lined up to ride my first 24-hour mountain bike race since 2019. The race took place in Bend, OR. For those of you who have never been to Bend, it is a high desert area. Racing at elevation always provides its own level of challenges when you train at sea level, from thinner air to cold mountain nights. I knew going in that this was going to be a challenging weekend of riding. But I felt like I had trained well and was ready.

What I wasn’t sure I was as ready for was the predicted temperature range during the race. Bend was going through a record-setting heat wave, and the day-to-night temps were expected to range from the mid 90s to the high 30s. I didn't know how that would affect my performance over the 24 hours and close to 200 miles of climbing and technical single. What I did know is that I had Nuun Instant to help keep me hydrated during the day and Nuun Energy to help power my nights. Going into battle with these two trusted friends made the task ahead seem a lot more manageable.

The race started early, and as the day went on, the temps climbed to the predicted mid-90s. Lap after lap, it got hotter and hotter. By mid-day my kit was completely coated in salt that my body had lost with all the sweating from heat and exertion. Every lap that I knocked out, I made sure to down at least one pack of Nuun Instant, while also keeping my fluid intake high with Nuun Endurance. This one-two punch kept me hydrated as I knocked out lap after lap under the hot sun.

As the day went on, the course got less and less congested. The heat was starting to take its toll on people. Other racers were pulling off to the side of the course due to cramping and staying longer and longer in the transition areas. But my laps stayed consistent.

When night fell, the race went to a different level. It went from a race of speed to a race of attrition. Riders that had pushed too hard during the day in the intense heat started to fall off during the night section of the ride. I think the combo of dehydration, exhaustion, and the intense cold of the night made this part of the race even more demanding than normal. For me I only had to battle the cold: with Nuun Instant I avoided the dehydration that affected so many, and with Nuun Energy, I was able to neutralize the exhaustion of riding in a 24-hour race under such harsh conditions. Lap after lap, I rode steady. Climb after climb, I was able to stay alert and focused. When I got to the technical single-track sections and the infamous rock garden, I was able to ride strong and hard. On the trail in the dark, I expected the sleep monster to kick in and waited to start feeling the impact of so many hours of riding. But it never came. My laps were just below the times that I had during the day but very constant lap after lap during the long, cold night hours.

Hours later, the sun started to rise, bringing its own excitement and energy. If you have never raced overnight, the energy and light the sun brings as it starts to warm everything around and takes away the hidden mysteries of the night is magical. It recharges you mentally and physically and, even after riding for almost 20 hours at this point, you get a surge of energy. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re not as cold, maybe it’s the fact that you can see better and can go faster but I think it’s much more than that. For me, it's like a reward for pushing through the night, for pushing myself through the natural desire to stop, sleep, get warm, and even eat a proper meal. For those who haven’t experienced this yet, I'll try to paint a picture of what that reward looks like.

Imagine you’re on your bike, just you, alone on some of the most beautiful trails in the country. As the sun comes up you ride though valleys still soaked with fog, caught by the rising sun. You ride past towering pines that are starting to warm and the scent of cedar and juniper fills the air. Around the next corner you see a glimpse of mountains, some still snowcapped,  backlit by the rising sun. There is still a crispness in the air, but now it doesn’t feel cold — it feels fresh and tastes sweet and clean. Birds start to wake, and their songs fill the silence that came with the cold night. In the time it takes to complete the lap, the course has gone from cold and dark to a golden backdrop off a postcard.

These are the moments that I race for. The balance and counterbalance of pushing myself to the breaking point only to realize that the reason I'm here wasn't to push myself, but to find myself.

We all try to experience nature in our own way. The way I best experience it is by allowing it to teach me about myself and to remind me why it is so important that we get out and not just experience nature but, even more so, protect it.

I want to thank Nuun for helping to power me and ensure that I had a hydration and energy solution that allowed me to be rewarded with not only a sunrise, but a third-place finish in my age group. I’m excited about the partnership between Team Onyx and Nuun and can’t wait to see what we get to do together next year.

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