When I found out about ultracycling, I was surprised to look in the list of records and see very few women’s names. Considering all the advancements women have made in terms of catching up to men athletically, it didn’t seem right that women had such a small presence in the sport of ultracycling. Without any significant cycling experience, I decided I wanted to change that, one state at a time. Illinois was my third record attempt (after Iowa and Wisconsin) on mission to set a record biking across every state. I don’t just want to establish women’s records, I want to challenge the records set by men!
On July 16th I set off from the southernmost tip of Illinois at Fort Defiance State Park with my support crew behind me and 427 miles ahead of me, choosing to believe it was possible for me to accomplish my sub 24 hour goal despite the challenges that would lay ahead.
I knew that even in perfect weather conditions, my goal would not allow much room for error, requiring an almost 18 mph overall average. That meant that an even faster moving average would need to be maintained to account for bathroom breaks, hills, stoplights, traffic, etc., not to mention the possible combination of unpredictable things that could happen.
I got off to a blazing start, keeping my average close to 20 mph through the first century, I felt like I was on a rocket ship, flying above the pavement as corn fields and small towns flew by in my periphery.
Unfortunately, the full day of biking in 90 degree heat started to wear me out, causing me to question how realistic my 24 hour goal would be. My crew reassured me that no matter how long it took me to finish, they would support me for as long as it would take me to finish so I should just get back on the bike and do whatever I needed to do.
As the sun set on the north side of Springfield, the temperatures cooled and I was able to pick up the pace again, but little did I know that my biggest setbacks would lie ahead.
Navigating at night is always a challenge, especially with road construction and lack of cell phone service, but my crew did a great job of finding detours and keeping stops to a minimum.
It’s never easy to stay awake for 24+ hours, especially after having biked all day, but a bottle of Coke and caffeine patches kept me going through the night.
Later in the night, I realized that I had just under 100 miles left and calculated that if I finished the remaining miles in five hours, I would get to the end in 24 hours. My first thoughts were, “There’s no way I can average 20 mph after already having biked over 300 miles!” But then I remembered everyone who told me that my 24 hour goal was unrealistic and imagined their reactions when I proved them wrong.
I thought back to what I had been telling myself at the beginning of the ride.
"You are what you choose to believe."
At that point, I decided I had nothing to lose and I would give it everything I had for as long as I could. Little did I know that my plans were soon to be derailed.
Around 5:00 am the new day revealed itself with dark skies that threatened to dump rain on me at any chance. Now the race was not only against the clock but also to finish before the storm!
It wasn’t long before the rain started, letting me know that the storm was coming my way whether I made it to the finish or not. I’m not bothered by a little rain but when the world lit up around me, it was time to stop. Within seconds I was throwing my bike in the back of the vehicle and we were driving to town to wait for the storm to pass under the shelter of a gas station.
There was nothing I could do but wait until the storm cleared.
About an hour later, my crew dropped me off at the point where I had left the course and I was back on the bike to knock out the remaining 34 miles of the ride. A 24 hour finish was no longer possible but I did what I could to get myself to the end.
Twenty five hours and twenty minutes after the start of my ride, I made it to my destination on the Illinois/Wisconsin state line. Even though the total time was a little over my goal, I am happy knowing that my crew and I did everything we could with the resources and conditions we were given to get me to the end as fast as possible and make an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.
Realistically it shouldn’t have been possible for me to ride that fast. I don’t follow a training plan. When I do ride, I rarely average over 13 mph and my rides often include breaks to cuddle with kittens alongside the road or take selfies in a field of wildflowers. I have more interesting things I would rather be doing than analyzing my power, cadence, heartbeat etc. I just ride as far and as fast as I feel like riding. Choosing to believe that I could do it and that the training (or lack thereof) that I had done was exactly what I needed to do was what made it happen as well as having people along with me who believed I could do it and gave it everything they had.
I hope that next time a woman looks into the ultracycling record books and sees that women’s records have been established for more states, she will be inspired to add her own name to the record books.
Kelsey Regan has set an ambitious goal for herself. She plans to set a record cycling across one U.S. state every year. With Iowa, Wiscosin, and now Illinois completed, she's setting her sights on Michigan for 2017. As she sees it, she'll finish her ambitious goal when she's 72, and looks at the next forty seven years with excitement.