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Mary Wilke - Emotional Rollercoaster in Zolder

We're exceptionally proud of Mary from our writing team. Year after year, she simply gets better and better, taking on new challenges and succeeding at the highest level. Mary recently took part in another 24 hour endurance race - read on and find out how she did...


Pavement that is usually full of cars and motorcycles was the setting where crazy cyclist would spend the next 24-hours round after round exploring not only their physical but also their mental limits. Last year I spend 12 hours on the 3.9 kilometer course leaving Zolder with the thought: 12 hours where pretty cool but 24 hours is not for me.

Little did I know how fast I could change my mind. At the beginning of the year I signed up for the 24-hour race. Astonishingly, as the race moved closer the excitement grew non of the less because of the great support I knew I would be having on the course. With Christian and Pascal Herwege, whom I met during my 12-hour race last year and who has become a very good friend, I had two wonderful companions on my side.

After meeting up and getting everything set at the team-camp of Milc Cycling Team from Pascal, who where also participating with 2 teams and one solo rider it was time to test our patience and wait for the start signal at 3 p.m. While others where still fighting at the qualification rounds for the pole position, giving 60 riders a chance to increase their score in the actual race, I decided to use the time wisely by resting my legs and having one last final meal – not so easy with all the noise and excitement going on around you. Of course Christian had to prove his excellent time trail expertise – as secretly expected Christian won the fight for the fastest round.

Finally it was three. After one neutralizing round the countdown was on. Just like last year during the 12-hour race it was my plan to stay in the main field as long as I could and collect as many kilometers in the windshield of the fast riders as possible. I managed to stick to my plan over the first 36 rounds (140k) with an average speed of 39k/h – knowing it would be a long day I decided to cut down the speed a little and give myself a rest. The next 22 rounds were at an „easy“ pace of 34k/h. As time was flying by we came closer to the first planned break after having caught back up to the main field with a pace of 38,8k/h.

The first break was a relief for body and mind and was planned to last one hour. My stomach had been giving me a little bit of a hard time and I was happy to catch up some rest. Luckily the team of Milc-Cycling had their own Physiotherapist with them who was so kind to let me lie down on the massage bed as well and loosen up my leg muscles.

After changing for the night we head back out on the track. My mood was still terrific, the legs where fairly strong and so we lead the night pass with a stable pace. The next break was not planned till 5:30 a.m. – to make it through the night the main goals were to „save energy and keeping the mood on track“. After 122 rounds at a pace of 33k/h the night was coming to an end. Slowly I was starting to feel a little pinch in my right knee whenever I put to much pressure on it. Not sure if the feeling was going to go away or stay with me for the rest of the race I was struggling to keep up the mood and my wish for the night to finally be over was growing stronger. After a wonderful sunset a couple of hours before I was at least rewarded with a just as amazing sunrise and the upcoming break was just around the corner.

The break was bitterly needed! The knee was really hurting and my mind had a fight of it’s own. I was strongly hoping that the next one-hour break would fill me back up. But sadly the fight was still pretty tough when we got back on our bikes and road down the pit lane. And then it just happened in a blink of an eye. The „man with the hammer“ hit me – my mood was at its lowest point, my legs just didn’t want to go any more but worst of all I just wanted to quite. 27 rounds I tried to bit my tongue; swallow my thought’s and just ride – 105km with a pace of bitterly 31k/h till I told Christian I needed a break.

All the fighting helped nothing – I was emotionally at a point that overwhelmed me and so the tears just started rolling non-stop. Struggling to make it of the bike I just let the tears role – luckily Christians jersey was there to catch all my emotions. The tearful meltdown somehow helped and since the tiredness was catching on to us we couldn’t rest for too long – moving was the only solution. Somehow it had to be possible to make it through the last couple of hours.

I decided for myself to not due any more breaks until I reached my minimum goal of 650 kilometers. After another 185k with a rough average of 30k/h my Garmin finally showed me the number I have been waiting for and even better it was already 1:45 p.m. Plus it really helped and pushed me to pass all the other camps every round – to see and hear the others cheer each and every ride on helped my catch a smile on my face every once in a while.

Since I was pretty much running empty and not expecting to get much more out of myself I decided to head over to the camp and change my clothes for the last time and to head back over the pit lane one last time 30 minutes prior to the end of the race. I still don’t really know what happened during this break – maybe RedBull does give you wings. After I was back on the route I heard a fast field coming from behind me and I just couldn’t resist but to hang on to their back wheels. I felt recharged and fresh just like at the beginning of the race, could easily keep the pace in the field and even made it as one of the first up the little by now hateful ramp.4 rounds with a pace of 38k/h – I was so proud of myself.

When it got to the final round I decided to let the group go to not get in the way of the final sprint. In front of me I saw Pascal and his wife Evy who I caught up with and Christian also slowly cut his pace leaving the lead group. We all crossed the finish line together and enjoyed every moment of celebrating ourselves.

Looking back on the hours spend on the „Circuit of Zolder“ it is still unbelievable what happened there and what our bodies were able to achieve. Christian who tirelessly went back an forth between the camp and the route – providing me with sandwiches, water bottles and any wish that crossed my lips – while also supporting the teams in the race by keeping up the speed. Pascal, who not only rode 720k himself but who also was a constant wind shield and motivator. Nonetheless the cheerful and motivating crowd on the sideline and all the other crazy and helpful riders on the course. I will cherish these unforgettable 24-hours!! For now its quick recovery and off to the next Challenge.

Mary now has her own blogging website. Click the link here to take a look and read even more from our amazing German cyclist: