Early in 2020, Kenda Tire launched the Brand Ambassador program in an effort to support everyday athletes, tell their stories, and find ways to make sure that Kenda Tires are the best tires for all riders, no matter their background. This is the first in a series of spotlights on those athletes and they tires they ride.
I have done some cool things in the ultra-distance cycling world. Things that as a kid I would never have imagined myself being involved in; especially given the demanding nature of long distance cycling. Long hours, extensive physical effort, and the need to stay focused on one goal, crossing that finish line. However, I guess you could say that I have been training for this all my life. My real training started when I spent six years in the Marine Corp and then an additional six in the Army. I can say with confidence that this is no better school to teach you how to prepare for the effort needed in ultra-distance cycling.
Since retiring from the Army, you never retire from the Corp, I have become a 24 Hour World Time Trial Champion, in the Fixed Gear category; setting a course record that still stands today at 415.6 miles. I finished the grueling Race Across America, a 3,089-mile epic from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD, successfully going ocean to ocean in 11 day, 19 hours, and 43 minutes. Last year I joined an elite crowd in Emporia, KS for the second edition of the 350-mile gravel epic, Dirty Kanza XL. For this year, my goal was joining an even more exclusive club, the 500 Mile Club.
The 500 Mile Club, as the name implies is covering at least 500 miles in a 24-hour period. Less than 50 athletes have accomplished this ever. Beginning in October of last year, I tailored all of my workouts towards achieving this goal. In a typical week, I will clock in 20-25 hours on the bike. Many of which I do pulling a trailer with the latest addition to my family, Man Cub. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can do 2-3 hour sessions on the bike daily, either of intervals, hill efforts, or maintenance rides. Then on the weekends, I will put in a 6 to 8 hour block on one day while taking the other day off to recover. Centuries have become my regular weekend workout since October of last year. When the weather has gotten too snowy or icy, I’ve switched to my mountain, CX, or gravel bike, and when it’s warm enough I ride my TT bike or road bike. This is all on top of working to create a V.A. assisted bike shop to support Veterans and their families, and help rehabilitate Veterans through cycling.
For the 500-mile attempt, I targeted the Sebring 24 Hour TT. The Sebring 24 Hour was the ideal choice because the course is flat, Florida, and it is the course with the distinction of the most successful 500-mile rides. The event begins with an easy 100 mile out and back route, after which you are directed to an 11-mile loop the rest of the day light hours. Once the sun sets, we were supposed to be kicked to the actual Sebring International Raceway track for the final 12 hours of the event. A 2.2-mile track that is perfectly flat and open; and once on it, I should have never had to hit the brakes or shave any speed.
My original plan was to use my TT bike, with deep-dish aero wheels and Kenda road tires. When it comes to event like these, I go straight to the source for my tire selection. Since getting to know the guys at Kenda (Ben and Aaron) and for any major ultra-event, I have relied on them to steer me straight with tire selection. I tell them about the upcoming event, terrain, expected road conditions, and give them my wheel specs, along with my concerns. To date, they have match me with the perfect tire selection for the race. For the Sebring 24 hour course, they paired me the Valkyrie Pro 700x25c with K-Armor tires. The 25c was wide enough to fit the aero profile of my rims perfectly.
However, in all the best-laid plans, something is always going to come up. For Sebring, it was a week before the event. Due to issues with the venue, the race director had to change the final portion of the course. Everything else stayed the same, but for the last 12 hours, instead of being on the wide open race track we were sent to a new 3.1 mile out and back course. This change meant that instead of the brake free 2.2-mile circuit, I would now need to navigate two 180° degree turns each lap. That is a lot of braking and re-accelerating, something that I was hoping to avoid. With that in mind, I changed to my road bike, swapped to aero wheels with the Valkyrie Pro tires and a set of clip on aero bars. It became a trade-off of handling and acceleration versus pure aero benefits.
When the race day came, everything was going great. I covered the first 100 miles in about 4 hours and 20 minutes. By the time I hit the 12 hours mark I had covered 264 miles, and I was feeling confident that over the last 12 hours I would be able to cover the remaining 236 miles to hit 500. However, as predicted on the 3.1 mile course with those 180°degree turns, maintaining speed at each end became problematic. Every 6 minutes for 12 hours I had to cut speed, make the turn and then ramp back up to speed. I struggled to find a good rhythm; and the constant change began to take a toll on my legs.
Unfortunately, at the end it wasn’t to be. No athlete was able to hit the 500-mile mark this year. I pulled off a 5th place overall finish with a final total of 456 miles, carrying an average speed of 19.2 mph. I have no doubt I would have made my 500-mile goal if the race had finished on the race track. I only needed to carry an average speed of 19.6 mph over the last 12hrs. However, I raced the course that was presented to me and though I did not hit 500, I am happy with my results.
Looking back at my planning for this, there is nothing that I think I would change. I came into the race with my fitness where it needed to be. My on bike nutrition, a 100% liquid diet, was a game changer, and I cannot praise my tires enough. To say I am extremely happy with how the Valkyrie Pro tires performed would be an understatement. They rolled extremely fast, yet still had the grip I needed to negotiate each 180° turn over the last 12 hours while still on my aerobars! The 25c width was comfortable and completely confidence inspiring and for 456 miles, not a single flat.
I want to thank the crew at Kenda; from Ben and AAron for the advice on what to run to the engineers who helped make the fast tire I have ever ridden. I did not hit the mark this time, but come October 30th of this year, I will be heading to Borrego Springs, CA to race in the 24hr World Time Trial Championship to take another crack at hitting 500 miles and you better believe I will be using the same tire selection.
“Improvise, adapt, and overcome”, as we say in the Corp, I’m coming for that 500 mile mark!
Joe Lawhorn -
Enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1999, Joe spent 6 years with the Marines, including serving in a Special Operations Unit and an Anti-Terrorism Unit post 9/11. After being discharged from the Corp, Joe joined the US Army for 6 years. Deployed to four combat tours, the last of which ended with “career ending” battlefield injuries. Joe was honorably discharged and placed on the Military’s Permanently Disable Retirement list in February 2012. Like many of his fellow service men and women, Joe struggled with PTSD and depression during his transition to civilian life. At one point being on 16 different medications, Joe was able to work his way off the medications by replacing them with his childhood love of cycling. Using the successes he has had in his own rehabilitation, Joe has committed to giving back and helping his fellow Veterans. This includes the creation of a V.A. run bicycle shop in Chillicothe, OH; along with a bike share program for Veterans and their families, which has been adopted by the physical therapy program and adaptive sport group at the V.A.
“It is more than just riding bikes… when Veterans come home, sometimes we feel different, isolated or lack belonging. My friends went to college, and I went to war. When I returned, they had established lives and I had to start over. It’s hard, so anything that can be done to help build a common ground will help a Veteran reconnect and make them feel as if their belonging is important. There are the physical benefits too, but I lost 21 friends due to combat operations… I have lost 12 here at home due to Veteran Suicide. If I can do anything to fix it so that no Veteran ever comes home and dies at their own hands, feeling alone, you can guarantee that I will do whatever it takes.”