Last Sunday I raced the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash, a bike race that follows the Los Angeles Marathon course hours before its start. It winds through the famous streets of LA while they’re dark and empty — Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard. Thousands of cyclists participated in what was an unreal experience and exciting bike race.
The morning started at 2:40am. Ryan and I woke up, put our kits on, applied chamois butter, filled our water bottles, and loaded our bikes in my truck. We were staying at my parents’ house in Palos Verdes, which is roughly an hour drive from the race start in Silverlake. My mom graciously offered to give us a ride, and we departed at 3:00am. We got to the race at 4:00am and were greeted by thousands of cyclists completely congesting Sunset Boulevard.
The scene was like nothing I’ve seen — blinking lights everywhere, music, and lots and lots of bikes. It felt like Critical Mass, but much, much larger. Like Critical Mass, the crowd was very diverse. People were on fixies, in kits, on time trial bikes, in jeans, on road bikes, in costumes, and sometimes on beach cruisers, too. Although the majority of participants were hipsters on fixies, some without brakes or helmets.
We stumbled through the crowd looking for our friends — Lukas and Brian, and Brian’s two friends Jon and Brett. We found them in time for the 4:30am race start.
“Race” is perhaps a bad description. Of all the cyclists lined up on Sunset Boulevard, the front of the group was composed of people intending to race. However, the back of the group was composed of people joy riding. Our original plan was to joy ride, but about five miles into the ride we started racing. It was too hard not too. We were riding down huge, open, famous streets, completely empty of cars and full of other cyclists we just couldn’t resist contesting.
At first the six of us stayed together, sometimes getting separated slightly by the ebb and flow of the disorganized pack. But at the second climb, about three miles in, Brian and Jon attacked and Ryan, Lukas and I didn’t chase — we weren’t “racing” yet. As Brian and Jon attacked, they passed a guy on a fixed gear walking his bike up the hill. As Brian passed him at 20mph, he turned to him and yelled, “THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”
Each of the first two climbs fragmented the pack — faster riders got ahead of the slower riders. We climbed relatively quickly, so by the time we were over both hills, we were mostly among racers. And whether we knew it or not at the time, we were about to blow them up — cycling speak for go faster than them.
Lukas, Ryan and I got organized and started sharing pulls. For non-cyclists, “sharing pulls” means taking turns riding at the front, which is much more work than riding behind someone else. Before we realized it, we were averaging 24mph and passing everyone.
We got to a descent with a tight right turn at the bottom. As we made the turn, we noticed two riders had been in a crash. Then we noticed one of them was Jon. As we passed we considered stopping, but from the sidewalk I heard Brian yell, “Keep going!” We kept going.
We passed dudes on fixed gears. We passed girls on beach cruisers. We passed other kitted racers on fancy road bikes with big, dished, carbon wheels. I was only concentrating on two things: “BEAST MODE” and “Uhhhh, can I maintain this?” Numerous times, either after a pull or while trying to keep up with Ryan or Lukas, I thought I was at my limit, that I wouldn’t be able to maintain our pace. But we kept pushing each other, and we kept the pace fast. And we kept accelerating.
We were never passed by someone who we didn’t immediately catch up to. For example, one dude on a road bike wearing a high-vis jacket (newb) passed us twice. Each time we caught him moments later, after he hit his limit and couldn’t stay ahead of us. The second time he passed us, I screamed to Lukas, who was at the front, “GET ON THAT WHEEL, LUKAS!” I was pissed the guy had the nerve to try and pass us again!
At one point, eight or ten riders were riding behind Ryan, Lukas, and me. But they weren’t sharing pulls. The three of us were rotating in and out, and the rest of the pack was behind us, holding on for dear life. I considered turning around, staring at them, and yelling, “YOU GUYS EVER GONNA TAKE A PULL?!” But I decided against it — I figured it was better to keep quiet than yell at people. Plus, they’d probably slow us down if they got in the front.
On a flat, smooth road, we passed another peloton of about 15 riders. But we didn’t just pass them. We FLEW by them. I was on the front as we passed them. I had my elbows on my handlebars in a very aero posture, with my head down staring at my handlebars. I didn’t look at them as we blew by. All I thought was, “LATER MOTHA FUCKAS!!!!” We were flying.
With about three miles to go, we turned onto San Vicente Boulevard, a beautifully smooth, wide, dark road. About 20 riders had formed a peloton behind us, and the competition started heating up. Ryan, Lukas and I were still at the front of the peloton, rotating in and out, and speeding up. We were averaging 29mph, our headlights leading a path through the darkness..
When Ryan was in the front, a guy in a kit on a fixed gear passed us and got in front of Ryan. Almost immediately the guy hit a cadence he couldn’t maintain and started slowing down. At which point we were passed by eight or ten guys. UGH. Why did that dude on a fixed gear pass a bunch of geared riders hammering at 29mph?!?!
I knew we were nearing the sprint, so I sprinted up alongside the eight or ten guys who passed us, where I found a gap and entered it. I was the third wheel and in perfect position for the sprint. We turned the final corner onto Ocean Boulevard, and I sprinted up to 37.7mph and won the field sprint for our little group.
At the end of the race, Lukas, Ryan and I regrouped, shared a bunch of high fives and hugs, and reminisced about how EPIC the ride was. We were so stoked! We were never passed by anyone who stayed ahead of us. We did all the passing. We had pushed each other far out of our comfort zone and were stoked at the pace we were able to maintain for the 28 mile race.
Eventually Brian, Jon, and Brett found us. Jon shared his story about his crash. As he descended at 30mph and approached the tight right turn, a guy on a fixed gear with no brakes was trying desperately to slow himself down. He was moving all over the road and hit Jon just as they both entered the turn. Fortunately Jon and his bike only had minor scratches and bruises — he was able to finish the ride.
After sharing more stories, more high fives, and snapping a few photos, we decided we needed coffee and hot chocolate. We looked for a donut shop, couldn’t find one, and ended up at a 24-hour McDonald’s. We told more stories as we ate hash browns and sipped our warm drinks in the dark.
Rather than taking further advantage of my mom’s generosity, Ryan and I decided to ride along the beach from Santa Monica back to Palos Verdes. The 24-mile ride took us an hour and forty-five minutes. I was in survival mode the entire ride, struggling to turn my pedals over and keep up with Ryan.
We made it back to my parent’s house around 8:30am, four hours after the race had started, and nearly six hours after we woke up. We got out of our kits, showered, dressed, and drove to my favorite breakfast burrito spot, Phanny’s. We took the burritos back to my parents house, ate, then lied on the couch for a nap. Two and half hours later I woke up feeling great.
Ryan and I uploaded our rides to Strava and discovered that Lukas, Ryan, and I had the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd fastest times of the whole race. We averaged 22.5mph. We were STOKED. Those results are awesome, especially considering we weren’t racing for the first five miles, and when we were racing, we were only a group of three. Whereas the racers who started at the front probably had a larger group and hence could maintain a faster average mile-per-hour.
All in all, the ride was unbelievably awesome. We had tons of fun riding through the empty, dark streets of LA. But the best part of the ride was the camaraderie — we were pushing each other out of our comfort zones together, and were unbelievably proud to have hammered so hard.
I’m planning to do it again next year. And next time, I’ll start much further towards the front with the other racers. I should have known that I wouldn’t actually joy ride once my adrenaline kicked in :).