For some, the idea of peddling a bicycle for 24 hours straight seems like a punishment handed out by the cruelest of dictators, but for Alvin Maxwell, it’s the purest of pleasures.
Maxwell belongs to the UltraMarathon Cycling Association (UMCA), which, like the popular novel/movie Hunger Games, is league where its participants get pushed to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion and survive only by using their wit and ability to push themselves beyond what was previously thought possible.
No, Maxwell, a 43-year old Plymouth High graduate and current Washington resident wasn’t entered into these 24-hour cycling marathon meets by some wickedly cruel lottery system. Instead, he signed up to compete in the league because he has a hunger to prove to himself that he can consistently get better, his game just happens to be cycling.
For example, about six or seven years ago when Maxwell began riding around Goose Creek and other spots with area riders he had to struggle just to keep up with the pack. Now, Maxwell is the leader of the pack as he is currently the No. 1 ranked cyclist in the UMCA.
“When I first started some of these guys were quite a bit faster,” Maxwell said. “(Being No. 1 in the UMCA) wasn’t even in my mind a few years ago. My goals were so small.”
At first, Maxwell was just looking for a new hobby. In high school he enjoyed doing some running and later in life had a fondness for tennis, but as time went on his thought process shifted gears and propelled him to find new ways to test his athletic prowess.
“I have always kind of done different things. I toyed around and played tennis for a while and did some bicycling and some other kinds of different sports,” Maxwell said. “But, a few years ago I decided I was just going to go with one sport and just see how good I could get. I figured I was running out of time to do a whole bunch of different stuff, if that makes sense.”
So Maxwell dusted off the Jamis touring bike he bought 1990 from Inner Banks Outfitters and began riding daily. It wasn’t too long after his path crossed with another man whose desire to push the limits matched his own.
“I ran up with a guy in Goose Creek, an older guy who I believe his name was Jim Powers, and he was out there training all the time,” Maxwell said. “He was about 75-years old and I asked him what was his reason for riding all the time and he told me he was training for a 24-hour event he wanted to do. I went home and looked it up. I figured I ride a lot, maybe that’s something I can do also.”
Let the Hunger Games begin.
Maxwell steadily increased his daily treks until he was racking up yearly mileage totals that would wear out a Honda Civic.
“We would ride a couple of thousand miles a year; basically a Weekend Warrior. We would ride down to Bath or something like that,” Maxwell said. “It just progressed and every year I rode just a little more and about four years ago I finally broke the 10,000-mile mark and I have just built on it. … Now, going into events I ride a whole lot and have done as much as 21,000 miles in a year. A bad year is like 16 or 17 thousand miles.”
In 2011 Maxwell joined the UMCA and competed in two 24-hour events, the first in Sebring, Fl., and the second in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and placed third and fourth, respectively.
That taste of success only increased his hunger. This year Maxwell has set out to win the UMCA World Cup and is off to a good start. On February 18, Maxwell went back to Sebring and won the season-opener by cranking out 417 miles to beat out 175 bikers from around the globe to win the circuit’s version of the Daytona 500.
Benefiting from his 2011 experience, Maxwell was better prepared for his second time around at Sebring, a course where riders start out peddling through the streets and around traffic like more reserved New York City bike messengers until the competition is moved to an oval, NASCAR-like track for the final portion of the event. The key, Maxwell found, was to limit the time of his breaks while finding the right times to push himself.
“I was off the bike for a total of one hour according to my speedometer, so I would say I took a series of five- to 10-minute breaks; about a half-dozen or more,” Maxwell said. “In last year’s Sebring race I got nauseated during the day. I think I just went out too hard and got too fatigued over the first 100 miles.
“This year, after having a couple of races under my belt, I was able to pace myself and really didn’t run into any major problems. I never really got sleepy – I know some guys almost fall asleep at night while on the bike – but it was pretty uneventful as far as that goes.”
On March 3, Maxwell was back at it again as he won the Tarheel Cyclist Double Century, a 200-mile event in North Carolina, making him perfect 2-for-2 on the young season and leaving him atop the Cup standings.
While Maxwell’s passion for the Cup is tremendous, it’s merely just a byproduct of his desire to test himself. In fact, Maxwell doesn’t even know what the reward for winning the Cup is.
“I just like seeing what I can get out of my body,” Maxwell said. “I just want to outdo my last best.”
As for when and where his last best will be, that’s anybody’s guess, but the one thing Maxwell is sure of is that there will be no new sporting ventures like marathon running or rock climbing. The only games on his schedule for the foreseeable future include two wheels.
“Well, you know at my age I’m not really sure how far I can take it. In ultra-cycling there are guys that are real competitive up to about 50-years old,” Maxwell said. “But, I do know I’m staying on the bike.”