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Rapid City's Nancy Busching pushed her body to extremes to win 24-hour biking title.

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What can you do for 24 hours straight?

For most people, the only answer is "stay awake."

A few hardier folks might venture something like "walk," but for most people the idea of doing a strenuous physical task for an entire day - through an afternoon of sun, a sunset, hours and hours of black night pressing on you, the relief of a sunrise, and then six more hours to the finish line - is beyond the limits of endurance.

Nancy Busching, however, doesn't seem to believe much in the "limits of endurance."

When you ask this 33-year-old Rapid City resident what she can do for 24 hours straight, you're might get an answer like "ride a mountain bike continuously on a 12-mile loop filled with challenging terrain during a national championship event and finish first, claiming a national title and qualifying for the world championship."

To some, that statement only proves insanity. For Busching, it's a way of life.

She did all those things at the 24 hours of Adrenalin NORBA National Championship in Monterey, Calif., on May 18-19. Busching won the national title and qualified for the world championships on Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Canada.

The particulars of Busching's day in Monterey are so far past most people's experience it's hard to categorize them, but they basically boil down to this: She rode 204 miles in 23:20:27, taking a three- or four-minute break every 12 miles. This wasn't easy riding on a paved road. It was mountain biking, rough hills, challenging single track, and severe danger if one fell off the path. And don't forget, when the sun went down, the riders strapped on lights and kept going.

It feels painful just reading that, thinking of sitting on a bike seat - only moderately comfortable in the best of circumstances - or the burning in the thighs as they're asked to muscle a rider up another incline.

But Busching, who works as a physical therapist at Promotion Rehabilitation Center, doesn't say much about pain when she talks about the race.

Sure, by the last three laps, her body was rebelling against being on a bike - "everything was getting painful," she said - but she said she felt pretty good most of the race. She found a good, comfortable pace a few hours into the race and was able to stick to that pace for most of the competition.

While Nancy was on the course, her husband Phil was at the start/finish line manning bike racing's version of pit row. He was responsible for keeping Nancy's racing bikes in tip-top shape and helping her drink enough and eat enough (competitors need to eat 300-400 calories an hour) during her short pit stops.

He said the only time he was worried about her was at the start and the first few times she came in after a loop.

"Early, she didn't feel like she had an appetite," Phil recalled. "She wasn't taking in enough calories or drinking enough water.

"I think she was caught up in the competition some, but the first three laps mean very little in a 24-hour race. It's really just rustling the antlers.

"I told her to stick to the game plan. By lap four, she started eating, started feeling better. She dropped back to her pace and the defending champ blew out."

That defending champ was Denver's Cristina Begy, and Nancy's main competition. When Begy fell back, Busching pushed out to a huge lead. That was a good thing, but it didn't really make the competition any easier. If you have a big lead and there is still eight hours left in the race, you still have to race for eight hours.

Luckily, this type of racing suits Busching.

At first glance, Busching might be described as petite. That's true. She is only 5-foot-3. But that petite frame is obviously filled with compact muscle, and Busching has a great deal of muscular confidence - confidence in her body and its ability to handle the most extreme stress.

Her husband, who also works at ProMotion as a physical therapist, said his wife has a phenomenal strength-to-weight ratio that gives her great power climbing hills. Add a fiercely burning competitive spirit and you start to understand where her ability comes from.

"She competes harder than anyone I know," Phil said.

Nancy's best attribute on her bike is her climbing. As a light rider, she doesn't have to pull any huge muscles up a hill. That climbing ability gets magnified in a 24-hour event. Pedaling up a 15-minute hill on a gravel road might be easy for some, but cycling up that same hill after having ridden for 20 hours greatly changes the toughness equation.

Of course, Nancy referred to that hill on the Monterey course as one of the more relaxing parts of the event.

Busching has been racing on bikes since 1995. She bought a bike one day and was racing the next. She's been seriously addicted to the bike ever since.

Mostly she trains with her husband. A heavy week might mean 20-21 hours on the bike, sometimes riding short and hard, other times long and slow. An easy week still means 14-15 hours of training. All that plus a full-time job.

"Cycling fits in with our lifestyles," Nancy said. "We're both really into it. We work, we ride, and then fit in everything else after."

They're so into it that Nancy is planning to go to British Columbia and compete in the World Championships. That means another 24-hour bike ride against even tougher competition on a course that figures to be at least as hard.

Most people would probably think of it as a torture, but the Buschings are excited about the world championships.

"My main goal is to ride my best and do what I can do," Nancy said. "If I can do my best, that's always what I'm out there to do."

Contact Bursch at 394-8428 or at eric.bursch@rapidcityjournal.com.

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