Taking things to the limit
By Pat Ruff
It was one month ago that Phil Busching found himself out of breath, nauseous and apologizing to his wife, Nancy Narveson Busching.
The "I'm sorry" came in reference to mountain biking, and that he'd ever introduced the 33-year-old Chatfield native to the sport. That introduction came seven years ago when both were in Rochester, studying physical therapy at Mayo Clinic. They now reside in Rapid City, S.D.
Phil, from South Carolina, had never envisioned things coming to this, with he and Nancy so deep into the sport and now begging for a way out. At least he was. Phil was absolutely over his head the end of July, plunk in the middle of taking on a murderous Colorado mountain biking course. Not only was he exhausted, but racked with guilt. Nancy was next to him, riding the same course.
Phil couldn't stop reviewing one fact: This had all been his idea. Now, seven years after talking Nancy into giving mountain biking a try, here she was, fighting her way through the 24-hour, 250-mile Montezuma's Revenge race. And here was Phil, right next to her, riding as support.
There are 14 loops in the race, each 1 to 65 miles in length. Now, if the loops had an ability to laugh, they'd have eyed these folks showing up on their bicycles, and roared.
This is mountain country. Those loops? They go up, and up, and up.
"The tough part about the loops is they all have incredible amounts of climbing in them," Phil said. "Through a lot of it, you have to get off your bike and walk as you're climbing up a 14,000-foot peak, doing a 2,000-foot ascent."
It's what had Phil begging his wife's forgiveness, and him ultimately begging out of the race.
"By the middle of loop six, I was plodding along next to her at a high altitude and I was nauseous," he said. "I'd never ridden with her on a 24-hour ride before. Now I was witnessing what it was like, and I was personally really suffering."
Don't be sorry
All of that suffering led to Phil's heartfelt and heart-pounding apology. There were just over eight loops to go when he offered it up.
"I said to her, 'I'm so sorry that I ever got you into this stuff,' " Phil said.
As Phil then quietly bowed out of this scene and left his wife to ride on, Nancy offered little more than a "don't be." As in don't be sorry. Nancy, it turns out, is made for this stuff.
You would not look at her and think rugged or hell-bent, adjectives that would seem required of a mountain biker. But at just 5-foot-3, and 100 pounds, she actually has the perfect dimensions to take on such 24-hour, drastically uphill, mountain biking battles.
"Twenty-four hour races are better suited for me," said Nancy, who has now done two of them this summer, and is about to do a third. This next one will be her biggest yet, the World Solo 24 Hours of Adrenalin Championships in Vernon, British Columbia, on Saturday and Sunday. She'll compete as a member of the U.S. team. Nancy qualified in May when she won the 24 Hour National Championships in Monterey, Calif.
"I don't have a lot of power, but in 24-hour races you go at your own pace," Nancy said. "They are better suited for me because I have a lot of slow-twitch fiber."
Phil has an even more scientific explanation for Nancy's success in 24-hour races. And Nancy, who turned pro four years ago, has had plenty of it. Besides the first-place finish in Monterey, she was second in the Montezuma's Revenge race.
"Nancy has a lot of endurance; she has muscles that utilize oxygen really well," Phil explained. "Sprinters have giant muscles (unlike Nancy). But at 100 pounds, she has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of anyone I've ever tested, which makes her a great climber. Plus, she is a tough person and a fierce competitor."
But above all, it's Nancy's passion for the sport that drives her. She calls mountain biking a "lifestyle," one she shares with husband and fellow physical therapist, Phil. They stretch it year-round, both training from two to five hours per day. In all but winter months, that work is done outdoors on their bikes. When the snow settles on Rapid City, they go inside, wearing out their stationary bicycles.
There definitely is no offseason for these two. For their physical and mental health, they won't allow for one.
"This is a lifestyle that makes you feel so good," said Nancy, who pays more in getting to the race sites than she makes with top finishes. "It is a great stress relief from work and a great diversion. I haven't been sick in five years, I feel strong, and I can eat well and I sleep great."
But to reap all of those benefits, Nancy has had to take herself to the limit with her workouts. No problem. She thrives on pushing herself. It's also what's allowed her to develop into one of the best 24-hour mountain bike racers in the world.
"I do like to take myself to the limit," Nancy said. "I like the feeling of being dehydrated and totally exhausted. If I feel kind of sore and drained (after a race or workout), I know I've had a good day."