Austin cyclist Andrew Willis wins national championship at 24-hour race

Andrew Willis approaches the 400-mile mark at the 24 Hours in the Canyon race. Photo by Scott Thomas

Chalk up another long-distance cycling accomplishment for Andrew Willis, who gets kicks out of riding a bicycle for hundreds of miles through fry-an-egg-on-a-sidewalk heat.

Willis won the World Ultra Cycling Association’s National Championship event, 24 Hours in the Canyon, earlier this month by pedaling 448 miles in a single day.

The race started at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon State Park at noon, when it’s nice and hot. Cyclists rode up to the rim, pedaled 100 miles, then dropped back into the canyon to complete as many 5-mile loops within the park as they could before noon the next day.

“I really get into the math behind it, trying to squeeze a few seconds out of every lap with less power and a lower heartrate,” Willis said from the phone this week, while spinning on a bike trainer inside his home. (Always training, that man.)

Andrew Willis won the 24 Hours in the Canyon race at Palo Duro Canyon. Family photo

It took Willis about 16 minutes flat for each 5-mile loop. The hardest part? The heat. And then the cold. Temperatures rose to about 105 at the bottom of the canyon during the day, then dropped into the 40s at night.

“That was really hard on a lot of peoples’ bodies,” said Willis, whose company Holland Racing puts on the weekly Driveway Series of bike races each summer.

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Willis spent a lot of time pedaling on his bike trainer, along with riding and working in the yard during the heat of the day, to prepare for 24 Hours in the Canyon. He also paced himself by starting slow and building intensity after the sun set.

Willis cycles near Palo Duro Canyon at the 24 Hours in the Canyon race. Family photo

“Everyone else went out hard and had huge gaps on me,” Willis said. “At the end of the 100 miles, I came into the canyon in third place. It was hard to not freak out and try to hunt them down then – I had to remind myself I still had 15 hours. Sure enough, they pushed it too hard in the heat and by hour 12 and 13 they were falling apart and throwing up, and I hadn’t pushed myself at all yet. That’s when I turned it on.”

Two years ago, Willis completed the Race Across the West, a 930-mile race from California to Colorado. He’s now considering competing in the Race Across America, a 3,089-mile race from the west to east coast of the United States.