Damian Milani riding in the 2012 Scott Australian 24 Hour MTB Championships at Stromlo Forest Park. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Competitors talk of hallucinations from sleep deprivation, consuming a week's worth of calories in one day, ingesting caffeine gels that equate to 80 cups of coffee and swallowing so much dust that they're still coughing up brown stuff for a week.
No one talks openly of the saddle sores, but a gingerly gait for weeks after usually tells that story anyway.
Bathurst will host Australia's most famous endurance car race on Sunday, a 1000-kilometre event that should be won inside eight hours.
World champion Jason English. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
The men's winner of Sunday's Hawaii Ironman, widely regarded as the world's toughest one-day sporting event, should complete the 226km of swimming, riding and running in about the same time.
But when it comes to sporting tests of endurance, Canberra can hold its own this weekend by hosting the world 24-hour mountain bike championships at Mount Stromlo.
More than 300 riders from at least 16 countries will race, the winner expected to cover about 450km of mountain trails over 24 hours. About the only time they will stop pedalling will be to piddle, elite riders aiming to spend as little as five minutes total off their bikes as they ride through day and night.
The obvious question - why?
''It's a wave of human emotion, you're up and down the whole time,'' Australia's three-time defending world champion Jess Douglas, of Victoria, says.
''You can be pedalling on top of fluffy white clouds, feeling euphoric and that life is beautiful … then within a minute you can feel like shit, you want to vomit and you're asking yourself why you're here. You just want to quit.
''Twenty-four hour racing is a mental battle … most people don't want to fathom what their body is capable of. The body will do what it's told, but the mind wants to shut down and go to bed.''
Canberra has been a mecca for the world's best endurance mountain bikers since hosting Australia's first 24-hour race in 1999. A team 24-hour event was held last weekend, but solo is the true test of the toughest.
Canadian champion Cory Wallace has come to Canberra to prove himself against Australia's defending world champion, Jason English of Port Macquarie.
There are common stories of riders falling asleep on their bikes, among other extremes of competitors being more ''wired'' than Wonka on sugar and caffeine.
''I consumed 48 [energy] gels and 90 per cent of them were caffeinated,'' Wallace said of his first 24-hour race. ''It was about 80 cups of caffeine in my system. I probably would have tested positive … it was a gong show.
''The sleep deprivation isn't too bad as long as you keep going. But as soon as you stop, then [body] systems start to shut down. So the easiest way is to keep going. We don't get to live that long, this is about making the most of it while we're here.''
British champion Matt Page spent 21 hours sitting in economy class flying from Wales to Australia, less than he will spend on his saddle in the race starting midday Saturday. He will consume 62,760 kilojoules to sustain his energy.
''You have to have a screw loose somewhere to want to do this,'' Page says, laughing.
''I've definitely hallucinated, I've seen people and seen things, speaking to people who aren't there. I think it's pretty common.''
For some, such as Canberra's 50-55-year world champion Neil Dall, you can literally come face-to-face with your demons.
''On my first 24-hour race I saw a huge feral cat about the size of a tiger,'' Dall says of his hallucination.
''Your mind starts wandering, you start talking to yourself, to bring it back is the tough part. It's like going through a meat mincer.''
One of Canberra's pioneer 24-hour riders, 2008 world champion James Williamson, died in his sleep during a multi-day endurance race in South Africa in 2010. It was watching him win a race in Canberra in 2006 that gave Douglas the ''courage'' to take it up.
''I saw James finishing and I thought you look like hell, you look horribly in pain, but you look like you're in love with the fact you've just gone to hell and back. I thought, I want that too.''