Wednesday, February 28
2007 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo
Note: I'm still doing some rereading and editing and I'm at work so the pictures will have to wait until I get home. But the jist of the story is here. Hope you enjoy the novel! -Chris
I feel like I should have some exciting start to the blog but it's taken me this long to get started so I'm just going to roll with it. More pictures will be coming shortly but Marni and I only got a few and my dad and little brother got the majority. The week leading up to the race was a bit hectic. I'm getting better and better at being prepared a couple weeks out from the race but this time I was waiting on parts to arrive to finish putting the Fuel back together. I ordered them many weeks ahead of time but I digress. Nevertheless the bikes all got built and test ridden with extra sealant in every wheel for cactus protection. I must have done something right because there would be no bike problems the entire weekend.
Thursday afternoon finally rolled around and I left work to pack up the car and get a quick ride in before we began the drive. My legs were finally coming around after tapering for two weeks and I was excited to feel strong for the first time in a while. Marni had a class after work so Turbo and I picked up dinner and waited patiently in the parking lot. We were rolling by 6pm and headed into unknown territory. Neither Marni nor I had ever been to Arizona or traveled I-25 south of Pueblo. Of course it was dark by the time we hit the road so the terrain remained hidden and we drove in silence, buffeted by the wind and trading off poor sleeping opportunities until we got to Albuquerque around 1am. After a far too short of a stay in the hotel we got back on the road to Tucson fueled by continental breakfast waffles and muffins. Friday’s drive passed quickly as we motored though Truth or Consequences and Hatch before leaving New Mexico for Arizona. Once we arrived at the Tucson city limits I was pretty anxious to get to the race site and get settled. We clicked off turns one by one until arriving on the final dirt road that led to 24 hour town. The Element wanted to play rally car but Marni made sure we arrived with all bikes, dogs and people in one piece.
By Friday afternoon the race site was a busy place. We drove all the way to the top of the pit areas and found parking but not a camping spot on the race course itself. I had never ridden here before and was eager to get my pre-ride lap in, both to assess the course and also see if a better pit location could be found. So I got out of car clothes and into shorts and a jersey without tights or a long sleeve base layer for the first time in months. Fueled by the sun and warmth my pre-ride lap was awesome and I had to keep myself reigned in repeatedly. I was expecting the fast laps to come in right around an hour that’s right where my lap put me. The course was tons of fun with it mimicking the riding I do most frequently and without the killer one or two thousand foot climbs Colorado loves to throw at me. The surface was totally dry, loose over hardpack with tons of twisty turns in and out of the cacti. In fact it was twisty enough that next year I would run a Nobby Nic up front instead of Racing Ralphs on both ends. Just after “the Bitches”, which are a series of short steep climbs followed by steep fast descents, there was an incredibly fast jeep road section. Then just as quickly as you headed out, the course began to wind you back towards the start with a nice headwind. The climbing came in small sections as the trails wound in and out of never ending cacti. Following the last of the climbing sections the course dropped down to the pits and the start/finish tent. Here I found several open pit areas and while we wouldn’t have room to park the cars, at least we’d be right on course of the race. I bypassed these temporarily to check out the final section of the downhill which had a “decision point.” The course split where you could go on an easy downhill to the right or a shorter but much more technical and steep rocky slab downhill to the left. I rode both and decided that whenever I felt good I would ride the shorter, harder route but if I was tired or out of it I would just cruise around the easy section.
Next I rode back up to find Marni and begin moving our previous camp. Hiking all our stuff up and down the hill wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing so we loaded most of it into the car and shuttled it down before reparking the car at the top of the hill. It was beginning to get dark but we had camp setup and now were just waiting for my dad, brother and Chad to arrive at the site. Unfortunately it was pretty chaotic and hard to find people, especially all the way in the back of the site. After several cell phone calls and some riding around, I found both parties and we all began to move the rest of the gear down to our spot. Chad was a huge help and I have to give a huge thank you to him for bringing out extra camping gear, the EZup, a table and tons more stuff. He was a friend of Scott’s who never met me before and I’m not sure how we would have got everything down to Tucson if it wasn’t for his help. A few more trips up and down the hill later we had the rest of camp setup and ready for tomorrow. In an error of bad planning on my part I had figured everyone would arrive at camp earlier in the day and we’d go out to get dinner in Tucson. Instead we grabbed a quick dinner from a vender down at the race site and while it was tasty I’m not sure it was ideal for me. Next time I will plan the night before dinner and morning of breakfast’s better. After we ate we all turned in for the night and tried to get some sleep. I say tried because the wind was whipping all night and sounded terrible. Sometime around 6am it got really bad and blew our EZ up 200 yards away into the field of cacti! It rolled right over our tent but luckily it didn’t hurt Marni or me and came to rest when one of the guy lines got tangled in a bush. Miraculously it was unharmed and missed hitting all the cacti so after carefully carrying it back to camp we lowered one side into the wind and restaked it down. The coolers lined the inside perimeter of the EZup to help hold our tarp walls down. Seriously racing these things requires some learning. Figuring out how to windproof a walled 10x10 shelter was not something I had ever done before. Eventually we got camp resituated and everyone was awake. Breakfast came and went, then lunch as I nervously awaited the start. I wished that I could sleep but it was far too sunny to trick my body into taking a nap.
After the pre-race meeting at 10:30 everything just began to move with a purpose. I got changed, sunscreened and took the Fuel down to check-in. I got my baton which I put in the leg of my shorts and that’s pretty much where it stayed the whole race. I racked my bike and had Chad keep an eye on it during the Leman’s start but luckily it wasn’t too hard to spot with my squeaky giraffe sticking up on the handlebars. After the obligatory restroom visit I made my way down the road to the race start. I found Fred and DaveH and we chit chatted to make those never ending last few minutes pass. I really dislike the running start but I’m not sure what else you can do about it in such a big field. Bang the cannon fired and the herd began jogging to our bikes. I followed the guy in the giant banana costume and kept a close eye for my giraffe. My legs were pretty sick of running in bike shoes by the time I found my bike so I happily grabbed it and hopped on, dodging those still running and mounting their own steeds. The fast teams were ready to ride so my whole focus for the first lap was to not crash and not pull on my own. I just jumped from wheel to wheel drafting people while keeping the effort level as low as possible while climbing. Plus that headwind hadn’t gone anywhere and I did not want to waste any more energy than I had to during the early laps.
The first two laps were a blur. I kept trying to remember all the things I had to do but I was always forgetting something. I was making good time and ahead of everyone I knew as far as I could tell. My legs felt fine, I was getting Ensure and Clif Blocks down regularly and kept drinking my water and Gatorade. I just looked for wheels to sit on and focused on keeping the pace in check. Coming through on lap 3 I noticed that Linda was pitting not too far behind me. I had already made my stop and was on my way though the timing tent but I figured she would catch me somewhere out on course. I ended up by myself though the bitches and kept things under control. It was quite fun to bomb down the backside of each climb and get as much free speed up the next one as possible. I knew things would change once it got dark so I made the best of it then. Not long after the bitches ended I could see that Linda was getting close so I slowed up into the next section of trail. Somewhere along the way she grabbed my wheel and figured out that it was me. From that point on we were a train around the course. I got some great coaching and pace control advice and she got a nice draft. Up ahead Linda spotted the lead woman and I sat up just slightly before putting the move on her up a hill and pulling Linda into the lead. The rest of the lap is a blur of very focused riding and passing people. Just before the last climb DaveH caught us and let Linda know that the woman we passed was not coming back and she was pulling away. Dave was feeling great and eventually passed us with Linda grabbing his wheel and me jumping on the back of the train. A minute later I realized that I made a big mistake as my quads got the twinge of a cramp. I immediately sat up and let the HeathFX train go, much to my dismay.
The rest of lap 3 was damage control. I climbed as easily as possible and blasted back to my pit on the descent. Once I got to my pit I upped my water intake by two and took four Endurolytes. Yes I forgot to take any electrolytes the first two laps and must have been lacking in fluid intake as well. The day wasn’t super hot but the wind must have been drying me out more than I realized. Lap 4 and 5 were more of the same, keeping my pace easy and trying to let my body get caught up on it’s electrolyte and hydration issues. By the end of lap 5 it seemed to be working because I finally had to take a leak. It’s been a long time since I was that excited to pee. My pit had been working hard to keep the rest of the plan in order. I was drinking my Ensure Plus’s and eating my Clif Blocks. I kept taking Endurolytes and Chad would clean and lube the chain every other lap. By the time night hit I was sitting somewhere around 7th place in the solo men’s field and I still hadn’t been lapped by Tinker or anyone else much to my delight. Even a stop on my first night lap to push my light cable into the battery better didn’t affect my mood. The laps kept clicking by and I was reaping the benefits of my night riding practice this winter. The HID worked fine and I was able to keep up my speed on the downhills much better than at Moab. Lap 7 I ended up in a train of team riders and that worked great. By lap 8 I had Marni get my shuffle ready and I caught Adam for the first time right before the start of the Bitches. He was doing really well and I couldn’t believe that I was a lap up. My iPod provided good motivation and even though I was starting to have a hard time eating my Clif Blocks I was still pretty happy. I was only getting a bit upset at having to stop and pee once a lap. Back again at my pits I was still pretty awake but definitely starting to feel fatigue.
I headed out on lap 9 with the one lap at a time mentality and a smile on my face. Soon after I got on course, the wheels began to fall off. I no longer could get my Clif Blocks down and I was starting to get nauseous. I felt like I was slowing way down and it was a pretty lonely lap. Every person who passed me seemed like they were much faster than me and without being able to get down my calories I was really flagging physically and mentally. I kept calculating my pace and how many laps I could do and that would pump me back up. 16 laps or more were still in reach if I could just keep turning laps until morning. Every hill was a slog though and my reactions kept getting slower and slower it seemed. By the time I reached the last climb there were more people around me and I did my best to stay near them. Even the guy in the jail suit with the CD player ductaped to his bike rack didn’t make me smile very much, definitely a bad sign. All I wanted to do was get back to my pit and find something I could eat.
I wanted salvation in my pit area. I wanted something to go in my stomach and bring back that energy that would appear every lap when I could get my clif blocks down. Unfortunately nothing worked. I tried Kissables but they were too sweet. In fact anything sweet sounded pretty bad. I tried to choke down a sandwich which always perks me up during long rides but my body was having none of it. I tried a poptart, another staple, and then a Starbucks DoubleShot but nothing worked. Everything I tried just made me more nauseous and none of the food was giving me any energy. Dejected I finally sat in a chair and that was the beginning of the end. Not that my crew wanted it to be. Marni, my dad and Chad all tried repeatedly to get me out for one more lap. They tried to get me to get up and just sit on my bike and roll down the hill. However I just couldn’t fathom trying to go out there again without being able to get anything down. The longer I waited the colder I got and eventually I made the decision to crawl in my tent and go to sleep. I wanted so bad to keep going but I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t throw up and I just felt so lifeless without getting the calories in my stomach to help me. My goal was to go all though the night and sleep, however short, seemed like failure to me at the time. So I slept. Marni tried to wake me an hour later and get me back out there but I was broken. In my mind I had given up and failed and turning a few more laps didn’t seem like it meant anything. Morning came and I ate and watched the other solos. I walked down to find Linda had broken her collarbone (I’m so sorry Linda), DaveH was in 2nd and Adam was gutting out a tough ride and hadn’t given up.
My race was over and I was pretty bummed. I debated staying until the end but it seemed like such a formality to wait until 12:01 to turn in my stick instead of just taking the DNF. In the end I turned my baton in early and our crew broke camp and headed out to find our hotel and some food. Lunch and a shower felt pretty darn good even though my stomach still hated me. Marni seemed worried as I was still out of it despite trying to keep things together. My legs felt okay though and I hated that. I wanted them to be dead. I wanted them to be so tired from riding so long that I would know I did everything I could. Instead all I had was nausea, a little soreness in my contact points and a pretty broken spirit. We had a fun time in the hotel after the race. I tried not to focus on my disappointment and enjoy getting to spend time with my dad and my brother Nick who I don’t get to see very often. They came out to support me unconditionally and I really appreciate that. Marni also did her best to make me feel better and she out of everyone understood my disappointment. Monday morning, my 25th birthday, we woke up at 6am and hit the road. 14 hours straight back home and I didn’t want to have to tell the story. I did my best to be agreeable but I apologize to Marni again for having to put up with a pretty grouchy husband.
In the past couple weeks I've had a lot of time to reflect on this race and received a lot of support from my family and friends. For that I am truly grateful. My spirit is no longer broken and I’m back to training again. I enjoy riding my bike and that’s not going to change from any race. I’ve even gotten out on some dirt here in Denver before today’s snowstorm (and yes I rode). This race taught me a lot and that is the silver lining. It taught me that racing 24 solos aren’t just about having your body prepared. Everything has to be ready, the earlier the better. I learned my nutrition still needs some work and that switching 200 cal/hr to Clif Blocks is not going to work over the long haul. I need to better prepare my nutrition plan for the inevitable deterioration of lap times so that I am not spending 50% more time on the course without a corresponding increase in calories. My crew also needs an easy way to track my cal/hr and know what foods have what calories. I learned my electrolytes need to start with lap 1, not wait until I have a problem. Time to order the powder to mix into my drink. I learned some great tips from Linda on keeping my power spikes under control and just how to ride for 25 hours. And most importantly I learned more about myself. I did accomplish some great things during the race that I’m proud of. I rode 135 miles and 9000 vertical feet of elevation gain in somewhere between 12 and 13 hours. The difference in that ride compared to my fitness level 1 year prior is amazing. My descending speed is finally coming back to where it used to be as a match to my greatly improved climbing and that will buy me a lot of “free” time.
I’ll be back to the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, perhaps in 2008 or perhaps at a later date. It would be an incredibly fun course as a team and on my singlespeed as well. But I learned a lot, I’m still here and I’m not hurt which is all I can really ask for at the end of the day. And if you read this far I’ve got some really great friends which is what makes this sport so much fun.