This is the view we woke up to last Saturday morning, a rising sun coming up over tent sites in the middle of a small grassy field. In a matter of a few hours this view would change into an exciting race start line.
We had left Sugar Land late on Friday evening so we could setup a campsite at Rocky Hill Ranch (RHR) where I would be competing at 24 Hours of Dirt - my third 24 Solo this year. The first two 24's were tough, really tough. Just over three months ago I got a rude introduction to 24hr Solo at the Canmore event where I placed 8th out of 80 soloists, pushing myself hard enough to cause me to walk into emerg two days later with internal bleeding. Uhmmmmmm, lessons learned. Less than two months later I hit the suffer-fest at Worlds Solo Championship at Laguna Seca in September, where the temps were over 100 degrees both days and each lap was approx 2500 vertical feet gain. Yikes, that hurt but I placed top five in my category and in the top 20 against the Elite's. More lessons learned and as they say, third time lucky. So this 24 Solo was going to be different - race smarter, harder and hopefully to a podium. With a plan in place and breakfast on the go, it was time to start thinking about which lucky bike socks to wear.
I didn't get much forewarning for this 24, by the time I found out it was a very cool Texas grassroots event and probably something I should do, my cycling fitness for the event had already been decided weeks prior when I should have been riding but wasn't. As soon as I signed up for the race I got a chance to do a two lap course pre-ride with Rosie, Andrew and Kyle from Sugar Cycles a couple of weeks before the actual race, throw in some solo night rides on my road bike down Highway 6 and a couple of weekend club rides and all of a sudden it was time to go race again. Saturday morning race day I was quietly mentally questioning my physical endurance side but I knew my head was in the right place and that's 9/10ths of the battle. As the morning progressed I met more and more riders and pit crews and started to realize that it was a typical 24 hour event - a wide spectrum of passionate riders - from the weekend warriors with all the gucci gear and latest expensive hardware to the occasional rider on a borrowed friend's bike and an old grey t-shirt, sprinkle in some frothing at the mouth and eager to go yearly attendees looking for redemption right on through to the calm and seasoned expert racers quietly leaning against a wall and eyeballing the competition. It was a bike event with a good vibe and a down-home feel but there was no mistaking it, this was also a bike race. Where did I put those lucky socks?
Of course while all these things were running through my head, the boys just rolled out of the tent, to chow down on the magically appearing breakfast burritos whipped up by Doreen.
And right around the time the boys were really starting to understand that dad was going to be in a really long bike race it was time to toe the line. With the temp's hovering around 90 degrees and the humidity a factor I didn't want to get caught up in the madness that overtakes the team racers pushing themselves to do an Olympic qualifying time in the Le Mans running start.
This generally mad rushing sprint by at least half the starters can be a disaster if as a 24hr soloist you get caught up in the sprinting-fever and start racing the course at max speed in the first thirty seconds - hey there's at least 86,400 seconds during these events. I stuck to my game plan and let the out-of-the-blocks gang burn some rubber and I casually jogged in to my bike not breathing hard at all.
As I was hopping on to my bike scanning the pack ahead of me it looked like a good mix of team and soloists up front so it was time to start focusing on moving towards the front of that pack and setting a pace. Doreen got a good shot of me just as I was landing on the saddle and starting to clip in and ready to engage the ignition button. Interestingly, even though I gave up time on the Le Mans run I still turned in the fastest soloist first lap (and fastest lap in this category for the rest of the race) and it also turned into the sixth fastest first lap overall - no wonder that 90 degrees felt hot.
The 24 Hours of Dirt event organizers are Terra Firma Promo a very professional and friendly race organization. Even though I was racing against 48 other male soloists the race itself still had a really good bike-family feel to it, which made it a superb event. The course was perfect for me after the tons of hours of slamming epic all-mountain trails near Calgary; it was a lot of twisty, carving singletrack sections with spikey, rolling and off-camber tight lines. Tight trees, babyheads, some roots, shale and other small technical challenges that let an unfit guy like me be competitive against fitter riders. This kind of course can let me pass a lot of riders by increasing my efforts and still not suffering, or conversely, the type of course I can conserve a lot of energy and turn in a good lap time by simply riding clean lines and flowing through the course with technical precision and finesse. One lap through the course and I felt good, really good, happy to be out there riding my bike on such a fun and technical course. After two or three laps the heat hadn't let up yet and my thick Canadian blood was starting to rebel so I stopped in the pit a little longer than necessary to be sure I didn't buildup a punishing heat-debt. Luckily Doreen had bought the boys a couple of really cheap little water pistols and they took great pleasure in spraying dad with water. Evan focused on mainly trying to get it up my nose and in my left eye, Keegan focused really hard on soaking a scrape on my left arm. I'm sure the next event will need even larger water pistols. Maybe I need to get a really big one for Doreen's marathon at the start of next year. ;-)
As the day started to turn into evening and the weather started to cool down a bit I found myself at the front of a small convoy of soloists who were all tucked in behind my wheel. I had a good conversation with Michael (who I thought was a good guy and a very strong contender from Team Kenda) he was directly behind me for at least 15mins holding his end of the conversation but it soon became apparent that the roadie tactics were in place and I wasn't too keen on drafting four of my competition around the entire course. I slowly started to increase the pace for another 20mins or so and still this little mini-convoy continued to tuck in to my wheel with no efforts to pass. Right around the time I was thinking about punching the effort way up in order to break up this little pack, I skidded out on a dusty/sandy section and went down pretty hard, my only decent wipeout during the entire race. The little convoy of soloist's kept on going and a few seconds later I was back on my bike keeping them in sight. I went back to my pit a little shook up and had to sit for a few extra minutes to settle down and get back to my game plan of riding smart.
While I was out on the course eating a bit of dirt and wondering what kind of scar that would cause, the boys got some sleep which gave Doreen a small break from her Pit Mechanic (thanks honey), Boy Duty (thanks honey) Pit Cook (thanks honey) Pit Chief (thanks honey) and all around Race Strategist Duties (thanks honey).
I know without Doreen's help I wouldn't have placed as well as I did. Her efforts to get me back out in a timely fashion made a big difference. Not having Doreen in my pit so much at World's gave things a different sort of vibe, I missed her presence in California. During this event things couldn't have gone any better and a lot of the success lies squarely on her shoulders. Having said that we were really lucky there were no mechanicals during the entire 24hrs.
I had a few potential thorn flats out on the course and right away my tubeless tires would get sealed up by Stan's latex treatment. It's a bit nerve-racking as you are ripping along to hear pfffffttt, pfffffftttt pfff! as your flattening tire rotates and the latex seals up the hole around the thorn. Stan's was worth it's weight in gold out there.
By midnight it was getting cool, bordering on cold and very moist. If you sat down in the pit for too long you either wanted to crawl into a sleeping bag or get back out on the course just to try and warm up again. Doreen made sure I got back out again. The laps settled into a predictable routine and by 0600hrs the next morning I asked Doreen what the standings were and things looked pretty interesting.
So now it was time to get serious and see what I could do to shake things up a bit. I started pushing hard, sometimes out of the saddle for 10-20mins at a time, one lap in particular I figure I did over 50% of it out of the saddle. Besides pushing myself hard, I had another reason to be ripping it out of the saddle - my butt - it was raw and tender and hurting pretty bad every time I settled onto the saddle again. That's what you get for not spending enough time on the bike before you decide to spend a lot of time on a bike in a very condensed fashion. Generally I found myself standing up and pedal-stroking out of the saddle until I was ready to pop, only dropping back down on to the saddle when my legs and upper body couldn't take it anymore, I'd grab a bit of recovery in the saddle (and grit my teeth because of my butt) and then back out of the saddle it again. I know it was freaky for some of the team riders I was passing since they never saw me sit down the entire time it would take me to get out of their sight. I actually got comments from riders who couldn't believe I was solo'ing out of the saddle so much, I told some of them my secret weapon was actually really raw butt cheeks - which led to some funny conversations.
While I was out there mashing my pedals, the boys were enjoying the big adventure, everything was fun. I mean check out the hula hoop competition.
Around 1000hrs I took second place and increased my already busy pace with an even faster pace to secure the position. I pitted briefly and hopped back on to the course and started to slam it pretty hard on my last lap. When I finished the last lap I went into the transition zone, with two minutes to spare before the clock hit noon, I asked about the race leader's status and was surprised to hear he was only 5mins up and was told he had gone out for another lap just before cutoff (cutoff for last lap was leave before noon and across the finish line before 1330hrs).
With five minutes up and not much chance of me catching him unless he had a mechanical I decided to be happy with things as they were and not try to chase him for an 18th lap. Later, I was told the leader didn't complete his lap, he just started it and waited to see what my response was - he ran a smart, tough race and he made me suffer like a dog. He definitely deserved the win.
Perspective is a funny thing, I thought I did well considering my age, I'm 44 years old today but as it turns out the guy who took third place (his name is Ray Porter from Dallas) did it on a single speed and is 50 this year!!! Man oh man, much respect for that guy!
Something about a single speed really seems to interest me. Can't believe I've never ridden one but it sounds like a lot of fun and I hear from everyone that it's a good way to gain extra strength and skills on the bike. Wonder if a single speed will fit under a Christmas tree? ;-)
Doreen met me at the finish line with the boys, she had a banana and peanut butter wrap ready for me to eat along with a congratulatory hug. At the finish line I was quite content to sit and watch the clock count down for the final couple of minutes to end the 24hrs and content to watch it for a few more minutes as I let it all sink in. In this finish line photo I must be waving to someone I know but it generally makes me look like a bit of a French Dandy - that's a French Dandy wave if I ever saw one - good thing I'm wearing slightly dirty racing shorts and an absolutely filthy jersey to reinstate my manliness. ;-)
Soon enough it was back to the pit to rest a bit and try to eat some more. For 27hrs I had been on only liquid nutrition, it seems to be getting easier to dial in to my body's needs. And now, after all that racing, when it was time to eat something solid, the wrap just didn't taste that good as noted by the chewing-face. Luckily after this photo was taken I found a beer to chase it down with.
So the results... I raced for 23:58 and did 17 laps to give me a second place finish, losing first place by five minutes to a State Champ who races with the Pro's. The laps were approx 10 miles long and included 850 vertical feet gain per lap, my fastest lap was under an hour and my slowest lap was nearly 90mins. The key result was that I finally grabbed a small piece of real estate on the podium and unlike all the other categories the Expert Male Solo category got a cash prize; I ended up with $250 cash, plus a small plaque trophy made by a local artist which I thought was very cool. Of course the cash and such isn't as important as realizing a goal.
I have to say the race organizers at Terra Firma did an outstanding job. From start to finish it was top-notch. Their prizes were five deep in each category and the prizes were excellent, even the giveaways were good. I particularly like the event t-shirts and wish I had grabbed a second one since the one I got will no doubt get washed with Crayola crayon.
I plan on doing this event again next year and will recommend it to anyone who enjoys fun but hard mtb-ing. The racers out at the event were all very cool, our team racer neighbors on each side of our pit were super friendly and eager to help once they heard I was solo-ing. In fact, they were cheering me on and as anxious about how my laps were going as if they were all close friends. Lots of handshakes and smiles at the end of the race. A really fun mtb grassroots feel.
Now this is probably the funniest thing to me... if you look at this last image, as I turn on my heel away from the awards presentation, I was already starting to think about what I'm going to do next... ;-)
Oct 23, 2007