I've been a competitor for as long as I can remember. As a young boy growing up in England I liked to compete, whether it was throwing rocks the furthest or kicking a soccer ball the hardest, competing came naturally. I enjoyed the spirit of competition, the camaraderie of competition and learning to explore my limits. I didn't know it at the time but my early childhood days in England and Canada were setting a good foundation for the next phase in my life.

When I joined the military I was a physically fit kid with lots of potential and I had a strong drive to be the best at everything I did. I didn't always come out on top, but I had my fair share of successes. Those 'wins' made me confident in my abilities and that allowed me to push even harder to see what I was capable of. As luck would have it, I somehow managed to get on a rare and challenging military career path that would (on a variety of different levels) test and teach me about myself and those around me. Even when the suffer-o-meter was high, and the odds seemed insurmountable, I embraced the grind and got on with the challenge in front of me. I liked the hardships, I liked solving the tough problems, I liked learning more about what I had inside of me.

That theme of pushing myself hard and embracing the grind has continued every year for as long as I can remember. It's my 50th birthday this year and I'm still pushing myself like I'm 20yrs younger. Looking back to when I was 30yrs of age I thought I was indestructible, now 20yrs later I realize I'm not indestructible but I still take risks and push hard. 40 years of competing, grinding it out and pushing hard. Why?

I'm not sure why it is that I want to compete and push as hard as I can. It's a question I've asked myself more than once. Whether I'm competing against myself or against a thousand other people, it's always the same thing - I push myself hard. An easy answer might be that I'm simply wired to be competitive and that wiring was further reinforced as the years unfolded. There's a good chance the real answer is probably more complex than that but ultimately I guess it doesn't matter because it is what it is.

In its purest form, competition isn't a neutral position... you either win, or you lose, there is no such thing as kinda win. Going for the win has got me in lots of trouble over the years as I bit off more than I could chew time and time again. But I wouldn't change any of that because I've learned more from losing than I have from winning. I've learned more from failure than I have from success. Sometimes an epic failure teaches you more than an epic win.

At this years 24hrs of Old Pueblo I had an epic fail. Did I learn anything?

24hrs of OP started off decently with a punishing four week training camp leading up to race week. I put myself through the meat grinder of two-a-days and winter night riding on Ice Spiker Pro's while wearing a ski helmet and goggles. It was miserable training in the nasty winter conditions, until it eventually became 'normal', then I started to like it, then it was time to pack up my bike for the trip. Along the way I did all the little things that signify a new training block/new race season, like replacing old gear with some new gear, check out this super fancy $15 PC-870 chain. ;-)

New season, new chain

It was late by the time I left Rossland on Wednesday night. Too much to do and not enough time. Eventually I arrived at Spokane International airport and pulled into long-term parking. By 0100hrs I had climbed into the back of the Pilot with my sleeping bag setup next to my bike box and I set my alarm for 5hrs of sleep.

Sleeping in the back of the Pilot

Half a day later I was standing in the Tucson sunshine with Julie, Steve and Dave, all of us stoked to ride on dirt instead of snow! Last time we had been together was at the 24hr Solo down in Texas at the end of October, a great race along with great results, you can click here to read about that one. We grabbed some supplies at Whole Foods enroute to our accommodations, which turned out to be more difficult to find than we had anticipated. It was quite late by the time we unpacked the rental minivan and settled in for the night.

The next morning had all of us excited to get out on the race course dirt!

Heading to the race course

After a reasonably uneventful pre-ride it was time to head back to our 1940's ranch cabin and get prepped for the following race day. That prep included all the usual things necessary to race a 24hr mountain bike race, including eating big and enjoying a tasty beer.

Pre race dinner

Once we got to the race site on Saturday morning we had to setup a pit area for three Solo racers, and because we had all flown down we didn't have a tent, or tables/chairs, or any of the comforts that make 24's a bit easier. So instead of pit luxuries we got to pit out of a spiky thorn bush... 5 star accommodations!

pit shrub

With approximately 2000 racers at the event things get a bit crazy, Julie, Dave and I were all glad to finally get on the start line and get ready to do what we were there to do - race! All the travelling and administration leading up to a big race can be a distraction at times, once the race gets going things get a lot easier, you just have to race. And speaking of racing, the conditions were great. Hey look, I'm not wearing winter hiking boots and ski goggles.

Arizona racing

A few hours into the race and I was putting out decent lap times, good enough to put me on the podium. I felt strong and confident... a great day on the bike... until I had a nasty little wipeout. Normally I do a pretty good job of staying upright during training or in races, but this wipeout took me by surprise. I went down hard in a sketchy corner. It was totally my fault, and I paid the price by leaving some of my elbow and leg on the rocky dirt as I did a high speed slide off the trail and into a variety of cactus. Here's a photo of my elbow a few days after an infection and then some healing.

Elbow throbbing

Grrrrrrr, cactus! Along with the blood running down my arm and leg, I had cactus needles everywhere, but nothing was broken so I jumped straight back on the bike and took off down the course. Approximately one minute later I began to notice that cactus needles come in many shapes and sizes. The ones that look like small green ping pong balls with needles sticking out of the ping pong were easy to pull off, the long hypodermic cactus needles with fish hook barbs that were stuck in my shoulder wouldn't come out no matter how hard I pulled on them (which isn't easy when you are racing one handed down a singletrack course), the cactus that caused me the most amount of discomfort came from the tiny little needles that were buried in my hands, in my gloves, in my legs, arse, etc. Anything that rubbed on those little needles was annoying. Medically I knew I would be ok but the needles in my hands were making my hands throb and whenever I would get out of the saddle to attack a hill on my singlespeed the weight-bearing pressure on my palms was causing a lot of discomfort as it drove all those needles deeper into my hands. I'm sure I was quite a sight as I raced along the course one-handed, while using my teeth to bite out tiny little needles.

Eventually I bumped into some medical support further down the course and they used a type of medical duct tape to pull out most of the little needles in my hands, excellent! Sadly my gloves were filled with tiny needles, so I stashed them in my jersey pocket, not to be used again. By the time I got back to my pit I had discovered two new problems. The first one was minor and required another trip to the medical tent, it turns out I had a few of the long/thick needles buried in my hands which couldn't be taken out with tape, so out came the medical tweezers and while they were at it they used pliers to pull out the fish hook cactus needles in my shoulder. The bigger problem was my fork, it wasn't functioning properly during compression or rebound and it was causing some steering issues. Maybe the wipeout created the fork issue or maybe it was just bad timing, either way it was jeopardizing my race. I did some quick brainstorming with Steve in the pit and he suggested increasing the air pressure in the fork, effectively turning it into a rigid fork. Good idea, so we threw a bunch more air into the fork and off I went to see if it would fix things up. One lap later and I knew that solution wouldn't work, the fork was still steering poorly and with no suspension properties up front my telemark-injured left wrist was miserable, I needed some suspension. To increase the frustration level, I was now racing with my big black winter insulated cross-country ski gloves in the Arizona mid-day heat, because my other gloves were a cactus needle disaster. Nice.

At this point I'll compress the story... I fought with that fork for another 8hrs. In between laps I was visiting various mechanic tents, or anyone that might have an opinion or genius idea, I would apply any potential fixes and head out on the fork to see if it was race-able. Attempted fix, more racing, another attempted fix , more racing, another attempt, more racing... you get the idea. Nothing was working. By midnight I called it quits after trying everything I could think of to make the fork work properly. 12hrs into the race and I was done. Uugh!

So where was the epic fail?

I have two identical Orbea race bikes and I should have taken both bikes to this race, period. Sure, airline travel by yourself with a second bike is a hassle but that's what I should have done. With two bikes at a 24hr you can instantly swap to a reliable backup or cannibalize parts. Not taking that second bike was a calculated risk that cost me a race performance. That mistake was totally my fault.

Once my race was terminated I switched into coach/support mode for Julie and Dave, but I really didn't have much to do since Steve had everything under control. Based on that I managed to get an hour of sleep in the middle of the night, and a sure sign that you might be tired from all the travelling is when you find yourself in a nearby Solo support pit, in this position, using a Tupperware container as a pillow.

Sleeping on the floor

The other disappointment on the weekend was Dave losing his eyesight about 18hrs into the race. The winds were quite high on Saturday so a lot of dust was getting blown around, that fine dust hung around a bit throughout the night and combine that with a lot of campfire smoke around the pit areas and it was affecting peoples vision. When Dave was late to return from an early morning lap I went looking for him and eventually found him at the medical tent where they had already radioed in his race termination. Dave said his vision had been reduced to a haze that had him riding off the trail because he couldn't see the terrain he was riding on, up until that point he was in the money. The good news out of the weekend came courtesy of Julie, she secured a 2nd place Solo Open Female finish and a cash payout. Steve, Dave and I are patiently waiting for the all the beers she's going to buy us with that prize money. ;-)

Once we got our spiky thorn bush pit gear packed up we hung out for the awards ceremonies. While waiting, I had a good chance to catch up with Al (and Duchess) where we got to compare new wounds and have a laugh or two.

Al and Duchess

After the awards ceremony we headed back to the 1940's ranch cabin to clean up and hit a nearby hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, yes!

Hole in the wall Mexican

They let us bring our own beer and wine, yes!

Great food and good company

With our bellies full of assorted goodness it was back to the cabin to nurse an IPA and fall asleep on the couch.

Alesmith IPA

The next morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny Arizona day and a nice casual breakfast was a treat after the intensity of the previous days. Shortly after breakfast, Steve made an interesting discovery in the kitchen, this little guy was wandering around on the floor.

Scorpion action

After de-scorpioning the kitchen, Steve got a good shot of Julie and I drinking coffee on the front porch before we all got on with tearing bikes apart and generally getting ready to fly that afternoon. Sadly, it was only 10 minutes of coffee drinking, it should have been longer. If I could have, I would have spent another hour on that front porch, not moving, just sitting in the sun with another cup of coffee.

On the deck

Scrambling to the airport, returning the rental minivan and getting through the TSA nonsense is always a test of character. After a short flight we found ourselves in the Seattle airport terminal with just enough time to grab a beer and then hop on our separate flights. Does anyone out there think that a bunch of condensed travel, racing and staying on top of a pile of athlete files makes you tired?

Tired looking

The remainder of the drive home from Spokane was unremarkable. I pulled up to the house sometime after midnight, did some more athlete files and I think I was in bed by 0300hrs. My phone alarm to get the boys up for school went off and the first thing they said was "How was your race, dad?", immediately followed by "Wow, look at your elbow!", and then we got on with the normal routine.

Two weeks after the race and I'm still thinking about unresolved business at the 24hrs of Old Pueblo. I want another crack that event. I don't mind being beaten by another racer, it means they raced smarter and harder than I did and that's a good thing, I can respect that result. I surely don't like being beaten by bad luck (or my own stupidity), and though I've raced enough to know that things happen and races get derailed, it doesn't mean I've got to like it.

When I line up for a 24hr race I want to test myself for a full 24hrs. After all, I'm a competitor... always have been, always will be.