Race Report from Old Pueblo

Took me a bit of time, but I finally got the race report finished. It's a little long, but it's a long race! I also have photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/TracyThelen.triathlete/24HoursOfOldPueblo#

I think I'm finally getting fully recovered from the race. My tempo run yesterday was decently fast, but I didn't wear the heart rate monitor. I'll start getting back into full on training next week. It didn't make sense to try to train through a 24 hour race and then just be shot for the entire month of March.

Race Report for 24 hours in the Old Pueblo – February 14/15 2009.
Coed Duo division
4th place, 16 laps

Racing in the coed duo division was our compromise. Nick had raced solo last year and wanted a better finish then last year. After 24 Hours in the Sage last year, I also wanted to try my hand at the solo division. Without a good support staff, there was no way that we could both race solo and neither one of us wanted to make to drive to support the other. So we signed up for the duo division so we both could race.

After the horrible weather that Nick had last year (snow, mud, cold rain) we made sure that we had every piece of clothing imaginable for riding. Nick even went out and bought a down jacket just for the race. Having all that gear meant that the Jeep was loaded to the brim and space was limited. We had two clothes bags each, the camping gear, three cases with lights, food, water, three bikes on back and a pole tent strapped to the roof. We didn’t even have enough room to bring our Feedback (Ultimate Support) stand to work on the bikes. The drive down was long and cramped and we didn’t get the chance to stretch our legs as many times as we wanted. We just stopped in Soccoro to ride for a little.

Old Pueblo is held out north of Tucson in Willow Springs Ranch. There is nothing out at the race site except for cows and cacti. Thursday at noon, the gates to 24 Hour Town open and a tent city springs up among the cacti. When we showed up at 4:00 on Thursday, there were already a number of racers claiming ground. Nick drove around a few times and we finally settled down at the tip of town, at the highest point. Our neighbors had a large chimnea and a huge pile of wood, boding well for Saturday night. They also had a Feedback stand, which they generously offered if we needed it. The original plan was for Nick to ride and me to run right after we arrived at town, but we decided to set up camp first and take the chance that we would not get to work out. Setting up camp in the light was defiantly easier. We also needed to get enough room for two more cars. A rider Nick camped next to last year was coming up and we were planing to camp together and share amenities. “Texas Jeff” was riding two man single speed with one of his friends and was also bringing support staff with them.

24 Hour Town is definitely a town by the end of the day on Friday. There are 1600 teams competing, as well support staff and traveling companions. There is food – a BBQ joint with smoked steak sandwiches, a bread and soup company, and a coffee shop. There is also an expo with local bike shops selling the essentials, outdoor gear shops, light manufactures and general bike related equipment. Friday afternoon, the expo area was the place to hang out and people watch.

We pre-rode the course after I ran on Friday. Nick let me lead so I had a good idea of the pace I would be able to maintain for the race and so we could plan our lap strategies for the race. There were a number of other riders out of the course, so I was able to get some practice passing among the cacti. Old Pueblo is not a technical course like we see here in Colorado. There are no major climbs and or speeding downhill. But it is not an easy course despite the lack of technical obstacles. The first challenge is avoiding the cacti and cholla trees that line the entire course. One wrong move and the penalty is a face full of spines. The next challenge is a stretch of road lovingly named the Bitches. There are five steep, granny-gear climbs followed by high speed descents. The gravel is loose and there are several jumps that if a rider isn’t careful, could easily send you flying. Once the trail turns to single track, it’s twisting and turning, ducking and diving around washes, mesquite trees, and cacti. There are long, false flats and steam-roller descents. Shifting was definitely important to maintain cadence and power on the climbs and through the washes. There is only one long, sustained climb, leading to a high flying descent through 24 Hour Town and Solo Row. The only technical piece in the course is “The Option”. It’s a choice between a faster, higher consequences descent down a rock face or a longer, easier trip around the rock. I dropped The Option twice on our pre-ride, but decided to take the easier route during the race. It took me 1:27 for the pre-ride, at a sustained, moderate effort.

With that piece of information, it was time to plan. Nick was going to do the first two laps and try to get us into a good position. I would ride the next two and then Nick would do the sunset lap and first dark lap. Two night laps for me and then three for Nick since he likes riding at night. I would sleep for a little, then get up and ride two more laps. Nick got the sunrise lap and first full daylight lap. At that point we would trade lap for lap, with Nick getting in just before noon on his tenth lap so I could go out for my eighth lap. We had to stay within two laps of each other, per the race rules. Eighteen laps seemed like a reasonable goal. Nick was feeling fast and this was a good course for me.

Then Nick woke up feeling nauseous on Saturday. His stomach was hurting every time he tried eating. Not a good thing for a 24 hour race. Both Jeff and Greg, our single speed camp mates also felt crappy, but none of the girls in the group were sick. By 11:00, Nick still wasn’t feeling good and hadn’t eaten or drunk as much as he needed. In a race like this, you work with what you are given. The plan we had was fluid. Nick still needed to do the start so we didn’t waste time trying to pass later in the race. Even after not eating, he would still be able to knock out a fast first lap.

The start was a crazy mess. Imagine 500 bikes lining the side of the road and the owners of those bikes careening downhill in cycling shoes. Nick was right in the mix and in a good position entering the single track. I watched the rest of the field stream past, wandered around the expo, took a few pictures and watched the first riders come through the exchange tent. Nick came by in 1:10 – faster then planed, but in a good position. After he came through I headed up to camp to start getting ready to ride.

This is the hard part about duo. You have to be ready to ride at all times, in case something happens to your partner. That means bike clean and lubed, water bottles ready and dressed for riding. For mountain biking, I use a camelback so I don’t have to worry about fumbling with a water bottle. We’d planned on me taking about three hours for each two lap group, so I also needed to get in calories. Nutrition is even more important in 24 hour races then in iron distance racing. I used 5 GU energy gels mixed with 4 scoops of GU2O sports drink and water in the camelback for each grouping of 2 laps. Mixing everything together in the bladder works great because I’m not fumbling with the gel wrappers, I’m drinking and I’m getting in calories that are easy on my stomach.

Nick did his two laps, but the last lap was slower – 1:26. We were still ahead of planned schedule. I took off for my first two laps. The goal was to just settle in a pace that I would be able to maintain for two laps. On my first lap, there was rider who crashed on the Bitches – SAR was working with him, getting him onto a back-board. A sobering reminder to be careful and stay in control going down the hills. I got safely through the Bitches and hit the single track. This is a steamroller, power course. I had to remember to shift so I didn’t blow up my legs on the first lap before the sustained climb. Passing was the hardest part – I’m still not very good and there were so many riders out on the course. Communication was the key with the other riders, both passing and when being passed. I came through on lap one in 1:17 – faster then planned. I needed to back off a little. The race is not won in the first four laps. I settled down and middle ringed more of the false flats in the middle of the course on the second lap. I also took more time with the passes, recovering and drafting when possible. In the middle of my second lap, I saw the flight for life helicopter taking off. I assumed it was for the rider I saw on the bitches. Rachel, Greg’s wife told me later that another rider had actually taken a bad endo off The Option and he was the one helicoptered out of town.

Nick was waiting when I rolled into the tent, finishing my second lap in 1:20. He had his Amoeba light on his helmet, ready for the sunset. After he took off, I rode back up to camp to refuel and regroup for my next set of laps. First order of business was getting some food in me. After talking with Pam Reed at a marathon last year, I started trying Boost and Ensure during triathlons for easy calories. Same principle for 24 hour racing – high calorie and easy to digest that doesn’t take a lot of prep time is perfect. I started drinking an Ensure, then began cleaning and lubing my bike. I also needed to get lights on – my next four laps would all be in the dark. I mounted the Amoeba on my spare helmet and the Nite Rider on the bars. After getting taking care of my bike and my lights, I changed into warmer, dry clothes. It was also time for some solid food and something warm to drink. This would be the routine during every break – drink ensure, clean bike, manage lights, change clothes, eat something solid, then settle down to rest. Joan and Rachel, the girls helping our camp mates, also helped Nick and I out as much as they could.

I rolled into the exchange area, parked my bike and checked the results – we were in 7th place at that time. Old Pueblo did a few really nice things this year. They had live, up to the minute race results at the expo area so you could monitor place and teams. The exchange process was also set up to eliminate a teammate sneaking out before their rider actually arrived. The departing rider had to check in with the volunteer when the arriving rider came into the tent. We had to pass a baton between us and the volunteers had to see the baton each lap. The exchange tent was where all the excitement happened – riders rushing in with bikes, other riders running out to get their bikes and soloists casually rolling through.

Nick was late coming in – the lack of food and water was starting to take a toll on him. I found out later that he had forgotten to take his sunglasses off and rode his entire night lap wondering why his Amoeba wasn’t as bright as normal. Not a good sign for the rest of the race. My legs were feeling the speed on my first lap and the false flats were starting to hurt. I spent more time in the middle ring then on the first set. Night riding on this course was challenging. There were no mental breaks, you had to be mentally focused the whole time. My neck and low back was starting to hurt and I couldn’t stretch anything out without stopping. Passing was slower, but there were fewer people on the course. As Nick says, the race doesn’t start until midnight. I took my time, minded the cacti and just rode. It wasn’t even midnight yet.

I handed off the baton at 11:28. Nick was originally planning on three night laps, but now only wanted to do two because of his stomach. He asked me to be back in three hours, ready to go. Not a problem. I dropped my Nite Rider battery off at their truck for a fast charge and rode up to camp. Same routine as last time – drink ensure, clean bike, change light batteries, change clothes, eat something solid and rest. Joan made me some noodles which I mixed with a clear broth. It was getting cold out, so getting something hot to drink was also important. While Joan cooked the noodles, I made some coffee. Hot coffee at midnight is perfect for 24 Hour racing and the Christopher Bean coffee I had with me tasted so good. After eating, I laid down to close my eyes for a while. Sleeping would be great, but just resting would be fine. Rachel said she’d wake me up at 2:10 so I had time to get my battery from Nite Rider and take care of business.

I got into the exchange tent about 2:50 after Nick started riding. He’d said three hours, so I figured he would be in shortly. And then I waited. And waited. Nick obviously wasn’t doing very well. Forty five minutes later, he finally rolled into the tent, looking miserable. The lack of food and water was starting to take a major toll on him. I headed out onto the darkness for my second set of night laps. I was cruising with my two lights, comfortably avoiding the early cacti. Then I hit the Bitches. Coming down the second Bitch, the Nite Rider on the bars started wobbling and then the light fell off. The bracket holding the light head onto the bars had cracked and broken. I fumbled with the Nite Rider, trying to jury rig the light back onto the bars. No luck. Deciding that I had wasted enough time, I made the choice to roll with just the Amoeba. If I needed more light, I would stop at camp and get a new Nite Rider bracket at the end of my first lap. I never needed to stop. It’s amazing how much light the little Amoeba gives out. It’s lightweight system that mounts completely onto the helmet so there are no long cords to worry about. The one battery on my helmet also lasted the entire three hours I was riding.

Dawn was just starting to break as I finished my last lap. It was still dark enough for Nick to need his light, but he wouldn’t need it for long. The sun was almost up. I also didn’t have much time to get read for my next lap. Nick and I were dropping to one lap each until noon. Nick said it would take him between 1:30 and 1:40 for this lap. I looked at the results before heading up to camp. We’d moved up to fifth place at some point in the night, but the gap between fourth and sixth wasn’t that much. I would need to be on for my next two laps.

Right as predicted, Nick came in just before 1:40. He asked me as I was heading for my bike if I was doing one or two laps. I told him one, because my legs weren’t strong enough for two laps. What I meant to say was that I wanted to run as fast as I could and wanted some recovery time between laps. I took off, flying around the cacti. By this time the Bitches were getting washboarded and rough. On the fourth Bitch, I hit the launcher at high speed. Nick would be proud of the airtime and the smooth landing. Knowing that I would have some time to rest, I hit the single track in the big ring and just steamrolled. I didn’t know where fourth or sixth were on the course, but I wanted to try to make up some time if I could.

Nick was waiting. I handed him the baton and told him to go. I immediately checked the results – we were only 12 minutes behind fourth. I pedaled up the hill, hyper as anything. Only one more lap. All Nick had to do was get in before noon. Jeff, Joan and Rachel were at camp and the girls were making mashed potato and bacon tortillas. The smell was intoxicating. I hadn’t really eaten anything solid since the start of the race. I devoured two tortillas and changed into my only matching kit – the Pikes Peak Triathlon Club uniform. Only problem – the navy knee warmers, Craft socks and booties kinda ruined the professional look. That’s what I get for taking fashion advice from a Texas single speeder.

I headed down to the exchange tent early so I could watch where the other teams were. I was hoping Nick had made up time on fourth place. When they rolled through the tent, I looked at the time. Twelve minutes passed, Nick wasn’t back yet. Eighteen minutes after the fourth place team exchanged, Nick rolled in. All I wanted was the baton. We made the exchange and I ran to my bike. I didn’t know if I could catch her, but I was going to try. Half way through the lap, Dave Weins flew by. I thought I was going fast – a minute later he was out of sight among the cacti. Just after starting the last climb, I passed a woman on a black and white Scott. I thought it was the woman on fourth place, but didn’t take a chance looking over my shoulder. I just kept riding. Nick and I had discussed the Option at the start of the race. This was my last lap and I was feeling good. I took the Option and dropped the rock face.

I cruised into the finish tent and handed over the baton. Then I realized that my legs were nothing but jello. That last time climbing up to camp was torture. My hyper energy was gone and all I wanted to do was sit down and get something to eat. Nick was waiting for me with a tri tip sandwich. I collapsed into the camp chair and started picking out the meat and peppers. Rachel checked the results and informed us that we’d moved up into fourth. I’d managed to catch the other woman.

Fourth place against a really competitive field with Nick feeling like crap was pretty good. The three teams that beat us were all pro/semi pro riders with dedicated crew teams, easy meal prep and access to showers and comfortable places to change. We had a part-time but awesome assistance from Rachel and Joan, a small jet boil and baby wipes and the back of the Jeep. This was my second 24 hour race, and both Nick and I learned a lot that will help us for next year.

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