2011 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Race Report

Second Place Co-Ed Duo
The story of the 2011 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was not just rider vs rider and team vs team but riders vs the elements. With an outline writ in wind, the tale quickly turned into what will be known as the Arizona Hurricane. This race did not start between midnight and 2:00am like most 24 hour races, but at 5:30 pm as waves of mist, fog and rain were driven across the desert by gale force winds. By Noon on Sunday, Team TopoFusion/Gooney Riders of Scott Morris and Eszther Horanyi proved themselves strongest physically and mentally, covering 18 laps at 12:02. Nick and I finished second, one step higher on the podium, with 18 laps at 12:58:24. We had a solid race despite the adverse conditions, a few miscalculations, and one late exchange. In third place, Las Chupacabras with Jill Hueckman and Erick Lord completed 17 laps at 1:06:05. All the athletes who persevered into the rain and wind should be proud of their achievements and success at the 2011 edition of 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo!

As with most days that week, race day dawned cloudy and windy with a touch of moisture in the air. Nick was starting again and was not looking forward to the run. We were better prepared for a quick bike hand off this time, with a tall flag for him to look for. Even wearing a bright shirt, I'm a little short to be seen easily in that kind of crowd! As I watched fellow bike holder cramming into the narrow road, the wind whipped up dust eddies along the trail - not a good omen! Then silence developing into a hyper buzz, followed by the madness of the Les Mans start. Nick was there and gone - into the gathering storm. I watched a few more minuted of the insanity of riders grabbing bikes and attempting to mount while runners streamed by. Then it was time time get ready to ride. We had decided to change things up a little and have me ride the second lap so that Nick could run a little faster then have time to recover. While I was a changing, the two easy up tents in the campsite started creaking and moaning in the wind - hints of things to come. Then into the transition tent to wait for Nick. I knew that he would be one of the earlier riders in so I wormed my way through the throng of riders waiting to start.

Sure enough, he was in just a little behind our estimated schedule. I took the baton and he sent me off into the desert with the warning "it's windy, be careful." And windy it was. On the first section of single track before the bitches I was getting blown around something fierce, nearly ending up in the cacti a few times. I was making good headway on the gasline road despite the ferocious head-cross wind. A few riders passed me and I managed to pass a few others guys. Then one rider just jumped on my wheel and stayed there. I slowed a little, hoping to shake him - nope, he wanted the draft. So I "politely" informed him that we were in different classes and that we could play nice and work together. Chagrined, he started helping and we took turns pulling down the road and into Corral trail. At the left hand turn, with the wind a cross tail wind, we went our separate ways. The rest of the lap seemed to go by pretty quickly and smoothly - just fighting the wind and dodging cacti. Everyone was cool with passing and things seemed to be good. But the wind and the cacti were conspiring to claim another victim and and an un-needed challenge. At the end of Junebug trail, just before the road crossing, I miscalculated a corner just a little. Wouldn't have mattered normally, but right as I entered the corner, the wind gusted and blew me across the trail. I saw the prickly pear and braced for impact. On the other side, I looked down - my bootie was covered in spines, as was my shin. There was no way I was getting those out without help. But it didn't hurt to pedal and as long as it didn't hurt I had to keep riding. My shin actually hurt more from the impact then the new piercings. I made it up Highpoint and into the transition tent - as long as I didn't touch my leg, I was fine.

Until the dismount as the tent. I hoped off my bike to walk to the table and kept hopping! I could not point or flex my ankle at all and walking was near impossible. Checked in and out to the amazed stares of the volunteers and other racers, climbed back on my bike and soft pedaled out of the tent. Nick was waiting - he looking worried. I told him I was okay and fine riding - I had just whacked a cacti. (Can't say the cacti won - I think this round was a draw) Riding was still okay as long as nothing touched my leg. So off I rode into the wind, dust and cacti for my second lap. I was doing good, maintaining a steady pace despite the wind. There were a few times that I got a little close to some of the bushes or something brushed my leg, then a few seconds of stabbing pain. Other then that, I felt pretty good. The wind was starting to get demoralizing as my lap times were slower then we had done the pre ride in! Once again up high point and down the option to the cheers of the crowd and I was into the transition tent. Nick took the baton and set off into the darkening desert. Me? I set off for the medical tent for cacti removal. The medical team - awesome, thank you so much for giving a weekend of your time to help out us crazy riders - looked at me and said "you might have to take a number, we've had a few of you today." I didn't have to wait too long as I wasn't bleeding (badly) and didn't need any privacy to get the spines out. The other funny comment? "Thanks for shaving. It makes it so much easier to get these things out."

Had some issues with that one at times!
After getting the spines pulled out, I pedaled back to camp. And man, Nick had been busy! Those two pop-ups that had been creaking before? One was in pieces by the camper, the other was lowered to about two feet off the ground. Those tire chains we'd needed to get to Tucson last year? Well, they made great weights to keep the tent in the ground! The windshield cover was also firmly in place - with nearly a roll of duct tape holding in down. I parked my bike, cleaned and lubed the chain and started getting ready to ride the first two night laps of the race. With an eye on the gathering clouds, I mounted Amoeba lights to both my bars and helmet. Blue sky to the east, but to the west... An ominous wall stretched across the valley. The wind had intensified and was shaking the Turtle as I was mixing my bottle of Gu Brew and Gu. The clouds were drawing closer, a menacing advance of wind and water. I remembered that Nick had left in jersey and bibs - could not remember if he'd had brought a vest of jacket with him. I didn't have much time - I dug through his clothes and found a wind jacket. I thought about a warmer pair of gloves, but decided against searching. Better just a jacket then missing him completely. By the time I got to the transition tent, the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees and the wall of clouds had grown significantly closer. I could also feel  moisture in the air, a cold, bone-chilling dampness that cut through you. The temperature continued to drop while I waited for Nick to come through. While I was waiting, I felt eyes watching every move. I looked up and saw a helper for one of the other Co-Ed teams staring at me. But then Nick came in and I had to get busy. I gave him the jacket and offered clear glasses. He said no to the glasses and that it was getting cold out there, then headed back onto the trail. Hoping everything would be okay, I headed back to the camper.

The temperature kept dropping in to the low 40s. The wall of clouds enveloped 24 Hour Town in a heavy, soaking mist. The game had changed. All plans made in the sunshine of the prior week were useless as the mist solidified into fog and rain. I made some different clothing choices for the rest of the race, including wool socks and my Gore Jacket. Those two items would be key in staying comfortable while riding. I have never raced in my Gore Jacket before....

Bundled up with lights ready, I went to the transition tent to wait for Nick. Time dragged as I was waiting, watching the clock. It seemed most riders finishing their laps had lights now - Nick had not left with a light for that last lap. The clouds had brought an early darkness to the course and the fog reflected the lights of riders off in the distance. Still no Nick - it was cold, dark and wet - anything could have happened on course. I was getting worried - it was well past when he should have finished the lap. Finally, Nick rolled in. Those gloves I hadn't looked for would have made all the difference. He hadn't been able to feel his hands for most of that lap and had been shifting with his palms because his fingers were numb.

This time the warning was to ride smart and ride comfortable - It's getting slippery out there. Slippery was an understatement, as the mist turned to a driving rain turned horizontal by the wind shortly after I started my lap. The rocky section of trail just outside the transition tent was treacherous and slick and conditions did not improve. I settled into a steady, careful pace through the Bitches, creeping down the back sides because I could not see much between the rain and mud pounding my face. Onto the single track and all I could see was a couple of yards in front of me because of the rain. I was getting soaked quickly. The wind roared around, echoing in my ears despite my headband, drowning out any other sounds. My only clue of riders around me was the faint beams of light in the darkness. At least until the left turn on Corral Trail. Then, with the wind at my back, it was eerily silent. The rain and clouds absorbed the sounds of the night, leaving the trail quiet. I picked my way around the cacti, moving at a pace fast enough to stay warm but not so fast that I would start over heating. The wind continued to buffet the few riders on the course, demanding submission. The entire descent from Highpoint was a test of keeping the bike on a trail that was becoming a stream while staying upright against 50mph wind gusts.

Nick met me at the tent to make sure I was okay. Despite being soaked and muddy, I was fine. I had dressed well for the conditions and was warm while I was riding. So out I went again. This would be my hardest lap of the race, as the wind continued to gust past 50mph, the temperature had dropped to just below 40, the rain pelted the course and the trail was rapidly deteriorating. I wanted to skip the bitches because I had been so slow riding down them on the last lap. But a group of riders I was catching took the by-pass. I didn't know that trail well, but I knew there wasn't much room for passing. So back to the bitches I went. Still slow going down, so slow that I had little momentum for the climb up the front! Finally off the bitches, onto the flat gasline road. The trail was getting so muddy that I was starting to have problems shifting - the front derailleur was already covered in slime and gravel and getting into the big ring for the road was a challenge. No more big ring for the rest of that lap! The rear derailleur was quickly following suit - as the lap progressed I was quickly running out of available gears. Finally, I decided to stop bother trying to shift and ran as a single speed for the rest of the lap. My front brake were dragging and squealing and grinding from the sand covering my bike. I used some water to clean it off a little while on a straighter section of trail. It helped, a little, but it was a loosing battle. The rain had stopped, but I was beyond soaked by the time I got to the tent.

I gave Nick the baton, told him it was drying out a little and shivered my way to the camper. I'd been fine while riding, but the minute I stopped, my body temperature plunged. Rachel (sharing our camp and camper with us to help out her husband Greg and a friend Shawn, who were both racing SS solo) took the used batteries to the neutral charging station. Without looking at my bike, I vanished into the camper to crank the furnace up and get warm. With hot air blasting, I stripped off the wet and muddy clothes - and by muddy, I mean filthy - nothing was clean. As I peeled off soaked socks, dripping gloves and drenched knee warmers, it was apparent why I had started shivering so quickly after finishing. I bundled up into dry sweatpants and sweat shirt and warmed up some soup. Heaven in a bike race - eating warm soup with my toes resting on the furnace grate! At last I was warm! Instead of going outside and taking care of getting the Era cleaned and changing batteries, I curled up under the covers for a while. Nick's note said he would ride about 1:25 for each lap, so I figured I had plenty of time.

My alarm went off and I started scrambling. None of the things I normally do before resting were done- mixing a new water bottle, getting some food, cleaning my bike, new batteries for my lights... I had about 10 minutes to get is all done. I was doing pretty good until it came to cleaning my bike. The two laps in the rain had coated my bike in mud, sand and gravel. This was not a quick rinse off and lube the chain cleaning. I tried, but in hind sight, should have immediately gone to the spare bike. Instead I wasted time trying to get the Era rideable. When I finally gave up and swapped lights and batteries to the Tomac, I was already late. When I got to the transition tent, Nick was already there. He was chatting with Nate from CTS, looking slightly annoyed at me. He gently reminded me of the rule "10 minutes early, always" and sent me on my way with instructions to not try to make up the 10 minutes I had lost.

The rain had stopped a long time ago and the trail was drying out. Without the rain and the mud, I was able to make some good time on bitches and gas line road. It was tempting to try to ride fast and get the time back, but without night riding experience this year I was feeling a little out of place in the dark. So it was a steady pace that would keep me on the trail and out of the cacti. There were more people on the trail, lured out of tents and campers by the dry trail and fast conditions. Passing was really easy though, with most riders responding well to a friendly "hello" and "Thanks." I tried to return the favor whenever the faster 4 person teams came up behind me. Just once did I make someone wait - it was only a few 100 yards to the road at Golf, and there was no place really safe to pull over in the wash. Lights bobbed around in the darkness, illuminating the trail and the cacti. I was sleepy tired, but felt pretty good riding. All the volunteers were out, hanging around by their fires. I mad sure to say thanks to everyone I saw - I've helped at a few of these races and it's a long night no matter what your job is!

Coming into transition to start my second lap, I managed to completely flummox the volunteers with my make-shift number plate. This year, the race was using a micro-chip to help with the manual timing. Well in my rush to change light and get a new bike ready to ride, I hadn't even considered that it would be an issue. Note to race organizers - even Duo racers should get two number plates, bike issues happen... But then I was off again, shrugging my shoulders that having the "wrong" number plate would be such a concern - I had a number on my bike. And for it to be an issue on such a crappy weather day. Oh well, focus on riding and staying upright. The wind was still gusting across the trail, a variable head wind that shifted on each section of single track. By this time, more and more riders were on the trail and many of them were still looking a little shell shocked from the "Arizona Hurricane" that had sent them into hiding. I was utterly surprised by the number of people who completely pulled to the side of the trail and stopped when I said hello behind them! I didn't feel like I was riding that fast, the 4 and 5 person teams were still flying around me.

Nick was waiting for me. I gave him the baton and he vanished into the desert. His first two night laps and this set of night laps were on his single speed because of the sloppy conditions. The end of the race was closing in quickly with less then nine hours left to ride. My next lap would be the sunrise lap, if the clouds lifted enough to grace us with a pretty sunrise. Mostly, I was looking forward to only having to ride one lap at a time for the next three laps. I fetched the charged batteries from the neutral charging station, replaced the batteries on my bike and helmet and then cleaned my bike a little. This time, I did everything first, before laying down! Nick had left out some smoked salmon, so I had that on rice cakes. Really good - a nice change in flavors from everything else I'd been eating. Then time to rest for a little. I curled up with the blankets, listening to the wind howling and the announcers in the transition tent reading off numbers. When my alarm went off, it was still cold, still damp, and still dark. No sign of sunrise yet. I hopped on my bike a coasted to the tent, comfortable in the knowledge that I only needed to ride one lap, but I needed to ride it fast. Eating a Mounds bar while I waited, I watched riders streaming in and out of the tent. With dawn approaching, the press for time was on.

Nick came into transition, handed off to me and held up two fingers. I looked at him - no, only riding one. "No, you need to do two. What can I bring you?" It wasn't a question, it was a statement. "Fresh helmet and sunglasses" With that, the mental preparation for riding one lap at  faster pace was gone. I was doing two laps again. (He would tell me later that his knee was hurting really badly and he wanted the extra time to rest and ice it.) But now the trail was tight and fast, like rolling on black top. With speeds higher then I was used to, I needed to focus on the single track - one section at a time. It was still dark - the sun was taking it's time. I ran with full lights for about half the lap, then the sky started lightening enough to not need them. The clouds were still oppressively low and the wind fighting forward momentum at every turn. I kept riding, hoping that Nick would change his mind - we needed speed now, not endurance. I was starting to feel a little spunky again - a relative term at the end of 24 hours - and cruised through the twisty backside of His and Hers and the gradual climbs on Junebug. Up Highpoint, with the wind screaming down the mountainside and funneled into the saddle crossing. I sailed through the descent and dropped the option. Like last year, I had started taking the easier route when darkness came, not yet willing to try riding it at night. Add rain to the mix and the option was completely out. But now it was dry and I felt good making the turn and riding the rock face.


Making the turn at Whiskey Tree

The volunteer at the transition tent asked me who was going out next. I looked around and inwardly groaned. "I guess I am, since he's still in his PJs over there," and checked out for my 8th lap of the race. Nick gave my sunglasses, a fresh helmet, made me drink some red bull and eat some GU Chomps. And I was off again. My legs were tired, my shin ached from the cacti encounter hours before and I was getting a blister on my finger from my gloves. None of that mattered. Our goal of 19 laps was long gone (The Plan is dead, long live the Plan) but we still wanted 18 laps. And the clock was ticking steadily towards noon. It was completely light now, but not warming up. I was happy that I'd decided to wear my CTS wind jacket for this lap as the wind showed no signs of letting up. Now that the sun was up, the entire race was back in action. Calling my passes and picking the lines was so much easier in the light! It seemed to be a constant flow, back and forth - from passer to passee. I had one goal - finish my lap before 9:00. I powered through the shorter climbs, used every inch of the trail in the twisty sections and pushed the pace as much as I could. At 9:02, I rolled into the transition tent and checked out, telling Nick he was doing two laps.

At that point, I knew/hoped that we had 18 laps for sure. There was still time, something could happen and derail our momentum. But Nick had three hours to ride those two laps. I needed to make sure I was ready to roll. Back at the camper, I tried to eat something. Nothing sounded good - not my oatmeal, not my Chomps, nothing. I stared at the shelves of food for a while, then made some coffee and ate another mounds bar. Yep, high quality 24 Hour race fuel! Nibbling on some Oreos and drinking my coffee, I ambled down to the tent. I wanted to make sure that Nick was good for his two laps. With the sun up, the energy was back in town. The transition tent buzzed with racers hoping to beat the clock and planning strategy. Nick was back on his geared bike and came through transition much quicker then I had anticipated. He had quick word with the volunteer, told me he was doing good and headed back out. Spirit buoyed by the anticipation of my 9th lap (although it might have been the coffee) I returned to the camper to get ready. There is something about that last lap in a 24 hour race. You know the number of people behind you is limited and there are no second chances. You can't start the party until you cross the line because you don't know what will happen. But you can't try to make up too much time on anyone so you still have to ride smart and be careful.

Coming off the Option - Last Lap
When Nick came in I was ready to go. It was just after 11:30. Nick gave me the baton, telling me to ride smart, be safe and watch the road crossing. At first I was planning on riding at a comfortable pace, making sure that I finished in one piece. But the race was still one - the clock was still ticking and I didn't know what our margin on 3rd was. So much for riding comfortable! I caught air off all the bitches, enjoying the fast, smooth road. A steady tempo on the road and a wave to all the volunteers, then onto Corral trail. That's one of my favorite trails, even with the wind - fast and flowing. I was passing and being passed - for some teams it was a celebration lap, for others finish positions were on the line. Driving around whisky tree and I heard Nick hooting. He'd made it over to get some pictures and watch the race. I could feel how tired I was on the climbs, but didn't care. It was the last lap. This time, I was ready for the wind tunnel effect while climbing high point. On the lower, straighter slopes, I got my wind vest zipped, prepared for the screaming wind funneled into that single pass in the mountains. I had great run at the downhill, passing a few guys along the way. Confidently dropping the option, I cruised into the transition tent for the final time at 12:58. (One thing I like about returning to races is the concrete feedback of improvement. The first year Nick and I race OP, I only did the option once - on my last lap. Last year, I did it every daylight lap, but was a little nervous. This year, no issues at all.)

While we didn't meet our pre-race goal, with a plan set up for good weather, we still had a solid race. Our finish time was only 48 minutes slower then last year, in much worse weather. I also rode one more lap then last year (nine and nine, vs ten and eight) and still managed to hold decent lap times even as I was getting tired. This was also the first 24 hour race after Nick realized that he needed to eat gluten free. While he didn't have any stomach issues or bonking issues like in prior races, a lot of his favorite race food is now off limits. We we had a pretty steep learning curve to figure out what will work and taste good for him at 2:30 AM. We also learned a little more about racing strategy - from food to lights to pacing and clothes. This was a good test of all our equipment thanks to the adverse conditions and good test of our mental toughness to keep riding in the Arizona Hurricane! While training leading up to the race might not have been optimal, we showed up and raced with the best we had. And I am really happy that the race was not Sunday-Monday! There was frost on the Chimena Monday morning when we woke up!

A huge thanks to all my (our) sponsors for the support in getting to the race, 24 hour racing is hard enough and the support makes it easier. CTS for the awesome coaching. GU for race nutrition that gets me through the night and into the next day. Beljum Budder - it's a 24 hour race, enough said! Amoeba lights - after watching riders struggling with lights, cords and batteries, it's such a relief to be able to run such a light, compact system on bars and helmet. And finally, Ascent Cycling in COS for bike and mechanical support. They are a knowledgeable, fun group of cycling enthusiasts and it felt great to be flying the Ascent colors on those last laps

Comments

  1. Congrats! Great writeup, too.

    baker

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice report, I enjoyed reading it. The double lap strategy is interesting--a longer break is attractive sometimes.

    Thanks for the race!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great Write up. Congratulations!

    ReplyDelete

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