Rolling in the Sage - 24 Hours in the Sage

2012 24 Hours in the Sage - CoEd Duo Podium
Nick and I -1st; Brynn O'Connell and Dan Loftus - 2nd; Jeannine Anders and  Ryan Sullivan - 3rd
Photo - Patrick Cross
Another successful weekend of riding and hanging out with friends at the Gunnison KOA. You just can't beat the atmosphere at 24 Hours in the Sage - it's laid back and fun, with a nice long ride in the middle of party. Endless food Saturday thru Sunday, plenty of beverages and great people helping out. An outstanding job from KOA Dave, Michael, and the rest of the KOA crew to keep the 24 Hours in the Sage rolling into it's 10th year and once again earning the reputation as the best party on two wheels. Nick and I were there more for the ride then the party, but made sure to enjoy all the festivities before and after noon. Our goal coming into the 24 Hours in the Sage was to make sure the lights were dialed, get comfortable with the new plan and make sure we had a solid between lap system in place.We also wanted to ride 20 laps again and keep the pacing more even this year. Hopefully, no implosion in the last hours! Success on all counts. I think we are as dialed as we can be going into our last 24 hour race of the year.We also rode a solid 20 laps, finishing at 11:31:35 to win the Duo Category. The first Men's duo, Jochem Tans and Peter Robinson, finished with 19 laps at 11:47, and the second place Co-Ed duo of Brynn O'Connell and Dan Loftus rode 18 laps, finishing at 12:27. The race was very close from the start, through most of Saturday and into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Nick and I stayed consistent after the sun set and prized open the gap as the cold and darkness of 2:00 AM descended upon the sage.

Bring it on! We are ready to ride!
Photo - Justine Gehrett
With the rest of the Ascent Cycling gang there as a five person team, the atmosphere was really laid back. While they had gotten third in the 4-man class two years ago, this year it was all about having fun. They did some team laps, Justine did her first 24 hour race, and they all had a nice nap in the middle of the night. It was nice having a group at the race this year. Really made the weekend a fun time. Unlike last year, where we were still trying to run double laps, the plan this year was to alternate every lap. While the rest in double laps is nice, we realized we were giving up about 5-10 minutes every time. Just couldn't ride as fast when riding doubles. We had also learned our lesson last year with Nick pulling the plug on his first double set in the heat. So no doubles - just every other lap all day and all night.

Nick and Lane - waiting for the start
Photo - Justine Gehrett
As usual, Nick started. No la mans start this year - as KOA Dave said, we're mountain bikers, not runners. Nick positioned himself well on the line and was the second rider to make the right hand turn onto Gold Basin road. Out to a good start already, but was a little worried. Nick was supposed to tone it down a little this year - keep it under control and not go redline. And while the story on the road was a little different - he wasn't going to give up a free tow up the road, he had backed off and let some of the four and five person teams around. He still had a sub hour lap time and got me out in the top ten overall.

Taking the first turn onto Gold Basin Rd in 2nd place
This year, I was using my Garmin to gather some data and see how I responded as the day wore into night and then back to day. I also wanted to try to pace myself a little better - in prior races, I'd gone really hard the first few laps, then suffered later the next day. I wanted to avoid that implosion. So on Gold Basin road, I spun easily with one eye on the road and the other on the Garmin and my heart rate. Without power, HR and perceived exertion are the two main measures of how hard I was going. So I kept the HR moderate - not race pace, but not riding. Steady and controlled. Nick had warned me about the change to the start of the lap - no more dirt road right after the black top. Through the parking lot and straight on to singletrack. A fun, flowing addition to the course. I kept the cadence high up Jacks, knowing that the climb would get longer and longer as the race progressed. Into the new climb to reach Behind the Rocks - one steep, sandy kicker and then the Punch Bowl. A new rock feature this year - all rideable, but with only one consistent line. Two right to left traverses in a row - one up the rocks, the other along the edge of the bowl. Keeping even power and trusting the tires to stick was the key. After Nick had shown me the line on the pre-ride and I'd made it, realizing how much time could be gained by riding it, I made it a goal to ride that section every lap. I have to admit, it was really fun and a bit of an ego boost to be able to ride that obstacle and be confident that I would make it. And make it look easy. "Oh, that's how that's done," from a fellow racer and "Rock? What rock?" from a spectator. I had a decent rest of the lap, fun down Alonzo's, the steady climbs of Luge and Broken Shovel, the always fun float down Sea of Sage. Then onto Rocky Ridge - and I fumbled on the two obstacles - the corner and the slab. I'd made them on the pre-ride, so that was frustrating. I also missed the left into the Notch - which I'd gotten on the pre-ride as well. Argh. Hopefully the next few laps would be cleaner.
"Oh - that's the line!" Says #33 - I say, you just got Chicked!
Photo - About the Shot (Thanks Russ!)
My time for the lap was good, but a little slower then I'd planned. Hopefully, the pacing I was using on the road sections would pay off later and I would regain some of those lost minutes. I sent Nick out for his second lap and headed back to the camper. Now was the time to get my routine between laps dialed in. Every break - same things in the same order. That way I didn't forget about something, or rush to get to transition or neglect an important item. First - clean the bike. Sometimes I did that, sometimes Clay and Patrick from Ascent were around and could help. Second - change clothes or at least get clean and warm. Third - refill fluids so that was ready to go. Finally, start eating and drinking. I would add managing lights in the routine as darkness fell. Being late to transition was always a nightmare, so I set a loud kitchen timer. Just enough to keep me from falling asleep, but not loud enough to prevent rest.

After a clearing up a mix up with results, I was ready to ride when Nick came rolling in. Another hot lap coming up. I paced myself on the road again, looking towards the steeper climbs that would need the bursts of energy. Some spectators had arrived and were setting up a camper on the top of the Punch Bowl. They would be there all day and night, cheering for the riders. And when they went to sleep, there was still encouragements from a friend of theirs. A new arrival, leaning against the rocks with a camera in his hand. It was only the weird angle of his arms that gave it away. The photographers mannequin! Nick admitted to saying hello to the dummy and getting a little annoyed he didn't respond! The mannequin started out with the camera, then had a sign saying "Will ride for beer!" with a pile of empty beer cans at his feet, then later at night "Don't stop! Ride faster!" Just one of the reasons 24 hour racing in general and Sage in particular are so much fun. People make the race enjoyable with the silly little things that happen. I almost made the corner on Rocky Ridge, but messed up the slab again. Really frustrating at that point - I felt like I should be able to ride both of those easily. I made the left hand turn into the Notch, but bobbled at the first rock step. Getting closer! The ravine behind the Notch was really starting to get loose and sandy already. I hate that section to begin with so I wasn't riding all that fast on the way back to the road. Better slower and on the bike then faster but in the woods! And then the headwind. Like every year, the afternoon wind had picked up - blowing all the way back to the KOA. I was more then happy to relinquish the baton to Nick.

Waiting for Nick to finish his lap - game face on!
Photo - Justine Gehrett
It was still early in the day - not even 4:30. I had one more full daylight lap left, but I wasn't looking forward to the wind again. It's one of those catch 22 things - skip the road and the inevitable head wind coming back from the single track and have the whole race at Hartman rocks - but lose the awesome venue that is the KOA. Or ride 4 miles of blacktop, have KOA Dave and crew taking care of us, with warm food, hot showers, power and activities for kids. Humm - I'll take the black top for sure! Everyone has to ride it. I was just unlucky enough to never find someone to draft off of on those two mile sections. I also haven't decided if it's worse at day - when the road just stretches off into the distance, the slight incline in both directions evident. Or at night, when the lights dance in the darkness, a trail to follow into the mountains.

But the third lap was the charm for the Rocky Ridge. While I didn't get the slab - which was already starting to get really sandy at the approach, I did remember the line for the corner. Finally! I would make that little section for the rest of the race. As for the Notch... Well, I ended up walking the whole approach. I hit my hand on a tree just before the final rock slab and lost all speed. Oops. Silly mistake. Obviously, there are plenty of things I need to work on still - like avoiding the trees!

Once again, I would have the sunset lap. Three 24 hour races, three sunset laps this year. And this was the best of the three. Armed with my Exposure Lights - Toro and Diablo - I set off for my fourth lap as the sun started drifting low in the horizon. There were enough clouds in the sky to provide beautiful color with the sunset - yellows, oranges, magentas and purples painting the deepening blue sky. I kept stealing glances away from the rock gardens to look at the clouds! The wind had also died down and it was perfect riding weather. Then the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky darkened from blue to purple to black. With the touch of a button, the Toro roared to life - flooding the trail and sage brush with light. We'd just gotten the remote switches for the lights, so there was no more fumbling in the dark for buttons. I had the on-off switch right by my thumb, which was so nice. But the nicest part was floating down Sea of Sage in the darkness - nothing but a ribbon of trail illuminated by my lights. That has to be one of the most exhilarating aspects of 24 hour racing - that awareness of the trail that only comes at night. And this lap, I cleaned Rocky Ridge - from start to finish - from the climb to descent down to Becks. I'm not sure how I made the slab, but I did that one time. I didn't get the Notch though - just made the left turn then dabbed badly. Oh well - a clean lap would be nice.
Making the exchange - with me heading out into the sage
Photo - Justin Gehrett
Nick took off on the first full night lap. I checked the results - we were up about 30 minutes on the second place team. A decent gap, but one that a bad mechanical or crash could eliminate easily. Time to stay focused, ride smart and stay safe on the trails. And to be smart while in pit. And that's where the teamwork of 24 hour racing comes into play. Some warm chicken soup was waiting for me back at the camper. I'd used rice this time and kept a higher broth level then usual. Mmm - it was so good. Something warm and easy to eat is always a good boost in the middle of the night. And now we were firmly in the clutches of darkness. The KOA was quiet, with only the faint sounds of racers moving between transition and pit audible. It was also time to start focusing on clothes - striking the balance between the cold, damp air in the valley and cool but dry air out on the single track. Bundle up for the road and roast on the trails or shiver on the road and be comfortable on the single track. While waiting for Nick to arrive between all the night laps, I stayed warm in his heavy coat and close to the heater in the timing tent. Starting the laps cold wouldn't be smart. I did see plenty of people shivering on the road this year as the temperature dropped from 66 to 54 to 43 between my night laps.

But the fun of the ride made up for the chill in the air. A new moon meant the only lights on the trail came from the racers. I had plenty of lumens for my night laps. And I cleaned the Notch. Up the rock slabs, passed the tree, made the left hand turn into the crack, up the two rock steps in the crack... Whoo-hoo! Almost cheered aloud, but I didn't want to scare anyone out there, or make the riders behind me think I'd crashed. But I was super excited about that - my first time riding that whole section. And I'd make a few more clean run through before the end of the race. Overall, I really had fun on the night laps this year. It was quiet, save for the yipping of coyotes and the antics of Chickens. Scattered dots of light pinpointed the trail for the entire lap. Tracing the switchbacks up Jacks - a reminder of the climb approaching. The occasional flash of light at the top of the Notch, only visible from Gold Basin road. Beams winding in and out of Behind the Rocks, down Alonzo's, up Luge and Broken Shovel. The lights on Sea of Sage and the climb to Rocky Ridge as I entered Broken Shovel. It's a lot of fun riding out there at night. I could be all alone on the trail but never feel alone thanks to the lights meandering around the course ahead and behind me.

So far, we were doing really good, hitting nice consistent lap times. I hadn't yet started to feel that deep fatigue that precipitated the implosion at Old Pueblo this year. I had slowed down by a few minutes, but was still running faster then the planned lap times. But I could feel how tired I was as the sunrise lap approached. Hopefully, the infusion of light and warmth from the sun would keep me riding fast. But on the road, I could tell - it was going to be slow. At my check point about halfway through the lap, I was four minutes slower then my last two laps. Ugh. That meant I might lose upwards of 6 minutes on this lap! I kept my focus on the trail and on riding, not on trying to make up time. Through Rocky Ridge and I was walking the slab every lap now - just too sandy and loose. The time lost in walking was far better the crashing for sure. I was getting better with the Notch though, at about 50% success rate with the left hand turn and a few mostly clean runs through with only a small dab. Amazingly, when I returned to the KOA, I hadn't lost any more time. I was still only 4 minutes slower then my prior two laps. Hopefully for my last two laps, I would be able to regain my speed. Some clean clothes and warm food at the turtle lifted my spirits. I love the night riding, but the cold was wearing on me.

Back of the Pack founder Judd,
hydrating for the race....
The sunlight was warming the air and racers around were starting to stir. The end of the day was in sight. How many more laps left to ride before the 11:00am cut off? I headed out for my second to last lap, energized by the flurry of activity on the course. I did catch the Back of the Pack crew this lap - they had corralled the sheep for the 24 Hours in the Sage and were racing in the Townie World Championships - on brand new, shiny white Walmart cruiser bikes. I'd seen them a few times - heading out while I was heading in, but this was the first time to say hello. They were having fun, but questioning the sanity of riding townies in stead of the reliable Black Sheep. Definitely sympathetic - those hills were getting long for me, and I was pedaling, not pushing! Still a little slow at my checkpoint, but the time was back down to where I wanted. I wasn't imploding - I was holding on to the tempo. That pacing and staring at the HRM so many hours ago was paying off. Instead of slowing down and mentally breaking because of the slow down, I was back to a speedy lap time and energized for my final lap. Nick was also ready for his last lap and said he was gonna try to make it a fast one.

One more lap. That's all that was left in the race. And unlike 2010, where I left transition being chased, with the race on the line, all I needed to do was finish. Somewhere in the night, we'd distanced ourselves from the second place team. I don't know what happened - if one of the riders got hurt or there was a bad mechanical or what. Up until the 10th lap, it had been less then 30 minutes between us. Now, we were nearly 2 laps ahead. So Nick told me to just ride smart and make sure I finished in one piece. That was my plan, but on Jacks, I saw another woman behind me. Only in Sage - when she finally caught me at the base of Luge, just before the Cottonwood grove, we both recognized each other! We'd both done the last lap last year - with her catching me in almost the same spot. We talked for a bit on the double track, then I followed her up Broken Shovel. And unlike last year, where i was suffering and wanting to be off the bike, I was feeling good. I had no clue how hard or how fast I was riding - my Garmin battery had died on Broken Shovel. Oh well - I didn't need to worry about pacing anymore! But mentally, I was ready to ride. I passed her back on the road between Broken Shovel and Sea of Sage. A smooth, fast fun down Sea of Sage, up along Rocky Ridge and down into the Notch. I didn't get a chance to have one final attempt at the Notch - there was some traffic and I didn't feel like being rude. But that was fine. I'd conquered the Notch - my fear and dread each time I looked up at the rock slabs had been replaced with confidence. I know how to ride it now, and how to get down the other side safely. Confidence on technical riding that I will need come the end of September.
Champagne Shower! Time to party!
Photo - Justine Gerhett

Nick greeted me at the finish line - we'd successfully defended our Duo title and had a much smoother race then last year. And had a much more enjoyable weekend, thanks to the rest of the crew from Ascent showing up this year. We had a great time after the awards, cooking gigantic marshmallows, telling stories and enjoying the other great part of 24 hour races - the party after the race!


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