The Learning Curve of 24 Hrs in the Old Pueblo, 2013
Wow! What a race this year. It was close between the top five teams until midnight, then an even tighter duel for second as noon approached. As expected, Nat Ross and Rebecca Rusch began building a lead quickly. While they may have looked back a few times, it was a fifty minute lead as they finished with 20 laps at 12:17:05. Our race for second was much closer. After moving up from fourth and prying open the narrowest of gaps, we found ourselves in a seven hour race and evenly matched. I think it was our experience with 24 hour racing that allowed us to eke out the narrowest of margins over Kevin and Beth Utley. Cograts to all the Co-Ed Duo teams (29 started this year! Huge field for Coed Duo.) The top five teams.....
The King and Queen of Pain - Nat Ross & Rebbeca Rusch - 20 laps, 12:17:05
Learning Curve - Nick and I - 20 laps, 1:02:55
That's MR and MRS Utley to You! - Kevin & Beth Utley - 20 laps, 1:04:07
Spidey Buzz - Chris Alstrin & Laura Anderson - 19 laps, 12:46:53
Summit Velo - Kyle Stamp & Stephanie Jones - 18 laps, 12:10:40
The wind that had buffeted 24 Hour Town intensified for the start. I knew it was going to be a hard and slow lap for Nick between the gusting winds and his position in the run. Lots of fast mountain bikers pretending to be runners showed up this year! I showed up to the tent early enough to watch the first riders coming in - it was much more crowded then prior years. Finding a place to park my bike was one of the bigger challenges of the race, and it never really quieted down in transition. There were lots of bikes waiting for riders. I wormed my way to the front to watch and wait. There were tons of fast riders, but I was mainly worried about Nat and Rebecca. The minutes ticked by. The times were all slow, even with the wind. Nat was in and out - where was Nick? Even Nat was slower than last year, so I wasn't worried. We were in a good position when Nick rolled in - only a few minutes behind. Then it was my turn to head out into the wind.
I was more concerned about the Bitches then anything. Without a full pre-ride, I didn't know what to expect. There were a few new ruts and whoops and some different lines. I was more cautious than usual that first lap - there was a long way to go. As we turned into the wind on Corral trail, I started searching for wheels. I was going to do as much drafting as possible on the next two sections of trail. Most of the guys who passed me were much faster, but I always hung on a little bit to get some shelter from the incessant head wind. But I did get lucky. Amanda Carey of the Stan's/NoTubes Women's Elite team passed me and I was able to tuck right onto her wheel. I stayed with her as long as I could - which was much longer then at the Breck 100 last year! Then it was time to back off a little. Blowing up trying match Amanda, who was on a four women's team, wouldn't help our race. Despite the wind and riding cautiously, I still managed my second fastest lap time ever. Only nine more to go!
Nick's second lap was much slower as the crowds had stretched out and he had lots of people to pass. I was also slower on my second lap (team's 4th) without a solid draft. But I wasn't expending as much energy passing this year. The passing was much better than last year, despite the record numbers. I only had a few issues the whole race. Most of the people passing me were really nice and polite - willing to wait till it was safe and not getting rude or impatient. And everyone I was passing moved over pretty quickly - but when it was clear, acknowledging that they heard I wanted around. I really love it when people communicate. It makes it so much easier and safer on both parties. I was actually one who made a crappy pass! I was tucked in behind one of the four man teams on a night lap and didn't have quite enough space to get around. Luckily, I was able to apologize on my next lap!
The gaps were really close. Rebecca wasn't putting ten minutes into me each lap, but one of the other teams had a super strong woman rider. Faster than me for the short stuff! But we were just entering the meat of the race as a sunset approached. I was looking forward to the night laps this year. More practice with night riding and awesome lights - 400 more lumens then last year! Instead of getting bright beamed when riders came up behind me, I was the one doing the bright beaming! It was great. What a difference a few hundred lumens can make!
As usual, I was riding down the Bitches into the setting sun. Then came the darkness and respite from the drying heat. I would normally say the stillness of darkness as the wind has traditionally died down at sunset. But not this year - there would be no respite from battling the wind. This year, the wind kept howling, adding to the stress of the 24 hour race. I continued my tactical racing, searching for wheels and drafting as much as I could. I did offer a draft to a few solo riders, but mostly just rode. Everyone was slowing and getting tired from the wind. Nick and I were both still riding strong, but falling off our pre-race plan. The heat and wind had taken a toll on both of us. Our times were still consistent and we were close to our goal of 10 laps by midnight. I finished at 12:05:42 - well within the range for hitting the ultimate goal of 20 laps this year. Nat and Rebecca were only 25 minutes ahead of us and we'd gotten some space on 3rd place. It had taken twelve hours, but the gaps were starting to stretch out. We only had 12 minutes on 3rd, which wasn't enough - much too close for comfort.
I had turned five sub 1:20 laps and was on pace for a sixth as I headed into the darkness for the 12th lap of the race. I was feeling a little tired, but still smooth and fast - matching my time checks for the two prior loops. My confidence was soaring. No stomach issues - still eating and drinking well. Our makeshift camp was holding up and we were almost matching Nat and Rebecca. Ahh, confidence. Pride does come before the fall - or in this case, the flat. In the middle of Junebug, on one of the wider sections of trail, a sharp rock jumped out in front of me. Nick has warned me on many occasions about that. I'm riding faster, with much less suspension. I need to be aware of these things. I can't just ramrod my way through the rocks anymore, expecting the bike to take it all. Well, I didn't make the right maneuvers and hit the rock right on the side of my tire. Stan's explosion!! Phfft.... Flat! I didn't even attempt to pump the tire up. I went right into tube mode. I would like to say it was a quick, efficient repair, but - it wasn't. Not even close. I haven't practiced like I should have and I was slow. I did everything right - out of order a few times, so I wasn't fast as all. And I knew as I was dealing with the flat that all of the time we'd gained on 3rd place was gone. But that's part of racing. At least I knew what to do and had the tools to do it right. (Thanks Nick!)
I was right. Our lead on 3rd had evaporated. I came into transition just behind Beth Utley, having followed her down through town. A mere 2 seconds separated our teams - it was a race again! And I needed some help with my Fate. I knew I could run a tube the rest of the race, but I didn't trust the tire (sidewall tear) and also didn't want to risk hitting a cacti with a tube. Setting up a tubeless tire is something I've only done in the warm, safe garage with Nick supervising. I've never done it at a race, half asleep, in the dark. It's good to have friends. While Nick and I were busy with our normal two person show, we were camped with our Breckenridge friends - Dax Massey and the Light and Motion team. And they were all set up with a mechanic - Ben from Ogden UT - and all the tools needed. Just my luck, Ben had gone to bed just before I'd finished. But when I rolled into camp, looking stressed with Stan's everywhere, the rest of the group jumped into action. Jake Wells took my wheel from me and mounted the new tire for me. And he was racing as well - on the L+M team. The one time I needed another set of hands, they were there. Thanks Ben and Jake for everything - lifesavers this year.
I still rode the Era for my next two laps. I wanted to give the new front tire a chance to make sure it held air before getting back on the Fate. We could not afford another mechanical. Those two laps were my slowest non-mechanical lap. One final night lap and the sunrise lap. Remind me to wear a cycling cap for the sunrise lap next year instead of riding the whole back half of the course into the rising sun! After then sunrise lap, I decided it was time to swap back to the Fate. I wanted the stiffness of the hardtail for the climbs and with two laps left to ride (four for the team) I also needed as much speed as I could muster. It was going to be close and efficiency on the flats would gain me more than the suspension on the descent.
I got to the tent and claimed a chair. No sense wasting energy standing - I had ridden 8 laps and Nick was out on the team's 17th lap at that point. Beth Utley arrived with her entourage a few minutes after I did. I took a careful look at what she was wearing. I wanted to know what to look for on course. Bright green compression socks - that was enough. Then I returned to watching riders finishing. Who would be first? My husband or hers?
I was close enough to hear her talking about the race. So instead of being my normal social self in tent, I listened to her. We were both heading out for our 9th laps - the 18th lap for the team. I was planning that I would ride 10 and Nick & I would finish would 20 laps. But... "We're only 1:30 behind second place right now. Some couple - the Thelens. They got second last year. Only 19 laps." All true. We'd flirted with 20, then I had imploded and dashed our chances. "This is my last lap. I'm gonna turn myself inside out and get them." Cool. But it wasn't gonna be the last lap. I knew she was faster than me - her 1:06 lap Saturday proved it. But if she was planning on leaving it all out there on this lap, we had a chance. Because there were three laps left to race - two for me and one for Nick. If we rode smart, we could regain any time she put into me. Especially when she was also saying she was afraid to sit since she might not get back up again!
Nick was first in. I took the baton, told him "Green Socks" and ran to my bike. I was the hunted, the quarry. Let the chase begin. I attacked the Bitches - powering up the hills and launching the descents. My goal was to the around the out and back section before she saw me. I didn't quite make it - she was motoring into the right hand turn as I made my right turn. How long would I be able to hold her off? Onto the road section after Corral and no green socks yet. It was head down, eyes on the road, just ticking over a strong steady cadence. She caught me in the middle of Rattlesnake, on one of the long climbs. Okay, game on. I tucked in on her wheel. Every flat section she pulled away, every climb I bridged right back up. I lost her wheel on His and Hers, just before Whiskey Tree. She made a questionable pass that I wasn't willing to follow. Keep her close, keep her in sight, I told myself. They had the gap now, I needed to limit my losses. Keep riding hard, keep attacking. There would be no implosion this year - the garage sessions were paying off!
I came flying into the ten and gave Nick the baton. He told me to be ready to ride - he would get me out again. It was 10:39 - there was plenty of time. As he ran out, he pointed at Beth, who'd turned a 1:08 lap and told her "Get ready for 20!" The only gamesmanship of the race... Coach Adam was waiting for one of his riders to finish, but walked out with me, reminding me to take care of myself - recover for another lap and be smart. Yep. Be smart. It would all come down to one 16.3 mile race after 23 hours of riding. I was ecstatic with my 1:14 lap time, but knew I would need to match it once more.
This was my first time waiting in the tent so close to Noon. The atmosphere was electric and tense. Half of the riders were giddy and hoping their number would be called. The others were dreading riding another lap. I was in the giddy to go class. I wanted our 20th lap and I wanted to get the chance to throw down another speedy lap. Every solo rider rolling through got roundly cheered as they headed back out. Then Beth arrived. And I don't think she was in the giddy to ride group. She had done exactly what she said she would. Turned herself inside out on her 9th lap. But now it was time to ride our 10th lap each (20 for the team) and she didn't look good. One of her helpers was massaging her calves as she stood waiting. If this was a poker game, she was showing her cards. And while she was faster than me, I was in better shape heading into this last duel. Would Nick have made the pass and gotten back the time I'd lost?
Yes he had. He'd treated that 10th lap of his (19 for the team) like The Tuesday Ride and just pinned it. He'd turned an awesome lap, his fastest of the race, making up the four minutes I'd lost as well as putting an additional two minutes into Beth's husband. He had spent that lap hunting for black socks and black camelbak. Back into second, I dashed to my bike. Time to face the wind - which had shifted to in your face on the Bitches. I still had a good time to the turn around and no sign of green socks. I was out of sight as I started Corral. Perfect. The trail was quiet that last lap, but there were two groups on course - the ones racing and the ones finishing. And I didn't want to slow down at all. I was calling passes 20-30 yards before the catch, then on the gas and around. I only had to touch my brakes once - at Whiskey Tree. Nick was waiting for me there (I saw him, but he missed me in the traffic.) A lot of riders were stopped for whiskey shots, some in the middle of the trail. I started screaming - nine prior laps of politeness evaporated. I heard Nick asking the riders to move out of trail as well "The race is still on!" And then I was gone. Still no green socks. I was getting hopeful. Only Junebug and Highpoint left. Ride smart, ride smooth, ride fast. Keep the rubber side down. If I could hold her off until Highpoint, I had a chance - I could out-climb her with the head wind. Crossing the road, with 20 cars stacked up to get out of town, I was still riding strong. One more climb, then the descent through town. Keep pedaling. I passed other riders like a freight train - just around and gone. Only once I'd made the sharp right to the very top of the climb did I allow a smile. I'd taken a few glances behind me on the climb and no green socks. If she wasn't right on my wheel starting the descent, it was over. I wasn't going to get caught on the downhill. I expected to see Nick at the bottom of the option, but he was still at Whiskey Tree. He'd missed me in the traffic and was waiting, freaking out that I'd crashed...
Our third 2nd place at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. This is the one we're most proud of. We've always picked silly but meaningful team names - something that reflects us going into the race. Who knew that "Learning Curve" would really describe the whole weekend, not just the race! After three years of dialing in our two person system with our old motor home and no help, we were thrown a huge curve. The RV died. All our shit in a U-Haul van. (Thanks to Brian at the U-Haul on Grant Street in Tucson for taking care of us.) Sleeping in a cheap, noisy Wal-Mart tent, listening to the wind and a sea generators for two nights prior to the race. Racing was the last thing on our minds - we were cold, tired and stressed. This was the closest we've ever come to just packing it in and going home. Neither of us was in a mental state for racing Saturday morning. But we pulled together, worked as a strong team and drew on years of experience riding and racing. We stuck to our plan and rode smart, making the best with what we had and our Wal-Mart supplies. It was a steep, stressful learning curve, but we persevered and came away with a strong performance.