Weathering the Crash - 2013 24 Hours in the Sage

Our fifth year racing at 24 Hours in the Sage and once again it did not disappoint. The Gunnison KOA and KOA Dave are in their second year managing the event after taking the reins from reigning 24 Hour Townie World Champ Mitch Fedak and his wife Traci. Dave and Michael have made the best mountain bike race at a party even better. From the delicious pizza (and they offered Gluten free for Nick!) at packet pickup, the racer friendly food that was served up all night and the family friendly atmosphere surrounding the KOA, it's clear they love the race and want us to have as much fun as we can during the race weekend. I also heard rumors of golf carts jumping fire booters and other shenanigans, but.... For those of you who haven't raced at Sage, but want to try a 24 hour race, what are you waiting for? All you need is your bike, a place to sleep, some race fuel and some lights to have a good time pedaling. If 24 hours is too long, the 12 hour option allows for more party time during the ride. Still the same great course and amenities, just less pedaling. It's also unusual as a noon to midnight 12 hour race, so there's the chance to experience Hartman Rocks at night. A huge thank you to all the sponsors and volunteers that make this race so much fun and the successful event it is. Nick and I have made this an annual event and its the best way we can think of to celebrate our Anniversary. Riding our bikes and hanging out with friends!

As the three time defending Co-Ed Duo champions, Nick and I had an ambitious plan laid out. We knew looking at the plan that it would require both of us to be at top our game. We would also need everything running smoothly - no crashes, no mechanical, and no mental or physical issues. The line we were riding was that narrow and with no margin for error. Would we be able to pull it off and meet our goals? As Nick lined up for the noon start, we both felt confident in our skill and fitness. The newish course was an unknown - how much harder would it really be after five laps? But the time to wonder was over - the time for riding was upon us. Koa Dave had the townie racers line up first, with a short neutral roll out before the right hand turn onto Gold Basin Road. I watched Nick get right onto the leading train after the turn and knew he was feeling good. Hopefully he'd be smart and ride within his limits, not against the really speedy four man teams. He was fast enough to keep up with them, but would be riding twice the laps. Now was the time for pacing.

Nick signaling the right hand turn onto Gold Basin Road on the start lap
Nick might have been feeling good, but I was tired - and I hadn't even started racing yet! A chink in the armor? Hopefully not. It wasn't a normally blazing hot day for Hartman Rocks, so I knew Nick would be fast. The question was, how fast? I watched the speedy four and five person riders flying in - all well under 55 minutes for the slightly longer course. Five riders in and here he came. Blazing fast! Hopefully I would be able to hold up my end of the bargain and turn some fast times as well. Because Nick was so far up in the field, I almost had the trail to myself for that first lap. Only three riders passed me and I caught very few racers. I felt okay pedaling, solid on the bike, but something wasn't right. Wasn't sure what, but I couldn't shake the feeling. The power was good and I was keeping the heart rate where I wanted for that first lap. I monitored my gadgets occasionally, but focused mostly on just riding my bike. I rode everything but one rock section - just didn't feel like expending the energy on the rock slab at the end of Rocky Ridge. Clouds were building all around Hartman Rocks, keeping the temperature down. I had a decent lap but was slower then I want as I pedaled back to the KOA. And no wheels to draft off! I wouldn't get any wheels the entire race, which kinda sucked.

Nick looked awesome taking off - hitting the booter as he left. I returned to our pit to try and gather myself and give myself the pep talk to not worry about lap times yet and how the race was only two hours old. We'd upgraded our pit from the Uhaul van and Wally World tent at Old Pueblo to the Brown Bullet and a four walled CostCo tent. The pit was a huge improvement from Old Pueblo, with room for all our clothes, organized cooking area and warm. The cooking area was inside the tent and all our food was neatly laid out. A warm quilt on the cot and a 2 pound tank for our little heater. Made the transitions much easier having things organized, rather then scattered and chaos. It's still a work in progress and took a lot longer to set up and tear down then the Turtle based pit, but... It only took three hours to get to Gunnison!

Focusing on the trail, eyes on the rocks
Another fast lap for Nick, and I was facing the wind. The dark clouds were looming and I'd tucked my rain jacket in my jersey pocket just in case. The weather had been chilly Thursday and Friday, with intermittent rain showers and a few downpours both out on course and at the KOA. I was a little worried about getting caught in one of the heavy downpours building to the north and west. And while that lap was still dry and I didn't need my jacket, on my 4th, 5th, and 6th laps I would get plenty of rain. Nick never got wet, but I had mud, head winds, sleet and bone soaking rain. It was bizarre - I got drenched on Alonozo's then have completely dry trails on Luge and Broken Shovel. Onto the blacktop and the road would be soaked. Another lap and I could see sleet and huge raindrops in my lights as I climbed Broken Shovel and Lost Dog. Really pretty, but made dressing for the laps hard. It's always colder down at the KOA, but with the wind and the rain up on Hartman Rocks, it was confusing. Warm for one section of trail and freezing and windy five minutes later. Unzip the jacket, think about taking it off on the climb up Jacks, hit the wind and leave it on. I would think that after as many laps as I've done there, I'd do a better job of dressing! It was colder then it's been for sure and that confused me even more. The timing was such that Nick never got rained on during any of his laps. I got all the water! It also depended on where you were on course - there were riders out at the same time as me, but just far enough apart to miss all the weather.

I was consistent with my lap time, but slower then planned again. I knew something wasn't right. I wasn't drinking much during the laps and when I for back into pit, I couldn't eat much. The first two laps were fine because I'd had a good breakfast and lunch. But when I headed out for my third lap, I could tell it would be a struggle for the rest of the race. I'd eaten something that normally sits well between laps two and three, and I just felt like crap. I was nauseous and barely drank anything on my third lap. It kept getting worse and worse, with a few laps where I hardly touched my water and ate half a rice bar between laps. Nick warmed up some soup for me after my fourth lap and I hardly touched it. We had plenty of food, but I couldn't stomach any of it. All the notes Nick left me between laps were "eat something, have something to eat no matter what, drink a root beer" things like that. I tried. I really tried, but just couldn't. And without eating or drinking - I usually drink about 40 oz in each lap, but was at maybe 5-10 this year, I was waiting for the collapse. I knew it was coming, could feel the lack of spunk in my legs and the dead tired fatigue between each lap. Nick told me to slow down to let my stomach settle, but it was too far gone. I decided to keep pushing as hard as I could until things completely fell apart. Nick was doing awesome and I didn't want to let him down. 

And to me, that's what makes racing duo harder then solo. Sure, I've only done one solo race - and it was only 18 hours of racing. But there, if things had gone wrong, the only person I was letting down was myself. Sure, Nick would have been disappointed if I'd had issues and not done well, but it was just me. With Duo, I couldn't stop. Nick was counting on me to get back as close to my estimated time as possible. If I slowed, it was our race I was affecting. If I bailed on a lap, the race was over. No matter how bad I felt, I had to keep pedaling. I had to keep pushing and stay moving forward as fast as I could. There were plenty of times when I was out in the darkness, alone in my halo of my lights, just wishing I could stop - ask Nick to ride two laps in a row so I could rest. But that wouldn't keep the team moving quickly, so I banished those thoughts every time they surfaced and kept pedaling. He was depending on me to stay strong, keep my focus and turn out the laps. We were in a close race and I had to keep my head on straight.

Coming off the Notch on our preride
I was doing okay - holding my times down reasonably despite everything. Then on my 7th lap, I made a bad choice. There was a little rain, the rocks were slick and I was tired. I thought about riding the easy line right at the start, saving some energy even if the time would be a little longer. But I didn't, I made the right hand turn leading up to Punchbowl. Very little energy and not smooth on the short steep kicker climb before the rock feature and really had to recover on the flat. But I was committed - I had ridden the Punchbowl six times already. Lined it up, powered up the rock spine before the Punchbowl. No issues but I was tired. Crossed from the left side of the rocks, over to right, setting up for the crux move of the rock feature. Accelerate, spike the power and the speed for the traction to stay on the rock wall. Focus on the line, eyes on the rock, trace the rim of the bowl up to the top. At least that's how it worked for the first six laps... I'm not sure what happened on the seventh. I was almost at the top - could see the exit I was looking for. And then something went wrong. I don't know what - lost my balance, lost traction or what. But I was going down, falling to my left, back into the depths of the Punchbowl. I almost saved it - got my foot out and on the rocks. Then my foot slipped and it was over. I tumbled back down, doing my best to fall neatly and not land hard. I put my left hand out, then realized the folly of that action and allowed my arm to crumple. My elbow and shoulder hit the rocks hard, followed quickly by my back. Ouch. That one hurt. Then my bike clattered down the rocks, landing on top of me. Double ouch. I sat there for a bit, collecting my thoughts and trying to figure out what exactly had just happened. But there was still a race going on. I picked myself up, checked my brakes and my lights, and walked to the top. My shoulder and elbow ached and my back hurt. Luckily, I'd landed right on the wind jacket I'd had stuffed in my bibs in case of rain. A small layer of padding that may have prevented me from breaking a bone. I would realize the full toll of the crash later... Time to pedal, to keep racing.

The race was for the duo overall, between me and Nick and two two man teams. It wasn't close for the co-ed duo; in fact both Lindsay with the timing and LG doing the announcing were giving us shit about not needing to ride anymore! Two of our former teammates on Ascent Cycling, Lane and Justine, were racing Co-ed Duo for the first time and they were our competition. It was close for the first three laps, then the elastic broke. We lapped them by the seventh lap and then turned our focus squarely on the men's teams. There were some very fast teams in the two man class and Nick and I wanted to try to beat them all if possible. When our original goal of 21 laps started looking doubtful (all me - Nick was flying and hitting all his times) we really turned our attention to the guys. It was a tight race this year and the crash had rattled me. I still had three laps left to ride and that seventh lap was beyond slow. Every pedal stroke hurt into my back and I had no confidence on the technical sections left. Nick took off before I could tell him about the crash - probably better, he didn't need to have that on his mind as well as the the race. I gathered my thoughts while cleaning my bike. I only had three more laps - the sunrise lap and two daylight laps. I would be okay - I just needed to keep riding. The leading two man team was also slowing, but not as much as I was. They'd pulled the gap back down to 10 minutes and I wasn't sure how fast I would be able to ride. I debated asking Nick to ride two laps, but decided that I needed to buck up and do my job. If my back didn't hurt too bad, I would be fine. I was also finally starting to be able to eat again, so I was hopeful the energy would come back.
Focused on the trail on my second lap
Photo - About the Shot
Ahh, the sunrise lap.I left the KOA in the darkness of night, under the beams of my Exposure Lights Reflex and Diablo. I skipped the Punchbowl - feeling a little gun shy about those rocks! And not having the hard acceleration to clean the rocks gave me a boost on Behind the Rocks. I was feeling good again, with ignore-able pain in my back and shoulder. I was treated to a brilliant sunrise, as I rode through the Sage. I was also pleasantly surprised as I brought my lap time back down to where I wanted it. There was a good chance we'd be able to maintain our lead over the two man teams. Nick had left me an encouraging note - two more laps, ride smart, ride safe. That was my plan. I knew I could finish the last two laps. I was able to eat something solid - the chocolate cake. Full of fat, sugar and much needed calories. Justine and I were both waiting for our guys to come in and LG continued to give me crap about heading out for another lap. Ohh, how I wanted to go back to bed! But time for sleeping would come later. Justine left and I waited a few more minutes. No sign of the two man teams. Then Nick came flying in and I was out. Second to last lap. Time to ride hard. I decided to take the Punchbowl again - needed to get the crash out of my head. A clean run and I had my confidence back. And a little more of my spunk. The sunshine helped, and so did the energy from the chocolate cake! I caught Justine, gave her some encouragement, and continued on my way. All the time, telling myself "one more lap". Finally, back to the KOA and Nick went tearing out of camp on his last lap.

One last time cleaning my bike. For some reason, I glanced at the saddle and noticed the large tear in the leather. Huh. That must have been from the crash. Then my eye kept tracking down to the left chain stay. Oh crap, oh shit... Fill in with any other colorful words desired! That wasn't good. Right in the middle of the chain stay, a large scrape in the black carbon fiber. I put my glasses on and examined it closely. Continue adding colorful words at this point. It looked like more then just a scrape. I asked Pat from Ascent to take a look at it, knowing what he was going to say. Broken. Cracked through. Hartman Rocks - 1, Specialized Fate - 0! I pouted around for a while, trying to decide if it was worth another lap. After all, I'd already ridden two laps since the crash! Then sanity prevailed. Why risk a catastrophic crash? All it would take would be one error and it would be a long walk back to camp. And that's why we have spare bikes... I would ride the Era and have some fun, dropper post and all. The more I thought about it, the more I was looking forward to that final lap. Suspension! A dropper post! Being able to bounce right over the rocks and just fly! Any time I might loose on the climbs, I'd gain back on the descents. And I'd do it with a huge grin.

Nick came in hot, with one of his faster lap times. I'm not sure Nick noticed I was on the Era as he pushed me out onto course. We had about 20 minutes on the leading two man team. All I had to do was ride smart. But there was also a little pride on the line. We might have missed our chance for 21 laps, but I wanted to finish with style and make the last lap count. I headed out strong, quickly settling into a comfortable position on the bike. I was a little worried about jumping on the Era for the last lap since I usually have a little twitchiness when I drop down to 26. But as I climbed up Jacks, I could tell I would be fine. Fine and fast. I wasn't any slower on the climbs, but I was much faster on the descents. Drop off Alonozo's? Dropper post in action! The new Sea of Sage? Hit the middle position and just floated down. It was almost as much fun as the old Sea of Sage! Descent off Rocky Ridge and Becks? I calmly dropped a guy who'd caught me right at the top. He didn't have a chance! The final descent from the Notch? Oh yeah... I was having so much fun on the descents, I almost wanted to do another lap! Then I'd hit a climb and go "what was I thinking?" I got a little bit of a tow down the black top, latching onto the wheel of another racer. He stopped at the bridge for the last lap party, leaving me to roll in alone.

We finished our 20 laps in 11:09:16. So close to another lap, but so far. If I'd been on my game, we would have made it. But that's part of 24 hour racing! I was just proud of myself for hanging tough and not giving in to all the dark thoughts throughout the race. The first place men's team "Shredly Men" - finished 20 laps at 11:28:41, so it had been close to the end. Lane and Justine finished a very respectable 13 laps for their first duo event. And that was with both of them taking a nap! Jealous... I think they'll be back next year, after they forget about the reality of racing. As usual, it was an awesome time in the Sage. Nick and I are already plotting for next year...


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