Of Dust and Darkness

We should know by now. After three years of racing 25 Hours of Frog Hollow and then having an extended vacation of desert play time, we really should know better. Apparently, we are slow learners, because once again we headed south to St George with the goal of racing hard and playing hard. Our plan for the race was aggressive, we both felt recovered from Vapor 125 and we were even thinking about riding through the night this year! But that would all depend on how we felt and the weather.

Banners against the clouds - and our wind break pile of rocks


Frog Town Friday night just before sunset
Frog town seemed busier this year - with more RVs and tents sprawling across the mesa. Getting there early Thursday meant we had our choice of spots. We set up camp in the same spot as last year, protected from the wind by a large pile of rocks, but far enough away from the edge that we were still able to stake down the tents. The rocks that make the course so much fun mean staking down tents can be a bit of a challenge. We've learned that the hard way - having to use the rocks themselves as weights the first year we raced. Once camp was set up, time to chill out. We did an easy pre-ride, reacquainting ourselves with steady climb, the JEM drop and the new lines throughout the descent. Ouch - super rough this year! I had been looking forward to some fast times on my Fate, figuring I'd be able to ride at least as fast as the first year. But no - not with how rough the course was. I was questioning my bike choices until the number plates went on.


Own the night - Exposure Lights USA has been one of the best sponsors for 24 hour racing that we have had.
Saturday before the race, we reaffirmed our plan, but also decided that having a fun vacation was still the primary goal. We would race through the night as long as we didn't ruin our vacation. With that decided, Nick headed to the starting line and I took his bike to the racks at the end of the run. One more start lap - one more watching the clock and waiting for the runners to appear. Soon enough, in a cloud of dust, the lead runners snatched their bikes and tore off into the desert. Nick wasn't far behind the leaders and then it was my turn to get ready to race.

Team names.... After racing 24 hour events since 2008, Nick and I have had plenty of team names. We usually try to keep them short and easy to remember - and with some meaning for that particular race. We've used "Overtime" and "Nap Time" at this race in the past, reflecting both the extra hour of racing and what we usually end up doing after about 20 hours of racing. This year, our name was a play on the other teams - the ones who came flying into the transition tent and had no clue what was going on. "Who's counting?" someone would always ask the volunteers. It also became a quick lesson on how to make the race director laugh every time we traded laps and confuse the poor timing tent volunteers.
"227 - Who's Counting."
"I am. What's your team name?"
"Who's Counting...."

Not so good at the pre-race selfies! And I'm not sure that I did my jersey justice this year.
I knew we were in a race this  year when the second overall rider was on a duo team and he handing off to his teammate. I didn't know how far behind I'd be to start my lap but I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch her. Nick was in the top ten coming in - I had a five minute deficit to try to make up. But once I started pedaling, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to make it up. I felt comfortable riding, but I had no fast on the climb. Riding steady was about all I had and with this course, there wasn't really any making up ground on the descent. So ride steady it would be. I was hoping to still break an hour for my first lap, but it wasn't happening. I was smooth through all the technical and rock gardens, launching over more of the rocks then in prior years. Some gains on the singletrack, but I knew the climb would be the end of  me later in the race. I was already worried about but realized that speed isn't the make or break of a 24 Hour race - consistency is. It doesn't matter how fast that first lap is - it matters how fast the first 4 laps are on average. Without my pure speed, I was hoping for the later - being able to maintain a nice consistent pace for the entire race.
Our first set of three laps achieved that goal. Both Nick and I were super consistent with our lap times. We were still losing time to the first place team - almost 10 minutes every two laps - but we were getting some distance on 3rd place. The dust was covering everything. The road through Frog Town was nothing but moon dust - two inches at least and getting deeper. I'd dry clean my bike at the end of each lap, only to be covered before I even hit the singletrack. I needed to give my bike a good cleaning, but that mean swapping bikes. As I prepped my Fate for my last daylight lap, I was nervous. I'd felt so out of synch with the bike during the pre-ride. How would I feel actually racing, when time was on the line? The answer to that question was just fine. I actually felt smoother on some of the course on the Fate, better able to flick the bike over the rocks. The dropper post Nick had gotten me for my birthday made the bike even more fun and I was confident even on the JEM drop. I passed a lot of people walking through the JEM drop this year - more then in years past. Part of it was the dust - it was nearly impossible to see the lines and rocks on the drop because everything was buried in dust.

Pit Crew? When you're on a duo team running without support, you are your own pit crew!

I wasn't really planning on doing any of my night laps on the Fate. But I was happy and comfortable on that bike. Might as well keep riding it for a few more laps! So on went the Exposure Lights - I was using the Reflex for the first night laps. I also bundled up more - fully expecting the darkness to bring the bone-chilling cold of the desert. Arm-warmers, wool base layer, my Swiftwick Pursuit Wool socks - I was ready for the cold. I tucked my wind coat in a jersey pocket and my hat in my bento box so I would be able to stay warm if something happened. And then it was off into the darkness for the first night lap of the race.

Sunset - are you ready for the night?
With darkness comes the realization of how much dust we've been inhaling.... Pulling off dirty socks in a small cloud of dust makes you think, but the sandstorm like particles in the air every time I caught another rider? Ugh. No wonder my lungs weren't happy. So far, the legs were fine. Still no fast, but still consistent. I'd done all my laps within three minutes for the first five laps, including the first night lap. Neither Nick nor I were eating as much as we normally do for that time in the race, and he'd left me a few notes about how he was feeling. His times were slowing and he was riding the same pace as I was for the last few laps. We were solidly in second, with the guy on the leading team still cranking out sub hour laps. His teammate was slowing a little - possibly cracking, but they were so far up on us. It was a question of when - not if - we would get lapped, and how many times it would flipflop before the lapping stuck.

After three laps on my Fate, I decided it was time to switch bikes again. My arms were getting tired from the chunky rocks and I was looking forward to having a little cushioning other then my legs when I hucked the rocks. I started out on my 7th lap - and instead of the steady, happy pedaling from the prior six, I felt nothing but fatigue. Uh oh... Not good. The climb sucked every ounce of energy out of me. I knew I couldn't make any of that up on the back half, and resigned myself to having a slow lap. Every race has one - this would be no different. I'd eat something back at camp and drag myself back from the brink. And that lap was the start of the lapping. He caught me on the road before Hurricane Rim and then put another four minutes into me on the final stretch of trail.

There was no eating something and finding another well of energy this year. I barely had the motivation to clean my bike and take care of my lights. And I was falling asleep waiting for the time to ring and send me back to the transition tent. This time at the tent, we were both there waiting - me for Nick and him for his girl. He was checking the results as Nick arrived and I felt his eyes on me as I walked to my bike. I knew that he would catch me again - there was no question. But when? How much time had we gotten back? I was hoping to at least make it to the top of the climb before he caught me again, but knew that wasn't realistic. I did make it about halfway up the climb though... More of a concern was would I be able to gather myself and turn out another fast lap. I knew before the turn off Sheep Bridge Road that the answer was no. There was nothing in the tank. My legs echoed the heaviness from Vapor and all I wanted to do was stop riding. Nick was waiting for me - depending on me. I couldn't slow down that much - I had to keep riding strong. I'm not sure which was stressing me out more - the fatigue, the thought that we had a great vacation planned and I was going so far into the red, or that I was letting Nick down.

Nick's note to me was that we needed to keep riding to consolidate second place. He was out on the 17th lap and we were a lap ahead of third place. That meant we needed to keep riding. That wasn't enough of a distance between us and them. I knew that my 9th lap would be ugly. Very ugly. But I just needed to keep riding. Pedaling squares was too polite to describe how I was riding. On that last lap, I found myself walking up some of the steep hills on the double track climb - I just didn't have the power to even spin up them! Onto JEM and I was able to ride everything, but slow - no flow or playfulness on the bike. I just wanted it to be over - a feeling I've never had before in a 24 hour race. I fluctuated with being upset that I was so slow to telling myself to not worry about the time. I just needed to reach the transition tent and give the baton to Nick. Then I could recover before doing another lap. I was anticipating that Nick would want an even 20 - that would make it hard for third to catch us. I knew I had one more lap in my legs, but very aware that it would be super slow. But Nick wasn't at the tent when I finished. I didn't waste time - I checked the waiting bikes to make sure he wasn't in the bathroom and then headed back to camp. Nick was there, studying the results. He was ready to ride, but his motivation was just as strong as mine was....

We had 18 laps finished at 19:50. Third place hadn't clocked another lap since their 15th at 17:10. With five hours left of racing, there was a chance - a slim one, but a chance, that they could pass us if we stopped. Nick was tired and hurting and didn't want to ride another lap if he didn't have to. I just wanted to be done. I didn't want to ride another lap. We discussed it for a bit, had some food, and then decided to take a short nap and look at results when the sun came up. If we needed that 19th lap, Nick would head out. In hindsight, it would have been smarter for Nick to just ride that last lap then.  That's what we've always done - when we called it a day, we were finished riding. There would be no chance of third catching us and we would have been at the top of the teams with 19 laps instead of at the bottom. But the warmth of the van was a siren and we gave in this year. When third place finished their 16th lap at 22:40, we realized that there was a slim chance that they would be able to get 19 laps. Nick decided to head out and ensure our second place.

2016 25 Hours In Frog Hollow Co-Ed Duo Podium
1st - S&P 500 (Sam Sweetster and Parker Tyler) 25 laps, 25:50:51
2nd - Who's Counting? (Me and Nick) 19 laps, 24:28:50
3rd - Red Rock Bicycle Duo (Colt Albrecht and Kellie Oliver) 18 laps, 25:09:58
It wasn't our best race - we both had some issues that we had to deal with. The level of competition in the Co-Ed duo was the strongest we've ever seen at Frog Hollow, which made having a bad race even harder. But we stuck together, adjusted the plan as needed and finished strong. It was nice seeing everyone with GRO rides again and hanging out in the desert with the Honeystinger crew after the race.
But I think we need a break from 24 hour racing....

Comments

Popular Posts