Tuesday, September 18, 2007

24 Hour of Grand Targhee: Race Report

Disclaimer; long races result in long race reports.

The weekend of September 15th & 16th had been circled on my race calendar since late spring and my summer of racing and training was aimed directly at the center of that little red circle. The goal for my first 24 hour solo race was simple; ride consistently, take no sleep breaks, and minimize my time in the pits.

The planning and prep for this race took on a life of its own and the week before the race proved to be moderately stressful. A little training, organizing and re-organizing our supplies, prepping bikes, testing lights, and my day job were pulling at me from every angle. Quality sleep was a conscious, yet unobtainable, goal the week leading up to the race. I was way too excited, nervous, and anxious for this race but there wasn’t a damn thing I could about it.

Once Saturday morning finally arrived the race plan was set in motion and I headed up to Targhee to assemble our home away from home for the next 36 hours. The chaos and buzz in the pit area before a 24 race is infectious and this one was especially cool because so many friends were racing and setting up their pits all around us. My race plan included sharing a support crew with my good friend, and fellow solo racer, JayP so we set up our pits right next to each other to make it as easy as possible for Michelle and Chris to support both of us.

Let’s light this candle! At 11:55 AM we lined up for the shortest Le Mans start in the history of 24 hour racing and nervously chatted and performed fake stretches while waiting for the gun to go off. My warm-up consisted of pushing my bike to the staging area and walking back to the starting line. My plan was to be very conservative in the beginning since my ultimate goal was to simply keep moving forward for 24 hours straight.

Go! It brought a smile to my face to see JayP out in front on the first switchback leading the pack of hard charging team racers. There are a few things in this world that you can bank on and one of them is that JayP is going to stir things up early when he is in a race.

I immediately settled into my target HR zone and listened to the heavy breathing around me on the initial climb. Houston, we have a problem. I don’t know why I did not feel good early in the race. I know the course well, I planned every detail, I felt like I had a solid race strategy, and I had a great support crew. In hindsight, I think the anxiety of not knowing for sure that I could do this was affecting me physically. Three laps into the race I was looking for a pay phone on the course to call the Waaaam-Bulance as one negative thought after another occupied my brain. In the background I was having two-sided conversations with myself about quitting and how I would justify it, while in the foreground I kept pedaling on auto-pilot and stuck to my plan. By about the 5th lap I had beaten back the negative thoughts and started to settle into a groove. I kept looking down at my stem where I had laminated a sticker that simply said:


Having weathered that little mental storm I was now focused on the next goal which was making it to 6:30 PM for a scheduled pit stop. Add lights, layers, lube, and evaluate the fueling. Check. As the sun set and the temps dropped my mental state improved. I was looking forward to the night riding and felt confident that I could maintain the same pace throughout the night. I had been fueling exclusively with Perpetuem, plain water, and Endurolytes and the plan was to stick with it as long as I could stand it because this is a proven system for me in races up to 12 hours.

I will remember 8:45 PM as the time when “a good stomach goes bad”. Over the course of the previous lap my body decided that Hammer products were evil and that consuming them would lead to gagging and/or hurling. When I rolled into my pit at 8:45 PM I was fading and not sure what to do. I was concerned but not down. Mentally, I was ready to keep riding but I was also coherent enough to know that if I kept riding without taking in more calories my race would end early. However, nothing sounded remotely appetizing. Thank god Michelle, Chris, and Amanda Riley convinced me to sit down for ten minutes and force down some soup, pretzels, and hot tea because this was a turning point. Within ten minutes of leaving my pit my stomach felt better and I knew that I could finish this race. And that fired me up!

Sometime around 10 PM I stopped for a few bites of solid food and some more hot tea and my whole world changed. I discovered Pringles. JayP had packed a can and Michelle “borrowed” a small stack of them to offer me a little variety. The salty, crispy, dissolve-in-your-mouth texture of those little potato-like food products were an unexpected nirvana. In addition to a happy tummy and a new-favorite food, I grabbed the iPod shuffle as a little “reward” and began rocking out to The Crystal Method, Reverend Horton Heat, and Metallica. The lap times were coming down and I was now racing.

From 10:30 PM to 6:30 AM I remember having very clear thoughts about pacing, where to expend energy, how to attack certain sections, staying warm, eating PB sandwich wedges & Pringles, and how good it felt to have overcome two low moments and still be riding. I didn’t know exactly where I was in the standings but I knew that I was riding very consistent night laps and not getting passed except by the team guys. I also had a feeling that several solos had taken long breaks and that Forest was the one to watch out for but I was focused on riding my own race…for now. My rebound also energized my pit crew, which in turn further energized me, so I went a little faster.

One of my pre-planned stops was at 6:30 AM for breakfast. Originally I thought oatmeal and coffee would be nice treat but I decided to stick with the PB sandwich, Pringles, and hot tea program and warmed up under the propane heater for ten minutes while my Indy 500 pit crew removed lights, lubed my chain, and switched my helmet.

After two more solid laps I was looking for an update on the standings but the stats were not exactly current. I had not seen Forest but I knew he was lurking out there, still moving forward. From riding a bit with JayP in the wee hours I could see he was still strong and he had a full lap plus a little time on me. I knew it would take a major mishap on Jay’s part for me to catch him and I certainly did not want to win that way. I was mentally preparing myself for any scenario in order to finish strong. If I could stop after two more laps…fine. If I had to go out for one more lap at 11:59 AM to clinch 2nd place…fine. I was ready.

Now let me get this straight...

Heading out for my last lap.

I decided that the best defense was to attack so at 8:30 AM I uncorked my two fastest laps (actually slow, but fast relative to my previous laps) since early Saturday afternoon and ended up catching and passing Forest on the last climb of my last lap to clinch 2nd place and ensure that I didn’t need to go back out.

What an emotional roller coaster! The race couldn’t have ended in a more perfect way for me. I crossed the finish line with friends cheering and my wife there to give me a huge hug after helping me through it all before and during the race.

Michelle and Chris were unbelievable and I couldn’t have done this without them. In their first 24 hour support crew effort, they helped Jay and I to a 1, 2 finish! Given the short laps and difference in our pacing, they didn’t get much of a break and never missed a beat.

Big thanks to Amanda, Megan, Brendan, and Lori who also helped out during and after the race. I haven't slept a ton yet so if I left someone out I am sorry.

Congrats to JayP on a great win. People just expect Jay to show up and win and somehow he continues to deliver and that is not easy. Forest, thanks for pushing me and congrats on your strong race. Even when I couldn’t see you I knew you were out there.

I am off to write Pringles about sponsoring a pro mountain bike team.


Ed said...

Dave - great report and awesome effort out there. It's amazing how important having a happy stomach and clear mind are. Looks like you battled through the tough spots well by sticking to your strategy while also being a wee bit flexible (i.e. food).

Good job!


Cat said...

Great job Dave. Way to bring it home. I love the pringles!! Cat M

Jill Homer said...

Nice race, you and JayP. Congratulations! Go Pringle Power!

FixieDave said...

Way awesome finish Dave!

Chris said...

Great report. Awesome job Dave!

Lynda Wallenfels said...

Amazing - what a great job you did pulling off your first 24-solo. Most of us have to travel a big ol' learning curve first ;-)

Congrats again on this race and a fine season.

Dave said...

Well done. Jalapeno pringles and Hanover pretzels: beautiful.

Anonymous said...

That was a hell of a fun weekend. I was honored to be a a part of your effort Dave. During those early morning hours you were truly racing, turning an amazing number of "hot laps". It was very gratifying to see your summer's worth of preparation come to a climax just when you planned it to. Way to go Dave. Everytime you set up a pit I hope I can be in it!!! Chris E.