Tuesday, August 26, 2008

2008 24 Hours of Grand Targhee Race Report

Leading up to this year’s 24 Hours of Grand Targhee I was excited to measure myself against last year’s result where I truly had a near-perfect race. The men’s solo start list was not long but almost every name belonged to a cyclist who regularly crushes me in local XC events or Hill Climbs throughout the season. Let’s be serious; when we gather for the Tues Night World Championships in Jackson throughout the summer, we all know what the cycling hierarchy looks like and I am nowhere near the top of that list. The key for me, as usual, was to execute my plan and not get sucked into racing the “fast guys”.

The Plan

The Tuesday night before the race JayP and I were riding at night and yackin’ about gear and strategy, as we often do, and he matter-of-factly said “to be competitive at an elite 24 Hour Race you cannot get off of your bike…”. My brain latched onto this little sound bite and quickly filed it at the front. To prepare for this race I had been pulling split times, calculating calorie intake, and basically tweaking and refining last year’s race plan for this year but this casual comment from JayP put a big exclamation point on my plan. “Do not get off of the bike.” This sounds so simple when you say it out loud to yourself but so many things have to go smoothly to be able to pull this off. However, I knew that if I could execute this plan I had a chance to throw down a personal best.

I met JayP and T-Race at the Ghee Friday afternoon and we set up the basics in our pit areas to save some time Saturday morning. JayP would be supporting T-Race in her first 24 solo race and Michelle would be supporting me. Being next to each other they would be able to help each throughout the race and share resources. Between the two pit setups, we were pretty dialed in and ready for anything the race could throw at us.

On a clipboard for anyone who might help out to read

The Early Laps

I have not been this nervous right before a race in years. I had butterflies the size of pterodactyls doing laps in my tummy before start but luckily once we started racing I settled down quickly and could simply focus on the process of riding my race. As I expected, I was near the back of the pack after the first lap but my lap time was actually respectable which reassured me that the fast guys were at the front going fast. I would have been more concerned to see one of them riding at the back with me actually. Ha!

Some people talk about the 3 AM to 6 AM low periods in a 24. I seem to have my worst issues two to three hours into a long race. Sure enough, two hours into the race I had twinges of lower back pain, twinges of inner thigh cramping, and the bottoms of my feet were hot. But this time I was mentally ready for these issues and simply dismissed them by telling myself that they would subside shortly…and they did. It was an early mental victory. It’s getting’ hot in here! Sing it with me. The sun was intense early in the race and by lap #5 I was a bit parched so I requested two bottles per lap for the next few so that I could “bank” a little hydration. I had no trouble getting two 20 oz. bottles down during each of the next several 52-ish minute laps that followed and I think this move helped keep my tummy happy going into the night. It wasn’t even dark yet and I had already been lapped by Carey Smith, Kris Lunning, and Pete Basinger. Doh! Those guys were motoring and I took a quick inventory of their posture and attitude as they went by me at different times.

Dialing it in

Throughout the first eight laps I was continuously dialing in my process. Where to drink on the course, where to eat, where to save energy, where to expend energy to maximize speed, and which of my two bikes was working the best for me. I was alternating a bit between the Turner Sultan and my newly built Orbea Alma 29er hardtail (JayP’s 2007 frame). I was at least as fast on the Sultan and I felt so much more comfortable on the descents so I decided to ride it from lap #9 onward unless something broke and I needed to switch bikes. Except for swinging a leg off of one of one bike and immediately onto the other, I had not been off of the bike. Michelle, my crew chief, was also dialing it in as well and had things ready before I even asked for them. We were a well-oiled machine at this point.

Own the Night

I love the night laps! My Lupine Wilmas are bright and I can ride comfortably at the same pace as when the sun is shining. Lap #11 was my first lap with the lights turned on and I was flowing. The iPod Shuffle comes out at night because I know I will see a rider’s lights behind me when they need to pass unlike during the day when you might not hear them back there. My play list included tunes by Nelly, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, The Crystal Method, Groove Armada, and of course, Metallica.

Positive Energy

I race better and am faster when I am smiling. Period. So I made a conscious effort to keep the positive energy flowing throughout the race even if I started to feel “blah”. I would sing to my pit crew, I would yell “Party people say Ho!” to the timing tent crew as I rode through, and I would try to encourage any racers I encountered on the trail. Little bursts of positive energy go a long way.

The Plan is working

Through midnight, I had only been off of the bike once to take off my shoes and change into warmer socks and add knee warmers. My typical pit stop looked like this: skid to a stop in front of the pit, straddle the bike, Michelle handed me a new bottle and gel while I shoved a small bite of whatever seemed yummy at the time into my mouth, JayP and/or Mike Piker would lube the chain and wipe it down while all this was going on. Done. Go. It was really motivating to hear the pit crew tell me I was doing great and to keep it up and I wanted to reward their efforts with a great performance. A key part of my plan was focusing on the process and not the result. I always tried to focus on the lap I was riding at the time and the most efficient way to finish that particular lap. During one lap, about 2 AM, I had some blurry vision, was having a tough time staying on the single track and I was hitting every stupid rock that I looked at in the trail. In a sort of out-of-body way, I calmly self-diagnosed my issue as being low on calories and the next time through the pit I ate an extra piece of bagel with PB, some M&Ms, and took a couple extra swigs of flat Pepsi and I was back on track almost immediately.

It was during these early morning hours that I started seeing some familiar faces again. For the first time in the race, I was passing other solo riders and even a couple of duo team riders. There were also a few solo’s bikes hanging in their stands along pit row that hadn’t been there earlier which meant that I winning the war of attrition. I had only been off of my bike three times total; #1 - adding layers, #2 - switching batteries and changing shoes, #3 - and then removing layers and changing shoes.

The Home Stretch

Once the sun came up and the lights came off I started to pay a little more attention to who was still riding and who was riding well. Carey Smith was riding like an alien every time I saw him but I kept telling myself that this is a 24 hour race and anything can happen. I also knew that Pete B. was lurking out there and that he would not stop or slow down. Otherwise I continued to stay on the bike through the pit stops. It wasn’t until about 9 AM that I knew I had a very solid shot at 2nd place but that Pete B. was still bringin’ it.

The 25th lap hurt a bit so when I headed out for lap 26 I asked my wonderful pit crew for the secret weapon…my 20 oz. bottle of de-fizzed Pepsi + a 20 oz. bottle of plain H20. I managed to drink all of it and mentally rallied for one more lap. The day before the race I had jokingly told JayP that I would be finishing my 27th lap at about 12:40 PM on Sunday…man, was I close. When I crossed the line at 12:03 PM with 27 laps and 2nd place secured, a wave of emotions came over me and I collapsed in Michelle’s arms.

I truly had the race of my life and having Michelle and so many great friends take part in it made it an experience I will never forget. My support was off the charts this year and I couldn’t have done it without all of your help and encouragement. Michelle (wife, best friend, crew chief), Tina, JayP, Mike Piker, Chris E. (3:00 AM surprise appearance!) – thanks for your help throughout the race. Lynda, thank you so much for your wisdom, guidance, and encouragement.

Good things happen when you don't get off the bike


Anonymous said...


I am proud to have witnessed this greatest of races for you. You were inspirational, determined and most of all focused on your result. Thanks for putting on one hell of a show out there. I am honored to have witnessed and been a very small part of it.

Tell Michelle I enjoyed the smack talk and comraderie in pit row especially during the night hours.

Take care and I hope to see you both Sunday at the party.


Colin R said...

Nice report Dave! I especially like the progression of your Max HR per lap.

Your blog entry on this race from last year is one of the reasons I got convinced to fly out from Boston for this race, so... keep up the good work.

Doug said...

Congratulations on your incredible performance! Simply amazing. What a feeling of satisfaction you must have after that one.

Dave Harris said...

Bitchin. Way to nail it Dave!

Anonymous said...

Yeah! What They Said!!

Chris E.

Anonymous said...

Dave: Would you keep the Orbea in the loop for future races? Was the only difference between the Sultan and Orbea the comfort on the descents?

Dave said...

All - thanks for the kind words.

Jillie - I was able to climb in a harder gear on the Orbea, usually one cog smaller, on a given climb throughout the course. But then I would lose that time on the descent.

Rick LaBelle said...

Kudos, my brotha. What a journey since that first ride up Mahogany! You are now the extreme mentor.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Stumbled on your blog while looking for some info on 24H of Targhee. I'm going to run it solo in August and your blog is interesting, informative and funny. If you have any pertinent info to pass on to a first timer I'd sure appreciate it. Hopefully we can meet up there.
Chris Gardner