Monday, June 11, 2007

24 Hours of Steamboat, 12 Hour Solo Race Report

As I rolled into Steamboat at 2pm Friday afternoon there was controlled chaos all around as the organizers were organizing, campers were pitching camps, and solo racers were setting up their pits. Despite the buzz I felt very calm and this was a nice change from my normal pre-race angst. Spinning out the legs after seven hours in the car sounded good so I went for a lap to check out the course and I was surprised to find very little mud and a super-fun singletrack descent with just enough surprises to keep me honest. The tagline for the race is “The climb of your life”…they aren’t kidding. 2200’ of climbing is more than I usually like to do the afternoon before a big race but seeing the course once would help the confidence and I was careful to keep the HR low. After the pre-ride lap I set up my canopy, table, and chair and headed to my room to rest up.

I love the noon start. I have time to sleep in, make breakfast, finish setting up the pit area and go over my plan once more with time to spare. During the night the race footprint had exploded and now there were people, dogs, tents, and bikes everywhere. Woohoo…Let’s light this candle!

As everyone lined up for the run I still felt calm and was focused on not getting caught up in the moment and going out too fast on the first lap. I am no runner and planned on shuffling my way through the run regardless of how long it took me. Bang…we’re off. It was comical to see most of the solos in the back trotting along. I joked with Marko that the run was too far and that I might have to drop out before I ever got to my bike.

Laps 1 & 2 went well and I was careful not to go too hard on the climb. I did push it on the descents which contained a few sneaky short “ups” that usually caught me in the wrong gear and required a hard, middle-ring burst to clear them. I started the race with 80oz of water in the pack and 780 calories of Perpetuem in the bottle and when I stopped in my pit 3:01:00 later after Lap 2 I was almost totally empty. I filled the pack with 80oz of water, grabbed a new bottle, took 6 Endurolytes, and left in about 3 minutes.

By 3pm and the beginning of Lap 3 the sun was shining intensely on the entire climb and we were baking. I had clipped my iPod Shuffle to the back of my helmet and was rockin’ out to Metallica, Reverend Horton Heat, and Screaming Trees on the climb when I was alone. When I was around other racers or on the singletrack I would switch it off so I could be social or hear when a rider needed to pass. The heat was already having an effect on my caloric intake but before my stomach went totally sour I backed off the Perpetuem and just drank water. Lap 4 proved to be my “test of resolve” but I didn’t expect it to come so early in the race. The dreaded inner-thigh cramps, my nemesis, showed up and I was forced to jump off of the bike and long-stride several times on the climb. It was a mental blow for sure because walking “felt” slow. I drank more water, took more Endurolytes, and hiked anything remotely steep on Lap 4 and by the time I reached my pit after Lap 4 I felt recovered. Yeah baby!

I had enough time to do one more lap without lights but I had to stop in the pit for water plus calories and then was onto the climb again for Lap 5. I have learned that my inner-thing cramping can be triggered by a shift from low to high cadence on a steep climb. I decided after Lap 4 that I was not going to shift into the “granny” any more during the race. My wacky little experiment seemed to work because I didn’t cramp again for the remainder of the race and I was maintaining a good pace on the climb. The cooling temps plus my mental victory over cramping contributed to a respectable 1:41:00 Lap 5 including the pit stop.

My pit stop after Lap 5 was slow. I was fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling to fill the hydration pack, mix a bottle, lube a dusty chain, put on arms warmers, grab a vest and warmer gloves, and add lights to the bike. I didn’t sit down or waste any time but I could only do one thing at a time and I was antsy. About 8 minutes later I was off again. The beginning of Lap 6 was a magical time on the course for me. The sun was setting, the air was cooling fast, and I had zero doubts that I would achieve my goal for this race. I turned my lights on about halfway up the climb of Lap 6 so my eyes could adjust as the sun set. The temps went from comfortable to chilly in half a lap so at the top of the climb I had to stop, switch gloves, and add a vest for the descent. Riding the twisty singletrack through the aspens at night was one of the highlights of my race and I was WooHoo-ing out load through the banked corners and root drops. My Lupine Wilma lights were blazing and I could go as fast as my body could stand.

During the descent of Lap 6 I decided that I would make an unscheduled pit stop instead of simply rolling through as planned. So after Lap 6 I stopped in my pit, ditched my hydration pack for a plain bottle, grabbed one more layer for the chilly descent and headed out for Lap 7 which I knew would be my last lap. I wanted to finish strong so I pushed it on the climb and I was able to turn over the same gear as the previous two laps but didn’t walk any of the steep sections. As I rode by each small group of cheering spectators camped out along the course enjoying their bonfires and adult beverages I thanked all them for their encouragement throughout the day.

The final descent was so cool. In addition to the swell of emotion I got cresting the big climb for the last time, I now had a rabbit to catch. Just as I was exiting the treed section of the descent I could see several tiny red tail lights below me and in my tired state I imagined that they were all 12 Hour Solo racers. It was big ring time. The bottom third of the descent is a loose service road & singletrack mix and I was full throttle trying to catch these lights. It was like one of those silly moments you dream of while riding the trainer in the middle of winter where you imagine yourself sprinting for the line during an interval (c'mon, you know you do it too). I caught the group of three riders at the bottom where we make a 90 degree right turn into “Pit Row” and then have 200 yards of flat grass to the timing tent. Going into the corner I dropped into my middle ring and then unleashed a furious sprint that caught all of them by surprise and must have looked curious to anyone watching the race. I have no idea whether my midnight sprint finish improved my race standings or not but it was fun to be “racing” and felt damn good to finish like that.

It feels great to uncork a big effort and achieve a personal goal and that is a big reason I like endurance racing. Another reason I love it is the people I meet through racing. In my relatively short racing career I am fortunate to have met some wonderful people who have shared their knowledge and have been supportive. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and beyond...


Dave Harris said...

Now that's what I'm talkin' about. Way to reach out and grab that well-earned enduro experience.

Middle ringing that climb after dark...that is a touch burly!

JenyJo said...

"Riding the twisty singletrack through the aspens at night was one of the highlights of my race and I was WooHoo-ing out loud through the banked corners and root drops."


"It was like one of those silly moments you dream of while riding the trainer in the middle of winter where you imagine yourself sprinting for the line during an interval."

;-) ...ohyeah....

Here's to Lighting That Candle and for for Uncorking in such a masterful way!!


Jill Homer said...

Nice work, Dave, and nice write-up. Congratulations!

Dave said...

Well done! Sounds like a fun course.

Geoff said...

great ride. sounds like just what you needed after your frustrations on the KTR. seems like you've learned a lot about yourself and about biking in the past several weeks.