Hmm. I grew bored of racing in circles years ago now, but I had not done a 24-hour race on a bike since the end of high school! Since then, I had competed in a couple editions of the 24 Hours of Telemark, a now defunct nordic ski event. I thought back to that last race, where I had raced duo and taken the win. I remembered suffering immensely, not sleeping a wink, and consuming far too much Red Bull. It took weeks to recover from that effort and all that Red Bull.
I wrote back to Aaron eventually and somewhat reluctantly said I'd do it. In the end, that was precisely the right response. This past weekend, we rode an impressively smooth race and stood atop the podium when all was aid and done, having covered 340 miles in just over 24 hours and coming in one lap down on the top 4- and 5-person teams. I can't say it came particularly easily, though. Here's the lap-by-lap replay for what I remember clearly from each of my trips around the 16-mile circuit:
The edge of 24 Hour Town, our tent front and center on the course. Photo by Aaron.
Lap 1: Aaron came in strongly from his first lap near the front of the field. I took off, pushing a high heart rate, aiming for a 1:05 lap, and had absolutely no idea how hard I had to push to accomplish that. So I rode hard and came in around 1:02. My legs felt great, the course was fun, and it sure didn't seem like there were 500+ people out there. It was nice to get away from the chaos of "24 Hour Town," though.
Lap 2: Where the heck is Aaron? I briefly stood in the transition tent, saw him nowhere, and ran out to do a second successive lap. I had an empty water bottle and a single gel. Oops. Midway through the lap, I hit the back of the field and realized how much passing was going to be involved in this event. 100+ passes later, I was back in the tent, and a frustrated Aaron headed out for two laps.
Lap 3: Uh oh. My legs started to hurt a bit on the long, gradual climb toward the end of the lap. I realized that 11 laps were not going to come easily. But this was also the sunset lap, and it sure did not disappoint. The mountains to the west stood in front of an orange glow, and the San Pedro Valley to the east was illuminated by subdued pastels.
Aaron leaves the chaos of the start near the front
Lap 4: UH OH. Heading out on the first singletrack, I felt pretty sluggish. And things did not improve. I choked down some gel, then some more, and drank most of my bottle. Nothing helped. The long drag into the headwind killed me as I crawled along. The final climb was even worse. I felt like I was out there for two hours. Luckily, I wasn't. This ended up being my worst lap on all fronts.
Lap 5: I felt a bit rejuvenated and thoroughly enjoyed this lap. I was riding with brighter lights than I ever have used, and even on low, my mind was relaxed as it read the trail and I swooped in and out of cacti-lined turns. Passing became easier as the edges of wider spots in the trail became worn in.
Lap 6: The dead of night. Starting at 12:30, I was wide awake and again enjoying the night. My lap times were just a few minutes slower than during the day, but they were also slowing down at a rate of 1-2 minutes per lap. That was not the consistency I had been hoping for, but in reality, I had no idea how to pace myself for the on-again off-again efforts. The moon set as I was on this lap, and there seemed to be far fewer racers on course.
Waiting in the transition tent in the wee hours of the morning. Photo by Steve Lummer.
Lap 7: Aaron was missing at the transition again. I stood around for a minute or two waiting. I stared at a pile of gels on the table in the tent, and then without grabbing any, I went out for another lap. Once again, I only had a bit of a bottle left, and my gel was almost gone. A half mile into the lap, I was kicking myself for not taking a handful of gels from the table! But I surprisingly felt good, and before long, I regained my rhythm and churned out the rest of the lap. Somewhere on this lap, we lost the lead to another duo team.
Lap 8: After I took 2 laps, Aaron did the same, and I caught a quick 20-minute nap in my tent. Suddenly I was as awake as ever, and the sun would be popping up before long. I shot out of the transition zone, filled with renewed energy, and throughout the lap, my legs had renewed power. Magic legs. This happens to me sometimes well into ultras. Last year, it happened 2 days into the Arizona Trail 300. I do not know physiologically why this happens, but I sure know the sensation when it arrives, and I know what to do. Hammer. Minutes came off my lap time. The effort required to sneak past riders on short, wider sections in between prickly pears became easier, and the final climb felt great, especially as dawn was just a few minutes away. I railed the somewhat technical descent back to the start, grinning most of the way.
Lap 9: Morning. I wore one too many layers on top, so I was warm and uncomfortable for much of the time. Fortunately, the magic legs were still going strongly. More riders were back out on course, but apparently the leading duo team, which had been a few minutes up on us, quit due to bike problems. Not understanding this, I pushed as hard as I could.
Lap 10: My last lap. My mind alternated between reflecting on the past 22 hours and thinking, "Oooh, that's the last time up this climb!" Sadly, it was final time up the long climb on the back side of the course, to which I really had begun to look forward. It was also the last time down the rock "drop," where dozens of noisy fans had gathered. I rode it cleanly, handed the baton off to Aaron, and watched him head out for one final lap.
And now it's snowing outside. Fatbike time.