Arriving at 24 Hour Town early Friday morning, the atmosphere was as it was last year. RVs, tents, kids, dogs, bikes, crowds of people, and of course beer. I love this event. It would be safe to say that it is my favorite race of the year.
The environment and atmosphere is intoxicating, and this year there seemed to be even more of a buzz in the air. Whether it was the fact that more people came out for this year’s Old Pueblo to catch a glimpse of Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Dylan Casey competing in the 4-Man relay, or if the crowds showed up to watch what was sure to be quite a spectacle of how the rain and wind would affect all of us “desert folk”. Whatever the reason, Friday was electrifying, and I was enjoying every second of it.
Saturday at 11:50am found me lined up at the starting line, nervously prepping for the nearly 1 mile La Mans start. Well, it wasn’t so much “lined up” as it was “clumped as closely as possible together with 499 strangers for warmth.” Think National Geographic documentary about penguins. Except instead of cute, fuzzy black-and-white birds huddled together, think spandex-clad, shaved-arms-and-legs, most-of-which-costumed athletes. There I stood, donning a red SS cape, with a girlfriend of mine racing out there on a Duo Team snuggled against my right side, and a stranger nestled on my left wearing cutoff denim short shorts, striped knee-high socks, and a helmet fashioned to look like a Viking’s helmet, horns and all.
At noon the gun went off and we all took off running to our corralled bikes. I hopped on mine and off I went to begin the adventure of answering the lurking question on the forefront of my mind: “How long am I going to survive this thing when these ominous clouds open up?”
Lap 1 was chaotic, of course, but it was dry. And I was grateful for that. If I had known it was to be the only dry lap I was to see out there, I might have savored it a bit more. Midway through Lap 2, a few sprinkles fell, and I thought to myself “I hope AZ weather forecasts are similar to SoCal’s in that they mean this when they call for rain.” That thought was fleeting, lasting a mere 2 minutes before the skies opened up and a heavy sideways downpour began. Still wearing lycra and no rain gear yet, I was forced to stop at our pit, dry off in the van, and take a very necessary unplanned break to fend off hypothermia. The atmosphere of the race itself seemed to change during that lap. It went from its usual 24HOP shenanigans, to one of an underlying “survival mode” for most of us racers. 55 minutes later, I was dryer, warmer, and back on my bike, dressed akin to the Michelin Man, ready to attempt Lap 3. Truth be told I was scared. Really scared.
I knew that my unplanned long break would plant me in last place, and as much as I didn’t want to think about the “racing aspect” at that particular moment, I had to. I was here to race, not just survive some bad weather. During my 3rd lap, I tried to wrap my head around a new race strategy. One that included attempting to ride all night without a nap. I didn’t know how my body would handle it, especially when my legs were already feeling the burn at a mere 45 miles in. But if I was going to go for it, I would need to start planning accordingly. So I dialed back my pace in preparation, and focused on recovery spinning on the flats to get ready for the long night ahead.
I got a second wind somewhere during lap 4, and decided to put off my dinner break until after lap 5, telling myself that if I got 5 in, it may help put some added pressure on the other girls in my class. And seeing as how I was still pretty sure I was in last place, I needed to take a few extra risks when I had energy to do so. By now it was dark, and I was uplifted to see that the bad weather had not changed the nighttime spirit of 24 Hour Town, nor did it affect the heckling party at the Whiskey Tree. There were probably a few less men riding around in short tutus, but that was really the only difference. Shenanigans abounded, and it was just what I needed to kick-start my long night.
The end of lap 5 marked 82 miles, potentially the halfway point. The thought of having to do another 82 miles in the rain, headwinds, and cold temps was daunting, to say the least, and very overwhelming. So I focused on my deliciously hot dinner, and enjoyed a longer break in the heated, dry, wind-free van in Troupe Town.
I don’t remember much of lap 6, only rolling in afterwards and announcing to Greg that this is where I bonked last year and had to nap, mile 98. And here I was, a bit tired and beat-up, but meltdown-free. That’s when I asked “So, am I still in last place?” figuring out of the 5 women in the Solo Female Singlespeed class, I would at best be in 4th.
“If you go through the timing tent right now, you’ll be in 2nd Place”
Enter the turning point in the race.
I didn’t know if I would be able to hold onto that placement, as the other women in my class all seemed competitive and were capable of impressive lap times. But I sure as hell planned on trying. That meant laying down as many night laps as I could when the conditions were at their worst: It was a whopping 38 degrees around midnight, headwinds and crosswinds of up to 40mph, and the (now light, but relentless) rain had turned into tiny ice pellets. And somehow, I was still pedaling my bicycle with a somewhat positive mental outlook. I was officially racing this thing.
After Lap 7, whilst sipping piping hot freshly roasted Troupe Racing Roastery Kenya coffee, I checked my phone. I had so much encouragement both via texts and Social Media comments. I was incredibly overwhelmed. It was that kind of encouragement and support that got me back out on the bike at 3:55am to head out for my 8th lap. I had to fight off some feverish nausea the whole lap, and it was pretty miserable, but I kept going, albeit slowly, reminding myself “Every pedal stroke is one more than 3rd Place is making right now.” My competition had taken a long break, and I was putting a good lead in on her, hoping that if I put enough laps in during the night, it would keep my lead intact for the rest of the day.
I finished lap 8 and elevated my legs in the van while Greg made me fresh coffee. It was 6am. I nodded out for 15 minutes until coffee was ready and asked about the results. 3rd Place was back on the bike as of 6:05. I knew she was capable of pulling 1.5hr lap times, and could potentially get in 4 more before the end of the race, but as long as I finished my 10 laps before she finished her potential 10, that would solidify 2nd. And there was no way I was going to let that lead go.
I suppose you could say I was on a mission, however you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. It was slow progress. Just when I’d be able to pick up some speed for a bit, the next uphill would come and my snail’s pace would commence. Such was lap 9 and 10. Unfortunately the temps were still in the 40s, the wind was still erratic, and the trails finally lost their ability to absorb water, and half of them had turned into the consistency of a thick stew. However my tire choice of the Kenda SaberPro 2.0s couldn’t have held up better out there. They were fast rolling, and seemed to glide over most of the mud fairly easily, which I was grateful for, as I don’t know how well I would’ve made it through those last two laps with a different set up.
I finished my 10th lap, exactly 165 miles, at 11:07am, 2 hours faster than I had finished last year’s 10 laps, and in undeniably much worse conditions. Due to the race regulations that state you cannot officially finish your last lap of the race until AFTER 12pm Sunday meant that I had 2 options: A) go out for an 11th lap, which I really didn’t want to do but would if necessary. B) dry off, warm up, and get clean in the pits, then roll down the last .5mi of the course and through the timing tent at 12:01pm. I inquired about 3rd Place. She wasn’t riding anymore, which meant she was done and would go down to the timing tent to cross after her 9th, which meant an 11th lap wasn’t necessary, and I could go with the much more desirable option B, get warm and dry.
As the Awards Ceremony got under way at 1:30pm, I looked up at the sky. A patch of blue was showing and rays of sunshine were streaming down on the horizon. It had rained and howled for exactly 24 hours. The irony of it made me laugh. As much as I had spent the last day and night persistently wishing the weather to change, I had a moment of clarity at the realization that the weather couldn’t have been more perfect out there. It kept my concentration engaged, my mind and body alert, and most importantly it kept my emotional state just angry enough to put in the next pedal stroke.
I truly admire each and every person out there this past weekend. I think Epic Ride’s 19th annual 24 Hours of Old Pueblo will be one for the record books. Despite the conditions, this event’s true spirit shone through, perhaps with even more gusto and fury so as to out-perform the storm itself. I truly encourage everyone to put this race on your “must do” list, as it surely will remain on mine for as many years as possible. Bring a bike, bring some friends, bring some firewood. And bring a rain jacket or two….just in case.