Tuesday, October 16, 2007

24 Hours of Moab

The first 24 hour race I witnessed was the 2001 24 Hours of Moab. This is the 24 hour race that I compare all others to. It’s big, it’s brassy, the course is quite a handful and the talent that shows up for it is impressive. It’s late in the season, which makes it feel like a grand finale, but that also means that weather can be a huge factor.

This year I hooked up with Dave Armbruster from Denver, the team captain from my first tour of the 24 Hours of Moab. Dave has been fielding teams since that first year. He had a spot open and he offered it to me. Our team was The Mud Pigs. We entered as a Men’s Veteran 4-man team.

I went out to the venue mid-week to grab a good parcel of real estate. Dave and Jesse showed up early Friday with a travel trailer they had borrowed from one of Dave’s 2006 teammates. We set the trailers up in an L-shaped formation to block the wind, should it become a factor. Our fourth guy, Paul, rolled in Friday afternoon.

Friday was a beautiful, idyllic day, but with the wispy clouds that warn of an approaching front. The rumors were that there could be some harsh weather. Saturday morning was cool, with a sort of moist breeze. There were fairly high clouds moving fast--looked like something was going to happen. But the race start was approaching, and nothing looked likely to stop that.

Jesse was our 1st rider. He volunteered to do the LeMans start and hit the course in heavy traffic. Paul was #2, Dave was #3, and I was anchor. We agreed Friday night to stick with a simple 1-2-3-4 rotation. So I didn’t have anything to do until some time after 4 PM.

From the start, three or four teams stormed off ahead of all the others in Men’s Veteran. This is the way things go at the 24 Hours of Moab. To be on the podium in any category requires that all riders on your team are elite, and no mistakes are made. Our guys all did just fine, and we were sitting at around 13th of 25 by the time I headed for the starting line.

I had a decent first lap, an hour and twenty minutes. That's as fast as I've ever turned at Moab, even though the course was remarkably sandy this year. My 2nd lap started at quarter to 11 PM, so it was plenty dark. I was rockin' a really fast night lap, but flatted about 2/3s of the way through and spent nearly 10 minutes fixing it in the dark. That lap was 1:39. My third was a nice frisky 1:33:46, which is decent for a 2nd night lap that started at 5:30 AM.

As I was preparing for that early morning lap, I conferred with Jesse and Paul. We were analyzing our results with Excel on Paul's laptop in a trailer in the desert in the wee hours of Sunday. Jesse was due out after me. He was feeling shelled, and also feeling regret that we were looking iffy to get a 16th lap because his times were suffering. He did a 1:55 lap between midnight and 3 AM. In order for us to have any chance at a 16th lap, we needed to have him do a 1:50 or better when he went out after me. He doubted that he had that in him.

We had been playing around between 11th and 13th place in Men's Vet since the start. The best we were going to do was 11th, and finishing there would definitely require doing 16 laps.

Jesse offered to skip his lap, letting all the faster riders do theirs, and he would take the clean-up lap at the end, which we would almost certainly get to do. In order for that to happen, Paul would have to be ready to go right after me, and he had just come in off the cold, dark course. So that sounded pretty difficult to him.

As I got up to go ride, I told them that it was really up to them. It was Paul's burden, and he should decide if he was willing to do it. Jesse noted that I had a say in it too, since I could lose the chance to do the four laps that they all were doing. I told them that I was OK with whatever.

I went out on course. As I raced, I considered that perhaps I should offer to double up, and go out again when I saw Jesse at the start/finish. But I eliminated it by the time I got there. I felt that it might not be respectful of Jesse's feelings. I should just smile, wish him luck, and let him know that I had faith in him to do his best. It really didn't matter. We were doing this for fun, and Jesse could do his lap or not do it. He could turn a fast lap or he could fall completely apart, and it was his experience that mattered then, not whether we did 15 or 16 laps.

Well, Jesse dug deep and came up with a 1:44. It was fast for him on his tired legs. And he got the dawn boost that I had predicted would help him. He came off the course smiling, happy, and proud of himself. Hot damn! And we were still in it for 16 laps!

Paul went out and turned a nice quick 1:27. Then it was Dave's turn. He hit the course at 10:24:45 AM. He needed to do a 1:35 to get me onto the course for a final lap. His first lap, when he was fresh, was 1:29:19. Clearly, it wasn't going to be easy for him to throw down and finish a lap that fast. I cleaned up my bike, suited up, stretched, and got ready to go if he got back in time.

All three of us were in the start/finish tent as noon approached. Wildly enthusiastic team exchanges were going on. The team that was currently holding 11th place sent out their rider at 11:49. So he had a lead on me, but I'd been smoking this guy through the whole race, so I wasn't worried about catching him if I got to get out there. But would I? The minutes kept clicking by, no Dave. As it got past 11:58 I started to assume that we were done. Oh well, that's how it goes. Then it got to be 11:59. The announcer started to count down to noon, and suddenly I heard Jesse yell "He's here!"

I jumped over to our start/finish volunteer and said "Our guy Dave is coming!" The countdown started and here came Dave, his eyes hollow with exhaustion. He rolled up to the table, handed down the baton, scanned his card, and promptly fell over, bike and all. I laughed out loud, took the baton, scanned my card and jogged out to get my bike and start that last lap. I laughed on and off for about the first 5 minutes, then got down to the business of catching the rider from the 11th place team.

There were lots and lots of exhausted solo riders out there, and other quite a bit slower riders. But of course that's all I saw. There really weren't any riders starting after me. I was probably the 2nd to the last rider to hit the course, if not the last. So nobody was passing me, and I was passing plenty of slower riders.

I kept the hammer down, watching for my competitor. I checked the number of every rider I approached from the back. I covered all the gnarly climbs and technical sections in the tough first half of the course with as much speed and grace as I could muster. It was not the time to crash or flat.

Finally, as I approached one of the last technical rock descents in the middle of the course, I saw my guy. He came to the top of the rocky descent and skidded to a stop. I heard him say, "Not this time." Then I blew past him and dropped it. I heard him say "Nice job", but I just kept after it.

So now I knew that I had 11th as long as I didn't mess anything up. As far as I knew, there was still a chance to move up even more, especially if somebody had a mechanical, so I stayed on it as much as my tired body could.

My final lap was 1:27:30. We were 11th place, and all was at peace in our world.

For mere mortals, this is how the 24 of Moab goes. The podium belongs to the truly fast. The rest of us create our arbitrary measures of success, and we go out there and do the best we can. Real victory for us comes in behaving like a team and making good memories. So we won. We all had the most dramatic, best finish ever at Moab. Everybody on the team threw down big time to get us that 16th lap. We all got what we got by doing our best.

It was a great time. A great way for me to sum up my 2007 race season.


Dave said...

Well done! Tired just reading about it. I'm sad I missed out on the fun and drama, but then again I'm not. Perhaps I'll be in the mix next year.

Ed said...

Dude! 24 Hours of Moab is so yesterday, when are we going to get a real update?

Happy Thanksgiving Tom!