Thursday, February 21, 2013

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, 2013

Wow, it's been over two months since I've written to this blog. Guess I've been busy enough, but I'm kind of sad to see it go so stale. But in those two months I've started a new job and become obsessed with training for the Old Pueblo solo. It took me a while to light a fire under my dead ass and get going. But once I got going it was pretty much work, eat, sleep, train for the last part of December, all of January, and pretty right up until I left for the southwest. I had a great visit with family in SoCal. I did the Tour de Palm Springs century ride the Saturday before race day.

   Tour de Palm windmills

Then I went over to San Diego and hung out for a couple days with two of my sisters.

La Jolla From Glider Port

Then on Wednesday the 13th I headed back east to Tucson to stay with my friends Jake and Tracy for a couple nights. Rode a day with Jake, had a great dinner Thursday night and then had the pleasure of showing up at 24 Hour Town Friday morning well-rested and clean.

24 Hour Town

I settled in and got as organized as possible Friday after taking a quick practice lap to be sure my bike was working right.

24 Old Pueblo Course

The first lap is always a tough one for staying on strategy. It's a major downside of lap races. I want to start right out with an all-day pace, but in a pack full of people of varying ability, I am compelled to pass slower riders, sometimes half a dozen at a time when the course opens up to allow it. And then need to put in hard efforts to stay with the faster riders I've been able to bridge to. The conga line effect.

Then on lap two, it seems like a waste not to gap on the slower riders that were passed in lap one and try to get into the fatter part of the bell curve. By nightfall, everything will have shaken out. But on lap two my perception is always that it's worth it to stay ahead of slower riders, so there's more riding at an effort level that is counter-productive to the long haul.

I was by my self for this event, and was planning to just operate out of the back of my Toyota Matrix. But my neighbors at 24 Hour Town were supporting their 68-year-old mom who was riding solo singlespeed. I have met her, she's the close friend of one of my close friends. Her support were her son and daughter-in-law, Randy and Sherri W from Prescott, AZ. Randy is brother to one of my friends in Salida, Jeff W. We hung out for a while Friday night, and it turned out we have lots in common beyond knowing many of the same people. Similar age, similar opinions about bike industry stuff and old equipment. And they lived for years in the same town where my parents spend winters. Randy was part owner of the bike shop my dad goes to! It was fun getting to know them.

And then, when I came in off my first lap and wandered over to my car to get myself a fresh bottle of Tailwind Nutrition (a new product for me that worked GREAT by the way), Randy offered to help me out any way he could. He started by taking my Tailwind and extra bottle and promised to have replacements mixed and ready to go at the end of each lap. Their help turned out to be really key to my good experience. And their mom Wendy took third in women's solo singlespeed! She is bad-ass!

Weather? Wind. Hard constant wind out of the east. The course isn't terribly climbey, especially by Colorado standards, but there is one mile or so section of the Corral Trail which leads onto a 3 or so mile trail called Rattlesnake that were straight into the wind. The Corral section is a false flat, Rattlesnake is a series of climbs with tiny little breaks. So that bit of trail on the back side of the course was tough during those first twelve hours. After midnight the wind slacked off for the most part, but it was a real factor for the first twelve.


The night never got super cold. I'd say 40° F was as cold as it got. Very manageable. And it can be wet. This year there was no precip at all and the course was totally dry. But there was dust. The wind and traffic in the first 12 hours was making dust a real factor. It was making me a little nauseous.

At the end of my 3rd lap I stopped to mount lights. I had my NiteRider MOAB HID system, which I haven't used much the last couple of years. When I've done nighttime stuff like Vapor Trail I have tended to use my much lighter NiteRider MiNewt LED system. It has way less output, but I find it quite adequate for singletrack like the Colorado Trail from Blanks Cabin to Cascade simply because you rarely can pick up much speed. The Old Pueblo course is fast. It's easy out outrun the output of the MiNewt.

You may be able to see where this is going. I mounted up the battery and lamp. It wasn't dark yet, but I decided I better fire it up to be sure it was working. No sale. Hitting the power button had no effect. Crap. I got out my spare battery. Hooked it up. Same.

Randy came over. He pointed out that his mom had the exact same light, would I like to try her battery to see if it worked, because her system was healthy. Yep, he brought it over, we hooked it up, nobody home. My lamp was dead even when hooked to a known-good battery.

Randy asked if I'd like for him to carry it over to the Niterider tent to see if they could figure out what was wrong. Wow. That was huge. I wouldn't have taken the hour or so it was likely to take to do that. But Randy took time away from supporting his mom to carry it over.

I left for a lap with my backup MiNewt. Turned out I didn't need it for that whole lap, I was back before it got dark. When I got back from lap #4 Randy told me that Niterider had identified the problem, a faulty connection in the power plug. They were fixing it under warranty (it's 7 years old by the way). He said he would have it for me when I got back from my next lap. Wow. I took the bottle he had mixed for me and headed out. He was going to be leaving his support camp to make a second trip over to the Niterider tent for me.

That was my first night lap, and it was clear that the MiNewt was holding me back, and probably wasn't really strong enough to be safe. I was really looking forward to having my HID lamp. Thanks to Randy I had it for the rest of the night after that first one.

I rode two more laps and finished my 7th around midnight. It was a low point. My ass was hurting bad and I was feeling really shelled. When I got back Randy had a fire going and told me by all means come sit by the fire. I put on a fresh pair of shorts, slathered on some chamois butter, grabbed a red bull, a bag of potato chips and some fabulous Trader Joes inside-out carrot cake cookies (highly recommended).

I sat for probably 20 minutes or so. I ate my first solid food after 12 hours of only Tailwind Nutrition (which had been working for me remarkably well--my longest effort on purely liquid nutrition ever). I think the sitting and the red bull did the most for me. When I got up and staggered back out to the course, I found that I was re-energized.

I also found that when I got out on the course, it was relatively deserted. Lots of the riders, especially the more novice and slower riders, go to bed during the wee hours. I love the wee hours. One of the reasons I even bother with these things is the buzz of being out there at 2 AM riding under the stars. The wind had slacked off, the dust was down because of the lack of traffic, I had a renewed energy level.

I rode three laps in a row only stopping in pit for the fresh bottles of Tailwind that Randy always had waiting for me. At the end of the second of those, nobody was up in camp but there was a bottle right where I would expect to find it.

Those laps were great. I connected with a series of fellow solo riders. Most of them were women. We chatted and helped each other maintain steady pace. There were also long solitary periods. To me that is what makes a 24 hour solo. The night. The silence. The dancing beams of lights from my lamp and other riders' lamps. I found the hallucinations during this race to be top-notch. Crazy shadows of cholla and joshua trees. The perception of movement, phantom running dogs and cats. Snakes that turn out to be sticks.

When the line of light on the eastern horizon signaled the coming of dawn, I was spanked again. I came back to camp to find Randy and Cherri in camp. The fire was out but they had a little propane heater pointing at a chair in their easy-up. I took my lights off the bike. I put on my third pair of shorts, my favorite pair. I put perhaps a pound of chamois butter on my butt and the chamois. I grabbed another red bull, my chips, another Trader Joe's baked product and sat in that chair for 15 or 20 minutes.

At that point I had 10 laps. I wanted 13. When I got up to get back on course, it was right at 7 AM. Three two hour laps would be easily within reach. That would have me finishing at 1 PM. All I needed to do was keep the pace I had during the night and not spend too much time in pit. With my best shorts on and plenty of chamois butter, my butt actually was not uncomfortable at all. Seemed like I was good to go.

Lap 11 introduced me to a problem I hadn't been aware of. I injured my left shoulder back in September at the Crested Butte Classic. It was never bad enough to have me see doctor or physical terrorist. Just a little wonky. I have been doing some of the classic shoulder therapy exercises with a bungee cord, and a little bit of tricep work with some light dumbells. But apparently through the course of the last 19 hours of racing I had been weighting that arm differently than the right.

During lap #11 I found that my left tricep and deltoid were very fatigued. Much more than the right. Also I felt that my left arm was supporting my weight in a different way than the right. I wasn't sitting the bike in a symmetrical way. My left shoulder was dropping. My ability to ride flowing trail was impaired. I found myself riding sweeping right turns imprecisely. I also felt that on flat and climb sections my back wasn't straight as I pedaled. It was robbing my power and just felt uncomfortable.

My shoulder didn't hurt, but my upper body was just wrong. My speed suffered and the passing fast riders started to be very disruptive. The fast teams were in the final stretch. Their stress level was clearly higher. Their pass requests were more immediate and urgent. I felt like I was needing to get out of the way constantly, which meant I had to slow or stop then get started again constantly.

I still wanted my two more laps. My pace during #11 wasn't actually terrible, and I was still on schedule.

I left for lap #12. The first third or so of the course is fast and easy. I was riding it fine. Everything seemed like it was going to work out. But once I got to the tougher sections of the course, I totally fell apart. It was that left side. I could hardly pedal. I could hardly exploit the faster flow sections at all. The passing riders were eating me alive.

When I got to the last 3 or 4 miles of the course I was Quasimodo, a hunched over, puffing, suffering disaster. The major climb of the course had me stopping every minute or two. It was taking me forever to get through the lap. I was going to be back in time to take my thirteenth if I wanted it, but I knew it was pointless. I was somewhat disappointed because I felt like I still had the legs, but I was also ready to be off that course and off the bike. The decision to stop was easy.

At about 11 AM I rolled back to camp and put my bike on the rack. I started eating, and I got out of my lycra. And it was good. It was fine. I had nearly 200 miles on me and my GPS showed over 20 hours of moving time.

End of First Night Lap

Official result was 14th out of 87. But more important result was great experience, great weather, great people.

I simply cannot thank Randy and Sherri enough. And I am so proud of their mom Wendy for being on the podium. She shared that podium with women half her age. Bad. Ass.


Ed said...

Nice work Tom!

Good to see a post from you.


kw said...

Tom, long overdue on posting. Glad I was present to witness this years 24 HIOP effort. It's been to long. Hope to share a trail soon. a friend kw

Ken said...

Nice write up! Excellent job on the solo! I too met the Woody Woodpecker Gal and her son at the start, nice folks!