I like my rides to be simple, confined events with a definitive start and end. Hard or easy, short or long, hilly or flat. Mostly that is unimportant to me. What is important is that there is a clear start and a clear finish. I'm pretty good at putting the rest together as long as I know when the gun is going to go off and where the finish line is.
Yeah that's not the best way to approach a 24 hour race. There is a clear start to the racing, but the preparation is as much a part of the event as pedaling the bike is. And the end? well, what is the end? You basically do a cyclocross race every three hours, and only until the last few hours are you clued in to when you may finally be done. Even then, teammates may not feel well or another team may be gaining on you so you got to dig deep and get ready to lay it down again. So the end and beginning aren't so neatly defined.
People are surprised to learn about all of the strategy behind road racing, especially the grand tours, and there is lots of strategy around the 24 hour event. When to eat, when to sleep, should you take two laps, does someone need to go out for one last lap at the end or is the team right behind us going to bail on that last lap as well... all of these things cost some mental collateral. Pedaling the bike maybe the easiest part. Well not really.
This race starts on Thursday really, when you have to be sure to get a good night's rest. Then into Friday, you're stressed about clothing, rain gear, your camp set up, food for before during and after the event, and maybe trying to figure out when to make the drive. I was racing on a 5 person co-ed team with Mike Z, Nick M., Leah PB. & Chip B. I only knew of Leah a little and had never met Nick, so I wasn't sure how this was going to go down. Would they be fast? Well prepared? Would anyone get sick? Lots of unknowns, so I tried to focus on getting my stuff as tight as possible.
Mike Z & I caravaned up to Great Glen Saturday morning and arrived 90 minutes before the race. We skipped the rider's meeting and got the intel from teammates and our sister team of Colin R, Greg W, Kevin S & Mike W. These guys had done this before and knew all the secrets, like setting up your tent prior to your first lap.
Being a seasoned "triathlete" I was elected to take the first lap which began with a short run around a pond to stretch the field out. This run hurt bad, shot my heart rate through the roof, and I never recovered for the entire first lap.
About that first lap.... I didn't get a pre-ride in, and that's probably for the best, because I would have faked a stomach bug or something and skipped out on the whole damn thing had I done so. The course started out going straight up hill for a mile: at first via a series of well intended switchbacks but eventually ended with a direct shot straight up the last 100 meters of the climb. It was like the trail builders got sick of cutting so much back and forth stuff and said screw it, let the bastards right straight up to the top. There was some sweet singletrack down from there and then several long section of fireroads, most of which were very fast. There was some fresh cut choppy singletrack mixed in here and there, and a leg breaking rocky climb about half way through each lap. The decent from this climb was awesome, not super technical but just bony enough to be fun and challenging. A final singletrack climb to a last drop and that was it: 8.3 mile laps with something like 1000 feet of climbing per.
No one ever suggested to me that a single speed bike would be a suboptimal equipment choice.
Half way through the first lap I was gassed and thought that there was no way I was going to do this even one more time, never mind 5 or 6. This was full on race pace and this course was hard. The singlespeed was badly overgeared for the climbs and worse yet undergeared for the flats.
My teammates were awesome: totally supportive of each other and out there to give it everything they had. Zank cranked out a great second lap and it was on. Chip rocked the downhill on the team's lap three, and Nick M, racing his third mtb race ever, rode strong after that. Leah PB was the only woman riding a rigid singlespeed (BALLER) and she crushed it too.
Surprisingly, my second lap felt better than my first. Yes I had slowed down some but the ratio of feeling good to going slower was not direct. I didn't go much slower but man I felt a whole lot better.
So this whole race, rest, wait, check the time of your teammates, eat, try and sleep, get ready to ride, then head out again routine went on for 24 hours. We skipped some turns, made adjustments to the rotation, and tried to figure out how to have as much fun as possible while riding a bike in the woods of NH at 2:30 am. It wasn't that hard really, because the RAD factor for this race was off the charts. It helps that I love riding at night I suppose, it was a lot of fun to be ripping through the woods after midnight on a perfectly clear night with just your light and the sound of your bike to keep you company.
The course at first bothered me. Not technical enough. But after a half dozen laps, you got to appreciate it for what it was, not what it wasn't. There were spots that challenged your mind and others that challenged your body. Will I make plans to go there to ride recreationally? Hell no, but in a race setting it was a great course. The fire road descent after that bony climb was worth the work to get there.
We finished strong as a team and quit on our last lap as the sky opened up. Had the team behind us simply sent someone out for a final lap we would have lost 6th place but they were smart like us and got started on the celebrations a bit early.
Thanks to Mike, Chip, Leah & Nick for a great time. You guys were a great team and rode like champions individually.
This one will be on the schedule again next year for sure.