Carved from the school of hard knocks, here’s how the morning of the 24 hours of Steamboat played out: sleep wasn’t happening, so got up about 5am. There is a lot of stuff to get ready when doing these unsupported, so I went out to the truck to haul some plastic bins up the “stairway to heaven” of my friend’s house, a steep narrow stairway leading to the upper living area. Well, I must not have been fully awake yet, cause I tripped, lost my balance, then tumbled backwards down the stairs, slamming my left knee and right hip in the process…but the real kicker was the way in which the concrete floor met my head. There was time for an instant of shocked recognition before the lights went out. Sometime later (no idea how long but I was getting cold) conciousness slowly came back, at first just a glimmer, sort of like that can’t run in a nightmare feeling, and as I lay there aware of the throbbing goose egg right where my helmet would sit for 24 hours I thought to myself “self, things can only get better!”
First let me set the record straight. I wasn’t self-supported for the event. I had planned to be from the outset, and was ready to be at the start, but my great friends Bill and Jen Murphy showed up in the late afternoon on Saturday and never left. Chrissy & Joules also stopped by at key times to help with this and that…and there was help forthcoming from other pit crews too. Words simply don’t describe how fortunate I am to have such friends.
Getting everything set to go was a lot more time consuming than I had planned. Setting up bottles of eFuel, flasks of eGel, setting up all food on one table, getting the 2nd bike ready for night riding, filling camelbacks – then there was the mandatory 10am meeting, and a breakfast meeting with friends I rarely get to see…it all made for a mood of full blown mania by the time the gun went off.
Last year I walked the run, finishing DFL pretty much. Not this year…started mid pack and moved up to the top 30 or 40 thereabouts, and once we got the bikes, well let’s just say the legs were beyond happy. The training leading to this event had gone very well and the legs gave instant positive feedback. The climbing part of the course is mostly either dirt road or double track, passing is rarely an issue. I wasn’t going hard, yet I was moving up fast. After about 15 minutes, there were only 3 guys in front of me and I thought how cool would it be to be the first one in? I jumped up a few gears and was alone. Another 15 minutes or so and I was at the top – there were huge crowds, and it wasn’t lost on the onlookers that I had the number 1 plate. From there the descent is up and down a bit, but some of the best flowy singletrack around. Coupled with my new favorite Fuel setup – a Reba at 100mm and disc brakes front/rear – the bike was flowing under me like the Animas at high water. When I reached the bottom, I learned there was another rider that was way off the front, so it turned out I was 2nd guy in. Must have been one of the guys from the team that did 22 laps.
For the 2nd lap I decided to shut it down. Although I didn’t feel like I was going hard (even ate a banana on that first lap), it was a strange senstation to be that far ahead. So I ate more grub and just cruised along…but to my surprise I didn’t get caught by any riders. After finishing the 2nd lap as the 2nd guy across, I was looking around to see if Rod Serling was over my shoulder.
For entertainment, I was really working the descent, much more than the climbs. It was so freaking fun. This was my first time with discs front and rear, and now I know what Sager means when he talks about controlled two wheel slides in turns. Holy crap is that fun. Running the PT on the MTB has prevented me from the full disc experience for some years now, Graber get with the program!!! I’ll not do another race (that I care about) with the PT. Discs are way better than data.
Clearly, this kind of pace can’t keep up forever, and it didn’t. I’d like to say that I went fast early to throw out a warning shot to the competition, or that I thought I could maintain that pace…but in retrospect, I now realize that after obsessing over so many details – lighting, self-support efficiency – the one detail left out was a pacing plan. The morning’s events had me so amped up and agro at the start nothing was going to slow me down. It sunk in about nightfall that I screwed the pooch as my gut showed the early signs of shutdown.
I had been holding a steady 30 min lead for the solo’s, but after about midnight, the Canadian Stick Boy began to reel me in. Finally, about 2am I had just finished a really hard lap and asked Jen where Stick Boy was and she just pointed. His pit was right next to mine, and there we were, looking at each other. Bad gut or not, this is seriously fun stuff. For the next 5 hours or so I dug deep to stay close. Through the rest of the night and early morning, I think we saw each other at every pit. It was a great time. This was his first 24 hour race and he was kicking some butt – self-supported too – he later told me he just wanted to call a truce in the night. Those late night laps were a hoot. The moon was full, it wasn’t very cold, just gorgeous. All the fresh high mountain growth had that thick “skunky” scent going off the charts, and that descent was getting more fun even in the dark. I had serious competition, was in my element, and concious of it all the while. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
My gut was my undoing. Through the night, I was less and less able to take in calories, then water wouldn’t even stay down. It got to the point where I had to take long pits and eat 600-1000 calories just to get the next lap done. Eating while stationary was fine, eating on the go was a no-go. If I shortened a pit to get on the trail sooner, I’d have a really bad time on the climb so I yo-yo’d a lot that way. Finally, the 13th lap was disaster. Jesse was about 4 minutes up on me, and Jen said “Dave, how far behind Jesse do you want to be?” Yea…waving a red flag in front of a bull…”I don’t want to be behind him at all!” so off I went without eating. How many ways are there to say empty…it was lap 13 that I quit thinking about chasing Jesse and went into damage control.
Before the 14th lap I ate my fill and put in a solid lap. It was looking like it was going to take 16 laps to hold onto 2nd, so I kept the efforts moderated on the few really steep bits. The first 3 riders were all close and fast (we were all well ahead of course record pace) – the guy behind me was Jason Stubbe, a super salty, amiable, fast guy. Last I heard he was 30 min back, but had momentum going in the opposite direction as me. Could I hold him off?
Nope. I headed out for the 15th without getting enough calories down, and on top of that, it was getting hot. I was dead in the water. Jason came by me all happy, asked me if I was going out for the 16th and told me I was his hero and he loved me (I said amiable, remember?) when I said no, and that was that. My upper body was totally thrashed from working the descent, so rather than finish that lap out I turned it around and coasted back down the S/F and settled for 3rd & 14 laps.
14 laps was good enough for the win last year, but this year only 3rd. Those 14 laps did take 1.5 hours less this year, gut trouble notwithstanding. I really have to give props to Jesse Jakomait and Jason Stubbe – neither had done a 24 hour race before, and both rode great races, perfectly paced and finishing strong. Jesse went on to do 16 laps in 24:04 – methinks that record will stand for some time. Jesse really should consider doing the Moab 24 – if he can ride desert stuff like he can in the mountains, he’d be a good bet.
I’ve had about a dozen emails now thanking me for the 24 hour tips blog posts, several of which have been from riders who just won their first 24. Looks like we can add Jesse to the list. Nothing like making more competition for yourself!
As for my race, I’ve always been critical of the big 3 for their usual strategy of a ballistic start, and have secretly always wanted to try it. I’ve always figured it would cost a lot in the end and be detrimental in the long run. Now I know. Once things start heading down the tubes, it’s really tough to turn it around. Despite the hard ending, I felt a lot better this year and had more fun on course than last year. It was a freaking blast, and I hope Brad and Katie keep this race going for years to come.