Moab: short race, long story

Biblical.  That word best sums up the 24 hours of Moab this year – epic is overused and isn’t strong enough anyway.  The 4 corners region has been getting nailed by weather of biblical proportions the past 2 months and old muther nature stayed true to recent form this past weekend in Moab, Utah.

Let’s begin with the ending.  It was messy in many ways…but here’s how I think the results ended up for the top 5 in solo men:

Nat Ross
Josh Tostado
Dave Harris
Peter Kenyon
Nick Martin

Now for how this came to be…

The forecast when I left Durango for Moab called for a 20% chance of showers on Saturday and Saturday night.  Given how wet it’s been you’d think I’d interpret that as “be on the  lookout for flooding”…but 20% barely registered on my radar screen.  I packed stuff for a few light showers. 

Arriving Thursday afternoon was killer.  We had the perfect campsite, or so it seemed.  We were within earshot of the announcer, within range for wireless access to the GrannyGear network, close to potable water, showers, right on the course, and amidst all the top contender’s camps.  What I failed to recognize in choosing that spot, however, was that it was the primary drainage route for roughly 200 acres.  This became rather critical when the rains got busy.  Ouch.

The day before the start was typical Moab October weather – mid 70’s and sunny.  Everyone was lulled into thinking the weather would be great.  Note the migratory tents:

By the start time of noon Saturday, conditions had changed considerably.

Ah well, us spoiled desert rats were gonna get our come uppance.  In my 7 different races here, the only moisture I’d ever seen was a 2 hour snow shower.  It left the course faster than ever after it stopped.  Such was not the case today.  With all the biblical weather of late, the ground was already completely saturated.  Instead of getting tacky & fast, any moisure loosened the sand into a muddy texture.

Time to warm up the legs.  I only run ~3 times each year – the 3 LeMans starts I do each year, and the last time I started stone cold and pulled a muscle.  None of that this time.

The start was hilarious.  There must have been 10 people fall on there face with the first step of the LeMans start run.  My start was as good as expected – somewhere in the top 100 riders, good enough for my first lap intentions. 

The game plan was a bit different this year, as was the fitness level.  Confidence was at an all time high, which meant I was in no hurry to burn up those matches.  I was going to take my time picking this race apart and felt no need to start fast.  One very interesting factoid pulled from my power files of previoius 24 hour efforts is that for similar lap times, as the race progresses power drops – or conversely, for similar power, lap time decreases.  In essence, I become more efficient as time goes on.  Why waste a bunch of wahoo on the first few laps when it could be better spent at a later time?  24 hour racing has an enormous mental aspect.  If momentum is gaining, that mental aspect is positive; if your’e going backwards, well ya know that sucks.  Another reason why starting too hard is bad:  if the weather turns south, either by getting cold, wet, or both – your energy stores may be too low to generate the level of power required to maintain body temp in a good “operating” range.  More than one top rider succumbed to this problem when conditions got hard.  There are so many good reasons not to start too hard in a 24  hour race.  In this race, I learned a very good reason to start full throttle, however. 

The physical prep for this event was equally matched with top notch support.  Andy and Kong of Desert Cyclery in St George proved to be relentless round the clock mechanics, regardless of conditions.  Andy arrived Friday afternoon and literally jumped out the truck with tools in hand asking what he could start working on.  “I’ve got a Park tool in each hand and ain’t afraid to use ’em!” seemed to be his motto.  Kong arrived with Steve the next morning and our wrench force was complete.  Boris (of the E100) helped during the race as well – digging drainage ditches and doing what he could to speed up pits, while Anna completed the encampment as the pit boss in charge, keeping everything running as smooth as possible.  

Meet Andy and Kong! 

The pit boss is happy this morning.

So, back to the race.  The first 3 laps were pretty insignificant.  JRA is what I’d call them.  It rained intermittently, but no deluges.  Bikes, legs, and fueling plans were all humming along nicely.  I had not clue where I was in relation to other solos, and in fact didn’t even see any double digit number plates near me (indicating a solo rider).  On lap 4 the legs really started to open up and I felt like giving it some gas, but didn’t.  Patience.  The stalking would come later.  PE really dropped and it seemed almost too easy.  I wasn’t sure if I was going too slow so in the next pit I asked Anna if I was going fast enough, which she promptly yelled “yes!”  OK then, I’ll take that as a good sign. 

Lap 5 was biblical.  That word again.  It was raining hard at the start of the lap and just got harder.  The sound of waterfalls was everywhere; every drainage, wash, ditch was running.  Prostitute Butte was covered with a sheen that gave it the appearance of being snow covered.  Slickrock (now I know where it got it’s name) isn’t porous at all and was covered with running and standing water everywhere.  I didn’t care.  Bombing down the steep sandy descent at mile 3 there’s a hard banked right hand turn which up to this lap had been fine, but I was greeted with muddy trenches at speed and took a spill to the inside of the curve – which was a puddle about 2 feet deep.  I know, cause I was blowing bubbles from the bottom.  So that’s how lap 5 went.  Wet.

Before heading out for lap 6 I had to get a shell on.  It was getting colder and dark, as well as wetter.  I’d so far managed to keep pits in the 30 second range, but this one was disastrous…or so I thought.  All I wanted to do was zip the sleeves back on the vest I was wearing…but that proved an impossible task – tiny zippers, sandy zippers, wet cold hands…Anna saved the day by suggesting I put a different shell underneath and put the vest back on ( I wasn’t going to give up the vest because it had pockets in the front, easy food access in the mucky conditions).  Dunno how long it took, but seemed an eternity.  15-20 minutes?  Ah well, there’s plenty of time to make that up I figured.  Confidence was still good and I hadn’t dipped into any power reserves yet.

All that rain was wreaking havoc in our camp.  Because of my choice of campsites…there was literally a river running through the whole area.  Kong and Andy kept working nonstop, despite being ankle deep in running water.  Lynda & I had clean, tuned, shiny bikes to start each lap.  How they kept it going without a single complaint in these conditions is hard to comprehend.  They’d fix brakes, shifting, replace BBs, even repack hubs in between laps.  Lynda & I were still turning out decent lap times despite the conditions, which made it quite challenging for them to keep up.  They told us next time were riding single speeds, like it or not :)

Here’s Andy and Kong at work on bikes, Steve (wearing his river booties) getting stuff ready for Lynda, and Boris digging drainage ditches. Biblical!!!

So finally I get going on lap 6.  Body temp had dropped some during the inactivity, but the legs still felt great – snappy in fact, which surprised me.  It was full dark now, and I had been eagerly anticipating the night.  The first night lap is one of my favorite times in 24s for some reason…this time around I had lights to die for.  My 3xK2 LED homebrew light was off the charts bright – so bright that it completely washed out my Niterider HID light!  However, I had overvolted my HID a bit with a lighter 14.8 V lithium ion battery, so the two together was a distinct advantage.  Riders on course kept asking if I’d swap them lights; spectators repeatedly yelled out “hey, nice lights!”  They were a hindrance in some spots – the top of each climb was shrouded in mist/fog, the lights were so bright the pea soup was blinding.  But when it was clear…bombs away!  This was a super fun lap.  Aside from the two sandy hike-a-bikes and nosedive, I was still cleaning everything despite the wet conditions.  There were a lot of riders cracking – the weather and fast early pace was taking it’s first victims.  The course was radically different in spots too.  The rain had let up, but the flash floods had dug 4 foot deep trenches across the route in spots.  One of these was on the final descent – and I came up on it at high speed.  I tried to clear it…but caught it with the back wheel.  No biggie, but man I thought my bike would explode.  That was the biggest hit I ever gave the ol’ Top Fuel.  Coming into the logout tent, I was actually starting to feel like this was turning into a race.  Lap 6 was getting fun. 

This is where it gets strange.  No more riding or racing from here on out…read on if you’re interested in a race promoters nightmare.

The volunteer in the logout tent tells me the course is now closed, to come back at 6am for a meeting to discuss when to restart the race.  I was surprised because the course was improving, the rain ceasing, and well crap I was having a blast now.  But I completely agree with Laird Knights decision to close the course.  It’d be one thing if it was an elite championship event – conditions were such that top riders could manage them safely – but there were riders falling victim to wet slippery rocks, hypothermia, and mechanicals.  “This isn’t Kansas anymore Toto!”  So, props to GG for keeping rider safety first and foremost.

I knew I had moved up some on lap 6, but not exactly how much.  Then it comes over the loudspeakers:  I moved from 5th to 2nd, with Josh Tostado in the lead.  Nat Ross was nowhere to be found.  Well, that’s interesting…what I wasn’t looking forward to was riding for just a few hours in the morning to have it all decided.  I’m confident racing most anyone for 24 hours…but for 2 or 3?  Nick Martin, for one, will crush me like a bug under foot at that duration.  Ugh.  Fill belly with food, get some sleep, and get mentally prepared to do a high powered battle for the finale.

Fast forward to 5am.  Eat again, coffee up, go to race meeting 6am.  Laird and co. had been working on a plan all night but weren’t ready yet – come back at 7 (or was that 7:45?  It’s fuzzy now).

Race meeting version 2:  Laird tells us we have 2 options.  First:  have our final lap stripped (my 6th), resume racing.  The least fair option.  Second:  have our final lap stripped (my 6th), race stands as is.  That would have put me 5th.

OK, you gettin’ this?  Not counting the last lap completed?  I say no freaking way man, you can’t discount laps completed for solo riders.  The issue was with an existing AMTRI rule that says teams may cancel a lap even if a rider is out on course.  In the event of postponement, a savvy team could use this to their benefit like so:  rider goes out at 7:45 pm; course is closed at 8pm; teammates, knowing that the course will be much faster in the daylight and hopefully drier conditions, cancel current riders lap which will bump up their start time the next morning, AND enable a fast daytime lap to take the place of that rider’s slow, wet slog…this clearly doesn’t come into play for solo riders though.  Laird just had so many things to work out, it was understandably mind numbing to figure out a fair way to solve the issue.  It was just easier to apply the same rule to all.

When I brought up my reservations in the meeting I was somewhat surprised at how receptive Laird was.  He never used the loudspeaker to overpower someone who wished to speak their mind and let everyone say their piece.  He was stressed to the limit but maintained a relatively cool and easy demeanor through it all.  I was darn impressed.  He still didn’t give on his decision though, and we took a vote.  We’d resume racing with the first riders going out at 9am.  The faster solo riders would start as late as 11:30, time for only one lap.  Double ugh.  I still don’t know when I’m supposed to start, but head back to camp unwilling to wait to find out.

30 minutes later Dave (a fellow solo rider in the next camp) comes and tells me Laird was pretty much mobbed by the solo riders after the meeting and hit him with the same reservations I had.  This time Laird couldn’t hold  his ground and came to understand the flaw.  The final ruling:  the solo racers would not resume racing and the race was to be determined as of the last lap completed.  No laps were to be discounted.  Cool, that sounds fair.  Overnight Nat Ross had risen to the top of the leader board somehow.  I’m not sure how that happened, but based on a conversation with Josh it seems legit.  It was probably a timing/scoring glitch that had him lost on his 6th lap. 

So, in an instant, the race is over and I’m in 3rd place.  Last year I was thrilled with 3rd; this year it leaves me flat – it’s a dissapointment.  The dissapointment isn’t the actual finish placement – it is the loss off the opportunity to finish out the exection of a race plan that was a long time in the making, strategically, physically, mentally, mechanically.  Whether or not I’d have done any better than 3rd if it went 24 hours is impossible to say, but to find out would have been priceless, as they say.  Considering my conservative start, I’m fortunate to have made the top 3.  In this case, I really think my conservative start left me with plenty of reserves to handle the lap 5 storm and lap 6 aftermath.  It seemed easy, but only because I still felt fresh.  It could have been waaay different.

Lynda had a great race – but similar to mine in that she didn’t have the opportunity to unleash the real beast.  The results posted right now are wacko – she won her race by a large margin, leading from the gun.  She’s on the Green River now with her family, so you’ll have to wait a week for the full rundown of her story.  But I’ll say this:  she was rock solid and only 6 guys were in front of her after lap 6, and we all know what her endurance is like.  Can you say morning bloodshed?  Guys, we were all spared…

As any solo racer knows, the strength of ones performance relies heavily on their support crew.  No race I’ve done before was ever so dependent on so many folks.  Without Anna, Andy, Kong, Steve, Boris and Kathleen there’s no way either Lynda or I would have done more than 3 laps.  We had the most bitchin support and many racers commented to that effect.  It was a burly race to support, and big thanks to all who lent a hand.

I also gotta say Laird Knight earned full respect this weekend.  He was faced with impossible decisions and the empathy coming from the tortured man was the real deal. 

And of course, I will be back in ’07.