Saturday, November 22, 2008

How was your first solo 12/24 hour race?

A bit of a story from Ed the Tall who finished up his racing season by training for his first 12 hour solo at the Temecula finals. Ed rides a Salsa Dos Niner, was racing on the Specialized Fast Trak S tires, and is faster than I am.

But, hey...who isn't?

Sorry, no pics as you will see, things did not get off to a smooth start. This happened during the recent Sylmar fire that burned over 500 homes and shut down three freeways.

"As you know, this was my first attempt at doing a 12 or 24 Hr race solo. Twice before I’ve teamed up with one other guy, and each time I had some success. I felt like I needed another goal, a loftier one. So, three months ago I marked this race date on the calendar and began to train. Convinced I really needed to step up my quality time in the saddle, I even plopped down some cash for a road bike. Who would of thought it possible?

Honestly, I felt really good about my chances coming into this event. I signed up in the Solo Sport category, foregoing the usual route of starting off in the Solo Beginner’s class. Many rides during the course of the summer were spent on the road bike chugging up and down the canyon roads north of town. Not particularly thrilling rides, but I felt stronger, especially when I hopped back onto the mountain bike.

Last Friday (14th) was not a particularly good day and was perhaps a bit of a sign of things to come. It turned out to be a very busy day work wise and I was putting out the proverbial “fires” all day long. I had decided a couple weeks before to not go down the night before to stay at the venue site. Rather, I would wake up in my own bed early Saturday morning and make the 2-2.5 hr drive down with plenty of time to set up my pit area and spin around on the bike to warm up the legs. Friday being the way it was, I was pleased to make the decision to stay home Friday night. A good night’s rest and I would be ready to go with adrenaline pumping.

The race was slated to start at 9am. My alarm was set for 4. No problem there, I jumped out of bed and was ready to leave the house with a bit of breakfast in me and a cup of coffee in hand by 4:30. I jumped on Interstate 5 and within a few miles I could see the red lights beginning to back up in front of me. Strange, considering it was 4:45 on a Saturday morning! Quickly I got an AM radio station on and learned that a fast-moving, out-of-control fire was moving toward the Newhall Pass, threatening to shut down both the 5 and the 14. However, the news mentioned a few times that the 5 south was open. The CHP were doing their best to slow down traffic by merging all the traffic into one lane before Calgrove. As I was inching towards Calgrove, I noticed a Highway Patrol officer get in his car and quickly make his way to block traffic altogether. I was three lousy cars away from being told I could make my way through the pass. Instead I found myself on Old Rd. heading north towards Lyons. Once at Lyons I sped across the valley to check the situation at the 14. Southbound traffic was being diverted off the 14 at San Fernando Rd. and everybody was continuing sound on Sierra Hwy. So, the lemming that I am, I jump at the chance to see if I could make it through on Sierra Hwy. Once we passed the old oil field the traffic came to a complete stop. Without skipping a beat I whip a u-turn and head north towards Placerita Canyon. I quickly formulated a plan to head over to Sand Canyon and make my way into the Valley via Little Tujunga Canyon Road. A small sign announced that Little Tujunga was closed ahead. The sign gave me pause and I turned around. However, as soon as I did three cars quickly passed me, heading south. I figured it was worth a shot and I followed. I was probably four or five miles from the 210 when in front of me a section of k-rail completely blocked the road. I turned around and really got irritated as I realized that I had just wasted another 45 minutes on this goose chase only to come up empty. Meanwhile, lots of other people were soon to realize a similar fate as I must have passed 40 or so cars all looking for a short cut into the Valley.

In order to get to Temecula, I must drive nearly to Palmdale to get to Angeles Forest Hwy. Ultimately Angeles Crest Hwy would dump out along the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. It was 7:15 am when I got to the 210 Freeway. I was starting to go into panic mode. All the training, giving up the beer, etc. towards this end goal about to go down the drain. I called a friend and fellow competitor and told him to give the race personnel a heads up, I would be arriving hopefully just before the race was to start. I jump on the gas and begin to make some time, finally. After driving 85-90mph I managed to get to the Vail Lake venue at 8:40am. Somehow I managed to find a parking spot fairly close to the start/finish line and expo area! I’m literally running back and forth between my car and the pit area ferrying my gear. I quickly set up my pit area and begin to get dressed. As I finished getting dressed the horn goes off and all the competitors begin the parade portion of the first lap. The parade lap around the resort at Vail Lake lasts about 5 minutes and then all the racers head off onto the race course proper. At 9:15 I roll up to the start/finish to begin my 12, err 11:45 Hours of Temecula.

The race course at Vail Lake is a really great course, a real nice mix of fire road and singletrack. The course is just a bit over 10 miles long with about 1300 feet of climbing per lap. The climbs in general are short and steep, the exception being the first and longest climb on the loop known as the Dam climb. The course is moderately technical, with a few really technical short downhill sections for good measure. It is a course that rewards the mountain biker, not a converted road racer with little to no time spent in the dirt. Conditions this time around were the driest and, consequently, the loosest I’ve ever seen them out there. There were no signs at all of the rains that had fallen a couple of weeks prior. Kitty litter-type sand had reduced a few of the short uphill grunts into hike-a-bikes. The normally tough section of switch backs were a little tougher than I remembered them, each of them loose and would only get worse as the day progressed. The worst, or best (depending on whether or not you were a bystander watching the carnage) section was a short but very steep section of double track downhill covered from top to bottom in silt to a depth of nearly a foot. Many racers, including myself on a couple of laps, would walk this section and many others would walk due to a spill they took on their way down. In fact by early afternoon a group of people had gathered at this spot on the course to enjoy the festivities I saw many nasty spills and I later heard that a couple of people had been taken to a nearby hospital. With the day quickly turning to night the race organizer made the executive decision to “pull the plug” on that section of the course, much to the relief of most racers (including myself).

As a result of my late start I found myself at the back of the race trying to make my way through the slow traffic. I didn’t really mind this since it allowed me to slowly warm up and keep a nice easy pace. Speaking of warming up, the temps were quickly climbing on the course. The Santa Ana winds weren’t that strong, yet, but the air was bone dry. It was one of those days when your sweat would evaporate almost immediately. I was aware of this and made it a point to try and stay hydrated. After my first lap the traffic out on the course began to thin out and I began to make some time. I felt pretty good, though not great, as I made my way around the course early in the day.

Things began to take a turn for the worse on my third lap. The combination of the hot and dry conditions had me reaching for my water bottle at every opportunity. Shoot, I should have brought the Camelback. It turns out I couldn’t hydrate fast enough! I stopped after my third lap and ate a PB&J sandwich. After half an hour in the pits I went out for what would be my worst lap, my fourth. It took me nearly an extra twenty minutes to make my way around the course. Following my fourth lap I collapsed in the pit area and quickly consumed a 32oz Gatorade. I couldn’t eat anything, so I just fell back in my chair. A half hour later I woke up when a friend of mine came into the pit area with his family cheering him on. I was in no hurry to get back out on the course, it was the hottest part of the day. I mulled around a bit, worked on the bite and actually contemplated calling it a day.

Another half hour went by and the combination of rest and fluids began to turn the frown on my face upside down. I suited up quickly, determined to get in another lap before the sun went down and we were forced to run with lights. My fifth lap turned out to be fastest of the day at 58 minute. I came in and quickly got my bike set up with lights. By 7pm I had two night laps under my belt and I decided to call it a day. The winds really picked up towards and shortly after sunset, with 30-40 mph gusts blowing competitors around on the ridges. I finished up with seven laps, one shy of my goal. Next time!

The tires performed admirably, I thought, given the dry and loose conditions. In a non-race situation, I probably would have opted to run a tire combination with a wider and more open footprint, and some taller knobs. However, the tires never let me down! After I adjusted the air pressure, I was able to scramble up every short, steep power climb without the rear tire breaking loose. I never suffered a flat, and these tires roll quite well. The course offered up one section of singletrack (Tunnel of Love) where you could really get off the brakes and let the bike cruise through the desert scenery, and the tires just railed the terrain. I can only imagine what these tires would be like on some tacky, fine-grained dirt! "


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