Dustins Race Report
This weekend we raced the LAST RACE OF THE SEASON (thank goodness) at the 24 Hours of Clear Springs. For those who don't know the format of this mountain bike race, the loop is 10 miles long, 95% singletrack, 1,000 vertical feet of climbing per loop. The race starts at noon on Saturday and ends at 11:00 AM on Sunday (2:00 AM - 3:00 AM happens twice due to the time change) for 24 hours of racing. The object is to do as many laps as you can in 24 hours, if there is a tie, it goes to shortest time to do the total number of laps. You can either race solo or on a 4-person team. Our team was Daniel LeBoeuf, Yoni Lang, Josh Rosby and me.
The race started with the teams starting first and the solo guys going out 5 minutes later. You always send your fastest guy first, but since Josh hadn't made it to the race yet, I went first. Looking around amongst the starters were 3 guys that I knew were going to blister the course, Joseph Dabbs, Brandon Morvant and Justin Weber. I've never beaten any of those guys in a MTB race. We started out flying down the biggest descent on the course before we hit the first big climb... Justin was at the front setting a quick pace, Dabbs was second and I was third. The three of us opened a nice gap on the field up that climb, but Justin had a stick get caught in his chain so he was caught by the pack. Dabbs and I had a gap and we were about to hit the first technical part of the trail where I knew he'd leave me behind. The goal was to stay with Dabbs and hold off Morvant. Soon after we hit the second single track section my toe caught a root and threw my chain off the ring. I had to stop and fix it, which cost me about 30 seconds and allowed Morvant to pass me. I held on to 3rd for the first lap. Dabbs rode a 49 minute 1st lap, Morvant's was 50 min, mine was 51 min. We had a gap on the 4th place team of a few minutes, but Josh was still not there.
That first lap was about the end of things going good for our team. 24-hour races are all about dealing with problems and Brian Coleman, the race director, told me that he had never seen a team have as much bad luck as our team did this race. The bad luck started with the second lap when Yoni took a wrong turn. Now, it beats me how anyone could take a wrong turn on this course, but if anyone can, it's Yoni (see 2008 Rouge Roubaix results). However, this was only about the 4th time Yoni has ever been on a MTB and I don't want him to punish me too bad on our next road ride, so I'll leave it at that. Yoni's 15 minute detour dropped us from 1 minute behind second place into 4th place.
After Daniel rode a very fast 54 minute 3rd lap, I had to go again because Josh was STILL not there. I dropped a chain AGAIN, this time it cost me about 3 minutes... 54 minute lap. After my lap, Yoni went again and had serious shifting problems, but things temporarily started looking up as Josh had finally arrived.
I train with Josh quite a bit and I know he's a great mountain bike racer, but what he did during this race shocked me and everyone else at the race. Josh took his first lap after Yoni's lap and, without really warming up at all, rode a 48 minute lap! That was the fastest by anyone in the entire race. Daniel took a lap after Josh and after Daniel's lap we were in 4th place, 2 minutes behind 3rd... getting closer.
After Daniel's lap it was my turn to ride the first night lap for our team. The laps in the dark are usually about 10 minutes slower than daylight ones. Some people are better than others at night riding, but most people aren't really used to or comfortable with it. Also, at night it gets COLD and the temperature and lack of sleep really starts to play a part. The goal with night laps is to keep them as close to 1 hour as possible and to, MOST IMPORTANTLY, not have any catastrophes. .. we had 3 time-consuming catastrophes during the night.
After my first night lap and Yoni's first night lap, Josh set out for a double-lap ride. It's NEVER a good idea to double up on laps during a 24 hour team race, but Josh was our fastest racer and he was also the freshest, so we set him loose. Catastrophe number 1: Josh broke his chain near the end of his first lap and had to come back to the campsite to fix it. After fixing a chain in about 30 seconds he was off to do another lap... he turned in 2 59 minute laps EVEN WHILE HAVING TO FIX HIS CHAIN. Incredible.
I'd decided that I would do a double lap too, since I thought I could keep both laps around an hour, and after we got to talking, we all decided to do 1 double-lap each to give everyone a chance to sleep. That decision was the only real strategy mistake we made, but it turned out not to matter as catastrophe number 2 would seal our fate. Daniel took off for his double lap ride sometime around 11:00 PM. When I showed up to the trailhead to relieve him after his second lap, a call came in over the race radio that Daniel was at the last checkpoint (3 miles from the end) and BOTH of his lights were out. I had to go back to the campsite, get a light, drive the truck halfway around the WORLD to the last checkpoint and rig another light setup for Daniel. Daniel was tired and cold standing by the fire when I got there; he did not want to get back on that bike but he did and finished the lap. That lap took 2 hours and 38 minutes - that was a killer.
When Daniel finished, I started my double lap ride. The first lap went fine and took about an hour. During the second lap catastrophe no. 3 happened. I was cruising along a flat spot in the trail about halfway through the lap... the next thing I remember I rolled over onto my back and my head hurt like hell. I crashed on something, I don't remember the crash or why it happened. When I got back on the bike I could see 4 of everything, which makes it hard to determine which trail to ride. I had no energy and could barely turn the pedals. I was having major trouble keeping the bike on the trail and, because of that, I crashed again at the base of the last climb of the loop. This time, I knocked my light out so it was pitch black, I was delirious, everything hurt. I started slowly walking hoping someone would come along that I could follow out of the middle of the Homochitto National Forest. After banging on my light for a few minutes it finally came back on. YES! I got on the bike and rode out of there. 1 hr, 26 minute lap - hardest lap I've ever done on a MTB.
The race directors made me sit by the fire at the trailhead for a while after the lap. I was FREEZING and HURTING. Finally I made my way back to the campsite where i could sit by the fire and eat some chocolate and drink a coke... None of it stayed down, though, I vomited a few times and was pretty sure I had a mild concussion. I got to feeling a little better so I took a shower and took a nap.
Yoni did 1 lap and Josh went out for his second double-lap at twilight. He did 2 laps in 1 hr and 48 minutes! That's 54 minute average for a DOUBLE LAP in the FREEZING COLD early in the morning... INCREDIBLE!! !
After Josh was done we were in 5th place, about 45 minutes behind 4th after all our bad luck. The plan now was to do a couple more laps and give josh a chance at the fastest lap award (Josh actually rode the fastest lap (48 min), but it was his first lap and the first lap doesn't count) Daniel did his last lap of the race and I did mine in time for josh to get one more crack at it. He blistered it but was a little too tired to ride the 49 min lap he needed... he rode a 51 min lap after pulling all the heroics all night on his double laps.
We rode 21 laps: 210 miles, 21,000 feet of climbing... Daniel's light malfunction cost us at least 1 lap and I think we could have gotten 2 more in on top of that had everything gone well and we not done any double laps. We definitely had a team that could have competed for the win (both the 1st and second place teams rode 24 laps... no team had ever ridden 24 laps at 24 Hours of Clear Springs)
The most impressive racers at this event are the solo racers. My friend Charley Rome, whom most of you know, won this race 2 years ago in sloppy, rainy conditions by riding 11 laps. Last year, Charley rode 15 laps but was beaten by Zak Broussard who rode an incredible 17 laps! Zak was so dominant last year that he was able to stop riding with about 4 hours to go. Zak and Charley are both COMPLETE ANIMALS on a bike and the showdown this year was just unbelievable. Both Zak and Charley were tied lap-wise for most of the race. Zak jumped out to about a 45 minute lead on Charley and Charley closed it down to under 30 minutes.
During the early morning I was talking to Zak and I told him that Charley had told me before the race that his goal was only to make Zak have to work hard and hurt a lot to win the race; Zak looked at me with a stone-cold, exhausted stare and said " Well he sure as %#$& is doing that!"
In the end, Zak edged Charley out and was able to get in an extra lap to win the thing with 19 LAPS!!!! That's 190 miles, 19,000 feet of climbing... on a single-speed. Remarkable. Congrats to Zak and Charley on an epic battle, there are not many amateurs in the country that could beat either of those guys in an endurance mountain bike race.
Anyway, that's the end of the season for me... I'm going to take a week off the bike completely and the month of November will be rest time... December is coming and it'll be time for some winter training... hope everybody is ready!
When all was finished, and the sun finally rose and I sat back in my chair in front of the fire, I didn't feel much of anything. I was happy it was over, but at the same time I was a tiny bit disappointed. I wanted to DO something in the race. Daniel, Dustin and Josh all did awesome, and I only wished I was more experienced so I would have been more of a help. Besides that, I didn't really have an urge to go home, to eat, to sleep. I just sat there while Josh rode off to finish off the race for us. Mentally, this race took everything out of you. You can't think straight afterwards, and all emotions seem to go by the wayside. That all changed when I woke up this morning.
I was flooded with emotions of what happened. It was a feeling of euphoria. So many times during the night I was telling myself to stop and throw in the towel, only to drag myself up and dress into fresh cycling clothes in the freezing cold darkness. The mental game to me was harder than the physical aspect. The night riding was adrenaline pumping. You flew down descents covered in roots, rocks, trees and drops of over 30 feet all on a trail no wider than 1ft, all with a small light mounted to your helmet. You had to go into a zen like state of focus so you wouldn't break down. It was anything but ordinary.
When I woke up though, the last thing I thought about was how awesome the guys did this weekend on the bike, but how awesome everyone was off the bike. It would be 3am and when you were going as hard as you could towards the finish, you could be 100% sure that a teammate was there waiting for you. Everytime i'd ride up to the finish, i'd see a teammate there waiting, arms crossed raised up to his chest with enormous amounts of air flowing from his nose and mouth. You'd utter a few words of encouragement as you approached fast and next thing you see is your mate sprinting off disappearing into the night. The happiness of finishing a lap quickly faded when you realized you had to go back to the campsite soaking, freezing, hungry and having to go do it again in 3 hours. You'd go back to the campsite completely broken and shattered and on the verge of having a meltdown, when a teammate would crawl out of his warm sleeping bag and tent to build up the slowly dying fire, fix you some food, sit with you and tell you it'd be alright. And that's how the night went for the next 13 hours. Those were the little things that got you through the night, even though you were too delerious to realize it at the time. Everyone was ready to take a turn for someone else, even though they didn't say it, and even though no one skipped their turn, no one ever complained about going out. Numerous teams eventually gave up, giving into the cold and tiredness. But when youre on a team with 3 other guys you respect so much, everything just seems to go right with eachother, even if things with your equipment undo any chance you have of winning.
It was an amazing experience and although we didn't win like we hoped, I think we all came away with something great. You really get to see the true side of people during something like this, and I respect all 3 of my teammates that much more now.