Before I start I ran a 32×20. I just wanted to get that out of the way because I know how much singlespeeders like to ask “what gear you running?” So, now that that’s taken care of read on…
It was late at night approaching midnight on October 1, 2015, and I was really tired, almost falling asleep, but I willed myself to stay awake. I had to be online the minute registration opened, because the solo spots for 24 hours in Old Pueblo (24HOP) sell out fast. After claiming my spot, I thought to myself, it was hard enough staying awake to register how will I stay awake all night for the race? This would be my first 24 hour solo effort so I had no idea what was in store for me, but over the next 4.5 months I trained hard with my coach, Dave Marks, and Racelab to prepare for 24 hours in the saddle.
February came quicker than I thought it would and the race was quickly approaching. I was happy to reach this point healthy and in one piece, but the last few weeks leading up to race day were emotional and stressful. Two weeks before the race a friend of ours, and past 24HOP solo winner, was hit by a car and suffered from several severe injuries. This tragedy really broke Danielle’s and my hearts. All we could do was pray and that’s what we did, constantly. We felt so helpless during this time and it’s all we could think of. Over the course of the next two weeks updates continued to show our friend improving, but the road ahead would be long and difficult. In addition to that, stressful and unplanned issues kept popping up, in light of our friend’s situation these issues were minuscule. A free-hub problem and a slashed sidewall were both not on my race week checklist. Thankfully, Joey at Shadetree Bikes is a wheel whisperer and got the hub back up and running in no time. The sidewall cut wasn’t a big deal either, except for the fact that it was the first one I had in a few years. Was this a bad omen? A glimpse of how my race would go? More mental than anything, but something I didn’t want to deal with leading into a big race. A few more trips to the World Famous Flat Tire Bike Shop for last minute items like tubes, Stans sealant, and a new tire and I was ready to head down to 24 Hour Town.
24HOP, not only sells out fast, but the camping area fills up fast too. Arriving early is the only way to ensure an ideal pit zone location. Thankfully, my friend James (another crazy solo rider and fellow NICA coach) took his trailer down a few days before and claimed our spots. I cannot thank him enough for this, our location was primo! Our pit zone was right on the trail, about a hundred yards from the exchange tent. Danielle and I reached 24 Hour Town Friday at lunch time and set up camp with James and Ryan (another friend and solo ride). I had some lunch, unpacked the car, and picked up my registration packet. The rest of the afternoon I anxiously tried to sit still and drink water. The forecast called for highs in the low 80’s, nothing major for a desert dweller, but hydration just became a bit more important. I also took some time to tape some notes to my bars which is something I always do for big races. The most important note was a reminder to pray for our friend, who was still in ICU. That evening Danielle cooked up some amazing red beans and rice with mango and then it was time for bed. Surprisingly, I slept great despite all the nerves and anxiety.
Race morning I woke up with a dull headache, like the kind you get when you’re dehydrated. But that couldn’t be it; I was drinking a ton of water. Did I over-hydrate? Or was it just an unfortunate headache? Oh well, time to take some Advil and deal with it. The rest of the morning I spent time eating breakfast (rice and eggs my routine race day meal), getting my bikes ready, and more forced sitting. It’s really hard to sit when you are anxious.
Finally it was time to race! All of us walked down to the exchange tent, checked in, and picked up our batons (a little wooden stick you had to keep or face a time penalty). I left Danielle by the tent with my bike while I walked a half-mile up the road for the actual start line. This race has a le-mans start where you have to run first and then somehow find your bike in all the madness and chaos. It is quite the spectacle. I started near the back because I wasn’t about to start my ultramarathon off with a sprint. I got there early and found a few friends to chat with while we waited. At high noon the gun went off and the race was underway. I jogged/walked to Danielle who was holding my bike, gave her a kiss, and was off and pedaling.
This first lap was critical for me. I often get caught up in racing and go out too strong, paying the price later on. So I made a big effort to go slow. I settled in and let a lot of people pass. That first lap Danielle even surprised me by riding her bike out to where the course crossed a road and cheered me on. She continued to do this over the course of the race and it always lifted my spirits. Over the next few laps I settled into a good pace and turned out some consistent lap times (one of my goals). It was during this early part of the race I learned the importance of being flexible and willing to change the game plan if needed. My plan was to take two bottles of First Endurance EFS and one bottle of water to get me through two laps at a time, pitting every other lap. However, I quickly realized I was drinking more than planned due to the higher temperatures and I was running out of water. At my first pit stop (after lap two) I decided to stop every lap going forward, this way I could take more water without having to lug around 4 bottles to get me through two laps without stopping. I also saw quite a bit of carnage in these first few laps. Two people were heli-vac’d out, one guy went head first into a cactus, and a few other crashes here and there. This was the only time I thought of quitting. I just thought is this worth it? I have 18 more hours of this…how can I avoid injury that long? I pushed those thoughts aside and kept pedaling and said a prayer for the injured riders as they were being helped by the awesome medical staff on the course. Thankfully, the crashes became less frequent while everyone settled in for the night ahead…
I like riding at night, living in the desert I have to do it a lot due to the short days in the winter and the extreme heat in the summer. So when the sun went down I was a little excited, plus it marked a milestone in the race, a quarter of the way there. I used a Serfas TSL 1800 on the helmet and a Light and Motion Seca 1700 on the bars, both on low. I usually ride with a smaller 750 on my helmet, but wanted more light for this effort. The extra light was awesome until about 4:00 AM when my neck was getting a little tired/sore from supporting the extra mass strapped to my helmet…but then again everything was pretty sore at this point. Like my initial nutrition plan, the idea was to pit every other lap and swap batteries. I continued to pit almost every lap at night, but stuck to the two lap battery swap and never ran out of juice. One thing I hadn’t planned on was all the dust. I knew it was dusty, but at night the dust gets illuminated and it’s like riding through a micro snow storm of tiny little particles. Had I been breathing in all this crap the first four laps?! Not wanting to cough up a lung I got a bandanna that I had picked up at the Stans NoTubes tent the day before at the expo and tied it around my nose and mouth. Nothing like looking like a train robber during a race. That bandanna was a bit of a nuisance because it kept slipping down, but I do think it helped keep some dust out of my lungs. A Buff would have been a great thing to have and turns out Danielle had one the whole time I just didn’t know it, haha!
The first few night laps went really well. All the teams were still racing; people are awake back in 24 hour town and cheering you on. I caught up with James after the first night lap back at the camp while he was pitting. This ended up being one of the best things to happen in the race. We both have a similar pace so we rode the next three or four laps together talking about all the things that hurt, cheering one another on, and confirming that we had indeed just seen Bigfoot out on the course. Oh the things you see at 24HOP.
At around 2:00 AM (maybe 3?) James and I got separated and I was on my own again. This is where the mental battle really started. The race was just over half-way done, people back in 24 hour town were in bed, and the energy was slowly getting sucked out of me. Plus, the temperatures were dropping and it was getting chilly. I read a lot of race reports talking about these “witching hours” and I knew if I could just keep pedaling, no matter how slow, and make it to sunrise, I would be in good shape…just keep pedaling. I met a few people on the night laps, but one fellow singlespeeder, Keith, on a four man team really helped keep my spirits up. As it turns out we live in the same town but have never crossed paths until 3:00 AM in the morning just north of Tucson (funny how that works). Keith was really nice, had a bunch of energy and was really talkative, perfect for helping me keep my mind occupied while I struggled towards sunrise.
The worst part of the night laps was staying on top of eating and drinking, especially the drinking. The first part of the course has some flat and smooth jeep road sections and that is where I decided to eat my solid food and save the easier accessible bottles for the singletrack up ahead; unfortunately, its hard to see further ahead on the trail at night so I was more reluctant to reach down for a bottle in fear of heading face first into a cholla. I am sure being fatigued and tired didn’t help either. Thankfully, my wife and awesome sherpa was keeping tabs on my lack of liquid intake and gave me goals each lap to drink more. She also made oatmeal for me in the middle of the night and forced me to eat it because she knew I was falling behind on my calories…just keep pedaling and eating I told myself, make it to sunrise.
Hallelujah! I made it to sunrise, and what a glorious sight it was. That sun breathed life back into me and my legs and a smile came back to my face. I knew I could finish this race and finish strong. Plus, I was excited to finally get that heavy light off my helmet. 24 hour town had woken up too, the smell of bacon filled the air as I rode through camp. The course became more crowded again as people got back on their bikes to finish their races. This was a nice change from the loneliness of the last few hours and the riders were relatively rested so I had people to pace off of. It was time to start racing and pick up a few more spots.
It wasn’t till these morning laps that I really started to care where I was in the standings. The first time I asked was about halfway through the race and I was just off the podium, right where I had hoped to be and knew if I could just get through the night I had a decent shot. In the morning I asked again and I was in 5th, perfect! 4th place was just a few minutes ahead, even better! Perfect time to get that tempo up and push for the next few laps.
My final two laps were the highlight of my race and also the most stressful. Coming in from my 14th lap Danielle informed me that I had caught 4th and 3rd was seven minutes ahead…seven minutes! That is a small gap after 21 hours of racing, but a lot of ground to make up when fatigued. That next lap I gave it everything. I was over half-way through the lap and still no sight of 3rd place and I was starting to think I wouldn’t catch him. But finally with about four miles to go I caught up to a singlespeeder, but was he the 3rd place guy I was chasing, or was he a team rider? I decided to sit on his wheel for a bit and recover while I tried to figure out what my strategy was. By the sound of his squeaky chain and the fact that he was covered in dirt like me I decided this had to be him, but now the question was when do I make my move? Do I just hang on his wheel until the very end or do I attack now and try to open up a gap? I knew the final climb before descending into 24 hour town was ahead, which my gearing had been perfect for during the entire race, so I decided to make my move. We reached a short dirt road connector and I made the pass and as we got back onto the single track I opened up a small gap. Ahead of me was another rider and as I called out on your left my front tire hit something and I almost went over the bars. Are you kidding me, I hadn’t had any issues until the moment I needed to be perfect. Thankfully I was able to get my feet down before I toppled over and never hit the dirt. I quickly regained my composure, realized I still had a gap (although much much smaller now), and caught back up to the rider I was trying to pass and managed to do so cleanly this time. I made it to the final climb and hammered. I gave it everything I had.
As I raced backed down into 24 hour town to our pit my crew wasn’t even expecting me yet, because I had just thrown down my fastest lap of the entire race. (I am always amazed what your body can do even after hours of racing.) I called out for just water, made a successful handup (thanks to my handup gloves), and kept pushing this was not the time to have a pitstop. I sped back out onto the course for what would be my 16th and final lap. As I was slugging my way up the bitches Danielle had sprinted out to the course on her bike and was waiting at the top of one and told me I was in 2nd with a four minute lead! WHAT? How did I jump two spots, I only passed one guy. I believed her and I kept pushing on those pedals with all that was left. As I was heading up one of the final bitches a singlespeeder passed me and I asked if he was a duo, to which he replied no. I thought to myself “crap there goes 2nd, just hang onto 3rd you didn’t push this hard for nothing.” So I gritted my teeth, ignored how bad my body hurt, and hammered. I saw Danielle one more time out on the course cheering me on which meant the world to me (seriously the best Sherpa ever). As each mile ticked away I became more and more excited and knew I could do it, just race smart and smooth I kept telling myself. I reached the final climb and looked down at my Garmin and it was 11:48 am. This was going to be perfect timing, I should get to the exchange tent right after the course closed. The final descent into town I slowed down just a touch to be safe. My arms were numb and I didn’t want to crash on the final lap. I sped through solo alley one last time to get to the end of the finish line that had formed to turn in your baton and log out of the final lap. I had done it, 3rd! More accurately we had done it, because it wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s help along the way from, my coach Dave, my friends riding with me during long training rides, and Danielle supporting me the entire time. Danielle met me as I waited in the line to finish and told me I was 2nd, to which I said no I got passed. After going through the exchange tent one last time and turning in my baton I met back up with Danielle. The live results updated quickly and still showed me in 2nd, how could this be? Turns out the guy that passed me wasn’t a duo, nor was he a solo, but rather on a quad team. I guess I shouldn’t think too hard when I’m so tired because I automatically assumed the worst when he replied no he wasn’t a duo. I couldn’t believe it, 260 miles and 2nd place, by a matter of minutes! One of my stretch goals was to get on the podium but I never thought I would place that high, I was ecstatic.
Back at camp I rested for a bit, and couldn’t believe how well the race had gone. My lap times were consistent, I went slow enough at the start to save some for the finish, I didn’t sleep, minimized time off the bike and my Salsa El Mariachi ran great the whole time, not one mechanical. This was my first 24 hour effort and I would have to say it went almost perfectly. A few minutes later we watched James finish. He ended up having an amazing race as well and came in 5th in the men’s solo category. Incredible! It was awesome that we both got on the podium, I know how hard we both trained for this race. We went down to the awards ceremony to celebrate. It was an incredible experience to share the podium with a great group of experienced riders (including a past tour divide winner). After the celebration I slowly walked back to camp to pack up and head on home, what a weekend.
I will never be able to give enough credit in the report for my amazing wife and Sherpa extraordinaire Danielle. All the behind the scenes work she did was incredible. She made all my Scratch Labs portable rice cakes to eat on the bike prior to leaving. She helped tweak my nutritional plan, which worked out great. She kept me sane and focused leading up to and during the race. She rode her cross bike all over the gravel roads that cris-cross the course to see me and cheer me on (and thanks to all my fellow mountain bikers asking if she was OK even though she wasn’t racing). She made sure all my batteries were constantly getting charged and changed on a regular basis. This list goes on and on, I really think her job was harder than mine. I will always be thankful that we support each other’s crazy goals and adventures, I love you.
Dave Marks, my coach, is the best around. I’ve been training with him ever since I did Old Pueblo in 2014 on a mens quad. That year I barely managed to get four laps in. From that time Dave has helped me achieve a lot of goals like Park City Point 2 Point, MBAA marathon, a 1st place solo singlespeed finish at Dawn 2 Dusk and now this second place solo singlespeed at 24HOP. He made sure I was at the top of my game leading into the race and was always available to answer any questions I had about the upcoming challenge. He was even relaying messages to me during the race by texting Danielle because he couldn’t be there, how great of a coach is that!
All my friends out on the course for the kind words of encouragement that always lifted my spirits. Seriously the mountain bike community is awesome and all the old and new friends at Old Pueblo you guys and gals rock. A big thank you to Kaolin, who I literally saw every lap and he always cheered me on. By the way my nickname/team name “Goold for Gold” came from him and it has stuck ever since. I am glad he was able to achieve his own goal of completing the slowest lap in 24HOP history, who knows trashcan bikepacking may now become a thing.
Flat Tire Bike Shop – I am really fortunate to have such a great shop so close to home. They always make sure my bikes are up and running smoothly. I had ZERO mechanicals the entire race and I owe that to the staff there.
And finally all my sponsors who support this addiction of mine:
Racelab – the best endurance coaching company and team around.
First Endurance – always kept my bottles topped off with EFS to get some calories and electrolytes in.
Polar Bottle – always keeps my drinks nice and chilly.
Pactimo – kept me comfortable the entire time…all 24 hours in the same bibs and jersey. I also used their Evergreen jacket at night when the temps dropped and it was perfect.
Rudy Project – kept my head and eyes protected the whole race. Seriously these are the most comfortable helmets I have ever worn. The Ergomask glasses also worked great providing a wide area of protection from debris, but most importantly the dust.
Dr. Hoys – This stuff kept my post-race muscle soreness to a minimum, really good stuff.