Race Report: Round the Clock, 24 Hours of Spokane
You can't fake your way through a 24-hour race.
On a day that I was to consider getting X-rays to see if I have pneumonia, I instead found myself at the starting line of the 24-Hours Round the Clock in Spokane, WA with a bright yellow race plate affixed to my bike. I'd be flying solo again. Having not ridden my bike for two full weeks and after spending one of those weeks with a fever on the couch, I knew there was little to no chance of me surpassing my 7th place finish in 2007. There would be no 14 laps. I would not hit 200 miles. I would need more than just a 2-hour nap at 3am. No, my goals were a bit more meager this year: not to end up in a hospital and not to make a total jackass out of myself.
I decided on Thursday morning that I would in fact make the trip and so we did. Kristin and I hit the road with our dogs and a truck full of camping equipment Friday morning at 6am. We arrived at the Riverside State Park some 5 hours later, laid claim to a spot along the finishing stretch, and set up our campsite much like last year. Friends of ours starting showing up not long after and everything was falling into place. I was not thinking of my lack of conditioning. I was not worrying about the weather. When I was being totally honest with myself, I knew it was unlikely that I would do more than 3 or 4 laps, but I wanted to see how far positive thinking can take you so I spoke and acted as if I had every intention of racing all day and night.
Come Saturday morning, I was chomping at the bit to get on my bike. I pre-rode the course with Kristin on Friday at a very slow pace to help introduce her to mountain biking (she did fantastic) and the course was in great shape. A portion known as "Little Vietnam" was under 4 feet of floodwater so a road section had to be added at the last minute. A little extra climbing and distance, but the course was running faster than in 2007.
The gun fired at noon and we all took off on a rocky 600-yard run. Those of us soloing the race tend to jog along at a pretty slow pace while the masses on their 5- and 7-person teams sprint out ahead. I knew four other guys in the solo division, two of whom I've trained with on a regular basis. Joe and Frank are both a good bit older than me -- Joe is a very fast 41 years old and Frank is a spry 52-year old with a license plate that reads "I'm the Mack Daddy" -- and it was nice to have them out there this year, even if just as a friendly rivalry. Misery loves company. They set up their pit right near mine and Joe's wife and Frank's son were there crewing for them, right next to Kristin for me. Having a dedicated crew person is all but essential to this sort of racing.
I took off on my first lap a bit faster than I should. Another guy I know was riding alongside me so I ignored my heart-rate monitor and just kept pedaling. I entered the pit at 1:04 (excluding the run), a good 5 minutes faster than my first lap last year. Uh-oh. I swapped out water bottles, grabbed a fresh Gu, and went out for lap 2 just 20 seconds later. Lap 2 was slower, but still under 1:10. Joe and Frank caught up to me with about a mile to go and the three of us rolled into the pits at the same time. That was cool. I popped some Doan's back pills, switched to full-finger gloves, and headed out for the third lap. Joe and Frank caught up a mile or so later and I purposely slowed to let them go by. I didn't want to try and make this a group ride. I didn't want to be caught riding someone else's pace. I had to ride my own.
It didn't matter though. It wasn't long after they passed me that the coughing set in. Really severe coughing. It was hard to ride straight from all the coughing and sure enough I ended up coughing so hard that I had to vomit on the side of the trail twice. Everyone who passed by slowed to ask if I was okay and to wish me luck finishing the lap. My attitude went sour and when I rolled into camp with a lap time of nearly 1:30, I just dropped my bike threw my helmet into the corner of our tent and slumped down into the nearest chair. I was still convulsing from the coughing, but more than that, I was just furious. I should have known better. Not only was it foolish to think on a day I should be getting checked to see if have pneumonia, that it was a good idea to enter a 24-hour race, but what in bloody hell was I doing on the first two laps? Yes, I have enough fitness to make those laps not feel as fast as they were, but I should have known better. I should have been in it for the long, slow haul right from the start.
There was a disconnect between my legs, lungs, and brain and none of them were on the same page.
Until they shut down.
I got changed out of my racing kit just in time to hear the medics calling out my name while roaming through pit row. Apparently some other racers told the First-Aid guys that "Racer number 2 doesn't look too good" and for whatever reason the folks at Checkpoint 3 didn't check my number when I passed (even though they all yelled to encourage me on). I didn't go through the start/finish line because I'd have to go out for another lap, so I just sat in camp and figured I'd swipe my chip at noon on Sunday to end the race. It was 4pm on Saturday. So there was some confusion there, but it was really nice to see my fellow racers put a word out for me and know that the medics were heading out on course to search for me, should I have been really hurt or sick.
My race was for all intents and purposes over, so I decided to become a cheerleader for Joe and Frank. Joe is a very competitive cyclist who puts all of his energy into being the best he can. I don't know how he maintains such a high level of passion for this sport but he does, and this was his first solo attempt. I knew he wanted to beat me head-to-head and to beat my mark of 14 laps from 2007 and while I secretly hoped he wouldn't, I wanted him to come close enough. He put so much effort into preparing for this that it would be awful if he didn't succeed. Frank, on the other hand, was hoping to do 10-12 laps and was even planning to take a couple hour siesta like I did last year. They both did fantastic. Joe rode all night and although he took some lengthy rests between laps, he never went to sleep. He ended up with 14 laps. Frank did take a 2 hour nap in the middle of the night and finished with a whopping 13 laps! I don't know whether or not Frank believes me when I tell him, but this guy inspires the hell out of me. To see a 52-year old guy out there on his bike, pushing himself through the night, riding nearly 200 miles of mountain bike trails is just awe-inspiring. And what was equally impressive was to see his son (late 20's) crewing for him, supporting him, and encouraging him on lap after lap. It's a beautiful thing.
I woke up Sunday morning coughing a bit, but the sun came out and I was getting antsy. Despite a full belly of breakfast and coffee, I decided to suit back up and go out there for one final lap. I was a bit weak and I did have some coughing fits, but I did lay down a 1:03 lap (14.5 mile course, 850 feet of climbing) and was able to leave with a smile.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my other group of friends who were there. Many of the folks who came on my Endurance Training Series rides this past winter formed a team called "Master Says Faster" and wound-up coming in 4th place in the Co-Ed 5-person relay division. Kris, Lidia, Brian, Doug, and Bob all had blazingly fast opening laps (1:03 each of them) and many of them kept it up all through the night, getting back on their bike every 4 hours to go out again. Brian did especially well, posting repeat 1:03 laps and even heading out for a 5th lap just 1 hour after finishing his fourth! Impressive!
The lap I did Sunday morning really got me excited about getting back on the bike and it was hard to stay inside the rest of the holiday weekend, but I knew it was best. I'm now 3 weeks from the Test of Metal, 5 weeks from the Cascade Creampuff 100, and 2 months away from the Leadville 100, among other events, I have a lot of work to do if I'm to finish these races with any sense of respectability, but I had a great ride last night and I'm ready. I might not care to invest in the training next year to do this level of racing again -- you can't fake your way through endurance racing, as I've learned -- but I'm definitely going to give these next two months everything I have and hope to finish with a bang.
Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Singletrack Cycles. Their support keeps me looking good in those racing kits and certainly helps make doing such far-off races possible. Not to mention, Loren and Brandon at Singletrack Cycles had my bike purring perfectly for the race. I'd also like to thank my friend Erik Alston for once again loaning me his 12-hour NiteRider HID system... unfortunately I didn't need it this year. And, of course, I can't not mention the support given by my fabulous wife, Kristin. She had every right to stay home on account of the mountain of homework and projects she has for biz school, but she came out to support me anyway. I'm a lucky guy.