24HOP is traditionally the endurance season opener that is well attended by racers and fans alike. Its early on the schedule and doing well here means effectively wiping out any off-season. But the race lives up to its organizers name in every way: Epic.
Racing 24 hours requires a significant level of planning, setup & support. It takes an army - and in my case, literally: My brother-in-law Tap was racing with the Utah National Guard team and I was fortunate to be racing out of their camp for the weekend. We met up outside of Phoenix on Thursday, caravaned the rest of the way to 24 Hour Town and got our home away from home squared away. We went out and did an easy lap of the course in the evening - really fun, but its going to take some heads up riding as all the singletrack sections are virtually lined with a variety of very nasty cacti!
Friday is a blur of eating, hydrating, eating, spinning the legs and generally getting everything set for the weekend.
Clean the bikes one last time, check the batteries again, check the food bins and get the pit setup on the course. We snagged a sweet spot where everyone has to dismount to go through the timing/transition tent which meant I dismounted here at my pit and then trotted into the tent. We were very dialed thanks to my awesome support crew (my wife Tiff, in-laws Tap & Linda, sister Erin, brother in law Kyle, brother in law Tap, my nephew Tappy & the whole National Guard crew). I was targeting 15 laps as I knew the year before this was 6th place in a fast field.
Saturday dawned warm and by the start, the sun was high and temps were in the 80s. The race starts with a traditional "Le Mans" start: running to the bikes. In this case, @epicrides decided they'd spread the field out by having us run approximately 1/2 mile to our waiting bikes... Having skipped the cx season putting in some long days (zero running!) and knowing what I had in front of me, I took it pretty easy on the run. Even so, its absolute madness.
The first few laps are always tough with lots of course traffic, but I took my time and settled into a quick, but sustainable pace right around 1:15/lap. Unfortunately, my solo 24 hour pace was a little slow for a bone-head that decided he just had to pass on a really tight section during my third lap and he took me down, hard: he came in under my front wheel and I landed on my tailbone and smacked my achilles on the frame. It definitely took some punch out of me and it took a while before I could ride comfortably again. One key to endurance racing is to be able to stay the course and make small adjustments when things don't go your way - so I vented and let it go. I didn't want to worry anybody and had thoughts of not telling the crew about the crash, but the +15 min lap and the torn up kit was a bit of a give-away.
Although it was much earlier than we planned for a lengthy stop, I put on a fresh kit, fresh gloves and Tiff cleaned the wounds. I got changed, reloaded the pockets with solid food for the next 6 or so laps and the crew cleaned and lubed the chain. We settled on a new plan: until I needed warmer clothes later in the night, pits would be lights/batteries & bottle hand-ups only. The 4th lap went pretty well and I was able to stretch the back and get more comfortable, although I was riding closer to 1:20-1:25 per lap. I was somewhere around 20th place, but figured the steadiness would keep us in good shape.
We put lights on for the 5th lap and our plan was to get two laps out of each battery change. Lap time was a little slow due to a flat: with 75+ miles under my belt and working on the side of the trail with a helmet light, it wasn't the fastest tire change. Once riding again, I was a little concerned about running a tube in the desert the rest of the race, but then set the pressure up a little higher and told myself it would roll faster and be just fine (it was). With the flat, the crash & going a bit easier on the back, I was averaging just under 1:30s (including pits).
The night was going well and we were fairly quick on battery & bottle changes. I wasn't feeling great, but about what I've come to expect. Around 3am I was struggling a bit to eat & drink, so had some warm pasta at the pit @ 3:30. Figured we'd gotten through the witching hours and we'd be golden. After 10 laps & 163 miles, I'd moved up to 13th place and thought I was feeling pretty good...
...boy was I ever wrong! 11th lap was a bit of a disaster... temps were dropping, back seized up, achilles seized up and the pasta just wouldn't digest. The metaphorical wheels absolutely fell off and I limped into the pit 15min + off my pace. I told Tiff I was in trouble (she later told me I looked really bad) and she got me changed into a warm kit, had me sit back in a chair, covered me up and had me close my eyes. Boy did I feel terrible... I was on the brink and "sat" there for a full 2 hours (that's me under the blanket!) We didn't lose as many places as I thought - I think we dropped back to 15th or 16th and I also knew I had already done nearly as many miles as I'd ever done in a 24 hr race at this point.
The rest certainly did me good - while it definitely hurt to get rolling again, I was back on the gas and turned in a 1:15 lap to make sure I could get 3 more done before noon. I knew I had another 50 miles in me and I was thrilled to see Tiff standing there with a plate of pancakes & syrup when I rolled in! As the sun came up, it warmed up quickly and I ditched a bit of clothes each lap.
Finally, after 14 laps and 230 miles, I rolled into the pit at 11:40. Turns out 24HOP allows you to go out again if you make it to timing before noon... we were in 14th place, with 14 laps but 13th place was not catchable and I was absolutely cooked.
Overall, we had a good race and I'm pleased with the results. 24HOP is a blast of an event and its pretty wild seeing so many spectators all around the course in an endurance event. While 24 Solo sounds like an individual event, I couldn't do this without the help of my entire team: Casey & the crew at Spokesman, the Utah National Guard, Tiffany, Tap, Linda, Erin, Kyle, Tappin & Tappy!