Thursday, August 14, 2014

24 Hours of Great Glen Race Report

Ah, the 24 Hours of Great Glen.  I've done this race six times now, and I've been writing about how rad it is since 2007.  After finally managing to pull of a win in 2011, I'd missed it for two years straight.  Not just physically missed it -- emotionally missed it.  A lot.

So when MY BOSS (of all people) asked the office "what do you guys think about doing a Great Glen team?" it took me less than a second to say "ohmygodyes."  Evan was also on board within about five seconds, and that was all we needed.  It took a lot more digging around the valley to get a fourth teammate than I expected, but we had a lot of ideas.  We eventually ended up with former-pro-team-director and Valley-Strava-legend Jay Gump as our last guy.  Note that Jay's palmares do not include "mountain bike racer."  But he did race the Widowmaker Challenge at Sugarloaf in 1992, which was only 22 years ago.  I'm sure the sport hasn't changed in that time.

Did I mention that Ross (the aforementioned boss) actually did a year as a pro on the road back in the day?  Or that Evan's a cat 1 on the road currently?  We should have just named the team "A lot of hard pedaling.  And Colin."

I regaled the office with tales of how Great Glen is a roadie course that's like 50% gravel road.  The office was EXCITED.  If you called BikeReg at any point between June and August, the reason the phone rang four times is that someone had to finish a sentence about Great Glen before they picked it up.

As is required, there were rumors of a super-team showing up and blowing everyone away.  Those rumors didn't materialize, luckily, and we went into the race with a very real chance of winning... assuming that the survived racing mountain bikes at night.  Which was possibly a tall order, since on the one training night ride we did, Ross hit a tree and had to take a week off to recover!

The planning around who would do first lap was intense, as always.  Evan ended up drawing that straw, mainly because Ross's ankle was STILL not right after crashing on that night ride.  Obviously we got Evan totally wound up and he was 2nd out of the gate, but managed to calm down enough to drift back to 5th on the run.

(Don't try to win the run, ever.  There is always someone who is a great runner and a mediocre rider who wants to win it.  It's only 2 minutes out of 24 hours)

Giddy Huff kept himself together for the whole first lap and came to the tent in 2nd, narrowly ahead of third (another expert team). He was pretty far behind a singlespeeder in first (damn singlespeeders), but that was okay, singlespeeder was on a coed team.  We got this.  Giddy Huff passed off to Giddy Gump with third place hot on his heels...

So we've been joking about Jay's possible mismatch between his power and handling skills ever since he got on the team, which really speaks more about his power (insane) than his handling (pretty decent).  The joke was always "Gump will totally be our fastest guy as long as he doesn't pedal 600w into a crash."

Uh, guess what happened on lap one?

So Jay has a HUGE wreck.  Right away, over the bars on one of the whoops.  He said he was going so fast he landed "halfway down the bridge", which is a course flyover you hit right out of the start.  By comparison, I never even gapped this bridge once during the race, never mind overjumping it.

The good news is, Jay's not dead.  He turns a 44-minute lap, which is fine, but when he gets off his bike to run into the tent he looks like he's 80 years old, putting all his weight on his saddle and basically using his bike as a rolling cane.  We're down to third place.

Oh crap, right, I have to race my bike now.

They changed the direction of the course at Great Glen this year, and made it a bit longer.  I like the new direction, but man, when you've got six years of memory IN THE OTHER DIRECTION, lap one is HARD.  It seemed like I blew every other gravel turn, outriggering and over-braking to stay out of the woods.  But, it was LAP ONE, so I was making up for these mistakes by dumping watts all over the place on every hill.

I caught the coed team that had been leading.

I could see the expert team that was now leading.

My seatbag started to come loose, so I stopped to put it in my jersey.

I caught the leader.  I was full of adrenaline!  I attacked the leader as soon as I got to him, hoping that the 'ole go-right-past would break his spirit and he wouldn't even try to draft me.

Much to my surprise this didn't work.  It did hurt a lot, though.  He happily slotted in behind me for much of the lap... even pulling alongside on the paved climb across the road.  Ruh-roh.

It wasn't until the technical section at the top of the hill across the road that I was able to start putting distance in.  Adrenaline-based decisions about how fast you can jump onto a bridge with a turn in it?  That's my wheelhouse, man.

I finished the lap, carefully navigated the floating bridge, and sent Ross out with a thirty second lead.

Bridge of Absurdity!  [Ernie Mills]

(In the interest of brevity I'm not gonna talk too much about this bridge, let's just say it was an AMAZING course feature)

I got back to camp, and Jay was nowhere to be found.

Some investigation revealed that he was lying in his tent.  On his back.  And had taken some muscle relaxers.  And didn't know if he could ride his next lap.

This is generally not what you want to hear from your teammate after one lap.

It turns out Jay's had some back issues (maybe a lot of back issues) and his back was totally seized up after that crash.  Luckily he rolls with muscle relaxers these days, and reported that he felt "better than expected" as long as he lay there and didn't move.

Uh, great.

Ross padded our lead a little bit.  Evan had a small mechanical and lost a bit of the lead.  Then Jay went back out for the great "can Jay still pedal a bike" experiment.

(I actually never really understood how close Jay came to not being able to ride until after the race, because he's one tough dude and didn't tell us how bad any of this was until afterward)

Jay survived his lap, but we lost another minute of our lead, and I went out with only 10 or 15 seconds over 2nd place on my second lap.

Recalling my last lap, I did NOT want this dude on my wheel.  And he REALLY wanted to be on my wheel.  We started the lap HARD.

I was stomping up a climb about a mile in when all of the sudden, there's a buzzing sound and my back wheel slams to a halt.  What just happened?!  Oh, my seatbag came loose again.  And this time it fell down and jammed in my back wheel/frame.  And then got ripped off.

Excellent.

I stuffed the dead seatbag in my jersey (AGAIN!) and frantically took off with a lead that was now better measured in bike lengths than seconds.

But, now we're on lap two, and I am *learning*.  Giddy pedaling was down, but mistake-free riding was way, way up. I ended up clocking almost an identical lap time to the first lap and sent Ross out with a one minute head start.

We finished the rotation and had extended our lead to a whopping four minutes after five hours.  After eight hours, 10 minutes, because 2nd place had flatted.  Every lap Jay did was a dice roll -- if he had another crash, he might not be able to finish his lap at all, and we wouldn't even know.  Waiting for him the tent was nerve wracking.

The sun went down and we knew the next 10 hours would decide the race.  If the roadies (and Jay's back) could hold it together for 12 night laps, we had it.

The first night laps went fine, about three minutes slower than day laps, although the fact that Jay had to use his bike as a cane whenever he dismounted was definitely costing him more time, since he was dismounting more at night.

I've ridden this race a lot, and I really like the challenge of riding fast at night.  My first night lap felt GOOD.  But, night laps always feel good, that's the problem -- the reduced visibility increases your sense of speed.  This is why people will claim things like "I ride faster at night" sometimes.  But the clock doesn't lie -- my first night lap was a 42:54, my slowest of the race by over 90 seconds.

But when I went back to the tent for my after-midnight lap (lap five), they had posted the "fastest night lap" standings.  And that 42:54 was the best, by almost a minute over Sheldon Miller.

I was only sitting fifth on the day-lap standings, though -- I'd been beaten by Don Seib, Sheldon, Brian Lyster and Sam Anderson on the first afternoon.  Some of them were on five-man teams, or cruiser teams, so I didn't know if they'd even ridden a night lap yet.

I started my fifth lap feeling kind of queasy, because it's a 24 hour race and that's how the low points go.  But early in the lap, I realized that the cramp in my side that had been present for the last three laps was gone.  And we were over halfway done.  And every line I'd blown on my first night lap, I remembered.

After two miles, the lap was going well and I was feeling decent.  I realized this was my last shot at a fast night lap, and who knows how fast the guys who beat me on day laps were currently riding.

I went as hard as I could hold, and took as many risks as I dared.  Zero mistakes.  It felt fast, but the last one felt fast, too.  The time?  42:20, 34 seconds faster than my previous night lap, and slower than every day lap I'd done that far.

(Laps like this are why huge improvements at night are such a red flag)

But it was enough to hold up as "fastest night lap!"
I'd like to credit every ride I've done with just a crappy bar light for this. [Christin]
We ground out the rest of the night.  The team was amazing.  Even with a guy who could barely walk, we never had a "disaster lap."  Evan and Ross never even crashed.  We slowed down, but so did everyone else, especially our competition.  The gap was up to 18 minutes by midnight and stayed there until the sun came up.

My final night lap, the growing fatigue and wet roots turned me into a pinball machine on the singletrack.  I tried to make up for this by getting out of the saddle and going harder... which just led to more pinball.  Duh.  44:15.

After this lap was my absolute low point.  The sun was just coming up, I was feeling kind of ill, but I knew I needed to eat more.  At 6am the Gorham Girls Something Something Team was there serving breakfast.  It was... delicious.

But you know what happens after you eat meals, right?  FOOD COMA.

I slept face down in my tent for 20 minutes at 7am, my first sleep of the race.  I didn't want to, but my body demanded it.  It sucked.  I woke up before my alarm.  I felt terrible.  It was the obligatory "why did I think this would be fun?" moment.

As the race wears on, the easy part of it starts to be the riding.  The hardest part is the half hour before you ride again...

And sure enough, a mile into lap seven, my funk was over.  It's a beautiful, cool morning in the White Mountains.  I'm shredding a mountain bike on trails I've basically memorized by now.  We're almost done.  We're winning the damn bike race!  What the heck was my problem?

Lap seven was smooth, if not powerful.   42:22.  And now that Jay could see again, his lap times dropped five minutes!

Barring a frame break or other huge mechanical we had it.  I relaxed, knowing all I had to do was survive a final lap and it was over.

Evan clocked a 44:13 on his final lap.  Did I say all I had to do was survive the last lap?  Because what I really meant was "beat Evan's time to maintain bragging rights."

I got to the tent at 10:30 and I was hungry.  Way too hungry.  Shaking-hungry, in fact.  I ate a gel.  I sprinted back to the tent and got another gel.  Ate that gel in the first mile.  It's the last lap, the "eat real food" rule goes out the window.  Just get it done!

Final lap adrenaline is the best.  It hurt, just like every lap, but you find little bits of extra motivation to pedal the sections you were coasting before, when you know you don't have to do it ever again (until next year).  I was hungry, but only had to ride the sugar-wave from two gels for 40 minutes.  I survived.

Heck, I more than survived, closing out the race with a 42:03 (omg negative split u cheater) and high-fiving Ross out for our team's final lap, lap thirty-two, with a twenty five minute head start on second place.

Holy cow, we did it! [Christin]
Thanks to Pure Adrenaline (second place) and Bikeman.com (third place, with two teenagers, one female!), we were pushed the whole way.  I veto'ed the vote at 9pm to do double laps at night because we couldn't afford the time loss.  It was a great race the whole way, and unlike the other time I won this race, it wasn't truly in the bag until Ross rode across the floating bridge at 12:05.

Thanks to Great Glen for putting on an amazing event, year after year.  The new course changes and the floating bridge were rad.  The organization and timing is top-notch, and honestly, and the WEEKS, if not MONTHS, of entertainment we got from the planning/camping/racing/rehashing process make it more than worth the price.

Thanks to the Creature Feature ladies team for being awesome campsite-mates, smashing the women's race (14th overall) and having more fun/looking better than we did while doing it.  Bonus points for THROWING DOWN at the end of the race to pass some men's teams when they already had the women's race locked up.

Unlike most endurance races I do, the phrase "next year" was already getting thrown around on the drive home.  See you there!

4 comments:

jared 8/14/2014 11:27 AM  

THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED.

Colin R 8/14/2014 11:32 AM  

Now back to your regularly schedule program of narcissistic race reports.

Fatmarc Vanderbacon 8/15/2014 6:35 AM  

My favorite Great Glen Post this week. Congratulations and well done.


respect
fm

Julia 8/19/2014 12:12 AM  

Gutsy Jay! Nice writing. Nice riding. Congrats, Colin.

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