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The Other Side of Racing

It is a different experience observing a race from this side of the screen. I've done many 24 hour races and consider the ultra endurance mountain biking as my favorite style of race. The mental and physical challenges of testing myself against the distance, the terrain and the chances of failure - as well as the opportunity to explore the unknown. Outside of occasional blue dot stalking on Track Leaders, I never paid much attention to events that I was not at. All that has changed the past year as my athletes have taken on races around the country. I've found myself obsessively checking results and following blue dots to make sure that everything is going according to plan. Not that I'd be able to change the outcome sitting at my computer, but I wanted to know.

At Arrowhead 135, it was just watching the dot moving along. I knew Judd was moving slower then he wanted, but also was reading reports from the trail - about how soft the snow was and how hard the riding was. Every extended stop, I was worried that something was wrong. Except at MelGeorges - I knew he'd stop and get some food and such there. Going to bed that night was rough as I didn't know what I'd be waking up to see in the morning. Would the dot have moved or not? And once the dot started moving and I started seeing updates from people out in MN, I knew he would finish. The question was time and if he would be able to set a new best time despite the conditions. We were close - so close. And now have a lot of things to look at before next year. Conditions affect times in snow bike endurance racing like Arrowhead 135 and the Iditarod Trail Invitational but having the best training and preparation can help mitigate some of those effects.

Judd on course at the Arrowhead 135.
Photo BPR member Woody Preacher
And then came 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in Tucson. I had two athletes racing there, both in the Solo Singlespeed class. Rhino was hoping for a solid showing after a crazy few months with very time limited training due to school, a new job and family responsibilities. Judd was coming off Arrowhead and had one very specific goal. Break the 200 mile barrier, which means 13 laps at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. The most laps he'd ever gotten at 24 OP was 10 - back in 2010. The last two years after finishing Arrowhead, he was also not mentally ready for another hard 24 hour effort. This year was different and he was ready to tackle the 2:00 AM demons head on. We talked about staying consistent with the lap times, needing to be about 1:45 for the majority of the laps in order to reach 13 laps easily. We talked strategies for staying focused and for being efficient in pit to maximize riding vs stationary time. But that was all I would be able to do - the rest was up to him.

Contemplation time as the sun sets - The bikes are ready, is the body and mind?
Photo - Rhino N
At noon on the 13th, the race was on. The race against the desert, the body and the mind. All I could do was hit refresh on the results page and wait for laps to start adding up. Both Rhino and Judd started out steady, but fast. I knew after the adrenaline of the start, they would both settle into a nice pace and I was right. After the first third of the race, Rhino had gotten 4 laps done and had opted to stop for a while. Judd was rolling strong with 5 laps - well on track for his goal of 13. I sent out encouraging texts to both and went to bed, hoping for good news in the morning. Very stressful, knowing that there's so much riding on the next few hours and not knowing what will happen. When I got up for my workout early Sunday morning, Judd was out on lap 10. He'd rolled through the night, nice and constant with his lap times. And that consistency had moved him within range of making it into the top ten of a very competitive field. Rhino also headed back out for a few more laps and finished with a respectable 7 laps, including a few hours nap over night. At the end of the race, Judd met his goal, finishing 13 laps at 12:31, strong enough for 8th place in the Men's Solo Singlespeed class.

Judd on his sunrise lap, still smiling - sort of!
Photo - Damion Alexander, The Damion Alexander Team Tucson
There's a lot that can happen in Ultra-endurance mountain bike racing. The training and the workouts help get you to the starting line and can help break through barriers. But the mental and preparation aspect of 24 Hour racing can be what makes or breaks a race. How do you handle the unexpected stresses both on course and in the pit? What will your response be when the demons start whispering in you ear, telling you it's okay to stop and take a break, rest for a while. Even the fittest athletes can crumble when the demons call if they aren't prepared. It takes a team to succeed, and I'm happy that I was part of the team that helped Judd reach his goal of 200 miles.

Riders out on course at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo - the coming dawn a welcome sign
Photo - Damion Alexander, The Damion Alexander Team Tucson