A few months ago, I raced in the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo as part of the duo team Lost Nuts. We finished in the middle of the pack, with having few mechanical problems being our only distinguishing feature. It was my first 24 hour event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My partner, Harry, had a great question for me after the event. “So, what did you learn?” I rattled off a few things. But for this episode of Mountain Bike Monday, here’s my more considered list, in no particular order:
1. Pack meticulously, and don’t overlook food. I failed to bring some essentials that I used throughout my training: V-8 and coconut water, both of which are great for re-hydrating. I also, if you can believe this, forgot my freakin’ helmet. Fortunately, several local bike shops had set up camp there and I was able to score one on the cheap. A second helmet is going to be useful for riding at night more often. Which leads us to #2.
2. Ride at night lots before the race. That way, you won’t be a chicken like me. Night riding freaks me out, and I need to get used to it if I’m going to do this more often. Which I intend to.3. Bring cash. You can score a lot of deals at a 24 hour race if it’s well supported. You can also get some much-needed real food. But bring twice what you think you’ll need. Few of the merchants take cards, and there’s no ATM close by.
4. Skip the Camelbak. Try riding triathlete-style instead … use a seatbag for tubes and tools, stash your food in a bento box and mount your pump on your frame. It’s very liberating, and you seriously don’t need 100 ounces of water per lap. Save the weight. I only used the Camelbak for my double set of laps, when I need to have my light batteries with me. Along the same lines, try using electrical tape to secure gel packages to your handlebars or stem. That allows your to tear them off one-handed, and prevents the torn top from falling onto the ground. Clever, eh?
5. Taking the first lap sucks. Most 24-hour races feature a Lemans start. So that means you have to run to your bike about a half-mile. Not a big deal (see a photo of me running). The thing that stinks is that the pack is really bunched at that point. So you’re having to get around super-slow people in tight singletrack, and super-fast people are trying their damndest to get past you. That can create some frustration, especially on a cactus-lined course like Old Pueblo.
6. Make sure it’s safe to pass. Too many people out there tried to pass in unsafe conditions. If it’s not safe for the passer and the passee, just don’t do it. It’s not worth putting yourself into a cactus or making someone else crash, okay? Most racers were good about this. But far from all. Far from all.
7. These races are a lot of fun. If you get in with the right sort of crowd (which I did), you’ll have fun. A 24-hour race is a bonding experience. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a kinship that develops among racers. Especially once you start recognizing each other.
8. Bring beer. It makes a great gift for the people manning the booths and the occasional volunteer. New Belgium 2 Below was my offering, and it was a hit.
9. Endurolyte and salt tabs can save you. Electrolytes are what mountain bikers crave. When we don’t have them, we cramp. These can prevent cramps.
10. Keep your sense of humor. Even when the prospects are grim, smile through it. Some false courage and plucky bravado can turn into a huge benefit.
11. Breathe Through Pain. On my third lap, I was suffering. I didn’t have enough electrolytes in me, and I could barely apply any torque to my legs. Then I remembered some wisdom from yoga class and the Brad Warner book Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality. First, concentrate on breathing. Second, (in a nutshell) accept pain as the status quo. Don’t think about it getting any better, and just embrace where you are. Doing these things helped me get through the rest of the lap and restored some leg power.