Thomas Endurance Coaching | Behind the Scenes at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo
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Behind the Scenes at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

For many endurance mountain bikers 24 hour races are the holy grail. They combine everything that is great about ultra endurance racing. There’s the physicality of the race, the mental component, speed, endurance, and everything in between. If you’ve been a part of one of these races, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

A couple of weeks ago I followed long time TEC athlete Dave Franks down to Oracle Arizona. My roll was to crew for Dave as he raced the solo category at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Dave and I had set our sights on this race a couple of years ago, but as life sometimes goes, we had to put it on the back burner until 2017. So, since this was the year, we were leaving nothing to chance. We had worked through months of training, nutrition strategies, gear selection, bike set up, and every other variable we could think of. Dave’s training had gone great, and we were both confident.

We decided to arrive a few days early to have plenty of time to decompress from travel, dial in gear, and pre-ride the course. I know from experience how stressful arriving just before a priority race is. That stress, on top of trying to handle all of the logistics of racing, was only going to get in the way. So, our goal was to avoid stress at all cost. We arrived to warm sunny weather with miles of dry dirt in front of us. With Dave being from Calgary and me from Montana, we were both excited to see dirt and not snow for the first time in several months.

The next few days were spent tuning up bikes, adjusting gearing, and working through race strategies. The goal was to ride the course each day leading up to the race to keep Dave’s legs fresh, and also collect valuable information on pacing, intensity, cadence, and power. Each evening I downloaded the file from Dave’s Garmin and analyzed the ride. We were then able to compare how the ride felt versus any insights I was able to find in the data. This comparison of quantitative and qualitative information really helped us hone in on a precise strategy for race day.

As luck would have it the sunny Southern Arizona weather was about to change as we neared the start of the race. Rain and wind were in the forecast and it looked like it was going to stick around. It’s hard enough racing for 24 hours when the weather’s perfect, but add in cold, rain, and wind and things really get interesting. Luckily Dave’s a seasoned endurance racer, and has seen it all. I knew he was mentally prepared to handle whatever came his way.

*Storm clouds roll in at the start of the race.

The gun went off and things were underway. The plan was to ride consistent laps and not fall victim to the “surge” mentality that often happens in big races like this. 24 hours is a long time to race, so not getting swept up and sticking to a plan is critical. I’ve seen too many athletes go out to fast, lead the race for 6 hours, and then not have the legs to hold on. That wasn’t going to happen! The first 6 hours went by quickly, as they always do. Dave’s pacing was strong and he was moving up in the field with each lap.

I approached my role as pit support a little differently than most. Having done many of these races myself, I knew what it was going to take to keep things running smoothly. I was also coming at it from a coaching perspective, so I kept a close eye on nutrition, performance, pacing, mental state etc. This combination of details kept me busy while Dave was out for his laps. After each lap I took meticulous notes on how Dave was feeling, how much he had left in his bottles, bike condition, course condition, and anything else I thought was pertinent. My goal was to be able to have something I could go back and review to better understand the race, and ultimately how to better prepare for the next one. Nutrition was key, and we had gotten the formula and amount down to a science. Protein, carbohydrates, BCAA’s, electrolytes, it was all taken into consideration during training, and we created custom blends to fulfill Dave’s caloric needs and keep him feeling good and fueled.

*Keeping track of consumption and meticulously measuring the nutrition formula for each bottle.

It continued to rain on and off throughout the night. Dave was holding up well, but conditions were reeking havoc on the bike. Each stop at the pit meant cleaning the chain, lubricating it, and checking the drivetrain. Nothing derails a race like a mechanical in the middle of the night. Keeping your mental capacities at 3:00 am in the pouring rain is hard enough, but if the bike fails all bets are off. I was determined to do everything I could to keep things running smoothly. All I wanted Dave to focus on was pedaling and keeping things moving forward.

*Late night bike tune ups and dirty drivetrains were par for the course.

We made it through the night without any issues, and everything was still going according to planned. Dave had continued to move up in the field and was sitting comfortably in the top 10 by his first morning lap. The plan was to finish strong and take full advantage of the training to get in more laps, and secure the best position possible. The morning hours ticked away with each lap and the times were still as consistent as ever. Things were looking great!

*Dave making the transition from night to day.

As the final hours closed in Dave managed to pick up the pace, and a few more spots to land in 6th place. It was a hard fought race, and out of the nearly 100 solo riders that started, finishing in 6th was an amazing accomplishment. The build up to this race was fraught with challenges and setbacks, as is often the case. Training and racing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To be successful you have to be able to adapt and rise to the challenge. Not every day is going to be perfect, but keep your sights set on the goal and make it happen!

It was an honor to be a part of Dave’s team and play a small roll in his success. This was just the season opener, and we’ve already got more races on the calendar. We’ve learned a lot, and will be applying those lessons to the training to come. Stay tuned, it’s going to be a big year!

I’d also like to give a big shout out to TEC athlete Scott Palmer who raced with a 4 person single speed team and placed 10th. This was a heavily contested category full of very strong and seasoned racers. While it wasn’t a priority race for Scott, he showed up and gave it 110% in less than ideal conditions. Anyone that can go out for a night lap in the pouring down rain is the real deal. Well done Scott!

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