Race Report, 24 Hour National Championships, Colorado Springs
At the end of August I squeezed myself back into the bike shorts to go to a race in Red River, NM, which was too conveniently located to warrant skipping. During the race, one of the fast guys flatted for a second time and was out of CO2, so as I went by I tossed him my pink Genuine Innovations Big Air.
A few weeks later this same fast guy, Cameron Brenneman, who is a former single speed national champ, sent me a message on facebook asking if I wanted to race a coed duo with him at the 24-Hour National Championships. It was a race that had not been on my radar, but it was just up the road, and my brothers Jack and Chris (and Jack’s box truck) were excited to act as official 24-hour race support again. As for teaming up with a guy I didn’t really know, it didn’t faze me. It wouldn’t matter if he turned out to be an a-hole since you don’t spend any time hanging out with a duo partner anyway. I wasn’t sure I could handle racing on a duo team, where you have to ride faster and still get no sleep, but Cameron could probably win the race on his own if I gave up and went to bed halfway through the race.
I continued to prepare my body by training for cyclocross, which included dislocating a rib in a muddy altercation with a tree while goofing around after a race, and waited until the last minute to change my brake pads, chain, tires, cables, and small chainring on my mountain bike.
After 10 minutes on the course the day before the race, I felt I’d made the right decision. It was sunny and warm, the pine trees smelled nice, the course seemed mellow and manageable, and my bike was working great after a week at the bike spa. I called my teammate, who wasn’t getting to the race until Saturday, and told him the course was much like the mellow Dale Ball trails in Santa Fe.
At ten o’clock that night, still in my chamois, swearing at what I believed to be shot brake pistons that the bike shop had failed to notice, and with legs and arms throbbing with the beating they’d taken on the subsequent 80 minutes on the racecourse, I had a moment of what felt more like doubt.
But the next day the sun was shining, the box truck made it to the venue, and my older brother had made it to Colorado Springs with Alex, my favorite mechanic, in tow, only four hours behind schedule, which is almost on time for a Baum. We set up in a sweet location next to the SRAM team of Jenny Smith, Sonya Looney, Kelly Boniface, and Rebecca Rusch. They were receptive to letting my brothers help them, too, which took some pressure off of me.
12:00 pm: Cameron starts the race in the LeMans-style run. I go back to the tent and participate in some inversion yoga partner stretching with a woman named Shanti. I’m balanced with my hips on her feet and my head is upside down, with no idea how I am staying there, and I feel awesome afterward.
12:55 pm: Cameron screeches in like a rocket, 3rd or 4th guy in. That course is technical, he says. I transfer the timing chip from his ankle to mine and ride away. I apparently do not know how to ride a bike and perform some very awkward dismounts to let people by; luckily it’s only three people during the lap, and none are in the duo coed category, so I figure I am still safe from being fired. After the steep ledgy hike-a-bike I feel better, clean some stuff I’d struggled with on Friday, and decide the second half of the course is way more fun. It’s probably the best half of a racecourse ever.
2:06 pm: I take my bike to Alex, who checks everything, cleans and lubes my drivetrain, and makes my bike beautiful again. This time Sonya is getting the inversion yoga treatment, but she’s doing things way more complicated than what they had me do.
2:54 pm: Back to the transition area.
3:03 pm: Out for another lap. This time the first half of the lap is the most fun racecourse ever invented. I get some hoots from spectators and feel like the star of my own mountain bike video as I ride down my favorite rocky sections.
4:12 pm: Back to the tent. This time Kelly is doing the yoga thing and is balanced in a full lotus position on top of Shanti’s extended foot. A little chit-chat with Alex, brothers, SRAM women. Some yogurt for me, Prolink and Tetra Bike for the chain, some Lady Gaga for me, new ace bandage over the sportsbra, fresh chamois, and back out again.
5:11 pm: The light is awesome. I can’t get this goofy grin off my face. The first and second halves of the racecourse combine to make perhaps the giddiest fun trail I have ever ridden in my entire life. “Here comes the lady with the big smile!” says a photographer. “Ain’t no lady,” I say, skidding my rear tire around the corner. Please, somebody put some duct tape over my mouth for the next lap.
6:20 pm: Back to the tent. Still smiling. Jenny is now the yoga victim; she’s balanced by her forehead, supported on Shanti’s feet, with her arms extended and feet up high in the air. I see a bag of peanut-butter-filled pretzels. I open it and eat five of them. Whose are these? I dutifully consume a cup of rice with some chicken broth, change clothes, add kneewarmers and armwarmers, get my lights on the bike, head back over to transition.
7:19 pm: Out for my first night lap. My lights are bright. I ride everything except the ledgy hike-a-bike, and it feels like I am riding faster than during the day. My face is starting to hurt from smiling. I pass a guy who follows me for a bit and says “how are you RIDING this stuff!?” It’s the most fun night lap I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve never ridden through a forest at night; it’s cool watching the shadows of the trees dart away as I approach.
8:34 pm: In. To the tent. Put on down jacket. Eat rice and broth. Parents are there and have brought delicious hot food and homemade brownies for the support crew. “NINA, what are you doing about PROTEIN?” says my mom. She comes up into the box truck to hang out for a minute. On her way out she misses the step down and proceeds to fall the remaining three feet to the ground, rolls into a little ball and travels a little way on the ground like that before popping onto her feet and declaring, “Darn it, I am so used to falling off these curbs.” She’s almost 70.
9:28 pm: I throw a new battery on the bike and head to the transition with a stop at the port-a-pot. This duo thing isn’t so bad, I think, in spite of Cameron and his super-fast sub-1 hour consistent laps. Not sure why I never tried it before.
9:38 pm: Out for a second night lap: the lap of dorky dudes. I catch up to a guy right before my favorite early rocky section and I have to ride slowly on his wheel down the rocks. Some spectators yell, “yeah, you got this guy!” and I say “I know, and he’s totally cramping my style right now,” as I pass him down the better line on the last rock and then ride right up the next steep rocky uphill. They cheer. Then I feel bad when he catches and drops me on the next flat section after a couple cheerful and polite remarks. I shouldn’t have made any comments. Where is that duct tape I requested? Then I feel irritated by him again when he gets in my way on the next rooty rocky uphill, but he politely yields trail soon enough.
Later in the lap I move aside to let a Moots rider by. “Good job, looking strong,” I say, and he says, “I am feeling strong!” as he pedals by with his knees sticking out. Low empathy, I think, recalling something I’d heard on NPR. Then I hear a familiar voice behind me. “It’s hard to see these lines at night,” he says, and I agree and then pedal like heck to get away from him, down a sketchy line that was hard to see at night. Man, it is fun to ride at night.
I’m alone for a long time until I pass a guy in green on the last insulting uphill, where they make you turn away from the finish line and ride back into the woods for 0.68 miles at the end of the lap. “Good job,” I say, and get no response. As I ride into the camping area on the last grassy bit of trail, a green blur pedals madly around me and then slams on the brakes to go over a rut before heading into the transition area just in front of me.
10:58 pm: Back to camp. Huge handful of peanut butter filled pretzels. Whose are these things, anyway? Alex is sleeping. So are the yoga people. I lube my chain, change my battery, put some air in the tires, do a little I-hope-my-hubs-and-cassette-aren’t-loose dance, and once I’ve changed clothes and filled my bottle again it’s time to head to the transition.
12:05 am: Third night lap. I start out with KT DeSantis, a female soloist, who saved my life on Friday by showing me where the as-yet-unmarked course went. She’s in a good mood, still enjoying the course. I pass a female singlespeed soloist, Danielle Musto, who is riding strong up a hill, and I compliment her on her socks. Then I catch up to yet another woman, Jill Hueckmann, who is riding in the duo coed category too. I tell her “what the heck, it’s just us women out here now. Where is everybody?” and she laughs and says “yep, just us and Josh Tostado out here.” I tell her everyone else is too scared to ride this trail at night. The last two people I see on that lap are Hailey and Josh, two juniors from New Mexico, riding together down a steep rooty section of trail. Hailey is 13; she’s the youngest rider at the race. I tell them they are awesome, and they are, and they say “Go Nina!”
When I pop out onto the road section at the top of the course I see two six-foot-tall chickens. One is lounging on the ground, perfectly still, and the other is standing and staring at me.
1:36 am: Peanut butter filled pretzels are really good with these little tiny oatmeal cookies out of the same Trader Joe’s bag. Find down jacket, change shorts, drink tea, lube chain, eat rice, change batteries, think about all the bolts that are probably loosening up on my bike, listen to Baum brothers talking about who they need to wake up and whether Rebecca needs anything, ask them how much time I have, find a bottle, visit port-o-potty, time to head to transition.
2:41 am: Fourth night lap. I head out again with the handlebar light on, waiting until I hit the first rocky section to turn my helmet light on. I hit the button and nothing happens. I try again. Then I remember a short conversation with Jack about how he got to the charging station and my battery wasn’t plugged in, so he assumed it was done charging. Incorrect. I can go ninja-style with my handlebar light on the low setting.
Then I have a long conversation with myself. How could Jack make that mistake? Don’t worry about it, your big battery will last the lap. How could he send me out with a dead battery! They’re spending too much time taking care of those SRAM women! No, Nina, you can share your brothers. They like helping other people. Jack wasn’t there when you did a 7-hour night lap walking the course in Moab with no lights. It’s your 4th night lap. You shouldn’t need lights at all. This will make you a better rider. Shut the heck up, Pollyanna, I say to my inner positive voice. Let me be mad at my brother who gave up an entire precious weekend to stay up all night and feed me rice and chicken broth as though I were a dog with a case of the barfs.
4:10 am: I make it back. I don’t yell at my brothers. I just tell them I am a ninja. Somehow it still managed to be a fun lap.
5:20 am: Out for my last night lap, with two big, good batteries and two very bright lights. Can’t remember what I did between laps; definitely lubed my chain and checked my tires. Not sure I remembered to eat anything or change my shorts. Definitely forgot to drink coffee. Feels like I am riding slowly around the course. Last night lap; make it a good one! No, instead I will just walk a couple of these disorienting uphills. Maybe walk a few of these rocky downhills too. It would be silly to blow a big lead by trying to be a hero. A very sleepy, slow hero I am. Why hasn’t Cameron fired me yet? I see some people out on the lap, only two or three, and say silly things to them. No chickens on the road climb. No screaming drunken shirtless men on the long dirt climb either. It’s very quiet. Most of the people I see are the few volunteers out there pointing out the more sudden turns. I tell them thank you. One rider gets a “hey, almost sunrise, nice work,” as I pass him, and he grunts. Appreciative grunts; that’s all anyone can do at this point. The horizon is red as I turn to climb that last silly climb. I try to calculate how many more laps I will get to do but the math is too hard.
6:50 am: Back to the tent. There is a thermos of coffee. It’s still hot. I drink one cup and eat a banana. Alex is up! He notices my headset is totally loose. “Was this making noise out there?” Hmmm. Not sure. I am very happy to see that Alex is up. Whose freaking pretzels and cookies am I eating… One more cup of coffee… I tell my brother Chris to let me know when I have ten minutes. He gives a very complicated answer about what time he needs to wake Rebecca and how long Cameron will have been on course at that point. Let me know when I have ten minutes, I say again. I sit in a chair and close my eyes for five minutes. Then I turn my head and close my eyes for three more minutes.
7:50 am, maybe: I’m bleary-eyed in the transition area. The coffee doesn’t seem to have done much. Cameron comes in. I leave. I set little goals for myself. It’s light! I can ride my favorite parts of the trail again! The skin on the outside of my triceps and legs hurts like a bruise. I find myself staring straight down instead of ahead at the trail. I walk my favorite sections. I tell myself not to shut my eyes. I do shut them, for just a second, as a reward for getting to the dirt climb at what I have decided is the halfway point. The rocks at the Garden of the Gods are glowing in the sunlight across the valley. It’s a very nice morning but my legs are moving in a ridiculous slow fashion. Feels like an impossibly slow march home and I am surprised when I find myself back at the start/finish.
Is it already after 9? I make it to the transition area but I don’t really remember the last bit of trail. Cameron asks if he should do a double on this lap. Is he firing me? Did I ride too slowly? I tell him if he really wants to do two it’s ok; I don’t need to do any more. He’s nice about it and heads out for two quick laps.
Cameron gets in from his double a little after 11, and it’s official: we are finished, with 20 laps under our belts. I wished I felt more like riding my bike after we were done, but I suppose I had ridden enough. Turns out it was good enough for the win, and by four laps over second place.
Even including my last lap, I had such a great time. The course was phenomenally entertaining and challenging; I think it’s my favorite 24-hour course. I’ve never ridden so many hours while smiling before. It was also nice to end a great mountain bike season with a national championship jersey and more importantly, some great company and camaraderie out amongst the rocks and trees.