Wednesday, February 17, 2010

24 hours in the Old Pueblo race report

This was my 5th year participating in the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (24 HITOP) mountain bike race, and the event lived up to all my expectations.  This is an event for anyone...young, old, competetive rider, or couch potato.  In varying degrees, based on personal preference, it is part mountain bike racing, part sleep deprivation, part binge drinking.  Above all, it is about spending time with 3000 of your closest friends and pushing yourself to whatever endurance limit you desire.

I raced on a 5 person co-ed team in the category of 200+ combined age...(at least they do not call it the "masters division" as that would really sound old!)  I have done the event every year with my very good friend Cindy Sanchez (2nd from right in photo above).  In addition we were joined this year by some of her friends from Colorado- Simon Stokes (center) and Dave Aceto (far left), as well as our amigo from the great metropolis to the north, Javier Ochoa (2nd from left).  I should mention that our team was sponsored by Dr. Will Bar hence the team name "Powered by Dr. Will Bar".  Not real catchy I admit.  But hey, the bars are awesome, the jerseys are cool (Simon modeling to the right), and check out the third athlete testimonial on the Dr. Will Bar webpage

In what has become a tradition over the past 4 years, we shared a campsite with our friends who were riding this year in the 4 person singe speed category.  Right to left in the photo - Gabe Lucero, Jeremy Killen, Rene Valencia, and Juan Rascon (yes, the Juan Rascon!).  They are all great guys and great riders and the comraderie is in many ways what makes the event.

So, the nuts and bolts on the format.  The course is a 17 mile loop through the Sonoran Desert just northwest of Oracle, AZ.  It is a very fast course with varying trail sections that each have their own personality.  It is done in a lap format with your team riding as many 17 mile laps as possible in a 24 hour window from noon on Saturday until noon on Sunday.  The race begins with the folks riding the first lap lining up about 1/4 mile down the road from where the bikes are actually waiting (photo at left).  At the sound of the gun, everyone runs like mad to find their bike up the road and begin the lap.  Words do not describe this shotgun start, you have to witness it (photo to the right).  When the rider finishes the lap, they come into an exchange tent, and pass a baton through a timer to the next rider who then heads out.  It is important not to lose your teams baton or you receive a time penalty.  On Sunday, you can not finish before if your rider comes in at 11:59 someone needs to start another lap.  If you come in at 12:00, your finished...All riders must have completed their final lap by 1:15.  Most teams who are not attempting to podium hold their rider just short of the finish until noon so that they do not have to ride another lap.  Another important rule is that a team can have no more than 2 laps between the rider completing the most laps and the rider completing the least.  In other words if someone wants to ride 5 laps, everyone else must have completed at least 3.  Lastly, each rider must ride at least one night lap.

The race started well with Cindy riding the first lap.  She was awesome on the run, grabbing her bike and heading off ahead of the majority of the riders.  You can see her in the Will Bar jersey in the picture to the right.  Cindy is certainly a fine athlete, however, do not be fooled by her dominance of the shotgun running start.  Her secret?  She wears running shoes!  While most mountain bikers utilize shoes that clip to their pedals, Cindy has found that she can dominate on the start wearing running shoes.  We certainly did not argue with her logic, but she does look awfully strange in that nice cycling kit wearing running year, she says she will finally go clipless.  Cindy turned in a great first lap and was followed by Simon.  Simon rode like he had not seen such warm and dry weather in months...and actually, being from Breckenridge, Colorado he hadn't seen 70 degrees and sunshine in months.  I rode third and all went well.  I should mention here that each of us provides the team with a time estimate of our lap so that the next rider knows when to be in the exchange tent.  Considering I had spent 11.5 months tapering down from last year and the 15 days immediately preceeding the race in training, I estimated a 1:45 for my lap.

There is nothing too remarkable about the course, but anyone who has ridden the loop has stories of the dirt road about a mile after the start...this section is called "The Bitches"...consider it a term of endearment.  Essentially, just as you are thinking to yourself "hey, this will not be so bad!" you emerge from a nice section of fast singletrack onto a utility service road that contains 7 short intense climbs, each followed by a screaming descent.  These descents are fun, however, one must be careful as at the base of the 4th "Bitch" there is a nasty rut, hidden fom view that claims at least one collarbone each year.  Needless to say, being the race veteran that I am , I am fairly conservative on the downside of the Bitches.  I think that it helped not to attack them too hard, as somehow I rode into the exchange tent to meet Javier in 1:29!  This was a great lap for me, considering I tried to save some speed for my night lap.  Out went Javier who turned in a very fast lap, and finally Super Dave headed out for the sunset lap.

Before I detail our night rides, I need to preface the (mostly true) report by saying that I consider Cindy a very good friend and I have a great deal of admiration for her.  Dave started his lap at 5:37 PM which means that the next rider, Cindy, should have been in the exchange tent at 6:57.  Well, for some reason Captain Cindy wrote down 7:30 as the time she should be waiting in the tent...the evidence is plain to see, in her handwriting in the image of the spreadsheet.  Now we all know that Cindy did not major in math, but she is an IT professional with extensive experience utilizing databases and spreadsheets...and that spreadsheet is, frankly, embarrasing from such a professional. Fortunately, Rene's spouse was in the exchange ten when Dave finished and was able to hike back to our campsite and nicely ask Cindy why she was hagning out around the campfire and not riding.  All told, Cindy went out about 20 minutes after Dave finished.  Unfortunately, Cindy's luck was about to get worse as both her handlbar light and her headlamp failed on her ride.  She was able to borrow a battery from another rider that allowed her to finish the lap.   After Cindy, Simon rode again without incident...maybe we should have let him ride all night, as it turns out...

I headed out feeling good at about 10:45 PM.  I had good nutrition, good hydration, good energy reserves, perfect clothing for the cold night time temps, and for the first time was feeling like this was the year the race was coming easy to me.  I estimated a 1:45 lap based on my earlier lap.  As I crested the 3rd "Bitch" I came up behind a group of cyclists following a large pickup that was clearly there for race support.  I did not have long to consider why the pickup had slowed us all down when I saw a helicopter that had taken off from further up the course, out of view behind the later "Bitches."  I was told after my lap that a rider had crashed severly on the aforementioned rut at the base of the 4th "Bitch."  Many of you know of my issues with fainting, so thank goodness the mess was gone before I arrived.  In any event, on I rode.  Again, things were going great and I was really cruising through the single track on the "corral" section of the course.  In fact, maybe I was getting a little too I rode through my least favorite section of the trail, the "His and Hers" section I stopped to assist a woman who was having trouble with her dropped chain.  This only took a minute, however my rhythm was broken.  100 yards later I came to the famous "brain" cactus which marks the start of a short section of roller coaster like trail with tight turns on desert hardpack.  Needless to say, the trail turned a sharp left and I lost the trail...I went straight...straight ahead and straight off the bike.  Fortunately no injuries other than emotional (who saw that?)  I decided that I would take that opportunity to collect myself, have a cliff block, relieve my bladder and get going.  I rode through the arches parking lot, hit the "Junebug" section and started to get my mojo back.  From this point it is a sustained non-technical climb of 2-3 miles, and then a sweeping 1 mile descent to the the finish- and I have done this trail enough to know exactly the cadence I can sustain to get me through.  I was all but home free, ready for a beer and then a good 4 hour nap until perhaps a morning ride.  Then the hammer dropped in the form of my own light failure.  I only ride with  a handlebar light, but do carry a headlamp for emergencies, and this definitely qualified.  I strapped on the Petzl LED headlamp and climbed back in the saddle.  Unfortunately I discovered that the white LED's provide absolutely no contrast on the trail and I had to slow down to about 25% of my pace to avoid rocks and the like on approximately the last 3 miles.  Finally I arrived at the tent after a 2 hour lap!

Out went Javier and amazingly, his lights failed as well!  3 of our 5 team members lost lights at my previous 4 years no one on any of my teams has lost a light...I guess our number was up.  In any event, despite the slow night laps we still managed to keep a rider out at all times, and finished at noon on Sunday with 15 laps.  Very close to the finish is what is referred to as the "rock option" and the picture is of Dave coming down the rock on our final lap.

All in all this was a great year despite the technical difficulties.  Cindy is an awesome captain (and a good sport for letting us tease her about the spreadsheet!), and Javier, Dave and Simon are teammates beyond compare!


  1. Hi Alan-
    Thanks for the great writeup! While I've never "raced" like that, I've done the Tour de Tucson and Tour of the Tucson Mountains many times, but only against my own times and goals. Now that I'm officially an "old fart" it is fun to read about such adventures. Keep up the good work!


  2. is all about my own times and goals in the event for sure...some folks are in it to win it, but not me...I am there for the fun.

  3. Do you realize that this is the first time in 5 years that we will not be out there this weekend??? Makes me a bit sad :(