Dawn 'Til Dust Race Report

No, that’s not a typo. I’m moving to a renaming of the Gallup 12 hour race from Dawn ‘til Dusk to Dawn ‘til Dust. I’m still coughing up dust!

Warning: long winded mountain bike race recap. If you’re not into that sort of thing, you can skip this post.

What a weekend. The morning started off early enough, 5 AM. By 6:15 we were at the course setting up an easy up canopy. Before I knew it, the racers meeting was happening and I realized I still had a few things to get squared away (Camelbak, eGel, the like). I wasn’t too worried about a long warm-up, I had 12 hours to get warmed up in, but I did want to get loose.

So after I get back and get everything together I head over to the starting line, about a 1/3rd of mile away. The start was a mass start with a 1/3rd mile of jeep road to the singletrack. I knew it was going to be bad and was planning on staying in the first 20 or so to keep from getting tied up. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. As I started down the 300 yard hill at the start, I saw a mass of riders coming up the road. Shit, I missed the start. I didn’t know if I need to check in or anything, so I went to the start, asked if I need to check in or just turn around and go and was told to turn around and go. I big ringed that climb trying to make up as many places as I can - helped a little bit, but I still got into the single-track with a march of the ants. Ugh! My own fault, completely, but that only made it more frustrating. I did get a few “nice pass”es as I passed riders going through the solo pits, which helped the moral.

In all the confusion and pre-race jitters, I forgot to eat breakfast. I remembered this somewhere in my first lap. I didn’t even eat a gel to start off with. Man, I’m off to a great start. Thankfully, my mind was kept occupied by looking for lines to pass people with so I didn’t concentrate on it too much. I seriously think I passed somewhere between 30 and 40 people the first lap. Starting in the back when you’re feeling good isn’t cool, I kept getting jammed up. I can’t blame them for not wanting to pull off to the side the second I ride up on them; they’re there to race too afterall.

At the first turn around I realize I haven’t had any gel. So much for my 300 - 500 calories per lap plan. It wasn’t until later laps that I realized it was nearly impossible to eat on that course. You were constantly on your toes dodging rocks, trying to keep from sliding out in sandy corners, or getting some major flowy 20mph+ singletrack in.

Anyhow, I just adjust. My plan for the morning was to put in two laps to start with and then hand off to partner. It was going to be in the upper 20s when the race started and I didn’t want to stop until it had warmed up into at least the upper 30s/lower 40s. I did manage to keep that goal. I put in a 1:24 lap time (by my computer, I was at 1:27’ish officially because of my late start) so I’m feeling good. The crowd on the singletrack has started to thin, so I’m not getting stuck behind people as much. I make it to the turn around in about 38 minutes and when I go to take my card something happened with the hand-off and I eat it hard. The card was for a poker hand. At the half way point of each lap you got a poker card and the best poker hand won a prize. Anyhow, for those of you who noticed the card hand off location change from the early morning, I’m the reason.

I dust myself off get back up, guilt the guy into giving me an Ace (my second of what would become three) and take off. A hundred yards back into it and I realize my bars and off center. I didn’t want to start pulling tools out, so I jump off the bike, wedge the wheel between my legs and start yanking on the bar. I know I’ve got 20 - 25 minutes ‘til I’m off for a lap so I know if I can get it close enough to make it back and I’ll get it fixed when I get back. About half the way back I notice my front wheel washing out. Great, I’m loosing air pressure in my front tire. Ok, don’t take any gambles, make it back… only 5 minutes or so. Bad move, and one I won’t make again.

About 90 seconds from the finish, I come around a corner, catch a rock wrong and rip a hole in the tire. I’m so close now I might as well walk/run it in - it’d be just as fast and I’m not up on the next lap. Plenty of time to fix it. I ended up with a 1:30 even with the flat knowing that I cost myself at least 5 minutes by not taking the 60 seconds to shoot some more air into the tire. Thankfully, I brought my 29’er to the race, even with it’s shifting screwed up, so I decide to see if the guys at the REI tent can get me going. Sure enough, 15 minutes and some new cable housing later I’m back in business with my big bike.

One of my goals for the weekend was to race a lap or two with both my Spider and my 293 and see which one felt better and which one I had faster times on. Having a hole in the tire of my Spider gave me the excuse to get the shifting working on the 293 and get it out on the course.

Anyhow, I’m planning on having 1:45 minutes or so off time between laps. I decide to head down to the staging area a little early and hang out. 1:35 she comes barreling through. Cool, 10 minutes faster a lap than I expected and now I start thinking about podium places. The only problem is now I’m on my big bike which I figure will slow me down about 5 minutes. Man, was I wrong.

I was ripping through the first section of the trail, the part I was worried about. The climbs were nothing, and all of the little technical sections that I had been dabbing on earlier in the morning on the Spider were child’s play. Couple that with the fact that I’ve felt comfortable recently with a lower cadence that a 29’er has, and I was flying. I got to the turn around in 34 minutes shaving 4 minutes off my time and I hadn’t even gotten to the fast part of the course yet where the 29’er would shine!

At this point it dawns on my that no one has passed me, but I keep passing people. I’m feeling awesome and when I look down at my computer and realize I’m coming in under 1:15 I’ve got a smile on my face that last 1/4 mile. I ended up with a time of 1:13.02, and much to my pleasure, I’ve beat my partner to the staging area. As I roll up to the tent, she’s hopping on her bike and does a double-take, “What are you doing back already?”

Right about now all of the problems from earlier in the day start to melt away and I start thinking up ways to sell the Spider (it’s a medium frame if you’re interested). Since I’m not eating as much as I should on the course, I start making sure I’ve got plenty of food in me at the breaks. At 1:20 I head back up to the staging area and start waiting. Around 1:40 she rolls in and I’m off before she has a chance to tell me anything.

Lap 4 now I’m feeling just as good as I was the last lap, even a bit more confident as I’m pushing harder gears through a couple of the sections and big ringing some of the shorter climbs. The momentum on a 29’er will carry you up just about anything if you keep with it. I make it to the turn around at 34 minutes and change again. I felt great the whole lap back and really start to kick it up as I come in for the home stretch. Again, nobody passed me the whole lap. I’m really feeling it now. I come in with a 1:13.27!

As I roll up to the staging area, I’m greeted by “Do you have another lap in you?” In my delirium, I didn’t notice she didn’t have her bike or her helmet. “Yeah, I’ve got one or two more in me, after you.” “No, I’m done, I barely made it back last lap, but you were gone so fast I didn’t have a chance to tell you.” Well, shit… there goes my pacing out the window.

After a few minutes of apologies and some gel, I head back out for another lap knowing where in the top 5 somewhere - her goal is to find out where we’re at so I know whether another lap is needed and try to get some food in her so she can take the last lap. I’m feeling horrible. I had been pacing myself for a little bit off of the bike and some refueling, and my mind starts reminding me of that. Even though I don’t feel as fast as I was, I make it to the turn around in about 37 minutes and still haven’t been passed by anyone on the course. To help with the mental boast, there’s been someone in sight every few minutes and I’m passing them like they’re sitting still. I come back in to the timing tent at 1:17. I can’t believe I’m still turning faster times than my fresh morning laps on the Spider even though I feel as badly as I do.

I come back to find out we’re in 3rd now and not sure where 4th is, though we know they’re on the same lap and but they haven’t come through yet. I’ve got 1:35 to make the last lap in and have it count, and all I have to do is stay in front of people. One Red Bull, and a few minutes in a chair later I’m off again - 6th lap of the day and 3rd straight. Ouch. When I left for the last lap the decision was left up to me. Finally deciding to go out for the last lap, I said I’m going to lose a podium on the course, not because I sat out the last lap.

I feel completely dead. One of the team guys who was out for his first or second lap of the day comes blazing past me in the first ten minutes. There goes my passless streak. It doesn’t bother me too much, though, because I’m still reeling other riders in. As fatigue starts to set in, I start telling myself that “fatigue is only mental, fatigue is only mental”. If you heard someone pass you mumbling this, that was me. I kept this up for a few minutes, and before I knew it I’m feeling back. I still wasn’t mashing the gears, but it’s not killing me like it was. At the turn around, I turn in something around 40 minutes. I start calculating my time out and realize I’m probably in line for something around 1:20. I realize I’ve got less than 30 minutes to go and I start giving it everything I’ve got.

It was somewhere along the trip back that I started to realize what Liggett’s been talking about. My legs felt like they were going to explode, but I literally threw everything I had into them knowing that a podium was on the line.

Painful as that sounds, it was actually great. One of the biggest mental blocks I’ve had is pushing myself to the brink of breaking. I’ve admitted that one of my weaknesses as an Expert racer is my unwillingness to redline and hurt for like you’re required to at that level. These last two laps were the first time I’ve forced myself into that place of constant pain and been able to keep it there knowing a race is on the line.

But I digress. I’m still working with one person having passed me in the last three laps. As I passed one guy when he hoped off of his bike I said “Aren’t you glad this is almost over?” He said something about that being the end of his day, he was shortcutting back and done. That and a few more random passes - now the course is virtually empty - and I’m starting to feel good again. I know my time is going to be slower than the last few laps, but it’s still going to be respectable and in under the time limit so I’m feeling great. About a mile out from the finish, I hear “rider back”. One of the Team HealthFX guys comes barreling past me. I try to latch on in case he’s somehow racing co-ed duo, and passing me for a place, but he was going too fast. Turns out he was on a male duo team and took first.

As I come into the final stretch there’s a guy who gets onto the final 150 yards of road about 50 feet in front of me. I don’t know who I’m chasing for 2nd, but by god if this guy is going to beat me to it if he’s it. I put the hammer down and manage to pass the guy before the line to a screaming partner… “Travis, you’re awesome! You got us second!” I couldn’t believe it… The pain of the race, the relief of being done, and the emotion of picking up a place on the last lap… I just need to lay down. I hand off my bike, found some open dirt, and collapse.

I turned in my last lap at 1:20.59. Feeling as though I was going to puke a couple of times and having my legs screaming at me for over an hour and twenty minutes I still turned in a time faster than either of the two on my Spider. I’m completely spent. With that final sprint for the line (which wasn’t for a place, but I wasn’t going to take the chance) I left it all on the course. I’ve done 75.9 miles in 8:01.45 and climbed some 10,000 feet (I think - it’ll be my first 10k day if it was).

When it was all said and done, we ended up in 3rd out of 9 or 10 teams. Considering that only two of the laps were put in by my “partner”, I’ll take it. Based on the times I did put in, I think I would have stood a good shot at a top 5 in the solo category. I won’t know though, at least until next year :)

In review…
So now that I’ve rambled on about the minutiae of the race for a small volume, the review.

The Gallup course is awesome. It keeps you on your toes the entire time, and makes for an extremely challenging endurance course. It’s not like Old Pueblo where dirt roads are conventiently scattered through out to give you a chance to recoup and refuel, instead it throws you a switchback after a sandy turn after a 25% grade climb with a rock hop at the top after a switchback on a ledge with a 100’ drop on the side. It’s a crazy kind of fun that only a mountain biker could get a kick out of.

Last year they were surprised by the turnout, this year I think they doubled in size. I see Gallup quickly becoming one of the premier endurance race courses in the southwest. It’s within a day’s drive of Denver, Tucson, Phoenix, and El Paso, not to mention being right down the street from Durango and Albuquerque. I think once they’ve got it worked out and start really pushing the race, they’ll just continue to get bigger.

With all the good, there were a few things I would change. First, they did a mass start. Of course, I was on the bad end of a mass start, but for a race like this I think a LeMans is the way to go. Having that 1/4 mile run to start the race really helps seperate out the racers from the riders, as only the people who are really gunning for a good place are going to put in that effort. Of course, when you’re late to the start, it doesn’t matter of it’s a mass start or a LeMans, you’re still DFL.

The other thing I would look at is the way they handle the relays. At all the other endurance races I’ve been to and participated in, they use batons. When you come into the timing tent, you have to show your baton, then it’s passed off to the next rider, who repeats it the next time they come through. With only one baton per team, it makes sure only one rider is on the course at a time. Without that, it would be too easy for someone to have sent another rider out a few minutes before their teammate got back. The baton removes that temptation.

Added as an afterthought: One final thing, it would make the race longer, but I would race for 12 hours plus. Basically, every lap you start before the 12 hour mark counts instead of every lap you finish before the 12 hour mark. On a course this size, that adds an extra 1 - 1.5 hours of racing and makes the final strategy that much more important. Of course, this makes the race that much longer, and it would also start putting riders out as the sun sets. The way I’ve always seen races that can end with you on the course after sunset is they set a cutoff that you have to go out with a light if you leave. For this race, I’d make it leaving after 6 PM require a light.

These three
changes would bring the race in line with AMTRI and make it run just like every other endurance race out there, taking it up an extra knotch.

All that said, this is an awesome race that’s put on by the city chamber of commerce. For $30 - 40 a person (depending on category) they give you beer, food, a 12 hour race, and a t-shirt. When you participate in the bigger national races paying $65 - $100 to race and see the difference in what you get for your money when you’re racing in a small regional race, it really makes you wonder where racing is headed. Is it to the big commercial races that treat you like the # on your number plate, or the smaller local races where you can call the promoter up on her cell phone the week before a race and ask questions?

Assuming my body quits hurting between now and then, next weekend is week 4 of racing for me. Socorro’s Cerrillos del Coyote, the #2 race in the NMORS series.