by Kay Levesque
It seemed like a clever name at the time…heading to Tucson in the wintertime, leaving snow for cactus, flying south. I guess now I realize Snow Birdin’ is kind of a dumb name for a 24-hour bike team…. being creative on the spot is not my strength. Luckily that is not a requirement for 24 hour racing!
I’d always wanted to do Old Pueblo. And as sometimes happens, this “Epic” race was proposed over beer(s) at some winter bike geek social at Boulder Cycle Sport. I didn’t think those ladies would actually remember our banter, but I’d said “Yes” and our 4-lady team became a reality.
Due to our mild winter in Boulder, CO, we were all able to continue to ride and train throughout the winter months. Trails that were usually shut down for the season were dry in January and then dry again in February! So we rode. We got excited about Tucson. And we rode some more. Even in the dark.
My tradition for 24-hour racing has always been to convince the youngest rider to take the 1st lap. Our youngest has only been mountain biking for one year, but our argument was that all the racers would be slowed down in the maw of the Le Mans start, so it would be ideal for a new rider who might go out too fast.
Our youngest rider, Shawnie Mulligan, wasn’t falling for that logic, but we ganged up on her and pushed her out there on the start line. Shawnie turned a blazing lap that started us in 2nd place in our category. WOW, strong start for such a new rider. Shawnie may lack technical skills acquired from years of mountain biking, but she can climb like a demon!
Long story short, we held 2nd place for the next 20 hours. Easy peasy? NO! We all rode hard and fast, and lucked out with no mechanicals and no crashes (except for that one….). We showed up at the transition tent on time, ready to roll. Pro Bike Express gave us support in the pit including a big four-sided tent out of the wind, a blasting propane heater, and hot soup! Truly a deluxe setup.
Now about those last hours… When your team gets tired and riders begin to lose the love. When legs complain on the slightest incline. When that little rock section makes your eyes water. Well, that’s when you start doing math and asking the questions.
Just how many laps do we have to do? Can we catch 1st place? Not a chance. Will 3rd place catch us? No way. Can we stop at 18 laps? Absolutely!
I open a Dale’s Pale Ale. Wait, let’s check that. What if the other team rides their best at the end? Better than they’ve been riding for the last 20 hours? Uh, oh, they could catch us if we lolly-gag before the finish, stalling to avoid the 19th lap. Their rider might catch our rider and then it’s a race! The beer and the questions were not good for spent legs.
Lauren Costantini suited up. Shawnie found Kristin Riley-Lazo on the course and told her not to stall. We have to play it safe and send out a rider for lap #19! Kristin rolled in but Lauren was still seconds away from the tent. With no rider to hand off to, Kristin took no chances and rolled out for another lap–her 6th! We now call her The Insurance Policy.
How did it go? We got in 19 laps, good for 2nd place. The 3rd place team came in 4 minutes too late to send out a rider for lap #19 so they hit 18 laps. First place team also rode 19 laps, but faster than us…. It was a dramatic finish even though on paper it might appear to have been a slam dunk… We loved every minute of it. My thanks to Lauren Costantini, Shawnie Mulligan, and Kristin Riley-Lazo for a fantastic race!
To close, I want to share my two most important strategies for 24-hour racing. The first is to manage nutrition and your stomach. What works for me is to drink a bottle of PowerBar IronMan Restore and to eat a small meal or snack immediately after every lap. Right before I ride a lap, I take in a PowerBar Energy Gel and I put a second one in my back pocket in case things get rough, which they will.
My second important strategy is to stay very organized. You don’t want to spend time wandering around looking for arm warmers or clear lenses. Have everything neatly organized so that you can spend as much time as possible sitting down with your feet up. When you come in from a lap, clean your bike or lube your chain if it needs it, clean yourself up, feed yourself, get ready for your next lap, and then SIT AROUND and lounge as much as possible out of the sun. Truly 24-hour racing is a lot of sitting around, unless you are a crazy solo rider.
Oh, a third strategy. Always recheck your math!