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Going For The Gold

November 23, 2010

Photo by Louis Escobar, Reflections Photography

Not even a full month removed from 24 hours of Rocky Hill, the Parham family packed up shop and made the jaunt east to the piney woods of Coldspring, TX to take on yet another 24 Hour mountain bike race as part of the Ultacentric Experience. Normally I race for fun, I race for camaraderie, I race for the challenge. If I get a little pay, that’s always a bonus. This race would be a little backwards. The course at Double Lake is fun for a few laps, but riding for 24 hours was sure to get boring. Non of my usual competitors would be out there, and in fact I had heard from the race director the week previous that pre registration was pretty low. Doing any kind of race for 24 hours is likely going to be a challenge, but I wasn’t particularly turned on by the flat, twisty, non-technical, non varying terrain of Double Lake. If you’ve never been there it’s in the Sam Houston National forest. It is flowy singletrack through heavily wooded areas with very little climbing and a lot of roots thrown in to keep you honest. What it lacks in technical difficulty, it makes up for in raw speed. It’s kinda like this:

Like I said, fun for a few laps but boring after a while. It was going to take something a little more exciting to get me to go through the entire 24 hour routine once more, especially less than 30 days from the last one. That motivation would be a 1 ounce American Eagle gold coin. This would be the prize for the winner of each solo category: male and female, run or mountain bike, 72, 48,or 24 hour. Gold was going for about $1400 an ounce last week, and only going up, so that would be all the motivation I needed.

We arrived at the park Friday night, setup camp, cooked dinner, and went over to the neutral food zone/timing area to get some hot tea (it was a little chilly out) and watch some of the 48 hour runners who had been out since 10am that morning. The 24 hour competitors would start at 10am Saturday morning and everyone would conclude at 10am Sunday.

Come Saturday morning, I picked up my race packet while Colleen continued to debate whether or not she would do the race. She had not planned on participating, but there were no other female solo racers signed up. If there was a nice gold coin at the finish line, why not!? There was completely neutral race support available so I wouldn’t need her to be there for me. We had barely brought enough lights and batteries for both of us to use at night, but they would suffice. I had brought three bikes, she brought hers, we had extra parts and plenty of food, so our change of plans would not be a problem to accommodate. Two gold coins would be better than one, and hers would be nice insurance in case I didn’t win mine. We spent the rest of our short morning setting up the Parham base camp. There was neutral support where the laps started/ended, but there wasn’t much room to put our EZ up or tent and athletes would be passing by and scanning in all night so if either one of us wanted some shut eye it would’ve been difficult. Racers have to wear these little computer chips on their ankles so when they cross an electronic mat it keeps track of race data-and makes a long loud beep.

At 10am, all MTB racers lined up and took off. There was one 6 hour racer, four 24 hour solo men, one 24 hour 4 man team, and one 24 hour solo woman. A far different cry from Rocky Hill attendance, but I would still have my work cut out for me. As mentioned earlier, I brought three bikes along. Big Tex, the full suspension 29er for when fatigue began to sit in and I needed some extra cush. Proud Mary, still setup single speed in case we got rain and the trail turned muddy. The third bike was a special one built up just for this race. Friend and former Pedalmasher David Kessler loaned me his Niner Air 9 frame and I threw on a light but solid 1×9 drivetrain. I started the race with this bike and rode it until dark. It made easy work out of the 9.2 mile loop building a comfortable lead by lap9.

Just like at Rocky Hill, I left the gate charging hard. My goal was to build up an insurmountable lead and retire early, perhaps even early enough to get some sleep. The competition wasn’t as stiff as Rocky Hill, but it still kept me on the gas harder and longer than I really wanted to. I only had a 16 minute lead by lap 7, but the blistering pace began to take its toll on the field by lap 10, when I finally jumped a lap ahead of 2nd place. The pace had taken a toll on me too. For the first night lap I switched to Big Tex since I was fatigued and knew I wouldn’t be able to see the trail as well. I know a lot of you reading my blog don’t know much about bike tech, but the way a bike is built affects the way it handles. The Niner bike is very light and zippy-it turns and accelerates quickly. Big Tex is heavier and more stable-it turns and accelerates slower, but it is also more shock absorbing and forgiving. The bike switch combined with fatigue and night darkness made for a sloppy lap. I was sliding around, oversteering off the trail, understeeing off the trail, taking horrible lines and just having a tough time.

Despite the troubles I carried on. The folks in the neutral support tent kept telling me fajitas would be ready for dinner, but I remember having to ride 2 more laps before they were. I don’t know what the lap count was, but it was 9 ½ hours into the race. I stopped for my first long break and chowed down on some fajitas. That stop was a lifesaver. Normally delirium and feelings of quitting don’t set in until 2:30 in the morning, but here they were haunting me at 7:30.

The food, drink, and rest were just what I needed to hop back on the trail and crank out about 5 more laps to get me into the middle of the night and build a lead of 3 laps or so. From this point on, I started taking longer breaks and riding much slower laps. The 3 lap lead wasn’t enough to safely throw in the towel so I trudged on.

Around 6:30am, I was wrapping up a long break when twilight began to break. Morning twilight is always my favorite lap. The creatures are out stirring, the morning twinkle gradually overpowers my Ayup lights, and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. If I’m losing steam it always gives me the recharge I need to finish strong.

I didn’t need a recharge for this particular lap. I just needed to enjoy it and finish it, because it would wrap up the win for sure.  Colleen had started this lap not far behind me, and I didn’t know whether or not it would be her last, but I waited for her at our camp (about a 1/2 mile from the finish) so we could ride the last part together. Even Ladybird got to tag along. There we were. The 24 hour champs. Husband, wife, and dog, rolling across the finish line together. I was now 5 laps up on 2nd place and done. 202.2 miles in 21.5 hours. A new personal best. Colleen would go out for one more lap so she could finish over 100 miles, 11 laps and 101.1 miles to be exact, a new personal best for her also. 2nd place (Daniel Ramos) went out for one more lap as well, cutting the margin down to 4 laps.  Looking back at the splits, he ran a damn fine race too. His early laps were almost as fast as mine. He was on a 26″ hardtail the entire race and didn’t have the liberty of a bike like Big Tex when things got rough. Even his last two laps were under an hour, a great effort for that late in the race. Third place rider Vance McMurray of Austin also had some fast early laps but decided to pull out after 15 laps. Vance is pretty much the founder of the High School Mountain bike organization here in Texas. We chatted a while after the race and it was cool hanging out with him.

The support crew had a full hot breakfast ready right as the race was ending and awards followed shortly after. Colleen and I got our 1 ounce American Eagle gold coins, picked up some other goodies and then everything sort of shut down. We packed up and hit the road for Terrell where gobs of food and sleep awaited.

I’d like to wrap up the race report by complimenting the race director and support crew. Normally setting up camp and preparing my own food and support is an advantage I like to think I have over my opponents. I make my own energy bars, Colleen cuts up fruits I scarf down in between laps, she refills my bottles, I have all my tools, extra parts, lights, clothes and any other item I might need right in reach at our base camp. With this being a relatively local race for me, it’s not a huge problem to bring all that stuff. The people that run this race truly strive to have it setup such that an athlete could fly in from anywhere in the US or even the world, have a short drive from the airport, and do the race with minimal supplies. I have never in my entire racing career seen a race, or even a charity ride for that matter, as well supported as this race. They had any kind of food or drink a racer could have needed. Hammer Nutrition was the title sponsor, so there was an endless supply of HEED, endurolytes, energy bars, and other Hammer products, but there were also sodas, juice, tea, and coffee. They had fruit, candy, crackers, pretzels, and all kinds of snacks laid out for racers to choose from the entire race. There were 4-5 hot meals per day made fresh in a portable kitchen. Those fajitas at 8pm hit the spot. I had some hot soup around 3am that was comforting too. The awards brunch was amazing. The support didn’t stop at nourishment. They had a mechanic on standby, places to charge light batteries, chairs to hang out in, professional timing, and cheery staff of volunteers that never failed to meet your needs. The course was well marked. The race director Robert Tavernini answered all my questions quickly when I was considering doing the race, and everyone was compensated as advertised. There was a lot negative hoopla on the DORBA forum about this race and a few people even tried to talk me out of it, but I’m glad I trusted my own instinct and am here to say that Colleen and I couldn’t have had a better experience. I only wish that more riders would have turned out. I would definitely do it again. That’s my .o2.

I’ll be gorging my face with food for the next two weeks and letting my butt heal up. Maybe then I’ll think about the next race. Thanks for reading. I wish you and yours a happy and joyous Thanksgiving.

Photos by Vance McMurray

One Comment leave one →
  1. John Russell permalink
    November 23, 2010 4:44 pm

    Awesome job Parham family! Love reading your post race blogs. Wish I could have been there.

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