Monday, August 4, 2008

24-9: Crewing a 24 hour MTB event

Sometime in 2007 I must have told my friend Chris Strout about a 24 hour mountain bike race in Wisconsin called 24 hours of 9 mile ( because he totally blames me for him doing this race; twice now!! OK I can accept the blame. Back in 2007 Chris asked me to crew for him at 24-9 but it was the very weekend I returned from crewing at Badwater ( This year I also went to Badwater but that 135 mile ultra running marathon was 2 weeks earlier so I had to accept Chris invite/orders/request/bribe.

Laura dropped me off on Friday at his parents home to meet up with Debbie and Rich plus Chris' wife Kim + Sprout (Kim's sister Kari was arriving Saturday). We all traveled up to Wausau WI in their minivan which was packed with camping gear and race supplies. Surprisingly the drive to get to the race site was only 4 hours. Chris had been on site for while setting up the pit area right by the race finish line (primo) and had also rode the trails with his World Bicycle Relief team mate Brad Majors. Also sharing the pit area was Siren Bicycle rider Todd Carpenter whose bike Chris was also riding and also local racer Scott Cole. We spent some time hanging out at the SRAM pit area located near the start line before Chris had to pick up his race pack (bike number, paperwork, race T-shirt, goody bag). Then we headed to a local restaurant for dinner before retiring for the night at a nearby hotel.

Up next day bright and early to get to the venue early. Minivan and car was unloaded of supplies and Chris' bikes removed from their night storage. At 9.15 am all racers had to attend a race talk meeting which was conveniently located by the finish line area so we got to hear the race details. Chris racked his bike in the staging area, did some last moment race get ready things and joined the riders on the start line for the 10:07am start.

24-9 was to start "Le Mans" style meaning all the riders had to run a 400 meter or more loop back to the start area to pick up their bikes. This is done to break up the packs of bikers. Chris was lined up at the front of the start line next to six time world champ Chris Eatough. Soon they were off all running as hard as they could. Being used to seeing running races it was a tad funny seeing helmet and lycra clad bikers out for a run!!

Each rider (or team) had to do as many 14.25 mile loops during the course of their 12 or 24 hour event with the rider/team covering the most loops/distance winning the race and/or division. Chris described the course as very technical and rocky in places. I was surprised to see the lead guy complete the first lap in around 56 minutes although later found out the first loop cut off the first section of single track for a wider multi track section to not cause bottlenecks at the start. Being in pit row by the finish area we had a great view of the action. Most of everyone’s first 3-5 loops were done at fairly consistent time but then folks start to get lapped and slow down. Chris was taking feeds at the pit area each loop but after about 4 loops asked if we could supply an extra feed at the 10 mile point on the course where Red Bud road cross the course. Luckily for us this was only half a mile away so about 15-20 minutes before Chris was expected at that point Rich and I would hike over to meet Chris. On our first journey over we went through the Red Bud aid station which was party central with loud music, grilling, beers, wood craving and a roaring fire. The riders would go past this on every loops, Rich and I on the other hand found a different trail which was actually a tad shorter. I think I hiked 8-9 miles during the race just on Chris’ feed. Rich would hand off a fresh bottle of water or Gatorade and I’d watch for where Chris tossed the empties. Brad’s only crew person, ultra runner, Dennis was on the same plan and as Chris and Brad rode some loops together we were on the same feed schedule giving Dennis and I time to chat about ultrarunning.
At night all racers had to have lights (2 working units to be carried). Chris had one on his bike and a helmet one. Brad preferred just a helmet unit. It was amazing seeing the lights going along the trails through the trees especially on some of the winding single track sections. During the night Chris began to slow down and lap 11 was a tough close to 2 hour loop. He was hurting and didn’t really want to go back out but after chatting with us crew headed out. End of that 14 miles he was still hurting and decided to take a long which with a tent nap and some chair time turned into a almost 6 hour loop. Awaking from his slumber Chris got on his bike rode up and down the pit lane and declared he was ready by requesting 2 drink bottles and some Gu/food. Brad was around the pit area so off they went together. I think much to their and our amazement Chris and Brad pulled out another 3 loops (43 miles) for a great finish. Everyone was so proud of their achievements. Brad finished 7th overall with 18 laps and Chris 12th with 15 laps – not bad for with a 3 hour nap time. Others in the pit area did great. Scott finished on the podium with a 5th place finish 19 laps and Todd got in 18 laps finishing just behind Brad based on time finishing for a 8th place finish. Overall winner was Chris Eatough in a close fought race (until last lap)
All that was left was braking down the pit area, loading up the cars and heading to the nearest restraint for food and Starbucks. Chris and I then drove to Madison area where both exhausted we checked into a Holiday Inn Express for a good nights sleep and both felt much more smarter the next day. A massive storm delayed are leaving for Chicagoland but we both got home in the end with Chris dropping me in Naperville and then he headed for the north shore himself

24-9 was an amazing event with some amazing performance with some amazing racers and their amazing crew.

Now where can I get some night lights for my Gary Fisher?

Race photos to follow: