Race Report: The 2008 24 Hours of Big Bear- the Fourth Lap Fiasco

it is wednesday
if I wait another day the memories of this weekend past will get blurred into the memories from so many other 24 hour mountain bike races over the years
so I will spit out what comes up
in some ways I think it would be best for me to do a short introduction and lead into the Fourth Lap Fiasco... as that is the most interesting lap of the race for me
but I fear that I am about to give a second by second account of my West Virginia weekend

RACE REPORT: The 24 Hours of Big Bear in 2008
The Fourth Lap Fiasco

It was approaching 11am Sunday morning, nearly 23 of the 24 Hours of Big Bear had nearly passed, both Chris Clarke and Kent Baake had completed their fourth and final laps and my brother Marc was on the course on his fourth and final lap... Lisa and the boys were getting in the car with the dog to head back to DC while various members of the DCMTB team were starting to tear down the camp. Kent who had come in before Marc approached me and we discussed our position in the race. I was suited up and anxious to race, anxious but not necessarily excited. My body was fueled and my bike was tunned... okay... I slammed a Red Bull as fuel and put some lube on my chain for a tune up. Short and Sweet Kent told me that our team was a lap ahead of the fourth place team and that we were not close enough to catch the second place team in the Men's Vet category... which meant that I did not have to do a fou
rth lap if I did not want to.

Three laps?
Yes, three laps... three laps would be fine... the course was hard and my body was tired... but first I wanted confirmation that our team was a full lap ahead and I wanted to catch my brother before he got to the transition area to discuss this option of sitting out the final lap.

Time Passed, I was not entirely confident that I did not have to do another lap so I was still in my gear with partial focus on one last lap. Kent worked tearing down his camp all the while sure that we had plenty of time to meet my brother to discuss the next course of action. So much time passed that I started tearing down my camp as well.... I did not want to expend my energy tearing down my two tents in the hot sun before heading out on a fourth lap but I felt confident that Kent was correct in thinking that I would not have to go out for another lap unless we were concerned with our overall standings.

Sleeping bags were packed away and inflatable mattresses were deflated. Camping chairs were collapsed and the chaos of all my camping gear was corralled into order around my car. I had a Walkie Talkie in my back pocket to communicate with the people at our camp and a camera in my hand to snap a few shots of my brother when we met him in the woods. Once Kent had finished packing we grabbed our bikes and we rolled up casually towards the transition area when I saw a black and red DCMTB-City Bikes blur heading the other way on the other road. It was my brother Marc... he was moving fast... it was clear he was aggravated... we did not catch him in the woods before he finished his lap... apparently Marc did not know that I did not need to go out on a fourth and final lap.

There was some heated discussion. Voices were raised and hearts were racing. It was decided. I would rush to get the baton and start my lap while Marc and Kent reviewed our standings. If it
was learned that I did not have to do a lap they would meet me at mile three right by our campsite, I would stop my lap and cancel that lap... while if Kent was incorrect in his calculations... I would then complete this lap.

In all the chaos that is 24 Hour Mountain Bike Racing I rushed to the transition area grabbed the baton,
swiped my card, and headed out onto the trail. The bike and body felt good. For the most part the heat had improved conditions... well other than the mud bogs. The course that had been drenched by a summer storm with volumes of rain the single track was starting to dry out or get packed down. These stretches were not as grippy as they had been in the early portions of the race. The sensation of riding with velcro tires on velcro carpet was offering less resistance. Parts of the course did not drain at all. There were several 100 yard sections of mud. These bogs were ridable early in the race were now nothing by slop at this point in the race... nasty stretches of slick slop like some sort of dinosaur diarrhea that gave no hint of mystery depths. These sections that were ridden earlier on were now better to be attacked on foot. Some sections of trail that ran through running streams were ridable... the best path was in the clear water rather than through the mud on either side.

Where I could I took my fingers away from the brake levers and clutched the grips... tried to stay light on the bike. Always trying to work that oh so dangerous balance that is smart racing... going as fast as I can go without crashing o
r flatting. Time gained by going ballistic is lost quickly due a crash induced injury or mechanical failure... even a flat which can be repaired can cost valuable time.

It was not clear in my head what had happened. All I knew was I had missed the passing of the baton. My brother had estimated waiting for ten minutes at the transition area. What had happened in that time. In my mind we had dropped four minutes behind the team that had been chasing behind us. Making us the fourth place team rather than third. I worked hard to find places where I could get enough speed to make up this time. At the three mile marker there were all sorts of instructions and all sorts of cheers. I felt sort of embarrassed as I knew that my baton passing blunder was common knowledge to the familiar faces in this area.

Marc: Okay... you did a good job of making this interesting
then something about our lead of 12 minutes and the 8 minute late and then something about four minutes


there were other basic GO GET EM JOEL! YEA GWADZ!

as well as the chants and screams for me to launch off the rock on the line to the right
yea... right! this is a race not a jam session

all the words and instructions blurred
I tried to drink the Vitamin Water that Kent passed to me
all that information was tough to process
the information that was barked at me did not translate well
something got lost in translation

I was confused and I questioned my ability to catch this racer in front of me. In my mind I knew that it would be a long drive back to DC with my brother if we lost our place on the podium because I was 8 minutes late for the passing of the baton. So I worked the course. Hammering through each and every section. Clearing what I knew I could clear and moving smartly past what I knew caused me issue. As I approached each racer I wondered if that racer was my competition. In my head I thought about when would be the best time to pass that racer. Would I want to meet them early and start the cat and mouse or would I want to meet them later and try to beat them in the final miles for a sprint the finish.

All this information was vacant as I did not know the race number of the competitors of my class. The number 122 was stuck in my head but I was not confident why this information was there. None of the racers I approached had numbers on their back... DAM THEM FOR N
OT WEARING A NUMBER ON THEIR BACKS! PENALIZE THEM! I was not wearing a number either... don't penalize me please. There were were a number of racers to pass. The faster more aggressive racers quizzed me on my class... When one racer asked me my class I stuttered partially because I could not think but also for fear that my words would be the starting gun that marked the race to the finish. MEN'S EXPERT VET left my lips as I prepped myself for the battle to begin. It is really just Men's Vet... but I was operating on a less than cerebral level at this point. As I passed the racer gasped in response and relief when I was not a person from their class passing them and changing their team's final position. This ritual repeated itself as I reeled in the riders in front of me.

Most of the racers I passed were not moving at an expert pace. Some of them blocked my path causing a little deceleration and a little lost time... but also a chance to catch my breath and rest my legs. Most racers were met with a friendly pleasant greeting of HUNGRY RACER COMING THROUGH. I was hungry. I was driven... powered by the urge to right a wrong. Everyone was thanked after allowing the pass.

Exhausted yet pleased with the energy of the race I hammered at a good pace. Caught up in the energy of the moment. Fueled by the sensation of CHASING AND BEING CHASED. The fourth lap much like the three laps before it had that sensation that the lap should
be over... this sensation always came prematurely usually a bit before the boulder filled hike-a-bike section. This section before the last climb is the true marker for the closing miles of the race. As I finished the boulder section I resigned myself to failure. My being late for the baton exchange had jeopardized my team's position. A mixture of emotions overwhelmed me. A tad dejected and a little guilty I pedaled on. Still feeling strong I decided that I would continue to rock out the course at maximum race pace and try to finish with some dignity. Placement is not as important as personal best.

By this time the hamstring on my right leg was starting to cramp. The cramping was not so bad on the flats but this pain would have prevented me from any more strong climbing... luckily the climbing was behind me. Through the trees I heard a voice... it was Kent sharing information with me. Again with mention of this four minute spread. I was ready to throw down the bike even though there was mention of my time being strong. The course only had a few miles left to it and there was no way that I could make up this several minute deficit. Catching this ghost rider was no longer my ambition... reaching the finish was my goal. I sprinted through the final miles of single track littered with rocks and roots while Kent rode on the fire road that parallels the trail. I shouted to Kent WE F_CKEDUP! and kent agreed humbly yes we did... yes we did. A smile came over my face as I crossed the last fire road into that last section of woods before the lap ends with the ramp, the button hook, and the transition tent. No matter what the outcome... the race was over. Even with the failures there was some satisfaction in completing my fourth and final lap.

Up the ramp... around the button hook.... and into the tent... the baton was given to the timing official and I swiped my card. My team gathered around me all smiles. I was overjoyed that they had not met me like an angry mob with fiery torches. Part of me feared a sucker punch to the jaw from my brother. Then I learned... My botching of the transition had not put the fourth place team into third... the 8 minute delay had taken our lead from 12 minutes to 4 minutes. We had never left third place. I was not fighting to regain third. I was racing to maintain third and fight off the fourth place racer on my heels.

It worked! The last lap effort held them off! BUT GET THIS! in the course of this lap our team managed to pass the second place team... TAKING US FROM THIRD PLACE TO SECOND PLACE IN MEN'S VET!

alls well that ends well?
the end justifies the means?

I don't know... these notions are for those more brainy than myself. But I do know that I was overjoyed tha
t I had not sunk our proverbial ship with the eight minute late arrival for the baton passing. I also knew that the race was over and I did not have to do any more riding... another lap was not an option.

The weekend contained some fantastic energy. The number of racers increased for the 2008 24 Hours of Big Bear. Not only were there more racers, but there were more fast racers. The Solo race with Tinker Juarez offered the excitement that the battle between the East Coast Factory Team and Cane Creek used to offer years ago at Canaan. The night laps had spectators in the woods that added to the freakiness that is 24 hour racing. A man with a guitar played DIXIE on harmonica as I came through pine forest on my dawn lap brought back memories of a bugle player playing REVELRY as I tried to ride a technical section on my dawn lap at Canaan roughly a decade ago. The tiki torches at the Safety/Aid Station on the fireroad climb acts as a surreal beacon in the night and the group of people in massive sombreros shaking their maracas fueled me in the same way that the disco ball and the trampoline did some years back also at Canaan. AWESOME WEEKEND! I had a great race and my family had a great time. None of it was easy... but who ever said it was going to be easy?

Our four man Vet Team comprised of Chris Clarke, Kent Baake, my brother Marc Gwadz, and myself (Joel Gwadz) landed second in the Men's Vet Class and 13th Overall!

overall results

team results

is that enough words for ya?
maybe more from a different perspective later


JonW said...

Excellent writeup Joel! I enjoyed reading about your last lap. You had a good lap time for the fourth lap. Going around the course was very tiring this year!


gwadzilla said...

it was a tough race
I really put a great deal into that last lap
it was enjoyable pushing my personal limits

great hanging and camping
all things considered it was another good year for the team at big bear!


Marc said...

great write-up on a very dramatic and impressive 4th lap.

well done

Kent was so convinced we were a lock for third that showing him the results computer still wouldn't change his mind-
Darma had to mediate our dispute!

Darren and I invented that "send a guy out and wait to see if you really need to ride the whole thing strategy" at the pre-race mtg :) And we verified with Laird that he misspoke when he said you'd have to finish the last lap.

Barbara. said...

Great write-up Joel. It was nice to chat with you at the race. -Barbara