There are three things you can count on at the ’24 hours of the ‘Mooch’: Rain, Pain and Tough Terrain. This year would be no different.
This would be my 5th attempt in 6 years at this race. I’ve never been able to complete more than 4 laps of the race course. This year would be no different.
And at the end of each year’s race, I swear that I’m never EVER going to do this race again. But this year would be different.
I arrived at registration bearing the mandatory Box ‘O Joe and munchies for the REAL early arrivals. When I got to Waterloo Village shortly after 7:00am, I was the 10th car in line, and was assigned registration #22. I took a quick scan of the other cars in line, and realized that members of our crew occupied 5 of the 10 assembled cars. One of our stronger riders (Pat Biskey) arrived at 5:40am, just to have the honor of getting registration card #1. This ensured he could sprint up to our usual campsite and claim the hallowed ground that has served us so well in years past. After I got through the registration process, (and forgetting to pick up my schwag-bag, DOH!) I made my way up to camp to setup. I tried to pack lightly this year, and I only had to make two trips from the car with my stuff
We’ve normally had around 6 riders in camp each year. This year, we had eleven riders in camp, and the spread of tents, canopies, picnic tables, bikes and assorted detritus was large enough to qualify as a country. Therefore we declared the newborn nation the “ Caffeinated Revolutionary Republic of Weirdistan” and hoisted the Jolly Roger.
As others in our motley crew arrived we helped them schlep gear from their cars, setup their tents (including a monster tent dubbed the Taj Mahal) and expand our territories. In between arrivals we ate grub, needlessly burned some wood in our fire pit, and took a quick ride through the other camp sites to see the collected masses.
One of the few luxuries at this race is a cafeteria that operates throughout the entire weekend. The food is good, hot and cheap. Dinner Friday night consisted of an enormous helping of 3-cheese rigatoni, huge salad and roll for $5.00. Two bucks more got you two big meatballs to top off your pasta. All served up in the rustic ambiance of an authentic Boy Scout dining hall with a running slide show of the previous years race. Pure luxury.
Only six hearty souls braved the night on Friday. We set up the portable DVD player and watched “24 Solo” for inspiration. While we watched the flick, we initially agreed that Chris Eatough and Craig Gordon were total wussies for racing in great conditions on an easy course Conyers GA, and would fold up into fetal positions at the sight of the Mooch. Then we did the math and determined that 30 laps of an 8 mile course = 240 miles of racing. We figured they were tough enough to hang with us for at least one lap.
Sometime Friday night the fog rolled in. At one point in the wee small hours, I could not see past my tent to find the big rock that delineated our camp’s urinal. The lack of visibility did not bode well for the next day, as all that moisture was going to hang around to watch us race. As if we needed that kind of help.
The previous weeks weather was cool and rainy. This ensured that the course was going to be slick and sloppy on race day. What changed was the temperatures. While Wednesday was a high of 68, Saturday forecast was for a high of 89, with humidity of 68%, and a heat index around 100. This race has a history of exceeding all expectations, so we were a bit pessimistic.
As I expected, I got almost no sleep on Friday night. Between the chirping crickets, croaking frogs and rock-hard pallets that served as my bed I got about 2 hours of low-quality sleep. I expected as much and ensured that I had ready access to as much caffeine as humanly possible for the race. My wishes were granted after Mark Norcutt, our resident uber-rider, started brewing his “black hole” coffee. We dubbed this concoction “black hole” because a cup of the substance would swallow five full servings of cream, and not change color at all. After two servings, I could shoot sparks out of my fingertips at will. Yummy.
On Saturday morning, A few of us headed down to the mess hall for breakfast. The menu included Taylor Ham, egg & cheese sandwiches (a New Jersey delicacy) fresh fruit, packaged muffins and danish, and pancakes & sausage. Again, PURE luxury. Afterwards, the rest of the crew began to assemble at camp and we all began to prepare for the main event.
I had not really trained for this event. I had a nifty new bike, but only 60 miles on the odometer. My longest single ride on the MTB was 14 miles, and that was my one and only ride at Allamuchy. I had no race plan to speak of. I was going to experiment with some new nutrition supplements, and see how they might play out for the duration of my race, whatever the duration. As for race goals, I was going to try and keep my HR in the aerobic zone as much as possible, prevent serious injury and have some fun. As a stretch goal I wanted to double the mileage on my new bike. (6 laps)
The mandatory race meeting started at 11:00 with a warning that the national weather service had issued a heat advisory, and a health warning against heavy outdoor exertion. Lovely. As soon as the meeting started, the clouds parted, the sun began to shine and the thermometer fluid started to bubble.
The race starts in stages, with members of the various categories (4-person teams, 2 person teams, corporate and solos) going off in one minute increments. I staged myself in the very back end of the race start. This meant that I had no chance of getting caught up in the moment and sprinting away to a total blow-up, and I could also try and avoid he log-jams that always occur at the first technical sections.
The first mile of the course is a pretty steady climb up a fire road out of the Boy Scout camp, at the top is a left into the woods and some more, milder climbing. There are some easy technical sections along the first 2 miles, then the work really starts. Once I got through the initial climb and technical sections, I realized that I was totally and completely soaked in sweat. I was able to grab handfuls of my jersey and actually wring perspiration out of the fabric. At that point I knew that nutrition and hydration weren’t just a race strategy this day, but that they were serious health and safety concerns.
Somewhere along this stretch we caught sight of a dude we labeled “Speedo-Man” This dude was rockin a white wife-beater t-shirt tucked into a black Speedo-swim suit, with a water bottle stuck in the back side. If it wasn’t my first lap, I would have sworn that I was hallucinating. This was nasty stuff.
There are several more steep climbs between mile 2-5, and some big, honkin rock gardens, some stream crossings and lots of slippery roots. All of it on very narrow, muddy single track trails. Most of this seriously technical stuff I walked through on all three laps. A total wuss-out, but I’m not ashamed. I was just trying to survive.
After mile 5 were some fast technical descents and a quick blast along some flats to the the only aid station on the course at 6 miles. Here was a medical tent, water and watered down HEED. And mosquitoes. Lots and lots of very hungry mosquitoes. After over an hour of riding, my sweat had washed off all of the bug repellent I had applied. After being chewed on for a few minutes, I headed back out onto the trail trying not to think about the itching to come.
Miles 6-8 were the toughest of the course. Two seriously steep climbs, followed by two sick technical descents. I knew both of the up/down pairs pretty well, but only in dry conditions, where I was relatively fresh. I tackled about half of the first climb up the back side of the Ice Cream trail, and slowly crawled down the slick-rock covered back side. But on the next climb up to the top of the 4-Bump trail, I walked from bottom to top, as did everyone else on the trail. The descent of 4-Bump is dicey in the best of conditions. It’s extremely steep (about 20-25%) about 6-8 feet wide, totally covered in large, mud covered rocks, and relentless. The recommended minimum penalty for failure to negotiate the descent is heavy bleeding and stitches. Costs escalate in proportion to speed. I managed to make it out with all my skin in tact, but it took forever and I had to give way to several other riders behind me. Again, a total panty-waste move, but I held my head high with pansy-pride.
In past years, I would have sworn that the course designers were schooled by the Marquis de Sade because they usually toss in a nasty, soul-sucking climb right at the end of every lap. So when I finally got out of the woods at about 8 miles, and hit the Dean Eberling memorial corner, I was mentally preparing for the worst. At this time on the my first lap, I was riding along with Jen Adase, the wife of Bob Adase who is one of our stronger riders, and a heck of a MTB’er in her own right. I mentioned to her that we should expect a monster climb at the end, and we promised each other sufficient motivation to get back to camp. When we passed the gravel damn along the lake front and turned into the last rock garden into the camping area, where the normal course would send us skyward, I was prepared for the worst. But to our surprise, the route directed us down the fire road, and back along the main camp track. A full mile of easy, descending camp road, followed by some twisting trails through a large number of the camp sites. Most of the sites were occupied by enthusiastic support teams and families, urging us on with bells, whistles and cheers. This was manna for the muscles.
I got back into camp, and ran down my mental checklist and found that I felt really good, with only minor scrapes & scratches, mentally alert and ready for more. I began to load up with fresh fuel in the Camelback, and found a willing partner in Tsvi Raab to head out on our second lap. After a quick 10 minute pit stop we were off.
At about 3 miles into the lap, I could feel the twinges of cramping in my hamstrings. I increased my intake of fluids and Endurolyte caps, and tried to relax. We made it to the HEED station where we were caught by two other camp-mates, Mark Kelly & Jeff Linton. While we hoisted toasts of HEED, we came to the conclusion that we were all hurting in one way or another. Tsvi was starting to get delirious from the heat, Jeff’s GI track was filing a lawsuit against his brain, and I was beginning to cramp up badly. All of us were getting chewed by bugs, so with little choice, we headed off.
At the 8 mile mark, both my quads and my left hamstring locked up tight with cramps. I had to stand up straddling the bike and stand on my toes to stretch. I could not even pull either leg over my bike to dismount. I was stuck like a stone monument to pain, in the dead center of the trail. I managed to get into my Camelback and pull out the Endurolytes, and gulp down more fluids. After a few minutes I was able to hobble the bike forward, still straddling the frame. After about ¼ mile, I was able to get off the bike and push it forward. Once the Endurolytes kicked in, I was able to get back on the bike and finish the loop. At that point I was totally spent. It was only 4:45 in the afternoon. I had almost 19 hours left.
I got back to camp and met up with Tsvi, Jeff and Mark. Other team members started to crawl into the camp. All of them spent, sick and totally wasted. We got reports that the temperature at race start was 92 degrees with 75% humidity. This is information that we really didn’t need. We all sat quietly, guzzled liquid, tried to choke down food and let the afternoon pass.
About 6:00pm, we started to think about putting in some more laps. Bob Adase and Mark Norcutt had rolled into camp completing their third laps. Bob quickly geared up and headed back out for #4. The rest of us stayed behind and waited for nightfall.
At 7:00pm, we began to hear rumblings in the distance. Our camp is very close to a busy interstate highway, so at first we couldn’t tell if the noise was traffic or weather. Within a few minutes, our fears were confirmed with the first flashes of lightning and echoes of thunder. We quickly referred to Blackberries, and cell phones to get weather reports. The forecasts called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms in our area, but the race organizers were warning us to prepare our campsites for a heavy rain.
By 8:30, the sun had set, and the thunder appeared to have passed us by. Eight of the nine members in camp decided that a night lap was in order, so we all quickly geared up. Dave Waldron found that a Giro helmet resting against a Coleman lantern doesn’t dry, but melts. After a lot of deliberation, he decided to wear the melted helmet anyway, and we all headed out on the trail at 9:15pm. The temperatures had not declined with the sun, so we were all quickly soaked with sweat. At the three mile mark, the thunder and lightning returned with a vengeance. This was the lowest point in the race for me. I was totally frustrated with my performance to that point, tired hot and sore. Since I was in the back of our pack, I seriously considered turning around and heading back to camp.
I reminded myself that each pedal stroke forward got me closer to the end of the lap, and I knew that I could walk the remaining 7 miles to the finish, if I had to.
At about that point, the skies opened up, and it began to rain. It wasn’t a pleasant summer rain, but a fire-hose deluge that would have made Noah nervous. The rain was interspersed with bolts of lighting and bone jarring thunder. At times the rain was so heavy that I couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of me due to my head-lamp reflecting off the raindrops. Somehow we managed to find our way to the HEED station where we all regrouped.
While we gathered our wits, we realized that the rain had cooled off the air, and skin, and had washed the slick mud off most of the rocks. The downpour actually improved traction on the course. So we headed back out on the course. We were the largest single group on the course, as we were only passed by or passed people from 2, 4 or corporate teams. Only two other solo riders caught us, one of which ended up being the overall race winner.
A couple of the guys took some spills, resulting in some bloody knees and some bent bike parts. The rain finally tapered off and we struggled through to the end of the loop, but came out laughing like lunatics and all agreeing that the “wet lap” was the best of the race.
Once back in camp, we took advantage of the other camp luxury; hot showers! These communal showers (with separate units for men & women) had hot water, good pressure and no waiting! Once we got a layer of grime off, we headed into the dining hall for chow. We all were a pretty motley sight, but poor Tsvi was so knackerd that he had to take a nap between bites of his sandwich.
We headed back to camp, and all turned in to our tents about 1:00am. I felt that I had at least two more laps in my legs, and with some sleep, I could up in time for a sunrise lap or two. Within 30 minutes of climbing into my tent, the skies opened up again dashing any those hopes.
I finally got up around 6:00am and decided that enough was enough. I had some fun, stayed injury free and had some success with my new nutrition supplement plans, so it was time to pack out and go home. Most of the rest of our campers decided that was a good idea, so we helped each other out. Bob Birmingham’s tent was almost completely surrounded by a lake and there was mud everywhere. When we began to shuttle gear to our cars, we noticed that many of the other campsites had already cleared out. A check of the leaderboard revealed that many of the race favorites had bailed out of the race with fewer than 4 laps. One of the pro roadies that was favored in the event managed to complete only a single lap due to the conditions. Those top dogs that were still racing were heading out on only their 7th lap when I left the camp at 9:30am. Normally the winners put in 19-20 laps.
I got home in short order and began the slow process of unpacking and cleaning the gear. This took me most of the afternoon of Sunday, as I was stagging around very slowly from lack of sleep. I finally got the gear put away around 5:30pm Sunday.
The 24 hours of Allamuchy only describes the race itself. It really is a 60 hour endurance event, start to finish. Its a contest of physical conditioning and mental toughness like an IM, but with the added stress of sleep deprivation and the constant threat of serious injury.
I can’t wait ’till 2008!
Race Results here:CompuScore – Preliminary Results
Garmin Data here: Motion Based.com