24 Hours of Kirkwood

August 28-29, 2010

"We choose to race 24 hours. We choose to race 24 hours in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
--John F. Kennedy (mostly), 1962 speech at Rice University

Two words sum up the Kirkwood 24-Hour this year - loose and cold. Or is that cold and loose. It was both - the trails were loose, the air cold. Saturday night it got down to 31 deg F, but for the most part the winds had died down by then - Friday and during the day Saturday the winds were very high. Most people were nervous about the forecast of 40% chance of showers with snow above 8,000 feet! Half the course is above 8,000 feet. Which brings me to the next thing - the altitude. The Kirkwood Lodge sits at 7,850 feet, with the course climbing to around 8,400 feet.

The big parking lot was used for pits and RV parking, which was nice as the course went right through there, so you could exchange team members right on the course without having to go to the start/finish. Entries were pretty light, I think there were around 100 people total between the 8-hr and the 24-hr.

Cris & BudWe got up there Friday around lunchtime, setup the trailer and pit, and went to get our number plates and race bag. It was a nice afternoon, sunny and reasonably warm, just real windy. We suited up and went around the course to check out the latest work they had done - we had been up there training 3 or 4 times in the last couple of months, but they worked some areas right up to the day before the race. Some areas could have used a little more work!

Our pit was once again headed up by Mark's wife Grace, with my own family coming up Saturday morning and finally Mike late Saturday afternoon and into the night. I can't thank these guys enough, having support is huge and makes all the difference.

course mapThe course was 6.5 miles of loose, steep, tight-turny single track mixed with some fire road and a little pavement. Mostly these are hiking trails that were not constructed with bicycles in mind, except for a brand new section called Robey Wolfe, which is very nicely banked and has several switch-backs. Robey Wolfe is almost all downhill, and partly due to the newness of its construction, several of the corners were very powdery. The powder ruts would get progressively worse as the race went on, but since it was all downhill, you could sort of "surf" the powder and get around the turns, just not very fast. I was very happy to have a 2.2 tire on my front, running about 32 lbs air pressure.

Each lap had a little over 1000 feet of climbing, and there was very little opportunity for speed as the descents were pretty technical and loose with tight turns. My fastest lap was 46 minutes, Mark's was around 56 minutes.

Start line The 9 AM start time was a little earlier than other races which have been 11am or 12 noon. That meant you could do more laps in the daylight before tackling the night, which was good from the standpoint of being that much more familiar with the course, but bad in the sense that you are a little more tired going into the night. It was what it was and not much of a problem in my opinion.

Mark started again for Team Trailhounds, which has become his default duty (and, I think he likes it). The race director led all the starting racers around the Kirkwood Meadow roads to allow for adequate spacing before the first single track through the meadow.

We learned there was one other 2-man team in our category, one guy I knew the other I didn't. At the end of the first lap, the starting rider for the other team came in about 2 or 3 minutes ahead of Mark. Oh man...I saw the other guy launch and made note of his jersey (I mentally placed a big target on his back). Mark came around, and I took off. I wound up catching the #2 rider from the other team after about 2 miles. We chatted it up a little, learned each other's names and after exchanging other pleasantries, I did my best to drop him, which I did for awhile - he caught and passed me on one of the steep twisty descents. "This is going to be interesting" I said to myself (my self didnít really say anything back).

start of night lapI yo-yoed with the guy a couple more times on the first half of the lap, then I passed him on a climb and didnít see him again. When I got back from the lap, I started my stopwatch and by the time he got back, I had put about 2 1/2 minutes into him. Mark and the other team's starting rider went around, only the other rider caught and passed Mark, and got back about 3 minutes ahead. Great! More catch-up...which I did again, a little further into the lap this time, but again I caught and passed the guy, this time putting over 3 minutes into him by the end of the lap.

The #1 rider again caught and passed Mark, but the margin was much closer this time. So my third lap, I caught the other guy pretty early, and really dropped him quick this time. By the end of that lap, I had over 4 1/2 minutes into him.

We would lead the rest of the race, and eventually the other team wore themselves out and they wound up packing up and going home even before they did any night laps. But, we kept going anyway. I was enjoying the competition, and both guys were really nice and also having a good time of it...I was sad to see them quit.

start of night lapAs the timing worked out, I had the sunset lap, with lights on about 2 miles into the lap. By about mile 4, it was pitch dark (VERY dark) but the moon was out and it was actually a very pretty evening. That was lap #6 for me, #12 for the team.

We started discussing strategy, and whether it made sense to continue riding through the night as we had already won the race. We decided Mark would go out on a night lap, and we'd decide after that. He got back, not exactly a happy camper on that course in the dark.

I went out for another night lap, after which we decided to knock off until morning. I was pretty happy with my 1:01 time on that night lap.

Mark at nightAfter grabbing a couple hours of sleep, Mark got up and went for a sunrise lap around 6:30am. The skies were mostly clear with a few clouds coming and going. He was in no particular hurry and just enjoyed the sunrise riding.

He got back and I went out for my final lap around 7:30am, got around in a semi-respectable 52 minutes, and the race was over.

conversationAfter trying all different kinds of foods at Boggs, at Kirkwood I discovered chicken noodle soup and bananas did the best for me. The cold temps really made hot soup go over quite well! Maybe physical conditioning has improved, or other environmental factors came in to play, but I never really felt like I bonked, or had any nutritional difficulties.

Even the cold wasn't that much of an issue, as after a mile or two I warmed right up and never felt very uncomfortable even in the 34 deg temps. I think mainly that is due to the overall slowness of the course - average speed was around 7.5 mph for me.

finishFinal team stats: 1st place, 16 laps, 105.3 miles, 15 hours 50 minutes, 15,400 feet of climbing. We both did 8 laps.

Cris's Garmin profile
Mark's Garmin profile

I was happy with our logic and decision making, we did what we had to do to win the race. Had the other team stuck in, we would have slugged it out with them all night, but with the blue ribbon in the bag, it didn't make sense to continue on that borderline dangerous course.

Next up - Tahoe/Sierra 100 September 11.


Written by Cris Flint, Team Trail Hounds