By Jake Pantone
After nearly a year of doing virtually every type of riding on my bike but racing it, the idea of making up for an entire summer’s worth of racing in one single event was a fitting form of redemption. After all, I’d had a 24 hour solo race on a bucket list in the back of my mind since I started racing 24 hour events back in 2000 something. Furthermore, as a working man, husband, and father of two young kids, the idea of riding my bike for 25 hours sounded more like opportunity than velo inflicted masochism.
The 25 Hours of Frog Hollow has quickly become the go to event for fall mountain bike racing in Utah and is quickly becoming the premier 24 hour event in the region. With the departure of the famous 24 Hours of Moab, the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow is the only show in town if you fancy long rides in the desert, chasing kangaroo rats, and breathing in campfire smoke and dust with your favorite riding buddies.
One of the factors that really enticed me to give the solo event a shot was that 24 hour solo racing is one of the only bike racing formats where going slow can ultimately mean going fast, more on this to come…
Like all bike races, you are only as good as your support, equipment, and fitness. If you are deficient in any one of those areas it will manifest itself in the results. In a 24 hour race, poor support can be truly debilitating to one’s success. From an equipment standpoint making sure your equipment is in peak working order is essential for success in any race. Any change in equipment before the race is a no go in my book. New chains always seem to be the ones that break, and fresh cables, the one that stretch. Finally, having a strategy and the discipline to stick with it is vital to success in 24 hour racing.
Given that my preparation on the fitness front was less than optimal by coaching standards; my strategy from the beginning was to simply ride at a pace well below my threshold. When the gun went off, I and my Rooster’s/Biker’s Edge teammates Nick Fisher and Mike Muhlestein walked when others ran.
With the race under way, the first 6 hours of the event were nothing short of social. It would have been challenging to convince a casual observer that we were racing if it wasn’t for the number plates on our bikes. To mentally digest the event, I broke the race down into four quarters. The hardest part of the first quarter was going slow enough. Each lap our support crew was advising us to step it down a notch. Our first laps were in the 1:05 range. Based on winning times from previous years, we knew that we needed to keep our average lap times around a 1:15/lap.
The course used for the Frog Hollow series of races incorporates one of Southern Utah’s finest single tracks, the Jem Trail. Jem is riotous fun to say the least, and represents everything a short travel mountain bike was designed to consume. Before you begin the descent down Jem, you must first climb a dirt road intermingled with some classic desert single track to keep things interesting. The ascent to Jem is perfect for passing, recovering, and delirious riding before you must direct your full concentration to the remainder of the course. After completing the Jem, you are treated to that trails antithesis, the Hurricane Rim. The Rim is choppy, loose, and requires your full attention when you are least capable of giving it. It was on the rim portion of the course that I lost contact with my teammates for the first time after about 7 hours of riding. Convinced that I was the weakest of my teammates I began to question whether my pace was too fast; assured myself it probably was, and pedaled onward assuming that they would ride back up to me sooner than later.
After 8 hours in the saddle it was time for dinner. Our support crew was phenomenal and without them I could have not been successful at this event. Each lap they provided exactly the nutrition I needed. Ben Chournos from Scott USA provided his wrenching services and ensured that our bikes were functioning after each lap. I tried to limit my time in camp as little as possible in order to not get too comfortable and find a permanent residence there for the remainder of the race. At the end of the day you are only as good as your support, and I couldn’t have had a great race without this crew.
Throughout the race I literally had no idea how many competitors there were, and aside from the pink and orange ribbons hanging from saddles, I had no idea who I was racing against. Eventually, I began seeing the same people over and over again, but still had no idea what position I was in and didn’t particularly care. I was happy that I felt good and that all my contact points were relatively pain free. I was most concerned about my feet. In order to ensure that my feet would stay as fresh as possible I rode all the climbs and dirt roads with my shoes almost completely unbuckled. This allows for better circulation and ultimately less pain.
As the race progressed I grew more confident that I was not only going to be able to ride for the entire 25 hour period, but that I would likely finish well. Historically I have been very successful at night. It’s not that I ride faster, but I prepare extremely well for the dark. I had excellent support and equipment from Light and Motion which allowed me to ride through the night without a worry. Sometime between sunset and midnight, my support crew informed me that I was in 6th place. My lap times were right on track averaging around 1:10 laps.
As is expected in an event this long, something unexpected is guaranteed to happen. Sometime after midnight, I found myself sprawled out face down in the dirt about halfway down the Jem. I was rolling along at a good clip when I took an inside line and buried my pedal into an embedded rock which unforgivingly put me on the ground. As I picked myself up and pieced everything back together, I was relieved to find that nothing was broken. I picked myself up, reattached my computer, adjusted my lights, and aside from a few bruises and a quarter sized flap of skin missing from my palm, I was good to roll.
Nighttime in the desert is both peaceful and lonely. Around 3 a.m, I decided to call my wife. Given that we had a three month old baby, I figured she’d already be awake. She digitally accompanied me for the first half of a night lap. A few laps later, I found myself crashing from a Red Bull induced high and seriously considered cozying up to a sage brush in the cool sand and calling it a day. Luckily, I made it back to camp after what was the longest lap of my race, stopping the clock at 1:30.
After another chicken noodle soup hand-up I was back on course with indications of sunrise on the horizon. Anyone who’s raced a 24 hour race knows that nothing breathes life into a tired, aching body like the morning sun and copious amounts of caffeine. By the time the sun had risen I had moved into 3rd place. I was going to podium pending any mechanical issues or crashes. On lap 18 or 19 I saw a new solo rider in front of me walking his bike up one of the many relentless ledges on the Hurricane Rim. I confirmed he wasn’t in need of any assistance, and moved into second place. While I knew it was a long shot, I figured that I needed to ride as if first place was in reach. In the end, Kyle Taylor had a commanding lead and completed 22 laps to my 21, setting a new course record at Frog Hollow. That is 277 to 265 miles respectively.
In the end, my support crew and equipment performed flawlessly. The strategy I adopted for the race complimented my fitness and allowed me to maintain consistent lap times for a solid 24 hours of saddle-time. Now recovering from this effort, well… that’s a story for another day.
Lap Times of Top 3 Solo Men
Kyle Jake Mark
1 0:54:01 1:02:18 0:53:18
2 0:55:17 1:04:06 0:54:44
3 0:58:11 1:03:25 0:58:33
4 1:00:23 1:05:46 0:59:13
5 1:04:35 1:07:02 1:03:42
6 1:07:33 1:11:52 1:02:29
7 1:05:50 1:17:28 1:03:42
8 1:07:46 1:08:23 1:09:15
9 1:14:37 1:10:56 1:13:48
10 1:20:16 1:13:20 1:17:58
11 1:17:22 1:26:52 1:21:12
12 1:28:27 1:21:51 1:22:27
13 1:22:49 1:18:10 1:19:23
14 1:14:20 1:16:27 1:22:32
15 1:11:08 1:16:12 1:24:46
16 1:23:49 1:23:00 1:31:45
17 1:18:57 1:30:38 1:33:01
18 1:20:56 1:18:25 1:34:28
19 1:15:06 1:12:13 1:25:30
20 1:13:30 1:12:07 1:35:40
21 1:00:21 1:06:49
Average Lap time
1:11:46 1:13:41 1:15:22
For information on the Frog Hollow race, and other mountain bike races, see the calendar of events in this issue and online at cyclingutah.com.