Tuesday, November 22, 2016

6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships 2016

Photo by Vic Armejo
Race Across America.org

The third event in the "Trifecta" this year was an amazing event.

  The 6-12-24 hour world time trial championships is put on by the Race Across America (RAAM) organization and is one of the qualifiers for RAAM.

  • The organizers could not have said it better about the location of the race:

"Borrego Springs offers the perfect setting. The stark beauty of the Anza-Borrego Desert set against the majesty of the coast range is amazing. Giant metal structures by Ricardo Breceda add to the beauty and add mystique.  Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. November weather is perfect with warm days and cool nights."

Still, it is in the desert, so anything is possible at any moment as far as wind, cold and heat are concerned. The temperatures at night can be down right cold at times and it is all very unpredictable.

The event encompasses an 18 mile long loop course and a small 4 mile short course.

There are three different races that go on at the event.
  • The 24 hour time trial starts at 6 pm on Friday night and racers see how many miles they can ride until 6 pm on Saturday.
  • The 12 hour event starts at 6 am on Saturday and racers ride until 6 pm logging as many miles as they can.
  • Then finally there is the 6 hour race which starts at noon on Saturday and you race until 6 pm.

All racers ride on the same course. Racers stay on the long 18 mile course until it gets close to finishing time when they are directed on to the short course to finish off the miles.

All riders are issued a timing chip which is mounted on the bike frame. This chip tracks the rider as he/her passes through a timing gate at the start finish.

There is a pit area similar to car racing where riders can pick up supplies from their crew at the end of a lap. Some people crew themselves and pull into the pit to get supplies themselves. Racers with crew may have a crew mate hand off water and food as they pass by the pits.
The map showing the long and short course

  • Prelude

My tandem partner Teresa Beck and I had been talking about doing this on the tandem for quite some time. (Actually it was her idea to do it on the tandem)

 We have done many ultra-events on the tandem in the past few years, some of which were filled with adversity. We still persevered and finished despite a couple very scary crashes plus some bike incidents which really made finishing a challenge. (You can read about all of these in my past Blogs)

To this date, after probably 40+ double century and other events on the tandem with different partners, I have never DNF'd on the tandem.

This would be a whole new animal on the tandem though. For a tandem captain and stoker to be successful on a 24 hour event, everything needs to be in tune physically and mechanically.
 Hopefully you wont need to stop much because the clock does not stop in a time trial.

Teresa and I had different goals on the race. I wanted to try and break 400 miles and she had a goal of 350.

I have broken the 400 mile mark in 24 hours on three different occasions on the tandem in the past. All of those events had many stop signs and stop lights and were in city areas that didn't lend well to keeping up a fast speed.

I was thinking it should be easy to break the 400 mile mark on a tandem on a course with only 350 feet of elevation gain per lap and one stop sign right?  Big mistake to even put that thought in my head.

Again I go back to my statement above about everything being in tune and you will see in my story that this course and any course can humble you on an ultra event. Not to mention that I am no spring chicken any more at the ripe young age of 64. These things just seem to be getting harder and harder. I dont feel any older in my head but my body has slowly been telling me otherwise.

I left home at 4 am on race day for Borrego so I would miss the LA traffic getting out of town. I stopped on the way for Breakfast and arrived early in town. This was my first mistake. (I was hoping to get a nap in but it didn't happen)

I hung around the park in town for a little while then I texted my friend Tony to see where he was. We then pre-drove the course so I would be familiar with the turns. The first thing I noticed is how much water I needed to drink even when just standing around. It was so dry and hard to stay hydrated.

Tony and I posing with the dragon

After that we got the bikes and everything in the pit ready.

Our friends Colin and Julie volunteered to drive out and crew for us during the event. Such great people and amazing ultra cyclists too!!

Tandem in the stand and ready for official inspection.

My amazing crew chief from The 508, Ellen, was one of the top race officials

The Check-in desk

Teresa just after finishing the prep on the bike

It was really hot out there as we got everything ready.

I felt like I was totally drained of all bodily fluids by the time I started the race. I was so tired before even starting and needed to relax for a while. I only got a few minutes

Teresa arrived in the afternoon just before inspection and we worked together to get the bike ready after I checked us in and got our race numbers and timing chip for the bike.

Next it was time for the pre-race meeting and we were set to go.

We got changed and the nerves kicked in.

It was starting to cool off so we both wore our knee warmers and dressed early for the cold night which was to come.

Seana set up her pit right next to us.

  • The Race

One of the most appealing things about this event is that anyone can do it and race with world champions. If you dont have the conditioning to do the 24 or 12 hour race, you can do the 6 hour and still race with champions. 
It is an incredible experience for any cyclist at any level. 

There was a 13 year old kid doing the 6 hour on a mountain bike and he did great. He even won his age group.

  • We had 4 World Champions in the 24 hour race. 

Left to right:

 Seana Hogan from northern California, who holds the women’s outdoor velodrome 24-hour record . 

Next to her is Christoph Strasser from Austria who broke the road 24-hour record last year in Berlin. 
Next is Anna Mei from Italy,  holder of the women’s indoor velodrome 24-hour record. And on the right is Marko Baloh from Slovenia, men’s indoor velodrome 24-hour record holder.
Photo by Vic Armijo

Our friend got this pic of us with the eventual race winner, Christoph Strasser at the race meeting.            Photo: Terri Boykins

Ready to start in the 5th wave

The two person teams and the tandems were the last to start. We were in the 5th wave of riders in a wave start.
It was already getting dark as we started at 6 pm. It was nice and cool. 
Our plan was to do 4 laps before we would need to come in for a re-stock of water and food. We were both using Camel-Bak hydration packs. On a tandem, at least for me, it is much easier to drink from a hose right next to my mouth rather than reaching down for a bottle when a tandem is so hard to control at times. 

As many of my friends know, I cannot blink my left eye all the way due to facial nerve damage (Bells-Palsy) caused by my tumor removal back in 1994. This is one of the toughest things I have had to deal with on ultra-events in cold desert air. The cold, dry, air just does a number on your eyes even when you can blink them. The cold air also makes my facial nerve weaker and further aggravates the problem to a point where my eye hardly blinks at all. (Many people comment that I am never smiling. This is one of the reasons. My left side really doesn't move much when I try and smile and my right side smiles too much which makes for a weird look which I have been self-conscious of over the years.)
For this reason, after my first DNF on an event, I use some really high tech, goggle type, cycling glasses that have the best transition lenses you could buy. The lenses turn completely clear at night and get really dark during sunny days. 

I had the glasses for 4 years and the transitions finally went bad. All of a sudden they went blurred on me the day before the race and I couldn't see properly. It looked like I was riding in a dense fog. It really messed with my already bad equilibrium at night since your eyes compensate for the lack of balance which I have had since my surgery.

It was not long before I started worrying about my eyes.

Long story short......just before starting I had to switch to my clear lens regular glasses which I usually use for driving. My sunglasses luckily had interchangeable lenses with clear ones. 
I changed to those and it was spectacular how clear everything was. The stars were amazing when I could look up at them. 
  • We were averaging a really good pace on our first 70 or so miles during the night which was about 4 laps on the course. We were averaging about 19 mph and just holding a good pace in a larger gear which was totally comfortable for Teresa and I. We would just back off a little bit if we needed some recovery. 
We were on a good pace to easily break 400 miles which would require us to average 16.6 mph for the 24 hours. We would have to keep our stops to a minimum though as the clock does not stop running when we stop.

As the night wore on, the temperatures really started to drop on the low spots out in the desert. I think we got a low of around 49 degrees at times which was much warmer and pretty pleasant from what people were saying about former years on the course. It would get warm at the high points on course and then really drop as we dropped slightly. I was fine with standard gloves, a wool base layer, wind vest and knee warmers all night.

It was great riding at night out in the middle of the desert. One of my favorite times and places to ride. No cars, only a few turns, no pot holes, no steep climbs.......a perfect course for a time trial. The city actually had the whole course swept before the event too.  How amazing is that!!!

Teresa was just amazed with the stars and constellations. She couldn't stop talking about it.
"Wow.....look at the big dipper....wow....look at those stars over there."

We had some great conversations out there on the course which obviously could be very boring for 24 hours!! 
Teresa is always so uplifting to everyone. Whenever we passed or were passed by other racers, she was always yelling out encouragement. No matter how much she is suffering with me, she always has a great attitude. 
Cruising through the night. Always a smile on Tiger's face                Photo by Vic Armijo.   Race Across America.org

For a long time during the night we kept leap frogging with our friend Tony. Tony was doing the 24 hour event on his fixed gear bike. We would pass him on the flats and slight descents and he would catch up on the climbs. This went on for hours until one of us pitted. He ended up doing almost 390 miles in 24 hours.

Tony on his fixed gear

At one point during the night, my left eye started to glaze over a bit. When we pulled in to the pits, I thought I would give the bad glasses with the gasket a try. It only lasted one lap because I couldn't see well at all. It was pretty scary. Next loop I went back to the standard glasses and I prayed that my eye would hold out. 

Long story short.......about halfway through the night, I went basically blind in my left eye and could not see anything as it glazed completely over. It not only made it a miserable night but I was concerned about the danger of riding in this condition. If it had not been for the flat easy course, we would have had to quit at that point. I had to slow way down because I could not see well and it was also affecting my equilibrium and depth perception.
I knew my goal of 400 miles was slowing going by the wayside. 

We still actually did pretty good for the first 12 hours and were still on pace to do between 350 and 400 miles. As soon as it started getting light out, the temperatures started to warm up a bit. 

Climbing toward town at sunrise    I always look focused and Teresa is always putting on a good game-face!
 Photo by Natalie Starr  

Vic Armijo got this great shot of us just before we pitted for a clothes change after sunrise.

We pulled into the pit area after sunrise and changed our clothes. We took our warm weather gear off and were off. 
I put my old glasses back on since it was daylight out. I was hoping that my eye would clear up.

It was way too long of a stop and our average speed was now down to about 16.8 mph. Too much stopping time for this early in the race. 

We felt great after this stop and soon our average speed started to go up some again. Could we bring our goals back into reality. Time would only tell!

Lap after lap went by and my eye started to clear up. It was not long after this that Teresa's knee started to act up and not long after that, my knee started to act up some.

We dialed it back a little and began to spin an easier gear at this point but we still were able to get out of the saddle and sprint at regular intervals and push up hills.

It was now getting pretty hot out there in the low desert. On the final climb to town on each loop, the sun was just beating down on us. It got hotter and hotter as the afternoon wore on and the sun was right in front of us to our left as we went from south to north on this climb. I got a max temperature on my Garmin at this point of about 106 degrees as it read the radiant heat coming off the pavement.

With about 4 hours left in the race, my knee got really bad and I thought I had torn something in the meniscus area. It was my left knee and with Teresa it was her right knee. It got so bad at this point for both of us that we had to make the decision to take it out of the big chain ring and just spin easily for the remainder of the race in the middle chain ring.  
We may have looked strong as we passed through the pits but we just were keeping on a good game face

From this point on, I dont think I have had a harder time on any of the events in my past. 
My eye, which had slowed us up during the night, had cleared up but now another issue had reared its ugly head.
We went from a fastest lap of about 56 minutes to a slow lap of 1:48. The rest of the race was about survival and just trying to make as many miles as we could. 
I calculated that at the point and average speed we were at and could maintain, that we would make about 336 miles if everything worked out. 
We were now just coasting even the most minute descents and spinning easy on the flat roads.

We made the call with a little over 30 minutes left in the race. Both our knees were so bad and we did not want to cause any permanent damage by pushing any longer. We called our crew and said we were coming in and were not going to do the short laps which were about to start.

All of the above is some of what we experienced on this amazing race. I guess it was about time to finally have an event that slowed us down for physical reasons rather than mechanical or a crash.  

Getting our medals from awesome Race Official Ellen Kirk

All that said.......

I just loved this event!! The whole experience from the pre-race through the event was just amazing and I would do it again in a second. Adversity is just part of doing this sort of thing. I haven't done a race yet that wasn't tough. They are all tough in one way or another. Mental toughness is what ultra-cycling is all about. 
I had a stoker as a partner on this race who probably is the toughest of them all. That is why Teresa got the nick-name "Tiger"!!  Even after the incidents we have had these past few years she stuck it out and trusted me to get us through it and never complained a bit as we worked as a tight team to finish. The same thing happened this time.
I really dont know how we got through those last few hours. We felt like we were just crawling. Our mental attitude is what got us through it.

There were some absolutely amazing athletes out there.

I still cant get out of my head how many times the 24 hr winner, Christoph Strasser,  lapped us on the 18 mile course. He said "Good Job" every time as he passed us like a whirlwind!! I think we were lapped about 5 times by him in the first 200 miles or so. Probably more. 
He finished the 24 hour event with a little over 550 miles. That is just amazing.

Vic Armijo photo of  Christoph cruising by.           We had a similar view every time he passed and said, "good job" to us.

We finished the race with 324 miles total. We were very satisfied with our accomplishment. We have done too many of these ultra-events and know that everything does not always work-out per plan.

All the results can be seen at this link:

A huge thanks goes out to Colin and Julie Stokes for crewing for us. You two did an amazing job!!

 Your support was epic and I wish I could do more to repay you for all your help.

A big thanks go out to all my friends and family who have supported my races this year. It would have been almost impossible for me to get through everything necessary to do 3 of these events this year without your help. It means the world to me.

Thank you to the Adobo Velo family. This club is just amazing with the most wonderful people. Thanks to all for all your support and for cheering me on in all my endeavors.

Thank you to Fred, Rick, Amanda and all the race officials from RAAM. You all put on a wonderful event.

Of course I need to thank my wife Ginny for putting up with my long hours of training, my endurance events and these long weekend trips for the ultra-races. I am blessed to have you as my soulmate and you are in my thoughts all the time when I am out on the bike. 

Click HERE for all the pictures


  1. Congratulations! Good job working through the issues. It was nice seeing both of you out there.

    1. Thanks Kevin, Great seeing you too. Next time I hope to have all the issues ironed out. You know what they say about things going wrong on these type events. There is always something but this time it really slowed us down.