Here is my report on the 13th and last Burn-24 endurance race held in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
I arrived at the infield around 10:15 Friday morning. It was cool and blustery, with hardly a cloud to be seen. Only a few other racers had gotten there before me, so the choices for a camp spot were plentiful. I chose a location on the northern edge, close to last year’s spot and up against the treeline. The aggressive breeze made it difficult to erect the tent by myself, but I finally managed. If anyone happened to be watching me, they probably laughed. After getting things unloaded and set up, I pedaled my bike around the perimeter of the infield and snapped a few pics of other participants in various stages of setting up their own stakeouts. The Lowdens arrived to join me sometime around 4:30. After unloading and setting up the remainder of our gear, they took off for a course pre-ride.
We ate supper at Ruby Tuesday’s in Wilkesboro before dusk. I opted for a salmon dish and the salad bar, where I constructed a ferocious melange of spring mix, assorted beans, eggs, nuts, onions, broccoli, and balsamic dressing. I was unable to finish the salmon because the salad had filled me up. I wanted fuel for the race. Spencer and Zach Lowden wolfed down their grub like a couple of starving POWs. Those boys can put it away, and they were going for as many calories as possible.
Gary ate something or other.
When we got back to the site a few other groups had arrived and were setting up. The infield was starting to fill, but this year’s race was not that well attended. The boys got on their bikes and practiced track stands and wheelies while I mulled over sleeping arrangements. We decided to put the boys in my new Big Agnes tent while Gary and I slept in our respective vehicles. With the seats down, I can fit a blow-up mattress in the ‘Ru. But no matter; I hardly slept a wink, as is my wont when camping. I think I was too wired for the race. Actually, I managed maybe two hours of sleep, because when I awoke, I remembered some lame dream I had.
I got up and heated up some oatmeal while Gary set about making breakfast for him and the boys. The Lowdens brought plenty of food and graciously kept all five of us fed for the duration of our stay. Carrie had prepared a giant vat of spaghetti that was delicious and filling. It kinda made me want to throw my homemade stew into the woods and forget I even brought it.
The Lowdens and I discussed our race strategy and finally decided on a single-switch relay for the first round, and then double thereafter. The order would be: Spencer, me, Gary, Zach, Ahmet. Speaking of Ahmet, where was he? I got a text from him saying that he may not arrive until after 11:00. Race check-in ended at 11:00, so I was worried that he may miss the deadline. The officials at the registration tent assured me that it was okay if he was a little late. He arrived at about 11:03 and got checked in without a hassle. We then attended the 11:15 race meeting where they announced that this would be the last year for Burn-24. The race was named after Burn energy drink, which went belly up a few years ago, and now this event was about to do the same. The announcer offered no reason as to why.
Ahmet did the running portion of the LeMans start and Spencer got a good push off the line and up the gnarly hill, which usually gets jammed with racers walking their bikes. Spencer managed to stay out in front of the congestion, passing other riders and avoiding a dismount. He had a powerful start. I did the next lap but did not feel very good at the beginning. My brain wanted to set a faster pace than my lungs would allow, so I eased off a little and tried to settle into a rhythm. It ended up being a pretty slow lap. After a few more laps, we checked the standings and saw that we were in seventh place out of a field of 25 in the three to five man division. We would remain there for the entire event.
We doubled up on the laps after the first round so that we would all have ample rest time. I was still wired however, so the time passed too quickly it seemed. My second and third laps were better than my first, but still well off the pace from years prior. What the hell? I guess this is what happens when you don’t train properly, and the older I get, the more training I need. It was my fourth and fifth laps, started just after midnight, that hurt the most. I felt a hint of muscle cramps in my quads towards the end of my fourth lap, so I pounded the water down in an attempt to drive them back. It worked for a short while. The race course starts with some climbing right off the bat, so as I started my fifth lap, I was concerned that the cramps would return too soon. I managed to spin through the pain, but dreaded the climbs in the middle portion of the course where my legs would really be taxed. I was not able to keep the cramping at bay on these climbs, so I stopped and rested a few times while trying to drive the cramps away with more fluids. This would be my worst lap. Barely under an hour.
I pulled into our site around 2:45 AM, beaten and sleepy. After some perfunctory stretching and re-hydrating, I laid down in the Siouxbie in an effort to get some rest, perchance to sleep. Right. Not gonna happen. Also, my bladder was now catching up to all the water and Accelerade I had quaffed during my two laps, and I had to pee every fifteen minutes. How was I supposed to sleep? Without going into detail, I was able to use a large styrofoam cup and relieve myself while laying down in my car, then disposing of the waste (which at this point was much like water) discreetly out the passenger door. I made sure to use the door that faced our neighbor’s camp site. This strategy helped, but I was still unable to sleep, perhaps because I was fearful that my next laps would be a repeat of the previous two. With the urging of Gary and Ahmet, however, I swallowed a few Sport Legs pills in hopes that they would prevent more dreaded cramping. Soon, it was time to get up. No fair! I got zero sleep! In a weary haze, I pulled on my racing gear and refilled my water bottles. It was a frigid fifty degrees or so by this time, and I was eager to get on the trail so I could warm up. As I made my way to the timing tent, I started to feel much better. My head was clear and my legs felt inexplicably good. I tagged up with Spencer and off I went. First climbs out of the way and no sign of cramping. I even had a little power in my legs. Something about the cool overcast morning and the welcome light of day after a long night that perked me up. I passed lots of racers this time, whereas before, it was about 50/50 passing and being overtaken myself. The middle and last downhill sections were at breakneck speed, as I railed the turns more precisely than any prior lap. For the first time during this race, I did not dread the upcoming consecutive lap. But as it turned out, there must have been some discussion about our evolving strategy during my last lap, because I was told by a waiting and kitted Gary that we were now doing single laps again. It was with a mix of relief and slight disappointment that I headed back to our site, but I found that I had just completed my fastest lap. I felt energized and looked forward to a possible seventh lap to finish the race with.
Meanwhile, Gary and Ahmet discovered that our team was still in seventh, but only mere minutes from overtaking the sixth-place team. If each rider could make up a little more time, we could move up a place. It happened that Spencer was slated for the penultimate lap and he was our best chance at closing the gap on the sixth-place team. However, it quickly became apparent that if I were to do the last lap, we would likely lose time and forfeit any hope of catching the team ahead of us (which was encamped, by the way, just two spots down, though they were unaware that it was us who were closing in on them). I expressed my concerns about this, but Gary was very encouraging, so I mounted my resolve to crank out my best lap of the race. We then found that we were only seconds behind the other team, and that if there was any chance to move up a spot, Spencer was our best hope. So Zach and I rushed over to the transition tent, me with a gel pack and Zach with a fresh water bottle in order to replenish the incoming Spencer. As we waited, Gary strode up and announced that the other team’s rider had just tagged up for the last lap. Damn! Where was Spencer? He came rolling in about 35 seconds later looking flushed but still energized. We shouted that the other rider was only a few seconds ahead and that he should go another lap to overtake him for sixth place. This news appeared to disappoint and invigorate him simultaneously, so I handed him a gel pack and watched as he pedaled away in hot pursuit. The possibility of a close finish just became very real. He had just turned in a smoking 35-minute lap, and though he is only 19 years old, he is a seasoned racer and there was no doubt he could produce a similar lap this time as well. Zach and I waited at a spot where the singletrack ends and the gravel doubletrack begins. We were hoping to see Spencer ahead of the other racer, but we were not altogether certain what that guy was wearing, or what his bib number was. We remembered that he had some yellow on his jersey, but little else. After a few minutes, a racer wearing a yellow jersey came flying through. Was that him? We were not sure. Another 40 seconds passed and Spencer appeared. Thirty six minutes!
Whether that rider was the one to catch or not, we never really found out. But the other team’s racer fought to keep the gap between him and Spencer for the entire lap, so we held on to seventh place. Later we joked that if Zach had not been forced to come back to the camp site in order to replace a contact between two of his laps, we would have bagged sixth. Naturally, there a lot of IFs with this sort of thing, the biggest and most obvious one being that if I had trained smarter (or at all for that matter), we would have placed much higher. Or if I had not gotten muscle cramps on my fifth lap. Or if…
But we had a good time, and the Lowdens were perfect race partners. They all possess positive attitudes and are very encouraging and helpful. The Burn won’t happen again, but it’s likely to be replaced with some similar event that uses the excellent Dark Mountain trail system, so not all hope is lost.