On September 6th & 7th, 2014, D.IN.O. held the 24 Hours of D.IN.O at Versailles State Park in Indiana. It’s an endurance XC mountain bike race that can be ridden solo or as a relay team. They had 6-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour challenges that pushed riders to their limits on an epic 13 mile loop.
There was a threat of storms that may have convinced a few riders to stay home, but those never materialized. It ended up being a perfect day for racing. For the most part, temperatures hovered in the 60s and 70s, maybe a little cooler at night. The trail was in prime condition. Riders were treated to an amazing day of fast singletrack. Each lap ended with a smile, but I’ll get into that later.
Check out the D.IN.O. website for all the details about the race including the 2014 results.
A Day of Firsts
This was a day of firsts for me. It was the first time I was doing a mountain bike relay race and it was my first 12-Hour race. I opted for the 12-hour version because I had a feeling that I would be really thirsty for beer after 3 or 4 hard laps of riding. I was the second to last 12-hour rider to finish at about 11:45 at night and even though it was a blast, I was really glad I was done racing. As I showered, ate, and drank beer by the fire, I couldn’t fathom being one of the 24 hour guys that was still racing in the darkness. Those riders are much tougher than I am.
The race started at noon on Saturday and ended at noon on Sunday for the 24 Hour racers. They used a Le Mans-style start. Each rider had to take the front wheel or saddle off of their bikes. When the race started, riders ran with their components around a swimming pool and had to assemble them onto their bikes before speeding off into the woods. This was a great way to spread out the riders before hitting the singletrack, but it was almost comical to watch at the same time. The racers on the relay teams were sprinting to their bikes, knowing that they had to put down some fast laps, while the 24-hour guys sauntered slowly over to their bikes, knowing that they had a long day in the saddle and that gaining 1 or 2 minutes here probably wouldn’t change the outcome of their day.
I was on a 3-man team, dubbed “Combo Race Team Black,” with Paul Remonko and Andrew Uithoven. Paul was the lead-off and got us a great start. He sprinted to his bike and frantically put his front tire on, entering the woods in 5th or 6th place. I was really excited about the team aspect of the day and it was a ton of fun rooting for my teammates – and I had a lot of teammates to root for that day!
Combo Race Team in Full Effect
We had a good crew representing the Combo Race Team. Some were full-time members of the race team and others were members of C.O.M.B.O., the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization, who just came to race with us that weekend.
We had two 6 Hour Solo Riders:
- Kurtis Payton (Finished 6th)
- Mike Egnot (Finished 5th)
…and three 12-hour 3-man relay teams
Combo Race Team Red
- Greg Ratcliff
- Ed Braunbeck
- Glen Gardner
Combo Race Team White
- Todd Sills
- Terry Hughes
- Dan Fausey
Combo Race Team Black
- Paul Remonko
- Andrew Uithoven
- James Knott (That’s me!)
As always, Combo had one of the best race set-ups for the weekend. We had the Combo team trailer set up in the parking lot and our tents pitched all around. In between laps, we would head back to the trailer to eat, drink, recover and tell war stories. The best aspect of a race like this is the camaraderie that you experience throughout the weekend. I’m hoping we can do more events like this with the team next year.
The Trail at Versailles
I was the second leg of the relay team and I had no idea how to pace myself. Each lap was about 13 miles long and took about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes for our team – slower than that for the solo racers who had no breaks. I’d never been in the situation of going hard for an hour then having two hours off before going hard again. I wasn’t sure how much I could recover in my two hour break between laps or how much my performance would deteriorate over the course of 12 hours.
I decided to go hard early and pay the price later. I had never been to this trail before and I was racing it blind on the first lap. My inaugural loop was quick, but inefficient. This is a fast trail and I was handling it well, but I had several “Oh sh*t” moments when the path twisted unexpectedly. At one point, as I was speeding through the forest, I saw a flat, sloped rock that looked like a jump.
“Oh sweet! Time to catch some air,” I thought.
As I got closer, I realized that the trail dropped off into a big pile of boulders on the other side. I grabbed my brakes at the last second and swerved left to avoid it. I dropped down a short slope next to a little waterfall. Crisis averted. Time lost. Excess energy spent.
Considering I was racing at close to my top-speed for 4 hours, it is pretty impressive that I avoided catastrophe. In fact, for the most part, all the Combo racers stayed safe and avoided trouble. The two biggest problems of the day were a flat tire for Dan Fausey and leg cramping for Kurtis, who was doing the 6-hour solo race.
So, we were able to focus on enjoying the sweet singletrack ribbon that weaves through the Versailles forest. This is one of the fastest trails that I have ever ridden on. Before the race, everyone kept talking about the great “flow” that the trail had. At first I wasn’t sure about this, because some of the path got a little bumpy from the rocks. But, the further along I got on the trail I had to agree. Versailles is not an overly technical trail. There weren’t very many features that forced the riders off of their bikes. It was just mile after mile carving through the forest. There were more banked turns than I think I have experienced on any other trail. I can’t say that riding the banks is a strong suit of mine, but I think I got much better at it as day went on. And, I actually started looking forward to the hard, fast turns.
How much flow was there? At certain points, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe how long it’s been since I touched my brakes!”
The first half of the loop is slightly uphill. There are definitely some climbs, but they aren’t very severe. You can push yourself pretty hard in the first part of the trail and get your heart rate up really high. Then, at some point the trail changes and you are riding on the top of the ridge. You are still going fast, but your heart rate drops a bit. Your riding is more controlled because you don’t want to wash out in a curve and fly off the cliff. Finally, you reach a point with about a mile left that the trail starts heading downhill at speeds that will make your eyes water. By the time, you cross the finish line you are smiling ear-to-ear. This trail literally gets more and more fun the further along you go.
If you love XC mountain bike riding, then you should definitely check this place out sometime!
Sprinting for the Long Haul
So I pushed myself hard on the first lap and finished in an hour flat. It was a fast lap, but I really felt like I worked for it. I wasn’t sure I could keep it up that tempo all day.
My second lap was my fastest at 58 minutes. Knowing the trail definitely helped me ride smarter. I had a higher power output, but it felt easier to keep up the effort. This must have been the case for most of the Combo relay racers because most of them put up their best times on the second lap.
The third lap was unique in that I was not just racing other mountain bikers, I was racing daylight. The sun was setting and I was determined to get back before I had to mess with lighting. It’s a good thing I made it because the lights had not been properly secured and had slid out of position on my handlebars. I didn’t want to have to stop and make an adjustment in the middle of the lap and lose valuable time. However, by the end I could barely see as I barreled down the final slopes. 2 or 3 minutes longer and I definitely would have had to stop for lights. Technically, it was considered a “night lap” because I had to take my lights. However, let’s face it. I finished in an hour because I didn’t have to worry about lights.
My final lap was in the dark. I wasn’t sure how much the darkness would slow down Paul, who was riding before me. I decided I had a few more minutes to spare and ducked off into the woods to pee. As I was wrapping up my business I heard Paul yelling for the exchange. I sprinted back to the line after tucking little Jimmy back into the lycra and took off into the woods. Mountain biking at night is definitely a surreal experience. It’s like zooming through a twisted, rocky tunnel. I was definitely worn down at this point and tried to focus on the uniqueness of the ride. The lighting was working great (Thanks for loaning me your lights Nahum!), but I still managed to take a wrong turn in to the weeds at one point. I chalk this mistake up to fatigue more than the lighting.
Our relay team had a big lead in our division at this point, so my only goal was to finish before the deadline at midnight. There was only time for one more lap and I had about 83 minutes to do it. I felt very comfortable that I could make it, but still mildly stressed that something might go wrong in the dark. Two things were still driving me to compete.
First, if I finished the lap – this was our 11th – then our team would have more laps than any other 12-hour relay team in any of the divisions. (Although Rbikes.com could have gotten 11 faster than us if they hadn’t stopped early. This duo was ahead of us, but since they were in a different division as us, didn’t see us as the competition.)
The second motivating force, was that teammate Greg Ratcliff had left a few minutes before me and I really wanted to catch him. Throughout the lap, I was catching up to the headlights of solo riders that were still riding. Each time I squinted in the darkness to see if it was Greg, but it wasn’t. Finally, as I approached the final downhill I saw him speeding up ahead of me. He didn’t know it was me and we raced down the hill faster than I thought was possible at night. It was exhilarating. Greg beat me to the finish line, but it was an awesome way to finish the day. I clocked an hour and seven minutes on that final lap.
I celebrated the end of the race with a shot of Bourbon from teammate Andrew Uithoven. Thanks Andrew! That really hit the spot. Cough… cough…
The Big Picture
There are a million different stories that I could tell from the weekend – about how we were talking about our lineups for three weeks all the way to the last minute, or the delicious home-made treats from Mandi Payton that were inspired by Team Sky, or about all the cool new people I met, or that first rocky climb. I feel like I’m leaving so much out.
All I can say is that you need to come experience it for yourself. Create your own memories, with your own friends and your own stories. It’s a great trail, with plenty of different ways to challenge yourself. I like the team relays, but I could see how 12 hours of solo riding might be a fun challenge too. 24 hours would be a fun 6-man relay for me, but I can’t imagine doing it solo. I’ll save that for the diehards. Even though I was glad to sleep at night, I can imagine it must have been inspiring for the 24-hour riders to watch the sunrise on the trail.
So get your team together and come out next year. Combo Race Team Black challenges you to a race!