24 Hours of Adrenalin - Laguna Seca

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Ultra Cycling Magazine, September 1999

Epic venues help to make epic races, whether it’s the hallowed pavement of Alpe d’Huez, the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, or the legendary multisport - and motorsport - racing circuits of Laguna Seca in Monterey, CA. The latter is home to the SRAM Sea Otter Cycling Classic, the Bud Light California Cross-Country Series, and also the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike race, among other human-powered events.

May 5-6 saw the third annual Adrenalin race taking place on a unique eleven mile circuit within the vast rangeland and near wilderness that make up the surrounding property of the infamous race track. At the same time that the mountain bikers looped through the countryside, auto racers blasted around the track, passing by the Adrenalin pit area continuously on both days. No doubt we provided inspiration for one another.

The 24 hours of Adrenalin race series, known as the Woodstock of Mountain Biking, originated in Canada in 1994, but is now spreading like wildfire across North America. 1999 brought eight events to this series (four each in Canada and the States) and plans are underway for four additional events in 2000. At the same time, Granny Gear Productions continue with their three events in Canaan, West Virginia, Donner Pass, California, and Moab, Utah, making 24 hour off-road racing one of the biggest movements in cycling. Indeed, the Canadian Adrenalin races are routinely selling out with up to 2,000 competitors and triple that in spectators. Factor in the mud, the music, the party atmosphere, the staying up all night, and the adrenalin rush of non-stop racing, and you’ll understand where they get their Woodstock moniker.

While the vast majority of the competitors in these events are racing on four, five, or even eight rider relay teams, solo divisions are also offered at all the Adrenalin races. Granny Gear refused solo entries in their Canaan race held the same weekend as Laguna Seca, so the largest and most talented solo field ever was out in force in California. I was one of them.

My last previous race was Alaska’s Iditasport Extreme in 1997, two and a half years prior, where I blew out my right Achilles tendon at the top of the Alaska Range. Adrenalin would be my opportunity to see how one year of total physical inactivity, followed by one and a half years of rehab, would have rebuilt my Achilles. At the same time, it would be a chance for me to check out the new crop of 24 hour solo racers since I am the original 24 hour mountain bike world record holder. I set the UMCA record for this event in November of 1989, riding 242 miles, then a year later I tandemed the same record with Ed Levinson for a distance of 245 miles. Funny thing is, it’s ten years later and I’m 32, but I’m still younger than most of the competition!

Adrenalin events are world-class in organization and promotion. Tents, trailers, sound systems, lights, and an entire tent city spring up to make the race venue home for the weekend. Best of all, solo racers get "preferred seating" in the pit area so that their crews can supply them quickly and easily.

The races run noon to noon and always begin with a "Le Mans Start," with the racers running a few hundred yards around the pit area before mounting their bikes and heading onto the race loop. Laguna Seca’s pit area was located on the race track’s infield, so each loop began and ended with a ride over the giant wooden Bosch bridge over the race track. There’s nothing like a sprint up fifty stairs or a ride down fifty stairs to get the adrenalin flowing!

The eleven mile loop covered all types of terrain and road surface. Probably two thirds of it was single or double track and all of it was rolling, undulating, or seriously climbing or descending. I have to say that I expected it to be boring on the first loop and mind-numbing by the third loop, but it was actually fun, challenging, and often exhilarating. The single track was always bumpy and incredibly narrow, requiring 100% concentration in daylight, plus nerves of steel and a killer TurboCat lighting system at night. The climbs ranged from relentless, twisting, bumpy single track to the short and deadly steep Hurl Hill, to the never ending, always ascending fire road known as The Grind. Lap times varied from 50 minutes to almost 90 minutes depending on time of day, fatigue level, and all the usual time-robbers.

I rode like clockwork, my crew of Dave Prion, Mark Lobaco, Caroline Rustigian and Kelly Callahan taking excellent care of me as I finised each lap. My fuel was Unipro Endura Optimizer, a meal replacement drink which has served me well for eight years, supplemented with one packet of Gu per lap, which the Adrenalin volunteers were handing out at two locations around the loop.

Dave Prion is the production manager for Ritchey Design, and he loaned me his personal 21 pound Ritchey P-20, painted red of course, with Rock Shox SID forks. The light design and great forks were an absolute necessity for this technical and demanding course. (Many of the team racers utilized dual suspension, but this was certainly overkill.)

Highlights of the race included blasting 40 mph downhill through the nighttime pea-soup fog, the deer, cows, snakes, rabbits, and foxes out on the race course, the solitude and quiet moments found throughout the night, the new friends made, and climbing the entire Grind about 21 hours into the race with ultra mountain bike legend John Stamstad. The greatest highlight, though, was that my Achilles never bothered me and I "felt like the old me again." (Only better!)

The only lowlights were puking my guts out eight times in a row, in about 90 seconds, after seventeen hours and then, an hour later, hearing Mark Lobaco tell me it was six in the morning and that I thus has six more hours to go. Oh yeah, plus bonking big time on my last lap, laying on the side of the trail on the top of a hill while being passed.

By the end, I’d ridden 17 laps and placed 7th, while John Stamstad had ridden 22 laps and won yet another ultra mountain bike race. Noted Furnace Creek 508 racer Dana Bradshaw placed fifth with 18 laps. (See results below.)

It was a fun race, a great "comeback" for me, and I plan to race more of these races in the future. Next up for me: 24 Hours of Adrenalin at Idyllwild, CA, on September 18-19, 1999. Be there! (You can read his story about the Idyllwild race by clicking here.)

Chris Kostman is a 15 year honorary lifetime member of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association, a finisher of the 1987 Race Across America, and the race director of Furnace Creek 508.