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Adventure, Cycle / November 6, 2016

Interview: Is the 24-hour race doomed?

Written by: Kevin Linderman

Twenty-four hour endurance races have a weird charm. It’s got something to do with the individual racers, who are covered in dirt, blood, and sweat as they challenge themselves to ride as many laps as they can. Something to do with the various shapes and sizes of teams, who cheer their teammates on to take that next lap.

The endurance racing world has seen heavy competition lately, in part due to a boom in the popularity of cyclocross. As a result, 24-hour racing has experienced a general decline in population. Many of the sport’s largest events have shut down completely.

That’s unfortunate. The 24-hour format is one of our favorites, and we want to help organizations like Terra Firma Racing grow and thrive. Terra Firma puts on the annual 24 Hours of Rocky Hill race, where Shoulders of Giants took a top podium positions (4-person Masters category).

After our win, we sat down with Terra Firma owner and owner Kathy Duryea.

Calm before the storm. Race bikes lay out before the starting gun.

Racers start the 24 Hours of Rocky Hill with a short sprint to their bikes.

SoG: Tell me a little bit about Terra Firma Racing? What got you started? How long have you been doing it?

Kathy: Terra Firma started in 1998 as Texas’ Original Adventure Race Company. It was the first company to produce sprint adventure races in Texas which included mountain biking, trail running, and paddling with a partner. Since then we’ve evolved quite a bit. Mountain bike races were added to the fold of Terra Firma in 2004, and we launched our first trail running race in 2010.

 

SOG: How would you describe the culture of 24-hour mountain bike racing versus the other races that you promote?

Kathy: The 24-hour race is my personal favorite race we put on. The culture is very laid back, family friendly, and we only build one great course, not three or more in one weekend (some of our race weekends include three course designs on Saturday followed by two or three more on Sunday). The 24 Hours of Rocky Hill is one of the few races we put on that I ride a lap or two over the course of 24 hours, if the race is running as planned.

Things have gotten better over the years. When I first got involved, timing was antiquated and painfully slow on paper. One of our racers suggested that he could write a program to time our races, which he did! Over the years, the timing evolved from paper to bar code scanning, and eventually to RFID with live results that racers can see from their campsites on their smart devices. This is a huge burden lifted of having to recruit enough volunteers to help manually time for 24 hours on a grassroots budget.

Racing in teams allows riders to take some must-needed respite from the course.

Teams make adjustments and repairs at a base camp between laps.

SOG: What has attendance been like over the years? On the rise, steady or decreasing?

Kathy: The attendance at our 24-hour race has been decreasing over the last few years. There has been an increase in popularity of cyclocross racing in our area. On any given fall week or weekend, there are numerous cyclocross races to choose from.

We have always been grassroots in the past, and have tried increasing prize money to see if that mattered. We still seem to draw the same numbers. Some of our winners this year were shocked at how much we paid them at such a small event. I don’t think they are coming for the prize money–I think it is just the fun atmosphere, a weekend of camping with their buddies and family, and oh by the way, there is a bike race going on also (bonus).

 

SoG: There have been articles in Outside and Singlespeed recently asking whether the 24-hour race format is dead. How do you respond to this?

Kathy: I recently competed in a 24-hour trail running relay race with a very similar format. 24-hour racing is not dead; it is very much alive. I just think you need the right mix of fun at your event and plenty of relay options. Racing solo for 24-hours is on the decline in my opinion, because it is hard on the body. You can only do a few of those a year, if that many. Do we know what the long-term effects are of taxing the body like that?

SoG: Whats the best thing about the 24-hour format from your perspective?

Kathy: The best thing about the 24-hour format is that once the race gets rolling, it almost runs itself. Well, ok that isn’t totally true, but it is a huge burden lifted once we get all the racers on course and see their times start populating the results after the first lap. There is still plenty to do, but it is a relief knowing that there is only one awards ceremony and it is still 23 hours away, instead of 4-6 awards ceremonies like our other race formats.

SoG: And the worst?

Kathy: We’re usually up for most of the 24 hours before the race, making last minute course touch up work, multi-day packet pickups and late registration, answering questions, getting folks logistically settled in their campsites, socializing with racers, port-o-pots, etc. By the time the race starts, we need to sleep. That is probably the hardest thing, is to be on your game when it is ‘Go Time’, and making sure you have all the right people helping you so you can be.

The true test of 24-hour races comes at the end, when the sun has set and riders' bodies are at their limits.

As the light fades, navigation becomes a challenge on many 24-hour courses.

SoG: Tell us a bit about your upcoming events and where do we sign up?

Kathy: Our next upcoming event is a 12hr mountain bike relay race with a 6hr option. It is called the Dirty Dozen and is on Feb 4th in Warda TX at Bluff Creek Ranch. I think 12hr racing is on the increase, and expect that race to set a Terra Firma record. We are excited and plan to do some cool stuff to help the racers get excited also. We’ve been listening to feedback, and one thing we get over and over is they want a finisher medal.

Traditionally we have done pint glasses or shot glasses as finisher souvenirs, but this year, we plan to do a finishers medal to all instead. I think all their kitchen cabinets are getting full of our glasses by now. And, we plan to offer a special medal to anyone that does both of our endurance mountain bike races in 2017 (Dirty Dozen 12hr & 24 Hours of Rocky Hill): “The Dirty Duo” medal. It is in design now. Any of our races can be accessed from our website home page at TerraFirmaRacing.com

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about the author

Kevin Linderman

Kevin Linderman is the founder and Chief Adventure Officer for Shoulders of Giants. Kevin has spent his entire professional career in and around the field of information technology, but has always been an avid outdoor enthusiast and a seeker of knowledge.

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