24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is a wildly popular race that happens every year outside Tuscon, Arizona. 24-hour mountain bike racing is quite challenging because of fitness, nutrition, and equipment demands. This guide to 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo will help you prepare for the course, select your strategy, and provide tips for your race.

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Race Format

The format sounds simple—complete as many laps of the course as you can in 24 hours. You can race 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo either solo or with a team. Team sizes range from two people up to 10 and include male, female, and co-ed categories. The winner is decided by the total number of laps completed, and if two people or teams have the same number of laps, the order of finish of the last lap is the tiebreaker. 

The race begins at noon and utilizes a Lemans style start with the riders staged about 400 yards away from the bikes. After the starting gun fires, a mad dash ensues towards the bike racks. Once riders are one the course, they must finish the lap themselves. You can only switch team riders at the check-in station just past the start/finish line. 

At the completion of every lap, riders must dismount and enter the check-in station to make sure the lap is counted. Each rider is given a small wooden baton that must be presented to the lap timer. If you’re on a team, the baton must be passed to the rider heading out on the course. If you start a lap, it must be completed before the end of your race, or you will be given a DNF for the entire race. So when heading out for your last lap, make sure you have enough time to finish it before noon the next day. 

Race Tips

  • Have a teammate yelling or holding a sign next to your bike. That will make it easier to find during the start.
  • To be at the front of the starting area, you’ll have to get there early. As more racers pile in, be aware that you’ll have to continue to push forward to stay near the front.
  • If you’re on a team and aren’t sure what a teammate’s lap time will be, use a tracking feature like Strava Beacon or something similar. That way, you can get down to the check-in station on time. 

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Course

The course for the race is about 16 miles long, with approximately 8 miles of singletrack. It’s a non-technical course that mostly loose crushed granite over hardpack. Even though the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course isn’t technical, the fatigue, changing light conditions, and passing riders make it technically demanding. There are not too many steep sections, but the course is mostly downhill for the first five miles and gently uphill for the last 11 miles.

Course Features

The main train out of 24 Hour Town is Gasline. It features some steep rollers on the way down with some whoops you can pump over. Some riders that weren’t expecting the whoop and have crashed bombing down the hill way too fast. There are a few rocky sections towards the end of the course, including a large rock drop-in near the start/finish line. There is also the Gasline Bypass. This fun section of the trail is worth riding at least once. 

The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo course features this rock drop near the finish line.
The Rock Drop near the start/finish line.

There are plenty of fast sections where cornering ability is going to be your limiter. It’s worthwhile to spend some time practicing cornering at speed on a loose-over-hard trail. Pre-riding a course is always recommend, but for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, it’s not an absolute necessity. However, it’s a good idea to get familiar with riding at night beforehand.

Passing

If you’re racing 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, get comfortable passing and being passed. Heading off the trail for passing isn’t an option in many spots because of the cactus. You’ll want to avoid the cactus at all costs. It doesn’t just poke you but can also cause lingering swelling. It’s helpful to have a bell to let other people know you are coming, but you can also call out. A good practice is to call out “when you get a chance, I’d like to get by,” and then when you are passing “on your left/right.”

Training for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

Although it’s mountain biking, steady power is the key because of the consistent elevation profile. The best way to build a training plan for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is to use Plan BuilderGeneral Build and Cross Country Marathon Speciality are a better choice than Short Power Build and Cross Country Olympic. Surges in power, which are frequently required, only come when you need to pass someone. 

Course Tips

  • Practice cornering in similar conditions so you can hold your speed up in the plentiful fast sections.
  • Go riding with a friend and session passing them on the trail to get comfortable. 
  • Watch out for the whoops when going downhill in the Gasline section. 
  • Just for fun, take the Gasline Bypass at least once during the race. 

Pacing a 24 Hour Race

Pacing 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo hinges on several factors. If you’re riding for fun, you can pace by feel, but it’s a good idea to build a pacing plan if you’re racing competitively. There will be differences based on whether you are racing solo, part of a team, and team size. 

When racing solo, it’s vital to nail your pacing strategy. An Intensity Factor (IF) of .70 is at the high end of what would be sustainable for an event this long. Being a bit more conservative will help. Once you choose an IF, just multiply it by your FTP to get your targeted Normalized Power. For example, if you chose a .60IF and your FTP is 250w, your target Normalized Power would be 150w.

Racing on a team means that you will be riding less, but how much less depends on team size and strategy. The larger the team, the harder you’ll be able to go and still have something left in the tank for your last lap. Competitive lap times are between an hour and an hour and a half. But remember that you’ll have to make that effort several times with some recovery in between. Instead of aiming to ride at your FTP for an hour, shoot for something around .95 IF. 

Another factor in pacing is the night riding. Most riders won’t push as hard during night laps because of the conditions and limited visibility. Many riders choose to ride harder during the day laps, knowing that they will ride easier during the night. 

Recovering During the Race

Recovery during the race will vary based on your particular format. It’s easier to get more recovery on a larger team. To figure out how much time you have between laps, you can estimate the riders’ laps. If you’re there to be competitive, try to do as little as possible between your laps. Walking to the rock drop, taking a short detour through the expo area on your way back to camp from your lap will cut into your recovery time.

Pacing Tips

  • Create a pacing plan before the event.
  • Maximize your recovery and sleep time by heading back to your camping spot as soon as possible.
  • Change out of your kit and complete any bike maintenance before you rest.

Nutrition

Eating enough during a 24-hour race can be a challenge. Usually, racers will make extensive plans to cook food during the breaks, but the mounting fatigue can make you feel like canning those plans. A better idea is to pre-make all your food or go with something convenient. The expo area has several food vendors, but you can save some effort by carrying your payment with you on your lap and pick something up when you are done. That way, you can save some precious recovery time. 

Eating on your lap isn’t simple either. Even though the course isn’t technical, it’s fast enough to require something easy to get down. A quick gel or some chews can be beneficial. However, things change as the night temperature plunges. Opening food packets is difficult at best with thick gloves on. This is when you’ll want to go with liquid nutrition in your bottle. 

Nutrition Tips

  • Make simplicity and convenience the focus of your food plan. That way, you can focus on recovery.
  • Bring a variety of foods—sweet and salty. Palate fatigue is real, and having a wide selection to choose from will pay off as time goes by. 
  • Get to the camping a few days early if you can. It fills up fast. 

Gear and Clothing for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

You’ll need to bring plenty of gear and clothing with you for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Creating a list a few weeks before the event is ideal so you can make sure you’ve got everything you’ll need. In addition to your camping gear and food, you’ll need some bike-related items and more clothing than you may think.

Bike Gear

Aside from your bike, you’ll want to bring anything your need for light bike maintenance. You can prepare a small toolbox with zip ties, extra tire plugs, lube, and a few tools. For tools, a screwdriver, chain tool, and hex wrenches can save you the hassle of using the multi-tool from your pack. 

Because the course can be slippery, running low tire pressure is critical. So bring a pump and an accurate tire gauge. Another good idea to bring an extra tire and some sealant just in case you have a blowout. 

Bike accessories are essential, as well. You’ll want to bring your lights, extra batteries, and chargers for everything. Use three lights for the optimal setup—one on the handlebars, one helmet-mounted, and a taillight. If you need the lights to last a while, don’t run them on the highest setting. Just remember to charge everything up before leaving home and load the course on your Garmin or Wahoo. Turing on the off-course alerts will help keep you on track at night.

Clothing

You’re going to need a bunch of clothing—cycling, casual, and cold weather. A fresh set of kit when you’re tired will do wonders mentally. If you can, bring several pairs of jerseys and bibs so you can change before you head out on another lap. You’ll want some comfortable clothes for when you are resting. 

The weather can turn freezing cold at night. If you are riding in the middle of the night, you will not be warm. Bring everything you’ll need to stay warm on and off the bike. For the bike, heavy gloves, jackets, and leg warmers are a good starting point. 

Gear Tips

  • Bring more clothing than you think you’ll need, especially cold-weather gear.
  • Don’t forget to charge everything before you leave home.
  • Test out your tires to make sure they work for the loose-over-hard course.

Night Riding Tips

Riding at night can be a totally different experience than riding during the day. Of course, the main concern is lighting the trail, but don’t underestimate the cold weather. Your lap times will be slower, and the demands on your lighting equipment will be greater. 

More is always better when it comes to your lights, especially if your eyesight is limited at night. This seems like a simple tip, but test out your lights before you race. Make sure you know how long they will last on the highest setting in the cold conditions. Out on the course, one way to make your lights last longer is to modulate the brightness based on your speed. Some lights and Garmin head units can do this automatically, but in general, when you are climbing, run the lights at a lower setting, then when you are going faster, turn them on high. 

Do some research on which lights you are going to use. Lumen ratings are a helpful guide as it tells you how much light the unit will emit. Also, research if the light has a removable battery. Using light with a removable battery means that you can just swap the battery without having to wait for the light to recharge completely. If you’re on a team, having everyone run the same lights can help keep batteries and charges organized. 

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.



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Jesse Fortson

Jesse Fortson lost over 145 pounds with TrainerRoad's help. He uses his experience as a teacher and race mechanic to get faster for crits, gravel, and marathon XCO races.