Saturday, November 9, 2013

Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run 2013

The Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, or OT100, was supposed to be my first 100 mile run in 2010. Other things in life happened and I settled on my solo Busiek 100. While that was a great experience, I was still hearing the challenge of the OT whispering in my ear. I was attracted to the race because not only is it less than 3 hours from home, it is a point-to-point race almost exclusively on single track trail winding through some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in the Mark Twain National Forest in south central Missouri. It has numerous water crossings and over 12,000 feet of elevation gain. It is the perfect place to push yourself to a new understanding of your limits. And, it’s actually 103.6 miles, if you're a stickler for such details.

100 mile noobs aren't supposed to set time goals but everyone does. The standard dream seems to be 24 hours and that is what I stated my goal would be. On paper, running a 100 mile race in 24 hours doesn't seem all that fast. Maintain 5 mph, or 12 minute miles, to finish the first 50 miles in 10 hours, and then you can slow all the way down to 16 minutes miles, less than 4 mph, for the next 50 miles, and you still have 14 hours to get through it. Simple. Right? My first clue this might be difficult should have been the fact that out of 182 people who have been able to finish this race in its first 4 years, only 24 have done it in less than 24 hours.  That is the finishers, mind you, most years about half of the field drops out.  But I've never been one to choose my goals based on what other people are doing.

While I may have had a lofty time goal going into the race, I really just wanted to pit myself against other runners in a tough 100 mile race and not come out on the bottom. Not having much experience at all, I had no idea how to predict how I would do. I did all the training you are supposed to do and certainly had more experience than the first time I faced the distance, but, until you actually face a run like this and make it across the finish line, everything else is speculation.

We had to check in the Friday night before the race at the site of the finish line, Bass River Resort in Steelville, Missouri.  Being a point to point race, however, meant the starting line was 100 miles away.  The race starts at 6:00 am on Saturday morning and you have two main options for where to sleep the night before.  You can stay at the finish line and get on a bus at 3:00 am that will drive for over two hours to the start, or you can stay in Salem at the closest hotel which is about 40 miles from the start. We opted for the hotel in Salem.

Because of the 40 mile drive on country roads, I figured we needed to leave the hotel by 4:30 to make it to the start with time to make any last second preparations and to prepare myself mentally. We probably could have left much later but I didn't want to spend my final moments before the race worrying about making it on time. Not to mention, I had been up since 2:00 anyway so I was ready to get the day started.  I have sleepless nights before the hard stuff, always.  Sara drove us to the start and I went through my plans for the day in my head feeling like I had forgotten something important.

Start Bag
There was no reason to worry about forgetting something, though, because I had gone down my lists and packed everything for the day well in advance.  I had prepared 6 drop bags that had everything I would need to make it through each stage of the race.  One bag for the start, one bag for the finish, and four for different aid stations throughout the race that would be waiting for me when I arrived.

We made it to the starting line at 5:15 and I had 45 minutes to burn.  Because it is just a trail head where the trail intersects a highway, there is no parking for spectators.  They would have to drop me off and not see me again until I was 17 miles in.  Sara stopped on the road and gave me a kiss goodbye and I jumped out into the cold morning air.

It was in the low 40’s and only going to mid 50‘s.  A great forecast for running through the woods all day.  I would run in much less, but to be comfortable while waiting, I had worn thick fleece pants and a big puffy jacket.  I brought a thermos full of coffee and sat on the ground relaxing at the start enjoying the last few minutes of rest before a big day.  I was able to pack my extra clothes and thermos in the start bag and leave it to be delivered at the finish.

At about 5 minutes till 6:00 everyone gathered at the trail head.  I stood off to the side of the crowd.  There were some final words and a countdown but I don’t remember a word of it.  Everyone started running down the trail and I watched them all go.  I wanted to be the very last person to start, intent on running the conservative pace I had practiced and not getting into races with people who might not even be there at the end of the day.  At some point I realized that even though there were still like 25 people with head lamps on staring at the trail head, they were all spectators or race staff and not running.  After what must have seemed liked way too long of a pause, where I stood confusedly looking back and forth between the lights looking at me and the trail head, I stepped off.

Watching the GPS closely and trying to be as relaxed as possible, consciously holding myself back, I shuffled down the trail and tried to enjoy the feeling of strength before the feeling of overwhelming fatigue that I knew would be showing it‘s face at some point in the near future.  In the beginning there were lots of little packs running together. 3 people here and 6 up there. Everyone’s headlamp made it easy to see the little groups together even when they were far off down the trail.  There was lots of yo-yoing with different people.  You would get just ahead of them for a couple minutes but then stop to pee and they would then get back ahead of you.  It’s hard to hold the pace you think is best for you and not chase after someone, especially early in the day when you have extra energy in the tank.

One of the groups I danced with saw me take my only real detour off the course. There was a grassy field between woodsy areas where a couple of trails intersected. Flags were on the ground marking the right direction but I was watching the first hints of sunlight brighten the sky and I made it about 20 paces before seeing the group I had just passed heading down the other trail. I doubled back and decided since our pace was similar I would just stay behind them until we hit the first aid station at Grasshopper Hollow, 8.2 miles. When we finally reached it I filled my bottles and within a minute was ready to head out. The little group I had joined was not quite ready and as I left ahead of them they sent me off with a caution to make sure I stay on the trail.

I really enjoyed the morning portion but it was some of the most technical and difficult terrain on the course.  I had read in other blogs to take your time and look around for the first 40 miles to save your legs for later when the difficulty of the trail eases up. This is good advice. There is lots of off camber trail running along hillsides and I was feeling it go to on work my ankles and feet. I heeded the advice, and by taking it easy I hit the first crew stop at 17.5 miles feeling pretty fresh.

I could have gotten by without any drop bags at all since I only had them at crew access points, but, I wanted to be sure to have the things I needed if the crew for some reason didn't make it. As it turns out, I would have been fine and they made it to every stop on time. At the very first one, however, we arrived at exactly the same time. I looked frantically around the aid station before I finally saw Jake running my direction from the parking area. As the day went on, they were well ahead of my pace and had plenty of time to sit and wait around.

I met runners on the course that didn't have crews. I don't think I would have fared nearly as well if I hadn't had the support of four awesome people. Sara and Jake, who know me better than anyone, Jamie, a 2009 OT 100 veteran as well as close friend and training partner that I have literally shared over a thousand miles of road and trails with, and finally, Emily, who is like a sponsored national champion adventure racing superstar. You were allowed to have pacers from the aid station at mile 43 to the end. Jamie would run miles 43 to 68 (25 miles), Emily would run 68 to 97 (29 miles), and Jamie would finish out the day with 97 to 103.6. Over a marathon for both of them in the cold, no awards, no t-shirts, just babysitting me through a cold dark night as I curse and groan at the trail. I’m fortunate to know them.

They somehow escaped the camera all day leaving me no choice but to pick a couple pictures of them that I liked.  If you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people.

The afternoon went by in a blur. You see so many things when you travel so far at such a relatively slow pace that it’s hard to remember all that happens. I met a group of horseback riders coming from the other direction on the trail and I remember wondering if the horses legs felt like mine. I spent a lot of time singing along with my iPod. I got caught singing a heartfelt rendition of Wagon Wheel by a group of 6 older men backpacking. I asked if they had heard me singing and one of them said, “oh yeah.”

Sometimes when the trail has worked on me for a while I find myself overcome with emotions and I just start crying for a couple minutes as I'm running through the woods. Former Marine running 100 miles for fun while bawling like a baby, the duality of character doesn't escape me. This happened around the 40 mile mark as I was thinking about how much my family meant to me. I have no idea if this is a regular thing for ultrarunners or not but I have had it happen a few times. It's usually at the end of races but this time it hit me hard right in the middle of the day. I was just flowing down the trail thinking about Sara and the next thing I knew I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Good thing the old backpackers didn't see that display.

I was still covering ground at a great pace without a lot of discomfort when I finally arrived at the next crew stop at 43.5 miles where Jamie would begin his first segment of 25 miles with me. I was excited to have the company and hear news of the outside world. While I am generally a loner, after 9 hours of being mostly alone I was ready to spend some time with a familiar face. A former college track stud and finisher of the inaugural OT100, Jamie was the perfect person to keep me moving at my very best pace. He knows what I need to hear to stay motivated. He isn't afraid to call out my weaknesses and keep me honest, I appreciate that about him. He went immediately to work hustling me down the trail.

Before we would reach the next aid station the sun would make it’s way below the horizon. We spent most of this section running with a guy who was in the Army. He had been a combat medic in Afghanistan and Iraq and was now serving as a recruiter. These short lived relationships that you develop on the course are awesome. As the sun went down, we switched on our headlamps and pressed on down the trail. I felt a little safer knowing I had an experienced combat medic running right behind me. Unfortunately, somewhere after the 50.7 mile aid station at Highway DD, our new friend’s pace dwindled and we had to leave him behind.

It was at this point I hooked up the portable battery charger to my Garmin. None of the currently available GPS watches are capable of recording a 24 hour or better run. At the suggestion of Facebook friends I picked up a portable USB charger and hooked the watch up to it when we were about 14 hours into the race. You aren't able to see a data display while it is charging but is does keep tracking distance. Two and a half hours later the battery read full and when I pulled the cord it had tracked every mile and I had plenty of charge to make it through the end of the run.

I was feeling the effects of running for nearly 14 hours at this point but I still had energy to push myself. We would often see headlights in the distance or hear voices over the hill. We were able to slowly draw in and pass several runners. We spent the time talking about what gravel races we wanted to ride next season, wives, bike parts, kids, and whatever else came up. Spend 6 hours running a trail with someone and you will learn all about them.

As the night grew darker and colder, Jamie and I finally made our way to the next crew stop at Hazel Creek, mile 68.4. This is where he would switch out with Emily and she would run the next 29 miles with me. I had put lots of warm clothes in my drop bag here. People have dropped from this race with hypothermia before and many of the race reports from former years warn of the bone chilling nights on the course. Having suffered with cold before, I planned accordingly and packed clothes I would be comfortable with well into freezing temperatures.

Until this point I had been moving along pretty much according to plan. I was on the slow side of where I wanted to be but had held a fairly steady pace all day. But as soon as I began my first stretch with Emily, my energy started to drop quickly. I hung on by a thread to the Pigeon Roost aid station at 75.9 which featured a giant inflatable snowman. A runner was leaving this aid station right as we arrived and another came in right behind us. I let myself get caught up in a race with these two parties that lasted the next hour. We could see their headlights and hear their voices for what seemed like miles.

We finally made it ahead of everyone and then held it precariously for a few minutes, and then I was cooked. Waves of nausea hit me like a ton of bricks, and while I was able to hold it off for a minute or two, I eventually lost the battle and puked up the last thing I had eaten which was a mango buddy fruit. It’s unfortunate too because I really like them and it will now be a long time before I won’t gag at the thought of another. I'm always a little embarrassed when I throw up in front of someone else. Mainly because of the sound I make while I'm doing it. I call it scream puking. I try to restrain it and lose my cookies silently, like a gentleman with composure, but once it starts, I have absolutely no control whatsoever and it comes out more like a, "BLAAAAAAAAAAAA...(gasp for air)..HOOOAAAAAAAA." Only you have to imagine me doing it at the top of my lungs, and it goes on for a little while, or it least that is how it feels. Anyone within a couple of miles was probably wondering what animal was being tortured to death. Emily got to experience all my best sides in one night. Several hours after the mango incident I might have had a bout of diarrhea that she got to witness as well. Pacing can be a tough job. She took it all in stride like it was no big deal.

Emily has competed in events longer than 24 hours before and she was able to evaluate my situation and let me know what exactly she thought I should do. This was what I wanted in my pacers. At the next aid station, Berryman Campground, mile 81.3, she said I would sit under blankets to get warm and eat until I had energy again. I ended up drinking 3 cups of hot chocolate, a half a cup of ramen, a pierogi, and a handful of pretzels. While this turned out to be the longest stop of the race at just over 30 minutes, I think it was an outstanding decision that provided me with the juice to make it through the next 9 mile section which would be one of the hardest segments of the race.

As they pulled me up out of the chair they had lined with someone's nice warm blankets, I remembered something I should have remembered before I sat down. Do you ever do something and while you are doing it you say to yourself, "now remember you are doing this?" That is what I was thinking to myself when I put the half-eaten peanut butter gel into my back pocket. I told myself not to sit down with that gel in there. I had done exactly that. Not only had I sat right on it and ejected the uneaten gel out onto my back, and all over my jacket, I had squirted it all over the nice aid station person's blanket. In case you don't know, gel has roughly the same consistency as thick honey. What a mess. My emotions over amplified by exhaustion had me feeling really horrible about it but there really wasn't anything I could do and I hoped whoever it belonged to would forgive me. Sara told me later she had tried unsuccessfully to clean it up but everyone had been a good sport about it.

Elevation. My GPS tends to read low on every long race, sometimes by as much as a couple thousand feet. 
Knowing that, Garmin gave me 10,568 feet of climbing and Strava said 11,193. Like teeth on a saw blade, while there were no giant climbs, each one took its toll.  
That next section, from Berryman Campground to Billy’s Branch, 81.3 to 90.1, was so dark and so cold and so long. Emily did her best to keep me focused on moving. I had mainly been fighting muscle fatigue but now I was starting to get loopy and strongly felt the need to sleep. I had been up for over 24 hours now and covering trail for 20 of those hours and it was catching up with me. I had caffeine pills in my gear but was afraid to take any and upset my stomach further. Every stump or fallen tree I saw looked like an inviting place to sit. At one point I caved and said I would only stop for a second. Emily said I could have a minute and a half. She gave me a 30 second and 15 second warning which I absolutely hated and loved at the same time. Must keep moving forward.

I tripped and fell down a lot throughout the night. Once I somehow managed to stumble into a pose that Emily thought looked like a downward dog. It was actually pretty comfortable too once I was in the position but it was difficult to get out of. One of my more graceful falls was on a descent with lots of loose baseball size rocks that went to rolling and I just kind of gently laid down onto my back. So smooth.

Emily tried to keep the mood light and we had conversations about every topic we could think of. Once we looked up to see a little white owl sitting on a branch only a couple of feet above our heads. She had me take a second to turn off the headlamps and look up at the stars which filled the night sky and they were huge and brilliant. It helped that she had ridden all these trails extensively in mountain bike races and knew every tough obstacle we would encounter down to specific rock ledges and ditches. When she would tell me we were almost to a ridge line that would be gentle and easy I was happy for the news. When she told of a climb that would go on for a long time, I secretly wished she would just shut up. You know I truly care about you though, Emily, that was the miles talking!

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at Billy’s Branch, mile 90.1, only a half marathon left. The aid station volunteers were so helpful, not just at this aid station, but all through the course. As soon as they could see your headlight coming they were cheering and ringing cowbells. When you first arrived it was easy to pause the race and allow them to pamper you with any request. You need water, soup, hot chocolate, can I make you a grilled cheese, how can I help you? This luxury would be soon interrupted by the next runner coming in behind you. Stay and be pampered a little more, or jump up and get out of town. I was caught at Billy’s Branch by fellow former Marine and two time Badwater 135 finisher, Tony Clark. I don’t know if it’s really a fair race if the other person doesn't know about it, but staying ahead of him for the final 13 miles was my new motivation. I stood up on shaky legs, said thank you and goodbye to everyone, and shuffled back onto the trail. Every sound I heard in the forest after that was him catching up to me and I would try to shovel a little more coal on the fire.

Finally, after one of the longest nights of my life, Emily pointed out the first signs of sunlight in the sky. My attitude was instantly lifted. I hadn't done any real running at all since the mango incident, but with the new life the sun had given me, every so often I was able to throw in a hundred feet of running, when the terrain was just right, but any sort of rocks or elevation change in the trail would bring the pace back to the power hike.

Around mile 95, when I knew we were getting close to the final aid station I was starting to know for sure I had the run in the bag. I still had some distance to cover but I had time on my side and was feeling much better than I had for the last 6 hours. The final aid station is Henpeck Hollow at mile 97.1 and I decided I wasn't going to stop. Emily took my bottles and vest with instructions of what I needed and would have Jamie catch up to me with my bottles so I could charge through without stopping and finish this thing out. I didn't ask for any food, I hadn't taken in anything but water since Billy’s Branch.

I marched through the aid station telling everyone I loved them without breaking stride. The sun was beginning to shine brightly and the sense of impending victory over the challenge was becoming more powerful than the pain of pushing harder. Jamie caught up to me within minutes and I told him I was pretty sure if I kept this pace up I was going to beat his run time when he tackled the course in 2009. He jumped in front of me and slowed the pace to a crawl, but only for a second. We laughed and then got to work.

While we only had 6 miles left, they were not miles that would come easy. There are a couple easy miles in this section directly after the aid station, but use them to catch your breath, because in the last 3 miles there are 3 hills that seem like cruel and unusual punishment at the end of a race that is already 3 miles longer than it should be. It's even worse if you think there are only 2 hills but then suddenly find yourself in a valley after the second hill realizing you are about to climb another. But that is what we pay for.  A test.  A challenge.  I cursed the hills and kept marching, trying to match the pace Jamie was laying down for me.

And then finally, when we had gone up and over every hill the race directors could possibly squeeze in, we exited the forest onto the property of the Bass River Resort where the finish line was. Of course it still wasn't quite over. The markings took us around the property and then through another rocky ditch, just let this damn thing be over my mind was screaming. But soon you hear the first cheers and clapping, you get a little further and see everyone waiting for you. Jake and Sara are standing at the finish line and Emily is there taking pictures. I had the strength to put together a pretty good run for the last 200 feet, as if I had been running the whole time or something.  28 hours and 37 minutes later, it was finally time to stop.

Sprint Finish

I finished 18 out of 65 people who had bravely lined up the morning before. By the end of the race, the course had thinned the pack down to 38. While I didn't hit my 24 hour goal, I was more than satisfied with the experience. I think the big prize you get from taking on a challenge like this is the fresh perspective it gives you on what is truly meaningful in your life.  In the finisher's tent they had a cooler full of drinks and I'm always craving soda after a long event, specifically Coke. I opened the lid and saw a sea of ice cold Pepsi. After the night I had gone through it didn't matter. As I reached in for one of the cans of Pepsi, Sara produced a shiny red can of Coke from somewhere, "I brought you this," she said with a smile, and I remembered why I had been crying on the trail the day before.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2013 Dirty Kanza 200

I was 99% sure I would be able to finish the Dirty Kanza 200 this year.  The 202 mile bicycle race held on the gravel roads of the Flint Hills in Kansas.  I was able to finish the 2012 version of the race after blowing up in a spectacular fashion halfway through and putting on a great show for several people when I was laying in the ditch puking my guts out several times. If I could finish after doing that, I could surely pull it off again this year, especially if I raced much smarter. I might even finish a little faster than the 17 hours it took last year.  

For me, one of the allures of the Dirty Kanza is that despite being well trained, being on the best equipment you can afford, and knowing exactly what you need to do to finish, there are numerous elements out of your control that can take you apart.  Things you might not plan for.  Things you tell yourself won't happen to you.  There is the unpredictable weather of early June in Kansas, sometimes scorching hot, sometimes storms pouring rain that turns the roads to a sticky muddy mess, or as we faced this year, the mighty howling winds.  Don’t forget the millions of rocks you must roll over that have been known to shred the heartiest of tires.  In the morning you can be rolling fast and feeling like a super star, and then a few hours later you may feel like you have made a fatal mistake and won’t be making it off the course alive.  No matter how fit and prepared you are, the DK 200 is a huge day in the saddle and the finish line comes easy for nobody.

It was a must that I come back and do the race again this year.  Not only to redeem myself from blowing up, but to finally get one of the coveted finisher's pint glasses.  Brave 202 miles of hilly, rough, hot, soul sucking windy miles in the Flint Hills and they give you a glass and a sticker that says 200 on it.   Obviously, we don't do it for the prizes, but that glass means something if you have been there.  Even though I had finished the race last year, somehow, in my drunken stupor from being dehydrated, I had been so happy to get off the bike and stop moving that I left the finish line without retrieving my hard earned prizes.  I didn't realize my mistake until we were all at breakfast the next morning. On the way home I told myself it was the reason I would have to go back, I had to get one of those glasses. 

Where I would put a picture 
of last year's glass if I only had one.

This year the organizers added a new award to the race for those looking to do a little more than just finish the distance.  Brought on by Tim Ek’s inspiring blog about trying to beat the sun last year, this year, if you were able to finish before the official sunset at 8:42, along with the glass and sticker, you would get a custom Race the Sun print.  I decided I wanted this!  I now had a tangible finishing goal besides, "better than last year."  

250 of these custom prints were made, but only 67 people earned one this year.
I spent the year getting stronger.  I added mileage and hills to my commute.  I signed up for a couple other gravel races to get more experience.  Like last year, I had spent the winter and spring riding with friends Collin and Jamie.  This year we also added Tyler to our crew.  The four of us rode a ton of miles together getting ready.  Some guys can get by on much less training, but to feel confident and remove any doubt, in the month of May I put in 1,100 miles of riding.  I did not want to fall apart again and spend another year wondering what I could have done better.  

I even sold my car to buy a nicer bike. That's right, I sold my car to do better at the Dirty Kanza. Maybe the race wasn't the only reason, but it's very possible that it was a huge factor in making the decision as my old bike still had plenty of life left in it.  I hadn't driven the car but a handful of times in the last few years anyway and it was rotting on the side of the driveway eating insurance money so why not treat yourself was my line of thinking. 

More pictures of The Snake
You will see a lot on the internet about what a great job the organizers of the race do and how friendly and accepting the town of Emporia is for this event.  I find that all to be true.  The Friday night before the race, several blocks of Commercial St. in downtown Emporia become a cycling paradise.  All the businesses have window decorations and signs welcoming us.  The shops and sidewalks are full of other cyclists and their families and it's like a big party.  Most of the cars parked on the street seemed to have racks full of bikes.  I enjoyed just taking it all in.  

I finally met the Single Speed Pirate, Sean Burns, in person.  He had some handmade cycling caps from and I had to buy the one that makes me look like Yahuda Moon.  

After a quick and easy sign in for the race and then the pre-race meeting, we all went out to eat some Mexican food before heading back to the hotel to anxiously wait for morning.  Jake and I rode bikes around the parking lot and played some Frisbee.  The hotel was full of other racers.  All the lodging in town had been sold out for months and the only place to get a room now if you didn't have one yet was the college dorms that were available to rent for the weekend.  I got to finally meet several other internet friends in person.  At the hotel we spent some time talking with Emily Korsch and Bob Jenkins.  I was hoping to run into Super Kate at some point during the weekend but our paths never crossed.   

The race start was at 6:00 am and only a couple miles from the hotel.  Collin was staying in the same place so we rode together to the start shortly after 5:00.  We wanted time to get a coffee.  My biggest complaint about the weekend:  There was no alarm clock or coffee maker at the EconoLodge, and the lobby didn't have coffee either!  On the ride over my hamstring on my left leg was cramping up with sharp pains and I became suddenly nervous that I was going to have some complications.  I tried to baby it and stretch it out as much as possible. Over the next hour waiting for the start, it slowly loosened up and, thankfully, didn't resurface again.  I still have no idea what caused that, but for 30 minutes or so, I was worried my day was about to head south.   

Me, Jamie, and Tyler waiting for the start.
Photo by Clay Center Sports
As the start time approached everyone began to move into the road and ready themselves. The women of Emporia's roller derby team, the Veteran City Rollers, were in the road holding up signs that had projected finish times.  12 hours, 14 hours, and so on.  It is up to you to choose where you think you belong.  Feeling strong and cocky, we lined up at the front of the 14 hour group.  While I wasn't excited about the unsustainable break neck pace I knew the front would take off at, we also didn't want to be stuck behind hundreds of people as the field took it's time spreading out for the first hours of the day.  My races this year suggest that we were lined up in the right place within the group, but I’m still a little self conscious about putting myself near the front.  I may have looked more experienced this year in my matching Kuat kit and new bike but I still feel kind of like a noob.

Photo by Clay Center Sports
From a megaphone I could hear Jim Cummins giving last minute instructions.  Finally, after a year of waiting for the chance at redemption, it was time.  There was a countdown and we were off under the escort of Emporia’s Police. Less than a mile in we dropped our escort and turned onto the first gravel road.  There was somebody on the side already changing a flat.  I felt sorry for that guy’s luck. 

We did not want to be stuck in this
Photo by Clay Center Sports
The race this year was broken into four 50 mile sections.  There was no support while you are on the course, but at the 50, 100, and 150 mile checkpoints, our support crews could meet and resupply us.  I had Sara and Jake as my trusty crew again.  My goal with regard to checkpoints was simply to make it through them as quickly as possible.  I didn't want a chair available and I gave Sara specific instructions to tell me to get out of the checkpoint and rest on the bike if I needed to sit.  I don’t want sympathy from my crew, I want them to quickly give me what I need and then kick me back out on the course.  They performed flawlessly all day and I couldn't be more thankful to have them there with me.

Kuat had set us up with a wind blade to use at the different checkpoints.  We were worried that finding our crew vehicles in the sea of other support crews would be difficult.  The race organizers had the great idea to divide the field into several color groups.  As you would pull in to the checkpoint, they would direct you to the general vicinity where your support should be parked, but even still, there were lots of people. The wind blade made it easy for us to scan the lot and find where we needed to be.  


Tire Beta for those here doing tire research:  I have been fairly lucky with tires and flats so far.  It is something that many people, including myself, agonize over when preparing for gravel grinders.  Last year, on 1.9 Kenda Small Block Eights, I didn't have any flats.  I ran the same tires at Land Run and OGRE, all without any flats.  Not wanting to ruin a good thing, I set my new bike up with the same tires, only the new bike wouldn't take one as big so I went with a 35.  Not quite as successful as the 1.9’s but I think it was because I was running the pressure a little low for tubes at 45-50.  Bumped it up to 60 and I didn't have any more issues. 

How do I know I had the pressure too low, about 23 miles in, a poorly timed bunny hop onto a cattle guard gave me a pinch flat.  I was worried this is where I would lose Jamie and Collin.  A testament to their loyalty, they waited while I swapped tubes as quickly as I could.  3 and a half minutes later we were rolling down the road again.  It was shortly after this we saw a pretty blonde girl relieving herself on the side of the course and everyone complained that I should have had my flat in that location instead.  I promised to be more aware of appropriate breakdown spots next time.  

A new addition to the race this year was the thigh deep water crossing through a river.  For half a second I thought about riding it, but then imagined slipping and laying down sideways and having to ride in a cold wet kit for a couple hours, so I decided against it.  Apparently several guys did ride it, and were successful, forcing me to regret wussing out.

Dude, Collin, Me, Jamie
Photo by Clay Center Sports
The first section really went by in a blur.  Our group stayed together with the exception of Tyler who had pulled ahead early on.  Everything seemed to flow fast and smooth all the way to checkpoint.  A quick stop of only a minute and a half and we were back on the road.  Tyler had waited for us and the 4 of us embarked on the second leg together again.  This only lasted a few miles, however, as the course made its turn into the howling wind that would plague us for most of the next 7 or 8 hours.  Jamie and I stayed together but when I looked back, Collin and Tyler were gone.  We wouldn't see them again until the end of the day.

The wind may have been stronger and more in our face during this second section but it didn't bother me as much then as it would later in the day.  We used other people to hide from the wind when we could, and each other when nobody else was around, but eventually we made it to the halfway checkpoint.  Another quick stop of less than 5 minutes and we were back on the road to checkpoint 3 with only 100 miles left to race. 

Mustache full of Gel
After leaving the second checkpoint and enjoying a fast and fun 13 mile stretch with a tailwind, the first in several hours, the course took another turn into the face of the blowing wind and we put our heads down for a 35 mile slog directly into the gusts.  I quickly started cramping in my calves.  I ate and drank but it didn't help.  Keeping up the pace was becoming extremely difficult and I really just wanted to stop and take a break.  This was one of the lowest emotional points in the race for me.  I was getting really frustrated with myself for falling apart so early.  I had expected it in this section as this is when the race snuffed me out last year, but I was hoping the low spot wouldn't be as devastating this time.  I chalked the difficulty up to the wind and just kept mashing.    

I was finally able to take a short break when I heard air hissing from my front tire.  I was almost happy to have another flat as I just needed a rest from the pedaling.  I changed the tire quickly and as I was getting ready to roll again I noticed I was having an issue with my front wheel turning.  The left brake pad was sitting tight against the rim.  I was having trouble diagnosing the problem and Jamie came over to help.  One of the adjustment screws had rattled loose and I had been riding with the front brake constantly on.  As I fixed the problem I was pissed off and relieved at the same time.  Angry because who knew how much time and energy I had spent pushing that stupid brake, but happy as well because I knew fixing it would make things easier.  And it did help, my legs felt revived when we went back to rolling. 

Jamie sticking with me through my mechanical issues was awesome.  I felt guilty and wouldn't have blamed him at all if he had left me in the dust.  I still had my two bathroom breaks coming from the OGRE navigation save so maybe he was letting me use the flats instead.  I won’t be needing the bathroom breaks anymore, though, as one of my most notable achievements this year was I finally learned to take a leak from the bike!  I have been trying to learn this for the last 2 years and it is even more difficult than it sounds.  Even if you have the skills to keep your bike rolling down a gravel hill while standing up and pulling your junk out of your shorts, relaxing enough to go is the real trick.  And then keeping it from blowing all over you and your bike is also a trick that still needs work but I wasn't really as concerned with those parts.  This new found skill will save me much time and comfort in years to come. 

We passed a lot of people who were in the same situation I was last year.  People who took off hard and fast in the early part of the day but had come to the end of their rope.  Zombies slow pedaling through a world of pain and suffering.  Once you have burned every match in the book, you're left to move at a snail's pace with nothing to burn but the desire to reach the end.  Because of my experience here last year I felt for them as I knew exactly what they were going through.  
We tried to keep the mood as light as possible.  As a by-product of spending so much time together on the roads training, our crew has developed a bunch of long running inside jokes.  Calculating our speed in knots, bunny hopping dead animals, determining a formula to predict the frequency our discussions turn to women, who has dibs on Collin's carbon wheels when he dies on the course.  I think the majority of our topics would be highly inappropriate for most crowds but it helps pass the time and it keeps us laughing.  One of the topics this year was derived from the ziplock bag I always had over my taillight that someone once thought was a condom.  The seal on the light was bad so I had to keep it covered to keep water out of it during the constantly raining spring.  Before the race, instead of the usual ziplock, I put an actual condom over the light.  We got a lot of entertainment throughout the day as different people would fall in behind me and ask in a puzzled voice, "uh, is that a condom on your light?"  The reservoir tip would light up bright red when the light was flashing.  

Why yes, it is a condom, thanks for noticing.
Darker clouds were overcoming the skies as we worked our way through section 3 and it made me fear rain.  Fortunately, rain never came and the clouds just kept us cool.  It would have added a whole new level of adversity if the sun had been beating on us along side of that wind.  There was a lot of quiet time just working  during this leg.

I have become the navigator of our group.  It was a responsibility I tried to hide from in the past but somehow I've taken it on.  It does give me something to do.  One part I like about it is how it helps me break the long day into manageable mental pieces.  I just think about the variables to the next turn and not the entire race ahead.  I only remember one turn not being marked and from reading other blogs, people added as much as 10 miles by missing that turn.  The mileage you should be at was on the map and it matched with my gps so we didn't miss it.  We did stop just to double check and I think saved several others from heading off track.  

This year the maps were on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper.  I really liked the smaller maps of last year because they were easier to manage on the bike, but apparently some people complained about them being difficult to read.  I completely understand the change but still like the old ones better.  I had to fold the map in half to put it in my holder and then fold that in half again to mount it on the bars.  Several times in each section I would have to un-clip the map, refold it, and then clip it back into place.  I tried to make a holder that would make that easy to do but it was still a bike handling challenge to do all that while moving over gravel and into a stiff crosswind.   At one point I was flipping the map over and the wind took it out of my hands and carried it down the steep slope next to us.  I had to run it down while Jamie laughed and waited patiently.  

When we left the third checkpoint, we had 3 hours and 40 minutes to make it to the finish line before the sun went down.  50 miles in that amount of time wouldn't normally be a challenge, but we had already pushed a hard 150 and half of the distance we still had to cover was into the damn headwind that I was starting to fear would be in my face for the rest of my life.  Within a few miles after leaving the checkpoint we were stopped by a train crossing. In the first half of the race this would have made me angry, but at this point in the day, I was thankful and hoping it would be a really long train.  There were several other riders waiting at the stop already.  It only blocked our path for a couple minutes.  The train had allowed us to catch another team of 2 guys that seemed to be working well together.  All I remember about them is their jersey was green and it said "Pizza" on the back and that sounded so good I could hardly look at it.  I jumped on their wheel and Jamie was on mine.  They were pushing hard and it was difficult to stay with them.  There was no talking, everyone was just working, pushing wind.  We eventually let the pizza guys go ahead and it was just Jamie and I again.  

Big long roads that go forever.
With about 30 miles to the finish another two guys caught up from behind.  Chris Knight and Pierre Echasserieau. I hadn't met Chris before but Pierre had come in just in front of us at the OGRE 150.  They were a welcome addition to our group.  Chris was upbeat and motivating to be around.  He was trying to beat the sun so he could give the award to a friend who had recently lost someone.  If we didn't have a good enough reason to lay it all out there yet, we did now.

Finally, at mile 175, the course turned east and out of the wind.  We wouldn't have to push that headwind again for the rest of the race.  I had been doing math problems in my head for the last several hours trying to figure out the pace we needed to maintain to beat the sun.  It was almost 7:00, we had an hour and 40 minutes before dark.  I was beginning to think we would make it, barring any mechanical issues.  I think only took one pull in this stretch. Something overcame Jamie and he put his head down and drug the 4 of us home at a pace that was punishing to even draft behind.  

This was the only part of the day that I let my nutrition slip.  I was so sick of gels and drinking that I just stopped.  I was tired of sugar and my mind had been stuck on pizza ever since seeing it on those guys’ jerseys a little while back.  I realized it was a mistake not to be eating and drinking when we were less than 10 miles out and my energy levels were dropping off quickly.  At one point I had fallen off of Jamie's wheel by about 5 feet and Pierre rode up beside me, put his hand on my lower back, and shoved me back up the road into position.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced on the bike.  Thanks again for the help, Pierre!  

With only a few miles left we crossed the bridge where I saw the dude crash last year.  It was so different to see it in the light of day.  It seemed much smaller and less scary.  It still had those treacherous gaps for grabbing bike wheels. It had been so dark last year that my memory of it had been much spookier than it really was.  Again this year I have read several stories about people crashing on it.  If you do this race, remember there is a treacherous bridge at the end that you need to stay alert for. 

Entering the town of Emporia and leaving the last of the gravel behind us is an emotional part of the day.  At that moment, when the world stops vibrating and you know you are only moments from the end, any discomfort you have been struggling with fades away.  There were a couple quick turns taking us through the college campus and then, finally, the end was in sight.  There were more people there this year than last when I arrived closer to midnight.  The finish chute was lined with people cheering and holding hands out for high fives.  Cowbells were ringing and someone on a speaker was announcing our names and where we were from.  

I tried to modulate my speed so that I would cross the line next to Jamie.  As I reached out a few feet before  the line to put my hand on Jamie's back and roll through together, he grabbed a handful of brakes and let me shoot through first.  While few may have seen this move of chivalry and friendship, and while the record books will always show that I finished first, I know how much of the day's success is owed to him and it is no small amount. We finished the race in 14 hours and 14 minutes, a full 3 hours faster than I was last year.   

Chris Knight and Pierre Echasserieau
Collin came across the line a couple hours later.  Tyler was one of the 134 unfortunate souls that the day got the best of.  He bowed out at the second checkpoint and now has to carry that weight until a chance at redemption next year.  Of the 636 riders who registered for the full 200 mile experience, only 465 toed the line, 331 were able to finish.  Dan Hughes pulled off a third win in a row with a time of 12 hours and 3 minutes.  While many of us complain about the wind slowing us down, our excuses ring hollow as Dan was only minutes slower than he was in the perfect conditions of last year. Tough.  Results

The most unfortunate event of the weekend is that I somehow managed to lose my wedding ring.  I noticed at breakfast when we were talking about wedding rings.  I went to look at mine and it was gone. I have lost some weight over the last couple months and I think it was getting a little loose.  Fortunately, I don’t have to go without a ring, I had been wearing my dad’s ring on my right hand trying to get some of the good mojo from the 47 plus years my parents were together before my mom passed away.  Though, I guess losing your wedding ring in a 200 mile bicycle race on the back country gravel roads of Kansas is a pretty good story.

Will I ever go back to Dirty Kanza for a third round?  Well, apparently I'm going to have to if I want one of those glasses, and I do.  The universe seems to be conspiring against me when it comes to claiming this prize.  After missing it last year, I made sure not to leave the finish line without one this year.  I was only able to keep it until the next morning.  At the hotel I opened the tailgate of the car to get a bag out and from the corner of my eye I saw something moving quickly towards the edge.  I made an attempt to catch whatever it was but wasn't quite fast enough.  As the sound of breaking glass registered in my head I knew what I had just done.

Maybe next year I'll actually get to take a drink out of one.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Working the Pucker Factory at the 2013 OGRE 150

The race began with a neutral roll out from Big Surf Waterpark.  We had a police escort to follow from the parking lot to the first of the gravel roads.  Granted, it was all downhill, but within the first two miles we were already moving close to 30 miles an hour, not exactly following the hang back and conserve plan I had mentally rehearsed.  I knew from the pre-race meeting the night before that we were about to hit the first of the gravel.  They had told us you better be sure of your bike handling skills and choose an appropriate pace.  Problem was, I wasn't really sure about my handling skills, not since my high speed downhill crash just a month ago at Land Run.

Cold Start
I’d been dealing with a wave of anxiety whenever going down any steep hills or taking sharp corners at speed ever since crashing.  I spent the month watching youtube videos and reading every article I could find about bike (and fear) control.  I had practiced what I had learned and was feeling much better about things.  I had made it to a point where I could keep the speed up but the fear was still very much there, increasing my heart rate and making my chest tight, whispering in my ear to hold back.  The pucker factor.

When Jake was 3 or 4 we were at the top of a cliff in Arkansas.  As he peered over the edge he told us, “my butt feels scared!”  We explained to him all about the pucker factor.  That tension you feel in your body whenever you’re facing whatever it is that makes you afraid.  The next time he was doing something that scared him, Jake turned and loudly proclaimed, “I've got the pucker factory!”  As the group hurtled down the hill about to hit the first gravel road at high speed, I was definitely experiencing the pucker factory.

The OGRE 150 (Ozarks Gravel Road Expedition), is a 150 mile (156.1) race on gravel roads through the hills around Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  The climbing was what everyone had been dreaming about before this ride.  However, being the very first edition of the race, the actual amount of climbing was an unknown.  Rumors based purely on speculation were saying it might even be harder than the famously tough Dirty Kanza 200, but nobody really knew.

After making it through the beginning sprints, the group had spread out nicely, my pace became more sensible and I found myself riding in a familiar place, side by side with Jamie and Collin.  We would spend a good portion of the day in this configuration.  At times we were joking and laughing, then other times it was quiet with nothing but the sound of labored breathing and the gravel spitting out behind us as we struggled up some of the steepest gravel hills I've ever ridden.

It wasn't long after we were onto the gravel before we started seeing the first sacrifices to the flat tire gods.  Tyler, a single speed rider from our local crew, was one of the first victims.   As with any gravel race, tire selection was a point of hot debate.  I rode the same style that brought me flat free through Dirty Kanza last year, 1.9 inch Kenda Small Block Eights.  One change I made, thanks to the fear-research, was running a much lower pressure (45-50 psi).  Counter to road riding where higher pressures are used for lower resistance, on gravel, a much lower pressure can give less resistance and improved handling.  It works, trust me.

The three of us rode together into the first pit stop at 50 miles.  The final climb into the stop was brutal!  I didn't realize until we were nearly at the very top that it was even the pit stop.  I looked up to see all the people standing at the crest of the hill cheering us on.

Hill into Pit Stop 1

It was good to see Sara and Jake waiting and ready.  I handed the bike to them and stepped into the woods to pee.  By the time I got back they had swapped my bottles and map and I was ready to roll.  We have this routine down pat.  We were only stopped for a few minutes before the 3 of us were rolling out together, back down to the huge hill we had just climbed.  Out and back sections are fun because you get to see the other people who you are spending the day with.  Despite nearly 100 people riding the same roads, many times it’s just you alone out there so I always like these parts. Tyler was one of the first we saw coming up the hill.  He was catching back up to us.

The weather wasn't what I would call ideal, but it was pretty good.  The only bad part would have been the starting temp in the low 30’s.  Anytime you want to get your act together, Spring, that would be fine by me.  The high was only to be in the low 60’s and winds would be light, that part of the forecast was outstanding.  Despite freezing for the first hour of the race by the time we reached the first pit stop the temperature was in the 50’s and I was able to strip down to shorts and short sleeves.  The temperature felt comfortable for the rest of the day.  There may not have been much wind but whatever breeze there was always seemed to be blowing in our face, it was typical.

There were checkpoints with volunteers between each pit stop where they would take down your race number and re-supply you with water if you needed it.   As we pulled into the next checkpoint, a rider in front of us was just getting back on the road.  Checking my cue sheet, I asked the volunteer if that guy was going the right way and he says, “I can’t tell you, didn't they give you a map?”  I had been the navigator for the group all day, which I don‘t really enjoy, it‘s easier to sit back and follow, especially after you start getting tired.  Though the course was marked with flags at every corner, at this checkpoint the course intersected itself and it would be possible to head the wrong way.   We had a short pow wow about what the cue sheet said and decided to head the opposite direction the other rider had gone, that always makes me nervous.  In the end, thankfully, we were right.  For the navigation save, Jamie said he would give me two bathroom breaks without harassment.  If you have ridden with me before, you would know I was grateful.

Checkpoint Dilemma
Jamie, Collin, Me

Somewhere in the middle of the next section Tyler and a rider named Doug caught up with us.  The two of them fell in with me, Jamie and Collin, and the five of us rode on together slowly chipping miles off the day.  The inspiring people you get to meet and spend time with are another one of the amazing parts of experiences like this.  Doug was 60!  I can only hope I am still tackling challenges like this when I am 60.  Hardcore to say the least!

As we got closer to the second pit stop at mile 87, the effects of the mileage were starting to take their toll.  We were spending a lot more time in quiet exertion.  The five of us pulled into the pit stop together.  Another fast swap of bottles and I was ready to roll.  Jamie and Tyler were set and Doug said he would hang with us for a while if that was cool, but it was here that Collin let us know he was going to spend a little more time resting.  We wished him luck and pulled back onto the course one man short.

The course seemed to follow a pretty regular pattern: up a steep hill, down a steep hill through a six inch deep low water crossing.  The crossings were just deep enough to fill your shoes with water if you left them on the pedals.  Every 20 or 30 miles there would be a mile or two stretch of pavement to get to the next gravel portion.  If I were to guess, I would say around 10 miles of pavement over the entire 156 mile course.

Thankfully, this was another race where my nutrition went well.  I’m realizing having your hydration and nutrition needs figured out is one of the most important parts of the puzzle, if not the most important.  Muscles will keep working all day, as long as you keep them fueled properly.  Stop fueling for a little bit and fall behind, your day becomes a death march.  I did have one nutrition challenge, it was kind of difficult to eat with the terrain.  There were several times I would have to put the bottle away or hold a gel pack in my teeth because I needed both hands on the bars to manage either a fast descent or a steep wheel slipping climb.

After hanging with us for several hours, at some point we lost contact with Doug.  Miles and more miles were clicked off as the afternoon wore on until we finally reached the final pit stop at mile 127, leaving us with only 29 miles to the finish.  Tyler and Jamie were still hanging with me and we pulled back onto the course for the final stretch.  We now had the gravity of the finish line lifting our spirits and starting to pull us in, but there was still plenty work to be done.  Another couple hours of quad burning climbs, each rewarded with a screaming descent.

Tyler and Jamie at Checkpoint 3
Dogs were everywhere on this course.  There seriously seemed to be hundreds of them.  Most were pretty tame and did their barking from the side of the road.  A few would give a spirited chase, but all eventually gave up without a bite.  When they run into the middle of the road before I get there, I generally take the approach of charging and growling straight at them.  In the past it has worked fairly well.  Most of them step back, and by the time they realize what is going on, I have blown past and they don’t stand a chance.  Sometimes, they turn and run from me and I get to chase them down the road for a bit, this is my favorite response.  There was one crazy dog near the end that decided to stand his ground.  He didn't flinch.  There was skidding and veering and I thought I was going to hit it but somehow managed not to.  At about that time, Jamie came rolling by yelling and the dog turned his attention to him.  We both made it through unscathed.  

With only 16 miles to the finish, while descending a long slow grade, Tyler suddenly dropped back and then dismounted.  Jamie was up the road a bit and by the time I caught up with him to say something, Tyler was out of sight.  We decided to go back and make sure he was good.  By the time we got to him, he had a wheel off and was working on fixing his second flat of the day.  He assured us he was good and told us to get on our way.  Being so near the end, we obliged and turned back towards the finish.

The hills.  That was the promised challenge of this race and they really delivered.  With only 5 miles left to go we hit yet another 200 foot climb that just added insult to injury.  In the lowest gear, moving 4 miles an hour, back tire slipping and sliding with every crank rotation.  What was the total for the day?  The GPS readings I have seen since the race are wildly different, from 7,000 to 21,000.  If I average the elevation readings of the 13 people who uploaded the ride on Strava, I get 13,147 feet of elevation gain.  We’ll just say there was plenty to go around and I wasn't left wanting any more.

We weren't quite done climbing yet as we turned onto the final stretch of pavement with just a couple miles left to go.  It seemed to go straight uphill all the way to the finish line.  At one point Jamie looked back to see a rider on the last stretch of gravel about to make the turn onto the final road behind us.  Jamie stated to me emphatically, “He is not going to pass us.”  I kept my head down and hammered with all the strength I had left.  As I was about to make the very last turn, I realized Jamie was heading straight through the intersection and heading the wrong way.  I yelled.  No response.  I yelled again.  Still nothing.  I gave one last spirited shout in my loudest voice and he turned to look back.  I pointed in the right direction and made the turn.  He was back by my side shortly and we rode the final distance to the finish line.  Our crews were there and everyone was cheering and ringing cowbells.  We crossed the line side by side the way we had ridden most of the course.


We covered the 156.1 miles in 11 hours and 49 minutes.  I was spent and ready to get off the bike.  Sara got me an ice cold Coke, and for a little while all was right in my world.  Tyler rolled in less than 10 minutes later and Collin pulled through about 45 minutes after that.  We had all slain the beast.  We spent the next couple hours sitting at the finish line cheering other riders in and swapping stories about the day. Riders would continue to come in until almost midnight.  Of 100 riders registered to start, 54 finished the race.

Was it harder than Dirty Kanza?  I don’t know.  I had such radically different experiences.  Sure there was way more climbing here, maybe even twice as much, but then I didn't bonk and throw up several times halfway through this race either.  Because of that experience, for me at least, Dirty Kanza hurt much worse.  Would DK be easier if I stayed on my pace and nutrition plan?  I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.

I noticed as I was about to lean my bike hard into a downhill curve on my way to work Monday that I wasn't feeling any of the fear I had been living with over the last month.  Apparently, I had scrubbed my system clean of hesitation on the washboard topography of the Ozarks.  


Other Pictures and Reports

Monday, March 11, 2013

2013 Land Run 100

Much of the internet buzz the week before the race was about the weather.  It was occupying my thoughts as well.  Riding 100 miles on gravel and dirt roads can be a daunting challenge.  Riding 100 miles in thunderstorms with 25 to 30 mph winds on Oklahoma’s red clay mud could make for an all day suffer-fest.  I checked the weather daily (maybe a few times per day) hoping it would change to sunny skies with light breezes, but if anything, the predictions for rain and storms just got worse.

We arrived in Stillwater the night before with just enough time to get checked in for the race at District Bicycles, which was convenient because I had forgotten to get a couple supplies from my local shop before leaving town.  The shop is owned by the race director, Bobby Wintle.  Shortly after walking in the door I was shaking hands with and being welcomed by Bobby.   This guy is passionate about cycling and community and it really shows.

The morning of the race I woke up feeling good.  I immediately checked the weather one last time, no change.  As soon as I rode out of the hotel parking garage it started sprinkling and I thought to myself, here we go.  It was close to 60, though, which is actually a decent temperature for working out in the rain.  Fortunately, by the time I had ridden to the starting point of the race a couple miles away it had stopped.  We were starting in front of a coffee shop and I made sure to get there early so I would have time to get a cup and spend some time milling around meeting new people.  I love that pre-race vibe.  Racers are running around making last minute checks of their gear, everyone is standing around in small groups talking about how they think the day will play out.

About 15 minutes before the 8:00 am start we all moved into the road.  I positioned myself towards the rear of the group.  One of my goals was to stay patient and ride my own pace.  Knowing the race would take all day, I didn't need to get caught up in a sprint from the starting line.  Bobby got up on the back of the pickup that would lead us out of town to give his pre-race briefing.  He told us about his passion for riding gravel and about the race motto, how we all needed to “unlearn pavement.”  I agreed.  He told us the rain looked like it would stay away from us.  A minute later the rain began to pour.  Everyone, including myself, scattered off the street and took shelter under the awnings of the businesses that lined the road, like we weren't lining up to ride all day in the rain anyway.  It only lasted a minute or two and then we all got back on the road ready to go.  There was some sort of countdown, or go, but for the life of me I can’t remember it.  The pack of 121 riders rolled out of town together.

We were only about a mile into it, I don’t think we were even off the pavement yet, when the first crash happened.  I didn't see them go down but there were two bikes on the ground and the riders were limping around trying to shake it off.  I don’t know if they got back on and finished the race or not, I hope so, but I remember thinking what a tough way to start the day out.

The pack spread out quickly as we turned out of town onto the first gravel road.  For 15 miles we pretty much rode straight east and weren't feeling the direct effect of the strong winds too badly, but when we turned south into the full brunt of it, that is when the going got hard.  It was the kind of wind that sucks the life out of your legs and makes you feel like the brakes are on.  If you coasted for even a second the bike would quickly come to a halt.  I kept my head down and the cadence high while trying to stay on the aerobars as much as possible.  Between the wind and hills, it seemed difficult to maintain 10 mph for most of this section.

I always thought Oklahoma was a fairly flat place, but race directors have a unique ability to find plenty of hills to test you with.  Mine read 4,900 feet of climbing for the race, but I've seen several gps readings on Strava closer to 6,000.  There we no mountainous climbs but the terrain rolled constantly.  This is most of what I remember from the first half of the race, rolling hills and fighting a relentless gusting wind.

One of my goals for the race was to spend as little time stopped as possible.  I managed to keep the bike rolling for all but 16 minutes of the race.  Not too bad considering this total includes the incident you will read about in a paragraph or two.  I only stopped moving twice in the first half of the race.  The main reason I stopped was because I have the bladder of a pregnant woman.  It’s probably because of all the coffee I drink.  The second reason was because my behind the seat bottle cages kept rattling loose.  I managed to take care of both problems at the same time, however, I have to apologize to the couple of riders who would pass me each time.  I had my legs spread wide and was bent over with my junk pulled out the front of my bib shorts peeing at the same time I was tightening the bolts of the bottle carrier.  I’m good at multitasking.  

It took me a little over 4 and a half hours to push through the wind to the 58 mile mark, the first checkpoint.  This was also the only place we could meet our crew for re-supply.  As I grabbed my new map from the check in tent I prayed it took us north with the wind for awhile.  I lubed my chain, Jake switched out my bottles, and Sara helped me shed arm and leg warmers while stuffing more gels in my pockets.  We kept the stop under 3 minutes.  Everyone needs a crew like Sara and Jake.

I pulled back onto the road and the course finally headed west and out of the wind.  It sprinkled for a few minutes but it felt warm and the roads were pretty hard packed so I was moving fast and really enjoying myself.  It was about 30 minutes after leaving the checkpoint, flying down a steep hill made of red clay mud going close to 30 mph that I lost control of the bike and crashed hard.  I was in the drops and up off the seat sailing, and then suddenly there were these huge deep ruts in the road that I didn't see coming in time.  I tried to steer through it and keep the bike pointed down the hill.  The back end skipped side to side about 3 times, and for half a second I thought I had it under control, and then all I remember is going down and rolling several times.
28.8 to face-plant.
I recommend a slower crash speed if at all possible.
I sat up to survey the damage and surprisingly felt pretty good, albeit stunned.  I looked around to see if I had lost any important gear on the ground.  My brand new sunglasses had flown off and I remember being worried that I had broken them already.  I found them in the ditch a few feet away, muddy but fully functional!  I picked up the bike hoping that nothing was tweaked.  The brake handle was pushed over crooked and the front wheel was not turning at all.  I couldn't tell what was keeping it from moving so I just took it completely off to inspect it.  That is when the tube blew up and took the tire off the rim.  I was still a bit dazed from the crash and holding the wheel in my hand when it happened.  It sounded like a gunshot and I may have jumped more than just a little bit.

I never really figured out what caused the blowout
but that's a pretty big hole!
As I worked on the bike, I started seeing lots of blood everywhere.  It was dripping down my fingers and onto the tire I was fixing.  Then I saw I had a half inch gash in my elbow.  It was a little swollen, but the joint didn't hurt at all, and I wasn't losing scary amounts of blood so I figured it would be fine.  I changed the tube, put the wheel back on, pulled the brake handle back into position, and everything was good.  I would notice later that the aerobars were bent quite a bit but I could still use them, just not on my elbow.  It felt like I had stopped forever, but according to the gps, it only took 4 minutes and 53 seconds to get back on the bike.  It took a few miles to shake all that off and get my confidence back on the descents, each downhill after that was a rush.

If you aren't bleeding,
you aren't trying hard enough.
I had a couple low energy points in last 20 miles of the race but I was able to keep the pace up for the most part.  A first for me in racing was I managed to stick to my nutrition plan of one bottle and one gel an hour.  The bottles had 100 calories of Gatorade and 2 servings of Endurolytes.  Somewhere around the 6 hour mark I really wanted something solid in my stomach so I ate a Cliff-bar and that did the trick.

The final miles were just about keeping the cadence up and moving forward.  As I turned onto the paved road into town, 7 miles from the finish, the rain started to fall.  It felt cool and refreshing and went quickly to work washing the sticky and now dust filled blood off of everything. The finish line was a welcome sight.  Blocks before reaching it you could hear people cheering for you and Bobby was on a megaphone congratulating and encouraging you.  I saw him drop what he was doing and run to do this for every person coming to the line.  His enthusiasm was contagious and much appreciated after all that suffering!

The rain I had worried about so much ended up cooperating, for me at least.  There were many riders that were still out on the dirt when the rains came through.  Not only that, they lost the tail wind that had helped the front of the group back to town.   I heard people had to pull out of the race in the final miles when the mud on their bikes got so thick it ripped their rear derailleurs off!  That would be a hard way to end a day of all out battle with the elements.  

Check out the mud stuck on that rear brake!
The weather and terrain took its toll on a lot of people, only 63 of the 121 made it to the finish line.  Aside from the whole crashing bit, after blowing up early and suffering hard through the last couple of events I've done, it was nice to have a race go smoothly.  Well, as smooth as 107 miles of hilly gravel roads can be.  I have been trying to practice patience more and stop blowing up before I'm halfway through something.  In this race I learned that patience helps, holding back a little in the first half gives you something to work with in the last half when you need it most. Now we just have to see if I can carry that lesson to the next event.  OGRE 150 will be here in just 6 weeks.

Race Results

I was assigned the same number from last year's Dirty Kanza.
I thought that was kind of cool.