Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Dirty Kanza 200 3/4 Pint

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” TS Eliot

My first ultra endurance experience was a failure. I showed up to run the Rockin K 50 miler in Kanapolis, Kansas and was totally out of my league. I had only mediocre training and hours of internet research under my belt. I was quickly shown that wasn't going to be enough. It was 14 degrees and there was 6 inches of snow on the ground. The terrain was more difficult than anything I had ever run on. I made it 37 miles before my crew talked me into quitting with the looks of concern on their faces. I was looking for a reason to stop anyway and they seemed really worried so I gave in. The experience hurt physically and emotionally and stuck with me for a long time. I have used the memory of that race and how it feels to quit as motivation ever since. I think DNF's (did not finish) often change you more than success does. I have been able to avoid another DNF for the last 7 years until having 2 within the last month. I don't take failure quite as hard as I have gotten older because I realize now that failing is an integral part of growth. Failure is how you learn your limits and also how you learn to overcome them. I believe if you aren't occasionally failing, you probably aren't pushing yourself as hard as you could.

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Thomas Edison

Sara and Jake weren't able to go with me to the Dirty Kanza 200 this year so I rode to the race with Collin and his support person Nathan. We were able to get out of town and make it to Emporia, Kansas early enough to hangout in the cycling paradise downtown for a while. Each year it seems Emporia goes farther out of its way to welcome riders to the event. We went to the check-in but since the big rider meeting wasn’t mandatory I decided to skip it. My reclusiveness and dislike of large groups in tight spaces is getting much worse with age. Nathan skipped it with me and we hung out and people watched on the sidewalk in front of the Mexican restaurant until we saw the horde of riders pouring out of the meeting. We then went in and secured a table for everyone in our group before the restaurant went from empty to packed in a matter of minutes.

We stuffed ourselves and retired early to our hotels. I learned that two of my favorite gravel grinders, Super Kate and Bob Jenkins, as well as lots of other Team Virtus people, were at the hotel across the street so I rode over to talk with them for a little while. They are an outstanding group of people that are always uplifting and fun to be around. As a testament to their popularity there must have been at least 20 people in their hotel room and more kept arriving (see reference above about large groups in tight spaces and reclusiveness). I stayed for a little bit but it wasn't long before I was feeling the need for some space and retreated back to my quiet hotel room to prepare bottles and fret over the bike. I was in bed early and fell asleep watching the new Star Trek movie for the 47th time. 

The alarm went off too early as it does most days of my life. Collin and Jamie were meeting me in the parking lot at 5:00 am and I need my time to drink several cups of coffee and ease into the day. When they showed up I was ready to go and we warmed our legs up with a 20 minute ride to the starting line. The Kuat group is getting larger all the time and I am meeting more and more regulars at the races so it was cool to line up with so many friends around. In no time we were shoulder to shoulder in the pack waiting for the go. We had two sub groups in our crew this year, Tyler, Don, and Collin planned to ride a more conservative pace and John, Jamie, and me planned to go out harder and see what kind of damage we could do to ourselves.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” J. K. Rowling

We had discussed strategy in the weeks prior and had planned to ride together. There are lots of ways to attack a long course on a bike. One of the more conservative ways, and often successful in finishing, is to ride together with a group that has a similar goal. You roll together, stop together, and repair mechanicals together. Of course, there is a point where one member can't hang on and is holding everyone back, or someone's bike will take too long to repair for all to wait, but until that time, keeping the group together is the plan. The other way is to fire off the line like a brilliant shooting star and just try to hold it together as long as you can until you fall apart and then suffer on fumes to the finish. I am not going to pass judgment on which way is better as I think both have merits, and really, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to experience a ride or race. Both methods are fairly popular but in my opinion the solo domination is a more sexy and pure showing of determination and grit. For myself, though, I think I usually do much better with the more conservative and managed approach. Ultimately, regardless of which plan you use, when you are out there, you are responsible for yourself and your experience. If the group doesn't do what you planned or expected it to do, you must be ready to adapt to a new plan to save yourself.

Photo by Emporia Gazette
My first hint that we might not stick to the plan was how we lined up. Our goal this year was to finish in 13:30 but we were lined up closer to the front than I have ever been, towards the front of the 12 hour group. There were supposed to be over 1,000 riders on the road and there seemed to be every bit of that as I looked back at the sea of people as far back as I could see. A woman standing on top of the Granada Theater sign sang the Star Spangled Banner and then the race director gave a count down.

“Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” Sumner Redstone

The moment the group began to move I knew we had dropped the plan and were now switching to the shooting star method. In these first moments, as the group hit the first of the gravel moving over 20 mph in a pace line 4 wide, I thought to myself I should probably back off a little, but I didn't. The pace we were riding would shatter the course record by several hours and I knew if that were possible, it likely wouldn't be me doing it. The cool temperature of the morning and the excitement of being in the mix with so many strong people had me ignoring the whisper of experience that was shouting in my ear that I should fall off the ridiculous pace. Not even when I looked back at the 25 mile mark to see 4 time winner Dan Hughes drafting off me did I ease up on the pedals. Turns out he had flatted and was working his way back to the front, but at that moment in time, I was in front of the King of Kanza! If I hadn't had a clue to slow down yet, I should have caught that one, but I again ignored it and chased on.

Photo by Emporia Gazette
I had lost John within the first 30 seconds of the race but Jamie had been within eye contact for the first 20 miles. I only lost him for a few minutes before I found him changing a flat about 30 miles in. I stopped to wait for him to repair it. To my dismay the rest was only about a minute before he was ready to press on. He was chasing hard trying to find John. I was trying hard to hold onto Jamie's wheel. We raced like this all the way to the first checkpoint at 50 miles in less than 3 hours. I just kept hoping we would find John changing a flat somewhere and then we would all laugh about how crazy it had started before getting into a more familiar pace to finish out the ride.

Stephen King’s first book, Carrie, was rejected by over 30 publishers.

For nutrition I was carrying 4 bottles and had pockets full of gels and other sports food. I knew I hadn't been keeping up with my plan of 24 ounces and 250 calories an hour but I didn't think I had fallen off that badly. I was sweating profusely and I still needed to stop for nature breaks so I thought I was on top of it. I had the first ever trouble I have had yet with my rear of the seat bottle holder. I have used it successfully for 3 years without any problems but for some reason it decided to fall apart on this day. First it ejected a bottle on one of the many rough spots along the course and then it developed an annoying rattle before the entire thing finally fell off at 75 miles. For the rest of the ride I ended up carrying two bottles in my jersey pockets which I did not enjoy. I wasn’t the only one having trouble hanging onto my water bottles, though, there were enough bottles on the ground to hydrate 10 people for the entire race. I think it would be interesting to show up one year without any nutrition and just eat and drink what I find on the course as I’m sure there would be plenty.

Photo by Emporia Gazette
Near the 60 mile mark while descending one of many steep and rocky downhills I managed to hit a rock ledge wrong and pinch flatted the front tire. It was dicey as I was moving fast over loose and deep gravel and the air was gone from the tire almost immediately. Before I could bring the bike to a stop, I was riding on the rim and the tire was squirming and folding over underneath it. I was afraid I was going to damage the tire itself before I could come to a halt. I called out to Jamie who was focused on keeping his own bike upright and in the blink of an eye he was gone. As I pulled to the side another rider from behind me shouted out that he would let Jamie know I had stopped. I assumed Jamie was gone and went to work repairing the flat. I realized I was rudely sitting in the middle of one of only two lines down the crazy steep hill when I heard someone on their way towards me shouting loudly. I quickly grabbed my bike and wheel and tossed them off the road just in time for the rider to come zipping by within inches. Sorry about that! A minute later Jamie rolled up. The other rider had found him and sent him back. Outstanding moves of gentlemen on both their parts.

“Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% that is called failure.” Soichiro Honda

Somewhere in the middle of this second section, miles 50 to 100, I was hit square in the face with the absurdity of the pace we had left at combined with an obvious deficit in hydration. It got hard in a hurry and my pace was falling off quickly. I again missed the opportunity to reign it all in to a manageable effort that I could maintain and just kept trying too hard. I managed to hang on to Jamie's wheel until the 90 mile mark. I was overheating badly and since my mind wasn't going to back off the effort to a sustainable level my body decided to force its hand and my energy levels dropped to nothing. We had a brief discussion about the separation. Jamie solemnly stated, "It's time to make a choice." Just go I told him, "I'm cooked." He slowly pulled away into the horizon and I eventually lost sight of him in the rolling hills.

By the time I rolled into the checkpoint at 100 miles I was suffering pretty badly. It's no wonder I was hurting as I had just set a 100 mile gravel PR. The only problem being that I was only halfway to the end and I was already shot. While I didn't have my normal crew of Sara and Jake, I did have the amazing support of Yvette, Cynthia, and Cassie. All three women have strong endurance experience themselves and have supported people in long races before so I was expertly cared for. They had me ready to roll out, to include replacing my hydration and nutritional supplies, replacing my flat tire kit, and even cleaning the sweat and mud off my sunglasses within a couple minutes. What they couldn't do was refill the book of matches that I had set a blaze 30 seconds into the race. I should have sat here for an hour if necessary and gotten back on top of hydration, but I was still feeling a little cocky, like I could still come back around, so I rushed back onto the road and probably missed the last chance I had to salvage the day. I could tell by the feeling in my legs and stomach it was about to get nasty.

The next section was 13 miles of rolling hills into a wind that seemed harder than it should have. It was also getting really hot. Temps were to be in the mid 80's but I could have sworn on that road they were closer to 120 and I felt like I had a hair dryer blowing on my face. I ended up stopping several times to sit on the side of the road and sip on water bottles that were already getting hot and unappealing. I noticed that after being drenched with sweat for the first part of the day, my skin was now totally dry and crusty with salt. These aren't good signs. I shotgunned a gel and half a bottle of water and hoped they would help soon. Minutes later I was stopped by a churning stomach and I puked everything I had just taken in onto the dusty ground. I was 7 hours in, completely dehydrated, and working my way into full blown heat exhaustion. Fortunately, I only had 90 miles to cover still. I thought it seemed doable.

“When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.” George Bernard Shaw

I was getting passed on a regular basis by this point. Friends were rolling by showing concern for my state of being. I must have looked pretty rough. I felt like they were flying by so fast while I was struggling to keep the bike rolling. I had to keep stopping to dry heave but nothing more was coming out. Every time I took a sip of water I would get sick again and lose it immediately. I went through a cycle of riding for a couple miles and then stopping to puke and lay down over and over. As I covered the next 25 miles I must have done it at least 10 times. Each time I laid down to rest someone I know would roll up and ask if I was doing okay. I tried to keep it positive so they wouldn't worry but I think I got less enthusiastic as time went on.

I came upon a low water stream crossing that a guy was sitting at with his feet in the water. I thought that looked amazing and collapsed on the bank next to him to do the same. We talked for a bit and he was ready to bail on the race. He offered to ride with me on the highway we had just passed to shortcut to the next checkpoint and drop out. It would have been an easy way out of the misery and I was so genuinely tempted. I still had a little fight left in me, however, and was able to decline the offer. I was still sitting in the water dry heaving when Collin rode up. Collin hadn't had the training time this year and was tackling the course with a conservative heart rate monitor approach. It was working well. Despite many fewer training miles than normal, he seemed pretty fresh and still had his trademark giant smile on. It was so very familiar to 2 years ago when he found me laying on the side of the road puking at the 2012 Dirty Kanza.

Photo by Emporia Gazette
He said there was no way I was dropping out and he waited for me to get back on the bike and start moving again. It was right back to the ride a few miles and then stop to die again method only this time I had a friend to keep me from suffering alone. I had nothing to drink but hot water and I told Collin if we saw a house I wanted to get some fresh water. We came upon a barn and horse coral sitting right on the road. We circled the building but didn't see a spigot anywhere. Fortunately for me, Collin grew up on farms and saw that the horse trough had a hose hooked up to some sort of automatic filling apparatus. He took my bottles and unhooked a hose somehow and refilled our bottles with cold water. A horse came up to him and tried to say hello as he was putting it all back together. The fresh water worked for a couple miles and I again thought maybe I would be good to go, a few minutes after that I was puking again.

I saw another side of Collin's country living skills when we had to cross through a line of cattle that were standing in the road. There was one cow standing directly in the middle blocking us. I said something to it but apparently not loud or mean enough as it just turned slowly to look at me. I heard Collin rolling up behind me fast yelling, "MOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVEEEE!" Sure enough, the cow sprang to life and sprinted off the road for us to roll by. This is a scene you see numerous times throughout the day, herds of cattle running through fields and sometimes across a road. It's a miracle to me that no cyclist has ever been trampled but apparently cows aren't very vicious like antelope are.

At the 138 mile mark we came upon another example of how great the people who play this crazy game are. We crossed a highway to see this oasis that could have been exactly what you might hallucinate had it not actually been real. There was a cemetery and a little church. In front of the church were big shade trees with some chairs sitting under them that had riders resting and Jim Davis was in the parking lot with ice cold water and beer. As we pulled up to Jim he was ready to assist in any way possible. The thought of beer had my stomach turning over and I took a bottle of cold water and then rolled over to the shade and collapsed on the ground. The cold water felt good on my throat which was raw from all the recent activity.

In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after just one performance telling him, "You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck."

Collin was patient but firm. He tried to keep me motivated and kept telling me if we could just make it to the next checkpoint the crew could bring me back to life enough to limp to the finish line. It sounded like a solid plan but I just didn't have the energy to get up and on the bike to do it. I laid there on the grass for close to an hour alternating between the fetal position and sitting up to puke some more nothing out. When it became obvious that Collin wasn't going to let me quit here I begrudgingly got up and slung a leg over my bike. As we were leaving I noticed the caregiver parked in the lot had changed from Jim Davis to a woman who I think had a foreign accent but I might have dreamt that part. She asked if I needed anything and I said, "Yeah I'm trying to quit and this asshole won't let me." She and Collin both laughed at me and I realized I was going to have to keep riding.

Actual picture of the Surprise Oasis from Google Street View
We made it another 6 miles up the road before the entire world started to spin and I felt like I was losing consciousness. I had to stop the bike and lay down again. I have pushed to and beyond the point of dehydration before but I haven't ever had that sensation and it freaked me out a little bit. I haven't ever been to the point where even cold water would make me nauseous. I needed to bring my body temperature down and it just wasn't happening. My thinking was pretty groggy but I felt I was dangerously close to heat stroke. Not being able to process even water was making it all seem pointless. It was at that point I told Collin I was done. It's possible that if I had slowed down enough I could have eventually drug myself to the next checkpoint only another 6 miles up the road. But at that point it seemed like an enormous distance and I was raw inside and out. I must have finally looked bad enough that Collin took pity on me and said he would allow it. He made the call and Nathan got in the car and headed our way. I tried to make Collin leave me but he said he wouldn't budge until I was in good hands.
My final resting place before being picked up.

I had covered the first 100 miles in just over 6 hours and then the next 44 miles in almost the same amount of time. It all seems so clear in hindsight, as it always does. I should have backed off the pace and let the others just go. I should have stayed on the nutrition plan. I should have stayed more hydrated. There are no new lessons here, just the same stupid mistakes that have always plagued me. Self confidence and cockiness serve me well in some situations in life but they often punish me in others.

Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4 and did not read until he was 7, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. He was expelled from school but that didn't stop him from winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.

Nathan took me to the 150 mile checkpoint to wait for Collin to arrive. I laid on the sidewalk and poured cold water over my head for a long time. Eventually I was able to sip and hold down some fluids. After Collin had came through and left on his way to the finish we drove back to Emporia where we got cleaned up and headed to the finish line to watch people come in. I really just wanted to head to my hotel room to sulk. I didn’t want to explain to everyone I saw how it had gone over and over again, but I really wanted to see Collin finish as well as all the others who had stopped their own races to check on me. Everyone else from the local crew made it to the end in good time. Collin rolled through close to midnight but would have probably been a couple hours quicker had he not sat with me for so long. I do feel fortunate to have such great friends to ride with.

So why exactly did I fail? It was a combination of many small mistakes. In skydiving they discuss all fatal "incidents" in a very cold and methodical manner. Doing so helps everyone else learn from the event and hopefully prevents another death from the same mistakes. They refer to the factors leading up to the death as a chain of events. Each small issue that contributes to the problem is a link in the chain. If you were to change any one of the links in the chain the outcome could be completely different and might even prevent the death all together. I think the analogy applies to endurance sports as well. I see lots of "links" in the execution of a perfect race. Training beforehand would be a link, rest the week before is a link, pace on the day of the race is a link, nutrition, bike maintenance, and so on.  There are lots of links in the chain that would support the best performance you are capable of. If one of your links is bad, it doesn't matter how strong the rest of the chain is, the whole thing may come apart. The race itself could be seen as a chasm you are trying to swing across on your chain. If any one link in your chain snaps, you plummet and crash on the rocks below of suffering and regret. Usually we have some good links and some bad links. Sometimes it holds and sometimes it snaps. It is a truly beautiful experience when all your links are strong and you have a really great day. Unfortunately, this year I chose some links on race day that had no chance of holding.

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Michael Jordan

I have finished enough ultra events now that I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what it takes to just survive a long distance. If I chose an easy steady pace and slowly worked my way through it I’m sure I could overcome just about any distance. The trick I’m now working on is moving from the back of the pack towards the front. This is turning out to be a much more difficult task than just finishing. When I used to ride at the back I dreamed the people at the front were just so fit and strong that they were flying along with a smile on their face enjoying the speed and the wind in their hair. I wish I had it so easy! As it turns out, there seems to be way more smiling at the back of the pack. Closer to the front there are many more faces contorted by the pain and suffering they are inflicting on themselves to go deeper. I’m not sure which end of the field I prefer most yet. My abnormally large ego still has this dream of the heroic launch off the front where I lay waste to the entire field behind me. It may never happen but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is just to be out there pushing yourself towards new goals. If you fail, get back up and sign up for another round. You may never make it but you will be stronger just for trying.

I have about 8 weeks before the next event. The race will be 24 Hours of Cumming, Iowa on August 9. The challenge is 400k (248 miles) with over 15,000 feet of climbing in less than 24 hours. My plan is to train and then race a steady sustainable pace for the entire event, conservative in the beginning and then throwing it all out there in the end with whatever is left, if anything, instead of the other way around. Tune in to see if I stick to my plan and make things work or subject myself to another character building failure. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 Trans Iowa V10 - Don't Stop Til You Get Enough

Photo by Wally Kilburg
In the week leading up to the event the weather was looking like it might be perfect. I sent texts to my partner in crime, Jamie, who would be facing the event with me telling him I hoped the weather wasn't too good. I didn't want our finish to have an asterisk next to it. Oh you finished Trans Iowa? Never mind, I see it was the easy year. Part of what had attracted me to this race in the beginning was how tough it was and I wanted the full gritty experience. You must be careful what you wish for. A week before the race, looking at the forecast worrying about it being too easy, I would have never guessed that after the race its creator, Mark Stevenson (aka “Guitar Ted”), would proclaim TIV10 as the toughest year in its 10 year history.

I am most attracted to races that have a high dropout rate. I feel like challenges that you aren't guaranteed to be able to finish carry the greatest personal reward when you do make it through them. That promise of difficulty and potential failure motivates me to get myself up early and do the work preparing in the months beforehand. So when I heard about Trans Iowa, a 340 some mile race on gravel roads throughout the rolling hills of eastern Iowa, that most of the people who have tried have failed, I had to give it a go. In the year with the very best weather conditions, only 30 out of 90 were able to make it to the finish. It normally requires 25 to 30 hours of constant riding on rough and hilly roads. No hills in Iowa you say, the course promises over 15,000 feet of climbing, which by the way is the same amount of climbing as the Colorado Death Ride that covers 5 mountain passes. Trans Iowa does all that climbing on gravel roads with no support crews allowed. Everything must be carried or acquired at convenience stores on the course which are few and far between.

It’s not as easy as just deciding you want to do it, TI is a difficult race to gain entry. People who have been in the race before get priority and then the precious few remaining spots are given to rookies. As a rookie you have to mail a postcard with exactly the right information on it to arrive on a certain day at a certain time. A day early, you’re out. Didn't include the right information on the postcard, you’re out! A day late, it’s full already, sorry maybe next year. Not wanting to leave it to chance, I sent mine and Jamie’s cards via FedEx with priority early delivery. I made two postcards that were fairly inappropriate and hoped that I appealed to the race director’s sense of humor and didn't offend him before we even met. I spent the day the list of participants came out refreshing the computer screen every 10 minutes until I finally saw our names hit the list. I was hit simultaneously with excitement and panic. We had bit off a huge challenge and now it was time to chew it up. As it turns out, he liked my card so much he chose it as one of his favorites in his Best of the Postcards blog post. We were off on the right foot. I now had 6 months to prepare myself for one of the most difficult physical challenges I have ever stepped up to.

I made my postcard out of this picture.
I made Jamie's postcard out of this picture.
Jamie and I trained through one of the worst winters in Missouri history to prepare ourselves for the coming challenge. I studied past race reports and practiced every challenge we might potentially face. I rode over 3,000 miles in the 4 months before the race in the form of 20 mile rides before and after work and 6 hour plus rides on the weekends, one ride included going out in the middle of the night with falling snow. Since there is no support, you must carry with you everything you might need during the race. I rode almost every mile in training with the bike fully loaded, which including water came in well over 30 lbs. By the time the day of the race came around, I had diligently put in the work and I was ready to go.

Jamie’s lovely wife, Yvette, would be driving us to the race and picking us up in the off chance we couldn't cover the distance. Of course, I was feeling quite positive that rescue wouldn't be necessary but you have to have someone there just in case. A day before we were to leave Jamie sent me a text saying, “The good news is Yvette is not pregnant. The bad news is she broke her pelvis.” They had just spent the night in the ER learning this. I’m not going lie, several thoughts and concerns quickly came to mind. I would like to say that concern for Yvette came first, before concern about not having a ride to Iowa and not having my partner drop out of the race at the last minute, but I would be lying. I denied my selfish and childish instincts and first asked if she was going to be okay. After he assured me she would survive, and after what seemed like a proper amount of time to wait, maybe like 30 seconds, I asked if he was still going to ride. He made me wait a good 20 minutes that did not pass quickly. Finally, my phone beeped to let me know he had responded. Not only did he say yes he was still in, he let me know Yvette would still be taking us! If anyone deserves recognition for the events of the weekend, it would be Yvette for suffering through two 6 hour car rides and staying in a hotel by herself while we raced, all with a fractured pelvis. From the bottom of my heart I thank you, Yvette.

Finally the day to depart on our adventure had arrived. It was a 6 hour drive from home to the start in Grinnell, Iowa. As I usually am before every race, I was worried about being late to the check in and pre-race meeting. This time, however, there was more of a reason to be on time than just satisfying my old military compulsions, if you were late to the check in, you’re out. You had to be checked in by 6:00 pm, and in the meeting at 6:30 pm or you weren't riding, no exceptions. We made it to the check in on time, but since the meeting was being held at a steakhouse, with Jamie being a vegetarian, we decided to have our traditional Mexican pre-race dinner at a restaurant in town and then come back for the meeting. We got a text from Josh Brown, my water savior from Land Run who was also racing, at 6:00 that said they were about to start the meeting. Fortunately we were on our way back already and we walked in at 6:05. The meeting was just starting!

Biggest grill ever. Photo by Jeremy Kershaw
My obsession with arriving early to everything was screaming bloody murder but in the end we were only 5 minutes late and nobody really seemed to care. Every chair in the room was full and we took a seat on the floor just inside the doorway. The meeting was short and sweet. After a few words from Guitar Ted we were called up in the order we had registered to get race packets and then were allowed to pick something from a table full of gear sent by sponsors. I had noticed when we walked in that there were handlebars and helmets and all kinds of sweet stuff to be had. Unfortunately, we were one of the last to be called and I only managed to snag a pair of socks. More important than free gear, however, we had made it to the check in and meeting and survived the first chance to be cut from the race. We were cut loose until the start time of 4:00 am that was coming quickly.

By a little after 7:00 we were back in the hotel room to nervously try and get some rest. We had our bikes in the room and all the gear laid out for checking and double checking. I imagined there was a similar scene happening in hotel rooms all across town. Once everything was packed up I tried to get some sleep. There was a small dog yapping somewhere in the hotel and it seemed like the only thing I could focus on. Eventually, I finally dozed off for what seemed like a long blink and then the alarm went off at 1:00 am.

I shared a bed with Jamie's bike.
The starting line was about 3 miles from the hotel. Yvette offered to drive us, but being the old men we are, we needed the time to warm up our legs before charging off the starting line. By the time we got downtown there were already several riders there. We picked a spot on a bench and enjoyed the last few moments of stillness before setting ourselves in motion. Fully tapered and rested I was feeling the strongest I had in a long time. When you first sign up for events many months ahead of time they seem so far away, before you know it you are sitting at the starting line wondering where all the time went.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
A few minutes before 4:00 am the call was given to start lining up, we parked ourselves on the side of the road a couple of rows back from the front. I repeated to myself the mantra we had chosen for the race, “float.” Not too easy, not too hard. Guitar Ted positioned his truck in front of the group to escort us out of town to the first of the gravel roads. 30 seconds before the start of the race Jamie says to me, “where’s your mirror?” I looked to the bar end where it should normally be to see an empty hole staring at me. They don’t look pro and they are against Velominati rule 66, but I like my mirror. For 10 seconds I considered hopping off my bike and running over to the spot in the grass where I had laid the bike down before the race to look for it, but I didn't want to cause the scene and thought I could live without it. I relived that moment and regretted that decision a thousand times throughout the day each time I glanced down to check for people or cars behind me. 
Photo by Yvette Wynne
Before I knew it the truck we were to follow lurched forward and the pack was on the move. Within no time we hit the first gravel and the pace at the front began to climb. We let rabbits go and settled into a reasonable pace just like we had practiced. Float. Even though I ride more gravel than most, I mainly ride pavement. It always takes an hour or so to get comfortable with the constant squirreliness of the bike jumping around underneath me. It didn't help that the first few miles were some of the roughest and chunkiest gravel of the day. The further we got from town the smoother the roads became.

Later in the day the groups would spread out considerably but in the beginning there always seems to be someone near you. I made lots of "five minute friends" as we worked our way through the small packs, “How’s it going, what’s your name, where you from, see you up the road.” It was still early and everyone was in good spirits. An amazing moon was on the horizon for us to marvel at. For some reason I had a Michael Jackson song stuck in my head all day and every so often I would work on trying to yell like he does in Billie Jean, “EEEEE HEEEEE!” The similarity in our voices is nonexistent. Towards the end of the day I’m sure it was actually far more annoying than entertaining to anyone around but it gave me something to think about other than the aches and pains.

B Road. Photo by Jeremy Kershaw
One of the elements that can make this race difficult are the B-roads, minimum maintenance roads that are just dirt. Having never traversed a wet B road, these were the subject of many of my pre-race nightmares. In most years there have been 2 or 3 spread throughout the race, but in honor of the 10th running of the event, Guitar Ted had placed 10 B roads in for our pleasure. Even when they are dry they can be rutted and difficult to ride. When they are wet they can be impassable and require you to dismount and hike. We hit the first one about 7 miles in. It was a muddy mess that brought everyone to a crawl.

We were off the mud and back to smooth sailing gravel in no time. I tried not to spend too much time thinking about the fact that in 24 hours I would likely still be riding. Try to imagine that. Get on a bike right now and ride it until tomorrow at this same time. Most people would have trouble sitting on a couch watching TV for that long. But right now I was feeling amazing and we were moving at a pace that would have us at the first checkpoint 53 miles into the race with loads of time to spare. In the past the strict cutoffs at the checkpoints have taken as many people out as fatigue. If you don’t make it to checkpoints by the designated time, you’re out. The first had to be reached by 9:30 am. We arrived at 8:00. Here we received the next set of cue sheets telling us which way to go and we also had the first opportunity to resupply at a Casey’s convenience store. Inside the tiny store was an interesting scene. In line were some 20 people in cycling spandex and one or two small town farmers wondering what in the world they had walked into. We had brought enough food for a long way so all we needed were fluids and we were back on the road in minutes. As it always does, our short stops and steady forward motion strategy had us pass a ton of people at the checkpoint.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
By this time the sun was all the way up and it was turning out to be a gorgeous day. The course turned east into a manageable headwind but at that point it wasn't anything to worry about. We had no idea what the wind had in store for us in the near future. Before we would reach the next checkpoint the fans would be turned on and we would spend the majority of daylight hours facing a headwind that was better than 20 mph and gusting over 30. We met lots of people on the course that I had read about in past TI’s. We spent a few miles with Charlie Farrow (check out Charlie’s Blog here) who was chipping miles off on a single speed. It takes a special sort of warrior to face a challenge like TI with only one gear.

It occurred to me that on any section heading east, we would be well served to tuck in behind one of the numerous groups that were still visible at all times. Even if they were moving slower than our normal pace, the rest might pay big dividends later in the night when energy wasn't so abundant. It usually turned out to be too difficult to just sit in and soft pedal, though, and I would find myself, sometimes with Jamie’s urging, pulling back into the wind and passing people. Sometimes groups would latch on for a bit and stay with us. The last several miles approaching the second convenience store we pulled a group of about ten people over the rolling hills and into the next oasis for the day. It was 1:00 pm and we had covered 111 miles and were a third of the way done.

Convenient Oasis. Photo by Wally Kilburg
Coming out of the Casey's we made our first wrong turn of the day. We only went about half a mile before realizing it. Getting back onto the course was for some reason more confusing than it should have been. I'm chalking it up to the first real signs of fatigue for the day. We stopped at a grocery store to ask for directions to the next road. It took 4 employees before one of them knew where Washington Street was. It was two blocks away. This extra mile on the computer, added to the .01 every 5 miles calibration difference between my computer and the cue sheet, would wreak havoc with my head all afternoon as I would have to work math on every cue to figure out the next distance to look for a turn. Right on 110th Street at 108.1. + 1 extra mile off course + .01 x 21 = 109.3. As you can imagine, this became more difficult with every hour that we rode.

The course finally turned out of the wind for a moment. I made the only call in update to Mountain Bike Radio and expressed how happy we were to finally turn out of the brutal winds. Little did we know that in a couple miles not only would we turn back into the wind but that the hills would become increasingly more difficult for quite some time. We still had over 200 miles to cover and the terrain wouldn't get "easier" for another 70 miles or so. An hour after this I had my first crash of the day. It wouldn't be a real race if I didn't crash at least once. We were riding north enjoying not fighting into the wind but still feeling its relentless push from the side. At times it felt like the bike was leaning at a 45 degree angle into the gusts with the tires skittering sideways on the gravel. It’s strange how comfortable riding in that leaning sideways configuration became. In a rare respite between gusts I sat up with no hands and began to open a cheese stick I had picked up at the last convenience store. As my sweaty fingers fumbled with the packaging the wind decided to get back to work and the bike shot across the road toward Jamie riding next to me on the downwind side. I managed to not take Jamie out with me but I went all the way down and left a little blood and skin from my elbow and leg. Despite some cramping as I first got back to my feet, within a few minutes I realized I hadn't done anything too terrible in the crash and we got back to the business at hand. I dusted off the cheese stick and ate it.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
Between the rising heat and fighting wind we were burning through the water. We came close to running out when we still had about 5 miles to checkpoint 2, and we knew it was another 10 or so after that before we could get water, so we started looking for the right house to approach. As luck would have it, we found a mobile home that had a water spigot not 10 feet off the road. With full bottles we knew making the next convenience store would be easy. After being able to splash cold water on my face and guzzle water without fear of running out I was a new man.

Since we had left the second convenience store we had been pretty much on our own without another soul in sight. We had been fighting ridiculous headwinds and hills all day. I kept thinking to myself the course can’t head east forever or we will end up in another state. We finally pulled into checkpoint 2 at about 6:30 pm. We were now 3 full hours ahead of the cutoff and had 20 hours to cover the next half of the course. You heard that right. We had been riding for 14 hours and we were only half way. There was an hour and a half of daylight left and we had a long ways to go still. At the checkpoint we also got the first word of where we were within the field, they said we were in the top 20.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
Another 10 miles had us at the third convenience store and likely the last place to refill supplies before the sun would come up the next day. We took the time to sit on the curb and eat some real hot food. I had a burger and Jamie had some pizza. I was pretty tired of the sugary foods I had been eating all day and thought that gas station burger was one of the best things I had ever eaten. After one of the longest stops I think we have ever taken in a race it was time to get moving again. The sun was below the horizon and light was fading fast. The temperature was beginning to drop so I put on my long sleeve jersey and leg warmers and prepared myself for the next leg. Again we passed several riders who were taking extended breaks. We were back on the gravel within a mile and riding west with a tailwind. We watched as the final traces of light left the sky and darkness replaced the rolling vistas of green we had been seeing all day. It was about this time that Dave Peterson from Minneapolis caught up with us. We had seen Dave several times throughout the day riding with a friend who eventually dropped out from knee pain. He joined up with us and stayed with our crew for most of the night.

Cue Sheets
Remarkably, despite some 275 turns on the cue sheets, we only made two deviations from the course which added about 7 miles total. The worst mistake causing us to ride nearly 3 miles back into the roaring east wind happened sometime after the sun had fallen. Jamie seemed to be just barely hanging on but Dave was up next to me and engaged in conversations. Dave seemed to be on top of navigating and I relaxed my vigil over the cue sheets to tend to my nutrition and suffering. The next cue had two instructions on one line, bear right on 245th and bear right on R, we got the 245 but not the R. We enjoyed a tail wind for 3 easy miles before realizing the mistake. A short pow wow had us heading back into the full brunt of the wind's fury to reach the right intersection. We traveled the 3 in the wrong direction in 14 minutes. The 3 back took over 30 minutes. It was 11:00 pm and we were 225 miles in.

At some point I began to notice that Jamie was spending more time following and riding several yards back as Dave and I talked. He wasn't interested in conversation and was all to ready to stop if I suggested a pee break which I kept feeling the need for but none were productive. It was a different place to find myself in. Normally in our partnership, I consider myself the weaker link. It is usually me trying to keep up with Jamie while he leads us on at a pace I would surely drop off of if it weren't for machismo. The temperature was slowly falling but it was still comfortable. The wind was raging but it was mostly at our backs. I don’t remember when the clouds moved in but it had changed from clear skies to low and ominous looking dark clouds with flashes of lightning becoming more common.

I’m not sure why I wasn't really worried about being struck by lightning. For the most part it always seemed to be far off in the distance. I don’t remember hearing much in the way of thunder either but it’s possible the deafening roar of the 30 mph wind was just drowning all the sound out. My most vivid memory about the lightning was how it would light up the entire countryside. For most of the night our world was reduced to the small area lit by our headlights. Shadows dancing over a circle of lit gravel in front of you surrounded by blackness. During the flashes, however, you would see the whole sprawling countryside laid out like midday and then it would all fade to black again. I had read in a blog that you could hear the sounds of the frogs at night and was looking forward to one of my favorite nighttime sounds, and we did hear a few in the early morning when we first started, but this night you could hear nothing but the howl of the wind. It was actually making that eerie haunted howling sound.

I fought the worst of the sleep demons in the first few hours of darkness. The course was mainly heading west out of the wind so the effort level was low and I was feeling relaxed. You know how when you have driven too long and you nod off for just half a second before jolting back awake? You aren't quite sure if you swerved a little or a lot but you know you lost touch for at least a moment. I was doing that on the bike while flying down gravel hills. A stark contrast to the beginning of the ride when it took concentration to keep the bike upright, I was now so relaxed that I was falling asleep at the helm. I took more caffeine pills and hoped I didn't wake up in a ditch.

Sometime near midnight the approaching storm changed from an event to watch on the horizon to something that was about to unleash on us, we decided to stop and bust out the remaining cold weather and rain gear we were carrying. I had brought enough to be warm in a freezing rain but had waited until the last minute to put it all on as the temps before the rain fell were still near 60. I had struggled with the decision of how much clothing to bring not wanting to carry any extra weight but an hour after the rain started falling, as the temps fell into the 30’s, I would be very glad I had decided to play it safe and carry plenty of gear.

With every passing minute the wind seemed to be getting stronger and the rain falling harder. We turned onto a muddy B road and were surprised to see several trucks parked and someone waiving a flashlight at us. They were standing at the next intersection we were to turn at. It took my mind a second to process what we were seeing but I eventually came to the conclusion that they were about to pull us off of the course and end the race. The storm must be too bad and they are worried about us. I went back and forth between sadness that it was about to end and jubilant relief that it was about to end. As we pulled up to the man with the flashlight he told us it was just a re-route. Apparently a bridge was out and they needed to direct us around it. I guess we weren't done yet.

It seemed like less than 10 cars had passed us the entire day. Late at night on a B road just after the rain had started falling, I certainly wasn't expecting a car to be behind us. Heading directly into the 30 mile gusts, I checked back to make sure I still had Jamie and Dave and was startled to see headlights right behind us. I yelled car back through the wind and we all moved to the right edge. The truck sped by quickly and I think, though I’m not positive, it was the race director Guitar Ted coming from where we had seen him at the re-routing, and for some reason in my groggy thinking I became worried he was really mad at us for riding 3 abreast and blocking the road when I know one of his race rules is don’t ride on the left. Sorry, Mark, if that was even you.

The re-route added another B road to the event making the total 11. We just kept pushing up the dark road. The rain fell steady and the wind blew hard. At one point there was pea sized hail pelting us and stinging my face but we continued rolling. From nowhere a farmer pulled up in his truck and asked us if we were lost. We said no we were in a race. Miles from any town, it was 2:00 am and storming hard, he looked at us like we were crazy. We continued on. At 3:00 am and 250 some miles we began approaching a small town. We could see the lights of a gas station awning and for a moment we thought we had reached an open resupply spot. Had we not have all been exhausted from 23 hours of riding we would have known this convenience store was on the cue sheet and everyone knew it closed at 11:00 pm. My hopes for a cup of hot coffee were dashed as we pulled up to the darkened store. We stopped on the side of the store out of the wind to collect ourselves for a moment. Dave let us know he had come to his limit. He didn't have enough clothing and the cold had zapped the strength he had left. He was going to call for a ride.

We spent a few more minutes standing on the side of the dark convenience store and said our goodbyes to Dave. As we got back on the road I was still not warm but my body seemed to have adjusted to the chill. We made it a couple more miles before the roads became increasingly muddier. I didn't think we were on a B road at the time but it may have been. 8 miles from the store we had left Dave at Jamie was riding just ahead of me on my right and I was watching the clumps of mud sling off my front tire and through the beam of my headlight. I felt the chain shift up a couple gears and then back down several steps and then I felt slack in the chain as the rear wheel slid to a halt. I called out to Jamie and he stopped. I looked down to see the rear derailleur had snapped off and then pulled up and wedged between the cassette and the frame. Disaster! It was 3:45 am, just shy of 24 hours of racing.

Fortunately it happened next to farm sitting right next to the road. There were several silos and a large three sided structure with a roof. The wind was still pushing us hard and the rain was still falling so that looked like a great place to take a break and assess what to do next. As we approached the oasis from the storm we realized it had a fence in front of it and was packed full of black cows hiding from the storm. They all seemed to be staring at me. Next to the fence was a giant mound of hay and there was a layer 6 inches deep surrounding it. I dropped the bike on the downwind side of the hay to provide a little shelter from wind's harassment and went to work pulling the drive train apart. The derailleur was shot and my only hope was to convert it to a single speed and finish the race off with one gear. I had ridden a fixed gear to work for many years so the prospect wasn't too daunting. I could finish this race without shifting, I think. What seemed like a simple enough solution in my head would end up proving to be a very difficult puzzle.

It’s possible that the 24 hours of rugged terrain we had just ridden increased the difficulty, and the shivering hands made fumbling with the muddy chain a lot harder, Jamie and I both took turns offering ideas and trying to sort it out. We broke and re-broke the chain numerous times trying to find a gear ratio that didn't have the chain either hanging slack or too tight to turn the wheel. The only ratio I could kind of make it work was 46 x 12 and that would be a difficult gear to turn on dry flat pavement, even if the jimmy-rigged chain managed to withstand the pressure. After what seemed like an eternity of trying, I resigned myself to facts. My legs were locked up from sitting on my knees while working on it. Exhaustion was making my eyes heavy and my attention was difficult to focus. I looked at Jamie and told him I guess I’m done. He decided to stay with me and wait for a ride in. And just like that the adventure was over. It was 6:00 am and we had covered 268 miles. There was still 70 miles to the finish line. We called Yvette and she crutched herself to the car and drove for over an hour to find us in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. 
We had an hour to wait for a ride so Jamie covered up with hay and went to sleep.
Josh Brown would later refer to this as The Manger Scene.
In the end I feel like the race beat my equipment selection and the choice to continue riding during the storms. For some reason, although still not painless, it is easier to accept this fate than if I had just stopped moving because of exhaustion and lack of will. For the most part I still felt strong. I take some solace in the fact that I had faced and withstood the tough weather conditions, both the wind and hills from earlier in the day, and then the side ways hail and lightning storm at night that eventually plunged the temperatures close to freezing. Ultimately I accept responsibility for the failure. Many friends have given me a pass in an understanding voice, “Hey, the bike broke, what more could you do?” But in my head all I can think is what if I had I stopped during the storm and let the roads dry out like many others did, what if I had I brought along an extra derailleur and cable, what if I had I been a better road-side mechanic and been able to get it running single speed, what if I had just stopped pedaling the first time it ghost shifted in the mud and cleaned it out, then things might have turned out different. Such thoughts will likely plague me every time I think of the race for the rest of my life.

104 people had set off for glory at 4 am the morning before. By the first checkpoint 4 had stopped. By the second checkpoint at mile 175 there were only 42 still racing. In the end only 19 made it to the finish line. One of the groups of people that passed by us while we were working on the bike went on to finish the race in the top 10, I would be lying if I said it didn't sting a bit knowing we had risen that close to the front in the middle of the night and then not been able to continue.

It’s been two weeks since the race and I’m still not sure of its full impact on me. There have been some lingering physical issues but nothing too terrible. For a week my hands would randomly experience periods of numbness, the big toenail on my left foot is black and I might end up losing it, it took a few days for my appetite to return to normal and the scabs on my leg and elbow from the cheese stick incident are about to fall off, but for the most part I think I escaped without any permanent scars. There is, however, a cloud that still hangs over my head that could best be described as a sort of anxiety for having not met the goal. I spend months refusing to allow myself to consider the possibility of defeat, so when I have to actually face it, I am unprepared.

There is a certain amount of fear that it could always be an unaccomplished goal. TI is a gargantuan undertaking to put on and Guitar Ted does it out of a love for the event and the people, but he puts it on out of his own pocket. He could rightfully decide to take a break from it at any time and has openly declared he is considering that TIV10 might be the last one. I sincerely hope that is not the case but would still feel nothing but respect for the man and his contribution to the sport if he decided it was time to step down. 10 years is a good run.  Thank you, Mark, for being willing to give such a part of yourself so that we can experience the impact this event has on a person. You can read Guitar Ted’s series of posts for an exceptional overview of the entire race and all of its participants here

Mark Stevenson with winner Greg Gleason. Greg led the field for the entire day and finished in 26 hours 22 minutes.  I met him the next day and he looked fresh as a daisy.  Hardcore.  Photo by Wally Kilburg
The barn at the finish I never actually saw. Photo by Wally Kilburg
GPS stats

Strava Link

Wait! It wasn't Billie Jean stuck in my head, it was Don't Stop Til You Get Enough. This version:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Relearning Basics at the 2014 Land Run 100 (107 (112))

"Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes."

We arrived in Stillwater the night before the race just in time to get to District Bicycles for the pre-race meeting. Since last year they had moved to an outstanding new shop with a huge garage door they had open to the street. From the tailgate of an antique pickup parked inside the shop, the owner and race director, Bobby Wintle, told us details about the race. He gave thank yous to the community for its support and shared with us more about the origin of his love for gravel riding and the "unlearn pavement" motto he is bringing to the cycling world. Stripping life of excess nonsense has been the mantra of many enlightened teachers.  Judging by his positive attitude and the amount of people that seem to truly love Bobby, he could lead a movement. He is one of those people you can't help but smile when you see them.

Bobby in his new shop laying down some wisdom on the masses.  Photo by Troy Ochs.
Just like last year, and probably for any event held in the unpredictable beginning of spring, weather for the ride was the talk of many people on the street. With the memory of the rain wiping out half the field in the inaugural race only a year ago, people seemed concerned. The forecast leading up to the race had played a nasty joke on everyone. Two weeks before the race the long range outlook was for light winds, sunny skies, and mild temperatures. There was a flurry of facebook activity about how nice, easy, and fast it was going to be. Then the week before the race it changed to a chance of rain.  Each day it deteriorated to finally be a strong chance of thunderstorms for most of the day.  This course would go from difficult to nearly impossible if it rained the entire day so many people, myself included, hoped the weather fortune tellers were all wrong. When I rode to the starting line at 7:00 am it was 47 degrees and clear skies with most of the rain chances pushed to later in the afternoon.  It was shaping up to be a great day after all.

Photo by Yvette Wynne
Last year, I was the only person from my local group that came to the race.  This year Jamie and several other Kuat people came to ride. We got there early enough to drink coffee and hangout for a while.  We immediately fell into our regular routine of trash talking and socializing. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the day for me.  The time passed quickly and before I knew it everyone had moved into the street.  We only had a few minutes left before the start.

The effort at first was easy as the group stayed behind the escort out of town. People jockeyed for position as the herd of riders rolled down the road together. Once you hit the gravel is when the escort falls away and the game truly begins.  As happens in every race I have ever attended, the moment they are set free the group moves to warp speed and things get fast and frantic for a little while as everyone's legs feel fresh.

I had a slight moment of panic when we left the pavement and hit the first real chunky gravel of the day.  The bike started bucking wildly and it took about two seconds to realize what I had done wrong.  There was way too much air in the tires and they were bouncing off the gravel. I was using a tire that I hadn't ridden before and had not worked out the right air pressure yet.  Normally I run 35 Kenda SB8's but I was trying out some 35 Clemente USH's.  I had just put them on the bike and only ridden them once, on pavement to work no less.  I mean I rode it into the grass and gravel next to my driveway a couple times but that wasn't nearly enough to ascertain how they would manage large chunky gravel at 20 miles an hour.

Relearned Lesson Number 1.  Don't do new things on race day.  If you haven't used something on at least one long training session, you probably shouldn't do it in a race. If I had put a long ride on those tires first I would have known they needed less pressure and they would have made the first few miles of gravel a lot less white knuckle.

I wasn't sure if I should stop and let some air out or stay with Jamie and the group we were in that was making great time.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to catch them again if I let go and you almost always move slower alone.  The decision was made for me as I made a sloppy shift while charging up a steep hill and dropped my chain.  I rolled to a stop and put the chain back on.  I took 10 seconds to let some air from the front tire and jumped back on the pedals.  The tire was absorbing much more of the shock and I was able to relax a little and focus more on pushing forward.  With a great amount of effort and working far too hard for the beginning of a day long race I was able to catch up and latch back onto the group Jamie was in.

The are lots of components to achieving your best performance.  Sure having the strength to put lots of power to the pedals is important, but to pull off a really great race you need to nail lots of other things as well.  Another component that matters as much as physical strength is navigation. After struggling with handling in the beginning, and then working so hard to catch back up to the group, I was completely ignoring where we were on the course and just trusting everyone in front of me.  I figured after things spread out I would start following the map and all would be fine. Apparently, I wasn't the only one in our group feeling this way because just minutes after catching back up the entire pack we were riding in took a wrong turn.  After riding a couple miles of increasingly more pavement and not hilly gravel, more and more guys began to sit up and ask if we were going the right way.  We all stopped to pow wow and decided we had definitely missed something.  We pushed hard back to the last turn we had taken and sure enough we saw groups of riders turning the opposite direction we had gone.

Relearned Lesson Number 2.  Always keep up with the map for yourself.  Somehow 15 guys managed to ride off the course in a tight pack.  You would think at least one of us would have realized immediately but it would take a couple miles before we all figured it out.   It turns out the flagging on the road marking the turn was in fact a little wonky, and there had been some changes to the gps route given out prior to the race, but I believe if I had been reading the map I would have noticed the conflict immediately and fixed it without riding the extra 5 miles. If I had been following every turn like I normally do, I could have saved us a ton of time and effort.

If your map has that little pigtail on the upper right you were part of the extra special crew.
Once we were back on course the group we had been in pretty much fell apart. Jamie and I stuck together. After our little detour, we were now at the back of the field and there was a constant supply of people to chase who had made the correct turn and gotten ahead of us. We moved up from one group to the next. Sometimes as we would pass groups one or two riders would latch on for a while. One of the guys who stayed with us for a lot of the day was Anatolie Juncu. I had just met Anatolie in person that morning. He recognized me from the blog and had introduced himself. It always feels good to know someone out there is reading this stuff. Anatolie would end up staying with Jamie and I for most of the race.

After spending the first few miles concentrating on keeping the bike on the gravel, and then chasing like a madman to catch up to my group, and then finally trying to figure out where the hell we were, I realized I hadn't been fueling. I should have been through two bottles, several gels and a handful of electrolyte pills by this point but I had barely drank half a bottle and eaten one gel. I was way behind, and unfortunately, once you put yourself in this hole it is very difficult to get out.  Because of this mistake early on the rest of my day would likely be spent in survival mode.

Relearned Lesson Number 3. Never go more than 30 minutes without fueling. It's ridiculous that I keep succumbing to problems with nutrition because I have dealt with this in more races than one person should. It is black and white. Keep up with nutrition from the beginning and you will feel good for most of the race. Fall behind on your nutrition schedule at any point in the day and you are spinning the wheel for prizes like nauseousness, muscle pain and cramping, puking, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, and other things you just don't want to deal with in the middle of a long race. I have experienced all those things in races and I keep making the same stupid mistake.

I started fueling myself immediately and tried to get back on track.  It's difficult when you are behind, though, you are still limited in how much you can stomach so you can't just catch back up. I stayed on top of eating and drinking for the next couple hours to the only checkpoint 59 miles into the race. It was good to see Sara and Jake there. It was starting to warm up and I was finally able to shed some layers. I would have let myself stay a little longer but Jamie was a man on a mission and I didn't want to lose him.  We ride faster together and I still needed all the help I could get to pull myself out of the hole I had dug not eating and drinking.  Anatolie left a few minutes before us but we were able to reel him back in within a few miles.

As we left the checkpoint I knew the course would finally be taking a turn out of the headwind we had been pushing for a couple hours. While the wind wasn't nearly as bad as it was last year here, it was approaching 15 mph out of the south and on the long open roads heading directly into it you could certainly feel it dragging you down.

While I would never be able to get as strong as I would have been if I had kept on top of fueling from the beginning, after a couple of hours of working at it I was beginning to feel much better. Finally getting some tail wind help wasn't hurting my motivation either. Jamie, Anatolie, and I had been moving from group to group since the wrong turn but after the checkpoint we didn't see very many other people. We had noticed that Dennis Rathke, the only other Springfield rider ahead of us, left the checkpoint just minutes before we did.  Jamie was on a mission to catch him. Anatolie and I were on a mission not to lose Jamie.

Secret Aid Station.  Not sure who took this photo.
We had heard rumors of a secret aid station somewhere around the 80 mile mark. The rumors turned out to be true. One of the figures in the distance we had been chasing pulled into the station and we decided to jump past without stopping. We had brought enough supplies and were ready to be done with this adventure.  The rider in front of us who stopped was Josh Brown.  The reason I'm glad he stopped to refill will be clear in a moment.

Our trio had been rolling together for nearly 75 miles but as we approached the 94 mile mark I remember telling Anatolie either Jamie is getting faster or I'm slowing down.  Anatolie surged to cover the gap Jamie was putting on us and I couldn't match it. Jamie looked back and gave me a huge wave.  In my head I could hear him saying, "what are you doing back there, get the hell up here!"  Unfortunately, the gap continued to grow and I wouldn't see them again until we were done.  Because of the extra 5 in the beginning, we still had some 18 miles left to cover.  I tried to bring their fading silhouettes on the horizon closer several times but it just wasn't happening. I eventually lost them and was on my own.  I plugged in the music and tried to find a level of suffering I could maintain to the finish.

I realized at some point I had stopped eating and drinking again.  I had left the midway checkpoint with 3 bottles but had only finished one.  I reached down for a second bottle just as I was beginning a steep descent and somehow fumbled the bottle right out of my hands.  I watched it bounce off the ground and ricochet into the ditch.  I thought for half a second I should stop and get it but I knew I only had an hour left.  Not to mention I would have to climb back up the huge hill to get it and since I was already exhausted and I had one more full bottle I decided to let it go.  I hated that bottle anyway as it was a chronic leaker and I spill enough drinks on myself as it is. A few minutes later after working my way up the next few hills I reached back for the third bottle and it was gone as well. Crap. These last few miles were going to hurt.

I noticed a rider behind me gaining ground. It was Josh Brown who had stopped to refill at the Oasis. He asked how I was doing and I told him I was dry and falling apart. He offered me one of his bottles which at first I declined, I hate accepting help even when I desperately need it. Thankfully, he persisted in offering it until I finally gave in. I sucked down half the bottle and immediately felt rejuvenated. This is the good in the gravel community we talk about. He could have easily blown by me without a word and I wouldn't have thought ill of him for it. Fortunately for me, he was a much nicer guy than that and was able to talk me into taking a little help from him.  I told him thanks and he powered off ahead of me.  

Relearned Lesson Number 3, Again.  Keep eating and drinking from the beginning to the end.  What the hell is wrong with me? I love to eat too so I don’t know why I always forget when I’m riding but it is disastrous to power production. I will not make this mistake again this year!  You have my permission to laugh and make fun of me when I do.  

Almost to the end.  Photo by Ryan Souders
With that bit of water and a gel I had the energy I needed to finish this thing up.  I left the last dirt road 7 miles from the finish and remembered this is where the rain had started for me last year.  I was one of the lucky few who didn't have to fight the mud.  On this day it had only sprinkled for a few seconds earlier, so once again after stressing for a week before the race about how hard the mud was going to make it, I hadn't ridden through a single puddle.  

I hadn't seen another rider ahead or behind me since Josh but I kept feeling like someone was going to come barreling by. I worked my way through the town of Stillwater toward downtown where the finish is.  It's always a culture shock to come off the desolate farm roads and into the busy roads of a town. I wondered what the people peering from the windows of their cars thought about this guy in spandex covered in sweaty red dust.

I was able to forget about the mistakes and suffering for a moment as I turned the final corner and saw the finish line waiting for me.  I got my hug from Bobby and was happy to be finished with a long day of hard work. Work I had made much harder on myself than it needed to be by ignoring rules and lessons I had already learned from once, but apparently needed to learn again. 275 people registered to ride this year. I don't know how many toed the line but there were 140 finishers. I was number 34 in 7 hours and 9 minutes. Sara had my cold can of Coke ready and waiting for me. It might have been the sweetest drink I have ever had.    

The Coke I had been dreaming about for hours.

Land Run 100 Elevation.  The flat section at mile 20 is the time we spent off course.
The lack of hills should have been our first clue.