|Photo by 241 Photography|
With Collin Little at the meeting. He's not really taller than me
so I'm not sure how he pulled this off. Photo by 241 Photography
|Photo by Collin Little|
One other thing I noticed last year was that larger knobby tires carried far more mud than skinnier slick tires. Against the grain of current recommendations, this year I was running 32 mm Schwalbe Marathon Supremes which actually only measure 30 mm. Skinny slick tires to slice through the muck and no tread to hold extra pounds of mud. I knew I would suffer a lack of traction if it were too muddy, and the control might be twitchy if it's dry and rough, but I'm comfortable with all that. This bike would not break down. Nothing would take me off this course until I was ready.
I rode the mile from the hotel to the start and arrived an hour early. The Aspen Coffee Company had their doors open early serving gourmet coffee. I had a double shot of espresso in a mocha and brought my sugar and caffeine buzz I had started at the hotel to an early frenzy. I realize it's an addiction and I'm totally fine with it because it's awesome. Standing in line to order I met a man with his wife. He shared that today would be his first attempt to ride 100 miles. I had several conversations throughout the morning with people there to try the distance for the first time. I love the energy of someone about to tackle a big new challenge. Trying to be confident but not quite sure what to expect. Nervous excitement and hope. It's a contagious feeling.
This would be my first race on the single speed. I have been riding it for the last 6 months but I haven't actually raced it yet. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with my friends at the start if I wanted to have energy for the end so I lined up at the very back of the crowd to try and keep my start relaxed. While 561 had signed up to ride today, 403 had shown up in the morning. 95 people for the 50 mile ride and 308 for the 100 mile ride (106 miles if you care to be precise). The crowd has more diversity than you might expect. Everyone is there for the same reason, to challenge themselves. The severity of the challenge we had chosen wasn't fully understood by anyone just yet.
|He's got a gun! Photo by 241 Photography|
When it was only an inch or two deep I didn't have any trouble besides some fish tailing and extra effort, but occasionally I would sink too deep and it would become too difficult to push through it. I would throw the bike up on my back and carry it until the road went downhill or firmed up a little and then jump back on. Often I was only moving slightly faster than the walkers but I was passing tons of people.
|Photo by 241 Photography|
Fairly early I came upon Kuat teammate, John Bradley. Derailleur gone and chain hanging slack. He shook his head and told me he was out. I dream about beating John in races. Though not the most heroic way to finish ahead of him, I'll take it. He told me later he had seen the grin I was trying to suppress. A couple hundred more stranded people later I came upon Jamie and again felt a strange mix of guilt and excitement for getting ahead of him in this way. I didn't know Jamie was out of the race at that point and thought he might just be stuck in another unrideable section. Turns out he was done, but imagining him about to catch me provided serious motivation for the rest of the day. Shortly after I passed Jamie I saw last year's overall winner, Bob Cummings, on the side of the road looking at his bike. I didn't know quite where I was in the field yet but I definitely wasn't at the back anymore.
Riding by everyone who had broken down was an odd feeling. Normally if I saw one person on the side of the road looking distraught I would ask if they needed anything. A short, "You good?" is usually enough. There was no way to do that in this situation. For over 5 miles there were people lining the sides of the road. It would have taken all day to have even short conversations with each of them. Some had their bikes apart and were examining links of chain trying desperately to get it back into working order. Others were just staring up and down the road looking lost, probably wondering what to do next. I trusted the Jeep club would be hard at work and hopefully all those people had arranged bailout plans.
|Photo by Bobby Wintle|
At the end of the road it was finally getting rideable again, for me at least. At the next intersection they had an oasis set up with a food truck and a coffee truck. There were lots of people there clapping and offering help but I didn't want to slow down. I wanted something to eat badly but I knew it would be a time suck. I also knew that if the roads got even a little better all those fast people I had just blown by would be taking their leads back. It felt so good to be riding again and finally picking up some speed. The roads were still squishy and ready to stop you if you got off the main tire strips but there was a glimmer of hope for the day returning. Even though I had jumped so far ahead and was now rolling, it had taken a lot of time and energy. If my pace didn't get much faster than it was I was in danger of missing the cut off at the midway point.
|The muddy miles. Heart rate is through the roof|
|Photo by Kim Morris|
Fortunately the ground was getting better with every mile covered. There was one re-routed section where the cues said to cross a highway but there was a volunteer waiting. He told us to head up the paved highway until we saw the next volunteer. This was miles 44 through 46 and they were seriously tough to cover on a single speed. Slightly uphill with a headwind the whole way. I laid down on the aerobars and worked. Finally there was a water tower with the name of the midway town on it. Perry. I thought we would be pulling in to the checkpoint anytime and started to get my hopes up, but then I came upon the next volunteer who sent me in the opposite direction of town on another dirt road. He said we could follow the cues from there. They had cut 2 miles off the course, I'm guessing to save us from another muddy stretch.
The cue sheets were dead on and easy to follow all day. It wasn't really necessary, though, as every single corner was marked. Since leading several off the course here last year I have tried to be more diligent with my tracking and checked every corner with the cue sheet.
After the the checkpoint it was a different race completely. While there was an occasional patch of mud to negotiate, the roads were pretty much dry. I had 50 miles left and only a few people in front of me, though, I didn't know exactly how many. There were very few tire tracks on the ground. The challenge of the second half was going to be the wind and hills. Heat was gradually picking up and I started to get pretty hot.
|Photo by Kim Morris|
The white helmet was moving closer each time I checked back. Eventually the rider was right on my heels but it wasn't Jamie. It was Thomas Adams on his brakeless fixed gear bike. We made eye contact and smiled at each other as he pulled aside me and then he put his head down and soldiered on. I kept trying to match his pace but it was too difficult to maintain and slowly I lost sight of him. My pride was stung to be passed by another single speed competitor this late in the game, but it was awesome at the same time to see another person rocking a bike that most would never consider for a course like this.
|Photo by 241 Photography|
Bobby told me I was the 4th single speed. Thomas had bumped me off the podium and snatched my trophy! I finished 16th overall in 8 hours and 43 minutes. The finish is the real trophy here, though. This was definitely one of the toughest courses I have faced. To Jim Bruer's credit, his estimation of the mud on the course had been pretty close. 85% of the course was good enough roads and rideable, but that other 15% took a huge toll on the participants. Of the 308 riders who showed up for the 100 mile version only 107 made it into Bobby's arms at the finish. Only 26 of the 50 mile riders made it. A 33% finishing rate. My kind of race!
I have heard a few whine about holding a ride in such conditions. I suspect those people like everything in life to come the easy way. I've always preferred the harder path. To me this ride is what gravel racing is all about. The desire to face and overcome the unknown challenge ahead is what keeps me focused and wakes me up to train in the months before the event. The experience is more memorable and the opportunity for personal transformation is much greater when the conditions are most severe. In my opinion, the 2015 Land Run was perfect.
|Human Bobble Head|