Friday, August 17, 2012

The Lutsen 99er and the Curse of Endurance Addiction (a race report of a newbe)

So, here I sit in a quiet house, wearing my Twin Six bibs, digesting tacos and yogurt, hoping to get some miles on the single speed CX bike, on this beautiful day. Since my last entry I did all that I said would happen. My very first endurance race of 99 miles (what turned into 104er). I'll get to what turned it into more than the 99 miler. Since then I've become more addicted to the thought of pedaling through the suffer and making it to the finish line.

Race reportish thing:

For training I hardly put in nearly enough miles. The weather would always crap on me or I'd end up with some mechanical. One day, climbing the hills of Duluth I had the worst of mechanical problems. Nothing I did would fix my situation. Of course I fix the problem when I returned to Minneapolis. Every other time I'd venture out on a training ride I'd run into bad weather. Before I knew it it was race day. That day almost didn't happen. 

There was a week of non stop rain in the Minnesota Arrowhead. From Duluth to Grand Marais was underwater. I'd booked a hotel room and couldn't get through to cancel in Grand Marais. All the lines and internet was out. We were only a day from race day. The race director hadn't posted any cancelations, so I moved to send him an email about the situation. Turns out the race was on. They only had to reroute a portion of the course to loop twice. That loop was to be the worst 2 hours of my life. 

Upon arrival on that Friday evening I was registering very last minute. Not the last to register though, I'm sure. I was 304 and I'm pretty sure the 99er crowd ended up over 350. After registration the only thing on my mind was getting rest, proper nutrition and feeding my family. We were on a tight budget, so we brought food. Needless to say, I wasn't getting a huge carbo-meal, nor enough rest. It happened to be the same week as the big piercing conference in Las Vegas and I held down the fort while the boys ran off to learn some piercing knowledge and buy some beautiful jewels for the shop. So, I clocked in several hours of work and hardly any miles on the bike that week.

After 4-5 hours of rest I was up at 6:00am loading up my goodies and putting on the chamois cream. I had a little miso/garlic broth, two bananas, 2 heaping spoons full of coconut oil and a joint health emergen-C for breakfast. On the car ride down to Lutsen mountains I had a probar. I was good to go. After checking the shifting, air and brakes it was time to get to the finish line. My first thought, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING!? I'm on a rigid 1x9 geared Niner EMD, with one older tire (far from pro) surrounded by pro athletes and I haven't been able to train much. Before I knew it, hundreds of us were zooming down to highway 61 north and heading up a 5-1/2 mile climb to our muddy doom.

At the top of our cat 3 ascent, we turned on to our first off road section of XC ski/snowmobile trail. Most of the course was to be this, dirt road, jeep trail, very muddy and rocky gnar and a little bit of greasy single track. For the first 15 miles I kept up with the very best of them and carried up to the top of steep, rocky climb ahead of most of the racers. As we turned on to the gravel and I though I was about to haul ass, I discovered I was getting a flat on my rear tire. I figured I could pump enough air in from the pump in my bag to get a seal. No avail. Sealant and water were just spraying out of a puncture I had located on the tire. A few racers stopped to give me a hand, one with a Co2 pump blasted my tire up to a high pressure and we just watched the sealant blow out. I thanked the great people who attempted my rescue and proceeded to get a tube installed in record time. Unfortunately I wasn't carrying Co2 for some stupid reason. My little dumb pump got my tire up to a 15 psi and I was off. Another racer stopped to use my pump, who also got a flat early on. After that I was off, only to find trouble with the control of my rear tire.

After another attempt I pumping I figured I had wasted too much time and made some poor decisions and should get a move on. All alone. From the start of the race I wasn't alone. I had to be with the top 10 riders. Everyone of them so positive that it was going to fuel me through the next 84 miles ahead. Nope alone. Just how I ride most days anyway. I carried on through the gravel to find a cut off with arrows leading me to some nice, wet rock in the trees. I was hauling ass through this section. Low tire pressure works well in this terrain. After a few miles I felt a little odd. I hadn't seen anybody for some time. I knew I wasn't in dead last. There was no way. There should have been tire tread around me in the mud. Oh bother, Whinny the Pooh would say in this situation. I was starting to feel like Eeyor. There was a lot of doubt about finishing at this point. Doing the only thing I could do was to turn around, carry my ass up the hills I just bombed down, in the wet, muddy rocks and hope I make it to the aid station for air.

Once I traveled back on the course I noticed that I followed the arrows painted on the ground, but the flags were pointing the other direction. Those flags were knocked over. There should have been a marshall to direct racers at this point. Angry, I turned down the once grassy path, completely destroyed and turned into a mud pit. Here I think the low pressure saved me. Eventually I made it back on the gravel and to the first stop at the aid station. Freewheel bike mechanics greeted me with a tire pump, blasted the pressure up to sealing my tire once again. I ate a bite of a pro bar, refilled my water and I was off to my first lap of two in this section. Here I got word that other racers fell further off course and just arrived after me. They were about to do the 109er.

After keeping up with this group for several miles, I decided to just take it easy and cruise through the rest of the race. There was no way I was going to gain the energy to catch up at all. I wanted to finish in eight hours, but at this point there was no chance. Two hours of time wasted from a flat fix, riding low pressure, falling off course and having a few mechanicals with my chain that my jump stop wasn't preventing. Well, here goes a long ass bike ride I thought.

Every time I passed spectators I got filled with positive energy. It was better feeling than any ounce of water (which the aid station ran out of on my second lap), GU gel or any bar could fill. Even the racers that were passing me on their second lap were cheering me on. This kept you on the bike. If you didn't hear these words and you were in my shoes, you'd be calling for a ride back to Sven and Ole's to eat your weight in pizza and cry in your beer.

I found myself passing others in the race after mile 60. I rode with them, cheered them on and pushed harder. When arriving to another aid station, I stopped for just a quick water fill and some tablets and rode on. All I could think of at this point is Melinda and Oliver waiting for me at the finish. Oh, did I mention I didn't pack my phone? Melinda had in mind that I'd be done with this thing in 7-8 hours. I hit that 8 hour mark at mile 85.

Hammering on in the last 15 miles I had been hanging with a group of riders that also fell victim to the mislabeling of the fork in the road. However, I needed that hug and kiss. Melinda needed to know that I was okay and that I was going to finish. When I saw two little girls cheering me on I got severely choked up. Melinda had been pregnant with our second child, which I just found out was going to be a girl. As the tears of joy welled I hammered on the pedals harder. The brake rotors were making a strange noise, mud had filled my shoes, but I needed to ride faster while I was on the gravel.

Meeting a lot of nice people as I passed them I felt like we were all in this together. We were all going to get out of it together. I met a local from Grand Marais, Chad Byers, we kept a great pace together and shared some stories. It was really cool, the energy you got from everyone. It made for a great experience. Letting Chad pass on once we made it to a very technical slick section of trail, I went in to demolish this trail mode. Nothing would stop me. This nasty, rooty, rocky single track is what I thrive on. Until I got to a beautiful rapid river crossing. Again I got emotional. Damn the last 92 miles for making me crazy! After I shook out of that daze I carried on through the rest of the nasty single track.

Getting to a sweet downhill section as I entered back to the realm of the chair lifts at Lutsen, I heard people say, YOU'RE RIDING RIDGID!? GO GET IT! On to the last climb. I met a fellow who was hiking his bike up and he wasn't looking too well. Stopping to help him was the only logical thing to do. He told me that he was fine. I offered food, water, electro tablets, but he didn't want my help. His wife came down to his rescue, who was racing with him. So, I hopped back on and ground my knees to a pulp in the last few miles of climbing.

Before I was anywhere near done with the climb, I heard the loud cheer of the people at the finish. Pedaling faster, off the saddle and my fist in the air I knew I had finally made it. Only 2 hours off my goal time, Melinda and Oliver greeted me. I've only felt this happy once in my life. That was on March 21st, the year prior.

Next year Melinda wants to ride the 39er portion of the 99er. My goal is to stomp it out in 7 hours or less. I'm hoping in just about 6 hours. I can learn from my mistakes. Training for it has already begun. Towards the end of next Summer, I'd also like to complete the Breck Epic. 6 days of stage racing.

Now, we're about to have Ella. Two kids. That's the biggest endurance challenge there is.

To more adventures.

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