Monday, July 6, 2015

Lutsen 99er 2015


I'm not sure who's idea this was.  Lutsen MN. Near Grand Marais. North of Duluth. If you're thinking that's close to anything, you are very mistaken. Or you live in Two Harbors.

At this point I'm firmly blaming Conrad, but I was complicit. I have not made a journey to the Upper Midwest to ride with Conrad, though he has been to the Southwest and Michigan many many times.  The Cheq40 has been calling...but this time, it was Lutsen.  Plus, the idea of a 100 mile event in the middle of the summer was appealing...force me to get 100 miles in pre-Leadville. So an adventure was hatched. Vacation plans were turned into silly putty, and I found myself bound for the Northwoods!

(by the way, I'll get some pictures in here soon)

I'm Strong, really

I came into this thing thinking I was going to crush it. 7 hours max. Maybe even 6.5. I had set goals for 8 hours, but fully expected to be well ahead of them and accelerate.  7000' of climb in 99 miles, no altitude to speak of, 1000 of those feet came in the first 5 miles. 

In my (tiny, pea sized in fact) brain, this was a dead simple, if long, course. I've done 5 hundos all much harder. Heck, the 40s and 50s I've done are harder. I was thinking I had a great track to see what I could pull out for 99 miles. 

As you can tell by the past-tense of the expectations...things works out a little differently.

My pre-race prep was sketchy at best. I had plenty of training, but the three days leading up to the event were...challenging.  So let's start this one on Thursday. 


I flew from Phoenix to Detroit with my three girls Thursday morning. I had a decent breakfast at home, but I could not bring myself to eat airport or airplane food for lunch. So, I ended up with no lunch. Probably good, as one of my kids had a "motion sickness incident" on the plane (fortunately, right as we parked at the gate!) Mom had made a big dinner, but I was too keyed up from the plane incident and too busy trying to get everyone settled to eat enough. I had basically one chicken drumstick and some rice...or about 1/2 what My 10 year old ate. Oops. 

I didn't get to bed until 1230. I had a 6am wake up to get to the airport. Mom had no coffee, so my first coffee was at the National Coney Island at metro, where I had an omelette. This was the best food of the day. (By the way, for all you travelers, if you find yourself at Detroit Metro airport, the full size National Coney Island, not the express, is a really good option.  It is a real diner with actual cooks -- pretty tough to find in an airport). I knew I needed to eat more at first opportunity, which would be Midway. But the options at Midway were not good, so I had a soggy veggie wrap, for some unknown reason. I'm sure the vitamin content was there...calories not so much.  Due to various delays, got in about 90 min late to MSP,  Conrad picked me up and we headed for Duluth to pick up the rental bike.  I ate a Kind bar in the car that Conrad had stashed.  He did text me the menu of a really nice looking lunch place where he was getting road food, but I did not listen to his hints and just got a beet-carrot juice.  Didn't eat dinner until 8:45 and it was 2 small tacos at a brewery.  

So between Thursday and Friday I ate enough for Thursday. I was missing like 2500 calories, in the 24 hours before a 100 mile event.  This was not good. 
Also realizing I am not drinking enough water day to day. I have fallen out of the habit...and this was going to become very important around mile 50. 

Finally, as part of my ace race prep, I got to bed about midnight for a 4am wake up. 

That sleep thing I am sure did not set me up well. 8 hours over 2 days is half what I should be getting. Half the food and half the sleep needed...hmmm. 

Dinner was here.  good beer
What I did not realize on race morning was just how detrimental not sleeping was to performance, and the importance  of eating the day before race day.  I knew I was behind, but figured I could just power through with a solid breakfast (at a fantastic little diner in Lutsen by the way), extra coffee, and by sticking to the nutrition plan. 

More is all about the Bike

Bike.  With Number
For this 99 mile adventure, I'd be riding a rental bike. Many bad decisions led up to me renting the bike, which I will complain about now.  Damn thing was easily 30lbs.  And no, it wasn't a fatty. Front shock was a spring, no damping. Rear shock had a shitty damper, so it was like riding on a trampoline, but with slower rebound. The left crank arm was bent slightly inward which I could feel every time I hit the bottom of the pedal stroke, making it feel like my left foot was going to slide and unclip from the pedal. The grips were slightly too big for the bars, width wise. This made the handling a little iffy as I usually have my hands right at the edge of he bars.  It also had a that sucked. Given the previously mentioned shock issues, I rode he thing locked out most of the time.  So I was dragging around a FS frame which weighed as much as Conrad's Mukluk, with none of the suspension or wide tire benefits. Sweet. 
However, Ricky MacDonald is a dude who has ridden Leadville 21 times on a Huffy. He has buckled (under 12) every time and gone sub-9 a few times. So there goes the bike excuse. As they say in Leadville, any bike can do it. The rider is another matter.
So that's my long pre-amble. Chock full of excuses for what comes next. Buy if you know me, it's worth hanging out till the end, because I do learn something. 

Riding While Ignorant of the Doom

The race is staged around a ski area. It's one of the ones you drive up to, and take runs down - so your "last run" better have time to get a lift back up to the lodge.  Not a familiar set up for you Mountain West types, but happens in the east and midwest all the time.  We were starting at the Lutsen Lodge area, which was about 2/3 of the way up the mountain. 
Me, Conrad, and his friends Matt and Taylor lined up toward the front, not looking for a jump in position, but rather to avoid any potential wrecks. Very casual startline...which was awesome. Nothing worse than a MTB race with a bunch of folks all thinking they are getting World Cup points for a top-10 finish. 

The start was controlled, as it is 2 miles straight down the ski hill road, and it's not a mistake that the Strava feed says 45mph. Very nervous, as this was not the group of people I wanted to be riding close to at 35+ mph. Amateur mountain bikers don't know how to ride in a group (me included), and there were the "special tools" who were hammering down the (gravely) shoulders trying to gain position. WTF, really?  The bike (previously complained about) was mostly stable, but started to get twitchy above 35 mph. Fortunately one good thing was the hydraulic brakes, so I had some attenuation and was able to make the turn into Highway 61 (yes THAT Highway 61) unscathed. 

The race really started with about 5 miles of steady Midwestern climb. Meaning, mostly uphill with a few rollers to give you a break. This felt pretty good, and my HR was in check even though I could feel the extra weight of the bike. Strava says I pushed 300W for this segment, but it was definitely more because strava assumes my bike weighs 24lbs.  I have not done that math, but whatever.  The 4 of us mostly rode together, with just a little yo-yoing as our legs warmed up. 

I knew I was in for quite a day when we turned off the road for the first time and onto a snowmobile trail. I unlocked the suspension and felt the bounce of the minimally damped shocks. Sure it was cushy, but the bike went nowhere fast when I applied power to the pedals. So, I locked out again, and figured if a big hit blew the suspension, I had paid $10 for up to $500 in damage. 

For those in the know, the terrain was much like the VASA section of Iceman, though the climbs felt a bit longer.  You could see the top of all the climbs easily, unless they turned. Also, no sand. Instead lots of rocks and dips hidden by grass. If I had been on a FS bike worth its salt, would have been great (I know, I'm complaining about the bike again). 

This is where we lost Matt and Taylor who were quite fast and had trained for this as their #1 ride of the season. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. I'm peaking in 7 weeks...

For the next bunch of miles I felt good. I was gapping Conrad on lots of the climbs, though I was slowish on the descents. Conrad was eating. So I remembered to eat too. Caramel macchiato and salted Carmel GU. Yummy!  ( spread that stuff on toast yummy)

We had about 10 miles on those trails then blissfully hit some gravel road. I opened up a bit again here, and the pattern was pretty steady. I was gapping Conrad on the climbs, and he would catch up on downhills. Did some road tactics, drafting off some guys, and felt solid coming into the mile 23 aid. 
Took on some water and a waffle, and got rolling. 18 miles before we were right back here, so we did not need much. 

We then started an 18 mile double-loop we would do twice (on the map its that figure 8 looking thing on the north east side). It started out with a few miles of dirt rollers.  The dirt roads here were true 1-2" deep and a little loose, so you were always looking for the worn line, or the gravel would slow you right down. Played some more road tactics here and grabbed onto a big group which made about 2 miles a total breeze. Then it was back on the snowmobile trail. Steeper climbs here, much like Iceman. Also a bit slick. Since I have not complained about the tires yet, I will now. They sucked. Again, I reminded myself about Ricky. 21 years. 1 front tire. Get over yourself Rohit. 

Popping out of the bottom half of the figure 8 there was some gravel climbing to the top bit of the 8. This section was damn tough. The ground was soft and energy absorbing, but (thankfully) not muddy. Rolling climbs with rocks that sucked up all the energy. Very, very tough riding...lucky to hit 12mph on the flats and 15 on the downhills. 

Came out of there and onto more gravel roads.  We were riding along a ridge that was the local high point. This for me was the best part of the course. You could see Lake Superior off in the distance, and smaller lakes to the north.  Tons of purple and yellow wildflower as and tall pines all around. Summer in the North Country in all her glory... Pretty amazing. 

We got to the 43 mile aid intact. Picked up drop bags here and of course Conrad had to strip to reapply his butt cream. Did he do this a little away from the road? No. He just dropped trou right on the course. I was mortified, thirsty and wanted a waffle. So I rode on the 100m or so to the actual aid. Conrad caught up, we ate, drank, messed with bikes and rolled out. 

Not really stronger than most of your friends, Mr Bery

Miles 43-61 were a repeat of the figure 8. This is were it all came apart for me. About a mile from the aid I stood for a little climb and heard the *ting* of a breaking spoke from the rear. I looked down, no wobble. So I rode on. Turning onto the snowmobile trails I knew it was going to be a tough ride. We hit a little "streamlet" crossing with some rocks at the bottom of a hill and I heard something break on the front of the bike. Something definitely had going bye-bye in the fork, but it was still locked out, so onward.
Conrad started gapping me on the hills. My HR was good, but the power was dropping. Then he started to play this incredibly irritating game of pretending not to wait for me. I told him like 3 times to ride on, and he kept slowing at the top of climbs. I was like "dude. Get the F- outta're buggin me!"  Finally I caught him once and he was not picking up the pace so I passed him. Turns out he was a bit I was now irritated at myself for being irritated. Me in a bad mood during a race is not a good sign.  I'm always happy when I'm racing!  And here I was with a cloud of bad attitude while I'm riding with my friend...the whole reason I came to this place 2 hours North of Duluth in the first place!

The top half of the figure 8 was painful. I developed cramps in the adductors, downed the Rocketlytes, and kept pushing. Also discovered the seat post clamp (QR style) was not holding the seat post in place, so my saddle was steadily dropping. Which kinda sucked. 

Popping out onto the road, my saddle was now all the way down, so I had to stop and fix. The act of dismounting and bending over to deal with this caused full on leg cramps.  If you've never had this happen to you on a bike, let me explain.  You fall over like a tipped cow.  

So there I was at mile 55-ish, laying on the side of the road. Conrad was there, but pretty much useless, because what could he do?  Course marshals on motos came by, I assured them I was just in pain, but not hurt physically.  Mentally, and emotionally, I was crushed. 

I was in pain, and I was confused. I'm not an expert endurance racer, but I'm no slouch. Why was I cramping less than 4 hours into a race with somewhat limited obstacles?  I figured the cramps would hour 6. I was hitting the Rocketlytes waaaay early. Fear and Doubt and self loathing were creeping in. What the heck was I doing out here NORTH of Lake Superior??  What was Conrad doing standing there?  Why would he not leave?  

After what seemed an eternity but was really not that long of writhing on the ground I managed to get it together and start rolling. Thankfully while I was mentally cursing Conrad he had raised my saddle to a reasonable height and cranked down the bolt on the QR. I was riding again, and really hurting. 

This is where I discovered just how bad a place I was in. I was fully in the pain cave trying to spin and will the cramps away with high rpm soft pedaling. Conrad is riding next to me/slightly off the front with no hands. We were on a dirt road. If he had a bobble he was going to take us both out. Instead of focusing on making my legs do what they did not want to and pushing more fluids, I was worried about Conrad crashing me. I was irritated at my friend of 20+ years who is a master bike handler...I have seen this guy hit a rock on a technical climb, allow his bike to roll backwards, pick a new line, and accelerate up the hill.  He was NOT crashing, and yet....the thought of it  was definitely interfering with my recovery. That's the bad pain cave dark place defined. 

tick tick tick

I was staring at the Garmin, willing the miles to tick up. I knew if I made it to 61 I'd be at the aid, and could just get a ride back to the ski area and drown my sorrows at the beer tent. Cramps were not going away, and I was starting to feel ill from trying to solve the issue by drinking too much Roctane and Carborocket.  I had resolved to quit at the aid station.  I would find someone with a truck, and be done.  

Somehow, on the the final small climb up to the aid station, the cramps subsided.  This was the cycling godsp laughing at me.  They could have made me fall over in a heap of cramped. dehydrated, unmotivated sweaty cyclist and lycra.  

Instead, they told me I could move forward. The cycling gods are mean.
My resolve to get a ride to beer lessened, and I decided to just sit in the shade for a bit eating a honey stinger waffle and drinking plain water for a while. Conrad came along and I told him to ride on, and that he was being irritating.  I don't think it was offensive, as it was clear I was not in a good place. So Conrad rolled out. 

I got a couple fig newtons and saw a woman named Bonnie Moebeck roll up on a fat bike. She looked to be hurting a bit, and I think was looking for Gatorade that had run out but she was pushing forward. She's got an amazing story (misadventure it).  I gave her a cheer, and she said it was nice to see me. I've never met this woman, but she was channeling positive vibes my way. 

Some combination of fig newtons, waffles, water, shade, having Conrad ride on, a few words from a woman I've never met and people asking me if I was buying beers at the line (I was wearing my DC kit) got me moving again. 
For the rest of the ride, there was aid every 10 miles. Very easy to chunk up in my head.  Plus, I did not need to carry as much water since it was at worst 90 minutes to aid, more like 50-60. So I filled the camelbak half way, and rolled on. 

The Cycling Gods hate me

The race was now on gravel roads or 2-track for most of the rest of the ride. Much easier to deal with, though not without its complications. 
I caught and passed Bonnie about mile 64. I told her I was in pain and she laughed. That laugh is like rocket fuel. I highly suggest riding near Bonnie in your next race. 

At about mile 65 there was a huge muddy area of he road caused by a beaver dam. I guess you could have ridden it, but I was walking. As I was about 2/3 of the way across the cramps came back and both legs locked solid. I fell over and on the way down my arms cramped. 

So there I was, laying face-down in like 3" of mud with another 3" of water on top. I could barely move. I was thinking "I'm going to drown in a bike race in a fucking mud puddle". People passing me asked if I was ok, but everyone riding at that point was suffering pretty badly so they just keep rolling. I did get myself up after probably not all that long, and staggered forward covered in fairly foul smelling muck. I managed about 10 steps trying to work out the cramps when a whole bunch of Roctane, GU, Fig Newtons and whatnot came out the way they had gone in. 

For some reason this made the cramps go away. And allowed me to get back on the bike.  As I pedaled away from my vomit, I made another resolution. When I saw the "1/4 mile" sign for the 71 mile aid I would pull over, and rip the dérailleur off the bike. Then I could claim a major mechanical, get a ride back and start drinking beer. I would also take out some aggression on the bike I was really hating.

Greasy Shoulder Pat

Once again, as I rolled up to the aid, I started feeling better (dammit Cycling gods!  will you not just smite me!?!?). I got some water, hosed myself off a bit (no one mentioned seeing vomit, but it was good to spray my face) and took a seat on the back of a panel truck they were using for supplies. I was sipping a bottle of water and overheard the aid station mechanic chatting with another volunteer about how awesome it would be to have the time to ride races like this instead of having to work them. He then walked over to me, Asked how I was doing.  Suggested that I needed a whiskey instead of whatever mantra I was saying.  I knew that dude was down...because of course, Whiskey is My Yoga.

So that kid with the cheap blue sunglasses and 80s style checkerboard painters cap got me thinking.  All those thoughts about being lucky to have the time and money, the physical health, and the friends and family to do crazy shit like this came rushing back. 

Kid with the blue glasses and the greasy shoulder pat got me rolling. 

10 miles to the 80 mile aid. 

Spinning Home

The power was coming back. Not full power by any means, but just enough to make the climbs with a bit of vigor. I was chatting with racers again. Playing a game of "yo yo" tag with 3 other riders as we all gained and lost strength. 
The 80 mile aid wa staffed by some sort of girls group. So all these 10-12 year olds were handing out supplies, which was cute. They also had cans of Coke. 

Coke is the fuel of life the last 20% of an event like this.  I put down 3/4 of a can, and off I went. Into the thunderstorm. 

Miles 81-91 were pretty much a straight rolling gravel road. And it was raining hard in a flash storm that you get. It felt great. Cleaned me off, and cooled me down. A girl in pink caught me at about mile 86 and we rode together. She unapologeticaly drafted off of me on the flats and climbs, but being lighter could not keep up on the descents. I started talking about about being "into" this hundred mile race thing. She was into the gravel ultras. We both were having bad days and talked about how there was no way to walk in the door at home and tell the kids you we rolled on. 

Mile 91 aid was actually at mile 92.4 which was a bit of a mind fuck. 
But they had coke, and beer, and maple syrup. I had a coke, and the idea of a beer was good. Clearly I was recovered. 

Last 7 miles were actually pretty cool single track until the very end when we were going up a dirt road in the ski area for about mile to the finish. We went under a bridge about 30 ft above us with spectators.  Conrad yelled for me, which was great. Some obnoxious 20 yr old was yelling "pedal pedal paddle paddle" so I flipped him off. Appropriate DC jersey behavior. 

9:40 official. No DNF. I got an axe blade medal I can't take on the plane, but at least it's a bottle opener.  

Still Grateful

So that race is in the bag.  I was 2 hours plus off my time.  I did get to ride with a great friend, make some new ones, and see a part of the country I had never laid eyes on.   I was reminded of where my inspiration comes from, and found ways to extract it when I'm at the darkest point in one of these "bad ideas".  

A week after Lutsen I was back into the big miles, riding past corn and wheat during cool July mornings in Michigan.  Leadville is 6 weeks away.  That's enough time to build a little more strength, reinforce the riding motivation, and get into that race day groove.  I'll also remember the lady, the kid, and the friend who got me going at the darkest points...that's where the true strength comes from.  

Made it.  There's a smile there. 

Everything is Better Now

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