I’ll start off by saying that I kicked my last year’s ass and improved my Lutsen 99er race time by over 2 hours. That being said, I didn’t start the morning off great and didn’t really know how things were going to go until I was headed to the starting gate.
So let’s get to it… There I was at 3:00 am on race day hacking my lungs out from a chest cold that had been building up all week, trying to figure out how I was going to get this done. I’ll admit that thoughts came through my head a couple times of not racing, but I just couldn’t accept that. I layed in bed till about 4:30am, when I decided it was time to get up and get my head together. It’s definitely not the preferred race morning beverage, but I heated up some water to make me a cup of TheraFlu to help with the congestion and soothe the throat. I was quite miserable, but decided in my head this was happening and I was going to give it everything I had.
I had my typical 3 eggs for breakfast and added a half a bagel with some sunflower seed butter on it. My oldest son is severely allergic to peanuts, so I use this as my alternative to peanut butter. At any rate, I was starting to feel a bit better, mostly just getting my head in the game.
I arrived at Lutsen Mountain and started to prep my bike and get ready. I was still hacking a bit, but I was starting to get my head in it and ready to go. Mentally, this was a different game for me this year. Last year, I showed up to complete the race and this year, I was here to race. I knew I was a lot stronger this year and had much more confidence in my abilities. My bike was prepped and I had all my gear on. I closed the tail gate of the truck and headed toward the starting gates.
My bike prepped with Honey Stinger Energy Gels
As I approached the starting gate, I was getting into race mode and had forgotten about my cold. I was ready to go. The starting gate was filling up. The options were to either go all the way to the back or squeeze in through the front since there were gate barriers along the sides. I was confident enough in my climbing ability to want to start toward the front, so I entered the front of the gate and picked my way back a few rows to find my place.
The Lutsen 99er Race
The Lutsen 99er Roll Out and Climb Up Caribou Trail
The National Anthem was sung and and I was fired up. The gun went off, the Lutsen 99er was on and we started our decent to MN-61. The roll out was much better than last year. They held us back a bit, but didn’t make us ride our brakes all the way down the hill, like last year. We hit MN-61 and the race was on. I hung close with the lead group averaging 24.6 mph up MN-61 till we hit Caribou Trail.
We made the left turn to begin our climb up Caribou Trail and the group started to slowly split apart into a few different packs. I was feeling pretty good and stuck with it. I had told myself, that I was going to hang as close to the lead as I could on the climb, without blowing up and hit the trails in a good position. I kept an eye on the heart rate and was doing ok. I definitely could not hang with the lead and believe I made the climb at the tail end of the 3rd group up, averaging 11.8 mph and 166 bpm heart rate up the climb.
Halfway Up Caribou Trail
Caribou Trail To The Lutsen 99er First Aid Station At Mile 24
Once I made my turn off of Caribou Trail, I grabbed a protein bar out of my back pocket to take in while I worked my way up the road to the two track. There is a bit of interesting terrain in this section before getting dumped out on the gravel road to the first aid station. The climbing was far from over and once in the snowmobile trails, there are a lot of ups and downs. The trail is rugged with many opportunities for pinch flats. As I passed quite a few people changing tubes, I was very happy about making the switch to tubeless tires. I reached the first aid station in exactly 1:30 race time. I had plenty of water left in my 100 oz Camelbak and was well prepared with my own food, so I blew through the aid station and kept riding.
Bally Creek and Devil’s Track Lake Loops Of The Lutsen 99er
I was feeling pretty good still at this point and entered the trail with a group of riders. A short bit into the trail, I found myself in the lead of the group and could see another 2 or 3 riders way up the trail. I decided I wanted to jump the gap before we hit the gravel road, so I kept the heat into the pedals. I was not the only one with that plan as we dumped back out onto the gravel road, a couple of guys shouted out that we should stick on the wheel of one of the guys that was getting away. I was starting to hurt at this point and needed some recovery, but I didn’t want to get left behind. I jumped in the pace line and took my turn pulling as needed. By the time we hit Devil’s Track Lake Trail, we were starting to break apart again and I decided to back off a bit and recover.
I was on my own when I left Devil’s Track Trail and hit the gravel. I could see a few people in front and behind me. I can’t remember exactly how we got back together, but within a couple miles we had a few of us working together again up the gravel road. We took turns pulling and were making good time up the road. By the time we hit the aid station to start lap 2 of Bally Creek and Devil’s Track, I was hurting. Quite a few of the riders I was with pulled into the aid station. I still had what I thought was plenty of water and decided that I would keep going. I thought I was better off staying on the bike and could dial the pace back a bit for some on bike recovery without losing too much time.
I took my time up the gravel road before entering the Bally Creek trail again. Once I hit the trail, I kept the pace going and was running into folks on their first lap. This is where I really started to notice the difference from where I was at last year in the Lutsen 99er vs this year. Last year, I was the guy on my first lap while folks were coming by me on their second lap. I was cruising by these racers pretty good and it was a bit of an adrenaline rush to realize how much I had improved over the previous year.
I encouraged each rider as I went by with a “good job” or “good work” as I always appreciate the encouragement by other riders. There is a bit of camaraderie that is built out on the trail with people that you have never met before, but know you are there suffering together with the same goals of leaving everything you have out on the trail. There is a mutual respect that takes place regardless of the level that each rider is at. I love this part of endurance racing.
I found myself a bit on my own when I dumped out on the gravel road again. In a mile or two down the road, I found myself back riding with a couple other riders. I was starting to fatigue at this point and could feel my head heating up from that head cold. I tried to block it out and just kept sipping on my water. I realized my water was pretty low and was wishing that I would have stopped and filled it before starting lap 2 of the loop. I crossed the 50 mile mark with a 15 mph average pace. I was doing really well and tearing apart my time from last year.
I took my time around the rest of Devil’s Lake Track Loop, emptying my Camelback and my water bottle of NUUN electrolyte mix. When I came back out on the gravel, I knew I had a good pull to mile 60 and I could fill my water. This is where you can really pull some good time. I had some riders come up behind me and I poured the heat on. I pulled for a couple miles when one of them came along side and thanked me for the pull and I jumped in the pace line a few spots back. We finally made it to the mile 60 aid station and I filled up my water and grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle.
Lutsen 99er Mile 60 Aid Station to Mile 80 Aid Station
I rolled out of the aid station slowly and ate a bit of food. I still needed a bit of recovery and the pace line had gotten split up at the aid station. I knew at this point I was completely smoking my last year’s Lutsen 99er time and I was still on pace to finish under 7 hours with a bit of time to spare. I didn’t want to waste that time, as I knew there was some tough trail once we left the gravel road between mile 60 and 70. A pace line of a few guys came up about a mile past the aid station and I tried to jump on. They were moving too fast for me and I faded off the back.
I made the right turn onto the Mark Lake Road, which seems to be a bit of a jeep trail in spots and starts out with a climb. I was hurting at this point and losing places in the field. I could feel heat and pressure building up in my head from the cold I had going on, along with the effects of some dehydration from waiting till mile 60 to fill my water. I started sipping on the water pretty consistently, hoping that I could rehydrate and cool the body down.
I finally made my way to the mile 70 aid station with a quick stop at the porta john. Apparently I was finally getting hydrated a bit… I rolled out of mile 70 up the gravel road. By the time I hit the two track, I had found myself in a good pace line of riders that had come up from the back and a few that we had caught. We hammered through the two track in silence. You could tell everybody was feeling the pain at this point. Earlier in the race, people were a bit more chatty and joking a bit and now it was heads down and focus. It seemed that at each short climb, a couple riders would drop off the back. I slowly kept working myself to the front of the group as I didn’t want to be the next guy dropped off the back. We finally made it to mile 80. They were handing out Cokes, but I kept pressing on with a group that was getting smaller.
Mile 80 To The Lutsen Mountain Trails Of The Lutsen 99er
Coming Down Sawbill Trail
As we rolled out of mile 80, I was feeling like a second wind was coming on. About 8 or 9 of us stayed in a pace line up the gravel road taking turns. I was a bit excited as I saw my family there cheering me on as I was taking my turn to pull. I rounded the left hand turn on to Honeymoon Trail to realize that the pace line had dropped back a bit. I was not intending to break away at this point as I knew we had a fast pull with 10 plus miles of gravel before hitting the trails to the finish.
Making The Turn On To Honeymoon Trail
As I was making my way up the first climb of Honeymoon Trail, a pace line of 4 of the riders I was with came by. I tried to hang, but they came by like a freight train and left me in their dust. I knew I was going at it alone at this point to the finish. I was hurting now and had definitely made too hard of a pull leaving mile 80. I was thinking about that Coke that I had passed up as well. I made up a couple of spots on the gravel and was happy to see the aid station at mile 92 to know I was in the home stretch. I grabbed a glass of water, drank some of it and dumped the rest over my head and back. I was heating up and fatigue was setting in deep.
Lutsen Mountain Trails and The Final Climb To The Lutsen 99er Finish Line
I entered the muddy two track before making the decent to the bridge over the creek. Last year, I had a fair amount of energy at this point and let it rip down that hill. This year, I was hurting at this point and took it cautiously. As I hit the somewhat rocky trail climb up the other side of the river, I was feeling like I had reached the bottom of the well and about to hit a wall. I had been caught now by a few riders that I let by me and grabbed another Honey Stinger Energy Bar, hoping that a quick shot of solid food would shock my system back into working again. I knew I didn’t have much trail left to cover, but just the mental impact of taking in the food was enough to get me back on track. I made my way through the single track that was soft and energy sucking. It felt like I was riding on 2 flat tires. I passed a rider coming out of the single track and knew I was close to the finish.
I can’t remember exactly how it went from here, but I do remember hitting a fast gravel downhill section back to the bottom of the hill before hitting the big climb to the finish. I could see some of the riders in front of me that I had given up spots to over the last few miles. I remember there being a bit of a flat in the climb before it started back up again and this is where both legs cramped and completely locked up on me.
Making The Final Climb
I was able to catch myself before falling over on the bike. I just reached for the ground trying to stretch and let out a bit a scream of pain. It was that split second that the cramps relaxed and I quickly jumped back on the bike. I could hear the cheers at the finish line and hammered on the pedals. I didn’t want to stop spinning as I figured the cramps would come back. I stayed focused and spun my way up the climb to the finish. I cross the Lutsen 99er finish line in 6 hours, 58 minutes and 40 seconds. I had beat my last years time by more than 2 hours.
Lutsen 99er Summary & Final Thoughts
In summary, I really had a great race for how I was feeling and where I came from last year. My body actually feels great after the race, but I have stayed off the bike and trying to shake this cold so I can get focused for the Maah Daah Hey 100 on August 1st. I still feel like I am just getting started. It was only 5 years ago that I weighed 50 lbs more than I do today and decided enough was enough, that I needed to get back in shape. I got back into cycling seriously only 2 years ago, after loosing a bunch of weight and can’t wait to see what else I can do with my new and improved body. I love this endurance racing. Even though I know I left everything I had out on the trail, I know I have more in me. This year is and has been a huge building year for me. I am much stronger on climbs and can simply spin at faster speeds for longer. My cardio is better than it ever has been and I will continue to focus on more strength and endurance.
My Wife and Kids – Thanks for chasing me around to all these races. It was a long day for them at the Lutsen and it was awesome to seem them out on the trail cheering me on. I know it is not easy running around all day with the kids and keeping them happy and fed while I am out racing.