2015 Chequamegon 40 Fat Tire Festival Race Report

You couldn’t ask for better racing weather for the Chequamegon 40 in mid September.  My Garmin showed that it was in the 50s for the entire race and then it warmed up real nice for the afternoon.  It was about 20 degrees warmer at the start line than it was the year before and I was able to hang at the finish line in shorts and a t-shirt while enjoying my post race beverage!  This was my 3rd Chequamegon 40 race and it is hard not to keep coming back.

Going into the race, I wasn’t sure if I would go again next year as I have been building this huge interest in Endurance racing.  There are a few 100 milers on or around the weekend of the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival that I have some interest in.  That being said, I think I am already convinced to come back again next year.  The race is extremely well run and is a great family weekend for us.

Pre Chequamegon 40 Race

Our kids stepped off the school bus Friday afternoon and we were ready to roll out.  The bikes were packed in the truck and the travel trailer was hitched up!  Like most of our weekend racing activities, this would be another family weekend of fun.  We rolled into the Hayward KOA Friday evening to find a campground full of mountain bike racers and I knew I was in good company for the weekend.  I drove up to Telemark Friday evening with one of my racing buddies to pick up our packets.

I love going to races that are big enough to have packet pick up the night before.  I just love the atmosphere and the anticipation of the ride.  I like getting my gear all laid out the night before, my race number / chip attached to my bike and gels taped to my bike’s top tube.  I don’t really get nerved up about racing itself.  I absolutely love the ride and can’t wait till the race starts.  I do get nerved up about making sure I have all my gear like my helmet, shoes, glasses, gloves and Camelbak all set to go, so I don’t show up at the start line missing something.

I woke up early to eat a couple of eggs on a tortilla and then left the KOA at 6:15 to stage my bike in Gate 4, my assigned starting gate.  It turned out that I was not the most ambitious person that morning, but I was still able to grab a really good spot in the second row of Gate 4.  It feels a bit weird dropping my bike off and walking away so early, but I am trying to work my way up each year.  The further I can get toward the front of my assigned gate, the less passing I have to do at the start of the race.

chequamegon 40

I was all set to race at this point and hung around camp till about 8:45 before heading back to the start line in Hayward.  My wife and kids hung out for a bit and then headed toward the OO Road checkpoint about 15 minutes before the race start.  My wife says that traffic can be a bit congested if you wait till after the race starts to drive out to OO.  Racers have to be at their bikes in the starting gate, no later than 9:45 or your bike will be pulled from the line up.  This isn’t real conducive to getting in a good warm-up, but the rollout to Rosie’s Field is a good warm-up in itself.

I was staged next to a guy that had done the race 8 or 9 times and said he couldn’t help but come back year after year.  We exchanged a few words about this race being such a great event and I really liked what he said about not being able to ask for a better day.  He said something like… “I get to spend the day with 2000 of my best friends”.  This is why I don’t get nerved up about the ride itself.  Regardless of how the ride goes for me personally, it’s going to be a good day.  My wife asked me earlier if I was ready to go and I was like, of course…  “I get to ride 40 miles of trails and have a cold beer afterwards”.  I can’t ask for much more than that.

The Chequamegon 40 Race

Chequamegon 40 Start To OO Road Crossing

The race had started up in Gate 1 as I stood over my bike with one foot clipped in waiting for the wave of bike movement to reach me.  I couldn’t wait to get rolling.  As we made our right hand turn onto 77, the field started to thin just enough to provide some space to make up some ground before hitting the tight section of trail heading up to Rosie’s Field.  I wanted to get out in front of as many riders as possible in the first part of the race.

Rosie’s Field was a bit different this year as there was a new road / drive put in that we had to cross over that was already rutted up pretty deep from the 100s of riders that passed before me.  I went wide to avoid as much mud as possible early in the race because, I don’t like wasting my drivetrain in the first couple of miles.  Little did I know that it wouldn’t really matter as the course was extremely wet and my bike would be covered in mud spray by the time I hit the OO crossing anyways.

I was feeling really good and following my plan to pretty much peg it for the first 5 miles.  I just wanted out of the congestion.  I gained spots as I hammered every single up hill.  My legs were feeling good and I kept pushing hard past the 5 mile mark as I continued to pick off more places.  I got a bit nervous that maybe I was pushing too hard, too early as my heart rate was hanging in the 160s and pegging the high 170s at the top of the hills.  I was picking up a lot of spots though and figured I would risk it.

When we reached the gravel on W Phipps Fire Lane, I put my high cadence skills to work and split as many gaps as I could.  We re-entered the Birkie Trail at mile 11 and I was starting to feel the impact of pegging the heart rate.  I remember at one point thinking, that I better back off at some point or I was going to blow up hard.  Traffic was starting to clear up a bit and I noticed I was starting to ride on and off now with a few of the same guys that were pushing hard as well.  I did end up backing off a bit at some point to try and calm the heart rate down.  I was getting close to the OO crossing at the 15 mile mark, which is a bit of milestone in the race and a big spectator spot.

chequamegon 40

When I came through OO, my wife and kids were there cheering for me with some signs that my kids had made.  My wife yelled out 12 minutes to me, which was the amount of time I was back from the leader Jeff Hall at this point.  My wife, later told me that he came through OO with a bit of a gap from the other leaders.  Not that I would catch the lead group, but is fun to know where you stand.  I have a habit of giving my wife and kids a quick thumbs up to let them know I am doing ok whenever I come by them in a race, but I was pretty focused and feeling the impacts of my hard push thus far and just gave them a quick nod as I raced by.  My wife said that she could tell in my face that I had been pushing it.

chequamegon 40

OO To Top Of Fire Tower

After just a short amount of Birkie trail, I was soon out on Janet Road, another section of gravel.  I tried to keep on the gas and knew we would be hitting a section of trail soon that had been congested the last two years that I raced the Chequamegon 40.  I pushed up the last bit of gravel road before hitting the trail with not too much traffic around.

I entered the trail at a good pace which starts as a two track with single track dodges around some big mud holes.  The trail eventually narrows down a bit and is probably the tightest section of trail on the entire course, even though it was still wide enough for a large ATV.  I fell in line as the paced slowed and the lines of riders became wheel to wheel in a single line and took the opportunity to recover a bit.  There was a section of loose sand that was washed out and there was a lot of brake riding as we came down it.  I was fully recovered at this point and getting a bit antsy.  The pace was slowing and the line up of riders was getting tight and I decided to make a move around to the left once we passed the washed out sandy area.

I yelled “on the left” a few times as I made my way up the side of the ATV trail.  Somebody yelled out with a bit of a sarcastic tone “whoa, easy turbo!”  I usually enjoy a bit of commentary from other riders on the trail, but I was a bit annoyed at the tone and ignored it as I kept on the gas.  I kept working my way up the left side of the trail as I took a few hanging tree branches to the face.  In hind sight, this section of trail was shorter than I had remembered from previous years and we soon dumped out on the wider gravel road.  So, I suppose I could have been more patient, but I was pretty focused on my ride.

We dumped out onto some wider gravel shortly after this and I kept up the push.  I knew Fire Tower was the next milestone in the race, but didn’t want to be in traffic when I got there.  I carried good speed on much of the fire roads and gravel on the way to Fire Tower as I attempted to split gaps from group to group, while working my way up the gravel.  I was able to pick off a few more spots and of course I lost a few spots here and there to others pushing themselves harder than I was capable.

It doesn’t matter how hard you think you are pushing yourself.  Unless you are the lead guy, there is always somebody else out there pushing harder than you.  I remember a guy coming by me with a gate 7 bib number on.  I tried jumping on his wheel before getting dropped hard.  This guy had definitely worked his way through some traffic and was on a mission.  I love seeing somebody that focused out on the trail.  It always inspires me to work harder.

Fire Tower To Finish Line

I hit Fire Tower with a small gap, both in front and behind me.  I think I could have made a harder push up Fire Tower, but I settled into the short open space that I had and granny geared up it knowing that we still had the climb up the Birkie Rollers before the finish.  Fire Tower was uneventful as I made my way to the top before enjoying almost 2 miles of downhill on the other side to rejoin the Birkie Trail again.

I did well up the first half of the Birkie Rollers, but was starting to feel the leg fatigue build up on the last couple hills.  The Birkie Rollers just keep going and feel like they will never end.  Nevertheless, I felt like I was holding my own and continued to push myself.  There were a few of us that had been rolling together now for the last 20 miles and pushing the pace together over every hill.  My climbing style has evolved this year quite a bit as it was a major weakness for me last year.   Now it is becoming one of my strengths out on the trail.  I still have more work to do for sure, but I have made great improvements from last year.

When I reached the top of the Birkie Rollers, I knew I was missing my finish line goal of 2:20 by quite a bit.  This was the home stretch though and the next few miles would be a lot of fun with some really fast sections of rocky downhill roads.  I was trying to make up as much time as possible while enjoying the ride.  I worked with another racer at one point to split another gap as we both knew the finish was getting close.

I did lose a couple spots at one point as I found myself struggling a bit at the bottom of one of the last few climbs.  I could here the spectators as we approached the very last hill to the top of Telemark and I knew this was my last hard push.  I was able to reel a few riders back in before cresting the top of Telemark to make the fun decent down the ski hill to the finish.  Once over the top, you just let it rip down the ski hill and enjoy the ride.  There is a left hander with a small up hill just before the finish that requires a good push to keep your speed.  I stood up on the pedals, exerting my last bit of energy over this little hill before spinning hard across the finish line.


Chequamegon 40 Race Summary

chequamegon 40

I ended up finishing in 2 hours, 34 minute, 8 seconds and in 187th place overall.  I was 32nd in my age group of 35 – 39 year olds.  I really would like to have gone faster, but I can’t complain.  I had some major improvements over last year.  I finished just over 5 minutes faster than last year, but last year’s course was slightly shorter and running really fast, where this year’s course was really wet and riding slower.  I moved up about 350 spots from my last year’s finishing place and I feel really good about that.  Referencing what I said earlier, that unless you are the lead guy, there is always somebody pushing harder…  I still got beat by 186 other racers, but it was a hard push for me and every race is another building block.  Plus, it is never a bad day when you get to ride 40 miles in the dirt.

I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go, since I had been focused this year on endurance with the Lutsen 99er and the Maah Daah Hey 100, but I was able to push a fairly consistent high pace from my stand point, for most of the race without burning out.    I’d like to continue to push that wall back and be able to push at higher and higher speeds as I build into next year.  I think it will help me in both the shorter, high speed races like the Chequamegon and the lower speed long distance endurance races as well.

I was a bit nervous at the beginning that I was pushing too hard, but I was able to continue the push for the most part.  I was bib number 820 and passed a lot of people the first 10 miles while trying to make up ground.  I was really hoping to finish under 2:20 and in the top 100, but I will have to give it another go next year.  Once you’ve done the Chequamegon 40, it seems like a hard race to not come back and do again.

I am 3 years into it and have been working my way up through the starting gates a little bit each year.  It can be frustrating at times, but I think that is part of the fun of it and the lure of the race.  It’s part of the accomplishment and feel good at the end, knowing that you gave it your all and if you pick up a few spots from last year, then you have nothing to complain about other than you have to wait another 12 months to do it again…

The race is only part of the event.  The whole weekend is the event.  I got to spend the weekend camping with my family and friends while being surrounded by people that share my same interests.  Each year, I meet new people and make new friends.  The race ends with a nice festival with food and some good micro brews.  My kids enjoyed the heck out of the kids events and are looking forward to the next one.  Hopefully everyone else had the same great weekend and good stories to come out of it that we did.

chequamegon 40

chequamegon 40

Fall is hitting here in Minnesota and I would love to continue racing, but I am also looking forward to a couple Fat Bike races and a good training block to do some heavy racing next year.  The next event on my list at this point is the Solstice Chase in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin in late December.  It will be my first Fat Bike race and I still have to get some good winter riding / racing gear, but I can’t wait to get out there again.  Unless I get real antsy and jump into another race at the last minute, then this might be the last race report until the Solstice Chase at the end of the year.  That being said, next year’s racing is going to come up fast and I plan to do quite a bit more 40 / 50 and 100 milers since that is where I feel at home.  Until then, enjoy the great cool weather riding in the fall and hopefully I see you out on the trail somewhere.

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