Another Lutsen 99er race weekend and another muddy mountain bike… There is always some water or mud somewhere on the course, but this year was the wetest and muddiest Lutsen 99er that I have personally done with rain coming down almost all day. This race has been growing every year and I believe this year was the largest finishing field of the 99 mile race with over 500 racers finishing within the cutoff time of 11 hours. I had some aggressive goals, which I failed to meet, but I still beat my previous fastest time by about 10 minutes with a finish of 6 hrs and 49 minutes. Enjoy the report!
Strava file, photo gallery and reference links at the bottom of the report
Lutsen 99er Race Course Layout & Elevation Profile
The course is laid out in a big single loop format, with the exception of a section of course that you ride twice. This lap section starts at mile 24 and you are at mile 59 by the time you finish the second lap of the loop. It’s a mix of gravel roads, atv/snowmobile trails and a little bit of singletrack at the finish. Some of the gravel can be a little loose and there are a few sections of the snowmobile trails that are a little bumpy with some scattered rocks or just uneven hard ground.
That being said, I had my front shock locked out for most of the course and I ran a lot of air in my rear shock with the damping cranked all the way over. If I had the extra cash for multiple bikes… I’d probably run a fully rigid 29er for this race.
Training Peaks is giving me an elevation of 5,482 ft and Strava shows me an elevation of 4,618 ft. A big chunk of the climbing is a few miles into the race on the long Caribou Trail road climb and the rest of the climbing is spread amongst the gravel road and atv/snowmobile trail hills that are more typical of what you’d find in your typical rolling hill gravel riding. There are a few sections throughout the course that don’t hit you immediately as going uphill, but are long false flat sections that grind on you after awhile until you realize you’ve been steadily gaining elevation for the last half mile.
Lutsen 99er Race Start to Aid 1 – Mile 24
I was close to the front as we dropped out onto the main highway at the bottom of the hill when they let us loose. I continued to sit in near the front top 20 to 30 as we worked up the highway, which is a bit of a false flat. We made our left hand turn onto Caribou Trail to start the long climb and I expected things to start blowing apart, but they didn’t…
I felt like things stayed extremely tame. We went up faster than my previous fastest time, but I felt like people were holding back. My heart rate was well under control for a climb and I felt very comfortable. When I looked back on Strava, the lead groups in the previous couple of years, when Steve Tilford won the race in 2015 and Jordan Wakely won it in 2016, were definitely faster than this year.
1 guy on a fat bike with aero bars did go off the front in a lead, but nobody seemed interested in chasing him. I assume the big hitters in the race on traditional mountain bikes, knew they would run him down at some point regardless. I sat in and moved around between the top 10 to 20 racers for the length of the climb until we made our right hand turn onto the gravel road around the 9 mile mark.
The pace picked up as me made the turn onto the gravel and I felt like it continued picking up as we worked up the loose rocky two track. I managed to keep my heart rate under control on the climb and felt like I was doing a good job of pacing myself and keeping things under control. I figured I should keep it that way for now and let myself slowly drift off the pace of the lead pack that was pulling away. I got passed by a couple lines of riders in the process, but I wasn’t giving up a bunch and was pacing well. I also assumed some of them were 69er racers.
I lost sight of the front of the group as we were now strung out working up the loose gravel two track. I looked back at some point and could see a break happening behind me as we were reaching the peak of the gravel 2 track. I eventually ended up finding myself split between the 2 groups, which was fine, as I knew there was a little bit of climbing again soon. In hindsight, I wish I would have pushed it a little harder and just stayed on with the larger group in front of me. I think I was being too conservative as I look back at my ride data.
We hit the right hand turn that sends you up the bumpier snowmobile trail. I made really good time through this section, felt strong and was able to catch and pass back a few positions. I was now interested in seeing if I could somehow bridge back up to the tail end of the group that I dropped off of, but they were out of sight and/or things were now strung out.
Out on the gravel, a couple folks caught back on my wheel and then another guy took a pull. As we crested one of the hills, I could see a group of riders up ahead and I pulled around the lead wheelman and asked if he wanted to try and bridge up to them… He said yes and I took another pull, but underestimated the headwind that we had gotten into as we headed west and I didn’t last very long. When my pull was over, the other 2 guys ended up getting away from me with 1 of them making the bridge and I think the other getting caught in the middle. I ended up catching up to the guy caught in the middle and another guy that had fallen off and the 3 of us worked together to Aid 1.
Aid 1 to Aid 2 – Mile 42
A 4th rider jumped in with us as we rolled through Aid 1 and now we had 4 of us working together up the gravel to the next section of trail. We all kind of sat up when we hit the trail and randomly dropped in with nobody fighting for position. I hit the trail in the back. 1 guy got a big tree branch caught in his derailer up the first hill in the trail and had to pull off to clear it. Then the guy on the fat bike got a flat or was losing air. The first guy had pulled away at that point and I was on my own to finish up this section of trail.
I hit the gravel solo and can’t really remember when or how I ended up joining up with other folks on the gravel road to Devil’s Track. I think somewhere in there, I must have joined up with a few other riders, whether they caught me or I caught them. I’m pretty sure I remember trailing somebody as we made the turn and then putting my hands out to signal to a couple folks behind me that we were turning.
I actually never really liked this section of trail. It always feels like its completely energy sucking, whether its wet or dry. There’s no big climbs on it, other than a few hills that a couple years ago felt like they were a lot bigger than they felt this year. Today it was wet. I think I gave up a couple spots and also picked up a couple spots in this section.
I popped out on the gravel road again and found my wife with a fresh water bottle for me at the Devil’s Track spectator location. There was a lot of people standing out there in the rain and cheering on racers.
I soft pedaled out of the spectator spot, kind of looking around to see if there would be a few other riders to work with up the gravel and ended up falling in line with a few folks. The pace was a little slower than I wanted to go and it seemed like the line of riders was growing behind us as more folks were latching on. Like I said, a little slower pace than I wanted to go, but it was a good opportunity to get some recovery in.
I sat in a few spots back for about a half mile or so until we hit the first hill where I carried a little more momentum up it and ended up taking a pull at the front. I took my turn pulling and then flipped my elbow to rotate back. There was a decent line, but it looked like it was splitting up a few spots back, so I jumped back in line at the split about 3 spots back. We hit another hill soon after where I carried good speed up it and ended up in the the lead pull again.
I looked back as we were free rolling down the long downhill about halfway back to the aid station and noticed that I had dropped the pace line. We had a few miles of gravel yet to go and I had no reason to hammer down at the moment and enjoyed some coast down the hill and a few of the riders ended up catching me again before we got back to the aid station at mile 42. In hindsight, I wish I would have stayed on the gas as I left the spectator spot and also stayed on the gas in that last section of downhill grave back to the aid station.
Looking back at the results page, it looks like I was in 27th place overall at the 30 mile mark. My wife later told me that she thought I was in the top 30 for sure and was thinking 28th when I came through the spectator point at mile 35.
Aid 2 to Aid 3 – Mile 59
I rolled through the aid station with a few of them and we took turns pulling most of the way back to the trail, where we all blew apart. I was near the front and can’t remember if 1 of them went off in front of me or not. I know 1 or 2 of them were not far behind, but I made fairly good time through the trail and was coming up on a lot of traffic from folks on their first lap and 69er racers. There was 1 guy that was close behind me as we were making our way through the traffic.
Again, I can’t remember what the situation was when I hit the gravel, but I think I was working up the gravel solo most of the time and making my way around a lot of the lap traffic. The rain had let up slightly at some point in the race and I can’t remember if it was raining at this point or not. I just remember it letting up a bit for a short period on one of the gravel sections. Outside of that it was raining most of the time.
Anyways, I started feeling like crap on this gravel section. Not like physically bad, but my stomach felt like it was turning over. It felt like I had a mix of hunger pains, but really wasn’t quite sure. I had a Honey Stinger energy bar with me for an emergency, which I ate before hitting Devil’s Track. That did not go down very well and I washed it down with the water I had left in my bottle. I think I was out of Carbo Rocket at this point as well, which was good timing, because I was going to swap hydration packs with my wife at the spectator point.
I popped back out on the gravel road, sat up and did some stretching as I rolled into the spectator spot. I had been messing with my seat angle the previous week as I was trying to fix some saddle pain and think I might have tipped it too far forward. I didn’t have any saddle pain, so I opted to keep it the way it was instead of stopping to adjust it. In hindsight, I whish I would have stopped to adjust it as the forward tip on the saddle was really pushing me forward and putting a lot more weight on my arms than I should have. I could feel that fatigue by the end of the race.
Back to the race… I swapped hydration packs and water bottles with my wife and then rolled out of the spectator point. I slow rolled for a bit as I looked around for some other folks to work with, but found nobody at the same pace, so I eventually picked up the pace and rolled out. About halfway back to the aid station, 2 guys caught me that were on the lead lap. I jumped in behind them for a very short period, but they eventually pulled away from me. They were working together well and on a strong pace and I rolled the rest of the way to the next aid station on my own again.
According to the timing results, I had given up 6 positions from mile 30 to mile 47 and came through mile 47 in 33rd place.
Aid 3 to Aid 4 – Mile 70
I didn’t really need to, but I topped off my water bottle before leaving the aid station. My stomach was still feeling like crap and I thought it was best if I had some plain water to drink. I didn’t feel like eating anything or drinking anything other than water. I really didn’t know what was going on with my stomach. I had not gone too hard at any point in the race yet and had kept things pretty conservative, relatively speaking.
I made my right turn up the jeep trail and made a quick stop for the first time to drain some excess waste fluid and then got going again. My legs were feeling pretty good and this is the section of trail that has really wore on me in the past. This year, I made really good time of it and felt strong, even though I still had this nasty stomach feeling.
I also started getting this deep cough that almost made me feel like I was going to throw up. It was all really strange. It was enough that I almost stopped and tried to throw up on purpose just to get it out, but I was afraid of that making me feel even worse, so I pressed on and tried to work through it.
I hit mile 70 at 4 hrs and 36 mins. This was almost 2 and a half hours faster than the first time I did the Lutsen 99er and about 15 mins faster than my previous PR in the race.
Aid 4 to Aid 5 – Mile 80
I filled up my bottle again and kept moving. It seemed like the rain was coming down harder now and I was starting to get a little cold. I worked up the road fast and then made my left into the atv trails. I had to stop again to relieve some fluids and then got back on the trail. I was passing quite a few 69er racers and the trail was getting wetter and wetter with more and more people off their bike walking.
The trail eventually turned into what seemed like a river of flowing water, where I felt like I was riding in a muddy river vs a trail. This is my 4th time riding the Lutsen 99er race and I can’t remember their ever being water in this section of the course that was now completely flooded. I continued passing by 69ers in this section, with many people pushing their bikes. I avoided shifting up to my granny gears and stayed on the gas to avoid coming to a standstill that would force me off the bike.
By the time I reached mile 80, my hands were crazy cold and shaking. I left my hydration pack with my wife at the aid station and grabbed a fresh water bottle. That last section of solid water, took a toll on me and I swear the temperatures felt like they dropped. I could barely see out of my glasses anymore and had been using my water bottle to spray my glasses off.
Aid 5 to Aid 6 – Mile 93
I felt like I had a little spirt of energy when I got going again and made good time up the gravel road of Sawbill Trail. I made my left on Honeymoon Trail and started the long grind up the hill. It’s not a big climb, but it’s a little more than a false flat. It makes you work and it’s long enough to turn into a little bit of a grind. A few 99ers came by and asked if I wanted to jump on their wheel. I said I would try, but I fell off shortly after before we made it all the way up the hill.
Over the other side and now on the decent with higher speeds, the wind on my cold soaked body got to me bad and I went into some bad shakes in my upper body. As in it was a little scary and I was actually riding my brakes down the hill that in previous years I was pedalling hard and spinning out my gears. The shakes were so bad that my handle bars were shaking back and forth and I was afraid of crashing.
I couldn’t get the shakes to go away. My heart rate had dropped significantly now and the shaking was getting bad, even when working back up the hills. I took my glasses off as I couldn’t see anymore out of them and I couldn’t keep up with trying to wipe them off or spray them off with my bottle anymore. I was going slow enough at this point, because of the shakes, that I was not as worried about getting stuff in my eyes. It felt like the temperature had dropped and sure enough, when I look back at my Garmin, it shows that the temperature had dropped slightly to 46 degrees during this period.
I was well off my goal for the race, but I was still on pace to beat my previous best. Until now, I was having a good ride overall, aside from the stomach issue that seemed to be going away. However, I had pretty much stopped fueling because of it and could tell my legs were running out of gas.
It felt like the rain might have let up a little bit and I started working up the hill toward the last Lutsen 99er aid station at mile 93 and felt like the shakes were going away a little bit. I pulled into the aid station and even though it was only 6 miles to the finish, I stopped and grabbed one of the Gu waffles and then pulled up past the aid station as a few riders went by and I ate the waffle. According to my Garmin, the temperature had came back up a couple degrees around this point.
Aid 6 to The Lutsen 99er Race Finish
I got back on the trail, that quickly turns off into a muddy atv section that is always muddy, even when the rest of the trails are dry. I chose a good line and was able to ride all of it. I don’t think that was the case in past years. In the past, the trail has mostly been dry after that, except for a couple mud hole sections after crossing the river, but everything was wet.
Speaking of the bridge, the downhill to the bridge was really sloppy and I rode my brakes all the way down it. I still had some of the cold shakes and was concerned about bike control in the slippery rocks and mud. The rest of the trails around the ski hill were soaked as well.
I hit the wooden ramp that goes up into the singletrack to find the singletrack completely soaked and muddy. I took it fairly easy on the singletrack as I didn’t need to crash only a mile or 2 from the finish. The trails were not rutted, but rather a consistant top layer soup of mud that was sloppy enough to flow back into any rut that was formed.
I popped out of the trail and got passed by somebody who was hot on my tail through the singletrack. It is so weird mentally and difficult to get back in race mode, once you go through a tough point in a race and fall out of that race mode. I find that the times that has happened to me, I go into this just riding along mental state where I am no longer racing and I’m just trying to make the best out of the ride and get to the end. I didn’t have that push like I should for the finish line with it only being a mile away after racing for 98 previous miles. This is something I need to work on…
I rode my brakes down the hill, crossed the river and started the grind up the finish line climb. I got passed by a guy on a fat bike who was looking strong. He hit the new bi-pass bridge in front of me and then we both had to jump off in the mud on the other side as we spun out. He went up ahead of me and I just did a bit of a slow grind to the finish line.
I ended up finishing the Lusten 99er race in 43rd place overall with a time of 6 hours and 49 minutes.
2017 Lutsen 99er Race Final Thoughts
I still think I’ve got a low 6 hour Lusten 99er race in my legs at some point, but it certainly wasn’t going to happen for me with Saturday’s conditions and I just didn’t have the mental fortitude on Saturday to push through. My average heart rate for the entire race was 150 bpm, which is on the low side of where I should have been for the Lutsen 99er. I’ve actually been very close to that same effort in other races lasting 10 to 12 hours. At the end of the day, I didn’t race hard enough and didn’t leave everything out there that I had in me.
Another interesting piece of data… My average heart rate from my prevous best Lutsen 99er race of 6 hrs and 58 mins was 152 bpm, when my threshold heart rate was lower than it is now. Meaning, I was working much harder at the previous 152 bpm than I was at this years average of 150 bpm. Coincidently, my Training Stress Score for this race was more than 200 TSS lower than it was during my previous best Lutsen 99er. This is all a very good sign… My fitness has drastically improved and I was able to go faster with less effort in worse conditiona and a whole lot less stress on the body.
I need to continue working on my leg strength and muscular endurance, along with working on my mental toughness. I also need to go ahead and get some rain gear. It has now been twice this year that I’ve raced in the cold rain and I just haven’t been well prepared for it.
As far as great overall race weekends… This is one of my favorites. The Lutsen 99er race weekend is well run and the whole weekend is a nice festival type atmosphere from check-in on Friday afternoon till the finish of the kid’s races on Sunday morning. There is a big field of racers for a big race weekend, but not too many racers to jam up the trails. It all makes for a great overall experience.
My kids also have a blast at the kid’s fun races on Sunday. They proudly where their Lutsen 99er race t-shirts year round. Big thanks to the Lutsen 99er team for putting together the fun races for the kids on Sunday morning. They don’t have to do it, it’s free for the kids and all the kids get t-shirts and finisher medals. It makes it really easy to take the whole family up for the weekend!