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Grantsburg Adventure Tri – 2018

grantsburg tri

The Grantsburg Tri is a fun, low key adventure triathlon in the small town of Grantsburg, Wisconsin. The main event is a 19 mile bike, 1.5 mile kayak and 8 mile run – in that order. Last year I took 4th place overall after leading the bike, dropping a place on the kayak and then dropping 2 more places on the run. I went into it this year, really not knowing how the run was going to go, since I hadn’t run in 3 weeks.

I did have 1 short jog in there to see how my foot was doing, but that was it. I was dealing with a small bout of potential Plantar Fasciitis and was saving my foot for the Tri. It worked out, just because my general fitness is really good. However, my general fitness will let me run a little harder and longer than my running muscles and joints are really ready for, which I paid for the next couple of days.

Course

I usually include details prior to getting into the race report, but my course images are within each section of the race. But, in short… The race starts with the bike at the local park in Grantsburg where the start and finish are at. You finish your bike out in the Crex Meadows area where you leave your bike and complete the kayak portion. Note: you staged your kayak out there in the morning. After the kayak, you run and finish the run back where you started the bike with some detours.

I’ve heard people say they wish the staging areas were all in the same place. But, this is probably the best way to work this one out as it is nice to have the start/finish area in the park, since there are actual facilities at the park. You just have to go back out to the staging area after the race to pick up your bike and kayak.

Gear

A gravel bike is by far your best option here, but I don’t own a gravel bike yet. I’m holding out and waiting on one of those new Trek Checkpoints. Anyway, I used my Trek ProCaliber, which worked out just fine. I used the stock XR2 2.2″ Cross Country tires on it that were set up tubeless with a fairly high air pressure (that I can’t quite remember at the moment).

I left my Altra Superior running shoes in my kayak and swapped my shoes during the kayak portion of the race.

I did not use bike shorts with a chamois, since the bike was only 19 miles. I just used some lycra running shorts, but still wore my bike jersey because I find the back pockets handy.

My kayak is more of a day tripper kayak, so not the fastest… But, also not the slowest.

Nutrition

I’m trying some new stuff this year and going back to some old stuff. I had one water bottle with Scratch mix in it on my bike that I completely finished. I also took a GU gel near the end of the bike segment.

I had a water bottle with plain water in the kayak to wash down the previous gel and hydrate for the run while I was paddling.

During the run, I took down another gel and then just grabbed water and gatorade at a few aid stations on course.

Race

A couple notes on the race before diving into the details…

The start goes off in waves. The first wave is the folks doing the race as a relay team, then there are multiple waves that follow with folks doing the individual race. I was in wave 2, the first wave of individual racers lined up next to Ben Mullin and Greg Atkinson, with Greg being the favorite to win the overall.

There is also no drafting allowed in this race.

Bike Segment

grantsburg tri

We started to roll off the start line and I didn’t get very far before I noticed Greg and Ben beside me dialing up the effort and I decided to go on the attack immediately. Any gap that I was going to put on them would have to be on the hills or gravel and we wouldn’t hit much gravel until a few miles into the race. This first section of the race was a long gradual uphill and I figured I should take advantage of it. I pulled away fairly quick and stayed on the gas all the way up the hill and through the sandy corner to immediately pull a big gap on them.

I was not ready for the run and figured my best tactic was to make them work harder on the bike than what they should, hoping to wear out their legs before the run. Then, I would just suffer through the run myself trying to hold them off as long as I could…

Once out on the pavement, I don’t think I put anymore gap on them as they were on gravel bikes while I was on knobby mountain bike tires. Ben might have even reeled me back a little bit on the pavement. By the time we were approaching Crex Meadows, I was coming up on some of the wave 1 folks. I think the 2 track section was likely an advantage from my end with a mountain bike.

After the 2 track section we had some more pavement, which is where I knew I could quickly lose my gap if I didn’t stay on the gas. I never really pinned it though and kept my effort to about what I would do for a 3 to 4 hour mtb race, with my heart rate averaging around 161 bpm over the entire bike ride.

Out on the pavement after the 2 track, I caught the leader of the wave 1 relay riders. I stayed pretty aero for most of the ride by staying tucked in and gripping my bars, just outside of the stem. I’m running a 1 x 12 GX Eagle drivetrain with a 34 tooth chainring, which was putting me back and forth between my 10, 12 or 14 tooth gears in the back. I may swap out my 34 tooth ring in the future for a 36 tooth ring as I don’t think I’ve had to use the 50 tooth gear out back yet.

Anyway, I tried to maintain my gap on the pavement and then tried to maintain that same pace once I hit gravel. I was hoping the gravel would level the playing field a bit between the gravel bikes and my mountain bike. I do think I increased my gap on the gravel some more. I downed a GU gel near the end of the bike and hit the kayak with a nice lead… Almost 2 minutes on Ben and almost 15 minutes on Greg, who had a flat and was now riding a disfunctional Walmart bike that a spectator had passed on to him to finish the ride. However, I did not know that had happened at this point and assumed he was a few minutes behind.

Kayak Segment

grantsburg tri

I had my running shoes and a bottle of water already in my kayak, which was waiting in the water for me. I got confused shortly though on my way to the water as I swear I saw my kayak still sitting up on shore in the staging area. I think they rearranged the kayaks after we staged them because there was an orange kayak that looked just like mine sitting in the very place that I had left my kayak in the morning. Anyway, short confusion, only seconds and then I realized my kayak was infact in the water waiting for me. They have a volunteer about a quarter mile from the finish of the bike with a radio, that calls the upcoming racer #s to the staging area, so they can get your kayak in the water and ready for you.

I jumped in and they pushed me off. Last year I had not kept a steady push in the kayak, but I was determined this year to not waste anytime. Before I made the first turn, I saw Mullin in the water and on the chase. He was in a faster kayak and I did not want to let him catch me before the run, I wasn’t sure I could hang with him on the run if we were to hit the run head to head.

Between paddle strokes, I managed to reach down and pop the BOA clamps on my shoes and then was able to kick them off in the kayak while I was still paddling. I also was able to reach down quick and orient my shoes so that I could get toes in them. I only had to reach down again and pull the heel of my shoes up and I was good to go, other than stopping to tie them once on shore.

I’m pretty sure Ben put a little bit of time on me in the water other than the few seconds that the clock shows. I only had to quickly tie my shoes, but I think I remember Ben saying afterwards that he still had to swap shoes on shore, so he likely made up a little time over what the clock actually shows.

Run Segment

grantsburg tri

I took off on the run feeling ok… As I mentioned above, I hadn’t run in 3 weeks other than a short jog about 2 weeks prior. I was concerned about some potential plantar fasciitis, but nothing was creeping up as I took off on the run. It was exciting to be in the lead still at this point, but I also knew that Greg would likely be running me down around the mid-point of the run. I also knew too, that Mullin had been doing some running and was nervous he might be able to run me down also. My only hope was that I stretched him out enough on the bike to fatigue his legs.

Everything seemed to be working as I headed down the gravel road until I made the left hand turn onto the short pavement section. My hamstrings locked right up on me and I was doing a straight legged walk. I wasn’t really sure what to do at this moment other than try to walk them off. I figured I didn’t have much time to waste though. Part of me was thinking there was no way I was going to make it the full 8 miles with these types of cramps only a few hundred yards into the run. As soon as they started to relax, I slowly started jogging again and ramping my pace back up.

I made my right hand turn onto the sandy 2 track that would wrap around the airport. I got a little ways down the 2 track and the cramps came back again. I thought it was game over for me at this point. I walked them off shortly until they relaxed and then started back up with a trot and then back to running again.

You can see in the graph above the various places where my pace spiked down… Not all of them were the cramps though. The one around the 2.5 mile mark was when I stopped to grab a cup of water and cup of gatorade at the aid station. Again, around the 4 mile mark I stopped shortly to grab more water and gatorade.

I made it through the sandy section and was out on pavement. As I headed down the road, I could see Ben back in the distance and knew I needed to keep my pace up. I made the left hand turn through the sandy corner that was near the start of the bike earlier in the day to start my gradual downhill back toward the original start line in the park. This is where the final 4 miles of the run hits the old ski trails. I looked back a few times and thought I saw Ben back there, but I think I put some distance on him as we came down the hill. It was at this point last year that Greg ran me down along with another runner. It was exciting to still be in the lead.

It had not dawned on me yet that Greg might have had a mechanical. I thought with my fast ride and then not wasting any time on the paddle… there was a good chance I could hold Greg off for a couple of miles further than last year.

When I hit the trails, I was starting to hurt. I was just feeling fatigued overall and wasn’t sure how these next 4 miles were going to shake out. The trail isn’t bad at first, but then gets hilly about halfway through with a few almost hiking pace hills in the final couple miles. I had my leg cramps fire back up at some point and had to walk them off. They were kind of going in and out after that and I would dial my effort back slightly depending on the terrain, to possibly avoid a full cramp up.

Around 6 miles in, I was really starting to look for Greg… It was at this point that I started wondering if he might have had a mechanical. About 7 miles in I was sure that he had a mechanical on the bike and then realized I could actually win this thing. Even if Greg had not had a mechanical… I certainly didn’t want to give this thing up in the final mile and I started creeping my pace up as much as I could.

I came out in a straightaway flat stretch along the river and saw a few RVs. I knew I was close and I couldn’t see anybody behind, but I still ramped it up and ran for the finish as fast as I could.

I ended up crossing the finish line in 1st place at 2 hrs, 18 mins and 50 secs with Greg coming in 2nd at 2 hrs, 21 mins and 30s and Ben finishing 3rd at 2 hrs, 23 mins and 18 secs.

Greg had actually completed the run segment almost 9 minutes faster than me.

Afterthoughts…

Running is so strange for me now that my fitness is really good all around. I seem to be able to run harder or longer from a cardio respect than what my legs are really ready for. I’ve got a good engine, but if I’m going to run, I really need to do it more often and start slowly ramping my miles up or I’ll end up hurting myself. I never got off my feet the rest of the day until going to bed after midnight and I paid for it the next day. I could barely walk the next morning when I got out of bed. My legs and hips just weren’t prepared for an 8 mile run.

Anyways, I’m doing the Wilderman in July which is an Iron Man distance offroad triathlon, which I’m not ready for. I really like riding my bike, so as much as I want to try this multi-discipline stuff out… I’m not sure how far I’ll take it. This is a fun event regardless though, even if I don’t get into the multi-discipline sports.

Reference Links

Strava Files



Race Links

Grantsburg Adventure Triathlon

2018 Granstburg Adventure Triathlon Results

Endurance Path Links

Endurance Path on Facebook

Endurance Path on Instagram

Steve on Twitter

Steve on Strava

Cyclova XC Links

Cyclova XC website

Cyclova XC on Facebook

Cyclova XC on Instagram

Cyclova XC on Twitter

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Fatbike Birkie Race Report – 2018

fatbike birkie

This was my second Fatbike Birkie and I had a little better overall finish than my previous. That being said, I felt fairly miserable for most of the race. I just couldn’t get my legs moving… They felt heavy and I just couldn’t get warmed up and moving. I felt like I was in trouble as soon as we hit the first hill and I started falling back.

Course

fatbike birkie

I like point to point races, but it sure is nice to finish in the same place that you started… I think I like point to point because I get bored of repeated laps, so a course like this with 1 big loop is the best as it feels like a point to point, but you don’t have to find a ride back to your car. The course followed the American Birkebeiner skate course out to OO and then took the classic course in reverse of the American Birkebeiner back to the start.

fatbike birkie

As you can see, the course is a constant up or down. There is very little flattish areas of the course. My elevation gain on Training Peaks came out to just over 3,000 feet. That’s a lot of climbing for a sub 30 mile course.

Gear

Bike

Trek Farley Carbon w/ Bontrager Carbon Wampa 27.5″ wheels and 4.5″ Barbagazzi Tires – I continue to ilke this bike and set-up.

GX 12sp Eagle with XO Cranks (was a closeout on the cranks when I built the bike) – I’m sold on the 1 x Eagle drivetrain and it’s pretty affordable now in the GX level.

Shimano XT brakes with non heat sink rotors – hard to beat these brakes.

Spare Parts & Tools

Topeak Hexus Multi-tool

25g air cartridge with Genuine Innovations Air Chuck

Sram Power Link

Nutrition

I can’t actually remember exactly what I did for nutrition, but I believe I had a bottle with Carbo Rocket and 1 with water. I think I also had a package of CliffBlocs. Somewhere along the way, somebody handed me a can of Mountain Dew also. I haven’t had one of those in years, but it was good at the time; although a bit sweet for my liking.

Race

To Timber Trail

fatbike birkie

The start of this race is awesome with such a crazy wide trail. The gate is super wide, so even if you are in the second gate, you end up only being a few rows back from the front line once everybody rolls up. I do remember during the rollout, one of the gate 1 guys yelling back at people to stop moving up because it was a neutral rollout…

Not to poke… but I found it amusing in a couple of ways… For one; the trail is 50ft wide and people are going to fill in the gaps and squeeze up. If they don’t, they’ll just start losing spots to everybody else that is squeezing up. Secondly, what’s that guy have to worry about if he’s a gate 1 racer… He afraid some gate 2 guy might beat him…? Anyways, I didn’t see anything going on that was out of the ordinary for any other typical rollout.

So the race was on and I was somewhere up in the mix between the gate 1 and 2 folks as the pace started dialing up. We hit the first hill and then I knew it was bad. I didn’t really feel the greatest anyways, but I just didn’t have it and felt like I was going backwards. This whole first section is uphill with some downhill dips along the way. Things started spreading out fast and I went from being in this thing mentally for a decent race to damage control in a hurry.

I hadn’t had a chance to warm up or loosen my legs before the race as I had gotten there just in time to get my number plate, chat with a couple of folks and then drop my bike in the gate. I wish I would have been able to spin the pedals for 10 minutes at least. In hindsight, it actually probably wasn’t all that bad when I look back. It’s not like I was a slug, but I just wasn’t feeling it that day.

This went on through the entire first section of trail and then some.

To Fire Tower

fatbike birkie

The overall elevation continues to gain and I was remembering some of these hills from the American Birkebeiner a couple of weeks prior. I struggled to get up the hills on my skis also. My power is actually up a little from this time last year, but my overall weight is up also. Losing 8 to 10 lbs would do me some good.

I still felt terrible through here and actually was probably feeling worse at the end of this section than I did at the end of the previous section. I was actually getting to a point where I just didn’t even want to be out there anymore. I had some bad attitude problems for a while. Don’t get me wrong… This was far from some sufferfest slog that the long endurance races bring. This was simply just not feeling it and suddenly just not wanting to be out there anymore.

Regardless, I kept pushing on.

To Boedecker

fatbike birkie

So after feeling like I was going backwards since the start of the race, I hit some downhill sections and gave my legs a little break. My head wasn’t quite in it yet, but I was now 45 minutes into this thing and at the end of the day… I wasn’t going to quit even though I didn’t want to be there in those moment(s). I wasn’t suffering, I wasn’t in pain, my hands weren’t frozen, etc… I was just tired and didn’t have the legs that I wanted that morning (happens more often than not I guess…).

Anyway, I think by the time I hit Boedecker I was starting to come around from the point of not wanting to be out there to… Well, I’m here and I need to finish the job the best I can.

To OO and Back To Boedecker

fatbike birkie

By the time I hit OO my legs were actually starting to feel like they were ready to race. I didn’t have the power that I wanted, but I was starting to get my head into the game more. I made the turnaround at OO and knew I was past halfway now and just needed to bring it home. I started working a little harder on the flats and taking some more risk in the downhills. The risk in the downhills was helping me pick up some places and bringing back my motivation while stomping out the whiny negative attitude in my head. I still wasn’t climbing well, but I was mentally getting back in the game.

By the time I got back to firetower, I was mentally in full race mode… About time as I was over an hour into a race that wouldn’t take much more than 2 hours to finish.

To Fire Tower

fatbike birkie

I was starting to race harder now. You can see it in my average heart rate for these last 2 sections if you look in the lap charts. My average heart rate was up 4 beats per minute in the last 2 sections of the race. I was still struggling on the uphills, but I found myself fighting harder to stay with people vs just letting them go. I would then make up places on the downhills. I was actually starting to race my bike…

To Timber Trail

fatbike birkie

I think I mentioned this in my Birkebeiner ski race report… But, these trails all kind of just blend together for me. It’s not like singletrack where I remember very specific sections of trail… This is wide groomed highway through the woods. It’s amazing, but it does blend together for me mentally.

The further I got into this thing, the more serious I was feeling about racing and I actually started making up some spots on the climbs now. I don’t know whether that was the fatigue of others or me working harder. I think it was a mix of both.

To Finish

fatbike birkie

On to the finish… You keep thinking that it’s all downhill from here, but like I mentioned earlier… It’s all up and down. You might lose overall elevation through a section of the course, but you are going to climb repeatedly on your way down. I was in race mode here. I think I continued picking off a few more spots on the way to the finish, but I was still struggling on the climbs. My legs were fried when I crossed the finish line, but I felt better in my head as well for having pulled things together and getting into race mode.

I ended up finishing 83rd overall out of 486 racers with a time of 2 hrs and 7 minutes – 18 minutes back from the winner.

Wrap Up

Even though I didn’t really enjoy the racing much, I enjoyed the day and overall event. I was able to catch up with a bunch of folks that I either know from the Cyclova team or from just getting out to events. I also ran into Ben Welnak from Mountain Bike Radio… which led into us recording a podcast. There is a link below to it.

All said and done… This was probably one of the best winters I’ve had for winter sports in general. I got out on my fatbike quite a bit, went skiing a few times and even did my first American Birkebeiner. That being said, I’m ready for summer now. It’s been a long, but great winter. Until next time…

Mountain Bike Radio Podcast

Was great catching up with Ben Welnak and I really appreciate him having me on the podcast. I really enjoyed it and to be honest… I think I kind of missed doing some podcasting w/ Ben and Mountain Bike Radio. Ben actually did a whole series of podcasts for Fatbike Birkie, 6 in total. You can check them out here:

Fatbike Birkie Series w/ Mountain Bike Radio

Other Reference Links

Race Links

Fatbike Birkie

2018 Fatbike Birkie Results

Endurance Path Links

Endurance Path on Facebook

Endurance Path on Instagram

Steve on Twitter

Steve on Strava

Cyclova XC Links

Cyclova XC website

Cyclova XC on Facebook

Cyclova XC on Instagram

Cyclova XC on Twitter

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Birkie Fever – My First American Birkebeiner

american birkebeiner

This will be a new one for folks that have been following along here… The American Birkebeiner was my first ski race, so this will be my first ever ski race report… I got some classic skis when I moved to Minnesota 5 years ago and used them a handful of times. I borrowed some skate skis from a friend a few years ago to try them out once and then didn’t get my own until last fall. I got out on my skate skis 3 times last winter and 4 times this winter. So, I am by all means a newbie and just getting started. I’ve heard about the Birkie and skiing is quite popular around here, so it was just a matter of time before I got into it. Plus, Cyclova XC – the shop that I am now part owner of… Is more than a bike shop, it’s a ski shop also! So… I am all in on the ski scene at this point!

From my understanding the American Birkebeiner is the largest and longest ski race in the US. It is also part of the World Loppet and racers do travel in from all over the world for the American Birkebeiner. The skate race, which is what I raced… is 50 kilometers long (31 miles) and is hilly. For those that have done the Chequamegon 40… You’ll be familiar with the course as the Chequamegon 40 rides part of the Birkie course, but in the opposite direction. Just know that when the Chequamegon 40 dumps out on fire lanes and gravel roads, the Birkie course is still going up and down hills. You can see the elevation profile below.

There were 3,654 people in the 50k skate ski race itself, so it’s a big event. In fact, the start of the race takes an hour to get all the waves started. It’s a lot to take in and the most impressive event I have been part of to date. I now get why people talk about getting Birkie Fever… It’s a really awesome experience and I’m already looking forward to next year. I even pre-ordered a new set of Madshus skis for next year. I didn’t go all the way high end, but I did order a nice set of race skis. We recently put in a big order of skis for Cyclova XC next year and we will have a nice selection of new skis for next year.

One note about my race details and report… It gets thin as the race goes on, but I’ve still provided the aid station splits so you can follow along on the course as I work through these. Each section still has its own little detail. It just thins out along the way, but then full memory comes back to me for the final section.

Note: Reference links and strava file link at the bottom of report…

American Birkebeiner Skate Course

Route

american birkebeiner

The course starts at the official Birkie Trailhead in Cable, Wisconsin and winds its way southwest through the woods to finish in downtown Hayward, Wisconsin. It also crosses the length of a lake just before dumping you into Hayward. It’s a wide path with a couple of road crossings, which is every bit of impressive. They actually shut down route 77 for this race with snow plowed and groomed right across the road for the race. That is some local dedication to a ski race!

Speaking of that… They actually shutdown the entire main street of downtown for the weekend, where the finish line is at. They haul in snow and groom the entire street for a nice finish line shoot that has a slight uphill grade. Plus, I have to mention the bridge that is hauled in and assembled just for the Birkie. This bridge is assembled over route 63 to avoid shutting down the entire corridor. There is a lot of work that goes into this event.

The skate and classic course both start from the same spot, but split off shortly after starting the race and then reconnect about halfway through the race. This is good as it gives the skaters and classic folks their own course for a good portion of the race and then they don’t reconnect until later when traffic is more thinned out.

Elevation

american birkebeiner

It’s all hills… There are only a few short spots that level out throughout the entire course, except for the lake crossing at the end of the race. This course makes you work! My Training Peaks account shows me 2,105 feet of elevation gain for the course.

You can see that the course works its way uphill from the start, but check out the grade of those hills at the back end of the course. You hit those hills in the last 10k of the course when you’re deeply fatigued.

My Gear & Nutrition Set-Up

Skis

Rossignol ZyMax SK 180 w/ Recent Cold Universal Stone Grind and hot box

Ski Notes: These skis might be a little short for me and I am also a little heavier than I was last year when I fitted them, so my effective touch points on the skis are fairly short. They feel a little skittish… partly from me still figuring out what the heck I’m doing, but they’re likely a little on the short and soft side for me this year. I have a new pair of Madshus Nanosonic Carbon Skates on order for next year in a 190 length and 60 to 75kg flex range. I would be approaching the high end of the flex on these also if I gained more weight, but I should end up right in the middle of the flex with very little weight cutting.

As far as wax… I went with Fast Wax 20 across the board.

1 layer Non-Fluoro Fast Wax 20

2 layers Low-Fluoro Fast Wax 20

1 layer High-Fluoro Fast Wax 20

Wax notes: I did not put on a top coat as I just didn’t think my abilities warranted me putting on a full flouro top coat. I also didn’t follow the exact wax recommendations… Not that I have enough experience to really feel the difference, but I already had some High Fluoro Fast Wax 20 in my personal wax box. I also figured putting on that warmer wax was really only going be relevant for about 20% of my race anyways, so I stuck with the 20 for my final high flouro layer. Additionally, it was going to be cold the night before, so the snow was still likely to be fairly cold, even though the air temps were going to rise later in the race.

Poles

One Way Diamond 9 Max

Boots

Rossignol World Cup Series

I think my boots are about a half size too big, so I have a new pair of Madshus Nano Carbon Skates on order for next year.

Getting To The Birkie Start Line

I drove up to Hayward on Friday to pick up my # bib and get my cool Birkie backpack that would be my drop bag for the finish line. You can use the plastic bag they give you or this year you could buy a nice backpack. I went for the backpack as it didn’t cost very much and is a nice pack. Anyways, the expo was cool and I got to see the whole scene on Friday. I didn’t have a place to stay in Hayward, but drove back toward home and met my wife and kids at a hotel in Hinckley, Minnesota. It didn’t save a ton of time, but it did save me about 50 minutes of driving back home Friday night and another 50 minutes of driving toward the startline on Saturday morning. You can pick up your # bib at the startline, but not your backpack and I wanted to check out the whole scene on Friday anyways.

You can’t park at the startline, although I do think there is some special parking that you can pay for ahead of time. That being said, they have a great set up with a massive parking area outside of town where buses pick you up and take you to the start line. It was a non-issue and worked out well. I got off the bus at the start line with my wife and kids, (they wanted to see the start) and was in awe. I’ve never seen so many skis. It was a really awesome site to be seen…

Skis all over the place, a huge tent, a barn and tons of people. They had drop bag vehicles all set up and porta-jons as far as the eye could see. It was impressive! I arrived there about an hour before my wave start, just in time to hear wave 1 take off. The race is organized in waves for the start to seperate out the traffic. It works much like the Chequamegon 40 where each time you do the race, you can try moving up waves as you achieve faster finishing times. The difference is, that the Birkie waves actually start at different times and you get the chip start time as long as you are not in the elite wave. I was in the very last wave.

So you have all your warm up stuff on over your ski suit clothing to stay warm, but about 15 minutes before your start time you need to start peeling it off and get in line to enter the start gate. Once they let your wave into the start gate, everybody runs up as far as they can to try to get toward the front of the wave. This happens a couple times as they stage the waves. Once your wave is on the start line, it’s time to lock into those ski bindings and wait for the start ribbon to lift…

The Race

To Timber Trail

american birkebeiner

As I mentioned above, I was in the last wave (wave 7). I was lined up in the tracks about 4 rows back from the front of the wave. The start ribbon went up and we were off. I was slow… We basically double poled our way out of the start shoot until there was some clearance around us to start skating, but it was really soft. I struggled with it and felt like I was going backwards as people from the rest of the wave started passing me.

Shortly after I got to experience the hills that I had heard about after the start, where lines form and you end up just walking up without any glide. After about 5k, I was starting to get nervous about how long of a day this might end up being. I was feeling good fitness wise, but it was slow going for sure. The snow was soft and I was struggling to get in any type of good rhythm.

Going into the first aid station… was a new experience for me. It was packed and hard to find a spot to grab a quick feed. There were lines forming as people were looking for fluids. I can’t remember the difference at this point between the various aid stations, but I think I actually stopped and tried to find some fluids at this first one.

To Firetower

american birkebeiner

I noticed this more and more as I moved through aid stations later in the race, but the traffic on the trail seemed to thin out a little more after each aid station. I can assume each aid was picking up more folks that were stopping and taking a little more time to feed, therefore I was moving up the field a bit each time.

I really don’t remember the various milestone points on the trail. To me it’s all just up and down hills. However… it’s mostly uphill in the first part of the race. Up to this point was still slow going for me. The trail was still soft, especially on the uphills and I just didn’t have a good rhythm going. I stopped a few times to drink and then dig into some cliff blocks. I couldn’t figure out how to do that while moving quite yet.

This entire section was mostly uphill and felt like a slog. I was a becoming more concerned about how long this thing was actually going to take me. I can’t remember if I stopped for a real long time at this aid station or not. One of them, I mostly blew through because the lines were long and I thought I’d try to move past and catch an open feed on the backside of the aid station, but couldn’t find one and kept moving…

To Boedecker

american birkebeiner

Finally some sustained downhill sections… I’m not really sure, but I think this is the long Birkie roller climb during the Chequamegon 40, except we went down it in the ski. It was fun and I think it really gave me a chance to get comfortable and find my balance on the skis. Somewhere in this area might have also been the first of those steeper downhills that I had heard about where it’s pretty much frozen toboggan runs from people snowplowing… Even though, I am new to the skiing… I think I have a bit of a comfort level in going fast downhill as a carry over from biking.

Anyways, I remember coming into one of them and getting locked into one of the toboggan runs to find myself coming up on a guy really fast. I couldn’t slow down fast enough and he had the brakes on hard. I actually started yelling out to him “go, go, go…”, “I can’t slow down fast enough…”. I ended up coming right up on him about the same time a guy went down next to him… He went down also and then I went down right behind him and then the guy behind me, etc… It was a good show for the trailside crowd that was gathered in hopes of seeing that very spectacle.

To OO

american birkebeiner

I think it was around this point that I started getting more comfortable and getting into a rhythm. It’s really hard to say when and where. The Birkie is all up and down hills and I have a hard time remembering back many of the sequence of events like I do with mountain bike races. I do remember specific hills and parts of the trail along the way, but I really can’t remember where some of those hills were actually at.

At any rate, I also was starting to get the aid station stuff figured out also by this time. It might have been because the traffic was thinned out, but it seemed like I was able to ski in to the aid station, grab some fluids quickly and be on my way.

To Gravel Pit

american birkebeiner

Traffic was really thinning out after OO and I think this is where the trail widens out for a little bit. I felt ok here and if I remember correctly… I think I was starting to get in a much better rhythm by now and was slowly but surely picking people off and making up spots in traffic from at this point. I think many of the spots I picked up in traffic toward the beginning of the race was more about being efficient in aid stations, but by this time I was actually passing people on the skis.

I tried to be as efficient as possible on the downhills and would tuck in as much as possible. You would think the downhills would be a bit of a break, but those quads can start to burn after holding a good tuck time and time again. Then, you’d come right out of that tuck into a double pole and then skate again to get up the next hill without losing momentum.

Somewhere in here I took a nice big crash on a slight downhill. I was getting more comfortable to the point that I was skate a little further into the downhills to go faster… I got my ski caught in a rut and splattered myself across the trail.

To Mosquito Brook

american birkebeiner

I knew there would be some Cyclova crew out at the Mosquito Brook area, but wasn’t sure if my wife and kids were going to make it over there. I made it to Mosquito Brook and it was cool to see some my  wife and kids out there with other Cyclova folks. They all looked like they were having a great time! I didn’t stop though as I was in a good rhythm and kept going.

To Hatchery Creek

american birkebeiner

There were a couple of climbs in here that really got me. I was basically to the point that I wasn’t gliding at all anymore on the climbs and was just stepping up them, or at least I remember that for 2 of the big ones. I felt like I was in the home stretch though. I actually skipped this last aid station all together.

To Finish

american birkebeiner

The biggest memory I have here is the lake crossing and finally seeing that bridge over hwy 63. I crossed over hwy 77 and remember somebody yelling out something to the effect of “keep it up 1st time birkie…”. I was thinking I was close to the lake now, but as it turns out… There were a couple of climbs before we made the decent down to the lake. I was exhausted at this point and was definitely struggling on the uphills, but I was giving it everything as I was thinking we were close…

I finally hit the lake and figured this was it! I picked up the effort a bit and you can see that my heart rate had a bit of a slow and steady climb until the end of the lake crossing, before spiking up a bit at the end. I tried getting in a draft across the lake, but never could quite match someone else’s pace. I didn’t want to hold back at this point and sit behind someone going a little slower than I wanted, but then I couldn’t keep up with some of the other folks that were on the hammer.

The lake was also longer than I thought. I felt like it went on forever. I don’t remember the wind being very bad, like I had heard it could be. I was just ready for the finish though.

I remember finally hitting the end of the lake and then making a left hand turn and seeing the snow covered street lined with people. My form was horrible at this point and I’m terribly inefficient on skis… I wasn’t fast, but I put in one heck of an effort to get to this point and I started feeling a bit choked up as I realized I had finally made it to the finish. It really hit me when I made that right hand turn and saw the “bridge”… I teared up a little with emotion as I struggled to get up the bridge.

My legs were spent. I was a little wobbly by the time I got to the top and had to steady myself a bit before going down the other side… I really didn’t want to crash on main street. I made it! Then, I put in a hard and later confirmed by pictures… one heck of an ugly effort of Main St. to the finish line. That was hard, but that was one of the most spectacular race finishes I’ve experienced!

I ended up finishing in 4 hours and 38 minutes and in 2,815th place out of 3,652 racers. Like I said… That’s far from anything fast with the leaders this year finishing just over 2 hours, but I feel decent about my finish with my limited amount of skiing.

Final Thoughts

This whole Endurance Path thing and me getting back in shape was for stuff like this. I never had the Birkie in mind and quite frankly, didn’t know anything about it when I started getting back in shape. But, my reason for getting back in shape was to have the ability to go do things like this on a whim. My entire goal with maintaining a high fitness level was to not to be the fastest guy out there or ever really focus in on one specific thing. My entire goal was to carry enough fitness to be able to go out and do epic stuff like the Birkie and many of the other things I’ve been doing; whenever I wanted and be in good enough shape to enjoy it and have a respectable finish.

All that being said, I think as human beings… we like to improve at things that we do. I love continuous improvement both from a professional working/career level and a personal level. I bring up the working/career part as I’ve spent most of my post college career working in some level of continuous improvement capacity and it has carried over to everything else in my life. Anyways, I’m geeked up about improving my ski abilities, just like I work on my biking capabilities each year and now throwing some trail running into the mix. This whole subject could probably use its own write-up down the road.

Anyways, I’ll see you at the Birkie next year…!

GPS and Heart Rate Data

I made the image links clickable to expand so you can open them up to view better if interested.

american birkebeiner

I spent a whole lot of time in my heart rate threshold zone. Note that it was mostly below threshold, which is why I was able to maintain. This fairly significant for me during this time of the year. I’ve done some fat bike racing in the past, but I believe this to be my hardest sustained effort at this level for any activity in the winter. It bodes well for my current fitness as long as I can carry this into the spring/summer without crashing.


american birkebeiner

This is just another look at the length of sustained effort. My heart rate threshold on the bike is over 170 and I am probably in the best all around cardio condition that I’ve ever been in. Which can be taken 1 of 2 ways… It’s really great situation because it’s winter and I haven’t ramped up any serious training or 2… I’ve just used up one of my peak conditioning periods for the year and my target season hasn’t even started yet… Time will tell, but I think it’s the first one and I’m just starting out the year in a really good place relative to past years.


american birkebeiner

This is just the splits from each section of trail.


Feel free to follow along on my Strava account if interested.

Reference Links

A friend passed me this book a couple years ago and this helped inspire me to get into skiing and eventually take on the Birkie. I also know the author of the book now as well. It’s a great read and you would enjoy it, even if you are not into skiing. FYI… It’s also an affiliate link, which I don’t do often, but I will get a small commision from Amazon if you make a purchase after clicking the link.

Beyond Birkie Fever by Walter Rhein

Race Links

American Birkebeiner

2018 American Birkebeiner Results

Endurance Path Links

Endurance Path on Facebook

Endurance Path on Instagram

Steve on Twitter

Steve on Strava

Cyclova XC Links

Cyclova XC website

Cyclova XC on Facebook

Cyclova XC on Instagram

Cyclova XC on Twitter

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Fatbike Enduro Runs – Polar Roll 2018

fatbike enduro

This one is short, but I like documenting all these events… I wasn’t sure what the Fatbike Enduro Runs were going to entail, but I had the opportunity to stay in Marquette for another day and figured why not… I’m glad I did, because it was a ton of fun and the 3rd run pushed my riding limits or at least got me to loosen up a bit.

The Fatbike Enduro consisted of 3 downhill runs that you had to ride, or push your bike up to the start and then you were timed going down. We had a few hours to get it all done and the winner was the person with the fastest combined time for all 3 runs.

These all took place on the Marquette South Trails.

Run 1 – Eh Line

fatbike enduro

This run is actually in the Marji Gesick 100 race and is not a technical downhill, but a smooth and bermed jumped line instead. It felt like the top was a little slick, so I went into it a little conservative as I figured sliding out would completely ruin my time. I could have definitely went faster and eventually realized that traction was really good. It was too late though and I think I had about a middle of the pack time down Eh Line.

Run 2 – Flow

fatbike enduro

I don’t believe I’ve ever ridden down this trail in the summer. It’s called Flow Trail, but I don’t know that I really had too great of a flow down it. It was really narrow and I think snowshoed in the night before. I again went into it a little slow as I feel skittish in really narrow trail, but picked up speed toward the bottom. There are some narrow bridges to hit and then another bridge near the end that you will catch air off the other side if you come into it with any speed. Again, I think I had about a middle of the pack time on this run.

Run 3 – Chunder Muffin

fatbike enduro

Chunder Muffin was awesome. It actually had some rocky drops in it. You roll down some of them or just send it and I don’t know what got into me, but I sent it…! It was a really narrow trail with some really tight turns and multiple drops. I found myself coming over a drop, picking up a little confidence… Letting it fly a little more over the next and then just letting it go after that. I did slide out once into a small pine tree, but quickly got rolling again. Then again at the bottom, I slid out on the last turn right before the finish line. Some of the folks that were not riding had all hiked up and were cheering the riders on. It was scary and fun all at the same time. I actually had the 2nd fastest time down this one.

I was all smiles at the bottom and decided I “need” to do more of this. I spent the rest of the day dreaming of long travel bikes…

Eh Line Train

fatbike enduro

Photo Credit: Bryan Dew – Thanks for the photo!

While they were reviewing the timing, we all went back up to the top of Eh Line to record a video of everyone coming down. At the end, we opted for some more shenanigans and set up for some photos with fatbikes catching air. It was a good day and hope I can stick aroud for this again next year.

Reference Links

Related Race Reports

2018 Polar Roll Race Report

2017 Polar Roll Race Report

2016 Polar Roll Race Report

Race Links

Polar Roll

Polar Roll Results

Jeff Wolf Photography – Check out the photos and videos

Contrast Coffee – Coffee before the ride hit the spot

Blackrocks Brewery – Beer after the ride hit the spot

My Links

Endurance Path on Facebook

Endurance Path on Instagram

Steve on Twitter

Steve on Strava

My Shop Links

Cyclova XC website

Cyclova XC on Facebook

Cyclova XC on Instagram

Cyclova XC on Twitter

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2018 Polar Roll Fatbike Race Report

polar roll

This was the best Polar Roll yet. This was my 3rd one and I think maybe there has been 4 total, so I can’t speak to the earliest of them. The trails were dialed and I really liked the course layout. I know the snowmobile trail is not very popular, but I think it provides a great balance to the race and if you ever get in to fatbike ultras… You better get used to snowmobile trails. I haven’t done one, but I know that type of riding is a large part of fatbike ultras. So, I really think they did a great job with the course. There was some great singletrack, steep and long climbs (for the midwest), a couple sections of really tight singletrack and then the snowmobile trail. It was balanced out well and had a great mix of everything. Enjoy the report!

2018 Polar Roll Course

Course Layout

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The course started in downtown Marquette… It rolled out of town on the lakeshore bikepath/snowmobile trail down to the south trail system before hitting singletrack. We had to do some climbing to get up into the south trails, but the south trails were dialed and provided for some pretty amazing fatbike riding.

From the south trails, we took the snowmobile trail (some of the bike path in the summer) to Ishpeming before connecting with the Hill Street trails.

The Hill Street trails are great as well with a few steep hills that will force most into a hike-a-bike situation and some fast downhill sections.

The last section of trail is the singletrack between Ishpeming and Negaunee. It’s great riding with some really tight and narrow singletrack sections for the long race.

The finish was in downtown Ishpeming at the High School where you had a nice place to warm up after the race.

Course Elevation

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It’s all uphill… There are of course some great downhills, but yeh, you work your way uphill to the finish line. There are 2 opening climbs are grinders… The jeep trail up to HWY 553 and then Benson Grade. The snowmobile trail can catch you off guard as it’s uphill. The grade isn’t bad, it’s more of a false flat. Outside of the second half of the snowmobile trail, there really isn’t much sustained flat sections of course. You’re either going uphill or downhill.

Gear and Nutrition Setup

Bike

Trek Farley Carbon w/ Bontrager Carbon Wampa 27.5″ wheels and 4.5″ Barbagazzi Tires – I’m digging the 27.5″ wheel setup.

GX 12sp Eagle with XO Cranks (was a closeout on the cranks when I built the bike) – I’m sold on the 1 x Eagle drivetrain and it’s pretty affordable now in the GX level.

Shimano XT with non heat sink rotors – hard to beat these brakes.

Spare Parts & Tools

Topeak Hexus Multi-tool

25g air cartridge with Genuine Innovations Air Chuck

Sram Power Link

Nutrition

2 thermo bottles and 1 regular bottle (Thermo bottle is too tall to fit in seatpost cage under top tube)

Started race with 1 full thermo bottle on downtube and 1 full thermo bottle in jersey pocket

The regular bottle just had CarboRocket powder in it, so I could just stop at an aid station later and fill it up when the other bottles ran empty.

Clothing

Sturmfist 4 Gloves – Hands froze at the start and took about an hour to warm up. Started getting cold again toward the end. I seem to always have cold hand issues.

Bontrager OMW Boots – Toes got cold toward the end, but overall pretty happy with these. I did have a toe warmer in each one.

Bontrager B2 Baselayer, Cyclova summer jersey as mid layer and Cyclova Ski suit top as outer layer – The Bontrager B2 baselayers are awesome and seem to regulate well. That combined with my Cyclova Ski Suit top from Mt Borah is a great combination.

Bontrager B1 Velocis Thermo Bibs w/ summer baggie liner chamois shorts underneath – This worked out really well also. The B1 Velocis Thermo Bibs say for above freezing temps, but they were perfect for racing at 15 to 20 degrees and could probably be used for colder temps.

The 906 Polar Roll Fatbike Race

Downtown to 553

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Folks were starting to line up in the gate, so I headed in from the back and found my way to about the 4th row. I stood there for a few minutes and could see a bunch of empty space in the second row, so I went ahead and moved up. I’m getting more confident with my ability to roll out hard from the gate and thought there was a good chance I could finish in the top 20. The first couple rows added up to about 20 people.

We took off with a controlled rollout, made our right hand turn and hit the snowmobile trail much quicker than I anticipated where 2 lines quickly formed. I think I ended up getting pushed back a little bit, but then worked my way back up into the top 20 as the 2 lines shifted back and forth.  We crossed under the bridge and were quickly dumped into the first singletrack and moving at a good clip.

I hadn’t been on the trails up here yet, so I didn’t really know where my traction was at quite yet in the corners. I could feel my fingers freezing up already as well. After a few twists and turns in the singletrack we started heading up hill and the work began. It was a steep grade and probably about the steepest you’re going to find when it comes to fat biking. We were climbing hard and I don’t believe I ever shifted into that granny 50 tooth gear.

You could look up ahead and see the gaps starting to form as a rider here and there couldn’t keep the pace. I made up a few spots on the climb with a couple other folks on my tail chasing, but not fast enough to avoid a gap forming in front of me. This section is what I believe is considered to be the jeep trail. We dumped out at the top and headed across some open parking lot area to cross under 553 along the creek. My wife was there taking some pictures and said I was sitting in 15th when I came by.

553 To Snowmobile Trail

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We took an icy path, that had been sanded, under the road along the creek to avoid crossing the road. On the other side was more singletrack and climbing. We hit a little bit of twisty singletrack that went up before hitting Benson Grade and starting another long and steep climb. I can’t remember exactly how things went up Benson. I might have gotten passed, but can’t remember.

At the top of Benson Grade, we dumped down what I believe is called Pipe Dreams. It was a fast downhill ride and I had a little space in front of me and a few riders back with plenty of breathing room. I was also realizing that I probably had a little more traction than I thought I would have. Even though the trail appeared to be a little slick, it was actually fairly tacky.

At the bottom of Pipe Dreams… I was rolling pretty hot and completely blew a right hand turn. The turn was marked, but I was moving out and blew right past it with the skids on. I yelled back “turn right!” to anyone that was behind me as I got myself turned around. I ended up dropping 3 spots there and got back on the chase as more folks were coming in.

The first guy was hauling out pretty good, but I was back on the wheel of the 2nd and 3rd one fairly quick with another rider coming up on my wheel now. I was patient and then we eventually came to an opening where I made my pass with a couple other folks coming with. I had one rider that was catching me on the hills and then I would pull away on the twisty stuff. He eventually ended up passing me and dissappeared out in front of me.

Somebody yelled from behind that these trails still weren’t quite as good as Woolly, or something to that effect… Woolly Bike Club Trails are my local trail and my jersey has a Woolly badge on it. Woolly trails have been about the best you are going to find lately, but it’s darn hard to beat the trails in Marquette. They were in great shape and there is miles and miles of them.

Back to the racing… I think I dropped a spot or 2 somewhere in this section, but I may have picked up another spot along the way also. I do remember my fingertips really starting to freeze up on me. I hate that feeling.

Anyways… The trails in this section were absolutely dialed. There were a couple icy downhills that had been sanded, but you almost couldn’t ask for better snowbiking conditions. This section of trail is also some of the most fun intermediate level trail riding you are going to find. You can ride it as fast or slow as you want. It’s just really flowy and gets more challenging with the more speed you carry as you start coming into corners a little hot.

This section of the race was my highest average heart rate of 160 bpm and where I hit my max heart rate on the day of 172. This actually is a bit conservative for me in a sub 4 hour race. That being said, it’s early in the year. At the end of the day, I was pretty comfortable for most of the race… Aside from those leg cramps that fired up about 3 and half hours in.

Snowmobile Trail to Hill St

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The first set of singletrack was done and now I was on the snowmobile path to Negaunee. This would be a long and fairly steady uphill grade. More of a false flat than uphill though. I was expecting the trail to be soft, but quite honestly it was amazing. Maybe it wasn’t amazing, but my expectations were low and I thought it was fairly hardpacked.

Anyways, there was an aid station when we first dumped out on the snowmobile trail, but I rode straight through as I had my own stuff and didn’t feel like stopping or spilling water on my gloves. After crossing the road on the other side of the aid station, I relaxed a bit and grabbed my own water bottle. I saw a couple people up ahead, but I didn’t realize anybody was behind me and I must have drifted over a bit as a guy came up my right side. We clipped bars and I went down as he rode away and latched on to the group ahead.

I saw him later at the finish actually and he brought it up and appologized, but there really wasn’t anything to appologize for. That’s just part of riding and to be expected. I think I drifted over as he was coming by and he probably figured he had plenty of space since we were on the snowmobile trail and didn’t worry about yelling ahead.

Anyways, I got back on the bike and moving forward again to catch a solo rider that was split between me and that small group ahead. I was feeling good and wanted to catch the group ahead and ended up taking the pull till we caught the small group ahead. When we caught the group ahead they were kind of sitting up or nobody was really taking the lead. I was too low on my effort and wanted to pick up the pace and took off the front. I figured I was either going solo or was going to inspire some help, but I wasn’t going to sit up and slog down the snowmobile trail waiting for somebody else to take the lead.

I think I put a little gap on them, but it didn’t take long for them to get organized and latch onto my wheel. I pulled for quite some time and that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But, I wasn’t willing to dial the pace back either, even if that meant pulling the whole way. Just before Eagle Mills, one of the guys came up around front and took a pull and kept the pace up as well!

I had emptied both of my insulated bottles of CarboRocket at this point and pulled off at the Eagle Mills aid station to refill. The aid station volunteers filled one of my insulated bottles with water and then filled up the extra bottle that had the CarboRocket powder already in it ready to go. The rest of the group rode through, so I was on my own from here to Neguanee unless I could reel them back in again.

For reference… Eagle Mills aid station was less than halfway to the Hill St. Trails, but probably a little past the halfway point of being on the snowmobile trail. For a short period, I thought I was going to reel them back in, but it never happened and they maintained their gap until hills or turns got in the way of visibility and then I never saw them again and solo’d my way all the way to hill st.

On the way up Hill St. I decided to dip into my can of Red Bull that I had been carrying in my jersey pocket. I had already drank the other bottle of CarboRocket and figured I was going to need something to get me through the last hour on the trail. I took it easy up Hill St. as I downed the Red Bull before trying to get the empty can stuffed back in my jersey pocket. I heard something hit the road as I got back on the hammer and sure enough it was my Red Bull can…

I stopped and just left my bike in the street and ran back to pick it up while a rider came flying by me and then I saw another group making the turn up Hill St. and they were on the gas. I got my Red Bull can stuffed back in my jersey pocket and raced my way up to the entrance of the singletrack before getting caught by that next group.

Hill Street Trails

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I was familiar with this trail entrance as this was the start of the 2017 Polar Roll. I put in a little extra effort to give myself some space from the chasers and was successful aside from 1 other rider starting to sneak up on me. I had to bale and hike up the first part of one of the really steep hills about halfway through the loop. I had to hike up a bit of this same hill the previous year.

We didn’t ride all the Hill St. trails from the previous year, which would have probably added another 5 miles to the race. I don’t know, maybe Todd’s getting soft on us… There were some good climbs in those other trails.

I came by what I believe was a bunch of folks from Blackrocks Brewery that looked like they were having one heck of a good time and then sent it down the long and flowy trail with the lake off to the right. This was fast, but I was feeling confident and it helps when there is a bit of hoot’n and holler’n going on as you head into it.

I believe that chase group was starting to reel me in just before this. But, only 1 of the guys stayed with me and we put a gap on the rest of them by the time we made it around the lake. The climbs back out of this area around the other side of the lake are really tough and at the edge of traction loss, but I made it all the way up. I dumped out on the wider path that leads to the Division St. crossing with the other rider right on my wheel.

To The Finish Line

polar roll

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I asked the rider behind me if he needed to get around, but he mentioned he was starting to cramp… I was too. I could feel the warning signs coming on. I was doing ok still and then we hit the really tight singletrack and my legs locked up as I headed up one of the climbs and fell right over sideways into the snowbank, still clipped in. He asked me if I was ok. I said I was good and was just going to sit here for a second and try to get these cramps out.

I eventually got up and then just walked my bike in an effort to try and stretch out the cramps and get them to calm down before I got back on again. I had forgotten to replenish my pickle juice shots, so I didn’t really have anything to help get rid of the cramps other than have to dial my effort way back and try to walk them off. I was a bit frustrated, because overall I had raced somewhat conservative as far as effort goes. I hadn’t been lazy, but I didn’t feel like I was overpushing it at all.

I got back on the bike and soft pedaled for a little bit and eased my way back into it. I think I ended up getting passed by a couple more racers soon after this. I hadn’t looked at the course map much and wasn’t quite sure where I was at on it. I eventually came out to the Bacon and Hugs aid station, but kept pedaling. Now I knew where I was at and was on the long stretch that led back to Negaunee. I came up on a rider that I ended up passing and he asked how much farther. I told him my GPS was reading around 35 miles at this point, but we were headed away from the finish line and toward Negaunee.

I dropped down the flight of stairs going into Negaunee and then up the short flight from the Marji Gesick. They were easy in the snow, since they were completely packed in. You wouldn’t even know there were stairs there. Again, I hadn’t looked at the map too closely and was thinking we were a near direct shot back to the finish line, but I was wrong… We did get dumped into some more really tight singletrack.

It wasn’t a lot, but I was out of fuel at this point and fighting off the leg cramps. I didn’t really have anybody around me when I entered it, but I got caught fast. Between the trail being a little icey and me getting a little twitchy on the bike with my fatigue and cramps… I felt like a pin ball bouncing back and forth off the raised snow edges of the trail and eventually went down – a couple times. I ended up giving up more places in traffic again before dumping out of this section.

Finally, I was out of the trail and recognized the snowmobile trail back toward the finish line. I made that last left turn onto the pavement and gave it everything I had left and sprinted across the finish line solo. I like doing that as it’s my last little win of the race, whether I’m sprinting to the finish with somebody else or not. I ended up finishing 22nd place with a time of 3 hours and 51 minutes.

The Jan Roubal Classic

So this was a fun little event at the after party that only 5 of us did while a couple hundred folks from the after party cheered from the bottom of the ski hill. The deal was you had to ride your bike at least to some marked points on the hill. From there, you could push your bike the rest of the way to where 3 people were standing. 1 was holding nothing, 1 was holding a $1 bill and the other holding a $100 bill. The first 3 people to claim a spot/person got what they were holding.

I took off slow because I figured it was going to be a grind up the hill. I also figured I would zig zag the hill vs going strait up. That was actually a mistake as it was hard to get turned up the hill without fear of slipping out. I was headed up left and was finally able to get turned back to the right, but not uphill enough. It took me going across the entire hill to finally make it. I got about as far as I could before coming close to hitting the fence and went to turn up and slid out. I looked back to see that I had just cleared the marking post and started pushing. I actually think I was the 4th person up, but a couple of the others had headed back down the hill early. There was also a free set of 45NRTH tires at the bottom for the first person back down. Anyways, I ended up with the $100!

Fatbike Enduro…

I think I might just write up a whole different post for the fatbike enduro. That was a ton of fun and was an awesome way to finish off the weekend.

Final Polar Roll Thoughts

This was the best Polar Roll yet! I really liked the course layout and the trails were amazing this year. I do like longer races and I thought this was balanced out well. The shorter race last year was fun, but this year had a bit more epicness to it, which to me… makes it more worthwhile to plan a weekend around.

polar roll

Reference Links

Race Links

Polar Roll

Polar Roll Results

Jeff Wolf Photography

My Links

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Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Report

solstice chase fatbike race

It was fun getting back to some racing at the Cyclova XC Solstice Chase Fatbike race this weekend! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be racing or not, since the shop that I just took part ownership of (Cyclova XC) actually runs the Solstice Chase race. We have an awesome crew with Steve Clark, who will be co-managing the shop with me and is also our race and event director for Cyclova XC, had everything under control for the event. I was out there early in the morning doing some final course marking and hauling the stuff out for the aid station, but was able to wrap up in time to jump in the race myself.

Podcast

Audio version available on the Podcast: Ep 18 – 2018 Solstice Chase Race Report

Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Venue

The venue was really awesome for a fat bike race or really any race in general. One of the biggest issues with most fat bike races is having a warm place to hang out before and after the race. Huge thanks to the St. Croix Falls Fire Department for opening up the fire hall to the racers and letting us hold the event there. Additionally, Trap Rock Brewing Company opened their doors for the swag give away and free samples of their brews, even though they are not scheduled to open until next year. The Monarch IPA was amazing!

Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Course

I am a bit biased here, because this is my home course and starting January 1st, I will officially be one of the board members of the Woolly Bike Club Trails also. And as I mentioned above, the Solstice Chase race is a CyclovaXC event, which I am now part owner of as of very recent. All that aside… Course conditions were tough with a couple inches of fresh snow that came down overnight, but it really is a good course for fat bike racing that will really challenge you.

Course Layout

solstice chase

The course is actually a really great course for fatbike singletrack racing, because it does offer many passing opportunities. You are usually only on singletrack for not much more than a mile at a time and then are dumped back out on rail trail, bike paths or some old ski trail for plenty of passing zones. The other great thing about this course is the amount of access points to it. I think there were spectators scattered throughout the entire course, which makes it even more fun as a racer.

Course Elevation

solstice chase

Both my Training Peaks and Strava account show a little over 1,100 feet of elevation gain over the entire 13.5 miles, which makes for a far from flat course. Although this isn’t ridiculous from a mountain biking standpoint… that elevation gain makes it a fairly challenging fatbike course, especially when the hills get a little rutted up later in the race.

Course Conditions

Woolly trails are usually groomed and they actually were groomed the night before the race. However, we did get a couple inches of fresh snow the night before the race that did not help things out at all. Low tire pressure was definitely your friend here. I honestly don’t even know what mine were at, but I would have went even lower to do it over again. My front was low enough to have some significant sidewall squat when pressuring down on it with a little less squat in the rear. I should have checked them after the race to see what they were at.

The rail trail, bike paths and wider sections ended up getting pretty rutted up and were really difficult to even grab a water bottle. The first lap conditions were pretty good, but they were fairly deteriated by the time I hit my second lap with about a 6 inch wide rut to ride in. If you hit the edge of the rut, you were in trouble. It was like riding a twisty skinny for 6 miles. All that said… That’s fatbike racing, so embrace it and enjoy it!

My Bike Set-Up

I actually raced a bike that I had just finished building the night before and never really properly fit myself up on yet. That being said… I’m really happy with the new build! It’s a custom Trek Farley Carbon build with the Bontrager Carbon Wampa 27.5 wheels and very similar to a stock 9.8 Farley. I had to put a crankset in it, but ended up robbing the rest of the parts off of my other bikes to get it built for the race. Anyways, I’m looking forward to getting some more time in on it.

The Solstice Chase Fatbike Race

Prologue

solstice chase

I didn’t get lined up quite in time and was about 5 or 6 rows back, putting me at least 40 places back as we left the start chute. I jumped on the gas as we hit the road and then hammered up the snowmobile path trying to make up spots in traffic. Many folks were dabbing or completely washing out, while I was able to stay on the pedals for most of it and picked off a lot of places as I weaved through the traffic.

There was a really soft climb up to the Gandy Dancer trail and I could see the leaders not far in front of me, with quite a few folks off their bikes and hiking the climb. I managed to stay on the pedals and make the entire climb and get ripping down the Gandy Dancer. I think I ended up hitting the first section of singletrack – Big Oak, in 7th or 8th position.

Big Oak has some tight switchbacks at the beginning with a few more scattered throughout the section. It’s fairly flat and actually loses elevation by the time you spit out the end of it. It was fun racing, because we passed by some of the start area in one of the switchbacks and then by the trailhead in another bermed turn. It is a great spector trail and fun for the racers with all the spectator access.

I had a good ride through this section and my bike handling was on par for being on a new bike that had not seen singletrack yet and only about a mile of riding in total before lining up at the start line… As I mentioned above, I had just finished the build the night before. I could tell the singletrack was going to be tough with a couple inches of fresh snow over the previous day’s trail grooming. As I also mention above… that’s fatbike racing and we embrace it and enjoy it!

There was also a great crowd at the end of Big Oak cheering on all the racers.

Lap 1

solstice chase

I hit the snowmobile trail after Big Oak and went to grab my bottle from my frame, but the trail was way too soft with some ruts already from the few riders in front of me and probably some folks doing some warm up riding before the race, so I never ended up taking my bottle.

I rode strong through Regal Park, but definitley had a line of riders chasing. I had one rider in front of me, that I kept approaching. He was riding just fast enough that it didn’t make sense to try and get around him, but he was slipping up a lot and the line behind kept getting closer. The course bypassed the rock gardens, but Regal Park has a mix of flats, a few roots and minor uphills and then ends with a hill on an old ski trail.

We came out of the woods to hang a right going up hill on the old ski trail and the guy in front of me slipped out, causing a minor spill and knocking me off my bike. I ended up losing a few spots here as I tried to remount and get rolling again.

I think he ended up back out in front of me again while I was trying to get back up and rolling and I was fighting some of this same situation through Wissahickon, but was eventually able to get around him. I rode strong through Wissahickon with a group chasing hot on my tail. Wissahickon has a lot of short ups and downs with some tight switchbacks.

Once we dumped out on the Gandy, I tried drinking my bottle again and it was half frozen, I slowed down as the trail was rutted to try and drink and ended up dropping spots to a line of riders that were chasing through Wissahickon. I should have stayed on the gas here. The race ended up being short enough that I could have just drank my bottle, which was full of Coca-Cola, at the start line and probably just finished the race without feeding at all.

I had a strong ride through Erratic Rock, making the entire climb up to the back of Erratic Rock and enjoyed the flowy descent back to the bottom. I attempted to take a drink from my bottle on the Gandy before entering Big Oak, but ended up washing out and crashing. I almost washed out again just before entering Big Oak.. These couple moments, costed me a few more places in traffic.

Lap 2

solstice chase

I was still feeling strong going into lap 2, but my lack of taking the time to properly fit myself on my bike was starting to take effect as some fatigue was starting to hit the upper body. Anyways, I was slipping up in some spots and then just started to get twitchy. From there, things started falling apart…

I washed out myself on the old ski trail hill coming out of Regal Park, dropping a couple more places. Then, I really dumped a bunch of spots with a washout early on in Wissahickon… I floated the front end out of the rut and went down. I got off the trail as a line of riders went by. By the time I could get my bike back up and ready to remount, another line of riders were coming up and I had to let them go as well… This happens a lot more often in fatbike racing than traditional mountain biking.

On my aproach to Erratic Rock, I saw Jeff Hall coming back the other way toward Big Oak, so I was within 10 minutes or so of the leaders still. The climb up Erratic Rock was a much tougher ride this time around, with the first climb being torn up a lot with not much traction and only a narrow rut to ride. I made it out of Erratic Rock safely and then made a pass on the Gandy prior to Big Oak. I mention this, because I slid out in the second switchback and ended up losing that place plus a couple more in the process. I think I said something like “serves me right” when I slid out and had to let the guy go by me that I had just passed.

I had a strong finish through Big Oak, but I was pretty depleted of energy by the time I crossed the finish line.

By the time I made it back to the finish line, I had dropped back to 39th place out of 151 finishers with a finish time of 1 hr, 31 min and 57 seconds.

Final Thoughts On Solstice Chase

solstice chase

I ended up finishing about 12 minutes back from the leaders and in general, it was some fairly tight racing through a majority of the field. My 2nd lap was 3 minutes slower than my first, but that 3 minutes in the 2nd lap made up a difference of just over 20 places and most of the other 10 places were lost on the Gandy Dancer trail while reaching for my water bottle in the first lap.

I’m a bit out of good race shape fitness and most of my bike stuff has been fairly low intensty. The occasional running has helped me hold some of that higher intensity cardio fitness though. It was so nice to be back out racing on a bike again. Overall, I was fairly happy with how I raced aside from my bike handling issues in the second half.

I don’t have any race plans for January, as my Saturdays are booked up with the Get Fit <–> Eat Right – Workshop Series that I partnered up with Luminaries Retreat for. However, I will be doing some Fatbike and Skate Ski racing in February. So, stay tuned for some more race reports in another couple months.

Solstice Chase Fatbike Race Reference Links

Solstice Chase Fatbike Race

CyclovaXC

Woolly Bike Club

Trap Rock Brewing Company

St. Croix Falls Fire Dept

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2017 Marji Gesick 100 Race Report

Marji Gesick

This was my second attempt at the Marji Gesick 100 and definitely not my last. The course was tougher this year and unseasonably high temps made for a brutal day out on the trail. The report is a little long, so you might have to bookmark the page and come back to finish reading. Enjoy!

Links, pictures and Strava file at the bottom of the report

Podcast Version of Report

I still recommend reading through the written report below, along with listening to the podcast as you’re likely to pick up on different things between the two. If you’re planning to do this race, both the written report and the podcast should be good resources for your race planning. Regardless, enjoy and please leave a review in your podcast app and share it with your friends. Thanks!

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Marji Gesick 100 Course Layout

Marji Gesick 100

It’s a point to point course where the final elevation is above the startline, so it’s all uphill… The course is really awesome actually and is a 100+ miles that connects all the trail systems of Marquette County. You’ll find just about every type of trail that you might expect in a mountain bike course, plus some…

Marji Gesick 100

There are barely any flat sections of trail within this course. There is only a few very short flats sections throughout the course and the downhills are not sit back and coast. Many of the downhills will have you out of the saddle and a few off your bike, just like the uphills. There is very few long sustained climbs. They are mostly punchy and many full of rocks and roots. There is about 12,000 feet of climbing and it’s packed into a window of elevation somewhere between a low of around 600 ft and a high of about 1,600 ft.

The Marji Gesick 100 Race

Start back to Forestville Trailhead

Marji Gesick 100

I didn’t completely slow roll it out, but I left the start with what felt like a fairly conservative effort with a plan to stay steady and ease up the pace over time, depending how I felt. You see me write often about going out to hard or setting different goals in a race that might hurt my overal finish goal, but this race plan was to race smart, to finish with the best time possible. I was chasing a buckle, but I also was quite aware that the level of difficulty might have been increased over last year and that buckle might be a stretch.

I left the run from a few rows back. Shortly after the start of it, I noticed Jeremiah Bishop running next to me and heard him say he wasn’t ready for that. I don’t hink he was up to the front of the start line when it started. I was running next to him for a short period and then he eventually worked his way forward. I really don’t know what type of placing I was in when I came out of the run.

On the bike, I just rode steady, but was passing people on each rolling up hill through the ski trails. I wasn’t pushing the effort, but just carrying my speed up the hills well. I made the descent down the gravel road, to the small opening and then the hard left up into the trails that would begin the climb toward “Top of The World”. I made the climb up, using the little switchback to the right, but found a steady line of hikers going down the other side and jumped off and fell in line. I was relieved… I really want to ride it, but the rocks were wet and I’d rather ride it for the first time when it’s dry and no other riders to dodge.

I had some weird knee pain with the hike down that freaked me out. I actually had this come up 2 days earlier when doing some lunges with a client during a training session at the gym. It was painful and I picked my way down the rocks, but never felt the pain again once I got back on the bike. I headed down the trail and it felt like the traffic was thin now.

The trail drops out on to a gravel road intersection and then you get a chance to feed as you spin down an old railroad bed. This is one is actually smooth, unlike the one coming in the near future… Anyways, I took the opportunity to eat a waffle before making the u-turn and bringing the singletrack back. The singletrack dumps you right back out at the previous gravel intersection. Last year we took a short section of gravel to the next old rail trail, but this year there was some new singletrack that led us to what is literally an old railroad bed with the old railroad ties still in place. It didn’t feel as harsh as last year, but maybe that was because I was expecting it…

At the end of the rail trail is some nice singletrack that dumped us out on Harlow Lake Rd. This year we were not riding the Angry Bear trail and would take Harlow Lake Rd. to the next trail section. I caught up to the guy that I had seen drop down “Top of The World” and gave him some props for cleaning it. He appreciated the kudos and said that’s what he was here for… Good stuff.

The next section of trail was the same from last year and was rooty with lots of little ups and downs. There is nothing there that flows, you work through all of it. Plus it was all wet from the previous day rain.   It eventually turns into a long rocky section, which I believe comes prior to dumping out into a little opening. I think this opening is where I remember seeing the guy in a kilt playing bag pipes. I’m assuming Todd had something to do with that. Nice touch!

There’s some more tough singletrack that mellows out before bringing you to the bottom of Beagle Rd. that we descended to hit the first section of trail leading to “Top of The World” earlier in the morning. I seemed to be feeling ok, but I wasn’t recovering from the short hard efforts that were required to get up and over some of the little rock sections or rooty little hills. I just felt a little weak afterwards and attributed it to the head cold that was still lingering a bit. I just kept a steady pace up the climb and didn’t push it. I think I went up it slower than last year. Once at the top, we took ski trails back up to Forestville instead of Forestville Rd.

I ended up coming back by the barn at the Forestville trailhead about 9 minutes faster than I would have passed by here on the adjacent Forestville Rd. last year. This wasn’t because I was going any faster, but more due to the fact that Angry Bear had been removed and I had not yet hit the trails that would make up for that change. I was about to hit those new trail additions to make up for the absence of Angry Bear…

Forestville Trailhead to HWY 41

Marji Gesick 100

The first section of trail, known as Ramblin Man was fast and flowy. I wasn’t in a good flow and rythm though and probably could have ridden through it faster. I was just feeling a little bit off and my head was a little foggy. However, I hit them with no other wheels around me as riders were now getting spread out at this point of the race. Not that I was completely alone, as I could hear riders out in front or behind and also catch a glimpse of them through switchbacks, but nobody was jammed up wheel to wheel at this point.

I crossed over Forestville Rd. to hit Wildcat Trail. I want to say the first part of it carried the spirit of the previous Ramblin Man Trail, but then got more rocky with really steep punchy climbs the deeper I got into it, that forced me into a couple hike-a-bikes. I came up on another rider at some point that was racing the Marji Gesick for the first time and we started chatting as we were hiking up one of the short steep sections. I remember mentioning to him that this was added section and that the trails were definitely much easier and less technical last year once we came back by Forestville.

I also remember coming by a guy sitting out there playing an instrument as well. I can’t remember what he was playing, but I remember him being right near a split in the trail where things were getting tight and rocky. We made some joke together about the rocks, but I could tell he was having a good time watching the riders out there.

The trail eventually turns into Pine Knob Trail, but I can’t remember the exact change in trail. I just remember things getting rockier, steeper and more technical. There were also multiple riders fixing flats through this section. This was definitely not a trail to be running lightweight sidewalled tires. There were some really steep technical hike-a-bikes and some really steep, techical and rocky drops that you had to pick your way down. None of them were really long ups and downs, but just constant work.

I also remember coming out to a spot that I thought I recognized from a picture that Todd had posted a few days prior, saying something about this is where reality check #1 will set in. He was right… I was starting to think that if this new trail addition was any indication of what changes might be ahead later in the course, that I might be throwing lights on to make to Ishpeming.

Once out of Pine Knob, I was on some easy riding trails that are part of what is considered the North Trails loop. I eventually came to the sandy section of trail that weaved up hill and remembered that this was the point that I had commented on last year about hitting a nice flowy section, but later realizing it was actually up hill…

There was some new trail at the end of this that was actually downhill, fast, flowy and included a few jumps or berms. I almost hit the dirt over one of them when I landed with my front wheel turned a bit. It would take us out to Forestville Rd near the bottom by the railroad tracks, versus crossing at the top onto a ski trail like last year. We had to climb back up Forestville Rd to the gravel road that would take us down to a parking area where Lowe’s Trail would start.

I had been riding with Kyle Brierley since leaving the Pine Knob trail and hit the Lowe’s Trail right behind him. He was riding the hills strong, so I just made it my business to stay on his wheel and work up through Lowe’s Trail. Lowe’s Trail is tough old school trail. It’s really much more reminiscent of an old hiking trail than an actual mountain biking trail. It’s work, the entire way with some switchbacks and some real steep punchy climbs. Last year, I had to hike up a couple sections and dab my foot down a couple times. I road every hill in Lowe’s Trail this year and think I only dabbed my foot maybe 1 time. I was definitely riding stronger through this section vs last year.

For the last few miles I was feeling the leg cramps coming on and they were now coming on stronger. I’ve been dealing with this in just about every race I’ve done this year, whether I went out hard or conservative. It’s something that I’ve got to get sorted out. Anyways, I ended up downing one of those shots of pickle juice once I came to an opening that I could hit it while I was riding and not have to stop. Lowe’s trail is a pretty busy trail.

There was one spot that I think was near a power line opening where there was huge thick mud hole with no other way around it. 25 miles into the race and I had thick soupy mud up past my ankles already. I came by some folks that had a little water station set up and recoginized some of the trail from last year as nearing the end of this section. I knew I was close to the HWY-41 crossing at this point.

I found myself weaving through the construction area behind Lowe’s and then found my wife, along with quite a few other SAG folks parked along the side of Lowe’s waiting with bottle and hydration pack hand-ups. I had finished my entire 2L reservoir of CarboRocket and a large bottle of water at this point. That was my plan as well. Whether I needed it or not, I had intended to force the fluids in early since I felt dehydrated going in already with my head cold. I figured I would force the fluids in early to try and stay out in front of the heat driven dehydration, that would come later in the race with the forcasted higher temps on the day.

I was about 15 minutes slower in this last section vs the previous year, which now put me about 6 minutes off my overall pace of hitting this same point at the HWY-41 crossing last year.

HWY 41 to South Trailhead

Marji Gesick 100

I swapped out my hydration pack for a freshly filled one, or well it was about 2/3s full. I had 2 packs and had prefilled the other one so it was ready for my wife to hand up to me. I knew I didn’t need a full one to get to the South Trailhead, which is why it was at about 2/3s. I grabbed a fresh water bottle, a couple of waffles and another pickle juice shot to throw in my jersey pocket.

I told my wife that if the new trail additions that I had hit after Forestville were any indication of what some of the new trail might look like in Negaunee, that I might be finishing in the dark. I gave one of my nephews a fist bump and then got going again. My mother in-law was there with my sister in-law and 2 nephews… My mother in-law had been out to a race before, but that was the first time my nephews had seen a bike race and seemed to be grinning about it. Maybe some future mountain bike racers there…

I crossed HWY-41 through the drainage ditch tunnel and headed up the road to the rail trail. There were still folks parked out like last year with a few offering water, but I had just filled mine up. I felt really good heading down the rail trail after crossing under HWY-41 and the leg cramps seemed to go away. I think I ate another waffle or 2 while at it. I didn’t take it lazy on the rail trail, but I didn’t hammer on it either. I just needed to spin my legs out as there really wasn’t much break again for another 30 miles after this section.

This next section of trail was really great riding trail. There is a little connector trail that pops you out on another short road section before really getting into the south trails. There were some folks that had an aid station with water and gatorade set up at the road in front of their house on this short road connector section. I was riding good again and caught 1 rider in the connector trail and then I think another one on the road section. I could tell the rough trail sections at this point were starting to get to people, much like it had myself. The heat was also starting to pick up a bit as well.

I think I rode completely solo from that last road section all the way to the South Trailhead. I really like this section of trail. It’s fairly easy riding with a mix of flowy bench cut trail, switchbacks, a few bridges and a couple jump lines. It wraps around the outside of a golf course and then switchbacks over what I believe is an old dump site. I remember the leg cramps coming on again over the old dump site. I can’t quite remember, but I think I did hit a shot of pickle juice again. The trail climbs up what is called Smiley Trail, which is not a bad climb, but not nearly as much fun as going down it.

I think Smiley dumped out on a wider path, before going into the more technical and rocky section of the Pioneer Loop that would connect to Eh Line. I was slower through Eh Line this year. I had actually been riding this entire section since the HWY-41 crossing stronger than last year, but my head was still a little cloudy and I took it fairly easy on all the table tops coming down Eh Line.

I ended up covering this last section about 7 minutes faster than last year and hit the South Trailhead about 1 minute ahead of when I hit it last year. So, I was still on pace with last years time. But, I would have to pick things up if I wanted a buckle and the heat was definitely starting to set it.

South Trailhead to Ski Hill Parking

Marji Gesick 100

I swapped out my hydration pack again with my wife, grabbed a fresh water bottle and another shot of pickle juice to fight help off the cramps that were likely to come back at some point. There was a big aid station here, but I was all set with my wife leap frogging me along the course with fresh supplies.

I set out again, knowing that I was heading into a tough section of trail. There was no easy flowy stuff until the bottom of Scary Trail and it would take some work to get there. The first section of trail is what I believe to be known at Blue Loop that dumps into a trail known as Doctors. The first part is rocky, both up and down with some switchbacks. I should have been faster here than last year, but I think I was just as slow as last year. I was feeling weak at this point. My head was foggy and I just didn’t feel good. I walked quite a few little rocky sections as I just wasn’t feeling comfortable.

Once to the mostly downhill section that I think is Doctors, I got into a better rythm and starting letting loose a little bit. That downhill section is a lot of fun and steep enough to keep you on your toes for sure. It was a mix of loose stuff, rocks coming up out of the ground and rooty. It was a good idea to try and pick a good line as I think there were definitely some bad lines that could get you in trouble.

I eventually popped out onto the Marquette Mountain Rd climb. It’s steep and can have some loose gravel. It’s steep enough in spots that I watched a front wheel drive vehicle start to lose traction on a few spots as it was driving up past me. I was slower on it this year. I could feel the leg cramps coming on again and about halfway up, my legs just locked right up on me. I ended up off my bike and trying to stretch and walk them off. I got back on eventually and slowly finished the climb up to the Scary Trail entrance.

The rocks were wet and slippery, but I rode down most of it. I did get off though in a spot or 2 as I just didn’t think it was worth the risk on the wet rocks. It’s really not that bad of a trail and I really didn’t think it was as Scary as I thought it was the previous year. It just has some really steep spots over some rocks without much of a line to follow. This year, they happen to be wet. Which made it a bit more sketchy in my opinion.

Somewhere along the way… Peyton Randolph came by on a single-speed and I’ve learned that those single speeders know how to be efficient in the downhills. So, I did my best to stay on his wheel, knowing that I’d make good time down the trail if I did. I was suffering a bit, but I could tell by our exchange of conversation that Peyton was having some fun and truly enjoying the ride. This was good and helpful, as it rubbed off on me a bit and I started to relax and forgot about my fatigue for a short while. We had another rider with us from RBS bike shop, I think by the name of Jay. There were some folks that were coming through Scary back behind us, but I think we ended up putting a bigger gap on them by the time we hit the switchbacks and made it all the way to the bottom.

There is short break at the bottom where the trail connects over along the river to the bridge before hitting what I believe is probably one of the toughest sections of climbing on the course. After crossing the river, you still have a little bit of flat trail, but it doesn’t last long. The first uphill is steep and just gets steeper near the top. I’ve rode through here a couple of other times in the past few years on top of the 2 Marji Gesick races, and I’ve never made it all the way up. It’s a little wet, slippery and steep. This is where you start wrapping around the backside of the ski hill.

This is also the same spot that really got to me last year with some massive knee pain. This spot hit me again this year like a ton of bricks, but it wasn’t my knee this time. It was the heat now. It was getting hot and there was just no airflow through the trees. Peyton was riding strong and eventually rode off out of sight. Jay was still with me and I think we came up on another rider that was starting to struggle with the heat and the rugged climb around the backside of the ski hill.

There was one spot where the trees opened up and I specifically remember it because the wind shot through the opening and I got a few seconds of quick cooling. I almost wanted to stop there for a bit, but kept going. This is where I was really starting to question why I carry a hydration pack as I just couldn’t get rid of any heat off my back.

I eventually made it to the top and started the descent down around to the front side of the ski hill where my wife would be waiting for a another hand up. The great thing about the Marji Gesick in comparison to other NUE races that I’ve done is that there are a ton of spots for your SAG folks to access and meet you. Some of the other NUE races that I’ve done can get real remote with very limited road options to get out on course. Plus, many of them do not allow SAG support. My wife doesn’t ride, but her driving SAG for me makes the race something that we’re doing together. Me getting to the finish line is a team effort with me on the bike and her making sure I’ve got what I need. Me crossing the finish line is something that we accomplished together.

Anyways, I found my wife at the ski hill parking lot and she was already helping another racer out with water. I pulled in and asked the other guys around me if they needed anything and they stopped as well. We had cold water and some cold Cokes in the cooler, so my wife dumped some cold water over a couple of us to help us cool down. I downed some Coke and then passed another one around to the other guys. Everybody was hot and over heating. We had got to talking while out on the trail, so they knew I had done the race last year which was leading to the big question of where we stood  in regards to buckle claiming pace…

The last section from the Trailhead to the ski hill parking lot actually took me about 10 minutes longer than last year. That’s even with me setting PRs coming down Scary Trail. A big section of that loss was going up Marquette Mountain Rd. and having the leg cramp issues. Anyway, we were about 9 minutes off my pace from last year and I kind of knew in the back of my mind that the buckle might have been slipping away at this point. Based on the course changes, I knew the climb out of the South Trails after leaving the ski hill was going to be tougher than last year…

Ski Hill to Negaunee

Marji Gesick 100

I took off from the ski hill once I felt like I had cooled off a bit or at least wasn’t overheating anymore. I was also right about the climb out of the South Trails being tougher. I had to get off and walk up over a few sections that on any other normal day, I’m pretty sure I would have climbed right up and over. I started getting hot again right away and my head was in a cloud from the cold still. Around here is when I ran into another single speeder, Joe Stroz. I didn’t catch his name till hours later, but we would ride off and on together for probably the next 5 to 6 hours.

Just looking at the elevation profile doesn’t really help you understand the climbing part of it. If you are used to other NUE races, you might be used to really long and huge climbs. It’s only about a 600 foot overall change in elevation from the ski hill to Negaunee, but the elevation gain is over 1,300 feet and a bunch of it comes in short punchy climbs in some of the first trail as you leave the ski hill. I think it was the trail called Off Grade that we took out of the ski hill after crossing under the road next to the river.

There is section called Pipe Dream after Off Grade, that I believe must be remenants from the mining days maybe. That’s a total guess, I’m not really sure what it is from. It’s a large pipe that is mostly covered by the ground, but you go downhill on it. It’s fast and fun, but there is one spot where the pipe is exposed with some bolt heads sticking out of it. It might not be the same spot I’m thinking of. Maybe it’s where some trees get close on one side or something. Anyway, you just got a be a little careful, because you mentally want to float to the side, but if you float over too far… you’ll find yourself dropping off the side into the woods and it’s at a point where you’re carrying some speed.

After that, I think we dropped out on the Easy Street Trail which was more familiar to me from riding up there in the past. From that point, there was some bermed flowy stuff that was a riot. This entire trail system is actually really amazing. There is so much variety of trail to ride in one location and if you never make it to this race… You still need to get up there to ride.

Eventually I came to an atv type trail and knew I was going to drop out on a short road section. This road section is really short before you head left onto a live atv trail. This is that sandy atv trail that you hear people talk about. I had to walk some of it and I think Joe and I had joined back up around this point again. I could feel myself having some hydration issues coming on. I just couldn’t get fluids down. I think they were too warm in my hydration pack and maybe my CarboRocket mixture was to concentrated with the heat. At this point, I just needed some really cold and plain water.

There were a couple other riders as well, that had been riding off and on with me. I don’t think at this point we were nessecarily riding together, but more just off and on with the same pace. I actually think the sand was easier to deal with this year as it was a little firmer from the previous day rain.

I was close to where I remember the Worst Aid Station run by the Quick Stop Bike Shop in Marquette, being at. I was happy to see them again this year! They filled my bottle with cold water and then diluted my CarboRocket in my hydration pack with more cold water. Even though I wasn’t feeling great, I still grabbed a half a grilled cheese sandwhich just for the heck of it. It went down a little rough, but I was able to get it down with some cold water. To be honest, I regretted that about a half hour later. I never got sick, but could feel it just sitting there and I was still struggling to get my water down.

Somewhere along the paved bike trail, there ended up being 4 or 5 of us that joined up and rolled into Negaunee together. They were asking me about timing compared to last year and I knew we were off pace. I told them we’d have to have a heck of loop around Negaunee to get back on track. I knew in my own head that the buckle was most likely gone at this point. I wanted to push, but I was feeling the dehydration at this point and happy to hit my drop bag in Negaunee, where my wife would also be waiting.

It ended up taking me about 12 minutes longer to get to Negaunee from the ski hill this year, which now put me about 22 minutes off my pace from the previous year where I had missed the buckle by 25 minutes. Things weren’t looking good at this point, unless I could get things together and have one heck of a ride through the Negaunee Loop.

Negaunee Loop

Marji Gesick 100

I took a few minutes in Negaunee to figure out what I needed. I slammed some cold Coke, maybe even ate a few Pringles. I can’t remember now. I also grabbed a fresh water bottle, but instead of grabbing a fresh hydration pack… I topped off the watered down one that I already had with the full mix that was in the new one that my wife had ready. I was worried that I had mixed it a little heavy and combined with the heat, it was making it a little harder to get down.

I headed out on the trail to start the Negaunee loop and one of the single-speeders that I mentioned earlier, happen to head out about the same time. The trail headed out differently this year.  I was really struggling with fighting off the cramps. I had the power to get up the climbs, but ended up walking quite a bit to mitigate the cramps. The climbs would instigate the cramps…

The trail details that I remember at this point in the race start to blurr together a little bit as the Negaunee loop is all very similar riding and hard to seperate out in my mind the different sections, but maybe it’ll come out as I keep typing…

We of course still had to ride up the short flight of stairs that was only 10 feet over from a perfectly ridable trail. This is very early in the loop, where the course weaves through old roads from what must have been left from an older mining town or mining property. We also rode down a couple flights of stairs where both Joe and I lost our water bottles and had to stop and pick them up.

After riding down the flight of stairs, the course would take us out on a 2 track type of trail toward an old fence line. I remember the fence line from both this race and the Polar Roll. There is a climb up along the fence line and I’ve ridden through here a few times, summer and winter. It’s usually not a problem, but I could feel the cramps coming on as I worked my way up it and decided to hike the rest.

I also remember the fence line on the north side of the trail system, much like the old rail line (at least I think it is an old rail line) on the south side of the trails. Anyways, It’s nice and fairly easy riding until you turn south inside the fence line or turn off the old rail line and then things get twisty, punchy and many times… rocky and rooty.

There is one spot in the trail that is a really narrow and rocky benchcut that twists around an edge. I think it’s built around a massive pile of rocks that were pulled out of the ground during the mining days. With my fatigue, I actually unclipped my inside foot while I rolled around one of the edges.

The pace was getting really slow, only a few miles into the Negaunee loop. I would ride on and off with Joe for much of the Negaunee loop. It seemed like when one of us started to waiver, the other would keep a little push going, which kept the other guy moving. We were both aware of the clock ticking down on the buckle and mentally going into a bit of race survival mode to make sure we finished this thing up, at least that’s where I was at.

I was struggling with hydration. I just had a hard time taking in fluids. I started feeling like I was going to get sick if I drank too much. I had to dial it right back and walk more climbs than I wanted, in an attempt to avoid letting the heat completely obliterate me. The leg cramps were also completely unavoidable at this point with any mild effort. I’ll admit, there were a few moments where the fear of having to text #QUITTER, kept me in the game. I wasn’t going to do it and would walk every hill from here on out to avoid sending that text message if needed.

I knew I couldn’t stop drinking all together or my day would end whether I wanted it to or not. I forced small sips of water in. I couldn’t get large amounts of fluids down, but continued forcing in small sips out of my bottle every time I got off to push my bike up a hill or over a rock. When riding, I just kept forcing in small sips from my hydration pack. Too frequent and big of sips, or to hard of efforts would make me feel like my stomach was going to turn over, so I just dialed the efforts right back for awhile and focused on forcing fluids in a little bit at a time. The buckle was gone, but I could still finish if I played things right.

I actually finished my bottle and came across somebody handing out water that filled my bottle up when I came out to one of the street crossings in town. The water was cold and much easier to get down. I think this must have been at the North 3rd St crossing in Ishpeming.

You have to weave through a couple city streets and then hit a trail around the outside of a ball field that puts you into the next section of singletrack. It’s really impressive actually, how these trails have all been laid out to get so much singletrack packed into the available land. Within this section of trail, there is a really steep switchback climb. It comes up shortly after coming up alongside of a railroad. The trail turns south and then starts switchbacking uphill and the climb continues up a ridgeline. I walked most of it.

I think Joe and I caught back up together somewhere around here or shortly after and where we came to a fork in the trail with no arrow… To the right looked easier and to the left looked harder. It was hike-a-bike to the left, at least in my current condition of my withered body and fatigue. We stopped quickly to make a decision of which way to go and I remember saying something like… “It looks harder to the left, so that’s probably the correct way”. As it turned out, it was just an A and B line that joined back up shortly after.

I came out at another road crossing, Lakeshore Dr and then into some short two track type of trails that would eventually get me over to the bike path in Negaunee. This is where you get the teaser of being near the finish line, but still have another 25 miles to go. I believe it was that atv trail prior to this, where I came up on somebody offering out handfuls of ice. I took the ice and ended up just dropping it down the front of my bibs. I thought it would help cool down my core as I was still struggling to fight off the heat.

I also found another water bottle hand up somewhere around here also. I can’t remember if it was before the passing by the finishing line in Negaunee or after. I want to say it was after. Anway, I came up on somebody the was driving SAG for the LCR crew and she filled my water bottle up for me. Consistantly forcing the small sips of water in was working and I was getting hydrated again.

I came into another area of singletrack that of course weaves uphill. I can’t remember what the trail was like, but I’m sure it was rocky and rooty… It was a shorter section of trail and then I popped out on the snowmobile trail for just a short distance to a dead end road that lead us back into the trail system. It started with a loose gravel uphill that came out by a water tower. I walked part of the hill and came upon Starr from the Woolly Bike Club and CyclovaXC, who was conquering the 50+ mile run.

The chain of events start getting a little blurry from here to Negaunee. Even when I look at my gps route, I still have a hard time remembering where specific trail sections were at. I remember some sweet flowy singletrack at some point though, but also some really steep rocky stuff. There was one point that I know was an addition from last year that took you through what I remember as being what I might consider a rock gauntlet. I also remember some other steep rocky downhill that I walked down and then turned around to see Joe clean the entire thing.

I remember Kyle Brierley coming back by me somewhere as well. He sounded happy and looked like he was riding strong. I believe it might have actually been his parents that gave me some water also. I remember it being cold and was a huge help. My hydration status was getting better and it was getting easier to get the fluids down, especially the cold water. I was able to get a lot more of my CarboRocket down as well between the cold water hand ups.

I had slowed my pace down dramatically the last couple of hours, but it was paying off and I was actually starting to look forward to eating something solid once I hit Negaunee. I remember crossing a street, must have been Michigan St, and thinking as I hit the trail on the other side that I recognized where I was at and knew we were getting really close to Jackson Park.

I recognized a left hand turn away from a rocky outcrop onto some narrow rocky benchcut that switchbacked to the right again. This would dump out onto the atv trail that headed down toward Jackson Park. Except this year, we turned off of it to the left before going all the way to the bike path. This would loop out onto a couple of those old mining city streets and loop us back directly through Jackson Park.

I rode into Jackson Park well off my pace from last year. It took me a little over an hour longer to complete the Negaunee Loop this year versus last. I was now a little over an hour and a half off my pace from last year and the buckle cutoff was only 30 minutes away with nightfall not far off.

Negaunee to Ishpeming

Marji Gesick 100

I got a fresh bottle of water from my wife and another water bottle filled with Coke to stuff in my jersey pocket. I was leaving my hydration pack at the park. I was hungry and able to eat a candy bar and wash it down with some water. I seemed to be out of the woods with my stomach and hydration issues. I strapped my headlight from my drop bag onto my helmet, locked in my handlebar lights and was ready to go. I went to hand my phone to my wife for some reason and then took it back and told her I might need it as I didn’t now how things were going to go from here. Probably not the most confidence instilling comment to make to your wife as you’re about to head back out on the trail with headlights mounted on your bike after nearly 12 hours of racing already…

I was headed out now for my last section of the course, but knew these last 15 miles were going to chew up some time and I would soon be turning those lights on. I headed into that little section of woods that connected to another street that went uphill before hitting the the trails for real. I don’t remember what it was like at first, but then I remember dropping off of a rail trail into some downhill flowy stuff. I remembered this section from last year. Shortly after this section is where you hit the first steep hill that just when you think is about to end… you’re actually only about halfway up it as it continues up through a bunch of switchbacks.

The trails here are actually really great and I need to get back up there and ride them when I am fresh sometime, versus after already being on the bike for 12 hours. I came out to a gravel road, where to my suprise my wife was waiting with another bottle handup. I hadn’t finished my other one completely yet, but swapped bottles and kept moving. She had looked at the map and figured she could catch me at a couple of the places just to check on me. I think she was a bit worried about me as the sun was setting and my comment about not knowing how things were going to go as I left Jackson Park. There was also a group of local folks out there following the race and waiting for some other racers.

This was just a short section of road and then I would dive back into the woods for another singletrack climb. I think I had my lights on by now. I delayed turning them on as long as I could because I find it hard for my eyes to adjust with light while there is still a little bit of natural light in the sky. The trail would pop back out on that same road again, but a little further up is where my wife happen to be waiting again. I can’t remember if I grabbed another bottle or not at this point. I think I swapped bottles a couple times, but really never emptied any of them. It was nice though to have the option and security of a full bottle in case I got myself into trouble.

I was back in the woods again and I’m sure it was dark by this time. I remember hiking up some switchbacks and I could see headlights from other riders off in the distance out in front of me and out behind me. I came out on the gravel road again and could see what looked like my truck parked up ahead, but the trail took me into the woods along side the road. It was pitch dark by now and my wife would have had no idea if that was me or not, so I yelled out to let her know it was me and I was ok.

I really can’t remember what this next section of trail was like. I don’t think the climbing was bad on it, but most of the singletrack in the last 15 miles is rooty and rough. There are a few really steep spots in them as well. I don’t want to call them drops, because you don’t drop off them. You ride down them, hanging off the back of your bike to avoid going over the bars while wishing you would have bucked up for a dropper post. Again, I can’t remember the exact order of all this… So some of what I just mentioned might actually be slightly later in the trail.

There is a spot where you come to some opening and the trail cuts around the edge of a lake. You have to get wet and you get a little suspiscious if that is infact the right way to go. I came up on it this year to find another rider kind of looking at it in disbelief, thinking that could not possibly be the right way. I gave him a nod and said “yep, that’s the right way”. I think the edge of that lake was a little deeper this year. I thought I was able to ride across it last year, but I just picked my bike up this year and walked across it as I think it might have been hub deep this year.

There was a slight downhill grade along a rode for a very short period, but then I took a right up around a gate to start grinding out another climb. About halfway through the climb I came near the bottom of the old ski jump. Lessons from the past 13 hours dicated that there was obviously more opportunity for pain if you’re at the “bottom” of a ski jump and the climbing continued toward the top.

I struggled with the switchback climbs up through the woods from pure fatigue, but I was not getting the cramps anymore like I had earlier, or pretty much the entire ride up till this point. It was just pure fatigued, but without the cramps, I was able to grind out some of the atv/gravel climbs. Not the stupid steep ones that you felt like you needed climbing gear for, but the milder ones.

When I say climbing gear, I am actually referring to ropes, harnesses and actual rock climbing gear. I eventually came to the one that stands out amongst the rest of them to find a few other people going up it and a few others coming up behind me. It was a little backed up to the right and a few of us worked up the left side of it. I seriously remember the guy in front of me getting up it and literally dragging his bike up behind him. I grabbed a tree with my left hand and managed to pull my bike up past me with my right hand. I was able to get some footing again and find another tree on the left to hang on to and get myself up over the top while pulling my bike up behind me.

I think it was an easier route to the right, but was backed up with a few people. I remember hearing vocals from both ends of the spectrum… There was a lot of cussing at one end and just pure giggling at the other. I think I might have been somewhere in the middle, but the giggling of disbelief from a couple of the other folks made me laugh.

I remember getting over the top of it and still laughing about the situation, which brought my spirits up and gave me a bit of energy. I guess we all need to laugh more often because I got on my bike and starting picking up the pace and riding stronger. I also knew I was only a few miles from the finish at this point and wanted to finish strong. I was going to finish with my head up, regardless of the beating I had taken throughout the day.

I think I ended up riding away from most of that group that I was with over the next mile or 2. I was ready to get this thing wrapped up. I also love the finish of races. Sometimes, because I’m ready for the suffering and the pain to end… but also because I think I get a little emotional about some of these crazy sufferfest races and the accomplishment that comes along with just finishing them, even if you miss your time goal. It’s hard to explain, but I know there are folks out there that know what I’m talking about.

Anyways, I remember flying downhill through a wider atv type trail with my light out in front of me, thinking about how cool it was to race the last couple hours in the dark and actually make it. Without the race going on, I wouldn’t have had that same experience. Sure, I could experience the ride part… but I would be missing out on the emotional part of the ride. Which, in my opinion plays a much bigger part in the overall experience and completely changes the experience in itself.

I was coming down some kind of semi-rutted atv section and recognized it from the Polar Roll last year. We went up it in the Polar Roll, but I knew I was very close to coming out to the trailhead where the Polar Roll entered the trails at. I hit the old town streets and found the trail to Jasper. I was curious what I would find at the top as I saw the sign about there being a message up there.

I made it up there to find a few folks cheering me on as they read the sign with me. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but it said something about being on the largest exposed gemstone in the world. I dropped back down the singletrack to exit Jasper and hit the streets of Ishpeming, with just one little atv trail section left.

I made the right hand turn to head to the finish line and then made a sprint for the finish after crossing through the road barriers. I was by myself, but sprinting to the finish line was my way of getting back up  again after being repeatedly knocked down through many hours of suffering.

It actually only took me about 9 minutes longer to finish that last section in the dark vs the previous year. I ended up crossing the finish line of the 2017 Marji Gesick 100 in 14 hours and 5 minutes to finish 23rd  in the overall. This was about 1 hour and 40 minutes slower than the previous year, but actually 2 places better than the previous year.

Marji Gesick 100 Finish Line

I showed my tokens to Danny, shook his hand and collected my Marji Gesick 100 finisher’s token. Then, I found a spot nearby on the sidewalk sat down and eventually collapsed backwards. I actually started to get a little choked up as I sat there and staired off into space and started thinking about the day. I’m not sure what it was… whether it was thinking about the hard work, the suffering that took place and still missing my goal or the pure joy in knowing I had just pushed through the toughest thing I’ve attempted to date, didn’t let it completely beat me and made it to the finish line…

Needless to say… I’ll be back next year and my registration will be put in on this coming Friday. This race made me a better rider this year. Having this race out in front of me, made me take some chances in other races to learn and sort things out. It made me tackle some more singletrack racing early in the year to work on my singletrack skills. It got me into a couple other 100 mile races leading up to it to get me better prepared, where I experienced some rocks and narly downhills. It also kept me focused on keeping my core strong as I knew I couldn’t make it through the Marji if I let my core go. I actually finished the Marji this year with no back or shoulder pain, just massive amounts of fatigue.

Race reports for races like this one always seem hard to wrap up as I want to continue to reflect on it, but as I look at at the bottom of the page, I’m approaching a 9,000 word count and should probably shut things down. Get registered and I’ll see you up there next year!

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Links

Marji Gesick 100

906 Adventure Team

NUE (National Ultra Endurance Series)

RAMBA Trails

NTN Trails

Cyclova XC

Woolly Bike Club

Other Race Reports

I know there are a bunch of other race reports out there for this year. I haven’t read them yet, but will get caught up on them now that I’ve got my report written and I’ll get links to all of them listed here as I go through them.

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My First Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race

shenandoah 100

Even though the race didn’t go quite as expected (I was planning a little faster race time)… Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race is probably now one of my favorites races. I only wish it were closer to home. It just had a great mix of riding, awesome venue, good sized race field and definitely hard.

Note: Pictures, Strava file, other ride data and reference links at the bottom of report.

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Shenandoah 100 Venue

The Shenandoah 100 has the best venue that you are going to find for a mountain bike race, at least that I have been to. The Mohican 100 is dang close, but the fact that the Shenandoah 100 takes over the entire campground for the whole weekend for just the racers, brings it to another level. Wilderness was another great venue, but having running water restrooms and showers in an actual campground, brings it to another level.

The race is on Sunday, but the campground opens up Friday and racers are welcome to come in and set up camp from Friday till Monday. There are a couple of bathhouses with restrooms and showers, along with extra porta jons brought in for the weekend. The actual campsites are first come first serve, unless you reserve and pay for an RV site with some hookups. Some of the sites are a little tough getting into if you have low clearance, but I was able to find a nice campsite and get in and out of it with my Ford Focus. Otherwise, there is a ton of camping space available in the open field areas around the start/finish area as well.

There is a nice pavilliion where a pasta dinner is provided on Saturday night before the race and then another meal again after the race on Sunday. Everything is held right there at the start/finish line. I really enjoyed hanging out around the campground for the weekend, chatting with folks I had met at the Wilderness 101 a month earlier and then also making some new friends. The entire set up really was fantastic. I really liked the fact, that you could show up and not have to leave for the entire weekend.

Shenandoah 100 Course

shenandoah 100

Great course layout and set up all together. I probably say this often actually, but it was really good. It was broken up nicely in different sections with a couple repeat sections and a 2 way traffic gravel section early on. The aid stations were spread out nicely and if you can carry 2 bottles on your frame, you would have no problem running bottles. It consisted of just about everything you would expect to find in any endurance mountain bike race. A little bit of pavement, gravel, jeep trail, fast and flowy singletrack, rocky narly singletrack, narrow ridgelines, hike a bikes, etc… The long climbs were not all gravel either. You were climbing some steep ridgeline singletrack and some jeep trails that went on forever, eventually turning into singletrack.

shenandoah 100

There was a lot of climbing… Over 12,000 feet according to both Training Peaks and Strava. The course was not a constant up and down though as you can see from the elevation profile. The climbs were big, steep and grindy and the descents were fast and not on gravel. There was some rocky descents and a lot of fast narrow ridgeline descents.

Start to Aid 1A (mile 12)

shenandoah 100

We rolled out of the campground as it was getting light out and all filtered down the campground exit road. It seems like things started to light up by the time we made it across the bridge and made our right hand turn through what I believe is the official town of Stokesville. There was already a seperation happening with a front pack breaking away out front and I put in an effort to stay on the back of it. We made the left hand turn up the pavement and the pace didn’t let off even though we started heading uphill.

Shortly after hitting the gravel, things started thinning out. I kept up my effort as we worked up the gravel jeep trail where we would climb about 400 feet of elevation between that left hander out of Stokesville to the entrance of the singletrack about 7 miles in. The singletrack would take us up another 500 feet in about a mile and a half.

I think I hit singletrack with a handful+ of other riders. I think this is where I was starting to think I might have gone out a little too strong. I just wasn’t riding the singletrack well at all. It was all up hill and had just enough little rock or root spots to waffle somebody up enough to cause a chain reaction of knocking downline riders off their pedals. At somepoint I waffled myself and had to step off and let riders by. It was probably the best thing as I was pushing too hard and I needed to dial back to a more comfortable pace. I had definitely gone out too hard and was with some folks that were beyond my capabilities to comfortably hang with…

I made the rest of the singletrack climb at my own pace as I let the handful of riders in front of me slowly get away. I was comfortable now. I find it hard to get in my own rythm on new trail like this if I’m pushing too hard and have wheels all around me. I was on my own now with nobody coming up on me that I could see. I eventually hit the top of the singletrack climb to find an amazing fun and fast descent down the other side. It was fast, flowly and fun with a few berms to catch a little air and cut loose if I remember correctly.

I’m not the fastest on this type descent, but I actually caught back on to that group in front of me that had gotten away. I assumed the person who was leading that group might have been holding them back. By the time we reached the bottom and dumped out on the gravel road, another group of folks where now catching us from from behind as well.

Aid 1A to Aid 1B (mile 29)

shenandoah 100

Aid station 1 was right after dumping back out on the gravel and folks were holding out bottles. I rode through, as did just about everybody else I think. I believe it was all gravel to the next section of trail and we had a nice line of riders working together with a rotation of pulls until hitting the singletrack. There were a light grade uphill in the gravel that would come back down again and then the last section of gravel went up about 300 feet in 4 miles.

The singletrack was steep with a grade that continued to increase. It would climb about 1,200 feet in 2 miles. It was a grinder and the ground was a little wet. The wet rocks would cause traction problems and cause the occasional waffle that would make you walk a section that you might otherwise ride, but there was no getting back on the pedals. At some point it was feeling like a death march and I asked the guy in front of me how long much longer the climb was and he said we were close to halfway, but the second half was way worse…

I can’t remember when it happened, but I think we made a turn up a switchback and the steep grade went up a notch. I found myself hiking among a couple other folks for part of it and granny gear grinding for the rest.

At the top I was rewarded with a phenominal descent. I was a little slow at first and had to let a couple folks by and eventually started finding my rythm and flow. There was a small bit of an uphill and then the descent turned into a fast, rocky and twisty dowhill hill that kind of flowed, but was unpredictable with wet rock. I could hear a couple riders coming up from behind, but not on my tail yet and I used that as motivation to push myself and take a little risk. I got into a great rythm and let my bike do it’s job. I actually passed another rider and ripped down the rest of the trail to a trail head parking lot.

As soon as I got back out on the gravel, my legs locked up with nasty cramps. I was about to pay the price for going out too hard in thestart of the race. It was so weird the way they hit though. I hadn’t been pedalling much through that descent, but my legs were definitely getting worked over as I sure wasn’t seated in my saddle during that descent. I could actually feel a cramp working its way up as I was coming down and as soon as I hit the gravel and got back on the gas, they hit hard. I think I was in mid sentence with another rider when the cramps hit. My legs locked up and I came to a dead slow roll. I think he asked if I was ok, I responded with a yes and some cramps just hit watched as he and a couple other riders pedal off into the distance.

I quickly grabbed and downed the shot of pickle juice that I had in my jersey pocket as I soft pedaled up the gravel. A couple other riders came by and asked if I was ok, as I was barely rolling. These cramps locked me up pretty bad… I told them I was fine again and just had the cramps hit. I thought I heard one of them mention something to the other guy like “cramps, only 25 mile in?” The other guy responded with, “I’ve been that guy before, it sucks…” and then they both chuckled and pedaled away in the distance.

I chuckled with them a bit I guess, wondering how the next 75 miles were going to go with leg cramps at this point. I also used it as some motivation to try and mentally turn off the cramps and make a goal of catching back up to them and the rest of the group that I saw riding away. My cramps started to go away and I was able to get back on the gas, but never caught them and was now coming back through aid station 1 for the second time.

Aid 1B to Aid 2 (mile 33)

shenandoah 100

Shortly after coming through aid 1, I thought I saw a single arrow pointed right and made a turn up a jeep trail. After making the turn and working my way up hill, I started questioning whether or not I was actually on course now and if I actually saw the arrow correctly. Most of the turns were all labled with double turn arrows, with more arrows after the turn to confirm you turned correctly. I could see some bicycle tire tracks and kept going. I made it up over the hill and about halfway down the other side and jumping on the brakes to turn around when I came across a few other riders headed back up the hill, confirming that I had made a wrong turn. They had actually gone all the way down the other side.

We turned around and made our way back down to the main gravel and got ourselves back on course as other riders were riding by and looking at us with a, where the heck did you guys go face… I think it only cost me about 6 or 7 minutes is all and maybe an extra mile. I think there was a slight loss of motivation once we got back going on course as the riders I was with seemed to be soft pedalling at first and I wanted to make up time. I picked the pace up for a little bit and it seemed like everybody started moving strong again as we worked up the gravel to the turn up the pavement. It was a couple miles of pavement and then I was at aid station 2.

Aid 2 to Aid 3 (mile 46)

shenandoah 100

I filled up my water bottle, told the aid station folks about the potential flipped arrow. In hindsight, I could have went back to check it myself when I got back on course, but I didn’t think about it at the time. I was just concerned about getting back on course and getting going again at the time. Anyways, I got my bottle filled and headed up the road on what would be the start of a long climb that would turn steep near the top.

Keep in mind that I had already ascended about 250 feet on my way into aid station 2 and I would climb another 1600 feet or so after leaving aid 2. There was about 3 miles of pavement climb and then another 4.5 miles of jeep trail that I believe eventually turned into singletrack. I would climb continuously for nearly an hour.

I paced myself well and was feeling good the first half. As I got past the halfway point on the jeep trail, I was getting fatigued and had to walk a couple steep sections. They were all ridable, but my legs were feeling the stack up of the continuous long climbs and going out way too hard at the start. I can’t remember exactly, but I think maybe those couple spots that I walked might have been a little slippery or something from the previous couple days of rain. Not muddy, just a little slippery. There actually wasn’t much mud on the course, but things were slippery at times. Especially the rocks.

I think the other reason I might have walked is a bit of a mental weakness that snuck up on me. I saw somebody walking in front of me and I mentally told myself that it would be ok to walk as well. Then I realized they were a single speeder and probably pushing a 34 X 20 or something while I had plenty of gear with my 2 X 10 drivetrain and should have been able to spin up it.

These races are long and you can find yourself going in and out of weak and strong points along the way. What makes you weak at times, can also make you stronger in the long run if you can recognize that weakness and work on it later. Sometimes you might even catch it in time to face it head on in the moment.

When I crested over the top and started down the other side, I was feeling fatigued and a little off. The downhill side was fast and I just couldn’t find my comfort zone in it. I can’t remember exactly the order of the trail, but it was fairly clean singletrack with some loose gravel if I remember correctly. I do know that for some reason, I just couldn’t find my comfort zone and gave up a few places on the way down.

The trail became narrow at some point and ran along the side of ridgeline or was really narrow bench cut in the steeper hillside. It really wasn’t that bad and I should have been able to rip down it, but just felt really nervous on it. I suppose some folks might not have thought much of it and might not relate. It’s just not stuff I am used to riding a lot.

I feel like I do better on narly rocks as long as there is no drop offs, than I do on the narrow ridgelines or steep benchcuts. I have a hard time getting my mind off the, if I go down here, I might tumble for a ways…

At the bottom was aid station 3.

Aid 3 to Aid 4 (mile 59)

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The aid station folks were great. They got my drop bag, filled up my hydration pack and even mixed my CarboRocket up for me while I slammed a Coke that I had in my drop bag and grabbed my fresh supply of Honey Stinger gels and waffles, along with another pickle juice shot in case the cramps came back again. I also grabbed a handful of Pringles and a cup of skittles on my way out. I had to grab the Pringles. For some reason the Dirt Wire TV video with the guy talking about the Pringles at the aid stations was stuck in my head… and yeh, the Pringles were awesome! I should have grabbed more.

I got going again and hit the highway. This was the section of the race that was about 6 miles of main road that would rise about 300 feet and a paceline was a good idea. Shortly after working up the road a few of us joined up and the group grew a little more by the time we hit the trails again. I had kind of wanted to push a little harder, but based on what I had ridden so far, I knew the upcoming trail probably wasn’t going to be a walk in the park and I was going to need something left in the tank when I hit the dirt again. Not to mention, I had to cut one of my pulls at the front short to hit my shot of pickle juice when the leg cramps fired up again. I’m convinced that stuff helps now as they went away by the time it was my turn for another pull and I don’t think they ever came back again.

I think I filed into the trail near the back of the line and the climbing would once again commence. Again, I can’t remember the exact details, but the trail would take us up another 1,000 feet over the next 2 miles. It got steep along one of those steep edges again and then I believe this is where the stair climb was at. It gets it name from the obvious formation of rocks that look like stairs where you do a hike a bike up hill. The hike a bike got to me and I ended up doing some more hiking again later on stuff that I should have been able to ride. The going out too strong and the last climb had stacked up on me. I like going out strong, as I feel like I’m going to fatigued regardless, but looking back at my heart rate data… I just about blew myself up.

I was jittery or nervous again coming down the other side, especially after watching the guy in front of me slide over the edge. He caught himself and only went down 5 or 6 feet, but could definitely have been worse. I had let a few folks go by in this section and then also passed a few folks myself that were fighting some some fatigue.

I felt like my bike was all over the place and then a tight right hander over some loose rocks sent me over the top. I hit the ground hard in the rocks and immediatly felt my left hand throbbing. My legs were tangled up a bit in my bike frame that was tangled up in a tree stump while I was laying on my back head down the trail. I didn’t see anybody coming right away and took a second to assess the situation…

Then, I saw somebody coming down the trail and new I needed to get out of the way. I kind of felt like I was upside down. He came around the corner as I was getting untangled. and pulling myself. I can’t remember his first reaction, but he was definitely concerned and asking if I was ok. I said I was fine. He stopped and helped me get my bike up a little and made sure I actually was ok and reminded me to check my brakes and make sure everything was working ok.

I got back going again to find that my left hand was in pain. It hurt and I couldn’t barely grip my bar. Thankfully, I think I was fairly close to the bottom and just slow coasted down the rest of the way into aid station 4.

Aid 4 to Aid 5 (mile 77)

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I felt a little out of it and pulled into the aid station for some water. I stood over my bike for an extra moment and took my time while one of the aid station volunteers filled my bottle. I kind of shook things out, grabbed a couple cups of Coke and got going again.

I was now headed up some gravel and the pain in my left hand was getting worse. I knew I had a long climb in front of me and just found a comfortable place to rest my hand on my bars and ground out the pedals. Aside from one little blip in the elevation profile, it was all uphill to the next aid station. The grade would continue to increase and I would climb nearly 2,000 feet over the next 18 or so miles. I figured I would be ok with the long climb as long as I didn’t believe it was going to get technical and hopefully it would start feeling better by the time I got to the top.

If I remember correctly it was a lot of gravel. I want to say it turned into some jeep trail, but I can’t quite remember exactly what it looked like as it went on, but it was nearly 2 hours to the next aid station where I would hit my drop bags again for fresh supplies.

By the time I got there I was able to find a comfortable grip on my handlebar with that left hand. It was still painful, but I was dealing with it now. It was during some of this segment of the race I think that I was going in and out of a few negative emotions, but pushed them out of my head and pressed on.

Aid 5 to Aid 6 (mile 88)

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The aid station folks were geat, once again. I didn’t want a full hydration pack as I was nearing the race  finish and my last drop bag is more of a safety net if things are not going to plan. I was running behind my planned pace, but just wanted about a half a hydration pack of CarboRocket to get me to the finish. The aid station folks mixed up half my powder with half a bag of water for me while another volunteer filled my water bottle with fresh water. I like keeping fresh water on the bike. I think I grabbed some more pringles, a few skittles and slammed the Red Bull that I had in my drop bag and was ready to finish this thing up.

The climbing was not done. The trail was jeep type trail coming out of the aid station and would go up just a short way before dropping a couple hundred feet. However, I would start climbing again and have to climb another 600 feet before getting to go down again. I believe the climb was singletrack through a wider path or maybe it was old jeep trail that was worn in like singletrack in spots. I also believe there were some wooded true singletrack sections as I remember a look out over this amazing view of the countryside and Appalachians. There were a few of these points in the race.

It would continue going up through various little meadows or small prairie sections and switch between steep grades and false flats. Each time you thought it was about to flatten out and start heading down hill, another section of climbing would hit you. I was riding back and forth with another guy at this point. We had been going back and forth for quite some time and I remember him shouting back that this must be the top… we were close, but it wasn’t the top. We crossed through that prairie section and then hit some more singletrack climbing again.

Finally, do the down hill… I remember a section of singletrack being a little rough on a narrow benchcut with a fairly steep grade down the side of it. This might have been the first section of down hill. Anyways, there were a couple small drops on it. It was all easily ridable, but I got nervous and just didn’t have a good grip. My hand had gotten more comfortable, but my braking and control just wasn’t there yet. I jumped off a couple times to let somebody by and then walked down/over a couple spots. I knew I was dropping more time, but I just didn’t want to take any chances.

I got back going and eventually got my rythm back and got my hand comfortable enough to give me some more confidence in my bike handling. The trail was not smooth and was mostly loose and a little rough if I remember. It was steep and I was using a lot of braking pressure. I was being too conservative and got passed a couple times on the downhills. It was fun though!

I don’t remember it being vary switchbacky, but mostly just dropping down a ridgeline where you could really build some speed. I wasn’t familiar with the trail and was just a little nervous about letting my speed get out of control if a tight turn were to sneak up on me. There was only a couple of tight turns near the bottom before popping out at aid station 6, which was also aid station 2 that I had come by earlier.

Aid 6 to The Shenandoah 100 Finish Line

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I think I topped off my water bottle and then got back to racing. I was out on pavement and climbing again for a couple miles. The next next few miles would be a repeat of the same course from earlier in the day after leaving aid station 2, which was the same as aid station 6, as I mentioned above. The course would climb about 300 feet and than drop down 300 feet before hitting the dirt again.

It would also be the same jeep trail climb from earlier in the day, but we wouldn’t have to go all the way up this time and would cut off of it less than half way up. That being said, we could climb about 700 feet of it with another 100+ feet once turning off of it.

Once making the left off the jeep trail, it was a mix of singletrack and some narrow gravel/jeep trail. I picked up a couple more places on the way down and was feeling good. I knew I was close to the finish, but didn’t know exactly how close. You never know on these races if it is exactly 100 miles or not. I came up on a single speeder as we were dropping into the final bermed and flowy singletrack coming into the campground and I tried to stay with him.

There is a lot of times in these 100 milers that you end up crossing the finish by yourself and I always find it more fun to have somebody to race with to the finish. We dropped out into the finish line shoot, caught some air off the grassy rolling drops and made the big sweeping right hander around to the finish. I pulled around him as I had more gear but let off a little too soon and he shot by me just before the finish line. We laughed and gave each other high five. I enjoyed that, it made the finish more fun!

I ended up finishing in 9 hours and 42 minutes with a 66th place finish in the Open Men’s class and a 92nd place finish in the overall of about 450ish racers.

Shenandoah 100 Final Thoughts

This is such a great race. The venue is awesome and there is such a variety of trail and it is challenging. There are some really tough sections that beat you up, but there is a ton of really fun trail also. I’m going to get back to it and give it another go. I will probably get back to this one often actually. It’s a long ways away, but it is one of the best races I’ve been to when you look at the overall venue, course and size of the race. Great event!

The more I get out to some different races, experience some different trails… the more comfortable I know I’ll get. I’m really glad I pulled the plug on some of the smaller local stuff in exchange for getting out and experiencing some new stuff. It’s a bit of an adventure and a great test. I’d highly recommend putting the Shenandoah 100 as a priority on your bucketlist.

Other Data

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The forth column is my Heart Rate Threshold window and I spent a cummulative of more than 2 hours within that threshold window. A whole bunch of it near the start of the race. I’d really like to get power on my bike. Not necessarily to use during the race, but I think I would find it interesting to look at afterwards.

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This is time spent at Peak Heart Rate. My estimated Heart Rate Threshold is right around 170 to 172.

Weekend Photos

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Strava File

Feel free to follow along on Strava. My file is missing the first mile or so. I think I forgot to start my Garmin until we were out of the campground.

Shenandoah 100 Reference Links

Shenandoah Mountain Touring

National Ultra Endurance Series

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Wilderness 101 Mountain Bike Race Report

wilderness 101

This Wilderness 101 mountain bike race was on my to-do list, but I wasn’t planning on it for this year. I was thinking I could fit it in next year with a family trip out east or something. Anyways, after doing a bunch of shorter races this spring and then getting through the Lutsen 99er, I was itching for some longer and more epic rides. I also love getting out to new places and it looked like I could fit it into my schedule. The anticipation and preparation for a trip out to a new place is just as much a part of overall experience as the race day itself.

Podcast of Race Report

The Podcast version has some additional thoughts and commentary. However, I still suggest reading through the written report first and getting a look at the course maps/elevation profiles before listening to the podcast to enhance your listening experience…!

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Race Venue

I guess I don’t always mention the race venue in my race reports, but this one was a bit unique. I suppose I should probably talk about the venue set up regardless in the future. Anyways, the start/finish was in a little park in a very small town. The Wilderness 101 race took over the park starting Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. Everybody pulled in, set up their tents and hung out for the weekend. I could see the start/finish line from my tent. Friday afternoon and eventing was taken up by racers getting their gear ready and just hanging out talking. Saturday evening after the race, was racers hanging out, eating some race provided food and having a couple of beers. It was a really cool set-up. If you head out to this race, I suggest camping out in the park. There were no showers and only porta-jons, but racers were able to clean off with some hoses that were set up. I even soaped up a little and was clean enough to make it through the evening.

Wilderness 101 Course Layout

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The course had a lot of gravel on it, but the singletrack was very rugged and rocky. The singletrack on this course probably had larger rocks and a higher density of rocks of any other course I’ve ridden, aside from True Grit. Marji Gesick 100 does have a lot more rocks, but the Marji also has way more singletrack. Like I said, the singletrack on this course was full of rocks, making for very little smooth singletrack riding. All of the smooth riding was out on the gravel roads.

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For the most part, you were either going up or down except some gravel early in the race after the first climb and a couple sections of rail trail in the final miles of the course. Any flat stuff mid course was where you found the rugged singletrack, but even most of that was downhill. There were also some really high speed gravel descents. I hit 40+ mph at least a couple times.

Training Peaks is reporting an elevation gain of 13,345 feet, while Strava is reporting 10,850 feet. Strava is likely to be the most accurate on this one. I ran the elevation correction in both apps as well. I can see a very jagged edge on the elevation profile of all the climbs within the Training Peaks elevation profile and that is likely being represented as additional elevation gains that aren’t actually there.

Wilderness 101 Race Goals & Objectives

Over the past few years I have learned to set different types of goals for races vs just aiming for a finish time or place. That would be different story if I was at the level to hit the podium every time, but I’m not there, yet… I keep getting getting faster and I’m only 38, so I’ve got some time yet if I’m patient and do things right.

Anyways, when you’re headed out to a brand new race for you on new trails, terrain etc… You don’t know what to expect anyways, so setting a finishing time goal can be a bit arbitrary for your first go at a new to your race. That being said, I had heard that it can be really key to a good race if you can stay with the lead group through the first climb as it is all gravel from their to the first aid station. There is another hill prior to the first aid station that I would normally call a climb, but is dwarfed by the rest of the climbs on this course.

I should add that this was not a primary target race for me, especially since I didn’t even register till until a few weeks before the event. I also had been heavy on my training for the Marji Gesick 100 in September leading up to the Wilderness 101 and was carrying quite a bit of fatigue into this race and not in very good form at all.

Goal #1 – Stay with the lead group through the first aid station at mile 19.

I prioritized this goal over my finishing time. I just wanted to see what it took to stay with the lead group and then if I came back to do the race over again, I would know whether that was a good choice or not when chasing an overall time. The second time I go back to a race, I am more likely to prioritize my finishing time…

Goal #2 – Finish in 8 hrs, but would be generally satified with 9.

This is always a tough one, but I just took a look at previous years time and try to ballpark where I think I can realistically come in at. This is always a tough one to set a goal for, but at minimum it helps in planning  drop bags, nutrition, etc… for the length of the race.

The Wilderness 101 Mountain Bike Race

Start to Aid 1 – Mile 19

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The rollout eased out of the park and down a couple miles of paved river road, before making a left turn to start the first climb. Nobody busted out aggresively when we hit the climb, but it definitely wasn’t relaxed. During the first half of the climb, there seemed to be a little more moving around. I believe we were all just trying to make sure we were in a comfortable spot and didn’t want to get pushed off the back if the group were to split in front of us. At least, that is where my head was at.

I pulled myself up to sit in about the top 15 or so riders and dropped into a comfortable gear. There were 3 spots on the climb where the grade let off a bit, but definitely not leveled out. You can see the red line in the elevation chart where my heart rate did rise up. I burnt a match or 2 going up, but not significantly. I think it was about 3/4 of the way up when I noticed a split in the group happening behind me. I was not on the rivet yet and since I had made the climb on Thursday; I new at this point that I was going to stay on.

I would do this same thing all over again when I go back to this race a second time. Sometimes, these are just little tests as you progress through your racing to see where you are at. I think you have to do things like this, even if it could be detrimental to your overall race. Like I said, this wasn’t my primary target race, so why not see if I can learned something extra out of it.

The descent on the other side was fast and at some point we came to a hard left, which I was ready for because I had driven the first 19 miles of the course in my car the previous day. There seemed to be a hard effort on the hill out of that hard left and the tail end of the group almost got strung out a little. I made it my business to stay on as I knew there was going to be a handful of miles with not much elevation change until we got closer to the first aid station.

There was some point in here and I can’t remember if it was before that previous left turn or after it that it seemed like everybody just kind of sat up and backed off. I guess it probably started with a few guys at the front that didn’t want to get stuck pulling the entire time. There was a few small conversations happening as we rode along and I had the chance to chat with Gordon Wadsworth quickly. I always enjoy his social media posts, but never had the chance to chat with him in person. I’ll toss a link to his blog at the bottom of the report.

You never really feel like you hit a solid hill prior to the first aid station, but at some point you do start heading up hill again. You start feeling the work again and then it does come to a bit of a steep grade before descending down to aid station 1 and I could see folks looking like they were getting ready for the second game on to begin as we made the right hand turn into aid 1. I think there were about 15 of us, maybe 20 when we made the turn.

Aid 1 to Aid 2 – Mile 33

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There were volunteers handing out fresh bottles if you wanted to drop yours, but I still had plenty of water and kept riding. I intened to get to aid station 2 at mile 33 before I refilled anything.

After the first aid station, we started climbing up a 2 track and that’s were the lead group started blowing apart. It wasn’t instant, but I dropped off fairly soon after the aid station and then could see some others behind me, along with others up ahead getting strung out. I felt a little flat going up the 2 track, even when it started to level out for a little bit. This make a little sense with how much focus I had been putting into strength work and my lack of doing much spinning up fast with high speed anaerobic work in the past few weeks. That being said, even the part that felt like it had leveled out, didn’t really level out… It was a false flat and we were still climbing.

There was a crazy fast decent down some rough 2 track. It was still wet from the rains the night before and my glasses were getting splashed with mud. It was one of those, let it rip and trust your bike descents. I got caught by a couple people on this section. Maybe me a bit too much of a chicken…

There was another gravel climb, which I was strong on and believe I pulled a couple people back in on. We finally hit some singletrack and it was wet and rocky. It wasn’t the rockiest part of the course, but the rocks were big rocks and this was not flowy IMBA style trail. I finally hit a section that I later came to know as 3 Bridges Trail where a big long pile of rocks follow 3 bridges if I remember correctly. I quickly recognized this section as the big rock garden from previous DIRT WIRE TV videos of the race. I’ll throw some links to those old videos at the bottom of the report. I’d recommend checking them out if you decide to head out to the Wilderness 101 at some point.

There was another gravel climb, where I think I lost a spot or 2 and then the gravel took a left up more of a 2 track or lighter jeep trail before hitting Aid 2 at mile 33.

Aid 2 to Aid 3 – Mile 50

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I wasn’t at mile 33 long at all. I did hang my bike up quickly, filled my water bottle and then got back in it. Leaving Aid 2 was single track that quickly turned into really rocky switchback descending. It was awesome! I was actually fairly amazed that I rode the entire thing. I actually yelled out a big “woohooo” or something toward the end of it. I suppose for some folks, it might not have been that big of a deal, but this was new stuff relative to the singletrack that I get to ride.

I believe I dumped back out on some gravel again for another climb after that. Once at the top of the climb, I believe this where I was dumped back into what people were refering to as the river later that evening around the finish line party. It was a rocky and steep downhill, with holes that you had no idea how deep they were going to be when you hit them. I lost a couple spots in traffic here. I was brave, but also fearful of hitting those holes too hard and going over the bars.

Each one of them had a little berm on the other side that look like you were just going to lose your front tire in the hole and hit a wall. I think there was some purpose to this whole set up to avoid complete errosion of the trail. If I remember correctly, it looked like these holes were there from water routing off the side of the trail versus water running right down the trail. That being said, there was a section of the trail going down hill, that was rocks and deep flowing whitewater. It was crazy.

At the bottom of that was more gravel that still went downhill for a short period before making another gravel climb up to Aid 3, right around the 49 mile mark. I lost some time on one of the previous climbs and then got caught fast in that last “river trail”, but was still on a strong pace for the day as I was nearing the halfway point.

Aid 3 to Aid 4 – Mile 69

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At Aid station 3, I grabbed the small shot bottle of Pickle Juice that was in my drop bag and then had my water bottle refilled. I also refilled my hydration pack with water and my CarboRocket powder that I was carrying with me and then was on my way. I grabbed my extra shot of Pickle Juice because I had actually used my first one earlier. This was actually the first time trying this product, but I had felt my left calf start to tighten up earlier in the race and cracked the Pickle Juice at that point. The cramp never came back, but I thought I should go ahead and grab my other shot of it for the rest of the ride.

The road headed up another climb out of Aid 3 and I remember it getting steeper as I got a littel outside the Aid station. I think this is one of the first times, that I really started to feel the fatigue in my quads from the last few weeks of training start stacking up on me. My legs started feeling flat here and I was moving really slow up this climb and watching my pace drop off. At the top of the climb, there was a slight downhill before dropping into some singletrack if I remember correctly.

I really struggled in this singletrack if I am remembering back to the right time and place. It was scattered with lots of rocks and I was not making very good time on it at all. I got caught and passed by a few guys on this trail that seemed to be busting through it and handling the rocks really well. I just couldn’t get a good flow going on it and it worked me over. It eventually turned into steeper downhill and a wider path that I could carry enough speed to not worry about what line to ride and just go. I should mention that there really never was a good line to follow through any of the rocks.

There was more gravel road after this before hitting another section of singletrack. I believe this is where the trail that was refered to as No Name was at. It was a stupid narrow bench cut, full of rocks along the edge of a steep hill. I almost stopped and walked it, but then I commited. It was actually more than a half mile long though. Not only was it narrow and rocky, it was actually a fairly steep grade going down as well. I was nervous going down it from the standpoint of knowing that if I crash, I would likely end up tumbling a little way down the side of the hill.

At the bottom of No Name was a wet bridge that I hit at too much of a angle and lost the front end. Thankfully, I was most of the way acrossed it when I went down and didn’t drop off the side of it and managed to crash into the ground on the other side, right in front of the photographer. I was ok and the photographer actually showed me the picture that he took of me coming across. He said, 1 more frame and he would have gotten me hitting the dirt. I was leaning in the picture, but still upright. I jumped on my bike, laughed and told him “only him and I know the truth of how that one played out, haha” and was on my way. The later release of the picture, would obviously show that I was well on my way to hitting the dirt though…

I hit a gravel road again, made a left on some pavement and found myself at Aid 4.

Aid 4 to Aid 5 – Mile 89

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I had a slight hiccup at Aid 4. I was just going to fill my water bottle up and grab my spare gels and waffles out of my drop bag. After doing so and jumping back on the bike, I decided I better top off my hydration pack and throw a little more CarboRocket powder in it. The volunteer helped me top off my pack and then I went looking for my drop bag, which was gone. They’re efficient at the aid stations and had already thrown my drop bag in the trailer, thinking I was done with it. Anyways, one of the volunteers realized I needed my bag back and helped me grab it from the trailer. I grabbed my back up CarboRocket out of it and added some to my pack and then was finally off.

Leaving Aid 4 was a long Jeep trail type climb. It really wore on me. I mentioned earlier that I was carrying quite a bit of fatigue into the race and my quads were just tired and flat at this point. I worked my way up the jeep trail at a really light pace, where I got caught by another rider. In hindsight, I really regret not pushing this climb harder.

There was some downhill at the top, but I believe this was on a 2 track or jeep trail as well versus gravel road. It wasn’t very long and I came to an old bridge that was missing everything but the steel beams, with arrows that took us down below it and right thru the creek. It felt nice and cool, but I really didn’t need my shoes full of water again.

My shoes were in bad need of replacement and I’ve actually been Gorilla taping the velcro straps closed for races this summer and all the mud, water and rocks wasn’t helping. I had actually cut the tape on one of the straps from each shoe earlier in the race while banging off of rocks in one of the rock sections and they’d been flapping around since. I try to get a full life’s use out of my gear, plus a little more…

Back to the race… I dropped another overall place shortly after the creek, which happen to be to the Men’s Master (50+) winner that day. He was looking strong and motored away from me up the old road, jeep trail or whatever we were on.

I think I came back out on some actual road at somepoint after this and can’t remember if this was the little pavement section that went by a few houses or not. It may have just been another short section of gravel, I can’t quite remember. Anyways, it wasn’t very long and then I think there was another section of trail. I’m having a hard time picturing what this section looked like, but it worked it’s way uphill for awhile according to the elevation profiles and it might have been a bit sandy. I would error on the side of saying it was rocky, but I can picture some sandier type of riding at some point and this may actually have been that section. Which, is a fair chance since the section on Strava is named Sand Mtn.

I remember feeling some fatigue really starting to hit me at this point and was going really slow. I had been climbing for the last 7 or 8 miles, aside from the one short downill at the top of the jeep trail and it was stacking up on my legs. Much of the training I had been doing in the 3 weeks leading up to this race was actually climbing, but was really short, very low cadence and very high efforts. My legs needed some rest at this point.

Back to the race again… I hit a section that was fairly wide and looked like it was actually a maintained type of trail. I remember laughing a bit, because I swear there was a sign at the start of it that said “no motorized vehicles”, but then shortly after that, seeing a sign that said ATVs must give right away to foot traffic… Anyways, it was a faster section of riding and I think started going a little downhill at some point. I got up to speed at one point and washed out the front end in a corner and went down hard on my left side.

I laid there for a minute and got up slow, stretched and checked myself and bike over as it rung my bells pretty good. My left shoulder is what hit first and I couldn’t tell if I had actually hit my head or just got one heck of a jarring out of my shoulder hitting the dirt. I had a little bit of a headache and eventually jumped back on my bike and soft pedaled away, taking awhile to get back up to speed.

I was back out on some gravel at the end of this and on another really steep gravel climb. It wasn’t super long, but I was ready to start heading downhill soon. My wish was granted shortly after and I was sent downhill to hit the fastest speeds I’ve ever hit off of pavement. Based on my GPS file, it was right around 3 miles of downhill and it was steep. It was loose gravel, pretty much the same gravel that was on the rest of the gravel roads and it twisted it’s way down out of the hills. It wasn’t super twisty, but there was a couple turns that you had to get into the brakes heavy and well ahead of time or some bad stuff was likely to happen. I hit 42 mph coming down this hill according to my GPS. It was awesome and scary all at the same time.

At the bottom was a left hand turn up a paved section of road with a nasty headwind, or at least it felt like a nasty headwind. It wasn’t flat for very long and then I was working back uphill again for the next 5 miles on gravel roads if I remember correctly. After the climb, it was back downhill again on gravel roads and I knew I was getting close to the next aid station.

At some point as I was making my descent down the gravel roads… 2 guys on dirt bikes came around a corner hot and wide, right in front of me. I had to get into the brakes and they left a skid mark themselves. I soon came to a camping area and saw the arrows for a right hand turn where I found the last aid station.

Aid 5 to The Finish of The Wilderness 101

wilderness 101

I stopped quickly at Aid 4, filled my water bottle and downed 2 cups of coke and then took off. Soon after the aid station, I believe this is where I entered a fairly long railroad tunnel. The surface was paved and when you entered you could barely see the opening, so it was pitch dark. After the tunnel, I hit a nice gravel bike path that was an old railroad grade and picked up the pace.

I made really good time of the bike path and then was turned up a gravel road to a switchback up another jeep trail climb. I was thinking this had to be the last one as the mileage was in the 90+ mile range now and I knew what the last mile or 2 looked like. My legs were flat, but I stood up and forced some extra effort into the pedals, knowing that it was likely the last climb.

I don’t remember exactly what the descent looked like, but I believe it was the same type of 2 track or jeep trail that I had just climbed and I let it rip. I came to the river and then hit the arrows to the singletrack that I later heard folks refering to as Fisherman’s Trail. It was a complete hike-a-bike over big rocks. There was joking at the finish line that some local guy that rides with no helmet and cut off shorts can ride it, according to legend…

Fisherman’s Trail was followed by a railroad grade that I assumed would hit the final narrow bridge. It was in fact it, but the railroad grade seemed to go on forever. At least it felt that way. I finally hit the narrow bridge over the river and dismounted. The bridge was barely wide enough to fit your handlebars, so I stood my bike up on it’s rear wheel and ran across the bridge with my front wheel in the air. I had rode out to this bridge from the finish line the previous morning and knew I would have to dismount for it.

Across the bridge was another old railroad tunnel, but this one wasn’t paved and it was rocky. I had checked it out the day before also, so I knew what I was getting into. I jumped off my bike to lift it over a couple rocks and a log that was laying across the entrance. There were 2 older ladies walking around and checking out the tunnel and they looked at me confused as I jumped back on my bike in the tunnel and started riding. There was a good ridable line with only a few rocks in it and the tunnel was short enough to give a little bit of light. I’m not sure if they knew there was a race going on or not, but if they were there for more than a couple minutes, they saw more than me going through the tunnel.

I popped out of the tunnel and was in the home stretch back to Coburn Park for the finish line. I stayed on the gas, right back into town and into Coburn Park. As I pulled into Coburn Park, I dropped my chain again off the bottom of my cassette, locking my pedals up as my chain jammed between the cassette and my chain stay. I got it to free up with a few back and forth pedal strokes and pedaled across the finish line.

I ended up finishing in 8 hrs and 33 minutes with a 26th place finish in the Men’s Open Class and a 36th place overall finish. The 10 place difference in the overall finish was to the winner of Women’s Open, winner of the Men’s Master (50+) and 8 of those crazy single speeder guys.

Closing Thoughts On The Wilderness 101

What I would do different

Climbs – I should have pushed myself harder on the climb coming out of aid station 3 near the 50 mile mark and also again on the jeep trail climb coming out of aid station 4 at around the 66 mile mark. My legs were flat, but I had more in me based on how I rode the last 10 to 15 miles and should have pushed it more. I lost a lot of time on those climbs.

Nutrition – I still haven’t gotten my nutrition nailed. I feel like my body responds well with Coke, but I didn’t drink any until the last aid station. I think I could use some more simple sugars throughout the race for those high effort bursts and steep climbs.

What I would do again

I would definitely go up the first climb with the lead group again. I’d actually set a goal to hang with them up the following climb as well.

General Thoughts

I liked the race. There was a lot of gravel, but the single track was rough. I just like getting out and experiencing new races, trails and terrain. Those climbs were much more than what I am used to. It’s a different approach vs the short punchy stuff that I ride here that you can bursts up in less than a minute. I wasn’t quite sure where to dial in my effort for those long and steady 20+ minute climbs.

Would I do The Wilderness 101 Again

Yes, I liked the whole set up of the race. Although not an actual campground, the camping at the start/finish line was included in registration and fun, the course was marked well overall and the racers were well taken care of after the race with food and beer. I’ve been to a lot of races where the after party and awards are scheduled later in the evening. I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t need to leave the race site and the party just commenced on from the time you crossed the finish line. It wasn’t really a party atmosphere, but just a some good hanging out and camaraderie. I met some really nice people as well at the race because of the camping at the start/finish line that I otherwise would not have met.

Relevant Wilderness 101 Links & Files

Aid station split times…

wilderness 101

Strava file (feel free to follow me on Strava)…

Some photos from the weekend…

Other links…

Shenandoah Mountain Touring – race organizer

NUE (National Ultra Endurance Series) – series organizer

Bob’s Photo Gallery – race photos

Dirt Wire TV – videos of previous years

Quadsworth – Gordon Wadsworth’s website

Facebook (endurancepath) – follow me on Facebook

Instagram (endurance_path) – follow me on Instagram

Twitter (hamlinsm) – follow me on Twitter

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Lutsen 99er Race Report

lutsen 99er

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

lutsen 99er race

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.

lutsen 99er 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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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

lutsen 99er race

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!

Reference Links

Lutsen 99er

Lutsen 99er Results

Lutsen Mountains

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City of Trails 10k Trail Run – Race Report

city of trails 10k

The City of Trails 10k Trail Run in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin was my first true trail running event. I ran a little cross country in High School in the 1990s and have done a few other offroad events, but none of them consisted of true singletrack hiking trail like The City of Trails 10k course. I enjoyed the event and running on technical singletrack made me want to do more true trail running events. There was also a 1k trail event for the kids, a 5k run that was all pavement and then a tough half marathon trail run that will be high up on my potential event list for next spring/summer.

Strava file, extra photos and reference links at the bottom of the report

City of Trails 10k Course Layout

city of trails 10k

The race started next to the St. Croix Falls Middle School with a very short road section to another short section of paved trail, before hitting the Ice Age Hiking Trail. The first 4 miles was true hiking trail, followed by a little over a mile of gravel path and another mile of pavement. My gps file shows the actual race distance at 6.5 miles vs 6.2 miles. Another racer had confirmed the same 6.5 mile distance as well on a different gps device.

For those interested… The half marathon course started from the same location, but headed over to Interstate Park for some challenging singletrack and elevation changes before hitting the full 10k course to finish off the half marathon mileage. From my understanding, the first half of the marathon course was more challenging than the second half. The second half being the 10k course.

city of trails 10k

Training Peaks is showing an elevation gain of 400 feet, while Strava is showing an elevation gain of 447 feet. I don’t have enough experience in trail running yet to say whether this is a lot of elevation or not for a trail run. It definitely made you work, but also didn’t feel overly climby. The overall elevation drop, probably made it feel less climby than it actually was.

Regal Park

Regal Park Trail Description – This section of trail was a lot of fun and very technical when it came to foot landing over some of the rocky sections. It was pretty much all uphill with a few short rocky drops.

city of trails 10k

We split off from the 5k folks after a short distance on the paved bike path and I hit the Ice Age Trail in 4th position. We were fairly tight and I had another runner right on my tail. As we headed up through some of the rock gardens, I could see the 1st place runner was strong and slowly creating a gap to the 2nd and 3rd place runners ahead of me. I badly wanted to make a pass and see if I could hang, but 2nd and 3rd were on a great pace and I didn’t think I had the legs to get around them at the moment, so I sat in and paced off the back of 2nd and 3rd.

Fairgrounds

Fairground Trail Description – This was the smoothest and cleanest singletrack in the entire race (outside of the gravel path and road in the last couple miles). It was switchbacks uphill and then a longer downhill on really nice singletrack through the woods.

city of trails 10k

I knew I had went out hard and was starting to feel it, only a mile into the race. However, I also knew that the race was going to be less than an hour and I could go really hard for an hour, treating this race like a full blown threshold test. I was confident my lungs could handle it, but my running legs were the question.

I continued to sit in 4th position as I watched the lead runner pulling away from us, but we had dropped the 5th place runner off my heels at this point. About halfway through the fairground trail, I felt like I was getting ready to make a pass, but continued to sit in and relaxed on the downhill. I knew we would be coming to the Oregon St. crossing and hitting a wide path where I could more easily make my pass with less effort. We dumped out at the road crossing and I saw my wife and kids there cheering me on!

Zillmar Park

Zillmar Park Trail Description – The Zillmar Park trail section had a mix of everything from across the course. It started with a climb up through a field on a wide path before hitting the woods. Once in the woods, we encountered some rocks, singletrack, tree roots, etc… with a couple of tight turns and short uphills. It finished off with some more exposed rock similiar to that of Regal Park and then some wide path out to the road crossing.

city of trails 10k

We hit the wide path heading up the field where I made my pass and put in a hard effort on the climb up through the field to the woods. I approached the hill, much like I would approach a hill on the bike — Get after it and get it over with.

I hate slogging up hill climbs as they mentally beat you up and I learned to attack hills and crest the top with physical and mental momentum. Momentum plays much less of a roll while on foot versus the bike, but I think there is a bit of mental momentum that is largely in play while on foot if you put the hammer down and get up the hill. You beat the hill instead of the hill beating you.

Once in the woods I came up on a few of the marathon runners who had started earlier in the morning. I also felt like my shoes were loosening up a little. I made quick work of the technical stuff, up a couple of the short hills and was out on the wider path with exposed rock when I realized my left shoe was actually untied.

I had no choice, but to stop and retie it. My right shoe felt looser, but it was still tied up with a tight knot so I chose not to mess with it. Just as I was finishing up… 2 of the 10k runners, that I had passed at the start of this section, came running by and I was now back in 4th position again.

I got back on the trail and worked my way down the wider path with some exposed rock that eventually turned into mowed grass before popping out at the trailhead and another road crossing. There was an aid station set up and my wife was also there with a water bottle and cheering me on. I stopped quickly to grab a shot of water and then got back at it.

Mindy Creek

Mindy Creek Trail Description – Mindy Creek was not as technical as all the exposed rock like in the Regal Park trail section, but it was composed of the steepest sections of trail on the entire course and it made you work. You really had to be careful to not let your feet get away from you in the downhills and the 3 uphill sections were steep. Although not as rocky as some of the other sections of trail that I can remember, it still had plenty of rocks and roots to keep you focused on your footing. It was probably my favorite or more fun section of trail on the course.

city of trails 10k

I went into Mindy Creek really fast and wanted to make up the time from having to stop and tie my shoes. I came up on the now 2nd and 3rd place runners as we came down the first section and they let me by quickly. The terrain here was very steep downhill, with a tight switch back and then a little dry creek crossing over some rocks with a steep uphill on the other side.

I attacked the uphill, much like I would on the mountain bike again and hammered up it quickly before loosing momentum or giving my mind enough time to realize I was going uphill. Mindy Creek was mostly downhill though and I was carrying good speed. The 3 punchy uphills definitey caught up to me by the time I dropped out at the road crossing and I was ready for some flat running.

Lions Park to the Finish Line

Lions Park to Finish Trail Description – It started with an out and back gravel pathway that was about a mile and a quarter in total and finished with a tad over a mile of asphalt road. The road dumped onto a very short section of asphalt path up to the finish line.

city of trails 10k

I hit the out and back section and was catching quite a few of the marathon runners now who had started earlier in the morning. The trail was a wider gravel path with a couple light rises and falls in it, but feeling mostly flat. I saw the 10k leader coming back and knew I had to be getting close to the turn around point, but he had a little more time on me than I thought. I finally hit the turn around point and felt like I was in the home stretch and started picking up my pace.

I quickly ran into the 3rd and 4th place runners not far after making the turn and then continued seeing more 10k runners on my way back from the turn around point. I maintained a good pace as I had the feeling that the finish was closer than it really was and probably picked up my finish line effort a little too soon. I popped out of the woods and hit the pavement section that would lead me into town and across the finish line.

The pavement section felt like it went on forever after running all that great trail. It was a flat and straight section of road that you could see forever on and made you feel like you were standing still and not making any progress. I made a short moving stop for some water at the aid station being run by Snap Fitness of St. Croix Falls and kept moving. I had to be close to the finish, but my throat was dry and needed a little water.

A little further up the road, I came by a little girl with a make shift aid station at the end of her driveway who handed me an ice pop as I ran by. This wasn’t far from the finish, but I think it made her day handing them out. I took the popcicle and thanked her as I ran by. In hindsight, I think ice pops are the way to go for hot weather running. That thing lasted me nearly to the finish line and was way easier to deal with than water cups from the aid stations.

I finally finished the road section and hit a paved path where I could hear the finish line cheers. I put in my last hard effort up the slightly rising paved trail to cross the finish line.

I ended up finishing in 2nd place overall in 49 min and 50 sec.

City of Trails 10k Trail Run Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed running the technical singletrack. What I like about the trail running is the constant change of pace, watching your footing, attacking on the climbs, etc… It was an entertaining race and more strategy was involved vs running a flat paved course. I will probably do some more trail running and likely put the City of Trails Half Marathon Trail Run as a high potential event for next year.

My kids also did the 1k event, finishing 5th and 6th. They did the event last year as well and were looking forward to it. They definitely have some competitiveness between the 2 of them and it is fun to watch them push each other. My 7 year old gave my 9 year old a run for his money. I think the best part of my day was seeing them sitting on the sidewalk at the end of their race with beat red faces, looking completely spent like they gave it their all!

Reference Links

City of Trails Trail Run

Ice Age Trail

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My First Borah Epic – MTB Race Report

borah epic

I had actually heard very little about the Borah Epic mountain bike race in the past, but it looked like a great race once I started looking into it. I’m suprised I don’t see more about it floating around the social media and internet.

I had a good race overall aside from a minor crash off a wet bridge early on and then some nasty cramps that hit me about 25 miles in that knocked me off pace for a couple miles. I believe I did more passing and attacking in the second half of this race than I probably ever have. There was a 40 person preferred start field that I was not part of and I’m always happy to finish inside the preferred start field placement when I’m not part of it.

Video, Strava file and all other reference links are at the bottom of the report.

Borah Epic Course Description

borah epic

The Borah Epic started in downtown Cable, Wisconsin and finished in Hayward, Wisconsin near the Hatchery Creek Trailhead. The course was just about all singletrack, aside from a little over a mile rollout, the powerline climb, a short section of gravel road and a few very short sections of birkie trail. The singletrack was also singletrack that made you work for speed and was a little rough riding in some sections.

I do like point to point races or single loop races and this one was laid out well. Passing wasn’t really a problem for most of the race either, expecially after the initial few miles of singletrack and folks started spreading out or finding their pace. There were also 4 aid stations along the way.

borah epic

Training Peaks is showing me 2559 ft of elevation gain over the length of the course. That’s not extremely climby, but it sure isn’t flat. The race started with a climb up the powerline hill that helped spread out the field before hitting the trails. There were some hills or climbs on the few times we dumped out on the birkie trail and I remember a switchback climb in the singltrack around the 15 mile mark. The rest of the elevation was your typical ups and downs through a traditional hilly area of singletrack.

The Borah Epic Start to Aid 1

borah epic

I was set up about 6 rows back in the gen pop starting gate, behind the 40 person preferred start gate. I had done a short warm up by riding down to the powerline climb and up the first hill of the powerlines. My plan was to go out fairly hard and hopefully get out in front of as much trail congestion as I could without blowing myself up. I don’t think I was the only one with that thought in mind though.

The rollout was not a light rollout as the lead out vehicle gave the lead folks plenty of room to stretch their legs. My average pace from the start line to the bottom of the powerline climb was 23.4 mph. I made some moves on the last uphill pavement section before hitting the powerlines and stayed on the gas all the way up. I did a good job of balancing a hard effort, without completely redlining. I did some passing on the climb, but also had some folks passing me as well. Overall, I think I probably made up a few positions on the climb.

We hit the trails at a good pace, but were still mostly wheel to wheel even though the climb definitely spread things out vs having a complete pile up at the trail entrance. The pace was fast and we were beginning to stretch out a little until we started hitting a couple of the short punchy hills and mini rock gardens or rougher trail patches and we’d get stacked up again. I could see a gap starting to form about 5 to 7 riders up that was growing after each of these little punchy hills.

At some point, the guy behind me was asking to pass. I was thinking, me too! Anyways, I drifted right to let him by shortly after anyways. I could tell he was getting antsy, but would soon figure out that I wasn’t the hold up. Anyways, he didn’t come around right away and we ended up side by side and approaching a rocky section when we of course got stacked up again and I almost ran into the guy in front of me as he was unclipping. Anyways, the other guy ended up getting around me as we got stacked up again and there was now a clear gap off the front of our line of riders with the group ahead quickly disappearing.

It was a hill or 2 later, when we started stacking up again and I heard somebody near the front yelling “STEP OFF, STEP OFF….” The guy pulled off and we were able to stay moving. I assume he may have been the hold up in the previous sections as I can’t remember another stack up after that. I think I ended up making a few passes shortly later and then had clear trail in front of me and put a small gap on the folks behind me. I think I might have let somebody by during this time as well, that disappeared quickly out front.

I came up fast on 2 short, but wet bridges. I cleared the first one and then slid my front end out on the second. I went down on my left side and quickly pulled my bike off as another rider was coming through. I jumped back on the bike to try and chase his wheel to find my left brake lever bent down and a little hard to reach.

I didn’t really want to bend it back as I was afraid to break it off, but I did it anyways and was able to straighten it out while riding. I would feel an occasional snap or click when I pulled it and later found that I had broken off a little nub that stops it from flipping way out away from the bar, which is not really a big deal as it’s spring loaded anyways. I had broke this same nub off my right lever on the first ride with these brakes over a year ago. I think the snap or click was that piece hanging off or stuck somewhere, because it eventually went away.

At some point we dumped out on some fast gravel that was scattered with mud holes. A couple riders popped out of the trail not far behind me and put in a hard effort, leaving me behind on the gravel. There were more coming behind me, but they never quite latched on. I dodged as much of the mud as I could, even if it meant getting on the brakes and picking my way around it. It was early in the race and I didn’t want to carry the mud for another 20 to 25 miles.

I don’t really remember aid station 1, other than grabbing a cup of something as I passed through quickly. For those interested in the aid station setup, I was told they had gels and other stuff at the aid stations. I tend to plan my race without relying on the aid stations if I can, especially in a shorter fast paced race like this one where you need to ride right through to hold your position and stay on pace.

Aid 1 to Aid 2

borah epic

I don’t remember as many details about this section of the race… I wasn’t on my own, but I always felt like I had some comfortable space around me to ride my ride. The pace was fast for sure, but I could ride a little more consistant now with a little breathing room and my average heart rate dropped a little for this section.

I think there was some flowy switchbacks in this section, for which I’m not really great at carrying speed through, but I managed to hold my ground in them. There was a switchback climb around mile 15 where I was able to stretch out the distance to the folks behind me and close the gap a little to the rider out in front of me.

I was also feeling the heat or humidity a little bit and started finishing my water bottle in hopes of finding my wife and kids hanging out at the OO crossing with a fresh hand up. I eventually popped out of the woods at OO and waved my bottle in the air. I tossed it aside and grap a new one from my wife as I rode by. That was actually the first time we’ve ever done a moving water bottle hand up. I’ve always stopped in the past as most times I needed a hand up, was in a really long race or all I needed was my hydration pack and a single bottle to get to the finish. Anyways, she made it look like we’ve done it 100 times!

Aid 2 to Aid 3

borah epic

It was in this section that I really got into my groove in the singletrack. I pulled away from some folks that were on my tail and kept on the gas. I made a few passes as I caught a few riders here and there. I had one rider that had jumped on my wheel and followed me through a couple of the passes. I asked if he need by me and he said no.

We stayed on the gas hard and bridged up to a larger group of riders. When I came up behind them, I really wanted to pass, but it was a fairly large line and I figured I might burn up more matches than it was worth trying to get by each of them and took the opportunity to settle in and recover a little. This is when I started feeling the leg cramps….

They weren’t bad yet, but I could feel them coming on. Part of me thinks this starts to happen when I let off and relax a little and maybe I could have held them off if I were able to stay on the gas, or it might have just been the heat and a little dehydration starting to settle in. Who knows… I felt like I went into the start of the race feeling a little dehydrated, so maybe it was starting to stack up on me. We eventually dumped out onto a section of the Birkie that had a downhill and short uphill where I made a hard effort and I think I passed all but 1 or 2 of the riders in that line before hitting the next section of singletrack.

I don’t really remember coming through aid station 3, other than grabbing a cup of fluids as I rode through. This happend pretty much at all the aid stations, except for OO when I grabbed a fresh water bottle from my wife.

Aid 3 to Aid 4

borah epic

I hit the next section of singletrack fast and tried to chase the other rider that was still out front that I couldn’t catch on the short Birkie section. I think it was a couple miles into this section that the leg cramps finally hit hard and locked me right up. I had to coast through a couple of the bad ones where I couldn’t even turn over the pedal and ended up getting passed by a couple of folks. The cramps eventually brought me to a short standstill, where I leaned over and stretched real quick as another rider when by. I got the cramps to let up and got back on the gas to go on the chase.

Aid 4 to The Borah Epic Finish Line

borah epic

I heard somebody yell “Steve, good job man!” as I passed through the aid station area at Mosquito Brook and recognized the voice of Ben Welnak from Mountain Bike Radio. It’s always nice to hear a shout out on the trail. I was still feeling the cramps in the background, but was able to stay on the gas hard through the last miles. I was ready for the finish at this point as I had completely drained my hydration pack of CarboRocket and my water bottle was empty again. I was able to catch a couple folks in this last section of trail and make up a couple more places.

I finally dumped out on the birkie trail and knew I was close to the finish and saw the sign that said 1000m. It was uphill and I could see somebody out in front of me, but nobody behind me as I worked up the Birkie toward the Borah Epic finish line. I knew I wasn’t going to catch the guy in front of me and still couldn’t see anyone chasing, but I stayed on the gas anyways. I stood on it and hammered all the way up the last hill and across the finish line. It felt good to do that, even though I was sprinting against myself. It’s a bit of a mental win to be able to power up a final climb to the finish line after 3 hours of hard racing.

I ended up finishing 39th overall out of 341 finishers in the Full Borah Epic race with a time of 3 hr, 6 min and 41 sec.

Borah Epic Final Thoughts

Despite the minor crash and the leg cramps hitting again, I feel like I had a really good race. As I mentioned there was a 40 person preferred starting gate that I was not part of and I was probably another 30 plus riders back from there, leaving the gates 70 plus racers back. I think the short warm up before the start of the race helped me prepare for the first climb. I was able to go out hard without completely redlining myself and then stay on the gas for quite awhile. I was also happy about having the power to hammer up the final climb to the finish as well for a big mental win.

This was a good race and I would do it again. I don’t know what my plans will be for next year yet, but there really is only a couple other options that highly interest me during this weekend and none of the are very local, so there is a fair chance that I’ll be back again. After doing this race, I am convinced that I probably need to spend some more time riding up in CAMBA land if I can work it into my schedule. The trails were great! They made your work, they were rugged enough to wear on you and you couldn’t really relax ever. I’d highly recommend a hydration pack for this race as there really isn’t too many spots that make it easy to drink from a water bottle.

I’m doing a 10k trail run this weekend and then my next mountain bike race is the Lutsen 99er. See you out there and hit me up if you have any questions about the Borah Epic that you think I might be able to help with.

A funny side note for you that have read all the way through… The finish line was in a field that had been mowed down. After crossing the finish, I sat down to give my legs a rest. Later I heard warnings of there being poison ivy around, but I was back on my feet at that point. Apparantly I must have sat right in some poison ivy and it was thick enough or oily enough to go right through my cycling bib shorts… That chamois saved me in more than one way on that day as it must have been the barrier to stop it from reaching some real uncomfortable areas… Regardless, the next couple weeks are going to be a little uncomfortable as  a patch of my rear end feels like it’s on fire…

Anyways, enjoy the start of summer and watch out for that poison ivy!

Reference Links

Borah Epic

Borah Epic Results

CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association)

Pictures from Mountain Bike Radio

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