Race Day: Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 8am

Time for the pain. The Superior Hiking Trail brings the pain every time. It isn’t very runable, so why not try to run 31 miles as fast you can on it? I love this very fun race, though, and couldn’t resist registering for it to defend my title.

However, I knew the whole time that I wasn’t going to put in the necessary training to feel super confident. Leading up to race day, I was banking on pure “residual fitness” to put me up near the front of the race. Not only was I neglecting long runs, I did several four-hour runs on hard terrain to prepare for last year’s race, but my day-to-day running mileage dropped off after Ironman. Yeah, I was running fast for a 20 minute race, but I definitely didn’t have a ton of confidence to maintain a decent pace for 4+ hours running. Nevertheless, race week came and my strategy and mindset was to race to win.

Looking at the start list, I didn’t see any major contenders besides a local dude Jakob Wartman who is pretty fast. In fact, in my opinion, we are very evenly matched. I think it’s a toss up head-to-head for any given running race, and we’ve raced head-to-head a few times (mostly at NMTC trail races). My opinion was confirmed on race morning when we both laid out our respective goals to run between 4:30 and 4:40. I had some intel, though, regarding the fact that Jakob is a new dad, and that the large responsibility of a child is likely eating in to some quality training time! Regardless, I was really excited to duke it out. Nobody else would content with us all alone up front, and the one who races the smartest race will prevail. I forecasted some raw racing ahead.

Anyways, I picked up my packet on Friday and negotiated a clutch car ride to the start line on Saturday morning with my good friend Kris. I had some cereal and some coffee and Kris and I hit the road at 7am. It was super chilly that morning, which made it nice to sit in Kris’s toasty warm car until the last minute. Plus, it was nice to joke around and talk and stuff right before the race. I chugged the rest of my Mountain Dew, shed a bunch of clothes and made my way to the start.

I saw Jakob and looked around for anyone else who appeared fast. It’s pretty hard to tell with a long trail race… it’s not an easy equation like at a 5k, where the guy wearing running shorts with the shortest inseam will probably win. No leads today.

It was certainly cold on the start line, but the sun was out and it was surely going to be a fine day to run. Everyone lined up and GO! We were off. There was a quarter mile road run to the trail, then trail for 98% of the rest of the race, Superior Hiking Trail for 85% of it. I started out fast to get a nice position on the trail. Also, I wanted to send a message. I was way out front right off the bat. I could hear Jakob sprinting to get up to me and he got right on my side. He mentioned something about it being really cold. The open air rushing past my face was numbing. Next, we popped onto the trail and I stayed in front. The first five miles is on windy singletrack mountain bike trail, and right off the bat, we had a lot of separation from the rest of the group. On the switchbacks, I could see that there wasn’t anyone else back there. Just as I suspected. Ok, so there isn’t some no-name ringer pushing the pace. Just Jakob and I. Perfect.

Jakob took the lead for a while, and we split the time up front until the first aid station at mile 5 or so. We were definitely going pretty fast. I knew I was going to push it a little, and when I was in tow behind Jakob, I wasn’t going to give an inch for a second. At the first aid station, I ditched my headband, long sleeve, and gloves. I didn’t grab any food or water since I had my stocked handheld waterbottle, and I took a decent lead while Jakob was refueling. He was quite quick to catch back up, though.

I noticed that I was gaining some time on the uphills, but Jakob would catch right back up on downhills and flats. So I would jet up the hills pretty fast to try and break him. Stick with me, I was thinking, because I can endure! The next aid station was at mile 11 or so, and right after that is a rugged climb up Ely’s Peak. I formulated a plan to ditch Jakob on that tough uphill and run alone to the win. I’d do a super quick water fill at the second aid station for a small head start. Nobody will see me the whole rest of the race!

Meanwhile, as I was plotting to win the race, we were joined by another guy who I didn’t recognize. He didn’t make a move, just latched on the back, and I continued to lead the race. How did this guy come out of nowhere?! It was like the extra body behind was pushing me even faster, so I was really blasting through the technical woods above the Fond du Lac neighborhood and Mission Creek. Two fast runners were following my every step.

When we got to the second aid station, I was still in the lead and still had the two guys in tow. Just as I planned, I did a fast water fill and jetted. I was sprinting. There was a small gravel trail that wraps around the base of Ely’s Peak to get to the rocky uphill trail. I was pushing super hard to get to the climb out of sight. I saw John Storkamp going the other way in first place for the 100k. I couldn’t mutter much in terms of encouragement because I was breathing too hard. Then, I began the climb. I was already tired but told myself that this was my chance to make a big break, which would demoralize everyone behind me. The climb was tough. My breathing was labored and I was going hard. I didn’t feel like I was going much faster than if I knocked it down a notch, though, but I kept pushing. I saw the top of Ely’s, ran past it, and tried to keep pushing hard. Unfortunately, I was pretty spent and couldn’t go very fast on the flats. Plus, this section of the race is a lot of exposed rock and is tough to run really fast on. I could tell I was running a tiny bit softer than in the woods when we were in a pack.

Almost to Bardon Peak, my two competitors caught up to me. How could this happen, I thought? I blasted myself trying to make a gap, just to get caught in fifteen minutes! Did I slow down that much in five minutes since I got past Ely’s Peak? How frustrating… Nevertheless, I took the pull once again. We got into more runable woods, and I noticed again that I couldn’t find that spring in my step. It was mile 14 or so and I was getting a little tired. OK, that is normal, though. He who wins is the one who slows down the least. We were blasting through the woods back there and unless this other guy is the real deal, we’re bound to slow down a little over time. Or is Jakob super fit? He’s got a very fast road marathon time. Maybe I’m toast from the first half. I ate a gel to stave off these negative thoughts. It helped, temporarily, but all of the sudden Jakob darted past me and took off. I wasn’t willing to sprint. He can go ahead. I’ll race a steady race and catch him eventually. The guy behind me told me he was going after him. They quickly escaped from my sight. My race plan deteriorated.

I ran alone until the Magney-Snively aid station at mile 15.3. I was good for food so just ran right through, knowing the Spirit Mountain aid station was only two miles away. There’s a nice uphill from the bottom of Spirit Mountain, which means I’d get another chance to test my climbing skills. These fools ran their gas tanks down and won’t be able to hold me off. I’ll catch ’em before that, even. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling good. I was feeling bad. My legs hurt. I was tired. I ate food to quell these terrible thoughts. It didn’t work, I’m toast. No! He who wins is the one who slows down the least. I just need to keep chugging along and it will pay off.

Anxiously, I began to ask the slower 100k racers how far back I was. A few minutes back, they’d say. Two minutes is no cause for concern. By the time I got to the bottom of Spirit, I got an update from a local bike and ski enthusiast Nikolai that they were indeed together about two minutes up. I filled up at the Spirit Mountain aid station with water and a quarter of a PB&J and some M&M’s. That tasted good. Now up the hill. Unlike Ely’s Peak, climbing up Spirit is a pure grinder. Not super steep or rocky like Ely’s, but just relentless elevation gain. A few minutes later, I saw Nikolai again on his bike. He informed me that the two split up and one of them was suffering. Suffering, I thought! That gave me just enough incentive to power hike quickly (as opposed to slowly, which was my strong preference at that point), up a brutal set of wooden steps. I ran down the back side of a river, across a bridge and I saw Jakob standing there. He was next to some spectating running buddies (and newlyweds!) Chris and Andrea. I was confused and didn’t really say anything right off the bat, but kept running. They didn’t say anything right away, either, and I finally muttered out a question about how the guy up front was looking. He was five minutes or so up and running strong. Jakob had just dropped out.

I ran past. Ok, this is good, this is good. No Jakob… Second place. No, this is bad. This other dude broke Jakob down and he’s the real deal. I realized that my mind was getting the best of me and I needed to zone out for a second and just run. I was definitely getting slow at this point. I remember that this was where things fell apart last year. The trail gets close to the freeway and it’s kind of exposed. It feels so far out but it’s past half way. Last year, it was all pain from here on out. I tried to estimate how long until the next aid station because that would be a good way to micromanage the rest of the race. Just make it to the next aid station, but don’t slow down. That is easy.

Eventually, I crossed Cody Street for a quick quarter mile on roads to connect the trail. I saw a woman parked and clearly spectating so figured I’d get an update. She said the guy was up front by ten minutes but he had stopped and was walking for a little bit. Enough said, I thought, now is the time to pounce. I had a short-lived surge of pure running but quickly reverted back to a quick shuffle. I was getting progressively more sore and could feel different muscle groups sending out their pain signals.

Finally, I got to the next aid station.

12032903_10207760211065582_3846839841533801702_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

12045219_10207760211025581_489617833738560959_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

I was passing some of the slower half-marathoners, and some were giving me feedback on where I was at–still about five minutes back or so. I saw some friendly faces at the Highland-Getchell aid station and listed to some feedback while I ate pretzels and drank coke.

12140905_10207764887502490_4339358751197840013_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

This guy up ahead of me apparently had stopped for a while at the aid station and said he was sick of rocks and his feet hurt. Yes, I thought, he burnt up his matches. It’s not realistic to blast past him. I need to keep consistent and slowly reel him in. That is the way to win, because I’m sore and he’s sore. He will slow down more than me. Hearing that intel motivated me more than ever, and I picked up the pace for a good mile or so. I could catch him. I was asking every half marathoner that I passed where the guy in the blue was at. Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t making up time. I was losing time. I inevitably slowed down. I can’t let myself slow down. Resist the temptation to walk, I told myself.

But I was definitely power-hiking up bigger hills and even slowed to a walk on a few sections that were flat and runable. I was just too tired to run. Oh, well, I’ll settle for second. This guy is the real deal. I heard that he was fifteen minutes ahead of me and running really fast. Even if I was running at a good clip, he’d be in the lead. Too bad, but hey, you can’t control when someone who is on a different echelon of running fitness registers for the race. Second place is good, anyways.

I was getting close to the last aid station and had quit asking people about the race progress. I’m in a solid second. I doubt I’ll get passed. I’ve settled into a nice pace. I know I’m not making time on this guy ahead of me and if he’s going to die, he would have died already. He ran a smart race! All I can do now is chug along as not to get passed in the final five miles. I can stop and have a nice break at the last aid station where I know there are friends, and waltz it in for second place. I was really sore at this point, but feeling pretty good. I definitely was not feeling fast, though, but that is OK. After the last aid station, it’s a little jaunt up to Enger Tower, then all downhill from there.

I popped out of the woods and heard my name from the crowd of faithful volunteers at the aid station.

12006601_10207760210985580_5492358411568841816_oPhoto Credit: Shane Olson

I quickly realized the urgency of the situation and finally made out that the mystery kid in first place was currently still at the aid station! It took me a second to comprehend the situation, but all I needed to hear was “GO, GO, GO!!!” to pick up my step. Then, I saw the guy in blue with my own two eyes and it was on. I jetted through the aid station. He was standing still, but started moving immediately, and I was right on his tail. My initial thought was that I was going to win. There is no way that this guy has juice left if I’ve finally caught him. I’ve been chugging along for hours by myself. This guy lost a ton of time to me in the last few miles and he must be toast.

We were sprinting across the Skyline Boulevard bridge over Piedmont Avenue towards Enger Tower. He was running fast. I noticed his long, gangly legs and loping stride, and I felt like a kindergartner putting so much effort into running a 10 minute mile for the pace test in gym class. He was pulling away already. I couldn’t respond. No matter. His feet hurt and he was sick of rocks. If I can keep him in sight until Enger, the race is on. I could pass him on the rocky downhill. In the time it took my mind to process these strategy formulations, he was out of sight. I had nothing. I was pushing so hard but not going fast. I would slowly overtake half marathoners, and then they would stick with me for a while. And I was in the middle of the pack of the half marathon race… ladies with large hydration packs would stick with me as I slowly passed. No offense to ladies with large hydration packs on… but not good for my situation.

I put in a few surges, especially once I passed the large bell at Enger. I bolted downhill and nervously spared one brain cell of concentration at a time to peer ahead and look for blue. No blue, now look down. I would catch him on the road… no matter.

Once I exited the woods once and for all, I could see a ways down the race course. The last mile or so is all pavement–a bridge across I35, then paved path to the finish. No blue was in sight. No matter, he got lost in the woods I think! Wow, that is bad luck! I was staying surprisingly optimistic that I was to win the race despite my miserable status of pain and fatigue. I only saw half marathoners, who I roped in one-by-one on the last bike path section. Onto the finish chute, I ran it in, very excited to be done.

IMG_2576Photo Credit: Jack Krouse

Obviously, Ryan, the new champion, did not get lost. He won the race and gave it one hell of a go. I chatted with him a bit after the race, then ate some soup to recoup. My muscled were jacked up.

I think that if I ran a bit smarter in the first 13 miles, I would have had more energy during the meat of the race. Then again, you’re going to get tired over 50 kilometers regardless, so you might as well create a buffer right away when you’re fresh. Also, I was not about to let these guys blast past me right off the bat. I’ll never know how to race a 50k wisely, because I can’t limit myself at the beginning, and it’s a long freaking race. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had objected to walk all those times. What would have happened if I saved a few matches in the matchbook, using them up at Enger Tower versus Ely’s Peak? Would Ryan still run away from me at mile 28? As I left the race site, another Ryan, Braun, cruised into the finish line a mere two minutes after me. Well, I didn’t have second place wrapped up as tightly as I thought!

Upon finishing the Wild Duluth 50k, I quickly realized that this is the first time in a long time, perhaps years, that I’m not currently registered for any races. And that is a nice feeling.

Results

Race Stats:

Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: Nearly 2 packs of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Cola and Orange Blossom), one Maple Bacon Gu gel

Race Day: Saturday, October 3, 2015 – 8am

A great way to quell the post-Ironman blues is to register for more races. I had this one in the books for a long time and was looking forward to do some casual training and participate in a fun-time, low key race. Little did I know, the Heck of the North Gravel Cycling Classic would be RAW racing. Pure grit. I didn’t predict that I’d be sucked in to the mix, only to be shot out the back and left alone to bike home with my thoughts and my useless, toasted quads…

The Heck of the North is a 100+ mile gravel bike race in the deep woods north of Duluth. The race starts and finishes a few miles out of town from Two Harbors, MN. The course is made up of mostly gravel roads, but also some pavement and some really gnarly and tough riding. I’m talking about rocky, rocky, bumpy logging access roads, ATV trails, soft snowmobile trails, and perhaps even a bit of singletrack mountain bike trail. The variability of terrain is what makes this race so cool, and also why everyone in Duluth needs a cyclocross bike. I had so much fun going on training rides because you can explore anything you want. Need to connect on the pavement? No sweat, you can haul ass at 24mph. Cut through on mountain bike trails? A little precarious, but it’s do-able. Then the gravel…. oh, the gravel. So fun.

Another super fun part of the race is that the course is a secret. Nobody knows the route until Friday night at packet pickup, when we received cue cards with turn-by-turn instructions. Some of the instructions were comical: turn left at the brown gate with the tall grass onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then right onto an unmarked gravel road. Then left onto an unmarked ATV trail.

Nick and his pops, Dave, were both registered to race, and Nick invited me to stay at their hotel in Two Harbors on Friday. Dave is usually the race photographer, so that duty was transferred to his wife Rhonda. We all went out to get pasta after packet pickup with Nick’s grandparents. Then to the hotel. I hadn’t really looked at my bike at all. In fact, it was still pretty dirty from a muddy ride the previous weekend. I had a knapsack full of spare tubes, tools, bike boxes, and sugary exercise food. Once we got to the hotel, I tried to sort everything and plan how I’d like to pack it all on. I seemed to get it all on… about 1,000 calories worth of maltodextrin, two spare tubes, a co2 cartridge and spare pump, plus one bottle of Gatorade. I affixed my number 182 to the front and was pretty much ready to rock for the next morning. The only challenge was water and the cue cards. I had won a weird vest water bladder thingy that was designed for skiing or snowboarding, almost as a midlayer to keep the water from freezing, but had been collecting dust unused. It definitely wouldn’t work for running, but was my primary hydration solution for this bike race. However, I was nervous get too hot or irritated with 2 liters of water on my back in this weird meshy vest. The alternative, carrying another 20oz water bottle on my frame, has its own challenges–running out of water and having to refill and the chance of ejecting the bottle on the inevitably bumpy ride. I attached my second bottle cage to my bicycle and decided to sleep on it. As far as the cue cards, I’d likely have to reference them, but I could also be in the pack the entire time and not need them at all. I figured I’d just throw them in my pants or something… I’d sleep on that, too.

We woke up the next morning at 6am or so. First things first, I went to get coffee and cereal. Lots of Raisin Bran. I had the vest bladder filled up from the night before and tested it out with my race kit. It felt fine, but the water was full of gross hotel tap water. But eh… this will work.

IMG_0060Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I looked down at my cue cards and decided to mount them on the top of my handlebars. With a pen, I punctured each one and laced a twist tie through each top corner of the stack. They were surprisingly well affixed, and I could simply rip the cards away as I progress through the course. OK we have to go because we’re late!!!

Nick and I drove out, following the rest of the Nygaard clan. I got my bike out and rode it down a little rocky hill to a big fire and tent area where people were beginning to congregate. I felt the chill of the morning through my whole core. My fingers were already frozen. Maybe fingerless gloves weren’t the best glove choice… Nevertheless, I didn’t question my choices. It’s bound to warm up. I forgot my sunglasses, though, and had to run back to the van to grab those.

 

IMG_0082Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

After dawdling around for 20 minutes or so, someone started yelling and everyone moved towards the entrance road where the race was to begin. As the race director Jeremy was outlining some race details, a truck came roaring down the road and the bikes spread to the sides of the road like the Red Sea for Moses.

IMG_0094Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

Next thing I knew, we are starting off. I was kind of far back… perhaps the middle of the pack. I wanted to be in the mix for sure. I was biking faster than ever on the TT bike and I knew I was very aerobically fit and had the endurance to complete a 100 mile bike ride. Then again, I knew that some of the people up front were no joke. Arrowhead finishers, beasts on the mountain bike circuit, and former winners of this race. Pretty much, I’m a tri dweeb and a chump. But I heard a funny piece of advice about how to race the Heck: a local enduro mountain biker Dave Cizmas told me to go with the lead pack until you completely explode. Then, eat a lot of food and just have a fun rest of the day. I went into the race with this mentality. Maybe I could stick with them until the end!

The first 9 miles of the race was a loop back to the start/finish area. It was mostly gravel road. The pack was manageable. It was a little sketchy at times to be so close to so many other people. Especially on the gravel, sometimes you’d hit a rough spot or washerboards and there’s nothing you can do except ride it out. I stayed pretty far to the right side of the road right off the bat. When the gravel turned off into an ATV trail, I realized my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them. Ouch. A guy behind me was yelling at me. He said that my spare tube that I shoved in between a strap on my flat kit was dragging. I looked down and it was flapping around in the wind. I scooped it up and held onto it. The same guy informed that if the tube got caught in my derailleur, it was be a very bad situation. Yes, that would be bad!!

We did that first loop and I was feeling pretty good. I don’t know where Nick was, but was happy I didn’t get straight up dropped.

IMG_0111Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0115Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I didn’t know what this race was going to be like, and things were looking smooth! I stopped to shove this dumb tube into my bike shorts, then got back to it. We crossed a main road, Hwy 2, and got onto a small access-type road. I think it was Alden Grade. Essentially, it was a two-track trail. It was hard to pass people, but everyone was cruising at a pretty good clip. We jetted onto a more standard gravel road and I got an idea of what the main pack was like. It was large. There was probably 50 people all jammed together. It felt like we were going so slow. Why wasn’t anyone making a break? Well, it’s not going to be me! I hung in the pack and was feeling good. Then, I saw Nick come up on my side. Yeah baby, we were in the mix!

After a few more miles, we turned into a really chunky road. The pack quickly split up. This road was clearly a logging access road. There were two divots on either side of the road for tire tracks, and the road was littered with large rocks. Signs of logging activity were all around us–forested land, large stacks of tree trunks, and equipment. Plus the sign that said “logging activity”.  The road was windy, up and down, and pretty technical. I was zinging by guys with flat tires. You’d hit a rock and bounce into the air. I was trying to crank as hard as I could and kept pedaling through the divots and bumps. It was this section that I noticed that my hands were hurting. The frozen fingers had vanished, but I was squeezing so hard on my handlebars. I couldn’t let up, though. A guy in front of me flipped over his handlebars and was down. We were zinging through muddy puddles. This technical section was taking its toll. When I thought that I couldn’t take it any longer, we popped out to another gravel road. This felt like biking on glass compared to the logging road. A pack of the five or so people around me formed and we were off. Quickly, we realized we were going the wrong direction as we passed two or three other cyclists going the other way who had made the same mistake. The group grew to 8 or so, and when we re-passed the logging road, finally on the right path, a group of 4 or 5 latched on as well. And there was Nick, back in the mix! A tandem bike was hauling us along and we were off on a pretty good clip. At this point, we were probably 3 hours in.

A few miles of gravel and we got into the first section of State Trail snowmobile trail. Our nice little pack broke up once again. I was excited about the State Trail sections because I loved training there. Trying to go fast is a different story. The soft grass just saps one’s energy stores. Nick jammed his nuts bad on a culvert. We were making our way along, though, and before long we turned back onto another gravel road. To my surprise, there was the main pack. Everyone was stopped. Some people had their bikes upside down, some were maybe peeing or eating. We rode up to them and this big main pack started up again. It was another 10 miles of gravel and pavement until the half way point.

I was trying to eat a lot of food while in the pack getting strung along. I was feeling pretty good except my hands. I shook my hands out and was doing everything I could to grip softly. All the sudden, it was hard to keep up. I was towards the back of the pack. Then on the back of the pack. Then, the pack dropped me. No, no, no. My worst fear was to be literally left in the dust. Ok, I’ll just keep them in sight and they’ll maybe slow a bit, I thought to myself. A solo guy behind me was gaining ground, and he caught me. He told me that we’d work together and catch the pack. We took turns surging ahead and sure enough, it worked. I burnt a few matches on that one, though. I stayed in the mix and recouped some energy stores. Then, I made a few moves and was up towards the front. Then, I took the lead. It was fun up there! We turned onto Lester River Rd, and it was just this pavement section and what sounded like a little bit of mountain bike trail until the halfway point.

We were cruising in a large pack down towards Lester Park. Then pandemonium. Yelling, people turning, stopping, skids, and I slammed on my brakes. They weren’t stopping me fast enough and I thought I was going to crash hard into a tree. The turn off of the road came up quicker than anyone thought or saw and it was a traffic jam. Luckily, I was towards the front and didn’t get to jammed up. More luckily, I somehow made it onto the trail quickly and without incident. I could hear the chaos from behind me and something told me to just go. I tried to jet through this woodsy singletrack as fast as possible. I’d have the upper hand going into the halfway up front. I could hear cheers ahead, rode down a hill and saw a table with goodies and Rhonda and the Nygaard clan.

IMG_0150Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0152Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted to Rhonda for a second and turned around to see Nick coming in. I grabbed some Mountain Dew, threw away some garbage, and grabbed some food to shove in my bike bag. Rhonda took my second tube that had fallen out so long ago, too. Nick said that we’d have to dip out quickly after he filled his bottles. I had to pee, so went ahead to do that in the meantime. I peed in the trees and saw Nick bike away in my peripheral vision. I must have evacuated a liter of pee! It took forever and was a heavy stream.

I hopped back on my bike and started the ascent out of Lester Park. I was feeling tired. This was the first time I really felt fatigue in my legs. There were a few guys up ahead of me and I wanted to get in with them and then rejoin the main pack. Out of Lester and onto some gravel roads, I wasn’t making up any ground. In fact, I was losing ground. I didn’t want to blast myself trying to get up there, so I started just riding at a comfortable speed. It wasn’t fun being alone! The pack is so key.

I was by myself for a long time. The guys in front of me were long out of sight. After a good 45 or 60 minutes, I finally got in with a group. I heard my name “Mike Ward!!!” and was joined from behind by Ross, a Ski Hut mechanic, a coworker of his, Matt, and another guy. Ross had just won the Heck Epic, a two day gravel biking event a few months prior. I was in good company here, I thought to myself. Hopping on the back of their pack, it felt so good. So, so, so nice. I was able to let my legs rest a little bit. I got amped up and took the pull for a while. After a few minutes, I was spent and went to the back. We were together for another 45 minutes or so until another section of State Trail. We made it through just fine, but lost the last guy. Also, I lost a lot of food. Somehow, three Stinger Waffles and a gel were ejected from my bike box on the State Trail.

We didn’t wait for him and kept trucking along. After a few miles of gravel, we bumped onto Pequaywan Lakes Road, a paved road. Still trading pulls, we swallowed up another guy and he latched on. Another few miles and we entered Fox Farm Road, which is pure gravel. I glanced at my cue cards and saw that we’d be on Fox Farm for a good while. Then, it’s a quick 15 miles or so back to the finish. The end is in sight! I was feeling decent, but it didn’t take long to realize that I was falling apart. I’d pull for a minute or two and get spent. When I was on the back, it was so hard to stay on the wheel in front of me. I’d fall of ever so slightly, then have to dip into the hurt tank to get back. I’d fall further and further back and it would hurt more and more to get back with the guys. Then, I gave up. I stopped pedaling and watched the guys ride away. They realized I was off and actually turned around and yelled at me. I told them to go on without me. I was done. This is what Dave was talking about. When you blow up and get dropped, just eat a bunch of food and have a fun day. Except my food fell out. I ate my last few gummis and was completely out of calories. Ok, I could still have a fun day. Except my legs were totally shot and I was out here on damn Fox Farm Road alone. I looked both ways. Behind me was nobody. Ross, Matt, and the other guy rode out of sight. It was like a light switch. A marathon run is like slowly chipping away at your energy stores… falling apart slowly. Today, I hit a point where I was dead. Toast. I couldn’t pick it up at all and had no energy. One minute, OK, next minute, done. I don’t think it was a food thing or really bonking–my legs were simply out of energy. I burned too many matches and was out.

Fox Farm took forever and it was tough. When I turned off onto Laine Road, I was at least in somewhat good spirits. I wanted to just enjoy being out here. It’s OK to pedal an easy gear really slow. I wasn’t going to win. My race was really over at the halfway point. Just finish and have fun, I thought. Soak it in. What else would I want to be doing right now!?! I was about 5 or 6 hours in and at mile 90 or so.

Eventually, the dude we lost on the last State Trail section came speeding up behind me. He was the first person I’d seen since Ross and Matt dropped me. He told me he fell on the State Trail and I could see his face was bloody. He told me that we could work together and get through the remaining miles easier. Yes, I thought, I need to work with this guy. Being alone is terrible. I took the draft for a while. It didn’t last long and it wasn’t very strong. He took his turn and dropped me almost instantly. I sped up, he slowed down and I caught his wheel. A few more minutes of struggling to keep up with him, and I gave up again. Nope. I told him to drop me. Alone again. I turned off onto the State Trail for the final snowmobile section. This was fun and I was in good spirits. I could stand up and just push through the soft and slow grass and it was a welcome relief from the relentless gravel. It was really muddy through there and I thought it was funny go get a fresh coat of mud. I was laughing at myself thinking that the mud was getting old and I needed some new mud. I felt positive because I knew I was close…

The final section was on a gravel road that turned into an ATV/ horse trail. We cross the Knife River with no bridge and it’s just a hop, skip and jump to the finish. I looked at my cue cards and realized it was just a few more miles of pain. I didn’t think those final miles would be so terrible. The terrain was impossible. It was flat but rocky. It jumbled up my already shredded hands. My finger tendons were screaming. My triceps were done holding my torso up over the handlebars, and my quads simply wouldn’t work right. I could get more power by pushing my knee down with my hand. I was mercilessly passed by a few people in this last bit. I was looking down and didn’t even acknowledge them.

It was going on forever. It was pretty mental at this point and I was getting hungry. Not that exercise food sounded good, but it probably would have been beneficial. I was strung along by the idea of going straight to Culvers with a “no limits” approach to ordering food. I daydreamed about what I’d get. Definitely a Butterburger. Definitely ice cream.

Meanwhile, this fricken path wouldn’t end. Did they get the miles wrong? I thought about sitting down on the side for a second, just to recoup. Maybe I’ll walk my bike for a minute, I thought. No! I biked it in. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It surely wasn’t comfortable. But finally, I saw County Road 2. This was the road we passed way back in the morning after that initial 9 mile loop. I knew the finish was right there. So, I picked it up! I saw a volunteer and started smiling uncontrollably.

IMG_0228Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I saw Rhonda and was so happy to finish. A left turn and I saw the finish line.

IMG_0230Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

IMG_0235Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I was so happy to coast on in, but there was a car exiting blocking the way. Gah… I weaved around and crossed a line of tape in the gravel. A girl ran up to me to get my race number and I confusedly hopped off my bike and stood there. I felt so exhausted in every way. Nick came over the hill and had a very funny mud line from his glasses. I’m not sure how his entire face got caked with mud. Rhonda snapped a few more pictures and I loaded up my bike.

IMG_0246Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I chatted with Nick for a second, but had to hit the road.

IMG_2563Photo credit: Rhonda Nygaard

I spent $17 at Culvers. On the drive back to Duluth, I nearly fell asleep repeatedly. I hit the rumble strips a few times. Just completely tired.

I was very quick to forget how terrible the race was. In fact, the next day, I was jacked up and I want to do another gravel race. There is something weird about endurance events. It’s definitely an addiction. I’m a compulsive biker and runner. An endurance freak. I am who I am.

Results

Race Stats:

Place: 21/145
Time: 7:05:40
Speed: 15.08mph

Bike: Diamondback Haanjo Comp

Food: 1 package of Trolli Britecrawlers, ~1 package of Honey Stinger Chews (Cherry Coke and Cherry Blossom), 1 Bearded Brothers Bar, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (chocolate), 1 bottle blue Gatorade, ~2L water, some Mountain Dew, a quarter of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, a half a banana, 2 squares of caffeinated dark chocolate

 


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