First race (Sylvan Island, IL) DNF in the mud, second race (6 hours of John Muir) horrible bonk, and not a lot of trail miles in between. Some road miles, but the majority of my training has been on foot. Ironically, this may have been the best thing for my Lumberjack training! (I'll get to that later)
For the uninitiated, the Lumberjack 100 is a 100 mile mountain bike race held in the Manistee Nat'l forest near Wellston, MI, and is part of the National Ultra Endurance series. Lumberjack has the distinction of being almost completely singletrack, no fire roads or dirt roads.
I've been wanting to attempt this race for the past couple of years, but my training was never up to the task, so I passed. This year I planned to do several endurance races leading up to LJ, and got my registration in early, sealing the deal. I hung up the road bike and vowed to only ride trail this spring! Then running came along, and so did the rain that has kept Palos Hills forever underwater.
Long story short (too late) I've managed only just over 700 miles in the saddle year to date, and only 150 of that has been on the dirt!! Needless to say hopes were not high going into this weekend. Add to that that I bonked out of a 6 hour race the week before, managing only 3.5 hours and 30 miles and my goals went from "just finish" to "make the 10 hour cutoff!"
Thunderstorms Friday night set up a VERY fast Big M course. I have ridden the 8 mile "inner" loop on previous occasions, but the 17 mile "outer" loop was all going to be new to me. We arrived at the course at about 6am, setup our coolers, and soon were peddling down the road to the start point, two miles from the trail head, affording a long leadout to thin the herd before the trails begin. Due to my lack of any real miles on the legs, and the cardio training I've been getting from running, I decided to pick the lowest gear I thought I needed to finish, and then go with one gear lower. This resulted in a 34x18 ratio, or approx. 50 gear inches. A VERY low gear for me, but I figured my legs would go much sooner than my lungs, so best to spin my heart out!
We hit the trail and almost immediately the first climb which forced the mortals (myself included) off their bikes for a short hike. This is a rideable climb, but between the sand and the traffic, you really have to ask how many matches you want to burn this early in the race. This would be the rule of the day for me. Survive! I latched on with a former teammate who followed a similar rigorous training regimen, so I figured we might keep each other company for a good part of the day. However, after spending a few miles yo-yo'ing off the back of a group of about 15 geared riders, I decided to make a few moves on the climbs to get some clear trail in front of me, allowing me to keep my spin up, saving the legs for the real climbs to come. About half way through lap one I started to feel a level of fatigue and foggyness that I'd hoped wouldn't start until after the 50 mile point. Thoughts of the previous weeks bonk started creeping in. I did my best to collect myself and ride smart. I noticed my shoulders were hunched and tight, head was down, and I was basically riding like crap. So I corrected my posture, relaxed my shoulders, took deep breaths, and I was back! I've never experienced such a dramatic turn around!
When I came through the pits after lap one it was bitter sweet. I felt great, but I also still had 75 miles to go. I wasted no time in the pits swapping bottles and downing half a bottle of 5 hour energy. That stuff really works! Back on the course I was feeling great! Not much to report in the second lap. I felt like I was pushing the same pace on the flats, an was able to climb just about everything with only 2 or 3 exceptions. I was really stunned at how good I felt. I'm sure that had everything to do with the low gear selection and my running this spring. It quickly became apparent that the 10 hour cut off time was not going to be an issue as I had come through lap 1 in 2hr 16min and knew I'd be close to that on lap 2. The race now was to just get through lap 3, and lap 4 would be all about taking it easy to the end!
I had been subsisting on Hammer Perpetuem mixed at a ratio of about three heaping scoops to roughly a table spoon of water and dispensed from a plastic flask. The resulting batter like substance actually doesn't taste too bad, and seems to be easier to get down than the full water bottle mix I used to do. So on the bike I was able to carry a pure water bottle and a 1/2 water 1/2 Gatorade bottle. Roughly every 5-10 minutes I was either squeezing "Perpetu-gu", drinking water, or drinking Gatorade. My stomach was tolerating it well, and I seemed to be getting the fuel I needed. However, by mile 40 I was looking for a little insurance so I stopped at the aid station, downed some Endurolytes, a 1/4 PB & J, and refilled the water and was off. This gave me a huge lift through the end of lap 2, crossing the line at 4hrs 34min, almost an even split with lap 1!
After a quick pit to refresh water and Gatorade and grab a new flask, I was off. I was already beyond my longest trail ride of the year, and still feeling great! I remembered my buddy Mike's words though, that the last half of Lap 3 was the toughest. Lap 3 started much like the others, but I soon saw a change. Despite the low gear, the lack of miles on my legs started to show and even the easy climbs started to burn my legs. A few climbs saw me get off toward the end, and some of the harder ones I didn't even attempt. I never felt like I was in danger of not finishing, but I knew this was where I could start to really bleed time if I wasn't careful. Given what I know of friends' past performances and my lack of training I had pegged a finishing time of somewhere just under 11 hours, and my current feeling was why. In Lap 2 I looked forward to meeting up with other riders, usually who were overtaking me, to help keep me honest. With someone riding your tail, you tend to keep an honest pace rather than sinking back into your comfort zone. On Lap 3, however, I was glad to let people by, and dreaded passing slower riders, as it meant doing some work to put them behind me for good! There were two riders I especially had no problem pulling over for. Jeff Schalk and Christian Tanguy were mere blurs as that lapped me and another rider some where in the second half of Lap 3!! It's unreal the pace these guys can push for over 6 hours of racing! I kept listening for the chase group that never came. Third place, Chris Etough, may have slipped by while I was at the aid station, and 4th, Mike Simonson, finished just minutes after I completed my third lap. I eventually made it to the aid station, and refueled with another 1/4 of a PB&J, some more Endurolytes, and about a 1/4 can of Coke! While I didn't quite get the lift I did on Lap 2, it was something! It was at this time, too, that my watch quite keeping time. Rather, I turned off the GPS while the timer was auto paused. With nothing to tell it that it was moving again, there was no way to restart the timer. Unfortunately I didn't discover this until I was back on the trail, some unknown distance/time from the station or the end of the lap. This was not a major tragedy, but I began doing the math (which IS a tragedy!) If I was able to keep the damage within about 10-20 minutes, then I should finish Lap 3 close to 7 hours, which would give me just under 3 hours to finish SUB 10 MINUTES! Really, it was just then that it dawned on me. While there was still a lot of riding to do, I was looking at not only possibly finishing, but far exceeding my expectations for myself. While I hadn't set the bar particularly high, I was still excited at the prospect! Indeed I came across the line at 7:06:56!
One last quick pit stop and I was off. I cleared out my watch and started a new timer, the last lap timer. I wasn't sure how long I was in the pit, perhaps 4 minutes, and I had to take a nature break shortly after, so with a small margin of error, I figured I had 2:45:00 to break 10 hours! I haven't really discussed the course layout to this point, so here it is. There is an 8 mile inner loop which brings you back near the pit area where hand ups are allowed. As I had no support at the race this is irrelevant except that I had pre-rode this portion, and decided it was "short and easy" at roughly 45 minutes and a good first demarcation point. From here you begin the 17 mile outer loop which is conveniently bisected by the aid station, so the course is broken into roughly 3 equal sections. As I said, I was making the first 8 miles in around 45 minutes, and the aid station was supposed to be about 8 miles into the outer loops, so figure about 45 minutes (though there were some longer climbs) to there. Given that the last section was probably longer (and I hadn't really paid attention to time) I wasn't sure how long I'd been riding this section in, and what to project. Giving myself a little more padding of shooting for a 2:40:00 lap (where i figured I had 2:45:00 to give) I decided I needed 50/50/60. 50 minutes to the end of the inner loop, 50 minutes from there to the aid station, and that leaves an hour to get to the finish!
Now, just working out those calculations got me almost all the way through the inner loop :) I was looking at about 40 minutes and not only was I not seeing the markers I knew put me near the end, I also realized I had fallen WAY off my feeding schedule. I was getting so tired of the Perpetuem that I was forgetting to eat. While I knew I was probably close enough to make it through to the end on much less fuel, I also knew that a bonk could take me out in a heartbeat, reducing me to a snails pace. So I forced down another shot. I was just about to resign myself to a slow 50 minute inner loop when I saw and heard the spectators at the end of the inner loop! just over 46 minutes, I hadn't lost much time at all!
I decided to keep on my projected schedule as arriving sooner would only give me a lift, so I was aiming for hitting the aid station at about 1:40:00 into the lap. By about 1:20:00 I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I was craving another couple shots of coke and some other quick sugar as I was so close to the end. I knew I was somewhere near 90 miles in, more than twice my longest trail ride of the year, and my body was ready to give in. I knew that I was covering a fair amount of distance in 15 minutes or so, but the aid station felt a lot longer than 20 minutes away. However, just 10 minutes later the sign announcing the station came into view! I had made it in 1:31:00. I was almost home free. To be honest, I'm not sure what I ate this time. Much of the "real" food was gone, and there was a lot of candy to be had. Gummy bears, Twizzlers, cookies, pretzels, etc... all I really wanted though was fresh water and Coke! I tried to be very careful not to guzzle too much and finally push my stomach over the edge, I did still have up to an hour of very hilly and bumpy single track to go!
This is where not knowing the true distance or time from the aid station to the finish started playing with me. I was back on the trail at about 1:35:00, leaving me 70 minutes to break 10 hours. Nothing was guaranteed, so I had to keep pressing. There were also at least 2 killer hills that I'd been walking since Lap 2, another that I'd ridden each lap, but was trickier each time, and several smaller climbs that had gotten me off the bike in Lap 3. Lap 3 had grown by 15 minutes from Lap 2. Another 15 minutes and I'd be right in the 10 hour zone :( So there was no letting up!
Somehow I was finding the strength to ride many of the climbs that I had walked in Lap 3. Basically everything except the two big walkers that lap! Even the somewhat tricky switchback came easily, and I knew that I was nearing the final decent of the day!! And that's when I flatted......
No. Not really. But I figured if you're still reading and didn't already know the outcome, I owed you a little drama! ;)
I still wasn't sure of the distance from the last screaming downhill to the finish, but I knew it was all but over from there and I was at about 2:40:00.. I was going to make it! When I rounded the corner and saw tent city, an enormous grin came across my face, and I knew I had done it. The 9:42:16 on the clock was just icing on the cake. The real prize was that I had finally tried and finished my first off road 100 miler! As I collapsed on the ground and crawled my way over to the Simonster's tent, he offered me cool $100 bucks to go out for another lap.. :D I laughed and he (hypothetically) upped it to $1000. At that moment I realized there was almost nothing that could get me to get back on my bike for another 2 1/2 hours... But rest assured, nothing will keep me from racing the Lumberjack again next year! Rick Plite and all his volunteers put on one of the best races in the Mid West!! Thanks, Rick!