After having no races on my calendar since the TABR finish in 2016, I was really looking forward to the OT100MTB on 9-30-17. It is a 100-mile, point-to-point mountain bike race on the Ozark Trail here in Missouri. The race is 98% single track and a big ask of the bike, body and mind with lots of elevation gain along a rugged, remote trail. With two finishes of this race in 2014 and 2015, I felt like I had a good grasp of what it takes to get to the end and was excited to give it a go. Of course things would be different this time as I made my attempt on a single speed after breaking the frame on my geared bike a month before the race. In an effort to make things a little easier, I took advice from several SS guys and put what I thought would be an easy gear on the bike. The only thing I could do would be to ride what I could, then walk. It is a single speed after all!
Getting to the start proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. Registration and bike drop were on Friday afternoon before the race started on Saturday morning. My youngest son is a senior in high school this year so we have made every effort to be a part of as many things as we can. Because he was an escort for one of the homecoming candidates at his school, he was in the parade Friday afternoon and also a part of the homecoming queen crowning ceremonies during half time of the Friday night football game. This threw a little wrench in my Friday, as I needed to drop off my bike at the start of the race and go through the registration process at the campground where the race would finish. In the end, I wrapped up my half day of work and headed for the parade at 1PM, saw the boy in the parade, drove the hour to the campground, got registered and dropped off my items for my drop bags, set up my camp, drove the hour and a quarter to the start, dropped off my bike, drove the hour and a quarter back home to see Brad at the football game, then wrapped up the evening with another hour drive back to the campground, arriving a bit after 10PM. It was a crazy Friday, but a good one. If I could do it all over, the only thing I would change would be to use the bike drop off service the race offered. Yeah, I have to admit to being a bit of a control freak. I wanted to drop it off myself. It worked out. My day ended with a cold beer and I crawled in my hammock for a few hours of sleep.
Race day started early as it always does for the OT. It didn’t help that I hadn’t slept well. There was a bit of noise in the campground through the night and I was wound pretty tight anyway. I drifted in and out until the fitful sleep ended with my 4AM alarm. I got up quickly, grabbed my duffle bag and headed to the bathrooms to change. Once dressed for racing, I put things away in the car, grabbed what I needed for the day and got on the bus.
It was a long ride to the start, but it helped to chat with some of the folks around me on the bus. The air could be described best as nervous chatter. I found it interesting to see other’s reactions. Strangely, I wasn’t really nervous. I probably should have been, but my experience with some big races over the last few years has worked to tame the nerves. Most everyone else seemed to be excited, yet nervous, but that is to be expected. The last twenty minutes or so of the drive, the bus was quiet. A few feigned sleep. The time was approaching.
When we arrived at the starting location, it was still dark and the air was cool. With more than 30 minutes before we would start, I decided to sit on the bus. Several others did as well. There didn’t seem to me any reason to go out and just stand in the woods waiting and the bus was at least a little bit warmer than the ambient air. With about 15 minutes to go, I put on my helmet and went out to my bike.
The usual pictures and well wishes were had with folks I knew. We milled about for a few minutes and soon Jim Davis, the starting official, gave us the command to head on down the fire road a bit to where we would actually start the race. Everyone staged according to where they wanted. I chose to line up a little back of the middle. A few words were said and quickly we were off. It was a surreal experience really. The start of my two previous OT races were much more intense in my mind. This one was like I was heading out for a long ride. I’m sure that had something to do with my multi-day racing experience.
Being on a single speed and not having a lot of saddle time on it, I had decided that I would keep things very tame and not push hard. I wanted to make sure I made it and climbing like crazy was not a good plan, especially considering my lack of training and fitness. It doesn’t help that the OT starts on the Karkaghne Section, which is considered to be one of the most difficult parts of the trail for mountain biking. Steep, relentless climbs come over and over and beat you into submission. I took advantage of the descents taking what speed I could from them and tried to settle in to the climbs with an easy pace. When it got steep quickly, I didn’t hesitate to get off and walk. I stayed moving though and when I got to the first water stop at Sutton Bluff, I felt pretty good. I was 17 miles in and had a good outlook for the day.
Shortly after leaving Sutton Bluff, things took a turn for the worse quickly. Not 2 miles down the trail, the hills suddenly seemed to be more than I could bear. I found myself walking almost every hill and I couldn’t seem to recover. My first thought was that I had gotten behind on water and/or food. I drank regularly and ate more to no avail. Each mile seemed to pile on me and I went slower and slower. By the time I reached the crossing of J Highway (mile 26.5), I was toast and didn’t know if I had what it took to continue. I carried on to the checkpoint at Mack Road (mile 28) and upon arrival, just couldn’t bring myself to quit. It was way too early. Surely I would come back around. I ate, filled water, drank and refilled again. I set off down the trail with intention, looking to re-find my groove.
The next 9 miles to Barton Fen were the most grueling miles I have done in a long time. I felt ok on descents and flats, but I walked every hill. As soon as the trail started to turn up I had nothing in my legs except jelly. I was frustrated and broken. Soon even walking was difficult. As I plodded up the steep slopes, my heart rate raced and I couldn’t find recovery except to stop and rest. I rolled up to the water stop at Barton Fen (mile 37) and flew my white flag. I was done. I just couldn’t see walking up every hill for another 63 miles of single track. I was disappointed, but done.
After chatting with the volunteers at the water stop, I found that teammate Adam Clarke was ahead of me on the next section to 32/DD. His wife Rebecca and fellow teammate Chuck Sevick were driving sag for him, meeting him at each stop. I bummed a ride with one of the volunteers up to 32/DD with the hopes that Chuck and Rebecca would let me tag along until such time I could get back to the campground and my car. They were more than accommodating and took me in. My race then turned into a great time hanging out with friends and helping other racers. Another friend, Stacy Hagan was sagging for her husband Dave and was there as well. Dave and I have ridden together a couple times before and it was a treat to see them. Come to find out, Dave was riding very near Adam and they would end up riding together later in the day. It was a blast hanging out with them at the checkpoints and seeing a side of the race that I haven’t seen before.
After a few hours of sag with the crew going from checkpoint to checkpoint, we got close enough to the campground that they could run me back to my car without interrupting their work. I thanked them profusely and they headed back out to meet Adam again. I changed clothes, broke my camp down, packed everything up and left early. It felt a bit like I was stealing away in the night as I went. All the 50 milers were hanging out at the finish and having a great time. Some of the first 100 milers were coming in and a party was on. I didn’t want to be mistaken for having already finished. I felt a bit ashamed of quitting and left after a quick chat with a couple friends.
On the way home, I would pass within a mile of the Berryman Camp checkpoint. I figured I would be close to seeing Adam, Dave and the crew again, so I swung in there. Sure enough, they were all there. I saw Adam and Dave off as they headed for a late night finish, then hung out with the sag crews around the fire for a bit before driving home. It was a nice way to end the day.
The next day I sat down and loaded up my Garmin file for the race. It was then that I realized my issue. I had ridden the first 23.6 miles (a Strava segment) faster than I had before. If you keep in mind that my training wasn’t what it should be, so my fitness level is less than in the past, you find that is a terrible plan. I didn’t mean for it to be that way. It was just the nature of the single speed. When all you have is one gear, you ride it. I blew myself up without realizing it.
My OT experience for 2017 was a far cry from what I expected or wanted, but I can only take my lumps and move on. My final assessment is that I was severely underprepared, undertrained and at a major fitness deficit. Add all that to the hurdle of switching to single speed a month before the race and you come up with a bad plan. I am chalking this one up to a learning experience. It was a great time in some respects, but I will aim to be better prepared next time.