DNF’s, Dissapointments and Doing Things Differently

Over the course of the last month or so my experiences in cycling events have been… well, I’ll just say they have not been my best work. It started with the OT100MTB on a single speed, which ended with me spent at mile 37 and a DNF. The following weekend was the Wolf Creek 6HR/12HR race, put on by the team I am on, Team Noah. In short, I was signed up for the 12 hour race, raced single speed and was toast after 4 laps of the 10+ mile course. I got 42.5 miles out of those 4 laps and only about 6 hours. I threw up my white flag again and ended my day well short of what I wanted or expected.

When I go back and look at 2017, I had a similar experience in June when my friend Nathan and I attempted a tour from Chicago to Memphis. We did about 560 miles in 5 days and had a blast, but at the end of that fifth day we pulled up short and called an end to the ride. We were about 70 miles short of Memphis, but headwinds, heat and timeframe conspired to put us in a position that we felt we couldn’t finish. Since our wives were supposed to be meeting us in Memphis anyway, we had them pick us up on their way down the highway and we all went to Beale Street for a good time, despite coming up short on our ride.

I was really starting to get a bit of a complex in regard to cycling outings this year. It seemed I just couldn’t put a ride together that would end when I expected it to. After having a great 2016 with a Trans Iowa finish and a Trans Am Bike Race finish, I thought that maybe I had lost my mojo. Could I actually finish out a ride?

Next up was a trip that Nathan and I had planned for awhile. A couple months ago he came to me and asked if I knew of the Tunnel Hill Trail, a rails-to-trails project in Southern Illinois. I said of course I did. My wife and I had done her first bike-overnight on the THT back in May. Our plan had been to ride the whole thing, but there was flooding in the area at that time and parts of the south end of the trail were closed. I told him I would love a second shot at it, so we made plans to go. We decided on the weekend of October 21st.

This past weekend Nathan and I headed to the Barkhausen-Cache River Wetlands Center, just west of Karnak, IL where you find the start of the trail. The weather Saturday was wonderful with highs in the 70’s and a good breeze out of the South under sunny skies. It was a great day to ride and we made good use of it, riding the 55 mile trail to its terminus in Eldorado, then heading back south 8 miles to Harrisburg where we had a reservation at the local Super 8. That evening we went to Morelo’s in downtown Harrisburg for dinner, drinks and had the fortune of getting to listen to a 3 piece band that was playing on the patio. It was a fine evening!

The next day we went back to the downtown district to have breakfast at The Burg, a local diner. While we were inside the skies opened up and the rain poured, making us feel like we might be in for a bit more of an adventure on our way back down the trail. Before we finished our breakfast, the rain slacked off to a sprinkle and then quit completely before we got out of town. We had a great ride down the gravel path back to the car and what would be my first finish of the year. Success!!!

It is nice to get a successful finish under my belt for 2017. Granted I didn’t have much planned this year and I have been especially lazy, not preparing like I should for rides. I deserved every incomplete ride I got this year. One thing it has done is make me want to double down and be ready for anything that I choose to do in 2018. It is so very disappointing when you realize you aren’t ready, but it is race or ride time and you just have to go anyway. I don’t want to feel that way in 2018.

That said, after much mulling and fretting, it is with disappointment that I say I will not be riding Tour Divide in 2018 as I had planned. I have plenty of time to get my body ready still, but my issues are gear and finances. With my daughter in college and my youngest son headed to college next fall, I don’t feel confident that I will be able to secure the money to fund a race like the Divide for next summer. In addition, as it stands now, I do not have a bike ready for the Divide and it doesn’t look like I will have the means to do so for awhile. When I do the Divide, I want to have my setup ready the fall before so I can train on it through the winter. Maybe next year.

On the bright side, I have decided to do some smaller stuff and get out of my comfort zone a bit. On Friday October 13th, registration opened up for Marji Gesick. MG is a 100 mile mountain bike race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that does all it can to pummel those who choose to toe the line. To quote their website, “The Marji Gesick features 100-miles of rocks, roots, punchy climbs, jump lines, flow trails and soul crushing grinding that DNFs nearly 60% of the field each year.” Add on top that the course trends uphill the entire way and he race is 100% self-supported. What could go wrong with something like that?!?! 🙂

I signed up for Marji Gesick. The race is next September and I’m excited. It will be great to do a different event somewhere I have never ridden and push myself outside my comfort zone. Technical trail has not been my forte, but I will work on my skills and be ready. It is going to be fun!

OT100MTB 2017

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.