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.

Many lessons were learned from TABR15

failtoplan

In the aftermath of TABR15, I did  very little licking my wounds. I think I got all that out during the race and the day I spent alone in the Super 8 in Cañon City waiting on Jeneen to pick me up. Instead, I went straight to planning for another shot. You see, I believe that I didn’t fail, I just found one way to do it wrong. I have resolved to make 2016 a victorious and satisfying year in the saddle.

As for events, my calendar will look very similar to last year. The cornerstone will be TABR16 in June. I also have unfinished business with Trans Iowa V12 in April. Outside of those, I am sure I will do the OT100MTB in October or November as well as a smattering of gravel and road centuries.

With my main focus on TABR, I have done a lot of thinking on what went wrong and what went right. In the right column, I learned an absolute ton. I have to give myself a break and admit it was my first multi-day endurance racing event. I had a goal of reaching Coburg on the first day and met that goal. My bike did everything I asked of it- no issues there really. A few of the things that went wrong are as follows:

  • I was underprepared physically– I came into the race way too heavy (235lbs) and was pretty out of shape cycling-wise. I did have a few centuries under my belt and one double, but my riding through the spring wasn’t consistent. Many of the racers that do these events will tell you that the training isn’t as much about going out and doing monster miles as it is being familiar with your equipment and consistent in your riding.
  • I was underprepared with my equipment– Not only did I not get out to use my kit beforehand, but I had just finished putting it together in the week before I left for Oregon. I relied on conversations via Facebook with other racers and my touring/backpacking experience to guide me in what to take. In the end, I was able to survive with what I brought, but far from thrive. The biggest issue was my sleep system. I took my tarp and hammock with a thin foam sleeping pad and 45F quilt. This setup works great bikepacking, backpacking or touring, but lacks some versatility for racing, in my opinion. I had some folks tell me that they didn’t think the hammock was a good choice, but I was sold on the idea of superior comfort. If I had gotten my kit together earlier and gotten out to use it, I might have realized my mistake before I left.
  • I was underprepared with my game plan– When I toured the Trans Am in 2011, I started with grand plans, laying out where I would stay, and places to stop, only to find out that everything changed on a daily basis. A chat with a local here, a stop to see the sites there. Before you know it, all plans are out the window and you do everything in the moment and on the fly. By the time I got half way through that tour, I would do everything impromptu- meals, places to stay. Everything was spontaneous. I came into TABR thinking that this would be the same way. It can be if you want to tour quickly. With that lack of focus, racing is a disaster. Like I mentioned, I met my goal the first day, but after that, I didn’t have a goal other than the end. Once you are tired and start to wear down, a lack of plan will lead to low motivation, emotional decisions and lots of stops.
  • I was underprepared financially– This was the killer. I could’ve dealt with all the other things, but without enough money set aside, there is only so much you can do. I thought that I could stretch things and make it work. You can if you are experienced or have a plan to follow. I had neither and spent too much too fast with a budget that was too small to begin with.

So what am I going to do, you ask? Make changes! I Have a financial plan that will insure I have the funds to complete the race. I began getting myself in physical shape almost immediately after getting home last June. From the beginning of July through October, I lost almost 50lbs. I did fall off the dietary wagon during the holidays and I have some work to do to get back to my “fighting weight”, but I have it under control. I made adjustments to my kit that will allow me better latitude in choosing where I will sleep. I also have a specific strategy and goals to keep me on track during the race. I already feel more prepared for the race than I did last year.

This year’s race is a completely different ballgame. Armed with what I learned from last year’s failed attempt, I have made changes to my approach that, barring injury or equipment failure, I believe will allow me to not only finish, but finish well. In the mean time, I have lots of work to do!

Oops! Houston, we HAD a problem

Well, it has been a busy and distracting month or so and I haven’t made blogging a priority. Today I tried to sign in to do a little check up and find that my domain had expired! After a little bit of accounting and button pushing, things are back up and running. I made some changes so that I hopefully will stay on top of it from here on out. Fingers crossed.

That being said, I am WAYYYY behind on getting my TABR15 story out and I have a whole slew of things to talk about in regard to preparations for this year’s OT100MTB, not to mention all my plans for TABR16. I will be putting that out here very soon. As a precursor to all of that, I will say that I am well on my way as far as completing goals. As of this morning, I am down a total of 41 pounds since the start of TABR15. I am nearly at “fighting weight” and look forward to realizing the benefits of those lost pounds as I train and race over the next year. Good stuff!

With that, stay tuned. Really this time. 🙂

It’s been way too long

Here we are again. It has been 8 months since I last posted and obviously A LOT has happened since. It is funny how life click-clacks along and before you know it, time gets away from you.

When I last posted, I was smack dab in the middle of a week-long bike tour vacation through Southeastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. In an effort to immerse myself in the trip, enjoy my time out and not get too worked up about things, I ended up letting the blog updates for the trip slip through the cracks. I figured I would catch them up when I got home. Before I knew it, a month, then two months were gone. After that long, it just didn’t make sense to me to go back and do them. Over time, I keep telling myself I should finish it. So without further ado, let me quickly wrap up that trip for you.

I left Judy Cureton’s house in Cape Girardeau, MO on Wednesday morning, 5-21-14. I crossed the Mississippi River and headed across the windswept farmland of Southern Illinois to Golconda, on the Ohio River. Mileage for the day was 83.8 miles. I camped at Deer Run Campground, just south of town a couple miles. I was the only one there and it was a wonderfully quiet evening. The next day I struck out on the road and just north of Golconda, got back on the Trans Am and headed west for home. I stopped for the night after 79.8 miles in Murphysboro, IL. Originally I had planned on a shorter day, with a stop about 20 miles before Murphysboro, but I got there too early in the day and decided to push on. That left me with 86.2 miles home on Friday. I hit it early, dodging a rain storm and made it home by mid afternoon.

My little tour was a success in that I got to get out and enjoy the road, but alas, my thirst wasn’t quenched.

Soon after, the Trans Am tourists rolled through by the dozens. Every day, Jeneen and I would watch for riders. We met a few personally and enjoyed the company of some during dinner at some of our local restaurants. It is always a treat to hear stories of the road and offer a little bit of trail magic for folks when we can.

The highlight of the summer was the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race. This was an unsupported bike race along the Trans Am route from Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA. Imagine Tour Divide, but on the TA. 43 riders lined up in Astoria and hit the road. First one to Yorktown wins. No entry fee, no prize money. All guts and glory.

Jeneen and I quickly became “dot watchers”. That is, someone who follows the racer’s progress on trackleaders.com. Each racer carries with them a small device called a SPOT tracker that sends tracking data to the website. As the racers neared Farmington, we got the opportunity to go out along the road and meet them. How cool!

Of the 25 finishers, I got to see 18 of them as they came through. I went out and rode with race winner (in 17 days!) Mike Hall (winner of the World Cycle race in 2012 and 2013 Tour Divide winner) for a few miles as he passed. What a humble and likable soul. I gave 3rd place finisher Ed Pickup a high five. Jeneen and I enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant with 4th and 5th place finishers Jesse Stauffer (first place American) and Julianna Buhring (first place female and record holder of fastest female to cycle around the world in World Cycle Race 2012). I also rode with race organizer and 13th place finisher Nathan Jones for about 20 miles. My interactions with the racers were something I won’t ever forget. Each of the TABR riders that I got to spend time with were so friendly and showed great sportsmanship. Kudos to them all.

As the month of June came to a close, most of the racers had not only passed through Farmington, but had finished in Yorktown. The month long storm of excitement surrounding the race and our following of it came to an abrupt halt and the only thing I could think of was how bad I wanted to be one of those racers.

The remainder of the summer, when not working, I was usually riding my MTB preparing for the inaugural OT100MTB. September came and I toed the line for my first ever MTB race. 100 miles of Ozarks single track might not be the way most people kick off their racing career, but I am not most people!

It was an awesome event! Great support, the trail was pristine and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I rolled into the finish at BASS River Resort in just under 19 hours- slower than I wanted, but I finished. That was really all I was looking to do. It was a blast!

In October, I did the Trail of Tears century, a road ride near Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. I hadn’t been riding like I should and this one was a bit of a slog. My only road century of the year, unfortunately.

Halloween weekend brought the OT100 endurance run. Crazy folks run the 100 miles of single track that we raced our bikes on back in September. No, I didn’t run, but I helped sweep the course, picking up temporary trail markers for the race. It was a great chance to get out by myself in the woods. I ended up riding 28 miles one day and 31.5 the next.

Prior to that weekend, my plan had been to bikepack the 60 miles of trail that I was going to sweep. In the end, the forecast called for temps dipping to a very unseasonable 20F or so. Without the gear to bikepack at those temps, I bailed on the idea and just went out for the day both days. It was a good decision!

Over the winter months I have been MTB’ing some, but mostly focusing on hiking and backpacking, namely changing from a ground dweller to a hammock camper. There will be more about this later. 🙂

So that brings me to current. I have some big things coming! I don’t want to belabor you with too much right now, but I will say I have committed to two big bike races as well as a few smaller ones and plans are in the works for big things in 2016 as well. All of it will amount to an amazing ride. I can’t wait! Stay tuned!