Friday, August 7, 2015

Maah Daah Hey Race Report: The Last 56 Miles

Aid Station 2 to Aid Station 3 (mile 51-79, 3300 feet elevation gain)

Nick said that this section would be the most difficult.  That was good to know.  I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat in my performance, but as I left the aid station, my spirits were still high. And my legs were still eager to turn over the pedals.  Usually when I race a hundie, my low point is around the 65-75 mile mark.  I knew what to expect and told myself that once past that point, it was just a NORBA style XC race with 6 bonus miles.

For the first half of this section, the body was hitting on all cylinders.  The climbs were manageable, the descents fun.  I began to pass some 100 and 75 milers, and with each pass a courteous nod or shout out.  I made sure to talk to the women, for this sport is quite intimidating, wanting to let them know just how inspirational they were.

Unfortunately, my fat tire buddy Tyler faded, but I was lucky enough to pick up another riding buddy, Adam, from Wisconsin.  He had raced it last year, so it was like having my own private guide. We took turns pushing into the headwind.  He would let me know about the upcoming climbs.  We shared the duty of holding the cattle gates for one another, but I do believe he held a few more than I.

We were riding together, I in the lead, when we came upon a mud hole crossing.  It appeared completely rideable, with a nice dry, crusty top.  However, not wanting to get any more of that filth on my bike, I opted to walk the logs across it to stay clean.  Adam was right behind me and did the same.  Unfortunately he slipped and his legs disappeared!  It took every bit of strength to free himself from that quagmire.  He was lucky to still be in his shoes after that ordeal.

At one of the many neutral support road crossings, Adam stopped to get help from his wife.  I opted to go on even though he offered his wife up to support me as well.  Not wanting to be a burden, I pedaled on.

I think my first low moment hit me at the MDH mile marker post 38.  I had been riding by these posts all day, but this was the first time I was searching for a mile marker.  I knew the third aid station was around mile marker 17.  Even though I was constantly drinking, my mouth was dry.  The Skratch in my CamelBak was warm, and totally unappealing. By now, I had ridden 8 miles of this section and was 64 miles into the race.  I was nearing the 6 hour mark, the sun was blazing hot, and the tops of my feet were on fire!

At a road crossing, I stopped and almost hugged the volunteer when he said he had some ice in a cooler.  I was able to put several handfuls into my CamelBak.  Not realizing that I had my dirty gloves on until it was too late, I noticed the grass left behind, swirling in the discolored water at the bottom of the cooler.  Sorry, gotta blame that one on fatigue.  Eh, a little dose of cow manure would just challenge the immune systems of those after me.

That bit of ice was just enough for me to put my happy face back on for a few more miles.  As I felt the cold water enter my stomach, my engine came back to life.  And so I stopped looking for mile markers and enjoyed what the Maah Daah Hey had to offer.

Loved how I could see the trail disappear into the horizon.

I was able to hit one more neutral water (and ice) station at the top of a multi-switchback climb. Two young men grabbed my bike and a very nice energetic woman assisted me.  More ICE!  At this point, if they had held up a $50 dollar bill in one hand and a cup of ICE in the other, I would not have batted an eye.  After drinking a 16 ounce bottle of ICE cold water and refilling my CamelBak with ICE cold water, I gotta out of there in a hurry.  You see, as I was refueling, I had bent over to get to the cooler, and when I stood back up, I had a brief moment of dizziness.  That was a bit unnerving; I needed to wrench myself free from the fatigue-dehydration monster.

When I had 6 miles to go to aid station 3, I was in familiar territory as I had ridden this section 2 days prior.  It was one of the more technical sections with lots of short ups and downs and tight twists through the buttes.  Knowing what was coming up bred confidence and I was able to flow through this smoothly.

Pre -ride, MDH mm22

Heading down to the Wannegan campground and aid station 3 almost brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the vehicles and tents below was like a small oasis.  Hoping that it was not a mirage, I negotiated the series of super tight switchbacks down to heaven.  One mistake could have sent me down to the volunteers in a much quicker fashion.

Pre-ride, campground lower left, post to level ground = 300 feet

I rolled into heaven at 8:27.  Upon arrival, a flurry of activity surrounded me.  Volunteers were taking my CamelBak and bike, handing me a Coke. and offering me up a chair, and food.  I felt like a Queen, which immediately brought a smile to my face.  Some of these people were here specifically for their loved ones, but took the time to help out this pitiful, fatigued Tennessean.  Have I told you how much I LOVE the mountain bike community!  Before I knew it, my CamelBak was back to me, filled with ICE and water, and my bike had a freshly lubed chain.  I graciously thanked everyone and was off for the last 25+.

Aid Station 3 to Finish (mile 79-106.3, 2300 feet elevation gain)

As I was climbing out of the campground area to access the trail, Adam was rolling in.  I gave him a smile, and hoped that he would be able to catch up to me.  The next 15 miles had some tough climbs and I needed a pacer.  At this point, even though I was mentally strong, I was slowly becoming a physical wreck.  My stomach was turning sour and around the 9 hour mark, I could no longer take in any calories.  I would now have to rely on my fat-burning diesel engine.

26 miles was a long way, so I broke it up in 5 mile increments.  That made the head game easier.  I was soon passed by a hundie racer, whom I inspired to get out of the chair at the last aid station, and finish this thing.

Although the climbs in this last section were totally doable with fresh legs, I had to get off and HAB quite a few.  Even with a 30/42 combination, the climbs would send my heart rate sky high, my quads and inner thighs would twinge, and dizziness and tunnel vision would follow.  Stopping was not an option.  The sun was at its highest, the temperature had risen to 100 degrees, the wind was like one had opened the oven door, and unless you wanted to scoot under a mesquite bush, there was no shade.  So I took baby steps ... Never ONCE did I think about quitting.  But neither did I want to become a heat casualty, cause alot of people unnecessary work, and acquire a $10,000 helicopter ride.  This last 26 was all about damage control.

The turtle symbolizes patience, determination, steadfastness, and fortitude.

Occasionally I would come across racers that were totally spent, resting in areas that would barely shade a squirrel.  I would talk to them to make sure they were lucid, and then move on.  At one point, a critter darted out in front of me, running down the trail.  In my cross-eyed state, it looked like a mini-velociraptor.  I was later told that it was a roadrunner.  Ha!

Adam eventually caught up to me and together we rode.  Even though we did not talk much, as the saying goes, "misery loves company."  We took a right upon the Buffalo Gap Trail and began following the buffalo head signage.  We had to do this to ride around the portion of the MDH that ran through the southern section of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This trail had alot more horse and cattle traffic and was rougher than the MDH.  Only the creaking of my pivot bearings let me know that my bike's suspension was still working.

Stating that he had found an extra gear, Adam passed me on a climb.  I do believe he felt a little guilty in doing so and which is why he stayed with me for as long as he did.  He is a very caring competitor and was a big help in the latter half of the race.

So little by little those 5 mile chunks ticked along.  85, 90, 95 ...   Coming upon the interstate, I rode a culvert to get to the other side.  Let's just say that through this 50 yard cool pipe, I did the "slow race."  When I exited, the sun shone its wrath back down upon me.  At the last neutral water station, I asked for ice, but unfortunately they were out.  Then a trail angel appeared before my very eyes.  "Do you need ice?  I have some," she said.  Once again, I was saved by a stranger who was waiting for her loved one to arrive and shared her "gold" with me.

Hitting the 100 mile mark, I anxiously surveyed the trail ahead for the familiar cattle gate, which I had ridden to the day before, on and out and back pre-ride from the finish.  At last, I could smell the barn.  Unfortunately, as in previous races, where I could call upon my reserves, today I had none.  So I slogged my way to the finish.  Two more arduous climbs and I could see the interstate far below. The next two miles were a sweet flowy descent.  Exhausted, I rolled along the bike path to the finish. I was thankful for the tailwind.

Just a shell crossing the finish line, no strength left even for a smile.

12 hours, 7 minutes, and  seconds later, I crossed the finish line.  Good enough for the win and 15th overall. I had truly left it all out on the trail.

The struggle was as real as it gets.  But I think that is the driving force behind my desire to do these "insane to some" adventures.  That primal urge to pit mind and body against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you is what makes life worth living.  You just don't get that challenge in king couch-dom, or your air-conditioned cubicle or office.  The Maah Daah Hey 100 (106.3) is in the top 3 of all-time most difficult races.

It took me an hour lying down at the finish line drinking ice cold water and eating a few salty chips to come back to life.  I never urinated during the race and it took 3 hours after the race before I felt the urge to go.

Thank you, Nick, for putting one helluva race together.  From the pre-race details to the hundreds of volunteers to the ICE cold fluids at 3 major aid stations and 5+ road crossing neutral water suppport stations to the post race never ending burritos, you get an A+!

Thank you also to the couple who walked 2 miles with a cooler to provide water hand ups after the climb at Devil's Pass.

Thank you to Adam and his wife who drove me over to Chimney Park to pick up my finish line bag, then drove me to the campground so I could shower, and then paid for my shower.

Looking back now at this race, I could not have done anything better. I had done my homework and knew that the last half of the race was going to be brutal and potentially a soul-crusher. Having a solid nutrition plan is an absolute must to finish.  And the ability to adapt and overcome is a requirement for success.  I had a great acclimation period in the two weeks leading up to this race.  But ... 100 degrees is 100 degrees!  It doesn't matter if it is 0% humidity or 100%, when there is no shade humidity does not factor in.

168 signed up for the madness.  129 started the insanity.  58 made it to the very end.  To all you who finished, you came out of the arena battered, bloody, and bruised ... but victorious!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Maah Daah Hey 100 Race Report: The First 50 Miles

6 am start (Mountain Time)

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

Nick, the founder of LAND and the Maah Daah Hey 100, said these insirational words just before the start. If Teddy had been alive today, I am sure he would have been toeing the line alongside the 129 racers (168 signed up).

  The race was 106.3 miles long, 99 of which was pure single track.  Just two days before, Nick had ridden the entire route to get a GPX track and do some last minute trail maintainence.  He also made mention of the many cattle paths that crisscrossed the single track.  He reminded us that cows don't mow their trails; over the past 3-4 weeks, volunteers had mowed THE ENTIRE COURSE.  That means that 200+ miles was mown; up one side of the trail and back down the other.

The starting temperature was a cool 58 degrees.  My plan was to ride a steady strong pace, trying to get in as many miles as I could before the sweltering sun beat down upon my back.  I'll be honest, the previous 24 hours, the butterflies were swirling.  17 ladies had signed up, I knew none of them, but I did not fear them.  What I feared was my body's ability to make it through without becoming a heat casualty.  The forecasted high was 96 degrees and with no tree cover, it was going to be an inferno.

Start to Aid Station #1 (mile 0-26, 2700 feet elevation gain)

Fortunately it was not a crazy stupid start.  200 yards through the campground and we hit the single track.  I was in the top 25 or so.  The first 4-5 miles were gentle climbing.  Everyone was content to settle in line and wait for the top to pass.  Even though I was not thirsty, the tube was in my mouth, and I sipped from my CamelBak.  We had both helicopter and drone coverage, which was super cool!

Once at the top, attacks were made and groups began to split up.  The trail opened up as we hit prairie and passing was easy.  There tended to be one good line, with a second track that was fairly smooth as well.  I watched my HR like a hawk, keeping it out of zone 5 and above.  I knew that for each 1 beat less I could keep my heart at, would be 1 beat more I would desperately need towards the end of the race.  As I was passed again and again in the opening miles, I would say silently, "See you this afternoon."

After the climb, the course rolled through prairie.  My legs felt good, my spirits were high, and the flow was spectacular.  Two miles of the trail lie in the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  So we we rerouted onto a mix of single track, double track, and gravel for about 6 miles before reconnecting with the Maah Daah Hey.

Somewhere in the first 25, while I was in my own little bubble, I strayed off course.  Following a steep descent down into a dry creekbed, I missed a sharp right turn out of it, and wandered a bit on a cattle trail.  There was no grass in this creekbed, so I did not know I was off course until I saw a group of racers back tracking.  Fortunately for me, I only lost a few minutes.

And then I found myself sammiched between two fat bikes.  Tyler Keuning was piloting one of those massive beasts like it was a sub-20 pound XC machine.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding with him and the other fat biker, both who had great skills and a nice tempo.  It definitely amplflied the fun factor.

Home, home on the range ... (credit:  Tyler Keuning)

I rolled into the first aid station in 2:18.  The volunteers were awesome!  I had someone help refill my CamelBak with Skratch, and I was outta there NASCAR fast.

Aid Station #1 to Aid Station #2 (mile 26-51, 2200 feet elevation gain)

I was glad I spent the two days prior taking in the spectacular views.

Tyler and I rode this stretch together.  At times we managed to hook up with others.  There were fast sections of prairie sprinkled with chunks of eroded buttes.  The climbs in the praires tended to be about 1/4 - 1/2 mile at a gentle grade.  The climbs in the buttes were short and grunty with several hike-a-bikes (HAB) through dry creek beds.  By this time, I had found a rhythm in the trench portions of the single track.  Most of the time the trench was smoother and faster.

170mm cranks definitely was a plus.

Somewhere along this section I encountered my first Badlands mudhole at a cattle gate.  Fortunately I was able to tippie toe around it while carrying my bike.  Then about 20 yards down the trail, another mudhole appeared.  It was about 3 feet across and I saw tracks where others had ridden through.  So I opted to follow the deepest and cleanest track through it.  There was no standing water, so I thought that it would be a fairly clean ride through.  Boy, was I wrong!  When I hit it with my front tire,  I had the most vile spray of clay mud/manure mix cover my bike and I.  Granted, it was not a full on rooster tail spray, but enough to cover my down tube, rims, drive train, and shoes.  Right then and there I made a mental note to avoid any future ones at all costs.

There must have been 25+ cattle gates to go through on the entire course.  Although heavy, they had a leverage system that made it easy to get off your bike, grab the gate with one hand, tip it up, squeeze through, and then let it fall down behind you.  And, I was lucky enough half the time to be riding with gentlemen who did all the work for me.

Way better than the old loop of barbed wire around a post.

Closing in on the final miles of this section, the helicopter came upon the small group I was in.  For the next 5 minutes, it buzzed us close enough to where I could feel the wind off its blades.  We popped out onto a short stretch of dirt road with a fast descent.  The helicopter was right on us the whole way.  That was badass!  Then we hit some more descending on single track.  The helicopter stuck with us, until we began the next climb, and then peeled off.

Devil's Pass, around mile 43 (mm 53 of the MDH Trail), was intimidating.  It was a fairly steep descent and a mistake could send you plummeting off either side ... for a long way.

Devil's Pass - by far the most spectacular feature on the MDH.

I was closing in on the final miles of this section and eager to get to the second aid station as I was just about out of fluids.  Rolling along the flats leading to the river crossing was when the first heat of the day hit me.  I felt the intensity of the sun's rays on my arms and the tops of my feet.  At least the wind still felt somewhat cool.  I was looking forward to the river crossing.

The Little Missouri River was about 40-50 yards across and mid-thigh deep on me.  The reason the race is run this time of year is because this is when the river is at its lowest.  As I entered the water, I was greeted with a sandy/fine gravel bottom into which my shoes sunk.  The water was not that cold but still offered some refreshment.  I knew now why I was told to put socks in my drop bag at the second aid station.  I could feel the sand and tiny rocks work their way into my shoes with each step.  However, since I was wearing Swiftwick socks, those little bastards could not get between my skin and the socks.  So all I had to do at the next aid station was take off my shoes, knock the rocks and sand out, and carry on.  That helped to save several minutes of changing socks.

The climb up to the second aid station was long and brutally steep.  It was here that I had my first extended HAB session.  While walking up, I made my first assessment.  Legs: good.   HR:  good. Nutrition:  good.  Core temp:  hot, not good.  (later when looking at my Garmin, this was when the temperature hit the 90 degree mark).  Knowing that the upcoming section was going to be the hardest, I told myself that I just needed to take it down a notch, drink more, and stay positive and focused.

I rolled into the aid station at 4:44.  It was a pretty happen' place, so I was left to my own devices.  I refilled my CamelBak with more Skratch, swapped gel flasks, put more sunscreen on, and was outta there in 3 minutes.

Looking at my Garmin and seeing a sub-5 hour for the first 51 miles, I felt that I was going to have close to an 11 hour finish.  Little did I know, the final 5 hours were going to be a test of my fitness, resolve, and perseverance ...

Maah Daah Hey -- Mandan Indian meaning "grandfather, long-lasting."