Monday, September 7, 2015

Idirtarod 200

Normally after finishing an event that I focused on for almost a year I find myself a little bit depressed.  For me the journey is every bit as awesome as the event itself. I love training hard while having a goal to keep me motivated and honest on the rare days that I don’t feel like training. No matter how hot, cold, windy, rainy, snowy, or busy, I find a way to train when there is a big goal standing before me. After the event however, I feel a bit empty; in limbo. What now?

This was not the case after Burning River. We raised $10,390 to help families going through the terrible nightmare of childhood cancer. I’ve heard about the direct assistance this money is now providing for specific families in need. If I never run another 100 miler again this project and experience was worth every minute and dollar invested. I cannot thank all that helped and supported us enough, and there were so many.  

As far as the “what’s next?” aspect, that was taken care of before I even started Burning River. Earlier in the year I was looking for something epic to do on my 58th birthday. With the Idirtarod 200 Gravel Challenge, I certainly found it. A 200 mile gravel grinder along the Front Range prairie of Colorado just one month after finishing Burning River exactly on my birthday. I also signed up for the Denver Rock n Roll Half Marathon in October as part of the Project Purple Team to help raise money for Pancreatic Cancer in honor of my incredible friend Tonya Ellsworth Smith and the Tucson Marathon in December.

As the start for the Idirtarod drew closer, I was a bit intimidated since I focused on running all summer and for the most part only used my bike for commuting and running errands. My saving grace is the time spent assistant coaching the Cheyenne Mountain High School Mountain Bike Team. Working out with the team helped me get my cycling legs back. I made a point to ride to and from team practices to get 40+ miles in including the team workout. Additionally, I continued to train for the marathon in the mornings.  I didn’t know what to expect at the 200 mile bike race, but I know I know how to suffer and just keep going no matter what.

The Idirtarod is what is called a Gravel Grinder. It is a race on gravel and dirt roads with short sections of single and double track. The best bike for this kind of race is a cross bike. We are given a cut sheet and a map. There are no course markers so we are on our own to navigate and stay on course.
Kevin and I making our way to the start of a long day in the saddle

The race went much better than expected. I went into it with the goal of finishing rather than race and I felt great pretty much the whole race. I rode with ProCycling teammate Kevin Cahn for the first 135 miles. At about 110 miles we caught a guy that looked to be in my age group. As we hit the climbs I pulled away without too much effort so I was confident I could beat him. However Kevin was beginning to self-destruct and I did not want to leave him. We were in this together and our goal was to finish not necessarily race. As hard as it was I let the guy go. Kevin began having problems keeping food down and was just running out of energy. He decided at 135 miles that he was going to drop at the 150 mile checkpoint. The last 50 miles were supposed to be the hardest part of the course and much of that would be in the dark. With Kevin’s decision to drop I got into race mode and took off to see if I could catch my competition. I was betting on being able to reel him in on the climbs of the last 50 miles. When I got to the 150 mile checkpoint I was surprised to see him packing up his bike and abandoning.

At approximately 180 miles  it became completely dark so my main focus was not getting lost. The climbs came and I actually felt good climbing them. Everything was going well, I felt tired but relatively good, and then with just 4 ½ miles to finish I took a wrong turn. I rode about 1 ½ miles when I realized things didn’t seem right. As I debated with myself if I should turn back or keep going I came to a farmhouse. There were various animals roaming between the barn and the house and a dog barking inside. As I stood in front of the house studying my map and cut sheet a lady came out of the house. I’m sure she was wondering what the hell some guy on a bicycle miles from anywhere was doing in her front yard at 10:00 PM. I explained the situation and she gave me directions to get back on course. It turns out I turned a half mile too early. As I left the farmhouse my light battery was beginning to die and my GPS watch was displaying low battery warnings. I thought OK now the adventure really begins! I eventually got back on course had a little bit of a problem finding the entrance to the Ranch where the finish line was. Because of the wrong turn my mileage was off on my GPS and no longer matched the cut sheet so I wasn’t sure where to turn. With directions over the phone from the race promoter I found the entrance, which was a rough jeep road. Just ½ mile from the finish, I hit some soft sand and crashed! Over 200 miles and just ½ mile from the finish I go down. I couldn’t believe it! The bike was OK and I only had minor road rash so continued on. Just before the finish line was a series of steps; the final insult and the first time I got a bit agitated (probably because of the crash just a minute or two before). Finally the finish, my light and watch held out, but I was certainly on the edge expecting them to fail anytime in those last miles.

So in the end I finished 3rd overall and 1st in the 50+ age group, which really isn’t that big of a deal cause only three finished. After I crossed the finish line the race staff sang happy birthday and handed me my prizes. A great way to spend a birthday!

200 Miles Done!
I get asked what one does for nutrition on a ride like this. I treated this race the same as a 100 mile run. I had a glass of chocolate soy milk five minutes before the start (no breakfast) then approximately 300 calories of Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem per hour. At approximately 100 miles I ate my first solid food which was one square (about 100 calories) of an Enduro Bites bar. During the 2nd 100 miles I stuck with Perpetuem and over the course of the next 6 hours ate two full Enduro Bites bars. I never got even the slightest hint of nausea and felt strong enough that I knew I would finish, as long as I didn't get lost. The only stress I experienced was trying to get in before the batteries died on my light and GPS watch.

As far as the race organization, I can’t say enough good things about it. With the exception of one minor error that the promoter is aware of, the cut sheets were right on. The course was challenging, scenic, and showed me parts of Colorado I never knew existed. The volunteers were awesome and for a first time event it was very well done. I highly recommend this race for anyone looking for an extreme challenge and I really hope this grows and evolves into a classic Colorado race.

Now on to the Denver Rock n Roll 1/2 Marathon!

I know this was a long one. Thanks for reading!


Segment 1: 50 Miles

Segment 2: 51.5 Miles

Segment 3: 51 Miles

Segment 4: 50 Miles (including my little extra credit turn near the end)

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