I had heard of the Landrun 100 before, but it wasn’t until my Virtus teammates came back after last year’s race with tales of high adventure that it really hit my radar. They talked of on-course kegs, amazing people, and red dirt roads so muddy you had to carry your bike. It sounded terrible and great and I wanted to do it.
The good idea portion of my brain also figured that I could suffer through 100 miles of gravel pretty much anytime I wanted, and suggested I up the stakes a bit. I had really been enjoying my fat bike (I look much more to scale on it than on skinny tires) and seeing as the race had a fat bike specific category, it seemed like the right thing to do. Here was my thought process…I’m not fast enough to beat people in my age group, and not fast enough to beat the quick fat bikers out there in a battle of legs. BUT, if the roads were terrible and it came down to a war of attrition, I could carry that fat bike faster and happier than any of the lungs with legs crowd. Robby had signed on to race the fat bike category as well, so at least I wouldn’t be alone. Oh, so naively optimistic.
Race day came, and I got what I had been asking for as a sunny week of high temps gave way to a high of 40 degrees. 1,000ish brave souls lined up at the start line and the race was kicked off with a cannon blast under a rain threatening sky.
We rolled out of Stillwater over a few miles of pavement before hitting the red roads we had all been hearing about. They were perfect. A light rain the previous night had packed the dust down and we were flying down perfectly groomed, hard packed dirt roads. Spirits were high and everyone was smiling. Cue the rain.
It started as a light drizzle, just a bit more moisture in the air, nothing to get to worked up over. The roads were still nice and fast and the pack was starting to break up into smaller groups with riders moving in and out as paces were settled into. The moisture turned to rain. We were all wet now, no avoiding that. Mud splatter started kicking up a bit, but it was a soupy wet slurry that looked much more dramatic than it was. About this time I noticed that my GPS had died, so I restarted it and plugged onward. It would be another 15 miles or so before I realized it wasn’t recording anything and had to be reset again.
Then I could see them. Riders ahead, much more bunched up than normal, bikes high on shoulders, beginning the first section of hike a bike. I hopped off and hoisted my fatty up as I had practiced on so many solo winter training rides. I’d been waiting for this. Making good time, I passed lots of riders who would normally not have seen me had we stayed in the saddle. The time and distances during this race are all a blur to me, but I believe there were 3 sections of this in the first half of the race. Shortly after the last, there was a short section that cut though a ranchers property. It winded through the woods on some rough single track like road that my fat bike loved. I gave me another chance to pass some more riders that were forced to use a bit more caution.
I stuck my headphones in and was riding strong and happy. I’ve never listened to music during a race before and it really picked me up, for about 6 miles before the mp3 player died. I rolled the last few miles into the half way point in Guthrie cold and wet, but feeling strong.
The checkpoint gave me the chance to hose off my bike a bit, reload on food and water, and for my body to cool down. I was shivering, but I knew it was cold shivers, not fatigue shivers. Janie had come down to the race with me and had a bag of my dry winter riding clothes ready to go. I didn’t want to take the time to change, but new that if I didn’t things could go south pretty quick out there. As I peeled off my soaked socks and arm warmers, Janie grabbed me a hot cup of coffee. A few fresh, dry, and grit free clothes were an amazing thing. While I was changing, Kate rolled out of the checkpoint. The brakes on her bike had completely died and she was headed back out for another 50+ miles. Badass.
I rolled out of Guthrie with another rider, hoping to have someone to stick with for a few miles. 4 missed turns later I decided it may be best to go solo for a while and I let him ride on. I caught up with Kate shortly after only because she was forced to walk the sketchy bits seeing as she had to stop her bike flintstone style with her feet now. We chatted a bit and I pushed on.
What happened next is all a blur. I have no real time or distance references, but it goes something like this. The soupy but ride-able mud that had dominated the course so far was losing moisture now that the rain had stopped. Riders were spread out enough now that you couldn’t tell where the super sticky mud was until you were in it, and I got in it. Imagine the highest density mud that will stick to itself and anything it touches. Now imagine trying to ride a bicycle with 4 inch wide tires through it. There was no riding. With the mud accumulation on my bike, I’m guessing it weight in the 70-80 lb range. Heavy enough that I could only carry it in 50 yard spurts before my heart rate monitor started beeping at me for working too hard. So I pushed. For about 50 yards until the wheels locked up with too much mud. Out came the paint stirrer stick to clear as much mud as I could. Carry, push, clear, repeat for miles.
It was tough. I was covered head to toe in mud and grit, wet clothes, chilled to the bone, fighting a relentless enemy that was under me and all over me, in my water and my food, and under my contacts. But I wasn’t alone. Riders behind and in front of me all fought the same monster in their own private battles. Bikes were thrown (not mine, too heavy), profanities echoed through the trees (some of those may have been mine) and spirits were crushed. I pushed my reddish brown behemoth up to the 80 mile aid tent and contemplated my next move.
I was smoked. The aid tent had whisky, beer, and blankets. There were 2 warm jeeps with bike racks taking riders back to Stillwater with more on the way. My gps said I had another 13 miles before the next turn. I didn’t have 13 more miles of hike a bike in the tank. Another hour or so and the sun goes down. No way I make it out in daylight, but I’ve got a light. Then Renee pulls up, tired but still moving with a smile. And then Kate shows up, still moving forward. We chat a bit and I’m still on the fence. And then John shows up. Something about his muddy grin and “Come walk with me” pushes me back into this thing and I’m on the sticky red road again towards the finish line. We walk maybe 150 yards away from the aid tent and the mud lets up, not much, but just enough. I’m back on the bike now, spinning the wheels as fast as I can to clear the mud and keep more from sticking. Mud clods are flying off my tires but I’ve got to keep them moving. The faster I spin, the lighter my bike gets, the faster I go, and I’m alone again.
Sundown is at 6:34, GPS says 6:30, stop and put on the headlights. Riding again. GPS dies. Maybe 16 miles to go, course is marked well just pay attention and it shouldn’t be a problem. Dark and time for the headlight. It turns the road into a 1 dimensional red-brown circle to chase. No choosing the best line to ride now, just head down, move forward, and pray that the tacky stuff is behind me. I walk a few hills, telling myself I’m all out of gas, then ride a few more and think it’s all in my head until I walk the next one. I stop and close my eyes for a few seconds, or minutes or hours. Hard to tell anymore. I don’t want that hug at the finish line (did I mention everyone gets a hug from the race director?). I don’t want a beer, or to talk about the ride, or to be social. I want to go straight to the hotel and curl up in the hot shower and then a dry warm bed and be alone. Where the hell are the city lights? I’ve gotta be getting close. Keep moving forward. Bike light behind me lets me know I’m still on course. Don’t let them catch you. Maybe all the other fat bikers had mechanicals or gave up or never showed up and I can get 3rd. I know I passed at least 4 of them, but how many in front? It doesn’t matter. This is survival mode, not race mode. City lights, oh thank god. Gotta force more food down, can’t bonk now. What did that one guy say..4 miles of pavement into town? Let’s assume 5, only 5 miles. Shit that’s another 20 minutes of riding at this rate. Pavement. Oh it’s so smooth and fast and not mud. Where the hell are the course markers? Great, lost in town now. Course marker! Stop and put on the taillight, no time to get hit by a car. Hear announcements from the finish line blocks away. Back on and riding. It’s 8 o’clock now, 12 hours after starting. Thank you bike. Thank you for not breaking or giving up on me today.
I rolled through town desperately scanning for course markers that had been spray painted on the road at all the turns. The markers then turned to luminaries down the whole side of the street. I made the final turn and saw the red digital glow of the race clock several blocks down. Cruising into the chute I passed Bob, who was frantically trying to catch me and spray me with beer. I slowed, let him get ahead, and was showered in brew. I rolled into the finish line and got that great big hug from race director Bobby. It warmed me up.
“Great ride man, are you OK? Do you feel OK? You’re 2nd place fat bike, congratulations!”
“Get the f*&# outta here, seriously?!”
“Yeah, are you OK? Can you make it up to the podium?”
“Hell yes I can make it to the podium!”
Robby had handed me a beer before I was even off the bike and it was cold and delicious and grit free. It was all pretty overwhelming. In a few minutes I had gone from chasing a muddy brown dot, alone in the dark and stuck in my own head, to standing on a podium with ridiculously bright blue lights in my eyes and an announcer saying something, probably about me, but I was still in lala land.
I must have looked pretty shelled because everyone kept asking if I was ok, even though I was probably the least qualified person to answer that at the time.
I retreated to the warmth of District Bicycles and Janie brought me heavy portions of the world’s most appreciated french fries and a huge burrito. A quick shower in the back of the bike shop and some dry clothes later and I was starting to feel a bit human again. We waited as a few more friends came rolling through before retreating to the hotel hot tub where pizza and whisky was consumed.
This was the hardest race I’ve ever done. Physically it was really tough, but not earth shattering. Mentally it was the next level for me. I’ve really been focusing on my mental game lately and I think it helped as much as could be expected. I definitely used every trick I could remember. I had a fair amount of self pity, but no real self doubt in hindsight. Word on the street is the race had 1,300 registered riders, somewhere around 1,000 riders started, and 165 riders finish. I’m good with that.
Back in my cubicle Monday morning with the spreadsheets and reports and office chatter about college basketball and the new flavor of cappuccino in the break room. I feel like a different animal. Like a section of my brain has been rotated 30 degrees and rewired. I feel like I have just returned from outer space or another dimension and no amount of explaining can even touch the surface of the experience. It’s almost exactly like I felt coming home from Iraq and maybe that’s what I’ve been chasing.
You should definitely do this race!
Big shout out to Janie for putting up with all of my training time and weird diet and being there when I needed her. Thanks to John, Renee, and Kate for getting me back on the road at mile 80. And thanks to my Virtus teammates who waited for me at the finish, stuffed me full of beer, and helped out as they could. And one big Thank You?! to the District Bicycles crew for putting on a very well run and challenging event.
-My bike was flawless all day. Not one missed shift and only dropped the chain once. Zero brake issues that so many others had, but I was probably braking a lot less too.
-Clothes-My starting line clothes were the perfect choice for the first half. Wool socks, knee warmers, arm warmers and undershirt. The warmer dry clothes did the best they could for the second half.
-Bike bags-The only thing I carried on my body was my phone and ID, everything else went in the frame bag or feeds bags on handlebars. The feed bags kept everything right in front of me and easy to get to. It also kept 1 water bottle slightly cleaner than the others.
-Although my nutrition plan was on point the first half, I got way behind in the second half. I need to remember that anything over 5 hours calls for real food, not just gels and waffles.
-I need to figure out what killed my mp3 player so fast, because a little bit of The Cult or The Crystal Method would have gone a long way in those dark hours.