Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mi C2C Race Report, Final Part (7)

After the Race
You can still walk!?!?
                All I wanted to do was drink a beer, eat some Reese’s Pieces, rinse off in the shower, and crawl into bed. Sarah drove us back to our hotel (where she was already checked in and settled before meeting me at the finish), and that’s what I did. The beer and Reese’s were delicious. The shower was delightful, but after drying off and putting on my pajamas I was freezing cold. I climbed under the covers, and we were both fast asleep around 3:30am. My only regret was that I would probably oversleep the hotel’s free breakfast, but we had arranged for a late checkout. Breakfast was a problem I would be willing to solve.
                I woke up a little after 6:00am to the sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and by 6:30am I became convinced I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep. I got out of bed and lounged on the couch in our hotel room, browsing my phone. The longest, hardest workout of my life and all I could manage afterwards was three hours sleep (I later found out that this not unusual for ultra-endurance athletes).
                Using my Garmin Vivofit watch, I checked my heart rate and synced it with my phone to check out the quality of my sleep. My heart rate? A little under 100 beats per minute. My resting heart rate during those few hours of sleep? 88 beats per minute. My normal resting heart rate is around 52 bpm and my normal for lounging about is in the 60’s. I didn’t expect the elevated heart rate, but only because I didn’t think about it. It made perfect sense, though—I spent 20 hours the previous day with an average heart rate of 143 bpm, significantly higher than my normal. That’s below my lactic threshold, but only a little bit so it’s not surprising that my muscles and organs craved nutrients and oxygen at a much higher rate than usual. My heart rate rarely dipped below 85 for the rest of the day, but by the next day it had returned to normal.
                At least I got to eat breakfast at the hotel. It was free, and the dining area was crammed full of other cyclists who had all suffered the same toils I did the day before. Because Sarah and I both woke up much earlier than expected, we could leave and get home in time to have short visits with both Sarah’s parents and mine, visiting in town for the weekend (it was Mother’s Day, after all). And we had time to visit the Ludington Lighthouse, jutting out from the beach where I finished in the pitch black the night before. We also stopped in South Haven, one of our favorite Michigan coastal stops, for lunch and a little shopping.
                I’ve been a very active person for many years, and it’s rare that I come back from a workout hobbled stiff and sore. This was no normal workout, and I spent the next two days shuffling around and pushing myself out of chairs like a much older man. I had no trouble walking, and it was only when I sat for a few minutes that I would stiffen up.
                I never experienced any cramping, either during the race or after. Since I’ve started adding the Hammer Endurolyte tablets to my water bottle, I haven’t had any issues with them on rides. I’m a huge fan.
                The worst pain from the race came to my right knee. As I mentioned, it started hurting during stage 2. The pain went away during the early parts of stage 3, but it slowly came back. Thankfully, it never got any worse than during that dark period on stage 2. I would feel a stabbing pain any time I flexed or extended it. It steadily improved and finally after about two weeks I am nearly pain free. I am still able to ride, so I’m not worried. I think I need to raise the height on my saddle by a few smidges.
                I’ve been out on my bike several times since the race. Without the pressure of cramming miles in for training, I’m delighted to be able to go out and ride when I want to rather than needing to. I look forward to cycling for the pure enjoyment these days. I have another long ride, a local one hundred mile “century” ride I’ve done the past few years. It will be on pavement and fully supported with rest stops stocked with food and drink every twenty or so miles. That should be fun. Dan will probably ride with me, and we’ll see how fast we can get it done.
                I won’t be doing this ride again next year. Some scheduling situations make it impossible, but additionally I don’t want to deal with that sand again. Even with better preparation and expectations, it’s not something I care to wrestle with. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that in the future I would return to do the 212 or even just the 100-mile course, but right now I don’t think so.
                Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m done with this gravel scene, or even these ultra distance rides. I learned much about how to do it and I know more now what I’m capable of doing; I would like to be able to use these lessons again. I don’t know what that means as far as events or rides, but we’ll see. Maybe the Dirty Kanza is still in my future someday.
                Looking back, there are things I would have done differently, but I can also say with confidence that given the information I had at the time, I wouldn’t have changed anything in my training or preparation.  I did make some poor choices in the race I think I should have known better, but it’s all a learning experience.
                The biggest change I would make if I were doing this specific race again is in my bike choice. For this course, I think my mountain bike would have been a better choice. It’s slower over the easy parts, but with the right aerobar set up and clear advantages in the rough and sandy terrain, I think it would have been a better choice. The other major change was in my cargo bags. Rather than using my Blackburn frame pack (which I love for bikepacking) to store my hydration bladder and other gear, I would keep two (or three, depending on which bike I chose) bottle cages on the frame and carried a small backpack.
                I think perhaps my biggest failure and my biggest lesson is that I allowed my expectations to dictate my experience when my expectations were derived from unknown variables. I expected Stage 3 to be the hardest and Stage 2 would be easier, so when Stage 2 became difficult (and I encountered a forest road I didn’t expect until Stage 3), I was mentally unprepared to deal with it. I expected a few brief stretches of sand to walk my bike through, and there turned out to be miles of it.
                The other important thing, and this is true in any endurance event from a 5k run to a 212-mile bike race is that you have to keep control of the narrative in your head. The longer the race, the more difficult this is. As it is true in life, how you feel is not necessarily how you are. When your expectations don’t match reality, adjust your expectations instead of ruing your reality. Instead of finding reasons to quit, figure out what you need to change if you are going to succeed. You’re not going to talk yourself out of quitting with a brilliant insight, it’s going to take determination to tell yourself the new narrative over and over again until you finally believe it. And then you must cling to it ferociously, tightly, with everything you have.
                I raced my bike 212 miles across the state of Michigan from the coast of one Great Lake to the coast of another in one day. There are literally less than two hundred people on this planet who can say the same thing today, and another forty who tried and for one reason or another couldn’t finish. There were some good moments and it sucked a lot of the time, but there is not one moment I regret trying it. I’m glad I succeeded, but I almost failed. It’s a good thing almost doesn’t count.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mi C2C Race Report, Part 6

Stage 4: Dublin General Store to Ludington (46.2 miles)
You waited up for me!
                When I pulled into the third checkpoint, Sarah had no idea what to expect. The last time she saw or heard from me, I’d been on the verge of quitting and now I was an hour behind schedule arriving. She was ready and prepared to have a conversation about whether I was going to continue. I could have truly asked for no better support crew, because all she wanted to do was be there to provide wisdom, perspective, and encourage me regardless of the decision that I made.
                Talking with her about it later, she recalled a conversation we had that I’d forgotten. A few weeks before after finishing my longest training ride, my dress rehearsal if you will, we talked about whether I should continue with my plans to race the 212 miles or change over to the shorter 100-mile race that was also part of the event. She reminded me what my conclusion was, “I would rather try to do the 212 miles and drop out if I can’t finish than finish the 100-mile race. I already know I can finish 100 miles.” Because of that, she wanted me to finish if I wanted to, but she was also ready to pack it up at that point.
                Unbeknownst to her, I was revived and ready to finish the race. When I pulled up to a stop and immediately detailed what I needed to do for the stop so I could get back out there, she was taken by surprise. I knew she wasn’t especially fond of the idea of me riding at night, and I took her hesitation to be disapproval. It occurred to me to stop and check to make sure it was okay with her that I continue.
                “I’m planning to go on. Is that okay with you?”
                “I want you to finish if you want to finish,” was her reply and she meant it.
                One of the little things that encouraged me as I was plowing through the sandy forest in Stage 3 was the anticipation of a treat at the third checkpoint. I knew that in her planning for the day, Sarah discovered a Biggby Coffee shop in Cadillac, MI, and planned to stop there between checkpoints 2 & 3. I asked her to get me a coffee, and provided her my travel mug. Sure enough, just as I had hoped, my mug was waiting for me full of warm (not too hot and not too cold) coffee. The coffee itself was only average, but it tasted delicious.
                I chugged my coffee, ate a piece of pizza, and filled up my water and snacks. I knew there were still some forest roads, probably loaded with sand traps, so I pulled out my route que card to see what I should expect.  Sure enough, the que cards showed a few more forest roads, but at mile 178 they turned on a regular named road. From there out everything looked clear. I just had to make it through a little bit more, and then it was firm ground until the end. I set up my lights (one headlamp, one blinking white light on my handlebar, one other super-bright light on my handlebars pointing forward, and one blinking red light on the back), kissed my wife, and headed out into the night.
                I was a little apprehensive about the ride; the woods can be pretty spooky in the dark and though I’ve done some night riding, it was never far from the familiar glow of street lights and cars. I knew there wasn’t anything dangerous out there, and as long as I didn’t surprise any animals, they were going to stay far away from me. Good thing riding across a dirt trail on a squeaky bike makes plenty of noise, but I also took the opportunity to talk and sing out loud. Why not? I was alone out there in the woods. Don’t worry, this wasn’t the crazy person, delusional from exhaustion sort of talking to myself. The noise just helps the quiet and the eases the sense of emptiness in the night.
                It was pitch black out in the woods, with cloud cover hiding the moon and the woods swallowing up any other ambient light. I could see where I was going just fine, but all I could really see was the road in front of me. I was a little bubble of light, plowing through empty forest trails.
                I took a couple of wrong turns because it was hard to see the path I was supposed to take, but my GPS provided excellent navigation and let me know immediately when I went off-course. At that point it was easy to backtrack and find the right path.
                Around mile 173, in the middle of a very dark forest trail, I saw a sign that immediately perked my spirits. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of “Are you ready to chase the chaise?” I had forgotten about it, but they hadn’t forgotten about me.
                Salsa Bicycles was one of the main sponsors of the rain, and a huge promoter of the gravel bike scene in general. This year, they began a promotion called “Chase the Chaise” where they brought a chaise lounge out to several of the biggest gravel races of the year. They camped out somewhere in the middle of the course and waited for everyone to arrive. As the riders came through, they asked each of us to stop for just a minute and pose for a photograph on the chaise. The photos would be posted on their website (, free for download, and they gave each of us a custom “Chase the Chaise” patch for the event.
                After a few more signs down the trail, I spotted a glow in the distance, growing brighter and brighter as I approached. There right along the trail was the Salsa Bikes crew with their truck, several large spotlights illuminating the area, and the infamous chaise lounge sitting in the middle of the trail.
                “You waited up for me!” I hollered as I pulled in. They had seen my headlights coming and were waiting to greet me.
                “Of course we did!”
                They gave me my patch and held my bike as I laid out on the lounge for my picture, all the while offering encouragement. When they handed my bike back to me, the representative explained to me, “There’s only about four more miles of these forest tracks, and then it’s regular dirt roads to the end!”
                That tracked with my estimation from the last checkpoint, and I pulled away into the heart of darkness encouraged. I remembered then what “Kid” Riemer had told us the night before while explaining the chaise to us. “If you can make it to the chaise, I guarantee you, you can make it to the finish.”
 Interlude: Product Placement
I am not paid to endorse these products, but I would love to be!

                There are a few products and companies that I came away from this race especially pleased and/or impressed with. I tested everything out on training rides before I brought them on a massive one-day 200-mile race, but these are the things that stepped up their game on race day.
·         Swedish Fish gummies—these were some of my grandmother’s favorite candies while I was growing up, so I had good associations to begin with. I read an article about unexpected snacks that were great for ultra-endurance rides that mentioned them, so I tried it. They were incredible. The refreshing taste and energy burst from the sugar were both welcome, especially during the later stages of the race.
·         Goldfish Crackers—I’ve always loved Goldfish, a guilty pleasure I suppose. But they provided the perfect contrast to the Swedish Fish. A handful was easy to chew, digest, and provided a good kick of salt and processed carbs. I was fueled almost entirely by Swedish Fish & Goldfish during the last hundred miles of the race, and I’m taking them on every long distance ride I do from here out.
·         Lezyne Macro GPS—earlier this year I used some Christmas money to buy myself a cycling GPS. I’ve been using a Garmin triathlon watch for several years now, and it’s worked great but there was functionality I wanted. I did some research and settled on the Lezyne GPS. I have two of their frame-mounted tire pumps, and they are by far the best I’ve found. In addition to all the standard cycling GPS features, it had a couple of standouts that sold me: long battery life (claimed, and my experience supports this claim, around 50 hours between charges) and a tracking function. Sarah adores the tracking function, because it allows her to track my progress in real time whenever I’m out on a ride. It worked flawlessly through the whole ride, and the navigation never led me astray, even in the more remote, covered forest sections.
·         Hammer Endurolytes Fizz Tablets—I’ve used these for the past few years in my water bottles on bike rides, and I love them. They provide all the benefits of a sports drink like Gatorade without the sugar (or artificial sweeteners). They also give the water a fizz and a slight flavor, which is especially refreshing on a long ride or a hot day when lukewarm water is unpalatable. I dropped them in nearly every one of my water bottles (and have had great experience combining them with Gatorade as well).
·         Salsa Bicycles—I don’t own and have never ridden a Salsa bicycle, but when next I’m looking to buy one (which will probably not be for a while) I’m planning to look long and hard at their lines. I was very impressed with all their representatives at the race, their encouragement, and their dedication to the riders and the gravel riding/racing scene. When most of the race promoters and photographers ignored the slow riders to focus on the big names up front, Salsa waited late into the night to encourage and cheer for even the slowest of us. The Chase the Chaise promotion was a lot of fun for me as a rider, and their participation impressed me.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Stage 4: Redux
Into the heart of darkness
         The weirdest thing about riding through the forest in the middle of the night was hearing the echoes from my bike in the woods all around. The one thing I forgot to do at both checkpoints 2 and 3 was to lubricate the chain on my bike, and so by the time darkness fell, it had a pretty healthy squeak going on. I didn’t realize it at first, because I kept hearing the sound coming from the woods around me. Originally I thought it was some sort of bird, because I could hear other birds occasionally, but it was everywhere and seemed to be calling out as I passed. I remember thinking to myself, “What sort of bird sounds like someone forgot to oil the hinges on an iron gate?”
                It seems obvious to you, and me now, but at the time it wasn’t. Consider though—I’d spent the last 16 hours riding my bike and I was mentally and physically exhausted after pedaling more than 170 miles. It didn’t sound like it was coming from my bike because I was hearing the echoes bouncing back from the dense trees in the forest around me. Give me some credit, I did figure it out after a little while, and recognized the ridiculousness of it all.
                As expected, the forest roads and most of the sand gave way around mile 178, though there was one more stretch where the road was pretty torn up and sandy. That was frustrating; mentally the most difficult parts of the race to deal with were the unexpected. I knew there were sandy trails until mile 178, but I expected I would be done with them at that point so when I had to trudge through another mile or so it was discouraging. I suppose the lesson there is “when you don’t know what to expect, don’t expect too much.” Or just scout the course really, really well.
                My pace picked up a little once I got onto more traditional dirt and gravel roads, but it wasn’t as fast as I could have gone in other circumstances. I may have cleared the woods, but I was still out in the middle of nowhere. I had to be careful and watch my map constantly to ensure I wasn’t going off course, and every turn to a new road required a little extra deliberation to stay on track. I did miss a few turns and had to back track to get right.
                There were a fair number of creek valleys where the road would dip down a short hill, cross a bridge over a small creek, and climb back up out of the valley. Because I couldn’t see very far in front of me, I was hesitant speeding down hills on gravel roads. Had it been daylight, I would have accelerated down the hills and used the momentum to carry me up the other side. Instead, I would hit these short inclines cautiously and downshift to granny gears to get up. I still had enough energy to pedal, but the will to attack short hills had drained from my legs.
                It wasn’t too long before I noticed in the far distance ahead of me one and sometimes two sets of blinking red lights. They were far in the distance, I estimated at least one-half and maybe as much as a full mile, but it was nice to know I wasn’t on the course alone. I would glance behind me occasionally to see if I could see anyone in the distance back there, but I only found blackness. I knew it would be nice to ride alongside some other people, but the gap was large enough I didn’t want to blow myself up trying to catch some people so (relatively) close to the end.
                I don’t remember much of those last two hours. I was riding along in my little bubble of light. Slowly I began to encounter more civilization, crossed busier roads, and saw more lights on the horizon. A few times I passed houses, and one had several cars parked in front. Light was spilling from an open garage, and the sounds of a late-night party could be heard.
                I was going to finish, and at this point it was just a matter of time.
                One of my favorite go-to cycling treats are “energy gels” from a company called Untapped. I say “energy gels” in quotes because they’re actually just packets filled with pure maple syrup. Basically pure sugar, they are delicious on long rides, but they’re not great for ultra-endurance challenges because once you start dumping pure sugar into your gut you have to keep it up for fear of the dreaded sugar crash. Before the race, I found one lone packet in my stash of food, and squirreled it away for the late stages of the race when I needed a treat and a pick-me-up. Somewhere in the mile 190’s, I decided it was time. For my fuel-depleted body, the sudden influx of fast, easily processed carbohydrates was nearly intoxicating. I literally felt energy surge back into my muscles and my pace pick up for a few minutes. I still had some Swedish fish I snacked on to keep from crashing, but they lacked the immediate reward of the Untapped syrup.
                I remember crossing the two-hundred-mile barrier. Most of the time I left my GPS on the map screen, but I checked it occasionally to see my distance and heart rate numbers. When I saw 199, I began checking it more and more frequently. I should have just left it on the distance screen, but I was paranoid of missing a turn so I kept switching it back to the map. I watched it tick over to 200, and I let out a holler in the darkness. A hundred miles earlier, I did the same but that seemed a very long time ago.
                Somewhere around five miles to go, the moment I longed for finally arrived. Pavement, sweet pavement, was beneath by tires. The dirt and sand were gone for good, and I could get down on my drops to finish this thing out on fast asphalt.
                I looked up and noticed that the two blinking red tail lights in front of me where close, closer than I expected. I was gaining. Between the mental refreshment of nearing the end and the physical benefit of smooth pavement, I clicked the gears up and picked up my cadence. I was going to catch these guys. Just past mile 210, right before turning south onto the lakeside road that was our final section, I pulled alongside them.
                “I have been chasing you guys for hours!” I explained, probably surprising them. I’m not sure they had any idea someone was behind them.
                “We’re just standing now,” one of them explained, “because our asses hurt so much.”
                I had more power left in my legs, and so rather than dally alongside I pulled past and turned down the home stretch. During the last few hours riding in the darkness, I had planned what I was going to say when I crossed the finish line. “I don’t know if I’m the Lanterne Rouge, but I finished!” (the Lanterne Rouge is the title given to the last finisher of the Tour de France every year). With two miles to go, all my thought and plans went to waste. I knew for a fact I wasn’t last, because two riders would cross close behind me.
                I don’t know what I expected to feel when I crossed the finish line. With all the half marathons and century bike rides I’d completed, I’d experienced a whole array of feelings. I think I expected this one to be jubilant, like some sort of conquering hero.
                Mostly, I was just ready to be done. I didn’t have the energy for feelings. I didn’t collapse, feel like death, or any of those things. I just knew that when I got off that bike, I didn’t have to get back on and do a little more. It was just past 2:15am.
              The race promoters and a few others greeted me at the finish, making sure I crossed over the timing mat. They handed me my finishers swag (a mug, custom C2C Salsa stem cap, and a “210” sticker), and ushered me on. Well done, now move along.
                Sarah was there, of course, and she was the only person I was really interested in seeing at that moment. We embraced and took a few pictures. I saw the two riders I passed come through a few minutes later, but I was already loading my bike into the car.
                Sometimes the finish is the easy and boring part. Everything that came before was the real reason to ride the race.

Checkpoint 4 split time: 4:44:53
Finish time (overall): 20:04:24
Placement: 188 out of 199 Finishers (238 Entries)

Mi C2C Race Report, Part 5

Stage 3: Marrion to the Dublin General Store (61.1 miles)
Let everyone know, okay?

                At the start, I marked Stage 3 as the hardest of the course. It was the longest of the four stages, but it also had the most climbing and saw us enter Manistee National Forest where we would encounter frequent forest roads, snow mobile trails and a few sections of sand. If that wasn’t enough, I would be crossing into new territory; the longest ride I’d ever done was 125 miles a few weeks prior, and I would pass that a third of the way into this sixty-mile stage. All of that was before I crashed into an earlier-than-expected wall.
                But I had a plan. I was in a bad place, I knew, and a little later than I hoped arriving, but I talked through everything with Sarah while I sat down and drank my coke. I tried to eat a piece of pizza, but my stomach wasn’t cooperating. I set about my business, doing everything that needed doing. I knew once I got out on the stage, I would probably make it to the end and I could re-assess. At least then, if I quit, 165 miles was less embarrassing than 105.
                About 3:45, I donned my helmet and climbed back on my back on my bike. I kissed my wife.
                “Are you eating enough?” she asked.
                “Probably not,” I admitted, “but it’s got to be enough now. Stage 2 was really rough for me, and this next one might be even harder. Let everyone know?”
                I knew she was updating well over a dozen people, friends and family who were keeping track of my ride, and I knew that they were praying for me. I was going to need it. She nodded, and I started pedaling away. That half-hour went by so fast, but I couldn’t wait any longer.

Interlude--#1 Support Crew

                It’s foolish to think that I was the only one working at this event. When I talked about signing up for it, I knew that I would need the full support of my wife to pull it off, and she never hesitated. She wanted to support me if it was something I wanted to accomplish.
                Not only did she support me, but she offered to be my support crew. As a self-supported race, we needed to provide our own crew to meet up with us at the checkpoints and, most importantly, be able to rescue us if we had to quit the race in the middle of a stage. I couldn’t carry 210 miles worth of gear, so I needed someone to be there at each checkpoint to resupply.
                It was a long day for her. She was awake to see me off at the start line and be ready whenever I rolled into the finish line to pick me up. In between, she would drive an hour or so and wait while it took me four or more hours to cover the same distance. She would only see me for a delirious half-hour, help me get what I needed, and send me off. Thanks to my Lezyne GPS, she could track my progress during the ride and find out where I was, but she had no way of knowing how I was doing or what I was thinking.
                In the end, she spent most of the day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the car, shuttling between gas stations, school checkpoints, and motels. She sacrificed her entire weekend and plenty of hours of sleep so that I could try to accomplish something ridiculous, and there’s no way I could’ve done it without her. Thank you, Sarah!

Stage 3: Redux
I’m going to beat this thing!

                The first mile or so after the checkpoint was pavement—sweet, sweet pavement—before turning back onto the grit I had come to know so well. I remember thinking during that short section, “If this turns bad fast, I can always turn around and be back at the checkpoint for Sarah to pick me up quickly.”
                In the time that it took me to ride those first few miles of the course’s “back nine,” something else was happening hundreds of miles away that would change the entire direction of the race for me. An intervention of sorts was under way.
                As I mentioned, Sarah was in contact with over a dozen people, updating them on my status at the checkpoints. After I left checkpoint 2, the word went out that I was struggling and needed prayers. My friends and family responded. I know that everyone in the loop prayed for me, but these are the two specific incidents I know: a couple from my small group at church texted that they were praying (I didn’t see the texts until much later, after the race, but they went out in real time), and my family—my parents, brother, sister, and their families—immediately stopped while enjoying an afternoon at the zoo, formed a circle and prayed for me.
                Something amazing began to happen. I don’t know what you think of Christianity or prayer, but I know them to be true. What I also know is that at the same time everyone was praying for me (unbeknownst to me) a change occurred. The pain in my knee dulled. The headache brewing in the back of my head vanished. The mild nausea in my stomach cleared. The heaviness in my legs was lifted.
                I was not oblivious to these changes; in fact, I noticed them immediately. I wished I had brought a piece of pizza, because even though I hadn’t been able to stomach one ten minutes earlier, I knew I could eat one with gusto right then. With all of this, I picked up my pace and my spirits began to rise.
                Additionally, we were entering the hilly section of the course, but my legs felt strong. These weren’t long grinding hills, but short punchy climbs that favored power over steady efficiency. That was alright with me.
One of the accidental changes at checkpoint 2 had been in my snack storage. My pack by my handlebars had been crammed with most of my snacks before, and it was difficult to get them out. At the checkpoint Sarah had filled my ziplock of Goldfish crackers too full, and so it was the only thing that fit in the pack. I stuffed the other two snacks—beef jerky and Swedish Fish gummy candies—into side pockets on my frame bag where I could still reach them. Because of this, all three were easily accessible to me as I was riding, and I could snack at will on any of them without having to stop riding. I took advantage of this, and kept eating a steady supply of salt and sugar.
                Before too many miles, I noticed two riders in the distance ahead of me, and then I realized that I was gaining on them. Slowly but surely I began to real them in. “Don’t waste energy trying to catch them sooner, you’re already gaining on them,” I thought, and continued at my own pace. Finally, I came down the backside of a short hill onto a straight, flat section. It was my chance, I was strong, and I picked up the pace and caught up to them.
                “I’ve been chasing you guys for miles,” I said as I came up on them.
                “Good work, and now you’ll be in front of us because we’re stopping for a break,” one of them responded as they pulled over to the side of the road. I was glad to have caught up to them before they took they break, because the psychological advantage of knowing I had caught them legitimately was a boost. Take every advantage you can get.
                I kept going. So did the hills, but that didn’t bother me. I knew once I got to mile 135 or 140, the course would turn downhill, quickly at first and then gradually for the rest of the course. I was hardly a few minutes past the couple when it happened again. I noticed up ahead three more riders, slowly working their way up a hill. And I noticed before too long that I was slowly catching them.
                That was the moment. I remember it clearly; I felt strong, refreshed, and ready to tackle the rest of the race.
                “I’m going to beat this thing,” I thought. “I’m going to finish this bitch.”
                For the first time in over fifty miles and several hours, I actually believed it.
                My GPS, connected to my phone via Bluetooth, forwarded three text messages to me during the race. One was from my friend Jesse, received during stage 2 near the lowest portion of the race. It read, “Are you finished yet?” and thankfully I was well aware of Jesse’s sarcasm. Soon after, his wife Melissa (a blogger and Liv Bicycles ambassador also known as Chasqui Mom) sent, “Good luck today!!! Just keep pedaling.” But my favorite came from my wife about this time. It said, playing off the famous Jens Voigt (a popular professional cyclists) quote, “Shut up legs and do what Nate tells you!” I literally laughed when I saw it. It was wonderful.
                I caught up to the three riders on one of the longer hills after a couple of miles. Two of them were clearly struggling, and the third was patiently—or not so patiently—going ahead and waiting for them. I pedaled alongside them for a moment, nodded, and accelerated up the hill right on past them.
                The third rider, clearly ready to go a little bit faster than the other two, caught up with me and we rode together for a few miles. We talked a little bit; he complained about his two companions bonking with so much further to go, and I explained that this was the furthest I’d ever ridden. It was during that time riding with him that I crossed past mile 125. My previous longest ride to date, as mentioned earlier, had been a 125-mile training ride. I was in new territory.
                “This is your first 200 mile ride,” he asked.
                “Yeah. The longest I’ve ever done before this was 125.”
                “Welcome to the club. We’re an odd and crazy club.”
                “That’s what my wife keeps telling me.”
                The two of us stopped at the top of a hill for a snack break, and took a few minutes to rest. It wasn’t too long before his two companions caught up, and they rode right on through without stopping. He got on his bike to ride off along with them, checking to make sure I was okay before continuing. I told him I was good, and waved him on. I was on schedule, felt good, and still needed to fill my water bottle. Besides, I caught them before and I knew I would do it again.
                A few miles down the road, I did, and this time when I passed them I never saw them again.
                Let’s take a moment to consider this. Here I was, at over 130 miles, further than I’d ever gone in the past. Twenty-five miles back, I felt terrible, and fifty back I declared my intention to quit. Now I was riding along the hilliest section of the course and felt just as strong—if not stronger—than I did one hundred miles earlier. And for the first time since the initial placement sorting during the opening stages, I was passing people.
                I passed two more people as the hills continued, and then two more after turning down the backside. That backside, that was fun. There were two long downhill stretches after the course reached its zenith. They were good, firm dirt roads with long gradual turns and the occasional rise to scrub excess speed.
                That was where the race hit Manistee National Forest, away from the dirt and gravel roads and began to trek through paths designed largely for snow mobiles and 4x4s. As I turned onto the first of these paths, I almost immediately came upon a minivan clearly out of its league, figuring out how to turn around on a road barely wide enough to begin with. I called out to make sure they knew I was there, and passed them, diving deeper into the woods, flooded with green and accented by the late afternoon sun.
                The path was fine, at first. Occasionally I would run into a patch of sand that caused one or both wheels to slip while I desperately balanced to keep from falling over, but I always managed to keep upright or at least put a foot down before taking a tumble.
                The race directors had promised some sections of sand at this point, so I wasn’t surprised. They promised, however, that it was only short sections and if you had 40mm tires or wider you should be fine. My tires were, in fact, exactly 40mm, though not because of their recommendation; that’s just what I run on that bike. Sand was not something I’d done much riding through during my training. None, in fact, and I have very little experience with it otherwise.
                The winding single-track forest roads slowed my pace a little by themselves, but the sandy patches slowed it down a lot. To my great dismay, the began to grow in frequency. At least every quarter of a mile or so, I would run into a sandy patch. Half of the time I could pedal through it at a snail’s pace, slipping and skidding, but the other half I was forced to get off my bike and hike it through the sand. One patch was so deep and loose that my front tire sank in and jarred my bike to an immediate stop before I even knew the sand was there. Luckily, I put a foot down before I tumbled over the handlebars.
                I came upon two other riders during this section who were having navigational difficulties. Because my GPS was working perfectly, they rode with me for a little while before pulling off ahead of me. They clearly had more skill handling their bikes over the sandy terrain than I did.
                My pace slowed to a crawl over the last ten miles of the stage, and I fell behind schedule.  The sun was dropping towards the horizon faster than I hoped, but I rode on hoping to reach the third checkpoint before sunset.
                My frustration with the course was growing, and I cursed the fact that I didn’t have a fat tire bike. Mostly, I felt misled by the race directors and their promise that there were only “one or two sections you may have to walk your bike through, and the rain from the night before should pack it down nice and hard.” I was walking my bike for one or two sections every mile. Apparently, the cumulative effect of nearly two hundred bikes in one day had shredded these sandy trails, and in the back of that pack I was paying the price.
                My spirits, thankfully, did not diminish. I was still ahead of the cutoff by a safe margin, and I wasn’t giving up any time. In fact, though it wasn’t much, I had gained back a little time. I also knew that my struggles here were not due to my own failings, but rather the nature of the course.
                Finally, I pulled out of the forest and onto pavement. The checkpoint was just around the corner, and I would pull in just before sunset. My spirits were high; even though I was behind schedule and knew I would have to finish the race in the dark, I was prepared for that. I couldn’t stop now.

Checkpoint 3 Split time: 6:16:00
Checkpoint 3 Total Time: 15:19:31

Monday, June 11, 2018

Mi C2C Race Report, Part 4

Stage 2: Gladwin to Marrion (48.9 miles)
I’ve spent the past ten miles trying to talk myself out of quitting.

                I sat down, talked with my wife, ate two pieces of pizza, drank my Gatorade, and prepared for the next stage. I made a lot of mistakes at that first checkpoint. Mostly little things, but they compounded on each other, as mistakes are wont to do.
                I misjudged the amount of water I was carrying. I had most of a full bottle on the bike, and I figured there were two more refills remaining in my hydration bladder. As it turned out, I didn’t even have one.
                The weather had been cool and overcast, and I had been comfortable wearing my jacket over my jersey. I had arm warmers stuffed in my pack if it became too warm for the jacket but still cool enough for long sleeves, and I anticipated the weather would remain static over the next stage. Either way, I had layers I could add or remove so I figured I was fine. My mistake was not applying sunscreen to my arms.
                My other clothing mistake was to swap out my hat for a skullcap. The hat I was wearing covered my ears to keep them warm, and that was no longer necessary. I opted for the cooler option, but it lacked a brim to help shield the sun from my eyes.
                Probably my biggest mistake, though, was hurrying out of the stop without taking the time to gather and mentally prepare myself for the upcoming stage. It’s funny how your preconceived notions can set you up for failure if you don’t deal with the properly. While previewing the course, I decided that Stage 3 was going to be the difficult one; I never gave much thought to Stage 2. I hurried out of the checkpoint, worried I was last and eager for the course to turn back west and out of the wind.
                There’s a reason these races are called “gravel grinders,” and the first twenty miles of Stage 2 lived up to that name.  The route didn’t turn west as quickly as I hoped, and this was the one section the wind, though not terrible strong, was in my face. The roads were damp but firm in Stage 1, but now they became damp and squishy, beginning to tilt upwards ever so slightly, relentlessly up for the next one hundred miles. The sun came out from behind the clouds, and I began to shed layers, realizing that I should have applied sunscreen to my arms at the last checkpoint. It was too warm for my jacket, but I had to cover up with my arm warmers before too long to keep the sun from burning my pale skin to a crisp.
                My average heart rate, meticulously held below 145 bpm in Stage 1, began to soar without any respite from the course. I simply couldn’t get it back down, and despite the increased exertion my pace had plummeted. I could feel the race slipping away from me, and I began to panic.
                I was completely unprepared for 2 Track forest road (0.25 miles after Rogers). In retrospect, I should have been. I knew there was going to be times on the race when my mental endurance would be pushed to the limits, I just didn’t expect it so soon. The road was only two miles, but by the time it was done, so I was I.
                “This is not fun anymore. I know it’s not supposed to be fun all the time, but this road has destroyed my race. I’m not sure I can make it. I’m not sure I want to make it. I can feel a headache (probably dehydration) forming in the back of my brain. My right knee hurts every time I turn the pedal, and I have 130 miles to go. It’s only going to get worse.
                “I wanted to do this race to find out if I could. Maybe 210 miles in a day is something I could do, but not today. Today, I can’t.”
                I made the decision: I would continue to the second checkpoint and then quit. One hundred miles was respectable, and no one would fault me for falling short of two hundred miles. It was a little embarrassing that I’d finished a longer training ride a few weeks earlier, but I could deal with that. I made peace with my choice. I thought about what I would tell everyone when they asked about the race; I wasn’t going to make excuses, I was just going to admit that I didn’t have it in me to finish that day.
                I kept talking myself through the decision. There wasn’t a whole lot else to think about as I ground away at the road. Conditions may have improved, but my spirits had not and that held me back as much as anything. As musical artist Poe says in her song Terrible Thought, “A terrible thought had moved into my mind…a terrible thought can have a terribly long career.”


                Failure gets a bad rap. Everyone knows the axiom, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” but the focus is always on “succeed” and “try again.” If at first you don’t succeed, that means you failed.
                We all love that story of the guy or gal who gets knocked down, pulls themselves up by the bootstraps, and goes on to succeed despite everyone and everything against them. They hardly even doubt themselves, and the outcome may as well be pre-ordained. Hollywood loves it; I’m pretty sure every other movie they make uses that same plot. Why do we love it? Because someone didn’t fail.
                Failure isn’t always a bad thing. If you set about to achieve something, work diligently towards it, give it everything you reasonably can, and come up short, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you don’t try again. Failing shouldn’t be rewarded, but if failure isn’t an option, success is a hollow endeavor.
                When the outcome is predetermined to be a success, then success doesn’t mean anything. It is only by trying to do something which may not be accomplished that we achieve any sense of victory. If we are not able to measure up to the final task, then we have learned something valuable about ourselves. And when we understand that our worth does not come from the success or failure of our goals, we are able to accomplish grander things for we are no longer afraid to try challenges that we may fall short on.
                So, if you have given it a true effort, really tried to accomplish something but you come up short, yes you have failed. But kudos to you for finding out whether or not you could do it. Maybe with some changes, whether in your own learning or preparation or in external situations you’ll be able to succeed in the future, and maybe not. Whether you try again, that’s up to you, but at least give it an honest thought each way.

Stage 2: Redux (somewhere beyond mile 80)
If I plan to keep going, what do I have to do?

                I can’t tell you what happened to change my mind. I had no moment of clarity, no radical conversion, no external impetus that I know to reverse my train of thought.
                I remember thinking about what Mike from Salsa Bikes had said the prior evening, “There will be dark moments out there when you want to give up and quit. You need to push through them.” It was much too early in this race to be encountering these distractions, or so I thought. I was expecting them, but not until Stage 3 or 4 after I hit the wall beyond which I had not gone before. But here they were, and I wasn’t prepared for them.
                “You’re telling yourself a negative story,” I thought to myself, “You need to change the narrative. If you’re going to finish this, you’ve got to stop telling yourself that you can’t. You can work through this, but you have to change the narrative.”
                So I began to write a different story. I asked myself, “If I plan to keep going, what do I have to do to make that happen?”
                I took a catalog of the mistakes that I’d made at the last checkpoint, and began to address how I could fix them. I looked at each of the obstacles in my path, and considered how I was going to deal with them. I looked at the clock, my pace, did some math to figure out exactly where I stood in relation to the cut-off, and figured out what I thought I could do and what I needed to do if I was going to finish. My initial goal of finishing by 11pm was gone, but the finish was still in reach with plenty of leeway.
                I came up with a battle plan. I should arrive at the checkpoint a little after 3pm and take a half-hour to restock and rest. Stage 3 was 60 miles long, give or take, and if I averaged around 12 mph (around my average pace at the time), I could finish it in 5 hours, get in by 8:30. Sunset was around 9:20, so even if it took me longer than expected I should still make it by sunset. That still left me plenty of time to finish Stage 4, even if it meant spending a lot more time in the dark than I’d hoped.
                At checkpoint 2, I would come in, get off my bike and sit down. I could drink an ice-cold coke followed by a Gatorade, and try to eat some pizza. I would need to fill up my water and snacks and ditch the things I knew I wouldn’t need any more. As far as my kit, I would change to my long-sleeve jersey, which will last me through the afternoon and into the cooler night, and put on a cap with a brim to help shield the sun since I was riding west into the setting sun. For the budding headache and knee pain, some Excedrin migraine & an Aleve (my go-to cocktail for warding off migraines).
                Everything seemed reasonable. Maybe, just maybe, I was going to be able to do it. I just had to make it to checkpoint 2.
                Soon after all of this went through my head, I came abreast another ride. We had been yo-yoing back and forth for a little while, passing each other and getting passed as we stopped for a rest or such.
                “I could do this all day, but I don’t know if I’ll make the cut-off,” he said to me after a few minutes of silence.
                “Well, we’re ahead of the cut-off by about forty-five minutes to an hour right now.” I’d done the math.
                He laughed. “I should slow down then.”
                “Yeah. I’ve been spending the past ten or fifteen miles trying to talk myself out of quitting, and I think I’ve finally done it,” I told him.
                “If you’re ahead of the cut-off, you have to keep going.”
That was all he said.
                I nodded and kept pedaling. Before too long, he dropped back and by the time I pulled into checkpoint 2 I knew I wasn’t the last person on the course. I saw him pull into Checkpoint 2 several minutes behind me, and I’m not sure if he made it out by the cut-off. His last split recorded on the results sheet was Checkpoint 2.

Checkpoint 2 Split time: 4:49:00
Checkpoint 2 Total time: 9:03:31

See Part 5 Here

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Mi C2C Race Report Part 3

Stage 1: Au Grey to Gladwin (55.8 miles)
I hope I’m not the last one here

                 Official start time for the race was 6:12am, otherwise known as sunrise.  The rain and clouds threatened to hide the sun from us, but a clear band at the horizon gave us an actual striking, colorful sunrise over Lake Huron.
                The waiting was cold with the wind coming in right off the lake, but once we got rolling it was mostly comfortable. It was a big group start, and we rolled out together for the first mile or so before the actual racing started and everyone began to string out.
                I have a mantra for every race or ride I participate in—“Run your own race.” In other words, don’t let someone else set my pace and burn out early. There’s a lot of race, and I couldn’t afford to waste any energy.
                My game plan for the ride, developed and tested on my training rides, was to keep my average heart rate between 140-145 (about my lactate threshold level) and stop around every twenty-five miles for an extended rest break to eat and refill my water bottle. I kept to that plan, and people were slowly passing me. That was okay with me, I figured I was one of the slower riders, but I had no perspective on how many riders were ahead or behind me.
                Breakfast that morning had been two pieces of delicious cold pizza, but a little earlier than I expected on the ride I got hungry. I broke out one of my Clif “Nut Butter Filled” bars, and kept going. I would eat my second one an hour or so later, but that was okay. I had plenty. My plan for eating during the ride was simple—I had three different snacks for munching anytime I wanted (Goldfish crackers, Swedish Fish candies, and beef jerky) and Clif bars for something more substantial. I had one water bottle on my frame (which started the race filled with home-made cold brew coffee), and a hydration bladder I could use to refill it when I finished the bottle. I’ve long been a fan of Hammer Electrolyte Fizz tablets, and I brought a pack of them to add to my water whenever I filled the bottle. At the three checkpoint stops, I planned to eat more pizza (high in calories, salt, fats, and sugars) and drink an ice-cold Gatorade from the cooler. I also had cans of Coke if I wanted them, and snacks & Clif bars to refill my supply before each stage.
                My plan worked just fine for the first 40 or so miles. I rode along comfortably around the pace I was expecting and felt good. Rain the night before had left the roads damp, but not too muddy or troublesome. There was a gentle North-Northeast wind that was pushing a little from behind as we travelled generally East, but mostly staying out of our way.
                Then the route turned North and the slope began to point gradually upwards. Suddenly, the wind, though not too strong, provided resistance. The damp dirt roads provided more—which I hadn’t noticed with the wind at my back. My heartrate went up, but it was manageable. My pace went down, but it wasn’t debilitating.
                I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, either in front of me or behind me, and the thought began to cross my mind, “What if I’m last? I don’t think so, but what if I am?” This is where the bad thoughts, the negative story began, and I didn’t recognize it. I just wanted to be done with the stage, gather myself, and get back on track with the second stage.
                One of the mistakes I made with this race was failing to study the course well enough. I knew the first checkpoint was at roughly 50 miles, but I didn’t know exactly where it was (55.8). I spent the last 6 miles of the stage hoping the checkpoint was just around the corner and being disappointed to discover that it wasn’t.
                Until, thank God, it was. I pulled in to the checkpoint and the volunteers checked me in without stopping. I rolled past the checkpoint and into the parking lot where Sarah was waiting for me, chair set up and everything ready to resupply.
                I’d wanted to finish each 50 mile segment in 4 hours. I was at mile 55.8, and it was 4:14:31. I was on schedule, but in the back of my mind was a single thought, “What if I’m last?” I kept looking towards the check-in station to see if anyone else was arriving.
                No one did.

Checkpoint 1 Split/Total Time: 4:14:31

Read Part 4 Here