Iceman Cometh – The super bowl of mountain bike racing

Another Iceman Cometh has come and gone! I call it the super bowl of mountain bike racing. For many of our friends, this is where you see how your year of riding measured to previous years. 5,500 racers/riders/challengers show up each year to fight mother nature and whatever she throws our way! With Iceman being a November race, you never know if you are going to be racing in 60 degree sun, 3 inches of mud and rain, or sleet and snow. This years weather had everyone guessing. You’d think that over the years of racing in sub perfect weather that you would have it figured out, but the “what are you wearing tomorrow” conversation always seems like the hot topic at 9pm the night before the race.

The race leaves Kalkaska Saturday morning in waves 1-55. Every 3 minutes starting at 9 a.m. Each wave has 130-150 riders that leave downtown Kalkaska towards Timber Ridge Resort located in Traverse City. It doesn’t take long, and thousands of riders are in the woods! The excitement, butterflies, adrenaline, focus, and beer breathe, can be felt by everyone that morning. Many of us drive in from Traverse City that morning with thousands of others. It seems like we all bring three different glove thicknesses and three different jersey thicknesses, to make the judgement call in the parking lot of what we are going to wear. In a race this large, you see folks dressed like they were going ice fishing in snowmobile suits, and next to them is someone is race shorts and short sleeves. There is always friendly chatter at the start line with those around you. “Ready for this?” “Sweet bike.” “There is cold beer at the end!” I do feel bad for the announcers, they have to make the same small talk for three minutes between waves 55 times. This year there was some powered parachute guys flying over head. Kept making circles getting video I guess. I kept thinking that has to be COLD, and watch out for that cell tower you are going around.

As the 10 second countdown begins for your start, you hear hundreds of Garmin beeps. Everyone starting their personal timer. With heart rate starting to rise and adrenaline setting in, everyone gives a nice surge out of the gate. I have decided in my races to start as close to the front as possible. If you start in the back of your 130 person wave you already have 130 to pass. Even if you get passed by 20 or so by starting up front, you just saved yourself some work and avoided a potential pile up. Think of 130 riders inches apart, 15-25mph, play the odds, or get there early and line up near the front.

Once the first mile is over your training comes into play. Did you train to max the heart rate out for the full 30 miles or is this your first time doing 30 miles this year? Both are fine at this race! It’s all about challenging yourself. I like using Iceman to set the bar on my fitness that year. The following year I want to do a little better. With the swing in weather and lengths of the course changing year to year, you can’t set a time goal. You almost have to see where you finished in your class, then use that as your measuring stick for next year. The year of the Mudman (2014) everyone’s times were about 45-60 minutes longer than the year before due to weather. 2016 everyone felt like a rockstar with their times because the course was almost 3 miles shorter. The participant number doesn’t change that much so use that as your measuring stick.

I would say, one of the cool things about this race, is that it is hard to go a minute without seeing/passing/ getting passed by fellow racers! Everyone is very friendly and you normally find a group that fits your pace and you play leap frog all race. During the race you find out your strength and other’s strengths on the flats, single track, and hills. Sounds crazy, but I normally have conversations with that select few I know I will see the whole race. Where they are from, let’s share the pull, did you see that crazy wig?. This year Tyler from Lansing must have learned my free wheel spin noise. After pulling back up to him from behind, “Is that you RE/MAX?” “Yep, lets go, you keep dropping my up the hills LOL.” Not always, but it’s fun when you build a bond with another rider and work through together. Quick first bump at the end, “Good work,” “you too, trail was awesome,” “better than expected,” One more nod to each other, and off you go on your separate ways.

Let’s back up a little in the race. Some of the HIGH points of this race are the FANS and family! You can hear those cow bells from a mile away! The folks on the side lines don’t care if they know you or not, they are cheering you on like you’re Peter Sagan (world champion cyclist) in a sprint finish of the Tour De France. Then you hear “Mark, get it buddy!” from an old friend you haven’t talk to in awhile. Then your see your wife “You’re rocking babe! You got this!” I have to be honest babe, I didn’t see the poster signs this year, I was in the focus pain cave, BUT the cheers are a spike of adrenaline. Spouses, friends, fans of racers PLEASE keep up the good work of supporting us. The folks on the course appreciate it more than you know! One more shout out goes to the police force, volunteers, and medics! I try saying thanks ever time I see you at intersections (if I can breathe at the time).

The Timber Ridge Resort finish. WOW! I think those coming in at 1hr 40min and 4+hrs all get the same experience! The energy is on fire the last 1 kilometer. Starts with the last climb of the day on icebreaker. There are hundreds of spectators that walk in the woods and stand on both sides of this hill watching everyone empty their tank on the last hill. They get to see the racer hammer up it like nothing, or cheer on the rider barely keeping the bike moving, or the rider who said “screw it time to walk this one.” It doesn’t get much better when you see the spectator get behind the person looking like they are about to give up and PUSH them the rest of they way up! Cow bells, screams, cheers, roars, if you’re lucky you hear your name and all the sudden your dead legs find a 2nd wind. After the last climb your see banners and fencing everywhere. This is a welcome site. Going through the banners, fencing, tunnels, and sky-walks with spectators pounding the boards is AMAZING. With any luck, you are are pulling into the finish of your race season on a high note. Or at least you gave it all you had! A moment that can’t be put in words, you have to experience it.

Once the heart rate starts to come down from being pegged at 180, you stand their a minute, stop the Garmin, knuckle bump a few, and start walking to your warm clothes. We are spoiled with a killer team (Team RE/MAX) and great bike shop (Grand Rapids Bicycle Company) that puts on a post race party with food, fire, tents out of the weather, and YES… BEER! Iceman supplies semi trailer hot showers. Sounds weird, semi showers, but a hot shower and change of clothes is priceless at that moment. Once showered and warm you’re back to your friends and teammates talking about the race. “How did you do?” Be ready, it will be asked 100 times. It’s fun to talk about what went well, what maybe didn’t. This is probably a good time to remember 98% of us do this for fun, not a living, and we should encourage ourselves and others. Yes, there might be a little smack talk within close friends, but remember that others may not understand your locker room bantering, so don’t let that scare others. I am just going to wink at Brad next year when I beat him. (Locker room banter) LOL.

Thank you ICEMAN, thank you teammates, thank you GRBC, thank you Amy Deering for allowing your husband to partake in this EPIC (yep I said EPIC) annual event! Thank God for keeping us safe! Now go eat donuts and nachos for a couple months and we will do this training thing all over again next year!