I wouldn’t consider myself an “endurance guy” but this year I’ve found myself on the FOMO wagon and since everyone else was doing it, decided to do not one, but two 100 mile races this year. The second of the two (and really just because I already had the miles on the legs) was the Lumberjack 100. Having done the Barry-Roubaix Psycho Killer earlier in the year, it was nice to also hit the second flagship event that Scott and Rick promote if nothing else to get the matching set of bottles and stickers…
Race day-Well, Pre-Race Day
I drove up Friday evening after a day of packing, getting last minute things together, generally overthinking everything and second guessing my gear. What was the weather going to be like? Should I run a Camelbak? How much water do I take? All things I answered several times then pondered before settling on; hot with a chance of rain, yes, 4 gallons.
GRBCo. teammate Dallas DeJong was nice enough to let me toss up my tent at his site at Twin Oaks campground a few miles from the start of the race and a pretty popular spot to stay for racers. Not having ever been to the trail before it was nice to stay pretty close, and I felt better that there were several racers at this place so it wouldn’t get rowdy, and I could get some good sleep.
We set up camp, got situated, cooked up some brats on my camp stove for dinner, and started to get to bed around 9. I started to get a little headache around 8-8:30 but it wasn’t bad at all, so I hydrated and figured a nights sleep would take care of it.
Actual race day
Race start was 0700 so I got up around 0500 to get breakfast rolling and make sure I had enough time to not feel rushed in the morning. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up with a worse headache than the one I went to bed with. I took some Advil, started to brew some coffee and make breakfast but didn’t get too far before I started to get blurry vision and the pain started to get worse. I occasionally get migraines that cause nausea and this little headache from the night before was ramping up quick. While chatting with Dallas and his buddy, Tim, while we were all getting breakfast set for the day, it hit me. I simply turned around, took a few quick steps away from the camp and lost my cookies. Not glamorous I know, but hey, it happened.
After not getting any breakfast down, any AltRed in my system, and effectively starting on the emptiest stomach possible, I got kitted up, set up, and drove to the trail head to drop off my pit box (with all of my water, gels, food, spare gear, etc) at the team tent. Upon getting to the race start, I quickly realized that we couldn’t drive up as far as I hoped (my error, missed the memo that was very well noted in the pre-race communication). No biggie, I parked on the main road and went up to drop off the box and get set. All of this took a little longer than I had planned, and I was running late. I went back to my car, got by bike squared away, got all situated with bottles, hydro pack, and tools…. wait where was my tool pouch? Ahh! It must be in the pit box. Went back past all of the bikes lining up to the pit box and rummaged but found nothing. So I raced back to the car, at 0655 to try and find it. In order to do this I had to cross very close to the start mat and one of the volunteers told me I could trip the gate and not have the correct start time, but it was a risk I had to take because I didn’t want to roll out for 100 miles with no tools. I got back to the car, rummaged and found nothing. I decided I would cut my losses and head back to the starting line quick to catch my wave (wave 2) start. I barely made it back, found some friendly faces [Andrew Coates (GRBC) and Jeff Smith (Team Apex Multisport)] to roll out with. I was very nervous and still a bit angry I lost my tool kit because I was much more prepared than that, but I chalked it up to my rough start to the day and the nerves went away as we rolled out for the start. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew three things 1) It was going to be tough day 2) it was going to be a long day and 3) I was going to make the best of whatever came my way. I had the goal to finish and that’s the only thing I was thinking about- just finish.
I had some good advice from Jay Morrison (GRBC) who noted that against whatever my mind was telling me, I should burn a match or two early on the first lap in order to not get stuck behind a slow freight train on the single track. I was able to strategically hammer past a few groups on the open roads of the first few miles, and Jeff was in tow. We hit the single track, and we were still in a large sea of people. On the first really big climb a few miles in, I was already getting impatient with the pace. As a CX guy, typically I get antsy over long events and have to throttle myself back so I have enough gas in the tank at the end. I decided to take Jay’s advice, and Jeff and I hit the climb pretty well, not hammering, but pretty brisk and were able to pass a large group and settle in a good pack of 8-10 that was moving at a decent pace.
This pack started to pick off some smaller single and 2-3 pack riders and as the single track opened up to the two track fire roads, I decided to throttle up toward the front as I was starting to get nervous about the number of people front of me. I didn’t want to get slowed up on the downhills since I was hitting them pretty good and the group was taking a more cautious approach. My mentality is… downhill is free speed, take it, don’t waste it. This worked out well, and I hooked up with a couple of Freewheeler guys (James Withers, and William Shaver) towards the front and there was another one or two guys game to push the pace up front of the group. We were rolling pretty good about the time we got to the mid-lap checkpoint but were able to BS on the trail, and I’d say we were generally settling in for a long day, but from time to time we’d wick it up and look around to see who was still there. We rolled through the checkpoint without stopping and pressed on.
We did this the rest of the first lap and all rolled into the pit after lap 1 as a general group, and I was feeling pretty good. My strategy was to top off my hydration pack and both bottles with water and Infinite Go Far. I wanted to eat something since I didn’t get a breakfast, so I made sure to eat a cliff bar. I tried to hurry as fast as possible and it was great to have unplanned support there in the from of The Mark Deering Team (Team RE/MAX). Carlos, Mark, and several others were super helpful with checking my bike for loose parts and doing a quick once over while I was refueling and helping fill bottles and plentiful with words of encouragement. I rolled out for lap 2 still feeling good but knowing I still had 66 or so miles left.
Lap 2 is kind of a blur. I remember jumping out of the pit and mentally getting back in the game as the legs started to spin again. I remember seeing Dennis Murphy (Founders) come out of the pit just behind me. I knew he was targeting a sub 9 hour finish so as we winded through the single track, we were kind of yo-yoing a bit. He gained on me a bit, and I let him by at some point so I didn’t get in his way. A few miles later I got him back and found the same Freewheeler guys again. I remember we grouped up in a similar pack to the first lap where James and I were pushing the pace a bit with some others who were strong. Lots of good “B.S.ing” as we weren’t even to the mid-way point yet. We continued at a sustainable pace but testing each other from time to time… we were all still there.
When we got to the mid lap checkpoint, we rolled through again, and I felt the “race” really start. I knew we had a big climb coming up a few miles after the checkpoint so I tried to be towards the front because the first time through, we got a little bunched up, and I had to dismount for a few feet. I wanted to have a go at riding it the second time around but as we got there, I messed up the line and had to dismount.
The second half of the lap, James and I with a few others kept up a good pace. I don’t recall much here since I was really starting to hit a mental wall. The physical wall was starting as well after the checkpoint, and I started to slam gels, and drink a ton. I managed to get by but miles 45-60 were where I started to feel it pretty good. Most I would wager were in the same boat since the bike BS talk wasn’t there, and I heard lots of heavy breathing…
I learned from lap 1 that the last 15 miles of the course were pretty diverse. 15-10 are the typical flow single track with a little punch, but those miles seem to drag on and take forever. Miles 10-5 go fast because there are some good stretches of two-track fire roads. The last 5… The last 5 are killer. Well, the last 4 are killer. The final 4 miles seems to be all up hill with a large slogging climb after a long slogging climb. The final climb is the worst and rips your legs off, but you are rewarded with a final mile that is almost all downhill, and I’m pretty sure you don’t have to deal at all if you didn’t want to.
I gutted out the last 15 miles and at some point, somehow I ended up taking on the last 5 miles ahead of James. I was deep in the suffer cave now, and I kept telling myself not to worry about him and just to finish. After all, I didn’t know what overall positions we were in, I just knew we were both on fat bikes (Both Salsa Beargreases). The last climb turns to the left, and as I crested the summit, I saw him about 200 meters back as I started to bomb down the hill.
I entered the pit after lap 2, physically exhausted. Mentally, I was pretty beat down as well. The thought of doing another lap was starting to become overwhelming. The same usual suspects held down the pit stop support just as they did the first lap. I remember not wanting to eat much but they pushed a cookie on me like a drug dealer trying to push pot on a high schooler, and it was a great choice to listen to them. I remember stuffing down half a cookie, then guy holding my bike said something like, “You’re bike is good. You’re set. You’ve got this!” I tore out of the pit finishing up my cookie for a few pedal strokes and started to settle in.
It was great to see all of the encouragement coming out of the pit stop. After the tents and cheers ended, I was charged up, and trying to mentally get back in it. I screamed to myself “Come on!” pretty close to the top of my lungs as I started to pick up the pace and hammer a bit, and I’m sure anyone who heard it thought I was nuts. Here’s the secret… I was indeed losing my mind.
I managed to make it the first 5 miles or so, and I officially hit the doldrums. At mile 70 give or take, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent. That was it. That’s all I had. You know earlier when I said the “race” started around mid-way? No. This was when my “race” started. This is when I wanted to stop. I knew I had to finish. I didn’t know where James was at, but he was mostly out of my head for a while. I started to well up a bit. I was simply done, I didn’t want to ride my bike anymore. I was riding this emotional sea-saw where one minute I was talking myself into finishing, and the other getting very emotional and almost not holding it together…
I learned that at times like this, we learn what inspires us to dig deep and press on. For me, its my daughter. I kept thinking about my wife Rachael and our Daughter Amelia (3.5 years old).
Quick aside – Amelia is our first and only child, and when she was 15 months old, we learned that she has Mosaic Down syndrome. Long story short, that changed our lives for the better, although we didn’t realize it at the time. She is the happiest, most loving, sassiest little girl I’ve ever encountered and she is simply amazing in how she approaches life.
… During the emotional lows, I kept thinking of Rachael and Amelia. I kept thinking about how Amelia approaches life through her struggles and how she doesn’t let anything slow her down. I’m convinced she knows things comes harder for her but has the personality to press on, overcome, and do what she wants to do. Nothing holds her back! I’m not going to lie, in the middle of the woods, by myself, at an emotional low, thinking of her got to me. I lost more than one tear for a minute and used that to rally. I remember thinking, “She can do this – I can do this!” And thinking about “The lucky few” tattoo on my left calf. It’s three upward pointing mini chevrons and was designed by a group of parents who have children with Down Syndrome. There are three chevrons, one for each copy of the 21st chromosome, and they are pulled back like an arrow because like an arrow, you have to be pulled back in life before you can rise above and end up in a better place than you were before.
Lap 3 Continued
Once I got through those 5 miles I knew I was going to finish.
After all that, I managed to yo-yo a bit with Adam Medema (Founders) and Julie Momber (Founders) before we rolled into the midway checkpoint for the last time. It was kind of a blur. I decided to stop out of necessity, grateful to see Marine and the crew for some encouragement, pickle juice, coke, and some electrolyte pills. I really didn’t care what they had at the stop, all I knew was I wanted it.
We rolled out in a small group, with a guy from Speed Merchants (sorry I never did catch your name), but we got chatting about things and he noted he was riding Mike Seaman’s bike to the finish. I didn’t know Mike all that well, I rode with him a few times, but I was reminded that we all have things that inspire us to accomplish these feats. For me it’s my daughter, for others it’s to carry on the memory of a lost friend.
So we rolled out for the final 17-18 miles in good spirits, and I collected a fat bike on my tail. It wasn’t James, but it was a strong rider from the Founders Team. I recall hitting that big climb after the stop with the SM guy, and we tried to clean it for the final time. We both hit a transverse root that cased a quick dismount. We were able to get back on quick and put some time on the fat bike to reel us in. As we got to some open roads, Julie, the Speed Merchants guy, and Adam motored on by. I had nothing for them; I was shot. It was about 8-10 miles to go at this point, and I was in survival mode. Every bike that came up from behind, I kept thinking it was James and reminded myself to not worry, just finish. I kept repeating, “Just finish!” “ Don’t worry about him!” And looking down at the Barry-Roubaix Psycho Killer stem cap saying, “You did that. You can do this!”
I missed the “5 miles to go” sign, but my legs and lungs were killing me and the climbs were picking up. I knew my Garmin was losing miles from inaccurate GPS in the woods, and I was actually at about 6 miles more than I was showing so I was indeed in the final 5 when I was showing 90 miles.
In roughly the last mile or so, I could see a red kit in front of me. He wasn’t on a fat bike, but I set a mental goal to beat him to the finish. I know it was meaningless in the scheme of things, but it gave me a target, something to push for. I kept grinding, and as we climbed up the final pitch, I slowly clawed to within 10 meters of his wheel. As we turned to bomb down hill, I knew I had the advantage. My Beargrease is a descending machine and even though I run it full rigid, it handles chop well if I stay light. I sent it on the downhill and was right on his wheel. We hit the final start right, which sets you up for the finish chute. I pinned it through the pits and pulled to his right. I got him just at the line. Meaningless for the actual race, but it was nice to have a target and get it at the end of 100 miles like that. Afterwards, I would see that the effort got me 4th overall on Strava for the segment. Not to shabby for lap 3 on the fat bike.
It is done
I did it. I had finished my first LJ 100. A day that started puking, no breakfast, a lost tool kit, the wrong start time on the official clock, and some serious mental/physical limit finding as it progressed, was done.
I can’t say thank you enough to everyone from Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, The Mark Deering Team, Founders Cycling, The LJ promoters, Team Apex, and everyone who I ran into out there. The race is one thing, but it wouldn’t be fun without all of the incredible people.
I finished in 9 hours and 15 minutes on the clock but really 9:13 ish with the corrected start wave. James Withers finished about 10 minutes ahead of me, and took 5th overall for the last point on the podium. I ended up 6th overall which I was very happy with. I wish I would have gotten out of the second pit stop with James. I don’t think I had anything for him, but man it would have been fun to give it a go.
I learned that we all have an inspiration that gets us to do these crazy things. Cyclists, as a rule, are pretty cool people, and these endurance guys and gals have something special that they all reach into in order to overcome the struggles. Whatever your inspiration is, find it, tap into it, and go do something incredible.
Oh, I found that tool kit. It was tucked away nicely in my hydration pack. almost as if someone had prepared it that way the night before…
For more photos of the Lumberjack 100 Visit Rob Meendering Photography
Rob Meendering shot the cover photo of Brad!
For more information on the race visit Lumberjack 100 Website.