I can sum this race up in three words: Hard as hell. And I’m not kidding. This was the toughest race I’ve ever done – both physically and mentally. I’ve had plenty of not so nice things to say about Ohio and one of its college football teams, but they definitely know how to put on a mountain bike race. And I’ve done 100 milers quite a few times before, but nothing to this caliber. I now know what 11,000 feet of climbing in one ride feels like and it’s pretty darn tough. But, I live for this kind of stuff. So, here’s a recap on the race.
Getting a lay of the land
My family and I left for Ohio first thing on Thursday morning. It’s about a 5 hour drive straight through. The terrain is virtually flat for 4 hours and 45 minutes of that drive. I was fine up until then. It was at this point, that the rolling hills started coming hot and heavy. I could feel my nerves starting to rise. This was getting real. We definitely were not in Kansas anymore. The rest of the Remax guys doing the race were getting jittery too (something about Indians and what not). The state campground we stayed at was nestled in between two mountains with a river going through – the perfect setup to calm yourself (not).
On Friday we decided to pre-ride some of the course, which runs right through the campground. We only did about 6 miles, but for me, it only made me more nervous. The terrain is not like anything we have around West Michigan – rocks, roots, steep climbs – times a thousand. Despite all of that, the local gnomes do have a calming effect.
The first 30
Race morning came, and the team rolled out together from the campground on our bikes up the road about 1.5 miles to the start line.
The beginning of the race kicked off right in downtown Loudonville. The course comes at you right away with a steep pavement ascent out of the gate. The first 4 or 5 miles or so are pavement and then it goes into single track for another 30ish miles. These miles were brutal. The trail had no flow to it, so you never really got into a groove or felt comfortable. Hairpin turns, big ‘ole ruts, roots, and rocks were strewn all over. There were more than a couple of steep climbs that could not be traversed by bike. I remember walking up one of the slimy, muddy climbs thinking to myself that I should get my phone out and take a picture. However, that required stopping and the thought of doing that mid-climb did not seem appealing at all. The aid stations in the first leg of the race were a welcomed sign of relief.
We continued to truck on and the miles ticked off slowly. Climb after climb after climb. I got to the point where I hated going downhill because I knew it would be swiftly followed up by a steep, steep climb. However, well into the second half of the race, we hit a rail trail section for about 7 or 8 miles. It was pretty flat and still required a solid effort because we were clipping along at a decent pace, but it wasn’t climbing – thank goodness.
With this slight reprieve, my spirits were lifted just a bit, but it was short lived. There were 6 or 7 aid stations throughout the course, but I kid you not, getting going again after each one, they would all start off with a climb right away. You were never able to ease back into the race. As we continued along, we hit some gravel road sections that were so steep and so long that I had no choice but to walk up them. These are the kind of climbs that even if I had fresh legs, it would require one heck of an effort to make it up.
What was really cool about the race is that the fellow Remaxers who came out to support us, were at the 40ish mile aid station and the 90ish mile aid station. Seeing my family and friends definitely gave a boost of energy, confidence, and resolve.
The last third of the race was not quite as bad. When you get to mile 70 or so, there is really no question whether I’m finishing the race or not. It’s going to happen at that point. With an endurance race like this, I didn’t have any expectations other than to just finish. This really takes the pressure off a bit when you’re not trying to finish within a certain time. It even allows for some funny moments too – like when we stopped on the side of a gravel road to put more air in Jim’s back tire and all four of us decided it was a good time to reapply chamois butter. If only we had the Go Pro going!
Well, we continued to plod along and finished out on some of the same single track sections that we pre-rode around the campground the day before. Brad, Jim, Carlos and I crossed the finish line together – same as we did at the Barry Psycho 100. We finished in 12:22:42 – the longest continuous time I’ve ever been on my bike.
What really made this race so bearable was having three other teammates around me. I honestly didn’t think we would be able to stick together over the entire race, but we managed to do so, and it made a huge difference. We all had our dark moments during the race but having each other there to keep pushing on was crucial.
All in all, I really enjoyed this race. It was by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done, but it was beautifully awesome all at the same time. I felt like I probably bit off a little more than I could chew, but if you don’t continue to stretch your limits, you don’t get better.
This will most likely be a ‘one and done’ kind of race for me – that is of course, if a certain someone (*cough, cough – Carlos – *cough, cough) doesn’t throw it back out there.