Sorry for the long overdue recap!
January 8, 2016
I had an amazing time at the Tuscobia Winter Ultra 150!! I never stop learning from these amazing adventures. That’s part of what makes them so much fun.
On my way to the race I stopped at Penn Cycle and asked them to switch out the clips on the 45North boots I had recently purchased from a friend. The clips were completely rusted and had to literally be drilled out of the boots. That was lesson #2- always be sure to remove, clean and put a little bit of grease on your clips in the winter time.
Lesson #1 was – Give Bike Bag Dude enough time to make and mail out bags. With only about a week before the race, BBD rushed to sew and send my bags. Although Kedan did an absolutely valiant effort on his end, literally mailing out the bags within 24 hours, I left for the race without a frame bag and a rear seat bag because the expedited mail isn’t as fast as Kedan. Through our AWESOME community of cyclists, I had a few friends who were bringing bags in hopes that one would fit on my small bike frame. At 9:30pm the night before the race, I finally had a frame bag and a seat bag that fit and my friend Ron and I worked quickly to assemble my bike for the very first time. The race would be the first time I rode with a loaded bike. I was a bit nervous to say the least! Ideally I would’ve been riding fully loaded for weeks, but I’ll take what I can get! I am incredibly grateful to Ann, Tom, Lynn and Ron for their help in helping me get what I needed!!
My Twin Six fat bike was absolutely amazing. The bike is light, responsive, a perfect riding position with a great set up. It’s a Ti frame, Whiskey rims and a 1×11. This bike rides like poetry in motion!! It worked extremely well the whole race. Loved it!! There is simply no better fat bike out there. Hands down.
Lesson 3: I have a horrible habit of riding with too much pressure on my hands, causing pain and tingling in my palms and fingers. Right out of the gate I started feeling the pain as I tried to understand and adjust to 30lbs being added to my bike. This was no easy task for me! As I rode along I kept reminding myself to have a light touch. After 5 hours of agony I finally learned this lesson and the pain was not so bad.
Lesson 4: My back is notorious for pain every time I ride as I have had several intrusive surgeries to remove the bacteria that was liquefying my insides in 2010/11. When I ride, I experience constant pain and this was a big concern for me going into such a long race. I found that making a disciplined effort to stand every half hour was very helpful and I was able to grit through it.
Lesson 5: Before checkpoint 3 I felt something hitting me up high on the side of my neck. It felt like a rock. Up until that point I had only been wearing 2 skull caps. I felt around and then found the ‘foreign object’ dangling down from my skull cap and gave it a yank. Nothing. It was stuck solid, whatever it was. I gave it a very hard yank and then realized it was my earlobe frozen solidly numb. I tried to pull the skull cap down over it and rode for a while, readjusting the cap over it again and again. When I got to checkpoint 3 I found that the lobe was actually folded in half like a taco and very swollen. Oops. Thankfully I had put my balaclava and ColdAvenger face mask in my drop bag so I switched out and was extremely happy I did. It was perfect for keeping my noggin and breath warm! My earlobe is 3 times the size today and very red and painful. Lesson 5 was wear something that easily covers my entire ear at all times!
One of the greatest things about riding my bike is meeting and riding with other people. During the beginning of the race I purposefully separated myself from the pack I was in, putting about a half mile between the pack in front and the pack behind. This allowed me to turn my focus inwards and do a full check- Was I too hot, how was my pace, was anything hurting, did the bike or gear need any adjustments, was I drinking and eating enough, etc. I rode solo for about an hour and then came upon a few riders up ahead. I got to ride with my friend Tom, who had given me help with picking out gear before the race and loaned me his BarYaks, which worked like a charm!! If I hadn’t had the BarYaks, my front bag would’ve been touching the front tire, making it impossible to ride without shredding it. A liitle later my co-worker Lynn also joined us, which was nice. Both of these guys are very respectable veterans that make you feel like anything is possible and I was honored to ride with them.
Lesson 6: Don’t forget the Chamois Butt’r. Let’s just say that after 30 miles of racing without Chamois Butt’r I was quite uncomfortable. By mile 60 I was in agony. By mile 90 I wanted to vomit. By mile 110 it felt like my seat was made out of razor blades. By mile 140 I was wondering how much surgery would cost and if I was too far gone. At mile 160 I vowed to never sit down again.
Clothing: It’s all about the layering, for sure. I hit a home run here. The last thing I wanted to do was sweat. At the Arrowhead a few years ago I had layered up out of fear of being too cold and in so doing I essentially shot myself in the foot. I had sweated so bad that I was fully dehydrated before the first checkpoint. This year I forced myself to find out what was too little laying in order to find that balance. I am incredibly glad I did. I had 2 very thin layers on and a super thin outer shell until checkpoint 3. I started to sweat a bit so I undid the pit zips and that worked like a charm. Since the temperatures started dropping below zero, I put on a 3rd very thin layer and zipped up the pits from checkpoint 3 to the finish line. I had zero sweat and I felt perfect, as long as I kept riding. The moment I stopped I would start shivering so bad that the food would fall out of my hand before I could get it up to my mouth. I learned to eat incredibly quickly and I stop as briefly and little as possible.
Food: Also a home run. I had my food down as best as I could but I decided to add in a few more options, just in case. This definitely worked in my favor and I got lucky at the checkpoints. My favorite race fuel is chicken broth. I wanted to carry it but I did not have room. Thankfully there was broth and chicken soup at both checkpoints so I ate as much as I could and it worked wonderfully. Out on the trail I usually just eat clif bars. This time I added trail mix, M&M’s, pretzels and a secret concoction my friend Leah had made me up. The things I added and Leah’s treat worked excellent. I will definitely be switching to this plus still looking for chicken broth and soup. My stomach hurt less than ever before.
Pacing: Home run! This was the longest race I’ve ever done and I made a decision to ride slower than I ever have to help ensure I would make the distance. I purposely rode what constantly felt like was too slow. After the first 30 miles my legs were very tired. After 65 my legs were very tired. At mile 100 I felt great! At mile 130 I thought my legs were going to explode but I started pressing them as I had stopped to help a few racers and lost over an hour in the process. For me, if it felt too fast, it was, if it felt too slow it was perfect.
Lesson 7: Get much, much better bike lights. My light was very dim. Too dim. Like a dot that did nothing but hypnotize me. And then it gave out. I stopped to pull out my spare light but couldn’t seem to find it. That was bad. For the last 3 hours of the race I rode in near solid darkness. (My flashing reds were working but they did basically nothing for illumination in the front.) Since I couldn’t see the trail I rode down the middle as best I could instead of where the trail had been packed because I found that when I would search for the packed down portion I would only be able to hold onto it for a very short while and ended up doing a ton of zigzagging. The fastest route is a straight line so I went as straight as I could for feeling like I was riding with my eyes closed. It was black out!
I made 2 awesome friends out on the trail- Mark and Jesse. We all ended up together right around the first checkpoint. These guys were super cool and we were riding the exact same pace. Mark asked me if I wanted to pass him but I know myself and I would’ve pushed the pace too fast so I stayed at good 10-20 feet behind him and tried not to focus on his flashing red lights. I discovered that being anywhere near flashing red lights makes me feel nauseated very quickly. Mark is super cool and an incredible cyclist, as is Jesse. It turns out I will be seeing Jesse again for the Tour Divide race in June. That’s one of the things I love about the cycling community- so often I get to see some of the same people at other events, and not only in Minnesota, but around the country. About 30 miles from the finish Mark’s front light went dead. That was bad. Very bad, because my front light had gone out 20 miles before that, so we were riding in his light. (I had my 3 red flashers, plus a vest that actually lit up. Special thanks to Ron from the Nat’l Weather Service!) But the whole game changed when I caught up to Mark. He was experiencing hypothermia. We stopped and tried to find my spare light, along with the extra batteries I had, but I couldn’t see anything and the -27 wind chill was piercing through our thin layers right to the bone. Mark’s demeanor had changed quite a lot. He no longer sounded confident and determined. He just wanted to give up. In the short time I had gotten to know Mark, I learned very quickly that he is a determined rider. The change in his demeanor was a huge red flag. Together, we tried to get some food in him. He continued to express his desire to just stop and go to sleep. He told me to go on without him as we were doing quite well and I currently held the women’s lead. I have a personal philosophy that no rider gets left behind, especially one that is injured or struggling. I stayed back and eventually we started moving again. The light of the moon was like a nightlight in a 3 story house and we could barely see a thing. We walked our bikes a lot and crashed a number of times when we tried to ride. After a few hours he felt better and was able to ride fairly solidly again. I rode on ahead with Mark not too far behind and I tried to go faster in the sheer darkness, hoping to find some lights to follow. At one point I started to wonder if I had somehow missed a turn so I would stop, listen, and look around for any distant lights up ahead. Thankfully the course is mostly straight!
Eventually I saw a racer up ahead which I thought it might be a walker because I was gaining on them and I wasn’t going very fast without a light. When I caught up, the racer was pretty out of it. I asked if they had eaten and they said in a mumbled voice that they had run out of food a few hours before hand. I pulled out some of mine and handed it to the racer but they weren’t even able to open the wrapper, so I unwrapped it and helped them get a few bites into their mouth. The racer was saying they just wanted to bivy but I was very worried about this person so I said we were almost to the finish line (Two+ hours is close, right??) and told them to ride in front of me because I wanted to keep an eye on them as they were zigzagging all over the place. We went on for a while. That was when the first place finisher past me and she was looking great, so I yelled out a cheer and kept going. Mark also passed me at that point and yelled out that he was feeling better and would keep going. After the second racer looked like they were recovering, I went a little faster in the dark, glancing back to make sure they were still up right. I like to ride my bike, I am not a racer, per se. But no matter what your mental mind set, please help your fellow racers, especially in extreme conditions. People are more important than finish lines.
The last stretch of the race seemed like it took forever- my eyes were tired from straining to see the trail, my legs were like cement and my toes were extremely cold. I was glad to be finished and honored to have gotten 2nd place!
I learned so much during and am incredibly thankful I got to be a part of such a great race. It was beautiful, hard, cold and I met and some awesome people. Many thanks to the race directors, Chris & Helen, along with all of the volunteers, for an absolutely fantastic race. Special thanks to Twin Six for producing the best fat bike on the planet!!