May 2010 Archives

What do you win?

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That's what the nice lady on horseback at Forestville State Park wanted to know. 

I mean, there's got to be one heck of a prize involved that would lead 200+ people to race down 100 miles of dusty Minnesota gravel roads on bicycles, right? 

As we were all cramming food down our throats, guzzling water, and making some last minute adjustments to get us through the final 40 miles of the day somebody managed to answer her question- 

"A jar of rocks."  

After previously questioning us on how many we were, where we had been and how far we had come, she was suddenly out of questions.  We were clearly all complete nut jobs who were liable to spook the horses. 

Honestly, I was beginning to question my own sanity a bit too.  I went into this 2010 rendition of the Almanzo 100 with no idea what to expect.  I felt I had a pretty good showing at the Ragnarok 105, but that was over a month ago. I had just returned from my annual week and a half long One Lap of America jaunt where my only exercise consisted of adjusting the power seats in a BMW 335d to encompass my rapidly expanding ass as I hopped from Waffle House to Waffle House across the heartland of America. 

I figured I'd be pretty happy with another 8 hour 100 mile gravel grind, but I wasn't making any bets.  I was packing a little extra water and food in case I was out there for a 12 hour haul.  I had maybe 4-5 solid hours on the bike since I returned from my trip and while I felt strong, I had no idea how my endurance would hold up. So I took a conservative midpack starting position and started easy. 

And then started passing people. 

Lots and lots of people. 

And then I latched onto a group of 2-5 people just slightly faster than me and we kept it up until the ranks thinned out and it was just us out there.  Sometimes we pushed hard, sometimes we kept it at conversation pace. But we kept the pace up and held our position. We'd pick off the occasional straggler, but nobody was getting by us.

That "slightly faster" part stand out at all? Yeah, it became readily apparent to me too by mile 50, but I managed to hold on until the 60 mile checkpoint.  I figured at that point I could let them go and keep a casual pace for the rest of the ride and enjoy it.  Because, well- a self assessment here was not yielding positive results. I was hurting in ways I had never hurt before and had no effective strategy to deal with it.

Now, for whatever reason- and I'd like to think it's because I maybe helped pull for approximately 45 seconds of the 4 hours we had been pedaling thus far, they asked if I was going to continue on with them.  Or maybe it they just felt bad for the fat kid who drove down from Michigan for this thing or maybe just found it kind of funny how I'd occasionally stuff three Fig Newtons in my mouth and then try to keep breathing. 

Anyway, I jumped at the opportunity and almost immediately knew I was in over my head.  I was struggling to hang on to the tail of the group. It was just a matter of when I would get dropped. And sure enough, on a rough climb after the water crossing (Yes, there was a stream crossing in this race. And it was totally awesome. And refreshing.), they started to pull away. 

I gave it a go trying to hang on, as we only had twenty miles left but that was it. I was done. Down to the littlest chainring for a couple of miles. It was all I could do just to keep the pedals turning over.  Surprisingly, only maybe 10 people caught up to me in this time.  I managed to recover a bit and pick up the pace a little on the home stretch with only a few more people making a sprint to the end getting by me. 

Craig Linder managed to get a few awesome pictures of me. 

Just before the pack really started to thin around mile 40:

And about 10 miles from the finish.  With visions of "Grainbelt" brand beer dancing in my head:

I pulled in with a 6:39 finish time.  Good enough for 51st.  Out of 267 official finishers? I'm amazed.  It's enough to make we want to take this gravel grinder stuff really, really seriously. 

But I can't end this story about the Almanzo 100 without talking about the event itself. Having spent some time on the organizer side of the equation once or twice, I'm just simply in awe of what the Almanzo 100 organizer has managed to do.  From the handwritten note addressed to me in my registration packet to the heartfelt handshake from him at the end- it's a class act, all the way. And even more amazing is that he can do this all without charging anybody any entry fees.   I can't say enough good things about this race.