Monthly Archives: March 2016

My First Century – 2016 LandRun 100 – written by Jaffar Agha

I started The Casual Cyclist not just to reflect on what cycling means to me but as a way to grow my cycling community.  I feel one way I can do that is allow other fellow cyclists a platform to share meaningful events in their cycling lives.  Everyone remembers their first Gravel Century.  Moments of self doubt, pain and frustration.  Also though the exhilaration, friendships formed and that moment you realize you’re actually gonna make it.  Finally that feeling of relief, accomplishment and pride as you roll toward the Finish Line.  My friend Jaffar Agha experienced that feeling this past weekend at The LandRun 100.  Here is his story in his own words.  Enjoy.

Congrats Jaffar!

– The Casual Cyclist

As I sit here typing, with my feet in a bucket of ice, I wanted to capture in words what I learned from my first gravel century ride. I have plenty of experience writing… but since this isn’t a police report, let’s see how the experience translates.

I think long distance cyclists are a very introspective people. I can’t help but retreat deep into my thoughts to dull the pain in my legs and the numbness in my hands. I think if I were to ever achieve Enlightenment it will be with my feet clipped in and wearing tight shorts.

We gathered in front of the Iron Monk Brewery in Stillwater to listen to Bobby Wintle in preparation for the 2016 Land Run 100. For three years I have traveled down south to attempt to complete the Land Run. It was the very first race I attempted back in 2014. Maybe I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe I neglected to take the red dirt hills of Oklahoma as serious as I should have in training and preparation. Either way, I barely made it over 40 miles before calling it quits. It wasn’t so much the lack of fitness which took me out. It was getting in my head after the first hill I had to dismount and walk up. It was telling myself “you aren’t ready for this”.

Maybe the introspection isn’t always a good thing. The mind can be a very dark place. As soon as I decided I could not, I would have never been able to finish that race.

I couldn’t help but resonate with Bobby as he hyped us for the race. He spoke of his endless quest to unlearn pavement. How we find ourselves lost in our minds as our bodies focus only on the next pedal stroke. On getting over the next hill. I’ll be honest, I felt so inspired I was ready to leave right then and there.

Following a nice dinner with fellow Emporians hosted by our DK drew, my wife and I retired to the hotel room for last minute prep. Having consulted with the Casual Cyclist himself, I decided to follow his game plan and throw some skinny tires on my wheels. I was going to go light. Usually I carry plenty of extra water and food. But you know what? Usually I don’t finish races, either. So I was going to carry just enough water and food to get me to the halfway point. Fortune favors the bold, right?

I wake up hours before dawn. It’s our first night away from the kids since my daughter was born last year so those of you with kids can imagine how wonderful the sleep was. A familiar thought runs through my head: what kind of person would be up this early putting on skintight clothes to purposely put their bodies through hours and hours of suffering? The best kind of people! I was about to share the day with almost 800 likeminded folk who share my love. I was still hyped up from the night before. And yeah, it had rained the night before and things looked to be shaping up like 2015. But the rain couldn’t dampen my spirits.

I love the energy given off by the crowds who see us off and welcome us back. So to the sound of cowbells and hollering, I began my journey. Just as much as the race organizers and volunteers, you people who come out to cheer us make these events what they are!

I started my ride with Uncle Dudley and Emporia’s Angela Spellman. They dropped me at the second or third hill. I always seem to cramp up within the first 5 miles of a race. It went away after I warmed up but I had lost my friends. So what’s your friendly neighborhood cop do? I make new friends. Now forgive me but I have forgotten all of your names. I’ll remember your bikes next year as my 2015 friend, “Erikson Titanium frame she got for an engagement ring” can attest. Riding with others makes the pain hurt a little less. Walking through mud with others makes the suck suck a little less. So it’s a good thing I met “Co-Motion tandem couple” and “wild single speed dude”. They helped make the transition to mud a little more fun. But alas, I had places to be and the food and water wouldn’t last forever. So I stepped on a little faster and left my new friends behind

The mud took hours to walk through, but wasn’t nearly as bad as last year. It wasn’t long until we were riding again. Then walking again. Then riding again! But hey, last year there was no riding between puddles. I finally came upon the skeleton of a cow we saw in the course preview pictures. That meant it was time to dismount and climb down the ravine to the creek. Or at least I would have had I not already dismounted thirty minutes ago. Maybe it’s the natural cop in me but I thought I would stick around and help others down into the creek bed. I saw a few people stumble and fall and there was no reason to let anyone get hurt.

After washing my bike in the creek, I climbed up the staircase (leaving behind one of the coolest features of the course) and the whole atmosphere of the day changed for me. I was starting to get a little bummed out from the walking. My average speed was dipped well below where I wanted to be. But as we traversed that forest path, the smell of fresh pine reinvigorating my spirits, I left all those worries behind and just focused on the next mile.

As soon as we were able to ride again, I found myself caught back up with Uncle Dudley. Now that is a man who can enjoy himself. Even through the grimace of exertion and hill climbing, I think I could make a smile out on his face the entire time. I was having a good time but I used almost half my water keeping mud off my rear derailleur. Between that and, you know…drinking it, I was almost out of water. And we still had almost 20 miles to Perry. So you can imagine my pure elation at seeing a surprise Oasis over the next hill. A man with a West African accent filled my bottles and my spirits. Not long after was the split for the 50 and 100 riders. I heard some grumbling from some 100 riders thinking about dropping half the course. The thought never crossed my mind. I had something to prove to myself and those that doubted me (my squad was taking bets on me dropping out). But I was determined to finish and I would show them how deep my resolve ran.

​The last few miles before Perry was dry and fast hard pack. It was nice to kick it in gear and scream up some hills. I rolled in and found my ever loving wife waiting for me. Quick wash down of my bike and refill on food and water. It had been about 7 hours since the start of the race. I had hoped they would be forgiving in the cutoff time. When Carlie told me “if you have it in you, you can keep going” I quipped back with “oh I’m going”.

​The second half of the course was a different beast. The elevation had taken a chill pill but the sun and wind had come out finally. I slowly watched my average speed tick up as I worked to catch up to my friends who left Perry before I had. My longest ride before this was somewhere above 70 miles doing the Law Enforcement Torch Ride for Kansas Special Olympics. That was a road ride with plenty of stops and rest periods. So soon after Perry I was finding myself crossing my own personal record for distance, though I had long left behind a personal record for exertion. I had the biggest smile on my face as I realized I wasn’t really that tired. Feeling a little lonely though. Every Jeep I came across was telling me I was creeping ever closer to Dudley. Somewhere around mile 85 there was another Oasis. The sun was long set so I was taken by surprise when I found them. I took some water and some motivation. They told me I was so close to getting back to Stillwater and the mugs upon mugs of free beer. I told them, sadly, I had to be back on duty at 6am and we have an 8 hour before shift no alcohol policy. Considering the time (and daylight savings stealing another hour from me) I wasn’t going to be able to imbibe. Well that sweet sweet man at the oasis poured me a beer from who knows where. Usually I am not a fan of bitter IPAs. Having sucked down nothing but sugary Gu for the last 10 hours, the bitterness was a welcome change. They also told me I missed Dudley and Angela by less than 5 minutes.

​With the Iron Monk brew in my belly, I raced off as fast as I could. At mile 96 I caught back up to my friends. When my Garmin showed I had crossed that 100 mile mark, even though I was still miles from the finish, I raised a fist in the air in victory. When I finally crossed the finish line and finally, after three years, got my hug from Bobby, I was filled with such overwhelming happiness. I told Bobby that I had more fun out there than any single day of my life. He said he had remembered me from years past and remembered that I had never got a finish until today. It made me happy that he remembered who I was even though out interactions had been quite limited before. Promoters like him who really connect to the individuals make these events worth every painful pedal stroke.

​I walked away from this race having learned so much. This race solidified my resolve as a person, as a cyclist, and as an athlete. I went in knowing your mental state is the deciding factor for endurance events such as this. However, the reinforcement of this assertion through fleeting moments of weakness and subsequent determination will carry me through the dark times ahead. I have trained to fight through pain when my life is on the line. Trained to take a face full of pepper spray and still finish the fight; to simulate the loss of an arm by firing and reloading a weapon one handed with my non dominant hand. It is certainly different when the stakes are lower such as bruised pride. Each race teaches me a lesson but this one changed how I think. I like to think perhaps this is the spirit of unlearning pavement. I hope those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to go down there make it one day. I have nothing but great things to say about that event. If you do, I’ll see you down there next year.

– Jaffar Agha

LandRun 100 2016

Your mind has a job to do.  Protect you.  Get too near a flame “ouch, back away”.  Get too near a sharp object “ouch, back away”.  See a grizzly bear coming at you “ouch, back away”.  Hearing your daughter screaming followed by the other daughter whispering loudly “shhhhh, don’t tell dad”….”ouch, back away”.  It’s instinct.  Stop.  That either hurts or its gonna hurt.  Stop.  Back away.  See here’s the deal though.  You have the ability to tell your mind to shut up.  You have the ability to go beyond what your mind says you can or can’t do.   Now I’m not telling you run through an open fire, grab a big Bowie knife and attack an oncoming grizzly bear.  I’m not an idiot and neither are you.  BUT we all know that would be more preferable than walking into a room to find out what screaming daughter #1 did to screaming daughter #2.  The horrors.

The LandRun100 has been around for 4 years now.  Bobby and Crystal Wintle are the creators.  Wonderful, gentle people full of love, kindness, energy and crazy awesome at giving out hugs.  BUT the LandRun100 has become a race that is as much about overcoming your own mental pain as your own physical pain.  Three out of four years there has been “pick up your bike and carry it mud”.  Three out of four years I would bet there have been near equal DNS/DNF’s as Finishers.  Riding your bike for 100 miles through gravel and minimum maintenance roads is tough folks.  Picking up your bike and carrying it 5 – 7 miles is tough folks.  Putting on stiff cycling shoes and walking 5 – 7 miles of muddy sludge is both painful and tough folks.  Doing all three of these WHILE trying to remember nutrition, WHILE trying to remember hydration, WHILE trying to remember there is a finite limit to the abuse use your bike can take is tough folks.  Real tough.
That’s the thing though isn’t it?  If it was easy, we wouldn’t keep coming back would we?  If it wasn’t a physical and mental challenge we wouldn’t keep coming back would we?  We crave that challenge.  We crave that mental fight.  We want to know we can accomplish more than our minds tell us we can.  I love the challenge.  I love winning that mental fight.  I love sharing the stories with my cycling community.
I love the LandRun 100.
I had a great 2016 LandRun100.  Not perfect. There was the mud.  I haven’t counted how many miles.  I will.  Mr Wintle or Mr Bruer can buy me a beer for each mile.  There was the heart wrenching leaving the buddy behind after his derailleur hanger broke.  No quicklink for SS.  Learning curve for both of us.  He trained his butt off.  There was the bike carrying.  I have bruises on my hip, shoulder and ribs.  I need a new technique.  There was the near front end-over in mud that was saved when my chest hit my handlebars so hard it bounced me back up into a sitting position.  Major chest bruise there.  Always ride two handed in mud kids.  There was the poor choice of ignoring the rocks in my shoes all day.  Sandals for me for a few days.  There was poor nutrition that made miles 52 – 85 a real mental struggle.  Really though not too bad personally all things considered.
 The great things?  The road trip down with good friends.  The pre-race bike and strategy talk with cycling friends.  The anticipation.  The nervous energy at District Bicycles and Iron Monk Brewery.  The rollout.  The first turn into gravel.  The mud spray.  The quiet unspoken unity trudging through the mud.  One step, two step, step step step.  The organized chaos of the checkpoint.  Suffering with new friends on the final 50, counting down the miles. 40, 30, 20, shit no it’s 107 not 100!  Dang. 27, 20, surprise aid tent!!!  Extra chain lube, water bottle fill-up, StormTrooper sticker.  I’m not kidding.  Chugging my Redbull/water mix and feeling like a new man.  19, 18, linking with Elliott and having someone to pull with finally, 10, 9, 8, 7, some dude standing beside a trash dumpster cheering us on and saying “only two more hills!”  5, 4, 3 riding onto pavement into Stillwater, 2, 1 turning a corner and seeing the Finish Line.  There’s freaking Bobby Wintle standing in the middle of the street screaming at me.  There’s my wife.  I see Kerri.  Holy crap I’m here.  Hearing on the loudspeaker “Here comes the Casual Cyclist, casually coming down the chute”!!  Hands up in the air.  I freaking did it.  It’s over.  Give me my damn Wintle hug.  Give me my Bruer hug.  I’m hugging ScottyO.  ShawnO.  I’m hugging everyone!  Where’s Kerri.  There’s Kerri.  Now Kerri gets a kiss.  A gentle kiss.  It’s been a long painful day.  Hugs all around but that kiss.  That kiss I’ll remember for quite awhile.
Love you Kerri.  Thanks for supporting me in this crazy hobby I love.  I couldn’t do this without your support and I wouldn’t be me unless I could do this.
Why do I love events like the LandRun100?  It makes all the little things in life feel so much more.  So much more.
(Thank you Carlie Agha for allowing me to use your wonderful pictures in this blog.  You did a wonderful job!)

My Season Starts

Land Run 100 takes place in 5 days.  Stillwater marks the first major race of 2016 for many of us gravel kids in the Midwest.  Wet, dry, hot, cold, calm or windy, races like the LandRun100 never disappoint.  The build up has a lot to do with the feeling of these events as well as just the riding itself.
There’s the training that goes into it.  Our goal may be to finish fast or just to…finish.  Survive the challenge.  I that’s really what most of the races are about for the majority of us.  Can we survive the challenge the race organizer has presented us with?  Regardless, we all have to put a few miles on our bikes pre-race.  Weekend warriors trying to fit in a 40 or 60 mile in here or there.  Cringing when all we can muster is a quick quarter century.  I made that sound fancier than just saying…25 miles.  Will it be enough?  Have we added enough hills?  Faced enough headwind?  Attacked enough rollers?  The course is about to answer all our questions.
We have all mentally planned for the race.  Well most of us have.  We watched as registration filled up.  Who is coming back this year and who isn’t.  We all anticipate meeting up with old friends pre-race.  Some of us road trip to the race with buddies.  There’s always the “new guy”.  Quietly much more nervous than the others.  Listening as everyone talks about the legends of the past.  What food did you go with?  Solids? Gels? All natural?  How many water bottles?  Bottle?  On bike?  Camelbak?  Roctane? Scratch Labs?  Gatorade?  Hammer?  Straight water?  How will you take in calories or do you just wing it?  Tires 28’s, 32’s, 35’s, 38’s?  Bigger?  How many tubes?  Tubeless?  Tools?  Pump or co2 or most likely both?  We all will be pedaling soon and find out how our choices play out.
Race day.  Time to execute.  Time to have fun.  Time to finish.  We’ll all take our pre-race pictures.  Some will make it to social media, some wont.  We’ll all wish each other luck, promising to stick by each other.  Some will and some won’t.  It’s all good.  It’s race day.  Things happen.  Have fun.  Slow roll out happens and it’s game on.  The first 10 miles feel a little awkward as you hold your line and focus on not ripping off the dudes derailleur in front of you.  The first big hill comes up and chaos unleashes.  The climbers shoot to the left line. “On your left!  On your left!”  The survivors shift to a low gear and think “here we go”.  Every one pities the “first flat guy/girl”.  “Good?”  “Good.”  I was that the “first flat” dude maybe 5 miles in 2 years ago.  I’m slow.  Even the last of the 50 mile folks passed me.  Lotta playing catch up that day.  The only year I’ve finished the LandRun100 now that I think about it.
Over the next 5 to 10 hours the course plays out.  We pedal.  We coast.  We talk.  We walk.  We climb.  Epic stories unfold.  Legends are born.  Hero’s are made.  “Smitty CRUSHED it!!  Not all will finish but all will take home a story.  All will move on to the next race.  Training will happen again.  Planning will take place again.  All will try to execute again.  Tis the season.
I love race season.  Hope to see you out there.