A Gravel Century Does Not 100 Miles Make

Mile 100.  The Strava App shows it.  Mile 100 of the Land Run 100.  I was done.  My body and mind shut down.  The problem?  The Land Run 100 wasn’t 100 miles.  The mapped course was 105 miles.

I am not complaining.  I had a wonderful LandRun100 experience in 2017.  Registration party was phenomenal.  Met of with fellow Cantu Cycling Wheels buddy, Craig Schmidt.  One of the masterminds behind Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE.  I was able to talk with fellow LaufDirty Dozen” riders, Don Buttram and Jim Phillips…along with their personal shoe shiner, Collin Little…from the Kuat team.  I got to hang out with my good friend Paul Errington who made the trip from Newcastle, England.  IMG_4322Emporia, Kansas represented big time with over 20 area riders coming down.  Emporia even has traveling volunteers now which speaks volume to impact cycling is having in my hometown.  Freaking awesome to see Michael and Treva Worrel down there.  Michael and Treval help direct the Madison Checkpoint at The Dirty Kanza which you can imagine…is crazy work.  Pizza at The Hideaway then back to the house for final prep and beauty sleep!

My race day??  Spoiler ALERT!!!  Finish time was just under 8.5 hours.  I rode with a lot of great people.  I felt strong most of the day.  I bombed the truly “b” road type sections letting my Lauf fork, The Grit, take the brunt of the hits.  IMG_4319Side note here real quick.  I love The Grit from Lauf.  Truly.  Did it’s job all day long in that mud and cold and never complained.  Never held mud.  Never sneaked or rattled.  Never once did I think…well…that extra 300-400 grams on the fork is slowing me down…stop it.  It.  Just.  Works.  I rolled into Guthrie just before 11:30am and was out within 10 minutes.  3 hrs and 24 minutes and feeling good.  No walking.  No bike carrying.  My parents came down to Guthrie checkpoint to give me a pep talk.  My mom told me it was freezing and I should just ride back with them.  My dad gave me the motivational “eye smile”.  =)

Pep talk.  I joke.  I absolutely love that even at 43 years old…I will always be their little kid going out on adventures.  I love that they get genuinely concerned about my fellow riding friends.  My mom even bought me candied pretzels…awesome!  My friends and team mates were there also.  They all did a bang up job for a lot of people that afternoon at the Checkpoint.  Bikes needed help.  People needed help.  Everyone pitched in.  Gravel.  Ryan Balkenhol and Jeff Young rolled in about the same time as me.  Friendly faces.  Good times.

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I had to go to the bathroom so gathered my bike quickly and rolled out.  I immediately regretted not switching out my completely soaked gloves.  My fingers felt like needles were pressing into them.  I couldn’t wait for them to go numb again.  I needed them to go numb.  Although I have to say…going to the bathroom with a kit that’s a half size too small and reeeaaaaalllllllly tight…with completely numb fingers…is a unique experience!

A friend had predicted deep mud from miles 70-80.  This prediction was largely accurate and this is probably where my problems -started.  I was so focused on that mud and keeping the miles ticking off that I completely forgot about food and drink.  Nothing.  Somewhere in those miles I lost control on a downhill and crashed into the ditch.  Body fine?  Check.  Bike fine?  Define “fine”?  Check.  Corey Smith and Jose Gomez laughing at me?  Check.

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Mile 85 is where the data shows my lack of any nutrition caught up to me.  I was still riding with Corey.  We came off a short east bound pavement section back directly back into mud and that was it.  My legs just stopped.  I watched Corey ride around a corner and thought “well, there he goes”.  We have to be close to the finish line.  I had made the mistake of thinking I was mentally strong enough to NOT need mileage to show on my Garmin.  I needed mileage once the going got slow.  I needed to be able to click off on the second half.  I could only guess as too how much distance was left.  I suddenly remembered to eat and drink.  I downed a whole bottle of Tailwind and found a Snickers bar.  I lacked the dexterity to open it so I ripped it with my teeth and just grabbed it with my muddy hands.  Dirt, rocks and chocolate all went into my mouth in one gloriously awful bite.  Within minutes energy came back and I was rolling again…and spitting the grit out of my teeth…sorry Kerri.

Mile 100.  Something happened here.  I hadn’t eaten since the Snickers bar at mile 85.  Like 2 hours ago.  My fingers hurt so freaking bad.  Numbness was gone again.  Just pain now.  (A week later and my finger tips still feel like I slept on them wrong, tingling sensation)  I rounded a corner chasing Jose Gomez and suddenly I didn’t feel safe on my bike.  Totally irrational.  I coasted to a stop.  Watched Jose ride up a hill.  Realized I was alone.  I knew I was close but mentally I didn’t know what to do.  My mind was a blank.  No thoughts of quitting.   No thoughts of finishing.  Just… nothingness.  I remember feeling lost.  So incredibly weird and hard to explain.  Food.  Shit.  I need food.  I ate two packets of Skratch Labs chews.  Slow motion.  I glanced back and saw a rider coming.  Pedal.  I needed to pedal.  Instead I leaned over my handlebars and just wanted to sleep.  “Bobby!  Will you do me a favor.  Will you finish this with me?”   Don Buttram.  The rider was Don.  Someone I knew.  Shit.  Yes.  I need to finish.  Let’s finish.  I bought Zebra cakes for the Finish Line.  I need Zebra cakes.  I think I even told Don that I didn’t feel safe riding at that moment.  Mentally I just was not there.  It happened so fast.

We immediately hit a hill and I did what I try to never do.  I stood up to pedal and grunted loudly up the hill.  Almost on purpose to tell myself “the muscles are still there you idiot.  It’s in your head.”  Don probably thought I was gonna pass out.  Once we crested that hill though, I could feel the energy returning.  I was tired but the legs were working their magic and making the cranks turn.  We spied some riders in the distance and Don said “let’s reel them in.  Except…we seemed to be reeling them in way faster than we should have been.  Walkers.  Well, runners, from the 50k.  Lol!  Yep we reeled them in alright!  🙂   They never stood a chance against our Salsa Warbirds!

Suddenly my head was back in the game.  It took Don and I chasing down a group of walkers on our mud caked bikes to make it happen but all was good again.  100%.  I could have sprinted those last few miles.  Downtown Guthrie was glorious.  Don and I crossed the Finish Line together just before 4:30pm.  We took our turns getting our heartfelt hugs from Mr Wintle.  Bobby.  Crystal.  Austin.  Tyler.  Coffee.  Someone gave me coffee at the finish line.  I love you.  I’m putting you on my coveted Thompson Family Christmas Card List.  Seriously.  We should cuddle.  Oh how I loved that coffee!!!!  My mom gave me a hug and a bag full of candy coated pretzels.  Oh…those pretzels…magnificent.  Vanilla Latte from Aspen?  Yes.  Food truck tacos?  Yes.  A small hand sized piece of pecan pie?  Yes.  A box of Zebra Cakes?  Yes.  Admittedly I only ate 6 of the 10 cakes.  I had to share a few with fellow riders Paul Errington and John Decker.  Later Dinner at Louie’s.  Yes.  Food!  Food!  Food!  Give me food!

Looking back the first 50 miles took me 3 hours and 24 minutes.  Pretty good time for me on a day like that.  The second 50 miles took me just under 5 hours.  The entire 8.5 hours I ate 2 GU gels, 3 bags of Skratch chews, one share size thing of Take5 bits, a Snickers Bar and some chips.  I drank 2 bottles of fluid.  My fingers were froze and I was most likely malnourished which led to my breaking down at mile 100.  I should have eaten more.  Yes.  I should have recognized before mile 85 and definitely should have learned at mile 85…but…that’s endurance Gravel riding.  You tend to lose focus at some point and that’s always the hardest part.  Overcoming the mental part.  Being able to regroup.  Staying focused on nutrition when you feel good…not waiting until you feel bad.

Would I have eventually regrouped without Don riding up to me?  Of course.  I have no doubt.  But…who knows how long it would have taken.  It’s always a huge boost to have a friendly face like Don’s ride up and offer help.  He knew I was hurting.  He knew he was hurting.  He didn’t ask “doing ok?” and keep riding like so may of us do.  Including me.  He said “finish this with me.”  Not a question.  A statement.  Let’s go.  We’ve both been through a lot today.  Let’s go.  It worked.  I went.  Had he said “doing ok?”, my pride might have simply said “yeah” as he rode by me.  Who knows.  Thank you Don.  Thank you for understanding “gravel”.

All in all a great day.  Honestly.  Would I do the exact same race in the exact same conditions again?  Probably not but that’s the beauty of The Land Run 100 and really most of these endurance events…they are never the exact same twice.

It’s why we keep coming back.  Well…that and Wintle’s hug at the Finish Line.

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About BobbyT

Backroad cycling enthusiast, husband, father and friend. View all posts by BobbyT

2 responses to “A Gravel Century Does Not 100 Miles Make

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