Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Land Run 100. Lessons on Suffering.

Consider the capacity of the human body for pleasure. It is pleasant to eat, drink, sleep, touch, hear, feel, make love. Yet, these pleasures are limited. I love many things but I can't repeat them over and over with the same enjoyment.  Take eating, for example. The Romans would eat to satiety and then purge themselves so they could enjoy eating again - but even they would grow tired of it eventually.

Consider pain. We are ripe for it from the moment we are born. Pain requires no intelligence. No thought. No effort. Pain can last a lifetime or seconds. Pain can swallow you as the ocean swallows a grain of salt. There is no limit or length of pain and often no solution to it.

For some reason we seem to only enjoy things intermittently. But pain can go on and on and on. The story of my Land Run 100 is about getting along with that pain and in the end, finding pleasure in having felt it.

I was drawn to Stillwater, Oklahoma for the LR100 because of the stories. I'm weird in that I'm attracted to events with low finishing rates and images of pure suffering. I see them and think "I can do that, it won't be that bad." I'm an idiot. I always feel like I have something to prove to myself. The LR100 was a struggle to say the least. I've never dug deeper to keep moving in my life. It's approaching 4 days and I still can't feel my fingertips. In that sense, it was a great success - I went there to suffer and test myself. That happened.

I grew up an only child and thoroughly enjoy my alone time. I rarely have any. My trip to Stillwater was a solo journey and I was stoked about that. Aside from knowing a couple teammates down there (Andrew Strempke and David Neidinger), I didn't know a single soul. A couple familiar faces maybe. I camped out at Lake McMurtry Friday night before the race. I have some excellent camping gear and had no issues getting comfortable and sleeping in the 30s. I arrived at the lake about 4pm, set up camp then headed to Stillwater. I checked into the race, went to the riders meeting, pounded down a couple Iron Monk LR100 Pale Ales, checked out Matt Pryor, and then headed back to the campsite (with a couple 6 packs to take home). It was about 9pm when I started a fire. The fire did nothing to keep me warm so I peed on it, went into the tent, set the alarm for 5am, and went to sleep.

Bobby Wintle giving the pre-race meeting

Matt Pryor

At 5am I hit the snooze button. And again. And again. 3 times. Now it was 5:30 and I had to hustle. I wanted to get some breakfast at this diner in downtown Stillwater I had heard of named Granny's. Granny's was excellent. I got there right at 6am when they opened. Hammered down as much coffee and water as I could handle along with an enormous portion of eggs benedict. My goal was to eat and drink enough to where my body was forced to "evacuate" itself. Never good to have to take a poop during a race like this. No good race blog is complete without how I took or tried to poop before the race.

After a successful evacuation I headed to park near the race start. I took all my gear with me and planned to change in a parking lot and decide what to wear then. Checked the weather one last time. It had rained already but didn't seem like that much. The hourly forecast lingered around 40% chance for rain all day. Should've been 100% because it rained all day. I am extremely optimistic, bordering on stupidity though. I optimistically assumed it wouldn't rain that much and the course would be fine. I don't own a solid rain jacket or any rain gear for that matter. I had some neoprene shoe covers so I adorned those. Some Pearl Izumi Amfib tights, Smartwool base layer and our Colavita thermal jersey.  I wore my 10 year old Pearl Izumi Gavia gloves. They have been true in keeping my hands warm for years! None of that waterproof. But I was warm, for sure! I stuffed my little top tube frame bag food holder thing with 2 gels, a waffle cookie thing, and a package of pro bar bolt gummy chews. Enough sugar to keep me for a 6 hour ride (I planned on finishing in 6 hours max). I stuck a dozen sport legs capsules into a baggy and into my jersey pocket. I forgot about those until it was too late. They got wet and turned into some sort of gooey melted capsule conglomeration in my pocket. I took 3 water bottles, two in the bike and one in my center jersey pocket. I was seemingly ready to go...

I toed the starting line sort of in the second row. I wanted to be up front just to avoid the chaos of being inside a large group like that. I searched around for David and Andrew or anyone I knew. Didn't see anyone. I kept looking at the people around me, imagining they were looking at me saying, "what is this guy doing up here, he doesn't look pro at all". I was saying to myself, what am I doing up here, I don't look as pro as these guys with their rain jackets. But alas, my sexy af stigmata boosted my confidence and made me feel comfortable. Check me out back here in the Colavita jersey just breathing and stuff...(this photo is owned by Gravel Guru).

Before the cannon went off to start the race I covered my ears like a little wuss. That shit is loud af. Because of this, everyone around me got a half second head start while I uncovered my ears and reached for my bars. Seconds later I spot David and Andrew and we hang out, shoot the shit for a little bit while following the pace car. I "kawkaa'd" a bunch and people look at me like wtf is wrong with him.... "roadies" I thought to myself. It's wet but not raining. We hit the gravel and it's nice. Wet but not muddy yet. I'm happy with my tire pressure and everything as I'm riding along those first couple miles of gravel. It was relatively flat right out of Stillwater. Then we start hitting some steep rollers and the groups break apart quickly. I hung out with the front group until mile 20 and was the first guy to pull off that main group. I must be a trendsetter because as soon as I do that I start seeing rider after rider falling off. I want to make it clear, I didn't fall off, I chose to let back haha ;)  I see one dude I know from "the scene", Garth Prosser, pressing hard on the fat bike as he starts tailing off the pack. I catch up with him and ride for a minute with him. He claims its going to be a long day and I should save a beer for him at the finish line. Agreed and carried on. At this time I was averaging 18.5 and was realizing that this was not going to be possible much longer. I backed off and decided to race my own race and not keep with anyone.

Somewhere between mile 20 and 50 I slowed way down. It started raining off and on during that first 50 and I started to get wet and cold. I figured I'd just keep moving and I wouldn't die. The mud was not a problem during the first half of the race, either. It was sort of muddy and traversing it was tricky at times but you just had to keep moving. Nothing like the images I saw from 2016 LR100... yet. Britton Kusiak passed me somewhere around mile 25/30 and I didn't even know he was there. That was a welcome surprise, his energy was solid and he was just wearing bibs, knees exposed, and seemed fine. That honestly gave me some energy and I rode with him for a couple minutes. But alas, he was going too fast as a single speed and I wanted to pace myself because I knew it was going to suck more later, especially if it kept raining, which it did. I said bye and good luck.

I came into the halfway point in Guthrie WET and COLD. My gloves had soaked completely, making a fist resulted in a stream of blood red water pouring out of them. It was comical. My hands were numb. Overall my body was cold but my hands just felt terrible. I remember being completely covered in red dirt and I couldn't see my Garmin because it had what appeared to be blood all over it (it was just blood red water). Any attempt to wipe off the mud just caused me to smear more mud on it. I finally found a clean part of my elbow to use to wipe off the Garmin so I could see it. My legs were tired. I had trouble putting out efforts that were hard enough to get my heart rate above 150. I was seriously struggling already. I made it to Guthrie in 3 hours and 21 minutes. About 15mph average. No way was i finishing in 6 hours. I remember laughing at myself. Why the f*** didn't I buy a rain jacket or waterproof gloves? I know I pretend to be "hard" but this seriously is dumb and dangerous. Where is my extra food? I was so wet and cold. I tried hard to get my heart rate up to keep warm but that was difficult because I didn't want to cramp and felt that cramping was near. My knees were cold, I had a dull pain coming from my left knee all day.

I did not stop at all in Guthrie, I didn't even stop to pee until I was forced to stop around mile 70 because of the peanut butter mud (we'll get there soon). I did not want to stop. I was afraid to stop. If I stopped would I get colder? Could I keep going? I was also kind of racing. I knew I passed a lot of people at Guthrie who stopped and I knew I was moving slow. I did not do a drop bag and had no mechanical issues either so there was no reason to stop. But I mainly just wanted to be done. If I stopped I wouldn't be done sooner. I pressed on, halfway done!

After Guthrie I hear from some other riders that a couple people went to the hospital with hypothermia. Damn, I thought. Glad I didn't stop moving or that would be me. I felt hypothermic. I didn't really know what that felt like though. Tightness in my knees and joints - I wasn't getting blood flow to my extremities, I couldn't get my heart rate up, perhaps this is hypothermia. My mind kept thinking about that cartoon meme with the dog who is sitting at his table in the kitchen while the house is on fire saying "this is fine". That's how I felt...

Did I mention it was a 10-15mph headwind the entire way home? Can't forget to mention that.

Around mile 70 things really got interesting. I found Garth again and we seemed to both be in the same place as far as pain. Except he was pedaling a very fat bike which seems unimaginable to me. We rode together for about an hour and mostly just bitched the whole time about everything to do with what we were doing. It was that moment in a race where you find that person to ride with and develop a sort of at-war camaraderie. It was awesome. It was then that we came to the only real peanut butter mud section. I saw people walking ahead... "this is fine". I tried to pedal through it - I made it about 10 feet. No way! I've never seen mud like that. It really is like peanut butter. I don't believe people when they say things are like jelly or bananas - that's impossible. You can't even push your bike through it because it accumulates mud and locks up. Then it gets 10lb+ heavier and you try to carry it. While hypothermic. Basically dying. It was about a 400 meter walk down and then up a hill. Then ride down it and walk up the next peanut butter section. These areas were like grave yards of people fiddling with their chains on the side of the road. Sad! Eventually it passes. Maybe 200 meters of just the worst mud you ever saw. I have to give an enormous shout out to the local jeep club who rescued some hundreds of people that day. This photo was not taken by me but this is the jeep club on a part of the course.

Garth and I made it through the majority of it. He was having a lot of mechanical problems after the mud and told me he was going to run and try to warm up. Run? I had to keep moving. I said bye to Garth and moved on. I planned on taking the next part slow in hopes he would catch up after getting through that section. I never did get to see him again. I assume he died heroically at war in the mud trenches.

For the last 25 miles I was basically a zombie. I was out of food. I still had some water. I was moving so slow. Most of the time only carrying 10mph or less - stoked to make it to 15 or more on descents. My front brake was incinerated. I had zero front brake so I stopped braking on downhills to preserve my rear brake. And when I did brake on the rear I made sure to lock the wheel up so it wouldn't just rub. That made the descents super exciting though! Skerrrrt.

 With 15 miles left I came across of group of riders hanging out on the side of the road. I asked if anyone could spare any food - they loaded me up! So awesome! I ate everything they gave me. Gummy things, a gel, a package of nature bar things, a chewy granola bar. That saved my life. I knew then that I would make it.

I really can't put into words the kind of pain and what I had to pull from to finish this race. This was considerably more difficult then the Dirty Kanza 200 last year. It wasn't as much time in the saddle but it was worse. The combination of mid 30s the entire time, rain, mud and terrain made it absolutely brutal. I remember having a huge well of emotions when I finally came into Stillwater and onto pavement. I wanted to cry for real. That sucked so much. Then finishing and getting that hug from Bobby and cracking open a LR100 pale ale. That was what it was all about. Doing something like that is crazy. I was so happy to finish and get over that pain. There is no pleasure in pain for me - the pleasure is overcoming that pain and moving on. I'm still recovering from it - numb fingers, sore knee, can't stop eating, ultra sleepy. I definitely want to visit Stillwater again or go to LR100 next year to party and support the crazy people that decide to take it on. I had an amazing time there and the community was awesome.

Huge thanks to the Wintles and everyone in Stillwater. District Bicycles is an amazing group of people. Thanks to the Red Dirt Jeep Club. Thank you to The Aspen Coffee Company for making my life new again. Thank you to my 25 week pregnant wife who let me go off alone on this journey. Thank you to Britton Kusiak and Team Colavita Parisi KC with providing me the opportunity to be a part of an awesome team!