Friday, June 11, 2010

Almanzo 100 race report- 2010 version

This is my 3rd year racing 100 miles of gravel in the wilds of Rochester, Minnesota. I was hoping this year would be my turn to tame the course that has managed to leave me feeling broken and battered in the previous installments. While my fitness and strength are ahead of previous years, I'm completely and utterly lacking in any long miles. There's one thing I've learned the hard way and that is many hours of short duration hard efforts don't easily translate into long days of endurance pace in the saddle. Sure you've got a fitness base, but after a couple short hours, that goes out the window and it's up to muscle memory gained during those long slogs. Ready or not, I was headed up with a few good friends to share the party and pain that are an integral part of this race.

Loaded up mommy van:

Squirrel, Fuller, Maria, and I met up Friday afternoon for the 3ish hour jaunt up to the race. Once in Rochester we quickly checked into our digs and got ready to roll back out two wheel style. We rolled down to the bar where pre-race check-in was going down. Chris and his band of merry volunteers were there greeting us with all the goodness that is packed into this race. Alas, us Iowans aren't used to needing to lock our bikes and we'd all neglected to bring the necessary hardware to do so. So, we opted for the next best thing and hauled all our bikes up to the 2nd floor bar area so we could stand watch while downing a few barely flavored waters. As the crowd grew, we all made some new friends and enjoyed a few more brews. Finally, my stomach said enough and was threatening to strike if I didn't feed it soon. Off we went in search of a suitable pre-race feast. The consensus was that we could hit the Famous Daves attached to the hotel. Before we could endeavor down such a path though, we needed more refreshments. A quick stop off at the beverage shop made sure our pallets would stay whetted as long as need be.

Bevvie run:

As the evening wore on, we prudently went to bed at a reasonable hour. With the start time moved back slightly, we were able to fully enjoy a good breakfast at the hotel before loading back up and heading to Spring Valley where the race has found a new home. As we pulled into the school parking lot, we were greeted by the site of several hundred cyclists getting ready to embark on a day full of fun, pain, and adventure. We finished our preparations, dropped our bags for the checkpoint, and headed up to the start line to chat with friends or in my case pace nervously about. I lined up around 5 rows back from the front knowing roughly where to cede myself.

Busy start line:

From the start the pace was pretty brisk, but I didn't feel like it was quite out of control. I yo-yoed in between the front pack and a smaller 2nd pack until we hit the first downhill a couple miles in. Knowing the size of the group and being pretty sure we were going down a pretty wild descent, I kept my speed in check expecting chaos. Sure enough, about 2/3 of the way down, bikes and bodies were stretched from ditch to ditch. I slowed up being sure to not stop and lend myself to the carnage, but took a look to see if everyone looked to be covered with care. While the scene was pretty gnarly, it looked like most escaped the worst or were being tended to so I rolled on with the lead pack now having opened a gap on the rest of us.

Smiling about early on:

We rolled off through undulating terrain that had a combination of most hill types from rollers to steeps to extended climbs along with some screaming fast downhills. I hit a max of 42 mph on one of these descents. Considering I'm a pretty conservative descender and even moreso on gravel, I heard tale of people hitting near 50 on some of the faster spots. I remember feeling pretty good for the first 40 or so miles and was working my way through nourishment and enjoying the ride. Then my legs started aching. I don't necessarily think it was the effort as I hadn't really pounded them hard anywhere, but the aching became progressively worse until the muscles were just screaming at me.

I tagged onto a few groups here and there, but eventually as I worked my way to the checkpoint, more and more riders would pass and leave me in the dust. I think I'd been sitting in the top 20-30 riders before the legs started heading south, but now I figured I'd been passed by another 20 or so riders. I worked my way down to the final directions on the cue sheet and noted the checkpoint was coming up. I felt like the last few miles into the checkpoint drug on forever as I'd been expecting it for so long. I finally rolled in and started digging into my drop bag for more nutrition, bottles, and some ibuprofen. Even with the leg aches, I still felt the best I'd ever had in the past 3 years rolling into the checkpoint. Definitely a bonus in my book. I was taking my time waiting for the drugs to kick when Fuller rolled in about 10 minutes back of me. Squirrel was another 5 minutes back and came in shouting for the beer he'd placed in the checkpoint cooler.

I decided to enjoy my respite and roll off whenever they were ready. All told, I spent a shade over 20 minutes at the checkpoint and enjoyed pretty much every second of it. Looking at the results, it wouldn't really have made much of a difference if I'd been out in 2 minutes or 20 minutes so I'm not beating myself up too bad about the amount of time I took. The 3 of us rolled out through the park enjoying some pavement until we saw where we were headed. Up, up, up was the name of the game as we exited the park on an extended pavement climb. I'd been rolling the hills pretty steady all day and just put my head down and started cranking over the pedals. I slowly rolled off the front with another rider that had joined our group. I figured the rest would latch back on as soon as we crested the hill, but instead we rolled on alone.

Leaving the checkpoint:

I paced myself out and started the slow game of reeling in or being passed by one rider at a time. Finally, we rolled down into the water crossing area Chris had told us about. It didn't look ridable and I wasn't in any mood to chance a full on bath, so I hopped off and enjoyed cooling my feet in the refreshingly icy water.  Out the other side and we were treated to another climb through what appeared to be a mostly abandoned old quarry area.

"Dry" water crossing:

Heading up through the quarry area:

Rolling up the next to last climb:

As we neared the last 10 miles, my spidey senses kicked in and I was pretty sure I knew where we were and where we were headed. Sure enough, we looped back into the first section of the course. We headed back to the downhill that was the site of the pileup and now became a long grinding climb out of the valley. I caught the final rider I would pass here and decided it was time to pour it all out over the last couple of miles. We'd been passing each other back and forth to this point, but I was bound to have the last pass and make it stick. One more climb that I clawed my way up and it was flat all the way back to the school and finish line. As in years past, the previous finishers were hanging around to cheer on those rolling in and Chris was there with a big smile, handshake, and congratulations. I finished it out in 53rd spot with a total ride of 6:45. Squirrel and Fuller rolled in a scant 6 minutes back of me after having chased me for a bit after that opening climb I'd gapped them on.

Race rig:

Best race yet:

All in all, Almanzo 100 is still one of my favorite races and I hope to keep doing it for years to come. The combination of people, course, and challenge all work in near perfect harmony to create what every race should aspire to be. Thanks Chris!

The face of a satisfied rider:

Some photos stolen from here

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