On failure: 10 things to do different next time
I really hate writing race reports because it forces me to use the second person too much, as in ‘sometimes you just have a bad day’, or ‘you know, I really thought I did everything right this time.’ So I’ll try to refrain from that self-help-blog type writing and focus on the particulars of why the 2021 Mohican 100 kicked my ass so bad.
Going into the race I knew it was going to be hotter, longer, and more hilly than usual with the addition of a new singletrack loop in Glenmont and extra trail added to Mohaven. That being the case I tried to acclimate by riding in the heat of the day for every ride leading up to the race. I thought I did a pretty good job as several of my outside interval sessions left me dry heaving in the grass atop various Marquette peaks. Unfortunately the U.P. is so damn far north our spring began just a couple weeks ago and after pulling the average humidity and temperature data from my GPS unit for the 17 rides leading into Mohican I realized I was horribly ill-prepared (63ºF / 60% hm) for the 85ºF and 80% humidity we encountered as early as 11am on race day.
One 90-miler I did two weeks before the race got up to 80º but the humidity was low and the breeze was steady and I went slow and stopped often so I never cramped or felt power drain. I did however lose 10 pounds during the 9 hours on the bike that day which led me to absolutely smash water bottles the three days leading into the race. I also drank an electrolyte bottle before bed on Thursday and Friday. Other than forgetting my sleeping pad and having an adorable family with three toddler-age not-so-happy campers next to me I felt impeccably prepared for Saturday.
Because it was going to be so hot later in the race, I knew it would be important to have a good start and get some distance in while it was a little cooler. The race starts with a twenty foot paved rollout before exiting the campground up a steep, loose stone maintenance drive. I lined up next to Kyle Trudeau of CZ Racing and we both angled straight for the little sliver of thick grass beside the path where a bunch spectators were cascading onto the course to take pictures. Ryan gave a comically short 5-second countdown at 07:03 after 5 minutes of thanking New Hope Church for their 10 years of service to the race so the spectators hardly had time to react to my ‘coming right at ya’ pleas as I tried to look good clipping in next to a legit West Coast pro. I must’ve looked too good because by the time I crested the first little paved rise next to the campground I was all alone with a little gap back to a charging Scotty Albaugh of Base Media/Cycle Therapy. I eased up and Scotty joined me just before we hit the first climb so I was able to pace it exactly how I wanted which was my plan all along and basically everything went downhill from there.
The next climb had an acute flat righty going into a steep rooted-out hiking trail. There’s always a log jam at the entrance in normal years because of idiots who have to put a foot down and this year I was the idiot. Both feet actually. I recovered quickly and Scotty, Kyle, and I crested the top of the climb and headed for the singletrack alone and with a good 10 seconds on the field [most likely due to my climbing incompetence, which, sorry guys but that’s why we race to be first into those things :-)].
So there I was following Kyle Trudeau through kickass rooty, old school flowy singletrack and having the time of my life. This is fantastic I think. Only 97 more miles of this and I’ll get that 100-mile podium I’ve been chasing.
Being third wheel I could let Scotty and Kyle open a little gap on the top of the climbs and then catch them going downhill to save some energy but by mile 6 or 7 Brian Schworm (Think Green-Bicycle Face p/b SWORD), Christian Tanguy (RBS Cycling Team), the kid who got 2nd (Bear National Team), and Anthony Toops (Paradise Garage) caught us. Anthony, the local legend, took to the front and absolutely ripped the downhills. Scotty was following him close but there was a 1-2 second gap forming in front of Kyle that we had to close every time the trail tilted up again. At the first chance the kid who got second made his move around me and it was the same case with him—there’d be a gap by the bottom of the climb that we’d have to claw back inch by inch before the next descent. Christian and Brian got around me before the first aid station when I wasn’t paying attention and took the B line instead of the A line over a rock formation. That was actually the smart move as I could then tail Brian and sag the climbs behind him. It’s way less mental energy to follow someone on the trail, especially someone I knew wouldn’t pick bad lines. Brian is an absolute wizard and since Covid has also adopted the beard of one.
We rolled through Aid 1 as a pack. Brian and Anthony stopped quick but caught back up within 30 seconds or so. I was gulping from my bottle any time the guy in front of me did the same. If Kyle ate, I ate. If the kid who got second searched his middle jersey pocket for sugar cube looking things (aside: who puts food in their middle pocket during a mtb race? I guess he got 2nd, what do I know?) I downed some Clif Bloks. I felt good and strong and felt like I could keep going all day tailing the lead group.
Then out of nowhere I started to fade. The gap to Brian opened a bit and Anthony snuck around me. I could still catch back up going uphill but I was losing power fast. There was no one behind me. Finally as we got to the end of the singletrack and onto a muddy horse trail (which now that I’m thinking of it, maybe the frequent horse patties strewn across the 3 miles of mud at the end of the State Park had something to do with my nausea). After exiting the park there was a horrendously steep muddy nightmare of a climb that I made about halfway up in granny gear before saying ‘fuck this’ aloud and running my bike up the rest. That’s when I started to cramp. I checked my GPS and I was exactly 2 hours into the race. I have never in my life cramped only 2 hours into a ride. My mind started running through all the things that could possibly be wrong and settled on either seatpost height (I had to have my dropper sent in for service the week before the race so I was using a new rigid seatpost for only the 4th or 5th time) or Covid.
On the way to the race my car broke down on the side of Highway 2 just fifteen minutes from the Mackinac Bridge and I had to have a tow truck from Cheboygan come pick me up and take me to St. Ignace while my dad drove up 3 hours from downstate to grab me. Well as I sat on the roof of my car trying to get service and being eaten alive by black flies that looked like the swarming mystery monster out of Lost the kind folks at my insurance company informed me the tow truck would most likely not be able to take me as a passenger because of corporate pandemic restrictions and that if I did not have a ride present there was a likelihood I would be riding my bike the 18 long hot miles to the repair place and so I should perhaps call an Uber or a Lyft. I educated the customer support person that there were more moose in the U.P. than Uber drivers and would he please call in my tow truck so I didn’t have to keep baking atop my car in a ruinous pasty shop parking lot. So as to not appear as a flaming liberal I rode in the tow truck without a mask despite the various context clues that the driver was not vaccinated.
So of course there I was two hours into my first 100-mile race of the year and thinking dammit that insurance oaf was right, I rode in the tow truck and I got Covid. I was hardly moving. I caught the kid who got second as he finished putting a bacon strip in his flat rear tire. He blew by me going up a paved climb minutes later. I was pushing 250 watts and it felt like 400. I was a full 1-minute slower up that climb compared to last year according to Strava live segments. I was sweating but I wasn’t hot though I did finish both my bottles miles before the 2nd aid station. By the time I got there I was in rough shape. The volunteers gave me electrolyte pills, Coke®, and Hammer® Heed. As I exited the aid I was laughing to myself about how terrible I felt. It was like the first time I did Mohican all over again except worse because this time I had expectations to live up to instead of just trying to finish and therein laid part of the problem. Those expectations I placed on myself made things just a little less fun till eventually it was no fun at all. I walked sections of trail I could clean rigid. I walked climbs I normally would power up. Finally I reached Aid 3 and set my bike down and threw up under a tree for a few minutes while the nurse paced around me like a nervous mother looking for some way to help. What I should have done was take off my jersey and soak it in cold water. Douse myself in cold water. Just fucking relax a bit and realize it’s a bike race that means absolutely nothing. But I was brain-fried. Once I could reliably keep food down for a minute I hit the course again and prepared to die going up the steep 300-foot exposed singletrack climb. I made it approximately a quarter of the way up before I stopped, sat on my top tube, ripped off my number plate, and rode home down Wally Road dry heaving over the bars the whole way.
My Covid test came back negative so there’s a high likelihood it was just heat stress (though I won’t rule out consuming horse shit as I’m still having a hard time keeping food down). About 50% of the Men’s 100 field DNF’d including a former two-time winner.
Here’s what I’ll do different next time:
- 10-to-14 day sauna regimen leading up to the race (and if no sauna is available make sure to do one long ride in the dead heat of summer at race tempo where I basically have to crawl home from heat exhaustion)
- If I swap anything saddle-related make sure to ride at least 3 hours to feel if it’s a good fit
- If I start to overheat stop at the first water crossing and cool down
- Never leave an aid station in a worse state than I arrived
- Earplugs and a comfortable sleeping setup are a must if I camp again though it’s really not a smart idea to camp before a 100-miler if it’s above 70º due to ambient sweat loss
- Have a gameplan for when I start getting sick
- Instant cold packs in drop bags if it’s going to be 80º or humidity over 60%
- If I’m worried about the heat START SLOW or lower expectations
- Have fun
- Remember it’s just a bike race
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