On a whim about 2.5 years ago, I went mountain biking with a buddy at the Cuyuna mountain bike trail system. I hadn't ridden a bike or done anything really physically demanding for about three decades. I learned on that first ride, that even though I wasn't overweight (good genetics I guess), I was in terrible shape. Even though I was sucking air badly, I had a blast and I was hooked.
Since that time, I've been riding a LOT. I got myself in good enough shape last year that I did a few small local races in the sport class, and over the winter I did a couple of fat bike races in the snow. I'm not a lead pack racer, but I enjoy the competition and it gives me goals to shoot for.
Well, a couple weeks ago I tackled the Maah Daah Hey race in western North Dakota, this would be my first real endurance race. The full race is 100 miles, but with the wisdom that comes with age, I decided to "just" do the 50 mile race since this was my first time. The race is a point-to-point race with aid stations every 25 miles, and some misc check points every 5-8 miles. My main goal for the race was to finish. I talked to some locals who had done that race in the past, and based on their experiences I was hoping I could finish in 8 to 9 hours.
Around 9:00 am the promoter got the race underway, I had a plan to keep my heart rate around 160-165, figuring that I could maintain that the whole day. I went out fairly strong at the start, and I'd guess I was in about 20th place out of the 70 or so racers. Just a couple miles in, we hit the first big climb. It was about 2 miles long, and my game plan went out the window. I wanted to make this climb without getting off and walking, this would come back to bite me later on. I saw my HR in the 180 range, and I knew that I couldn't maintain that, but I kept pushing. I finished the climb, but I had used a LOT of energy. The next 20 miles went well, there were a lot of climbs, some scary technical sections, and some fast downhill sections that were fun, but the terrain was rough and you had to concentrate the whole time because any small mistake and you'd be on the ground. The temperature had been steadily going up all morning, my Garmin said it was about 90F.
Then it started, on a moderately steep climb I was plugging along and my left hamstring knotted up. I caught it right away, bailed off of the bike and stretched it out. This was going to become commonplace for me the rest of the afternoon. I was drinking a LOT trying to make sure I didn't get dehydrated, so the muscle cramps were a little surprising. The first aid station came up somewhere around mile 27, the workers there were all great. Someone gave me some pickle juice to help with the cramps, I refilled my backpack with water and tailwind, had a coke and some food. I spent around 6 or 7 minutes there, and then headed out again. I found that as long as I didn't have to put down a lot of power on the climbs, that my cramps would stay in check, but if I had to really push hard up a steep climb, I'd cramp up and be in agony for a while until I could work them out. As I got to one of the next checkpoints my Garmin said 108F, it was really hot. I was walking up all of the steep climbs now, or else I'd cramp up. The 9 hour mark went by, so much for my goals, now my goal was just to finish! The last 7 or 8 miles of the race seemed to take forever, the climbing had got easier, but I was still cramping unless I walked even the gentle climbs. Finally, there it was... the last mile was a paved trail and I came rolling into Medora with 2 of my buddies, we finished in about 10 hours and 50 minutes. Even with all the walked I had done, I still finished in 26th place, and I was happy with that. I found out later that out of the 70 or so entries, that only 28 had finished. It was tough.
Now that I've had some time to recover, I'm trying to figure out a plan for finishing the full 100 miles next year.