This past weekend we packed our bags and headed to the hills, The Black Hills. Growing up just 6 hours East on I-90, I was excited to head back and get to race on trails “somewhat” close to home. Through my first 22 years living in Minnesota, the closest thing I got to mountain biking was skipping ditches on our moped. Jeff grew up in Iowa and has made a handful of trips out to The Black Hills to ride and race mountain bikes – so, we planned to arrive a few days early so that I could get the feel for the new terrain, as well as take in the local attractions!
The race is a three distance option point to point, an Epic 80 miles, a Marathon 50k or a Sprint 15 miler along the iconic Centennial Trail. Following the National Ultra Endurance Marathon Series, I had the 50k to look forward to. On paper, 50k seems pretty short for a marathon race, but with a course comprised of nearly 100% singletrack, the distance ended up feeling perfect. Oh yeah, we also started at 12noon with an ambient temperature of 111 degrees F setlling into the 90′s for the remainder of the race. 50k was plenty for me to manage with heat like that! After getting heat stroke in Costa Rica two years ago, my body seems to be a little more sensitive to the extremes. Knowing this, I was quick to consult my coach Lynda Wallenfels as to how to be prepared and stay strong through the high temps.
My heat survival tips guided by LW:
- I started hydrating on and off with water and GU electrolyte tabs four days leading up to the race. This may have made for constant potty breaks, but it was well worth the extra flushing.
- If I managed the heat well, I estimated my finish time at 3:30 and up to 4:00 if I withered and suffered. I prepared my hydration plan for 4 – ended up drinking every last drop of what I had packed for 4 hours and ended up finishing in 3:30!
- Lynda gave me some pro tips like after drinking out of your pack, to blow back into the hose so that the water in the hose doesn’t roast. Starting with a pack filled with ice water, this offered up a nice refreshing drink every 10-15 minutes or so. Something so obvious, but NEVER crossed my mind.
- Lynda also gave me strict pacing instructions. “Go slow to finish fast”, she told me. Much like someone who is not accustomed to racing at altitude, if you go too hard at the start you’ll end up feeling it throughout the remainder of the race – which will make you go backwards. Basically, keep a lid on it!
So, with the above list, I was as ready as I’d ever be to battle the heat and race a new trail system! Other Colorado locals Alex Pond and Becky Edmiston and I joined the shuttle ride to Piedmont, South Dakota for our 12-noon start. Alex and I talked about the day and how we both were going to keep it cool at the start, he said he wouldn’t lead it out, and I said I wouldn’t catch his wheel. Well, within the first two minutes of the race I found myself sitting on Alex’s wheel as he lead us out. Oops! Checking my shoulder, I had a group of men hot on my wheel so as soon as we made a turn off onto the gravel road I kindly let them pass me by so I wouldn’t get caught up in going too hard.
From here to the start of the Centennial Trail, our route followed a bit of dirt road to a side creek trail that was intermittent two track, random rocks and side cut singletrack. Maintaining a steady pace, I was able to make up a few of the spots I let slip by on the road – always being sure I never felt my head throb or legs twinge. I let my body do the talking and followed its lead with a steady, forward momentum.
Hitting the Centennial Trail, we were greeted by Dirt Wire extraordinaire Thom Parsons and the NUE Race Director Ryan O’Dell. Both offered cheers and told me I was riding top 5 overall. This was surprising, so surprising that I nearly crashed clipping my bar on a wood post on one of the trail bridges! Haha – luckily, I saved it, laughed it off, and continued along up a great climb on winding trail.
From the top of the first big climb, we plummeted down through the trees, twisting, bobbing and weaving…even blowing a few switchbacks as they came sharp and quick! This was a hoot, and lead down to four or five creek crossings that were bone dry and filled with bowling ball rocks. I bobbed on the first but sailed through the rest, keeping the fun high and the momentum good into the second aid. This is where I saw familiar colors and rolled up to a cooked Jeff downing an ice cold cup of coke. My first response was, “What are you doing here?!?” as I quickly dropped my pack, picked up two bottles, and gladly took an ice towel and cool water splash from the kind aid station helpers. Assuring myself he was OK, I rolled on yelling back “COME WITH ME”. He did not.
I rolled on and knew there would be one more big climb, one super fun long descent, a mini climb and a “this is going to suck” stretch through a meadow before the finish. (***the guy who started our race told us just that, “the meadow is going to suck”). I continued my steady pace up all the climbs, chose safe lines on the descents, and kept downing my GU Energy Labs nutrition plan.
Our race started to merge with the Sprint racers, which caused me to take one wrong turn. One corner was a little confusing and a woman from the trail below said where she was coming from was where I needed to go. It only took me a few moments of bushwacking to know this was not the way, and showed her the right turn and carried on. It was so rad to see so many kids doing the sprint course. They had a big day, pushed up some steep pitches, but got to enjoy the most fun descent of the entire day! I absolutely loved giving high fives and hoots and hollers of encouragement as I passed.
Before I knew it, I was to the I-90 crossing. To our luck, a storm was rolling in providing great cloud coverage and tempered the heat – I’m sure this made for a quick trip to the finish line and before I knew it, I was navigating the bike path to the finish line. I came across in a steady 3:30, no heat stroke, no leg cramps, and a huge grin ear to ear securing my third NUE Marathon win!
It’s been so fun following a series this year, getting to travel to new places and explore new trails! I have to say, the best thing about following this series has really been sharing it with our bike family who are doing the same. After awards, the crew got to hit the town of Sturgis for some good local treats! Next up will be Pierre’s Hole, another new location, course, and competition. It’s sure to dish up big climbs, stunning views, and pristine high alpine singletrack. I can’t wait!
Huge thanks to Team Topeak-Ergon for the support. Being a member of this team has given me an immense motivation to continue working hard and finding balance each day through this bike life.