TAT CN Header

Friday, March 18, 2016

Land Run 2016: There will be mud

Of course I'd heard of Land Run. Basically from inception it became a must-do event on many gravel calendars, but with an 8-hour drive to Oklahoma and "only" 107 miles, it didn't fit my ideal drive time: race time ratio. This year, enough friends were going that I pulled the trigger and registered, ensuring that I'd spend two weeks before the race obsessing over Stillwater's weather forecast.

Both Team Virtus and Momentum teammates were racing, and I'd originally planned to just ride my pace and see who ended up nearby. When Mickey got a last-minute entry thanks to my DK buddy Matt, he offered to pace me. This increased the likelihood of suffering [Mickey: I think you mean "fun"], but I'm concerned about making the time cutoffs at my goal race this June and knew riding with Mickey would be good training.  After all, we've tried this before with pretty good results.

The pre-race festivities at Iron Monk brewery featured smooth check-in, cool vendors, live music, drool-worthy Salsa rigs, all the free beer you could drink, and cycling legend Jay Petervary [Mickey: ...and some really tall guy in a Salsa kit who looked nothing like him].
Untitled
Team Virtus loves Land Run!
Because the weather leading up to the event had been better than forecasts had suggested, course conditions on Friday were pretty good, but race director Bobby Wintle, possibly the most excited, enthusiastic person I've ever met, warned that there would still be muddy sections: "Don't ride your bike in our mud; it destroys bikes."

Having survived last year's DK mudfest and read numerous Land Run race reports, I was prepared to take him at his word.  I'm better at carrying my bike than riding in mud, and I saw too many sad faces and broken derailleurs in Kansas.

We awoke to news that more rain had fallen overnight, but the roads didn't seen overly wet on the short drive to the start.  We arrived nearly an hour early -- almost unheard of for Team Virtus -- quickly got bikes and selves ready, and delivered our drop bags to race staff. That left us plenty of time for socializing and team(s) pictures.
Untitled
Team Virtus!! Poor Chuck...that white jersey may never be the same.
12814175_10206280352636812_2956194682516387329_n
With my Momentum teammates (and Bob).
A few minutes before the start Mickey and I wormed our way into the middle of the pack, much further up than I'd prefer, and then a cannon blast signaled the start. [Mickey: I suggested to Kate that she start ahead of me so I wouldn't lose her in the chaos of the start. This ended up working in my favor when it came to finish times. Muwahaha.] The race began with a few miles of neutral start following a police car out of town, keeping us in a big pack until the officers pulled off the road and began blaring music from "Rocky".

Land Run gravel isn't the same kind of loose rock I'm accustomed to from riding in Missouri and Kansas. Instead, many roads were paved with a layer of dirt. Wet dirt. I had to squelch my early nerves in order to stay anywhere near Mickey's wheel, but eventually I realized the damp surface wasn't affecting my handling and relaxed for real.  A bigger issue was the way I'd dramatically underestimated the course.


I'd looked at the elevation profile and shrugged it off as a bunch of rollers. Nothing looks gigantic, and indeed there are no big climbs. There are also few flat sections; you spend the majority of the day either climbing or descending, making this a sub-ideal course for Mickey and I to work together. I descend as well or better than he does, and I like a clear line of sight, which makes riding behind him on a downhill problematic; on the other hand, he's vastly better on uphills even when attempting to ride slowly enough for me to keep up.

I've been working hard on my climbing and thought I'd improved, so I think we were both moderately appalled by how badly I handled the hills.  [Mickey: I was in no way "appalled". I was a little "surprised". I thought you were being a little too conservative in the opening miles and could have pushed a little harder on the hills. You're stronger than you realize.] Whatever, then. I was certainly appalled. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and was so out of breath at the tops. In retrospect, I think the softer surface may have made the hills more challenging, but the bigger issue was my place in the race: it wasn't so much me riding poorly as being surrounded by fast people.

Rather than dwell on it, I accepted that maybe I was having an off day and tried not to let it get in my head. I did suffer minor heartbreak when, one by one, the rest of the Momentum crew zipped past us around mile 20. I love riding with those guys, but their plan for the day had been a good training ride but not killing it, so when they flew by while I was trying to be "fast" it was a bit of a blow. [Mickey: This was a definite low point, attitude-wise. But after being reminded that we were only 20 miles into a 100+ mile race and that we hadn't even gotten to the hard part(s) yet, you did an admirable job of getting your focus back.]

Only a mile or two later, though, we caught up to them in the first muddy hike-a-bike section. I hoisted my bike onto my back and began trudging through the sloppy red clay coating the road.  Seeing people around me struggling with bikes over one shoulder I sent another silent thank you to Jim Phillips for his excellent bike carry tutorial.

Untitled
Not me, but Melanie has that on the back carry down!
Photo credit: Jeff Maassen
Once again, lugging my bike through mud was weirdly fun. I'm pretty good at it, and since almost no one could ride I didn't have to feel bad about my lack of bike handling skills. In fact, many of those who attempted to ride served as a good warning to the rest of us, lining the sides of the road with slack chains hanging from broken derailleurs. "Billy, don't be a hero," I reminded Mickey. [To be fair, riding a SS mountain bike with gravel tires did allow me to take a few liberties when it came to mud. But there were still a couple times that I rode a little further than I should have, which resulted in a good bit of extra weight in mud when I did resort to carrying my bike.]

Unlike the DK mudfest, this hike a bike had some rideable sections, so we didn't have to carry our bikes for 3 miles straight. I actually have no idea how far we carried them. I've heard estimates between 3-7 miles total, but I'd guess it's somewhere in the middle. Each new HAB section made me a little happier, knowing I was putting time on most of the other women in the race.

Some of the rideable sections were super sketchy. I ended up on questionable lines on a couple of muddy descents, but luckily my bike stayed upright and I only once resorted to  the reassurance that was once a downhill staple, whispering aloud to myself "your bike wants to stay up...your bike wants to say up" while careening down a sloppy hill into a mud pit. I was super happy with my tires (continental travel contacts) as they handled well in all kinds of conditions, didn't pack up too much with mud, and shed the mud quickly once we were pedaling.

Untitled
Coming out of the creek bottom
Eventually we came to the planned dismount zone, a slick, narrow passage leading down to a creek crossing and the staircase built specifically for the race.  One more extended section of bike carrying (yea!) followed that before we emerged onto rideable roads near the mile 25 aid station.  There a volunteer reassured us that the rest of the course was in much better shape.  This was true, though we did have at least one more hike-a-bike (yea!) before reaching the midpoint.

JEG_5894
I think this was just before the last muddy hike-a-bike. You can see all the mud splattered over me. You can also see the baggie I stuck in my shirt because that was the easiest way to reach food while carrying my bike.
Photo credit: James Gann

My legs finally seemed to wake up a few miles outside of town. "Hey," I said, "maybe it just takes me 40 miles to warm up!" In reality the difference was probably more the increasingly solid roads, but regardless it gave my spirits a boost as we approached Perry.  The timing clock showed just over 5 hours when we rode in, the first time I'd had any clue what time it was since the start.

The Perry checkpoint was awesome. Food trucks and live music lined the square and the bag drop was so well organized that it was easy to find my stuff.  Hoses were set up on one side for people to wash their bikes, but I didn't bother. Much of the mud had flung off my bike while riding, and my conservative bike carrying strategy had left my drivetrain relatively clean.

Mickey had told me to make a plan for what I needed to take care of at the bag drop. He wasn't on board with my plan to change out of my wet, muddy socks, so I regretfully left the dry ones behind, enlisted someone else's waiting crew member to help me refill my bottle, and grabbed a little more food. I wasn't particularly organized, leaving behind the mango strips that were the only thing I really enjoyed eating all day, but I was fast and ready by the time he was.  We were in and out of Perry within minutes. [Have I told you that you rocked that transition???]

Soon after taking off, Allie, who'd leapfrogged us several times by shooting up hills where I struggled, caught with us again.  We chatted for a few minutes and then she dropped back on my wheel until the Mohns went flying past on their tandem, finally free of the mud and making up for lost time.

10672371_10153582065712017_7541266255378382277_n
I brought home a lot of this red mud on my clothes and bike. Also, those people behind me quickly passed.
The next 52 miles featured many similar scenes: much fitter, faster people passing me like I was standing still.  The roads got progressively better, and eventually the sun even came out.  We had a few stretches that were flat enough that I could take advantage of drafting, but overall we didn't really maximize that benefit. Most often, Mickey would slow down, I'd work to catch up, and once I was on his wheel he'd speed up a little only for me to immediately fall off.  I probably needed some recovery time after the chase, but that didn't sink in while I was riding, and for someone who talks a lot I'm not always a good communicator. [I knew we should have used a bell...]

My Garmin was totally unreliable when it came to navigation, but it did count down the remaining miles, so when my eyes weren't glued to the ground or to Mickey's wheel I was staring at the readout and doing math.  "When we get to the end of this [13 mile long] road we'll only have 35 or 36 miles left. That's like a medium Trailnet ride."

I usually take breaks or at least slow way down when I'm feeling bad during a race; I'm quick to baby myself. That wasn't an option during Land Run with Mickey playing taskmaster. Obviously he couldn't prevent me from stopping, but he did provide strong influence to keep moving. When I pulled over around mile 70 to take my first bathroom break, he mentioned a vote; I was about to shut that idea down when I realized he was talking about something else and I wasn't going to lose a referendum on whether I could pee.

10583905_10153582066387017_7604956593512205215_n
No idea when this picture was taken, but it was pretty exciting to finally have some sunshine. Also, if you look at the tree behind the silo thing on the left, it looks breezy enough to make me proud of not complaining about wind.
"Yes! We're in the 20's [miles left]! That's an important mental milestone."

He did get his way when we passed the final surprise aid station, located around mile 88.  Seeing people standing under a tent I started fantasizing about stopping for a cold Coke but was told, "Tell me what you want and I'll get it for you. You aren't stopping." Are all domestiques such a pain in the ass? [I was a little bit ahead of you when we reached the aid station, so I saw it first. I immediately slowed way down while thinking of a way to get you to keep riding. That aid station had "Major Time Suck" written all over it. To your credit, you didn't resist (too much) when I suggested that you keep moving.] "Suggested".  That's funny.

My solo stretch of road was actually pretty fun, and it felt fast.  I wasn't too worried about losing the man with the map since the course was well-marked and there was a rider ahead of me in the distance. I was just approaching the next turn when Mickey caught back up with a bottle full of Coke for me. It was good, but not as delicious as getting off my bike would have been.

"We only have 18 miles left. The last 6 or so will probably be in town and on pavement, and half of the rest will be downhill. That means we only have 6 miles of climbing left...wait, that still seems like a lot." (Self-motivational fail)

The miles ticked down and I watched each one pass. Once we hit single digits I began looking eagerly for the anticipated pavement as Mickey tried to predict when it would come. Finally we rolled off of the gravel and I celebrated -- "Yes! Let's relearn pavement!!" -- a bit too soon as we quickly turned onto gravel again.  I was not happy.

We hit pavement (for good) with around 3 or 4 miles to go and passed the remaining miles by chasing the fat bike ahead of us.  It took a little work and an assist by a stoplight, but we passed him before making our last turn. With the finish line in sight, Mickey goaded, "Let's race!" [Meh...I like my (totally fabricated) version of how this finishing sprint started WAY better.] We sprinted down the street to the waiting arms of Bobby Wintle, whose celebration of our finish was every bit as sincere and enthusiastic as if he'd known us all his life.

JEG_6426
Very happy to see the finish line and have "won" the sprint.
Photo credit: James Gann

***

Despite edging Mickey in the finish-line sprint, he still finished ahead of me in the standings. At first we were confused, but then we remembered the race was chip-timed and he'd actually started after me...thanks to his own "concerns" about losing me in the starting chaos. What an interesting coincidence, huh? Oh well, I still beat him handily at last year's DK.

I've never actually finished Dirty Kanza in time to be a part of the finish line festivities, so I thoroughly enjoyed being there at Land Run. The street was closed and filled with bike racks and food trucks and picnic tables. Not sure how soon the rest of our crew would be done we didn't want to go change clothes, so we bought dinner and watched for them to cross the line.

When all of our group but Bob (who will hopefully write up his completely epic, totally Bob story) were in, we all decided to go back to the truck for clean clothes.  The overall female winners were being announced as we passed the awards stand, and I recognized one of the women because she'd passed us during the race.  "Maybe we'd better wait," Mickey suggested.


I thought it was probably silly, but we stayed, and when my name was called for second place in my age group, I'm not sure which of us was more surprised and delighted.

12832391_10153582314527017_1483129818468293199_n
Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff
 [I think it was me. That was SO AWESOME!] 

10438132_10154070450676742_7956753677216042746_n
I was pretty happy (and clearly still a little muddy, too).
[You really did a great job, Kate. I can't wait to see how you do at Gold Rush. (Actually, I can! No Facebooking during the race!)]

My typical podium experience is by default, so it was exciting to place second in a division with more than two people.  I think if the roads had been good I wouldn't have been anywhere near an award, so looking forward I really need to work on my climbing [and cornering] skills. Or seek out more muddy races.  Or, best of all worlds, both.

12814609_10153586460412017_2773076228670534408_n
All of Virtus (all who were at Land Run) safely back at the finish line.

Huge thanks to Bobby and Crystal Wintle, District Bicycles, Iron Monk Brewery, the city of Stillwater, and all of the volunteers and photographers. Land Run is a first-class event. I'm already excited to go back.