2018 Spotted Horse 150

Where do I begin?

Normally this is where I'd tell you how bad my training was, how I had no hopes beyond not dying, but for once that's not true. I mean, someone who actually trains would probably be horrified by my mostly once-a-week rides, but it was decent training by my standards. Since August I've put in respectable mileage and lost about 10 pounds, so I drove to Iowa with no expectations of the trainwreck awaiting me. In fact, I was even hopeful that I could finish the 200-mile race this year.

I could complain about the crap weather, but I'd been anticipating it since the forecast had started to turn early in the week. I've spent too much time riding in the rain, and my most recent bikepacking trip was a refresher class on how cold you can get in the wrong gear. I'd hoped to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised, but expecting the worst and being well-prepared was a decent alternative.

Basically, no excuses. It just was what it was.

I got to Iowa in plenty of time but then spent too long hanging around chatting at race check-in to get everything prepped before dinner (at the restaurant my friend Jill asked if my bike was all ready. I snorted with laughter, and Steve and Carolyn in unison said, "Have you met Kate??"), so by the time I got to bed it was sometime after 10 p.m. The only thing less pleasant than my 3:15 alarm was the sound of heavy rain on the roof.

I arrived at the race start a little after 4:30. A well-timed break in the rain kept me relatively dry while I prepped my bike. It resumed as I started down to the host winery's tasting room, where riders could stay dry until the start. The weather had shrunk the field; 88 had been expected, and 57 started.

Leg 1: start to CP1 (mile 59)
"Slow bike to Orient"

Right at 6 Sarah led us down wet pavement to the now-familiar first turn. My rear fender kept my backside dry, but a steady stream shot off my front wheel and into into my face. The cycling cap keeping rain out of my eyes did nothing to block water from below. This complicated every downhill for the next several hours. It's hard to let your bike fly when you're half blind.

I'd plugged my Garmin into an external battery so it would remain backlit in the dark, having learned on my bikepacking trip that powering it from my dynamo hub would result in super annoying repeated "external power lost" warnings every time my speed dropped too low (basically every uphill). Instead I got repeated super annoying "external power lost" warnings every time a bump in the road jarred my loose cable.

The first 10 miles took me just under an hour, slow even by my standards. I chalked it up to timidity on the dark, soggy roads, but the next 10 were a minute slower and the next 10 were yet another minute slower. OK, the problem was me, not the dark.

Iowa: not flat
Photo credit: Eric Roccasecca
Knowing my tendency to wimp out and start to make excuses, I'd decided that if I reached the course split by 2:00 (maintaining a 10 mph pace) I had to go on with the 200. The fact that I was barely clinging to a 10 mph pace in the first three hours made it highly unlikely that I'd be able to ride the long course. I wasn't sad about that; the day was colder and windier than I'd been mentally prepared for. I passed the Sonas where they'd pulled over to get out hand warmers -- "we're tired of suffering" -- and felt better that I wasn't the only one who was borderline miserable.

I might look like I hit a yard sale on the way to the race, but this clothing combination worked!
Photo credit: Eric Roccasecca
I had a lousy attitude, too; as Carolyn and Kate passed me I turned and remarked to Carolyn, "This is fun," meaning of course that it was anything but fun. She gave me a big smile and replied, "It really is!" That's usually my line, and it made me recognize my negativity even if I couldn't understand it.

Photo credit: Katherine Roccasecca

My next 30 miles continued at the same sloggy pace until CP1 at the Orient convenience store. Chilly racers were crowded around a table in the middle of the room, leaving gritty puddles behind when they stood up. A lot of races ended in that spot, but I was still focused on moving forwards.

High-tech plastic food baggie shoe liners were the one element that was missing in my gear. To do it over again I'd have worn my cycling boots, but the baggies were a huge help.
I filled my bottles and frame bag bladder, then came back in to fuel up. I still had plenty of food and nothing caught my eye, so I bought a cup of hot chocolate and drank it while putting plastic bags over my socks to cut the wind. Somehow all of this took me around 30 minutes, bringing my time for the first 60 miles to a bit over 6.5 hours.

Leg 1: CP1 to CP2 (about 24 miles)
"Throw her into the pit of despair"

I was chilly starting out but warmed up enough once I got going, and the first ten miles passed by in just over an hour. If nothing else, my pace was consistent. That is, until I reached the first stretch of B road. Sarah had pre-apologized for this road before the race, but for whatever reason I'd expected it earlier in the day and had kind of assumed the reroute around mile 40 had eliminated it.


I'm a huge proponent of "carry early, carry often", but I inexplicably ignored my own advice and pushed my bike along the grassy shoulder. I accumulated enough mud that my bike was too heavy by the time I decided to lift it. While I didn't greet this hike-a-bike with the kind of glee I did at Muddy Kanza, I emerged from the first mile-long stretch in decent spirits.

My "WTF, Iowa??" moment
A short spin on gravel brought me to a second muddy B road, which was met with mild cursing. It seemed to take forever but did present a conveniently discarded Gatorade bottle and a deep enough puddle to wash the worst of the mud off my bike.  Soon after the impromptu bike wash I manhandled my bike downhill to a manned intersection with (hallelujah!) gravel on the other side.

A volunteer there assured me that, while there were still a few miles of B road ahead, I was finished with all the hike-a-bike. Deeply relieved, I rode away from her, crested the top of the next hill, and saw a ribbon of mud stretching as far as I could see.

Hike-a-bike: not over.
Thoroughly demoralized, I pedaled gingerly downhill until I spotted a guy on the shoulder. He told me, "I broke my derailleur, but this is supposed to be an adventure, so I'm trying to convert it to singlespeed so I can finish."

I figured that was my warning from the universe that pedaling here was stupid, so I hopped off my bike and resumed pushing it along the side of the road. The mile(ish)-long stretch seemed to take forever, and it gave me plenty of time to think, mostly about how slowly I was moving. The ten miles that held our three-mile hike-a-bike ended up taking me 2.5 hours.

Come to Iowa! Ride the B roads!
I made the mistake of looking at my Garmin; learning that the first 80 miles had taken ten hours moved me from from demoralized to despairing. At that pace, just the 150-mile course was going to take me 20 hours. I was cold and wet and couldn't imagine another ten hours of this. That's it, I was quitting. I'd get to the mile 84 checkpoint and call for a ride back.

The voices in my head had plenty to say about my decision.

I don't quit, that's my thing. At least now I'm slow and tough. If I quit I'm just slow.

I can't do this anymore. The sun's going to go down and it's going to get colder. 

This bike has never DNF'd. I don't want it to have a DNF already.

This is stupid. I'm not having any fun. No one pays me to do this. I'm probably due for another DNF anyway. That'll give me more respect for these long rides.

You're going to quit at 80 miles? Not even a century? If you make it to the C-store at mile 120 you'll at least have a double metric century...

Finally I saw the checkpoint tent at the top of a hill. I crept uphill and coasted to the cheering, waving volunteers. Jill asked what I needed, and I promptly burst into tears. Cole rode up in time to witness my meltdown in all its glory. I shoveled in food and wiped my tears as the volunteers reminded me what a tough day it had been and told me how many strong riders had already dropped out.

Jill had been checking in with race HQ. "Fuller says you still have enough time to finish the 150," she told me.

"I know I have time!" I replied, "I just don't want to."

Determined to quit and wanting to feel better about myself, I asked them to read me the list. "You want to know who's still in?" Lee asked.

"No, tell me who's out."

She did just that, and as I read over her shoulder, I couldn't escape the fact that I was fine(ish), my bike was fine(ish), and the only reason I had to quit was that I just didn't want to ride anymore. However sufficient that felt at the moment, I knew I'd hate myself the next day. I ate one last piece of pumpkin bread, drank a small cup of hot coffee, and pedaled away again. Next stop: a Casey's some 30ish miles away.

Leaving CP2. That smile isn't entirely sincere.
Photo credit: Carolyn Marsh
Leg 3: CP2 to finish line (62 miles)
"And now back to our regularly scheduled programming"

Hike-a-bike behind me, I returned to my 10mph pace. The sun set with no fanfare, the wind subsided, and for the first time all day I was no longer cold. There was a mercifully long stretch of pavement. There was a truck driver who slowed to offer me a ride. "You have no idea how much I want a ride right now," I told him as I pedaled away.

I made it all the way through a loud rendition of "99 bottles of beer on the wall", which worked almost as well as caffeine to keep me awake.  The mileage cheat sheet I'd taped to my bars had disappeared early in the day, and all I had was a vague recollection of landmarks after mile 84, so I arrived at the Casey's sooner than expected.

I grabbed a piece of pizza and a big cup of my favorite hot chocolate-coffee combination and took a leisurely break with Martina, who'd been there all day as a volunteer, and Cole, who'd arrived ahead of me. Eventually I couldn't stall any longer and we both headed back out into the night.

Cole quickly pulled away while I followed more slowly behind.  My determination only related to reaching the finish line and didn't extend to pushing the pace. I chipped away at the miles, counting them down one by one. I walked more than my share of hills; I had the gearing and even the legs but not the will to ride them because hills are stupid and I could walk if I wanted. Eventually I started recognizing road names and --  glory of glories -- finally arrived at the finish line at the bottom of a hill.

Somewhere there's probably a finish line picture of me. For now just picture a bag lady standing next to a nice but filthy bike in the dark, trying to muster a smile. 88 people were expected, 57 started the day, and 26 finished. I was one of them.

Huge thanks to Sarah Cooper and all of her wonderful volunteers, especially to my sweet friends who stuck around past midnight to see me finish (thanks, Jill and Stretch!). I didn't even bother swearing I'd never come back. After three years, maybe I know better than to make promises I can't keep.


So I'm proud that I finished, I am, but I hate that it took so long. Over 18 hours. Yes, the weather was crap, but it wasn't much better last year. Yes, it's hilly, but this was the easiest Spotted Horse course I've ridden. I don't understand why I was so slow, and not just slow but uncharacteristically negative. I like the me who finds joy in stupidly adverse conditions, and she stayed home this race. Physically I was quick to recover (I guess a sub-10mph pace is pretty easy on the body), but my confidence took a pretty hard hit. If I'd screwed up nutrition or had mechanical problems I'd get that, but I had no issues other than my glacial pace. It should probably make me want to train harder, but instead it made me want to put my bikes away and just take a break.

  • regular bike shorts (I'd brought bibs and then decided that I didn't want to spend a rainy day taking off my jacket and jersey every time I had to go to the bathroom, a good decision in light of the fact that I was apparently very well hydrated).
  • wool base layer top, short-sleeved jersey, cycling cap, fleece beanie, waterproof jacket (hood up under my helmet, which looked ridiculous but kept water out of my jacket)
  • knee warmers
  • crew length wool socks
  • regular bike shoes
  • wind gloves
  • dry bag with two extra pairs of gloves in my jersey pocket (never used them)
Nutrition plan:
  • 3L water bladder in frame bag (given the temps and C-stores every 50-60 miles, I think I could have gone with a 2L bladder, but I get paranoid about water)
  • 2 400-calorie bottles of Roctane per 60 miles (baggies of powder for extra bottles in my jersey)
  • assorted energy chews and a couple of candy bars. I took way more food than I needed, stuffing my jersey pockets and feed bag full of them. Dumb.
  • whatever looked good at the C-stores (which ended up being hot chocolate at mile 60 and pizza and coffee/hot chocolate at mile 120).


  1. My two cents: If you think you should take a break, you should. You've been doing a ton of biking lately! Maybe you just need a little rest.


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