After months of anticipation, the time for the inaugural X100 race just outside of Traverse City, Michigan had finally come. As a Michigander via Pennsylvania I was pretty happy to see the state get its third 100 mile mountain bike race, joining the three year old Hanson Hills 100 and the long running Lumberjack 100 events.
Having said that, I was pretty UN-happy to have to admit to myself that a hundred mile mountain bike race is just not in the cards for me now. A summer filled with health issues (welcome back deep vein thrombosis number three and life long blood thinners!), a lack of riding (stay/work at home dad = way less ride time during the schoolless summer) and a training plan that contains more beers than miles, had me worried to even enter the fifty mile singletrack race.
On to the event
As part of my duties as head honcho of XXC Magazine, I worked a little industry trading and sponsorship deal with the race, so multiple blog posts and updates had me aware that race promoter John Kolarevic was looking to put on a race that had and adventurous backcountry feel to it. Still, I naively thought “we ARE in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, how hard could it be?”
Maybe I just didn’t want to waste brain cells worrying about a trail, or stop myself from selling my full suspension frame, but I assumed that it would be your standard Midwest 100 mile mountain bike race [if such a thing is ever “standard?”]… singletrack sections hooked up with ORV and snowmobile trails with a lot of Michigan dirt roads to make for a fast race. This false assumption was backed up by some friends that pre-rode the first 5 or 6 miles Friday evening and returned to camp saying “we climbed up a dirt road for about a half mile and hit some fast flowing single track… The race is gonna be fast.” They were wrong. I was wrong… WE were wrong.
The start finish line for the 50 and 100 mile loops* was a lodge called Ranch Rudolph. The ranch had plenty of camping, parking and an ice cold stream that ran right through it which was perfect for floating a kayak down or dunking an overheated, shelled out, increasingly fatter, cramping, salt encrusted mountain bike racer in after his race (not that I did that).
The 100 mile race started bright and early at 7:00 a.m. under sunny skies and brisk morning temperatures. The start line had more than a few fast, veteran endurance racers on the line including the fresh from the Breck Epic Ron Sanborn, all round fast guy and race favorite Jorden Wakeley and Michael Seaman, who along with being one of my friends and local riding buddies, was also the only racer to set about completing all three of Michigan 100 mile mountain bike races.
The 100 mile racers set off in two waves with the fast “preferred start time” racers going off first in a dusty, multi-colored lycra blur, followed shortly after by the rest of the racers. It was reported that the pace of Wakeley and the leader was manic, even by the top of the first climb. Many racers, including Seaman, opted to let off the gas, knowing there was still 99+ miles of racing to go on trails that most of the racers were unfamiliar with.
With the 100 mile racers off, it was time for the rest of us to mix up bottles, get some breakfast, coffee up, drop a deuce and try to relax as local radio station KLT’s remote truck blared such hits as Dio’s Rainbow In The Dark and No One Like You by the Scorpions over the P.A. system. The 10:30 start time couldn’t come soon enough.
By the time we 50 milers started warming up, the heat of the sun was starting to gain strength making for an easy warmup but also causing concern; “if I’m sweating at 10:15 just futzing around, what’s the heat going to be like at 1 o’clock???” Mental notes were made to stay hydrated and fill the bottles up at every aid station possible.
Once on the line, standard race instructions were given, the National Anthem was played (the standard version, not the one by Hendrix or the one by Radiohead of the same name) and we were on our way.
I did my standard ever-so-predictable start: drop off the back in the first 20 yards, breath like fat Sherpa at 29,000′ and await the turn into the singletrack. Once off the dirt road and on the trail I started to find a pace. I passed a few, got passed by a few and enjoyed the buff singletrack. You know, mountain bike racing stuff.
We hit a sandy climb and my wheels came to a stand still. As a few others and myself hopped off and trudged up the deep sand climb a racer on fat bike passed us. While he didn’t say anything, by the look on his face and demeanor I sensed he was less than happy that everyone wasn’t on 3.8+ inch tires and floating up the sandy climb.
Luckily the climb eased up soon enough to remount and continue on. However we would soon hit more sand on short section of rolling ORV trail before the real balls of the singletrack began. And when the singletrack began, it took no prisoners and was a never-ending relentless ribbon of twisting, turning, beat your hands and spine with a baseball bat stretch of dirt. I alternating between thinking I was riding some of the best singletrack in the state and thinking that the course designer was a sadistic prick whom I would promptly kick in the balls upon my finish.
By mile 20 the sun was blazing, I was already covered in a layer of salt and nearly out of fluids and still had 10 miles to go to the next aid station. As each intersection approached I prayed for some easy double track to recover on for a few miles and each and every time I was smited by the race gods and sent on new sections of singletrack, each seemingly (but in reality probably not) twisty-er, lumpier and tighter than the last.
I felt there was NO way this could all be from the course, it had to be me. The lack of riding, the beers and my “un” training plan had caught up with me and now a 50 mile mountain bike race was too much for me. I told myself I would drop out at mile 30.
At the mile 30 aid station no one was falling over themselves to ask me how I was doing, or telling me I looked like a freshly shat dog turd. All they did was kindly ask if they could fill my bottles and offered me some food. I took the water, declined the food and somehow forced a boiling pack of PowerGel down my throat, which with the heat and slight dehydration, was about as appetizing as downing a shot of curdled milk. As much as I wanted to quit, I knew that if I could make it to mile 42 or so it was supposedly all double track and dirt roads to the finish. So with that, I sacked up and headed out.
I was still feeling like shit and a leg cramping mess, but the V.A.S.A area trails were a bit better than what we had come from and would have been pretty fun if I hadn’t been struggling so much. By struggling I mean I was doing things like body checking saplings and wandering off the trail about every fifty yards. One mishap had me me clipping a pedal on a stump, coming to a near stand still, reaching out to grab a tree and having the tree break at the stump and fall straight over the hill. How I managed to stay up and not slide down the leafy slope is beyond me! I told myself I would quit at the next aid station, dirt road finish or not.
I continued on, feeling like an utter newbie. I finally got to the next aid station and once again was only offered refills and food (couldn’t SOMEBODY be a dick and say “Hey fatty, you should quit, let me give you a ride back to camp in an air conditioned vehicle.” The only difference was this time the niceties were from a group of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Wolf Packers or what ever they call ’em these days. Regardless of their scout pack origin, there was no way I was going to quit in front of a bunch of kids. I confirmed with the Scout Master that double track and dirt roads were in my future and pedaled off.
Seeing the signage for the coming 50 mile race split was a real boost to the moral. At this point I imagined having to do ANOTHER 50 miles and the unspeakable things I would do to myself and my bike to avoid having to do them. I started digging deep to power up the climbs, attempting to get my lesser miles over with as soon as possible.
Nothing but a few miles of sandy, dusty, washboard dirt roads stood between me and finishing. I was elated to have forced myself to continue on, but dejected by having felt like shit the entire race. In those last few miles I made promises to myself and deals with higher powers (hell, I think I made deals with “lower” powers) to get through the race and improve my training. I will ride more, eat less and train harder this winter. I will be back on August 23rd, 2014 for another edition of the X100!
With deals cut and promises made, I stopped muttering obscenities, put a smile on my sagging, well rounded face and crossed the line some five and a half hours after my start.
I immediately headed to the ice cold stream for a dip. Along the way I ran into some friends and got updates on who won (a gloveless Jorden Wakeley in an amazingly fast 7:47:44 on steel hardtail with a rigid fork) and who DNFed (many!). I sat in the water and a family of kayakers rowed towards the dock on the easy flowing stream. I thought to myself how much better their day seemed to have went than mine. I also probably stared at the blond woman in the bikini a bit too long. Then I dismissed the notion (the day, not the bikini girl, I’m still thinking about her), knowing that there are plenty of other days for easy floats down the river, but the chance to push (and force) yourself to complete new challenges present themselves far less.
While my race was not the greatest (surprise!) the race itself was pretty damn awesome. It was a challenging, super well-marked course, in a beautiful setting with a bunch of great folks, good beer (New Belgium!) and good food. For a race in its FIRST year (keep that in mind haters out there complaining “too much sand,” “too hard”, etc., etc.,) . I take my hat off to John and his crew, I was glad to help them out and be part of the this inaugural event. I have no doubt the X100 can become big in the future. My hat also goes off to anyone who finished the 50 and 100 single track events, especially the 100 mile racers.
I finished pretty much right in the mid-pack 35th out of 66 starters. Way better than I would have thought. I just wish I could have felt better doing it rather than like a stumbling, bumbling mass of chubby human suck.
For more information and full results from the X100 and X50 visit x100race.com.
*Note: of Michigan’s three hundies the X100 is the only one that is ONE big ass loop.