May 21st, 2010 | Published in general
May 16th, 2010 | Published in general
This weekend i rode and finished one of the hardest and most fun races in my life: the Almanzo 100. It’s a 100 mile race on gravel roads in southern Minnesota, masterfully and stylishly organized by Chris Skogen. Chris doesn’t know me from anybody, other than maybe as another Twitter follower and my very plain entry card, but when i picked up my race packet Friday night he introduced himself, and when i introduced myself as Bill, he knew my last name though he wasn’t even working the table. Class act.
There’s no entry fee, you just carefully consider whether you will really attempt riding 100 miles of gravel in mid-May and mail in a post card sometime during January. This year over 400 mailed cards, about 4x last year’s field. 268 of the starters finished.
Here’s a map of the course as it worked out (and note the 6,900 feet of climbing!), but nobody knew the course before packet pickup, and then only 2/3 of it. The race packets are super cool:
The packet is in a block stamped and embossed (you can see this on the flap) envelope, with name typed at the top, and includes (clockwise from top-left) an embroidered patch, post card, invitation to a ride in the fall, personalized note, a separate map for the rider’s support crew (if they have one), sponsor list, and the cue sheet for the first leg of the race, in four parts. Not shown: race number. The route cue sheets were excellent. There are 75 items for the whole course with the various turns and notes, but there was never a question of getting lost as long as you had the sheet and a working cyclometer. It would be awfully hard to not show up to a race when there’s a hand-written note to you in the packet. I’m just sayin’.
The race starts and ends at the high school in Spring Valley, a lovely town about 20 miles south of Rochester (home of the race for the first 3 years). I camped out the night before at nearby Forestville State Park and awoke early for a proper breakfast at Big Bob’s Eatery in downtown Spring Valley. The field congregated for the 9am start with the best weather forecast possible: light wind, high in the low 70s(F) and clear skies.
I rode my usual commute and cyclocross bike, a Surly Crosscheck, set up exactly as i normally commute on it, except i added gears (8-speed) and a handlebar bag. It worked perfectly, not a single problem, not even a flat the whole ride. I also carried a camelback for my main water supply, as restocking options along the route were slim.
I started about 1/2-way back in the pack and still managed to push too hard through the first 40 miles. I had a great 15.5 mph average through this despite (and partly thanks to) the hills, but paid for it later with bouts of cramping in my thighs. My usual tendency to push big gears doesn’t work well over about 50 miles, at least not without better training.
The entire course was hilly, which made for some thrilling and occasionally sketchy descents. My top speed for the day was 41 mph, and many of them were in the 28-35 mph range. I couldn’t even count ‘em, there were a lot of bloody hills. The very first big descent of the day was likely the source of my top speed, and also the location of the first big crash of the day, taking down probably 8-10 riders on a sweeping turn. Happily, no crashes for me, but a couple of close calls.
We passed the town of Preston at 38 miles in, but i decided not to stop there, though i later realized that a water refill would have helped some. I was pushing a little too hard, but i was also feeling pretty good and didn’t feel like stopping just yet. By the time i got to the checkpoint at mile 64 to pick up my drop bag, i had worked through a round of cramps, just finished my initial supply of water, and was ready for a break.
The Checkpoint was at a historical old town in Forestville park that i’d like to go back to see again sometime. No facilities, but a nice spot to sit and eat and rest a bit. I sat a little longer than i probably should have, but my legs were feeling much better when i got back on the course.
This part of the state is really beautiful, and one of the tensions i had during the ride was between trying to focus on finishing at a reasonable time and wanting to take lots of pictures. I didn’t take many pictures at all, but this one i couldn’t pass up, with the open meadow and road following a lovely little stream.
One fun feature was the water crossingat mile 80, which turned out to be about a 15′ wide creek crossing with ~4-6″ rocks on the bottom. Many walked across the rocks, some removed shoes and socks to wade across, i decided to ride it. I didn’t give it much thought, but chose the shorter-looking side and paid for it when i rode into a hole that put water halfway to my knees. I stopped right at the far shore, so i didn’t totally clean it, but was happy to have made it through. Unfortunately, this meant riding the last 20 miles with wet feet, as i’d forgotten to put my spare socks in my bike bag.
After the leg cramps around mile 55, my riding changed quite a bit. Much less charging the hills, no more low-rpm cruising; much more spinning and lower gears and walking the hills – anything to keep the legs happily working. The strategy worked well, and though the race portion of my brain twinged a little when people passed me by, the rest of me was enjoying the ride a lot more. The hills continued apace right to the last couple of miles and the re-entry into town. I finished at about 9 hours even, 7:51 of that moving with the bike.
Update: i’m officially finisher #213, 9:01:08.
A note about the race sponsors too, they not only provided lots of cool schwag and prizes for racers, but many of them were also participating in the race themselves. One or more of the owners of Hiawatha Cyclery, Banjo Brothers, King’s Bar, Capricorn Cycles, Rawland Cycles, and Cars-R-Coffins were on the course (and possibly others that i missed). This is a big part of why Minnesota cycling is so great.
100 miles ridden
164 ounces of water, 2 bottles of chocolate milk, 1/2 lb of almonds, 4 oz of homemade granola, 4 oz of cheese, 2 oz of summer sausage consumed
0 crashes, injuries, mechanical problems, wrong turns
1 pair of cycling gloves (shredded during the race)
Notes for next year:
1. Carry less food, more water. Stop at Preston for a quick refill. Put more food in the drop bag.
2. More hill training. Natch.
3. Lower gearing from the start. Add a second chainring for the big hills.
4. Get the Banjo Bros map holder and bring one bike bag plus the Camelback.
5. Take more pictures, spend more time riding with people.
Many thanks to Chris and his crew for a great race. Many things to family and friends who helped make it possible for me to do it. Many of my friends were there too, and it was great to chat and ride with them during the day. The town of Spring Valley was very accommodating and friendly, i definitely want to go back for another visit and more riding. And of course, for next year’s race.
Update: I didn’t mention the multi-bike crash on the first big descent of the course. I came through a few minutes after it happened, and i stopped to see if everyone was ok and everyone was well-attended, so i moved on to get out of their way. I heard later of a concussion and ambulance trip for one rider, and it turned out to be Skibby, who documented the aftermath on his blog. That was a nasty-looking crash, get well soon!
Here’s a good recount by cornbread of what it was like to ride in the lead group for the race. The winners averaged nearly 20mph over the whole course – my average for the first 40 was only 15mph, it got slower after that.