Guest blogger David Markman rolls out his experience on the red carpet of clay.
By Guest Blogger David Markman
I came into this race with some experience riding the beautiful red clay roads of Oklahoma, but this was the first year I competed in the LandRun 100. A quick review on the website of previous year’s races and photos, and long conversations with the race organizer Bobby from District Bicycles, gave me a really good indication this was as much about conquering the wet mud/clay/slime as it was about riding 100 miles. This 100-mile race starts in Stillwater and winds through a small town or two on the beautiful red dirt roads—kind of like Oklahoma rolling out a red carpet for the 800-plus riders that signed up.
The weather called for plenty of rain. No doubt significant amounts of that red clay would be coating my bike and clothes, and going home with me.
My plan for muddy conditions was developed through several past wet races, most notably the Dirty Kanza last year. Get out fast, even faster than you think you should, and try to beat everyone to the muddy sections with the hope that the first riders through will be able to ride rather than walk. Once the first dozen or two riders cross a wet spot on the trail, and the bike wheels have had a chance to cut fresh tracks, everyone else will be walking that section. I also knew that even if this strategy were successful, there would still be sections that that were impassable by bike. This would be a good time to eat food and replenish my energy as I walked along. With any luck, these two strategies would get me some time and distance from the pack.
A fast start on good roads: Even the nicest graded roads will look much different after 800 bikes roll over it ...
The halfway point of this race was Perry, Oklahoma, and riders were allowed to meet a support crew or pick up a drop bag. Since I was my only support crew on this race, I opted for a drop bag, and filled it with extra water bottles and some energy food. I also knew at this point, the worst of the mud would be behind me and the last 50 miles would be hard packed and potentially very fast.
The morning started off well. The six Arby’s roast beef sandwiches I bought on my drive to Oklahoma for race day—three for the bike and three for the drop bag—had been consumed the night before. A new plan was needed.
I woke up early at 6 a.m. and loaded my bike for the day. The carbon Salsa Warbird was traveling light with two water bottles, two Must Stache garbage bags on the bars, and a very small tool kit tucked under the seat. I chose Specialized Trigger Pro 700x38 tires for the anticipated mud. I rode these tires previously on the red dirt roads in Oklahoma and Kansas, and was pleased with their performance.
Breakfast burritos became the food choice—one right away and one to put in my drop bag. There is a reason no one has ever called breakfast burritos the breakfast of champions. The first one went down hard and gave me little confidence that the one in the drop bag would be any better, but that was the plan I had. With 60 minutes before race time, I spun my legs out and as race time approached, I felt ready for anything Bobby and the LandRun team could throw at me. I confidently took my place behind the lead police car, next to my good friend Don Buttram, and along a host of some other very experienced riders.
The Stillwater police led us out of town on a neutral start, and when we hit the gravel, it was game on ...
It is unbelievable how fast the lead pack took off! Within moments, we were approaching 20-plus mph, and although I could initially keep pace with this group, I knew this pace was unsustainable for me past 15 miles. I needed to reassure myself. I had a plan to go out fast, maybe not this fast, but I was going to keep with the pack as long as I could. I was able to ride through the first muddy sections, but I knew very soon these sections would require walking for those behind me. This part of the plan was working even better than I had hoped. Ride when I could ride, and walk and eat when I couldn’t. I just kept riding. Around mile 35, I hit the kind of mud that could suck the shoes off your feet, and the anticipated hike-a-bike section began. I had not realized it until this point, but moments after starting the walk I realized my nutrition plan was severely lacking. The fuel bank was overdrawn.
I had spent the past hours pulling energy out of my body without putting any calories back in. With 15 miles or more left before I hit the Perry checkpoint, I seriously needed the nutrition I knew was waiting for me in my drop bag. I knew I had really messed up on one of the most important parts of distance riding—constant replenishment of energy. I consumed everything edible on my bike, but it wasn’t much. This was going to be a long, tough 15 miles.
I rolled into the Perry checkpoint to the familiar smiling face of Crystal Wintle, co-owner of District Cycles. Her endless energy and enthusiastic encouragement really boosted my spirits. Another volunteer was standing next to her with my drop bag in her hand. This checkpoint was very well organized and running like a finely tuned machine. Special thanks to all the volunteers at this checkpoint, you did a fantastic job! I am of the opinion that rest stops or checkpoints are a necessary evil of endurance riding. They certainly can play a critical role, but my approach is to get in, get what you need, and get out as fast as possible; the longer you spend off of the bike, the harder it is to get back on.
A quick look in the drop bag, and I knew still had a nutrition problem. The burrito I added at breakfast—pass! The hard-boiled eggs that sounded so good in planning stage—pass! Coke—throw it on the bike for later. RedBull—pound it down, leave the can. Some GUs, Honey Stingers, and a few nutritional bars—throw them on the bike. Refresh the water, and get out of there. (To be clear: I am not advocating GU, nutritional bars, Coke, and Red Bull actually constitute a nutritional plan.) I had lost a lot of time dragging my body into this checkpoint and feeling a lot better; I wanted to get back on the road and make up some of the time I had lost.
The stretch from Perry back to Stillwater was amazing gravel. I hit periodic headwinds and steep punchy climbs that seemed endless, but I felt like I was making good time. Not wanting to repeat the nutritional crash again, I spent the next 40 miles consuming every calorie on my bike, along with a healthy amount of Oklahoma mud. At some point around mile 80, Tim and Christie Mohn pulled up next to me on their tandem. It is amazing how much new energy you get with just a few simple words of encouragement from a friend. Although I was getting tired and obviously not making the good time I thought I was since they caught me, I took this opportunity to fall in behind them and ride their draft for a little fewer than 5 miles.
Not long after this, I found myself on a familiar section of road, and again my body found a new source of energy. I knew the road, I knew the finish was not far away, and I pushed hard to finish strong. I was greeted at the finish by a cheering crowd and my good friend and race director Bobby Wintle.
With 30 seconds to catch my breath, I gave Bobby a big hug and smiled for the camera ...
I was covered head to toe in red mud, but stayed at the finish line cheering the other riders until the last one crossed the line.
Every race I ride I learn new things about myself and my bike. During the 12-hour drive home, I had plenty of time to recount the events of the race. My nutritional plan was poor at best, and it was only with the encouragement of some friends along the way that I was able to finish as well as I did. Once my body has used up all available energy, my mind becomes my worst enemy. I had started the day wanting to be in the top 10 percent of the riders. I finished 76th out of more than 800 registered riders, and I was good with that. My bike worked flawlessly thanks to Salsa Cycles and SRAM. I had no mechanical issues, despite the deep, thick mud that seemed to be more than an inch thick just about everywhere. A well-organized race and great volunteers really make the day go smoothly, and District Cycle did a spectacular job. It is not possible to thank them and all the volunteers enough for their efforts. I’m glad I made the long drive to partake in the event. (I think a 200-mile option would entice me back next year Bobby.)
Despite my best efforts to wash the Oklahoma dirt out of my mouth with the beer that was specially brewed for this event, I still get an unexpected crunch every so often. I can think of worse things, I guess.
ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: David Markman
Dave is an enthusiastic cyclist, paddler, climber, and high liner. Always looking for the thrill of a challenge, he has paddled through the Arctic Circle and biked across the Rockies.