Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A biker's year for the Susitna 100

"Bikes and snow?!! The two best things in the world together?!! Yeah dawg... sign me up!"Though those weren't my initial words, they explain my feelings when I first landed across the website for the Susitna 100 by accident in 2006... long before I ever knew I would get sucked back up to live here.. or ever enter the world of endurance winter biking.

The Susitna 100, is a run/bike/ski race just north of Anchorage that has been around for quite awhile. It was previously known as the Iditabike and went on the same trail as the world-famous dogsled race, the Iditarod.

After saving coins in a jar for about 2 years for the Susitna 100, (and effectively savings about a third of the race entry fee), I dove in and finally signed up thanks to some motivation from my friend Julie from Anchorage. My exact words to her were, "I'll do it if you do it." SUCKA!!! I knew she'd say yes, I just needed an excuse.

Anyway, the worst thing several people said to me is said, "it's way easier than the White Mountains 100". Because what that meant is that I slacked preparing for it, big time. But on the same note, my goal this year was to not let winter biking consume my life like it did last year. I wanted to have a live outside of it. And I succeeded, but potentially went in under-prepared. You know what though, that's okay.. because I finished anyway with a smile on my face, fresh air in my lungs.. and that's all anyone could ask for.

6 inches of snow dumped in Anchorage the day before the race, but for whatever unbeknownst reason completely missed the trail that sits about 40 miles north of Anchorage. A couple of days before the race, I was not sure what I was going to do, as I was still battling strep throat and this threat of snow loomed.. where my words responded, "sorry, I'm not pushing my bike 100 miles". Not this time, anyway.

I was too excited though. When I thought to myself, "I'm going to do the Susitna 100! I'M GOING TO DO THE SUSITNA 100!" I suddenly felt energized and ready to take it on. And so I did.

Julie Perilla and I got to the start a little later than we should have, but that happens when you have two unmotivated-to-wake-up girls, who aren't too worried about a 5 min difference in a 100-mile race. Someone out there has a picture of me with a big giant grin on as I yelled, "Yeah! 400 feet into 100 miles!!" at the beginning. I'm sure it'll surface eventually.

The problem hit me quickly, that now that I started behind about 100 other people, I had to fight through walkers and skiers who weren't moving all that quickly in the cool temperatures. Following through big holes in the snow wasn't' easy either, but I knew once I got 3 miles in off of Ayrshire Road, things would be better... and they were. BUT before that could happen, my sleeping bag kept trying to slip off of my bike, and at mile 1.5 my right PEDAL FELL OFF. I am standing there staring at my bike saying, "what the $^%&????!" as I start to screw it back in. Tarri Fairbanks (of Anchorage) came by and asked if I needed help and I asked if she for whatever reason might have a pedal wrench.. which she DID! Thanks, Tarri! I was in awe about my pedal for the next few miles.. didn't expect that to happen. Between things wanting to fall off of my bike and the pedal, the start was pretty slow. But it went along, and I hopped back and forth between other riders and skiers until I found my groove. The only notable thing about the first 21 miles of the race that I can remember is a skier who was stopped to take his skis off as I came by yelled, "the hill is kinda steep!" and I yelled back, "awesome!" and let go of my brakes. I don't think he was expecting that... it was a fun hill. :-D

My goal of this race was to not sleep, and not linger too long in checkpoints. Get in, get warm, go on. The fact is, I'm just not that fast. But I'm okay with that. When I see the lead riders working their butts off pedaling as fast as possible, I'm out there smelling the roses, looking at tire tracks, trees, mountains in the distance. That part of me makes me think I shouldn't race at all, but whatever is it, I like doing it. I think no reason more than the fact I'm committing to seeing a certain place.

Anyway, the race got challenging a couple of miles before I got to Luce's when a headwind picked up out of nowhere. The lead guys starting flying toward me (the course was an out-and-back) about a mile before checkpoint 2. I was so excited because I assumed my friend Jeff was in front, because he normally is, and I love seeing familar faces on the trail, but it was someone else... and I was totally confused and concerned something happened. Then a couple of other guys zoomed by, with the wind to their back, and I couldn't discern who was who with the headwind blaring in my eyes.. but he was apparently one of them. I got to Luce's, craving a promised plate of spaghetti and meatballs, which was quickly thrown in front of me as I quickly removed my wet socks and went to work on warming up my suckilicious feet.

The next section to Alexander Lake was brutal. The headwind tore through all of us racers, though it was beginning to die down as it was late at night. I got there eventually, went in the cabin where many lethargic racers were, let my eyeballs de-fog for about 45 mins, had some food, then headed out with another biker, who lost me in the dusk soon-after. Going back to Luce's wasn't terrible and I saw some walker friends on the way back to Luce's. I stayed at Luce's again for breakfast and warmed my feet up, which would soon become a problem after leaving the checkpoint.

The next section of the trail from Luce's to Flathorn was extremely hard for me. My body began to crash hard. I started falling asleep on my bike, I couldn't keep my feet warm. I am using battery powered socks this year, which are fantastic, and the only thing that appears to work for me. I don't like using them because it creates a lot of battery waste, but it's the only way I can winter bike without coming out with frostnipped or frostbitten toes. I expected that I wouldn't need to use them with batteries in them for the entire race, so I only had about 18 hours of battery power with me. Wrong! It was cold enough during the race that I needed them, the entire time. This is when things went wrong. My socks were sweaty, I changed them out to dry socks.. that didn't help much. Someone gave me foot sole warmers.. those didn't work for at least an hour and by that point I was in tears (which is very very rare) pushing my bike down the Susitna River, freaked out that I'd never be able to winter bike again. I walked for several hours, thought about scratching when some snowmachiners stopped to ask me if I was okay and I explained that I couldn't feel my toes or the front part of my foot at all. They offered up their cabin to stop in, but I waited for another racer to come by to ask if it was possible to leave my bike there, get a snowmachine ride to their cabin then get dropped off where my bike was at. In my head, that wouldn't be helping me advance further if I got dropped off at the same spot.. but I didn't do it not knowing. Eventually, those foot warmers and sole warmers started to do something, and after about 10 total miles of walking I was able to hop back on my bike for a bit before getting to Flathorn Lake. When I got there, mile 85, I went in and said "I need to rest." I shoved some delicious Jambalaya in my face, and passed out for 20 mins on the couch. As more racers trickled in, I had to wake up. The other bikers who were HOURS behind me had caught up. Below is what I looked like when I got to Flathorn Lake.. completely exhausted, but thankful for a couch.
Peggy (I think my favorite Susitna volunteer) was awesome at Flathorn Lake checkpoint. We figured out that she knows my cousin in Fairbanks from pilot stuff which was cool. This state is one tiny place.
I was rejuvenated after a 20 min nap and ready to roll. Peggy got this photo of me ready to leave the checkpoint.
My competitive instincts kicked in for the last 16 miles, and I hauled out.. starting out with Brian, the only other biker left. I was energized and ready to get to the finish so I cut lose and averaged about 5.5 miles per hour in the last leg. That is a good pace for me snow biking. I pushed myself really hard those last 16 miles, and was happy with my finish. I found out the other Julie got in about 6 hours before me which was awesome. I was really bummed about my time and performance, but considering the doctor I went to the Wednesday before when I was sick told me I should "reconsider" during the race that weekend, I am happy that I gave it a shot and finished. Otherwise I'd be wondering, "what if?" I don't plan on doing this race again.. unless I for whatever reason become a better athlete in the next year and want to try to decrease my time, which really shouldn't be too hard to do. We'll see once the experience becomes cloudy and the snow falls next autumn.
At the cabin at the end of the race I had found that a couple of my toes were purple-y and the race director suggested I stop at Mat-Su Regional to get them checked out as soon as I could. I let them slowly warm up (which was painful) and slept for a few hours. The worst toes turned red and were hard, but they seem to have recovered after about 4 days of pain and some minor blistering.. so it looks like I lucked out once again. Next time, I am carrying that extra battery weight.. just in case.

Overall, I got super lucky that I did the big Su during a biker's year, even though my own performance sucked. We all have bad races.. this was one of mine. Despite the bummer, I'm still glad I tried.


spruceboy said...

Congratulations on finishing the Susitna 100 and the Whites 100! The Su was fairly hard weather wise this year - Fairbanks like cold with lots of wind, so just completing was an achievement in itself. Congratulations!

Julie said...

Hi Jay - thanks for your response! (I am months late on thanking you.. I planned to do it in person but forgot to when I saw you.) Congrats on your fantastic season on bike. Keep those wheels rolling!