Race Report: Maah Daah Hey 100

This is a race report by “The Shred” that was previously published at Northern Plains Athletics, a site I used to run.

After reading another racer’s recollection of how the MDH100 went for him/her, I was inspired to jot some thoughts down and some details. It also sounds like more fun than working at the moment, so here we go.  The race was held on August 2, 2014.

For some background, I’m your average rider. I don’t train, I just enjoy riding bikes, eating pastries, and drinking coffee. I consider myself pretty low key. I have a fair amount of experience doing endurance events as an everyday kind of guy. I’m not an endurance racer; I just try to do what I need to do to finish races happy, regardless of place. This tends to be pretty successful rather than putting everything on the line.

The MDH100 is 100 miles through the ND badlands. There are 3 aid stations at about every 25 miles. We had a great crew coming from Grand Forks to complete the race, (myself, Dave, Michelle, Kevin, Eric, Aaron, Jason, Justin, Okoni, Mark, and Marty). In preparation for the race I hydrated for almost 3 days prior to. I drank mostly water and Skratch (an electrolyte drink) and peed constantly for the 3 days before the race. Doing things like this makes you seem a little crazy, and I felt like a middle aged man with a bladder problem that I see commercials about on TV. Three days pre- hydration, regular eating. Reached Watford City on Friday and made camp at the CCC shelter, ate double portions at registration and pre-race dinner (which was delicious), and stayed up fairly late around the campfire with the crew.

Some details: I rode my Salsa El Mariachi (steel 29er hardtail). Front suspension (good), gears (good), tubeless tires at ~28ish psi (good). I weigh ~180lbs, 6’1”, 28 y/o. I had 2 water bottles on the frame and a 2L hydration bladder on my back. I also had a small Jandd ¼ frame bag to hold food and electrolyte mixes. I wore some bike shorts, a lightweight but long sleeve fishing style shirt (airy yet hopefully providing some sun protection), and a helmet with a visor. I grew up in Florida and I love love love hot weather, and I knew that the heat was gonna really be the deciding factor for everyone out there. It would make or break anyone and so I did the best I could think of to pay attention to it. I was surprised how many people I saw wearing black kits. I mean they look pretty badass, but I just couldn’t imagine the logic. It seemed like a lot of the other riders/racers were underestimating the sun and eat. Or was I overestimating?

I started in the back of the pack with friends wearing a light wind breaker. It was cool in the morning and I was concerned that I would be losing precious energy to stay warm in the morning. Precious energy I’d be needing for the next 12+ hours ahead of me. I think it was a good choice for about the first 30 minutes of the race. Of course I started sweating, but no worries I had all day, so I stopped and fixed what was wrong. This in the end was my motto and something I learned from snow biking in North Dakota: If anything is ever uncomfortable–ever–stop and fix it. This is generally my motto for endurance events, long ones that last many hours. I might have a bit of different logic for anything under 3 hours.

The first 25 miles were wonderful except for breathing dust the whole time from the racers ahead of me. Oh well. The climb of never-ending switchbacks to the top was tough, but I intended to keep things mellow all day so I took it easy and tried not to ever get my heart rate high. I made it to the plateau and enjoyed finally getting some speed, again not working too hard, but just enough to pass some folks. Nothing much more memorable for the first 25 miles. I knew I was coming close to the first checkpoint and was forcing myself to eat something every 30 minutes regardless of whether I was hungry or not (another tip from ND snow biking). I also encouraged myself to finish my Camelback (2L) before the first checkpoint. These two things pretty much got me through the race. I made it to the first aid station, refueled filled all my bottles and Camelback with water/drink mix, took an ibuprofen, and headed out in less than 10 minutes.

The race was finally starting to string out and I could appreciate the beautiful vistas and open spaces. Another 25 miles and 3 hours went by fairly uneventfully. Devil’s Pass was awesome and I almost flew off of it when my front tire hit a patch of soft sand in a corner, while going downhill about 27+ mph. I found during the race that I descended better than most of the riders I came upon, but they climbed better (or were at least willing to put more energy into climbing than I was). Again, I knew I still had a long day ahead of me, and was saving previous energy. I drank my bladder dry again, and worked on the two water bottles. I ate a GU every hour and a Larabar on every half hour. Now’s the time to reflect on what happens when you drink a little more than 3 L. of water every 3 hours. Of course you have to pee. And I peed a lot. I probably peed 3 to 5 times between every checkpoint or twice an hour. This was of course a blessing and a curse. Staying hydrated like this really works best for me in a long event or I will absolutely get leg cramps. On the other hand, any time I passed someone, I’d almost immediately have to pull over, which made me feel like a jerk. I let a little more pressure out of my rear tire to soften the cow hoofprints and made it to the river crossing in good spirits, no mechanicals yet, and enjoyed the cool walk through the river. I wanted to lay down in it, but I was feeling a little competitive. It was great to get to the 2nd checkpoint. It was such a party and all the volunteers were awesome. Seeing them really made my day and was something I looked forward to at each checkpoint. I was amazed how many happy people there were scattered along the trail. All in all at CP2 I was doing fine. I changed my socks, filled all my bottles, took an ibuprofen, ate some salty Pringles (awesome), dumped electrolyte mix into everything, and headed out.

The next section sucked. That’s really all there is to say concisely. It got very hot. I had been on the bike for 6ish hours, had covered 50ish miles and knew that after CP2 the real race had finally started. The first part anyone could do. The second half was what makes or breaks all endurance events. Knowing this goes a long way for controlling confidence and staying positive. I kept riding at a moderate pace and trying to go as fast as possible on the downhills. My motto on the down hills was “easy miles, easy miles” and I said this repetitively to myself over the next 4+ hours. I was now in the heat of the day and was finally starting to feel pretty crappy. My brain felt like it was baking and this sectioned seemed like it went on forever. It was lots of long open sections, little shade, and little breeze. I remember seeing many riders during this section who were stopping and resting in what shade they could find. I probably passed 10 people doing something like this. I eventually ran into my friend Jason. At this point I wasn’t very happy and I don’t think Jason was doing so well either. We were both happy to see each other and we chatted a bit, but I knew we were both overheating (he more than I, though he wouldn’t admit it). He told me I was doing great and if I felt up to it I should try and finish the race. And I thought to myself “shut the hell up Jason, don’t jinx me, I’m in a silly spot, I’m angry, my brains feel like mush, and you’re not helping.”  Then I apologized to him for my thoughts, told him I was in a bad mood and that I don’t mean anything I say or do. I think he understood and he let me leave as he stopped to break in the shade. At this point I touched the top of my helmet and it had to be at least 100 degrees F. I was seeing the Devil and I decided I had to finally for the first time in the race, take a break. I stopped in some shade behind a bluff, keeping my legs straight to avoid any possibility from cramps and decided to pour some electrolyte drink on my head (something I avoided doing earlier, since I didn’t want to become sticky). It worked I cooled down in the shade pretty quickly and immediately knew I was in a much better place (physically and mentally) than I had been 10 minutes ago.

I jumped back on the bike and headed up what seemed like tons of open climbs. I don’t really remember many details about the trail. Most of the time my head was focused on staying in the ruts, not cramping, and avoiding using energy to keep balanced while riding slowly uphill in the ruts. It’s very easy to overcorrect in this situation and use lots of energy from your core to stay balanced. I knew this, and many times I walked up long hills. My feet were beginning to sting as I walked and I knew I had blisters by now, but oh well, I (the collective we) could push through it. I didn’t see anyone until the third checkpoint and by the time I got there it was a little before 6pm. My spirits rose instantly again seeing friendly people. I took another small break, sitting down in a lounge chair, filling all my bottles again, eating more, taking another ibuprofen, and preparing for the final push. By now I knew I only had 25 more miles to go and I was on a great schedule, regardless of what happened I could practically walk to the finish.

The last 25 miles were great. The trail was super smooth and surprisingly fun to ride. It would be much more fun if I wasn’t exhausted. I passed a prairie dog village, and flushed 15 turkeys from some tall grass. I smelled a dead deer carcass, and biked through a couple cow herds. I was tired and moving very very slowly. I was walking my bike around 2.5 mph on the slightest uphill’s. I knew I was running out of energy and just needed to eat. Quite like writing this long race recap, my desire to finish strong had dwindled and I didn’t care about the details anymore. By this point in the race I was in all cases pretty good. No mechanicals, bike was working almost perfectly, hints of leg cramps but the mtb gods kept them away, and no major crashes! Everything at been about as close to 100% as possible. If you’ve ever done a race you’ll know how unlikely this scenario really is. Inevitably something will go wrong, but for me the race was nearly perfect. I don’t think there would’ve been a way to prevent getting cooked by the sun short of an umbrella tied to my handle bars.

I rode to the finish line with the best welcoming crowd I have ever had ever. It was amazing, the sun was setting, I got cheers, high fives, and pictures. I was amazed. I guess that’s what happens when you finish before everyone goes home. I had no idea. It was great. I was salty and covered in cow poop but I had finished in just under 15hrs! I’m pretty confident this was the hardest race I’ve done (and completed). Thank you to the race organizer, the volunteers, and the GFK crew (who drove my van into a ditch). Thanks for reading if you made it this far. I hope the Devil wasn’t in the details.

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