Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Marathon Man: Testing Thresholds

Plans for a late summer 200k gave way to increased eldercare demands, requiring me to stay near Bismarck over the weekends for much of August and September.  Unable to get away to Montana (Yellowstone 200k) or Minnesota (Hills of Wisconsin 200k), I looked for a substitute activity to fulfill an itch of ‘doing something big’ close to home.  On a whim, I signed up for the Bismarck Marathon thinking it would address the ‘itch’ while providing an opportunity to evaluate my physical/mental response to a runner’s endurance event.  I framed it to friends and family as 'an experiment', and besides, the cost for the marathon and half-marathon were the same, so I figured I’d just as well get the most for my money by going the full distance.  It seemed a logical choice (at the time).
I registered on September 10th, six days before the marathon, thereby eliminating any opportunity to train.  Moreover, my only preparation was to purchase a pair of Smartwool running socks and five Hammer gels at a local sporting goods store.  I did nothing else.  The experience was intended to test whether my body could withstand the stress of running 4+ hours with no real preparation aside from laying out my clothes/accessories the night before.
On September 16th at 7:30 a.m. I lined up with about 100 other runners at Cottonwood Park in cold, misty conditions with a light north wind.  I chose the 4.5 hour wave, wanting to complete the marathon by noon, thereby assuming a pace slightly over 10 minutes per mile.  Easy, I thought.
Easy enough through the first 12 miles.  I cranked out a sub-10 minute per mile pace with no problems, and felt buoyed by the ease of the effort nearly half way through.  Aerobically, there was no real stress given the slow pace, and (surprisingly) my knees, hips, and back felt fine.  The large, supportive crowd was an emotional boost, and the rest stops along the route allowed for frequent refreshment (water or watered-down Gatorade).
Beyond 12 miles was a different story.  First it was pain in my ankles, followed by my calves, then the balls of my feet began to go numb.  Later, my upper back and neck became tense.  My hamstrings were a mess 15 miles in, requiring frequent stops to stretch.  By mile 18 I was at a 15 minute per mile pace, walking about half of the time.  At this point my physical condition was similar to how I’ve felt at the end of 600k brevets.  Numb feet, sore shoulders, tense neck…   …essentially an exercise in pain management.  People I passed early in the marathon were returning the favor.  I was even passed by a member of the ‘Worst Pace Scenario’ relay team in the last half mile. ;-)
I finished, well outside my 4.5 hour goal, but - to place it in perspective - more than two hours faster than my fastest 200k brevet (James Canyon Jaunt, 2011).  All-in-all, the ‘experiment’ was a success, as I came away with some useful insights when applied to randonneuring.
The positives…
·       Never once did I worry about my safety.  The marathon followed shared-use trails for most of the route, limiting interactions with automobiles.  What few roads we ran were either closed or closely supervised with crossing guards.  This was nice.
·       As mentioned above, the supportive atmosphere from onlookers and marathon staff was a big plus.  This was especially appreciated in the last two (rather painful) miles.
The drawbacks…
·       The experience was not ‘collaborative’, as it often is during brevets.  Fellow runners generally kept to themselves, frequently in a ‘bubble’ fostered by a near-ubiquitous use of headphones.  I don’t regard this as a fault of marathons (they are intended to be an individual effort, after all), it just sticks out as drawback for me.  I like the idea of working together to achieve something significant.
·       Never once did I get into a mental state similar to a ‘reflective zone’, allowing me to think deeply about difficult issues, professional or personal.  No new ideas came to mind during the marathon.
·       Post-event pain was decidedly worse following the marathon than either of my 600k brevets.  Additionally, the upper back/neck issues required a trip to the chiropractor.
I’m thankful to all the folks who made the above insights possible, from the organizing committee to the many support staff.  The Bismarck Marathon is an excellent event.  Runners in central North Dakota are fortunate to have this marathon to look forward to each year.

With the marathon experience behind me, I’m turning my focus to wrapping up an eventful commuting year, a topic for a forthcoming post.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

George S. Mickelson Trail – Part III

A colleague’s wedding in the Black Hills over the Memorial Day weekend provided an opportunity to finally complete my ride of the George S. Mickelson Trail.  As reviewed previously, I biked the Edgemont to Custer section in 2014 and the Deadwood to Rochford section in 2016, leaving approximately the middle third of the trail between Custer and Rochford yet to be ridden.

Under overcast skies, temperatures in the low 40s, and a light headwind, I biked north out of downtown Custer on May 26th shortly after dawn.  It felt good to start the final section of the trail where I ended in 2014.

(Returning to the same sign, nearly three years later)

The moderate climb out of Custer felt good with the cool morning temperatures.  I wasn’t long before I was comfortably warm, stopping briefly near the Mountain Trailhead to snag a photo of the Crazy Horse Memorial to the east of the trail.

(Profile barely visible from the trail)

I arrived at Hill City 15 miles into the ride hoping a small bakery might be open for a light snack and coffee.  A quick detour on the main road through town yielded a couple options, but neither were open so I continued north.

The Black Hills are composed of some of the oldest exposed rocks in the world, estimated at more than two billion years old.  The Mickelson Trail cuts directly through this geological formation (known as the Harney Peak Granite Batholith) on the way to Deadwood.  At four places along the trail, the ‘cutting’ is literal, in that the trail passes through short tunnels bored through the hard granite.  Three of the tunnels (referred to as A, B, and C) occur in rapid succession between the Mystic and Rochford Trailheads.

(Tunnel A)

(Tunnel B)

(Tunnel C)

Shortly before arriving at the Rochford Trailhead I enjoyed a first…   …a mountain lion sighting!  Though it was only a glimpse, the body size and unmistakable dark brown tip on its tail confirmed that it was indeed a lion.  The cat ran ahead of me on the trail, approximately 30 yards out, before darting into a ravine.  Being a cat person, I briefly considered stopping to cajole the large feline out of the ravine for a little mid-ride laptime.  With a schedule to keep for activities later in the day, I opted to gear down and move quickly through the area.

(Puma concolor)

The turnaround at the Rochford Trailhead was brief, stopping only to use the facilities, strip off a wool undershirt, and fill my water bottles.  The temperature had increased considerably, so I was thankful for the hydrant near the shelter.

(Rochford Trailhead)

Though my trek north was a solo journey, multiple groups of riders were out during the return leg.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying the excellent weather and trail conditions.

(Heading south near Mystic Trailhead)

As I entered Hill City, incoming clouds beckoned rain, so I opted to continue on Highway 385 to save time.  The decision was questionable, as the busy four lane highway made for some nerve-wracking riding.  I was glad to return to the trail at the Crazy Horse Memorial turnoff for the final downhill stretch to Custer.

(Back on the trail with rain in the distance)


The Koga-Miyata performed well throughout the ride.  Aside from limestone getting stuck in the cogs (no fault of the bike), I had no problems during 80+ miles of riding.  Its comfort and reliability make it a good – albeit somewhat heavy – randonneur bike.  As of this month, I’ve been riding the Koga-Miyata for 20 years!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Gallatin Valley Rambler 200k

Jason Karp, RBA for Montana, always does a nice job designing excellent routes.  The Gallatin Valley Rambler 200k, held on April 29th, was no exception.  Using the Karp residence as a central control, the route is essentially two out-and-back loops, first to the west past Three Forks and the second to the southeast around (and then through) Bozeman.  Squeezed in between each loop was an excellent lunch stop organized and prepared by Jason’s wife, Brenda.  She had grilled cheese sandwiches, roasted pepper and tomato soup, and a nice selection of cookies to keep us going.  There was no need to eat at convenience stores during this brevet.

(Riders gathering at the Karp residence)

Unlike my previous brevets in Montana with (at most) a half-dozen riders, a group of 10 participated in the Rambler, with riders coming from Bozeman, Molt, Missoula, Helena, and Jackson (Wyoming).  The weather may have been a factor, as we enjoyed mostly clear skies, light winds, and cool temperatures.  It was certainly a contrast to the preceding day, with rain/skeet/snow squalls common throughout the valley.

Like many brevets, most of the group stayed together early on.  I’ve come to place high value on this part of the ride while warming up the legs and lungs for the day ahead.

(Heading west on Dry Creek Road)

Jason incorporated two short jaunts off Highway 205 as part of the west loop, one to Missouri Headwaters State Park and another toward Buffalo Jump State Park.  I especially enjoyed the latter, as it included some climbing (something I enjoy).  The view overlooking the valley was well worth the brief effort.

(Entrance overlook to Buffalo Jump State Park)

The west loop landscape was dominated by agriculture.  Irrigated crop and alfalfa fields were common, with occasional grass pastures providing new growth for an assortment of livestock.  Some of the livestock included pack animals, as we passed a few pastures with mules.

(One of the many tilled fields with sprinkler irrigation)


(Mules!)

This was my first brevet with a recumbent randonneur.  Lane, from Missoula, expertly guided his Schlitter Encore through the 13 controls over the 10+ hour ride.  I was impressed by how efficiently he managed the many starts-and-stops, particularly through the streets of Bozeman with dual 650b wheels.

(A fascinating machine…)

(…that looks to be an incredibly comfortable ride)

I’ve been intrigued by recumbents lately given the challenges I have with upper back and neck strain during long rides.  The recumbent riding position decreases back/neck strain considerably.

Lane offered the opportunity to try his recumbent at the end of the brevet.  Fortunately, a large parking lot was available across the street from Jason and Brenda’s home, so I gave it my best shot.  With excellent guidance and encouragement from Lane, I was able to make a loop around the parking lot on my fourth try.  The experience left me intrigued to learn more about recumbents.

One aspect of riding in Montana that I particularly enjoy are the people I get to ride with.  Friendly and thoughtful are two words that immediately come to mind.  My experience with a rear flat near the end of the ride underscored my positive feelings towards these great group of people.

(Rear flat within 10 miles of the finish…)

(…and the group I was riding with stopped and waited.  Nice!)

The Gallatin Valley Rambler 200k is an ideal early-season brevet.  Starting and ending in Belgrade, Montana, the route covers a significant portion of the Gallatin Valley with limited climbing, mostly quiet roads, and a visit to the Missouri River headwaters, all surrounded by 360° of beautiful snow-capped mountains.  It is a great way to start the randonneuring season.

(Bridger Mountains in the background)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Rawland Nordavinden

There’s a new bike in the stable.  A Rawland Nordavinden.  The search for this frame began over 18 months ago, resulting in fortunate find last January.  Some components were repurposed from my 2004 Specialized Roubiax, which hadn’t been ridden since 2014.  Rene Herse cranks, an SPF bottom bracket, Paul Component center-pull brakes, and Compass tires complemented Dura Ace derailleurs from the Roubaix.  Added to this were a Nitto randonneur touring handlebar, stem, and bar-end plugs.  A Brooks saddle and Acorn bag were taken from another bike, and paired with matching leather handlebar tape (with Newbaums bar tape and twine as enhancement).

It took me over a year to get everything lined up for a final build, which was expertly done by Lance Larson at Larson's Cyclery.  The wait was worth it.  I really like the outcome, and am looking forward to getting the bike out on the road this spring.

Here’s a few photos, taken atop Chief Looking’s Village (reviewed previously).