At the pre-race meeting, Beat joked that our race numbers were actually the times we were expected to finish within. His race number was 47. Mine was 18. "The only way I'm finishing in under 18 hours is if something amazing happens," I replied. The White Mountains 100 took me 22:38 to finish last year. Last year contained "near-perfect" trail conditions. This year, I was told to expect more "mashed potatoes" and soft trails. Last year followed at least some specific snow bike training; this year contained single-minded running focus followed by a month of recreational mountain biking. And I was by no means in "serious" mode for this race (and my most serious race mode is honestly not even all that serious.) I was going to hang back with Beat for a bit. I was going to take photos, and enjoy my checkpoint meals, and generally just relish in my spring tour of Interior Alaska. What's the rush?
I don't have time for a full race report right now (don't worry; that will come.) But here's the Cliff Notes version:
1. I did carry my bivy kit and heavy down coat in the race, and was one of only three or four cyclists to do so. I estimate my bike/kit including food and water weighed about 55 pounds. I honestly felt silly given the conditions and support infrastructure of the race, and was audibly cursing my overpacked state for the last six miles. But, you know, whatever.
2. Despite my plan to "run" with Beat for the first mile or so, I couldn't keep up with the runners while pushing my bike and actually spend a short period of time at the very back of the race.
3. After initial struggle to pass the back-of-pack on the churned-up mashed-potato trail, I started to feel really strong and had a ton of fun on the steep rolling hills surrounding Beaver Creek.
4. It was a warm day, in the mid-30s, which did soften up the trails even more.
5. I was climbing really well. All of the hills that I was barely able to push my bike up last year, I was able to ride up this year, despite softer trail conditions. I rode nearly the entire way up the Cache Mountain Divide, a 12-mile climb to 3,500 feet. I attribute this newfound climbing strength to running.
6. The ride down the Cache Mountain Divide was more difficult and physically taxing than the climb, thanks to the churned up trails full of deep trenches, soft snow mounds and postholes. I crashed four times, once into a tree well that took me nearly five minutes to extricate myself.
7. I was really stoked to ride the third leg, Windy Gap to Borealis, during the daylight. I gawked at the gorgeous craggy canyon and zipped along the narrow, winding trail. I rode 20 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Last year, this exact same section of the race took me 4:10 to complete.
8. It started snowing as I left the Borealis cabin, mile 80, at about 8:45 p.m. Despite fairly heavy snowfall, I let myself believe that continuing at the same strong pace I had been able to hold during the first 80 miles would put me into the finish around 16 hours.
9. I experienced one of the deeper bonks of my life at mile 94 as I started up the Wickersham Wall, a single fall-line climb that gains 800 feet in less than a mile. It was a strange sort of bonk - not woozy and nauseated, but rather completely red-lined in my lowest gear (pushing.) Even slow steps took me over my perceived maximum. I'd take 15 steps and feel like I was about to explode, then stop to calm my breathing and heart rate. I felt really lousy. Still, I was able to eat. During my three-hour-long extreme bonk, I was able to take in about 600 calories, and the food itself didn't upset my stomach (only the pushing.) During the race, I consumed most of the 2,500 calories I brought with me, on top of meals provided by the race organization. I have theories about this bonk that I'll delve into deeper soon, but I don't believe it was necessarily calorie-related. Still, it was awful. I pushed my bike, slowly, the entire last six miles. It was all I was capable of.
10. I still finished the race in 17:55, which is still less than 18 hours and a time I'm quite pleased with despite the end-of-race meltdown. The bonk kept me low-energy for the next 24 hours, but I otherwise have no negative after-effects from the race. I wasn't even sore. It was a fantastic experience. More to come. In the meantime, here are a few pictures:
Julie Malingowski rides through a burn area on the Wickersham Dome in the early miles of the race.
Somebody, perhaps race volunteers on snowmachines, built this awesome snow sculpture on top of the Cache Mountain Divide.
Brian Garcia approaches the top of the Cache Mountain Divide.
My favorite section of the race: Windy Gap to Borealis. Fast, fun, and fantastically gorgeous.
Beat and his new friend, Kevin, walk the final miles of the race on Monday evening. Beat finished on foot in 35 hours and 41 minutes, and awesome accomplishment. We're so grateful to the White Mountains 100 organizers and volunteers for putting on this incredible race. I really love it. More to come.