As the warm cycling season came to an end last September in Montréal, Québec, Ken Avery from Vittoria USA gave me a call. He wanted to know if there was any interest in attending the Land Run 100 – a premium 100-mile gravel race held on the red clay roads of Oklahoma.
With a strong season in our legs, my colleague Mark @whatyoizm and I signed up without hesitation. We set a modest training plan, try to ride a few times a week through the Canadian winter to keep the summer legs alive. Fast forward six months, we hopped on a plane for Stillwater Oklahoma with a vague idea about the suffering we were about to endure…
Clear blue skies welcomed us in Stillwater @visitstillwater, a college town only an hour and a half drive north of Oklahoma City. Within minutes of our arrival at District Bicycles @districtbicycles, race organizer Bobby Wintle @unlearnpavement was there to greet us. His excitement for the event was palpable and contagious. We quickly set out for the 20 mile shake-down ride on the dry roads of Stillwater and were looking forward to a fast race. However, the weather on race day would have other ideas in mind.
As we woke Saturday morning, light rain had evenly sprayed the roads leading up to the start line. It was a miserable morning and the forecast was deteriorating by the hour. Still we were pumped to be there and the buzz of the crowd at the start line quickly energized us. At 8am sharp, Bobby fired the cannon (literally) and we set off.
Six degrees, light rain and 105 miles to go.
The first 15 miles were as predicted: hard, fast, red clay with some loose gravel sections – perfect race conditions. This paradise was short lived. What started as light rain, turned into heavy drops with a nasty crosswind. The hard, fast, red clay turned into slow, tacky, heavy mud. Experience kicked in as many racers were quick to shoulder their bikes, avoiding the drivetrain killing mud. It was also the moment when I realized what the official race paint stir stick was for. Having omitted it from my race day kit, proved to be a big mistake. Several times throughout the day we had to improvise to remove mud from our bikes.
Mile 25 proved to be the first big test for many and many racers wouldn’t make it past this point. Land Run had claimed the first victim from our group, Ken. The rear derailleur snapped off his bike, and we had to scramble to set him up as a single speed. It was so cold Mark opted to keep riding just to stay warm (we’d catch up with him later).
Thirty freezing finger minutes later, Ken was able to ride again. Ironically 200 hundred feet later were the second and third victims from our group. They were too cold to continue and were sheltered behind a bale of hay waiting for the Jeep crew to pick them up. Ken gladly traded bikes and once again we set off.
Four degrees, some 80 miles to go.
Catching up with Mark, who had to stop and adjust his rear brake as he had burnt through the front ones, we continued towards the halfway mark. Long narrow roads, steady climbs, ATV trails, and farm roads treated us to harsh conditions.
Some brave volunteers welcomed us at makeshift water-stations along the way. Water, energy drinks, beer, coffee, anything helped. A family huddled by a fire offered me their last donut. It was the best donut I have had in a long time.
Reaching the 50-mile mark in Guthrie, many racers had already called it a day, a harsh day. We found asylum in a public bathroom – a dozen guys huddled around a hand dryer – ate, refueled, changed/added most of our gear and stood in the cold rain washing our bikes with even-colder hose water. Having cleaned our bikes as best we could, oiled our chains, and tweaked whatever was left of our brakes we set out. It was 2:30 pm and we had 50 miles to go with only 4 hours left of daylight.
The next 30 miles would be a test of mettle. As the rain kept coming down, our pace slowed even further. I gained temporary motivation (and speed) as a wild-dog chased me some 100 meters making me push my bike over 30 mph!
Anxious to keep moving at a steady pace, we tried to roll every section we could and this proved to be fatal to both Mark and Ken’s bikes as their hangers snapped. Land Run had claimed another two victims. To say they were disappointed is understated.
81 miles down, 20ish to go.
It was now 6:30 pm, getting dark and I was on my own. With no lights and battling the cold, I ate every snack I had just keep my mind busy. Fatigue was really starting to set in and I was using every bit of mental motivation I had. Guiding me were the rare county lights glaring over the stretches of road ahead of me.
Finally I saw the lights of Stillwater and with a newly found surge of adrenaline I pushed on to the finish line. 13 hours and 21 minutes later Bobby was still there to give me a hug. Less than 20% of those who started were able to finish and Bobby stuck around to hug every one of them.
1 degree and 0 miles to go, until next year…