Having A Plan – Mammoth Gravel Classic 100 Report

The Plan

I’ve been pretty purposeful with my riding so far this spring.  I only had two months from “the Birkie” until Trans Iowa to translate ski fitness into bike fitness and hone a bunch of bike scenario skills.  Some of the purposeful riding has been to just ride.  Some of it very specific with different conditions and different gear.

This past weekend was the Mammoth Gravel Classic 100.  Being a co-production of “my” bike shop, Cyclova XC and “my” mountain bike club, The Woolly Bike Club, it is always on the calendar unless family events conflict.  Being a no conflict year I figured another century two weeks out from TI was a solid idea.

Guitar Ted has been really emphasizing that this year, even more than most, riders will really need to be prepared to be self sufficient.  He has written multiple times that we need to be ready to ride 100 miles without any options for refueling.  I figured the MGC100 would be a great place to practice that.

Historically my “plan”, if I ever had one for the event, was to go hard until I blew up.  OK, not much of a plan, but that was what usually happened.  This year I figured I could try something different.

So, my plan this year was two fold.  Part A, load up as if I were doing TI and ride without stopping at any of the refueling options on course.  Part B, was to ride a nice steady pace, not TI pace, but not blow-up pace either.

DM from most of the previous adventures this spring was also riding and said he didn’t want to chase the leaders.  We made an agreement the night before to tell each other we were being stupid if we saw the other chasing.

One caveat I should mention is that I’ve never actually been with the leaders much past hitting the gravel.  I’m usually off the lead pack and just chasing with chase packs.

That Wasn’t The Plan

So I guess I achieved half of my plan.  Part A specifically.  I had zero issues making the full distance with what was on my bike and I had plenty left over.  In fact I even gave away an entire bottle of water and still had water left.  But that doesn’t make for a very interesting story does it?

Instead we will talk about being stupid and chasing the leaders and blowing up.

Frank giving the pre-rollout speech.

With a roll out that involves almost 17 miles of pavement only broken up by a two mile stretch of gravel getting in the lead pack and staying there usually isn’t too hard.  Up until we hit the first short stretch of gravel I was easily coasting along in the peleton at close to 20 mph with very little effort.

The peleton rolling down River Road in the opening miles.

When we hit that first section of gravel I kind of expected the field to blow apart, but with the recent precipitation the gravel was quite firm and the group stayed pretty well together.  When we hit the next stretch of pavement there was only a small gap.  DM and I agreed it wasn’t stupid YET to chase back on for the last two miles of pavement.

Initial gravel sector where I originally expected to lose the lead pack.

So we slipped back into the lead peleton and cruised on down to Evergreen and down the hill to the right hand turn onto the REAL start of the gravel and the Sand Barrens.  Only the folks on the front of the group didn’t know where they were going and didn’t hear us shouting right turn.  And just like that we ended up on the super pointy end of the ride.

Regrouping on the last pavement for a while after the initial gravel sector.

So, we are now into the gravel, and I’m sitting like 2nd wheel in the whole shebang.  Clearly now it would be stupid NOT to keep going for a little while.  The sand was much firmer than it was just the week prior.  Not having a sleeping bag strapped to my handle bars was helpful too.  For about 4 miles the sand gets progressively worse and worse until you hit the full on beach on County Fire Ln for a mile or so.  All through that section I was working hard, but not crazy hard.  What was crazy though was I was still right in the lead pack.

When we finally popped out onto Johnson the pack coalesced again and we had a peleton of 14 riders.  The gravel started getting pretty wet here.  It wasn’t really raining at the time, but the squishiness of the road indicated that a significant rainfall had occurred recently.

DM and I made sure to call each other stupid here.  Did we stop?  Heck no!  We were crushing it with the lead pack.  It was way too much fun to back of yet.

Out of the sand and onto the gravel. Cruising on O towards the Woolly aid station.

I had already talked to Matt and Mark prior to the event and communicated my plan to be self-sufficient for the ride.  They told me they would chase me out of the aid station without supplying anything if I tried to stop.  Well, given that I was hanging onto a pack of cyclists doing about 19 mph down the gravel road there wasn’t any way I was stopping anyhow.

Waving to the Woolly crew as we blew past.

Things settled down into a solid effort as we headed north through the Fish Lake area.  There was a collection of folks rotating on the front of the pack.  I was not one of them.  I was mid-pack and back trying to conserve some energy.  While I said it was a nice solid effort, we were still flying along at 19 mph on the rolling gravel.

The pack cruising through Fish Lake at 19 mph.


While 19 mph is really cruising, it wasn’t too bad at the back of the pack. Mason Bacso was easily able to smile and wave for the camera.

Just before we hit Skog Rd someone called for a natural break.  Just like in Le Tour.  It was kinda cool.  About half the lead pack pulled off to the side while the other half soft pedaled up the hill.  It was still work to catch back up after taking care of business, but it would have been impossible if a neutral break hadn’t been called.

After that we were quickly off through Grantsburg. I had planned to roll through anyhow, but apparently so did everyone else.  I knew the trip around the airport was going to be rough as usual.  Somehow I found myself third wheel in that section.  At least until we came to the gate across the bridge.  I took that opportunity to get a shot of the lead pack walking.

Mandatory dismount north of the Granstburg airport.

This dismount strung the pack out a little bit so there was a little more chasing to get back into a pack.  I didn’t want to get hung out to dry in Crex Meadows though.

Frank had mentioned the bugs he encountered in Crex Meadows while out marking the course.  I didn’t think they would be a big deal since we were riding, not stopping.  Well, wet and dirty faces plus clouds of gnats makes for an interesting face scrub.

About half of the stuff on my face and arms is dirt. The other half is gnats. Making every attempt to breath with my mouth closed here.

Thankfully we only encountered the clouds of gnats in the first few miles along the edge of Crex.  After we turned and headed into the heart of the wildlife area we were treated to misty fogs and controlled burn areas.  All the while still cruising at close to 18 mph.

Mists and controlled burns.


It is just about to get messy.

Exiting the heart of Crex, the sky decided to really let loose for the first time.  The gravel was already saturated from rain that had apparently moved through before we arrived.  Things therefore got messy in a hurry.

There were a few faces that probably looked even worse than mine at this point.

We hit some stretches of pavement here and the rain really let loose.  We were averaging over 20 mph along here just flying through the puddles.  The mud was getting washed off, but it was raining hard enough I was having a hard time seeing.  I knew the road was in pretty poor shape.  I was just really hoping that I didn’t find a huge pothole under one of the puddles.

And then we reached the Gandy.  If you remember what my historic plans for this ride are, you’ll know what happens now.

There goes the lead pack.

We had gone a little over 62 miles in just under 3.5 hours and averaged 18.2 mph.  That was probably enough.  DM and I said we were stupid one more time and this time we listened and backed off.  SW also backed off with us.

The northern stretch of the Gandy from Webster down to Frederic is always a slog.  The stretch around the Burnett County Airport is always soft and the false flat all the way to Frederic just kills your momentum.  This day it was probably 10 times worse than usual.  I’m sure the gravel around the airport was fresh and all of the rain had softened the entire trail into just a watt sapping muck.  The only “line” if there was one was to ride right down the puddle on either side.  It was slightly less awful than the rest.

Our little trio just kept plugging away.  Mentally I was having a hard time thinking about 40 miles at 7 mph.  For a while I was doing OK physically just slowly grinding away.  SW was struggling for a while.  Then we switched places.  Eventually I managed to stuff enough food in my face and actually processed enough that by Frederic I was feeling peppier.

It also helped that the trail firmed up and dried out some.  We made decent time between Frederic and Luck.  I offered to deviate from my no stopping plan if they wanted to hit Cafe Wren.  The thought of cooling off and starting again wasn’t appealing so we rolled on.

My trio for the closing 40 miles.

The trip from Luck to Milltown to Centuria was pretty uneventful.  As we passed Centuria the horses started smelling the barn though.  DM in particular seemed to be anxious to be done.  I swear I wasn’t half wheeling him but the pace kept ratcheting up and up.  By the time we hit the Interlink we were back to race pace.  It felt good to finish the century with a full on sprint for the finish in front of CyclovaXC.

Lessons Learned

I’m really happy with the ride.  Despite only executing half of my plan, I was very pleasantly surprised with my ability to hang that long with the lead pack and then despite a rough patch for an hour or so pull myself back together and finish strong.  I definitely wasn’t ready to go do another 2+ laps like I’ll have to do for TI, but I won’t be racing like that either.

I learned a few things along the way which will be valuable at TI and going forward this summer.

  • My hydration pack is NOT waterproofI had stuffed a wool base layer in there just as I would for TI.  I never needed it, but when I unpacked later it was sopping wet.  Wet wool is better than nothing, but I’d prefer my warm stuff be dry when I go to put it on.  I’ll have to put anything I want dry in something.
  • 4.5L of water is plenty when it isn’t hot outI had 3L of water in my hydration pack plus 3 bottles on my bike.  I still had water in my hydration pack, gave away an entire bottle of water, and had one left.  Unless it is very warm, I might try to cut a little water out of the hydration pack to save some weight.
  • I can go harder than I think for longer than I thinkThe number of miles I’ve put in cycling since March coupled with my residual ski fitness which was as high as it has ever been seems to have resulted in decent bike fitness.  I’m not going to win any sprints right now, but if I’m smart I can go pretty hard for quite a while.  Someone gave me some advice a few months ago about ditching all the metrics and just learn to go hard.  There is something there worth exploring.
  • If things are going poorly, eat and they will probably get betterI was actually eating pretty well out there I think.  I was perhaps a bit behind and going hard it is challenging for me to process the calories.  I definitely need to be quicker about recognizing the low energy and cramming more food in right away though.  Things didn’t get very dark for very long, but I’ve been there often enough to know they can.


Annotated speed/HR graph.

What’s Next

Trans Iowa is less than two weeks away now.  I don’t have any other major rides planned before the big one.  I’ve gotten the mountain bike out to play around with a little.  I’ll probably get out for some decent length ride this weekend but nothing specific.  Otherwise it is a bit of a taper for the big day.  A little less soreness where the saddle hits and a few aches and pains to subside would be good.

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