Michigan Coast to Coast

Bikers approaching mud 
Michigan Coast to Coast is a 210 mile bike race from Au Gres, Michigan (on Lake Huron) to Ludington, Michigan (on Lake Michigan) on mixed surface (gravel, sand, road, mud -- in that order) in one day. I had signed up for this race in January thinking that it would be a nice opportunity to see my parents in Michigan while also having something to train for and keep up motivation post Hawaii backpack. So, without a lot of thought, I quietly put my name in for 210 mile race.

January passed - I didn't train much - I was still burned out from last year. February I got hit by a car, and fitness went to zero. In March, I did my first commute back on a bicycle and wondered if I would ever get over being terrified every time a car passed me. I clawed through PT, through commutes, struggling to balance not over doing it and ever being able to ride bikes period. End of March, I did a 50 mile race, dropping down from the 70 mile race I signed up for because I was hurting too much. April, I struggled to do 40-50 mile rides; riding a flat 40 mile loop with Txomin was hard (he knows, he saw it). I was supposed to race in Bend, OR mid-April on a gravel stage race and I dropped out; I wasn't well enough to do it, and I felt like pushing it could set me further back.

Sometime in April, I looked at Coast to Coast looming in my future in June and wondered if I should drop out. I couldn't do 100 miles of road; I had no idea how I would do 210 miles of gravel and finish in a reasonable amount of time. My mental state was something like "is this even worth trying for?" and I wondered if I should maybe thinking about biking less and trying other hobbies.

Dan Lau convinced me to do bike everywhere month in May with him - we were going to try, and we were going to use it to motivate us to get back into shape (Dan was in better shape than me, don't let him deceive you!). I came into May slowly - my goal was to do my full commute every day both ways (~38 miles). I had an amazing team (Yee, Paul Read, Shaun, WDJ, Dan, Jamie Van Beek, Julian Soh, John Cacabelos, and Mick) who were amazingly positive and encouraging.

I still had residual injuries from the car hitting me, but I balanced riding moderately but at an enormous volume. I was doing slow but steady 70 mile commutes to work (taking the long way) or climbing bonus hills or following co-workers home to get extra miles and explore. I was exhausted, I hurt like I had never hurt before, but I was pulling 300 mile weeks. Then 400 mile weeks. Sustained! I finished May with over 1600 miles, and I finally looked back at my calendar to C2C and felt like maybe I would actually finish now.

Erika and I at the start - all smiles and excitement
And now what you actually came for, Michigan Coast 2 Coast. I was incredibly nervous and tried to set expectations to the "achievable" range, like finishing. Period. I wanted to finish, especially after not finishing Dirty Kanza last year. OK maybe high goal was
finishing before sunset (within 15 hours) but even that seemed really ambitious.

Coach Daniel told me to keep my drive train clean!
My parents and I woke up at 430 AM after about 4 hours of sleep, moved quick, and went to the start about 30 minutes away (note to self: there aren't a lot of hotels in Au Gres). I met up with Erika, who blessedly decided to join me last minute on this endeavor. We started in the back, fine to let the mosh pit race off without us. I noticed near us a guy in a bright orange helmet who seemed extremely fit and well put together to be starting in the back. When we rolled out, I noticed he always chose good lines and was moving up the group quickly, so I stuck near his wheel and followed his lines.

What followed was a blur of amazing pacelines and fortunate race choices. The first 50 miles flew by - I felt AMAZING. Like the best I ever had in my life, bar none. My heart rate was low, and I was pulling/getting pulled in pacelines going 22+ on gravel. We were a fast moving train picking up momentum. I pulled into the first checkpoint (MP 56) before 9 AM - we had averaged over 18 mph the first 50. And that involved getting off the bike several times because of mud/sand and having to navigate some mountain bike trails.

After a few, uh, support crew glitches with my parents, I took off, jumping into another pretty awesome paceline group quickly. We would merge with groups, take their better half, and then take off again. My group got faster and faster and faster and... I felt fine. Hell, I was PULLING them at that pace (guys in group: "Lady, you are killing us on the hills") . I noticed we were passing women and we were starting what I call the "young, fit men" (30s-40s) portion of the field. I usually never get into this point of the field - I usually hang out in the mid 40s - mid 50s part of the field :)

As we approached the next checkpoint, one guy in our paceline  asked me if I knew where I was in the women's field. I had no idea - I was just hoping we were in the top half. He told me I was 3rd overall for women, behind Amanda and Kae (pros) but in 3rd nonetheless. Wow. Then, I almost crashed after hitting a pile of sand (the guys behind me actually cheered when I stayed upright - "I can't believe you are still upright!").

Flying
I pulled into checkpoint 2, and my parents had the support crew thing DOWN now. They also realized the situation was a little more serious than any of us had expected... they had also only seen 2 women come through and they knew I wasn't far behind the leaders. I was averaged 18.5 mph at this point, faster than After a short stop (I spent less than 15 minutes total off my bike the whole race), I was off.

I rolled out slower out of this checkpoint... I stopped less than the others in my group, and I was happy to just pace for a bit and go at a Zone 2 effort for a bit. The course between CP 2 and 3 was supposed to be the hardest... I had no idea what was coming. I picked up a friend, David, and we rolled and chatted for a while. He was new to long distance gravel racing (this was his first 200 mile gravel race!) and he was on a hard tail mountain bike. Spoiler: David did super well, coming in ~75th, but he threw up at MP 130 or so. It was a tough race.

In this section, the hills started to get bigger and the sun beat down on us as we climbed up and down relentlessly. I began to get worried about water around 120; in the previous sections, I hadn't drank more than 1.5 bottle of water total. By MP 120, I had already drank one of my water bottles. Uh oh. The hills eventually bore into the woods, but that wasn't much relief. We were in Manistee Forest mountain bike trails, which in Michigan mean super flowy beautiful single track interspersed with massive, deep sand pits. Like a foot of sand for 200 feet up a hill. OMFG.

Feeling good - my friend David on the right! 
I watched my average speed drop, my morale drop, and my ability to eat food vanish. It was sand pit after sand pit after sand pit. On the upside, I am actually quite good at riding in sand now. But with Schwalbe G-one 35 mm tires (and my handling skills), I was doomed and watched mountain bikes pass me over and over again. I probably lost about 20 spots in the woods. But finally (finally!) I emerged in Dublin at MP 163 - it took me 4.5 hours, my longest split by 1.5 hours and I was totally out of water and not in great shape.

15 miles from the end, really hurting
My parents were worried. I had lost a lot of time, was covered in salt (from sweat), and they could tell I was dehydrated. My dad wanted me to take my water backpack (no!) and they both asked if I was certain if I wanted to go on. The guy running support for his son and daughter in law must have been horrified as he listened to my parents really question if the third place woman wanted to continue, 47 miles from the finish. It was my longest stop (probably 6 minutes), and I drank an entire liter of gatorade and loaded up with gold fish and sour patch kids. I told may parents I was going to try and I'd see them in Ludington.

They told us it was smooth sailing from there, but it wasn't. After about 10 more miles of sandpits and several more hill climbs (WTF), we finally opened into country roads. I lived in my aero bars (thank you for the loan Daniel Perry, I couldn't have done it without them) and just kept spinning. One more turn. One more hill. One more 3 mile stretch. A few more people passed me, a few recognized me and asked if I wanted a tow, but I was too tired to hang on a wheel. I knew I had to go exactly my pace, hold steady, and I could do it.

3rd overall for women! 
Finally, I limped into Ludington. OK, I did sprint the finish (always sprint the finish!). 13:44 averaging 15.6 mph [https://www.strava.com/activities/2473473468], over 1.5 hours behind second place, but 40 minutes ahead of 4th place. I finished around 7:40 PM, well before sunset at 9:32. The feeling? Total exhaustion and shock - I came in 3rd in an event that started with over 40 tough and capable women. I came in 90th overall, beating out hundreds of people. I had never felt like I had earned a finish more than this one, and I felt so lucky to have been able to do it. I won money!

Post-race wasn't great. I think for next race, my major problem was that I was completely out of electrolytes, mainly from the third section. I couldn't have predicted that it was going to be that much hotter and longer than previous sections, but I would have taken my backpack if I had known. I also think I need nuun or some electrolyte mix for events like this; I had left my nuun at home, but hey, you work with what you have.

I am so grateful for my parents running support, for Erika for being there, for Diane and Bill giving me a place to stay after the event (even if I ended up staying with my parents due to sickness), for "coach" Daniel for his advice and, literally, constant support and encouragement for me to do events like this, for Trent for putting up with me during bike everywhere month, and for the dozens of other people who have supported me in this journey - from being unconscious on a road in LA to laying down at a finish line in Michigan (Doga, David Jang and Ben, Liz Nettles, my cousin Margaret, Peter+Jess, Machiko, Michael, Rich Knox, Alexa, Roni and Cary, Yee and Carolyn, my bike everywhere team (especially Dan Lau), Cathy Henley, Jamie Van Beek,  Roger for the carpools and encouragement!, Tim Thomas for telling me that I should try to make my Italy trip happen, Stacey and Thomas, Aharon, and many more...). I couldn't have done it without all of you.

Ludington, photo cred (all of them except the selfie: https://www.robmeenderingphotography.com/)

Lo

1 comment:

Cathy Henley said...

Another incredible write-up. You know how to keep the pedals and the story flowing. The backstory and dramatic ramp-up to race day is as powerful a story of determination as the race itself.

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