This past weekend saw me in northern Michigan, for the Iceman Cometh Challenge (http://iceman.com/). The Iceman is a point-to-point race starting in Kalkaska, and finishing 27.5 miles of fireroads, 2-track, dirt roads, singletrack, sand, and hills later in Traverse City. This would be my first time racing the Iceman, so I kept my goals simple: finish, have fun, and try to finish in less than 2 hours 15 minutes.
We left for Traverse City after work on Friday, and rolled into town about 8:00. I picked up my registration packet, we stopped to pick up a couple beverages, checked into the hotel, and settled in for a quiet evening. Unfortunately our late arrival meant that we missed the team dinner Friday night. I would've liked to go, but unfortunately I had to work.
Saturday morning we woke up and ate the continental breakfast at our hotel. Here we ran into my teammate Todd Shorkey (see link to his blog on the right) and his wife. We chatted for a few and wished each other good luck. I also ran into Steve from the mysinglespeed.com group.
After breakfast, we drove over to Kalkaska, where the start of the race was. As this was my first time doing Iceman, I wanted to get there with plenty of time. We arrived just over an hour before my wave was scheduled to start, leaving me plenty of time to get prepared, do a brief warm-up, use the porta-john, and still have time to get staged fairly close to the front of my wave.
In the starting gate, I was lined up next to Tim from the Cycletherapy team. He is also one of the mysinglespeed.com crew, and I ride with him and Steve on an occasional Thursday night at Pontiac Lake. Tim is fast, and I knew it was going to be tough to keep with him for long. But him and I had similar plans for the race: get a good start, try not to kill ourselves early on, and save something for the hills towards the end.
BANG... not really (no gun)... we were off. Usually I'm a slow starter, preferring to take it easy off the line and settle into a good pace, letting the fast starters come back to me later in the race. This wasn't the case this time. I hit the gas good off the start, and hung with Tim as we worked our way through the pack: passing some, passed by others. The start... I wasn't fully prepared for the hectic nature. 100+ singlespeeds, and a handful of tandems (yes, people ride and race tandem bicycles offroad, and for Iceman they start them along with the singlespeeds) all flying off the line and holding a fast pace. Legs spinning like a mad hamster on crack, we were moving at 18mph+ for the first couple miles (I'm sure the top guys were a good amount in excess of 20mph).
I found my rythym at about 2 miles in, and settled in. About 5 miles or so in, we hit a stretch of singletrack (there is very little singletrack on the Iceman course). Usually singletrack is a blast to ride, and this bit was nice and smooth, just twisty enough to keep it interesting... basically the stuff that invites you to just boogy through it with a grin on your face. Not so at Iceman. Picture a line of bicycles moving oh-too-slowly through a tight spot where passing is all but impossible. And to top it off, at the end there was a short grunt hill, after a 90 degree left turn. The type of hill you need to carry momentum into to make on a singlespeed. I did my best approximation of a cyclocross dismount, run, and mount here, and actually was able to pass a couple riders in this fashion. This was also the first of 2 hills that I did on foot. Just after this point, I realized that a faint buzzing/pinging noise was coming from my bike. I quickly discovered that my bottle cage was coming loose. I pulled out my bottle of HEED (Hammer Nutrition's energy/electrolyte drink), and stuffed it into my jersey pocket. So much for easy access. Luckily my water was in a Camelpack (nice easy access), and there were enough flat open spots so I could safely access my bottle.
A short while later, I lost contact with Tim when we came to a group of slower riders. He got around them easily, while I struggled... then he was gone. I decided to keep riding my pace: hard, but something I was confident in being able to maintain for the duration. I kept passing slower riders, but mainly enjoyed a hard ride through some pretty northern Michigan forests.
Just over halfway in, I came to the Williamsburg road crossing. This was a popular spectating point; people were lined up on both sides, and there was an announcer calling out riders' names and hometowns. The announcer butchered my last name (no suprise). Oh, and by the way, the crossing is at the top of a hill. Just past Williamsburg Road, there was a tight switchback downhill. This was the only point other than the aforementioned climbs where I had to put a foot down. I felt bad for the riders behind me, and thought about the fact that switchback decents are something I really need to work on next year. About this time, the headache kicked in. Actually my head was starting to feel goofy a couple miles prior, but just after Williamsburg Road, it started to get bad. In hindsight I don't think I stayed well enough hydrated from Friday afternoon till the start of the race. I tried my best to ignore this, and just ride my race.
The next bit passed by uneventfully, until about 7 miles from the finish when I saw a Cycletherapy jersey ahead. I had caught up with Tim! We rode together for a while, then we came to a "mother" of a hill. People were two, even three abreast walking up the hill. Tim and I both said something along the lines of "bleep it", dismounted, and started walking. No running at this point in the game, walking was what I could muster.
At the top, I remounted and resumed riding. I also pulled away from Tim, and as it would turn out this was the last time I'd see him during the race. Here, I knew there were only about 3, maybee 4 miles left. Good thing, as a touch of nausia started to set in. In fact, I pretty much spent the remainder of the race trying not to chunk all over my bike. I also caught and passed 2 more riders in my class.
The finish snaked it's way for a mile or so through a campground resort, before we finally crossed a bridge, did a couple right hand turns, and crossed the line. In a moment of stupidity, I took the last turn too hot, and did a "slide into home" move. Nobody close behind me, nobody in front of me, why didn't I just ease up and finish... dumb, dumb, dumb. Gouged my knee up and blew a hole in my tights.
When I crossed the line, I noticed that there was a clock next to the course. A little bit of cyphering had me guessing that my time was just south of 2:05... much better than I thought I'd acheive! I leaned my bike against a tree, and made my way into the refreshment tent, where I ran into my teammate Todd (see link to the blog "Todd" on the right). He had moved up to Expert for this race, and therefore finished before me. I also looked around for Brandy, but didn't see her. In fact I didn't find her for about 20 minutes or so, and she missed seeing me finish the race. She got a little lost finding the place, and neither of us were expecting me to finish as fast as I did.
They posted the results a short while later: my time was 2:02:10, which put me 24th out of 104 riders in Men's Singlespeed!
After getting changed, we found (eventually) the team tent. We hung out, talked about the race, and waited to watch the Pro class to finish (they start significantly after everyone else, mainly for that reason). Lemme tell you, beer hits you hard when you are dehydrated and have little food in your belly! But, the beer was tasty, the company was great, and watching the Pro riders finish was awesome. The winner finished over a half hour faster than I did!.
We went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and headed over to the house that two teammates had rented for the after party. Low key, teammates, spouses, and a couple other friends hanging out. Perfect way to finish off a great weekend of racing.