Mohican 100 – Strategy Talk

Mohican MTB 100 2014 Start Line

Race start for the Mohican 100 in downtown Loudonville.

The Mohican 100 is the largest mountain bike race in Ohio, and as far as I can tell, the largest event in the National Ultra Endurance series.  It truly is a fun day of mountain biking that is worth going out of your way for.  The majority of riders are from Ohio, but last year athletes came from as far away as California to tackle some of the best Midwest singletrack, gravel and scenic country roads around.

There are two distances available 100 miles and 100 kilometers (for all you Yanks, that’s 62 miles).  I’ll be doing the 100k and this will be my third attempt.  The first time I bonked hard about 45 miles in and the final 17 miles were slow and agonizing.  I finished in 6 hours and 33 minutes, which was not bad but I felt miserable.  The second year I paced myself better and didn’t bonk.  In fact, I finished pretty strong and probably had too much fuel left in the tank.  My final time was 6:15.  This was good enough for 45th out of 246 men doing the 100k.

Click here to see my race report for 2014.  (This report gives a lot of helpful detail about the race.)

My goal for this year is to set a new PR.  I’d love to get under 6 hours, but I’ll be happy with anything under 6:15.  Although I think I’m in better overall shape, I haven’t done a lot of endurance training and I think this could hurt me towards the end of the race.

Hike-a-bike in the 2014 Mohican MTB 100

Don’t feel bad about walking some of the hills.  You won’t be the only one.

Finding Your Pace

Pacing is a big key to a long race like this, but the changing nature of the terrain – road to singletrack, to road, to gravel, to horse trail etc. – can make it difficult to pace yourself if you are using speed as your pacing metric. Your speed on the road will be much higher than it is on the singletrack and there is more road in the second half of the race than the first half.  Using heart rate or a power meter will give you a better sense of your body’s effort and therefore are probably better ways to measure your pace.

The race starts in downtown Loudonville, Ohio and is a mass start.  Depending on their individual goals and competitiveness, 600 riders will sprint or slowly roll out of town.  Why sprint early when the goal is to pace yourself?  You have 4 or 5 miles of road and doubletrack before you hit the singletrack and you are trying to get yourself into good position on the singletrack so that you don’t get stuck behind someone slow (unless you are the slow dude – if so, let those guys behind you pass).

The counterpoint to that is sprinting will wear you out and burn a few matches that you will wish you had saved for later in the day.  The real goal is to find a good medium fast speed for the open section of road.  You want to be fast enough that you aren’t giving up tons of slots when you get to the trail, but you don’t want to burn out your quads trying to win this early in the day.  Trust me on this.  The first year I went out too hard and I paid dearly for it later in the day.

On a side note: the first person to get out of Loudonville wins a preem of $200.  So, if you think you can beat 600+ other racers, then sprint your heart out.

The opening road section is actually a lot of fun.  It’s full of rolling hills and being part of the MTB tidal wave is thrilling.  There are riders of all caliber flowing through the countryside and the pack starts to spread out before the singletrack.  A few steep climbs will separate the strong riders from those that are just drafting.

Tinker Juarez & Jon Clous after the 2014 Mohican MTB 100

Last year Olympian Tinker Juarez showed up to the Mohican 100 just so he could get his picture taken with the infamous Jon Clous. Juarez finished 2nd in the 100 mile race.

Trail Time

Once you reach the Mohican State Park singletrack, which you will know because you start seeing mileage markers, you will be part of a long line of riders flowing through the forest.  The first year I did this I kept thinking that I could go faster, so I passed a bunch of riders in the woods.  This ate up a lot of valuable energy that I wish I had held on to for later in the race.  The next year I was more patient and I think it paid off.  I only passed if someone stumbled, fell in front of me, or if the trail widened significantly, which it does several times in the singletrack.  Even though I gave up a few minutes in the forest, I gained it back with extra energy on the roads. Pick your passes wisely.

This opening section of singletrack is one of the best in the state.  It has an interesting variety of terrain that features fast downhills, challenging climbs, approachable rock gardens, and man-made bridges all winding under a midwest forest canopy.

Based on memory, I think you are on this section of trail for about 15-20 miles.  You know you are exiting when a course marshal directs you to a very steep and long hike-a-bike that takes everyone off their saddles.

James Knott after the 2014 Mohican MTB 100

This is a photo of my bike and me after the race. I don’t look nearly as muddy as I felt.

Second Half Mash Up

Out of the 62 miles that the 100k racers do, about half of it is singletrack.  By the time you leave this first section of trail, you will have knocked out the majority of the singletrack and the nature of the race changes a little.  I don’t really recall all the turns and changes in the course, but I can say that the second half is a nice mix of jeep roads, horse trails, gravel, paved roads and more singletrack.  If you haven’t used up all your energy, then the second half of the race should be faster than the first.  While positioning and passing are a big deal in the first half of the race, they are not an issue at all in the second half where the crowd is more spread out and the course is much wider.

Curvy Road sign in Mohican Country

Meandering through the countryside would have been more peaceful if my heart rate was a little lower. Expect to see a lot of bucolic farmland.

Climbing

I logged over 8000 feet of climbing in the 100k in 2014.  These climbs are spread throughout the race.  Don’t expect less at the end.  Some of the toughest climbs happen in the last 10 miles when your weary legs can barely pedal.  Plan accordingly.

Mohican 100k 2014 Elevation Graph

This is the elevation graph of the 100k course from my Garmin. I measured 8392 feet of elevation gain in the 100k course. You might not think of Ohio as hilly, but the race director has found every big in hill Ashland County and forced you to go straight up.

Drafting?

A lot of riders will employ a paceline strategy on the roads.  If you have someone that you can stick with through the race, then it’s great to have a partner to draft on the pavement.  However, making it this far in the race with another rider can be a difficult challenge.  Mostly riders group up with other randoms that they find themselves riding with.  At times, the roads are too hilly to employ any drafting strategies at all.  While it can be beneficial to your overall time to draft, I haven’t heard of a ton of people who are successful at doing it the whole race.

Also, just because you are on the road, don’t think it necessarily gets easier.  Some of the climbs on the roads are the longest and most excruciating of the whole race.  On the upside though, if you survive them, you are treated to some really long downhill stretches too.  There is one 3-mile descent about 40 miles in that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear despite your fatigue.

Aid Station #3 for the 2014 Mohican 100k

Aid Station #3 was located at Mohican Wilderness. I had enough water and food at this point and rode on to the next station, but it’s always nice to hear the encouragement that the volunteers provide. There is a lot of support and you can get in and out of the aid stations very quickly if that’s your goal.

Nutrition?

You may be wondering what you need to carry.  With a race that is this long, eating and staying hydrated is a very important part of the race plan.

The aid stations are well-stocked with nutrition and hydration options.  You will have plenty of food, water, and sports drink to carry you to the finish line.  While I can’t guarantee what you will find, in the past their has been gels, bars, PB&J sandwiches, fruit, candy & nuts – the typical endurance athlete buffet.  There are usually coolers with water and sports drink (It was Hammer Heed last year – which is my favorite).

If these options don’t appeal to you then you can leave drop bags at two or three of the aid stations (see race instructions for details).  A lot of people stock specific drinks they like and homemade food that sits well in their stomachs or satisfies certain dietary needs.

I plan on starting the race with two 24-oz bottles of sports drink, two Clif bars and a couple of gels in my pockets.  I will stop at an aid station whenever I run out.  There are 4-5 aid stations throughout the course depending on whether you are going 100k or 100 miles.  Last year I stopped at two of them.

The forecast for the 2015 race has the temperature reaching the 80s.  Hydration is going to be a big factor this year.  Make sure you have a solid plan and stay hydrated early in the race, so that you don’t suffer later.

The finish line for the 2014 Mohican MTB 100

When the see the giant Kenda finishing arch off in the distance, then you know the end is near. You will ride through some campsites and down a half mile of gravel road before reaching this point.

In Conclusion

The first time I did the Mohican 100, I went out too hard and died.  I finished feeling miserable and frustrated and vowed I would never do it again.  The second time I paced myself better and had a great time.  This year, I am more amped than ever to tackle this challenging course.  It truly is one of the best mountain bike events in Ohio.  By the time I’m done I will be worn down and my muscles will be wrecked for days, but it will be all be worth it when I cross the finish line and bond over the shared experience with my fellow mountain bikers.

James Knott, Nahum Burt and Cory Knight after the Mohican MTB 100.

James Knott, Nahum Burt & Cory Knight trade war stories after the 2014 event. One of my favorite parts of this event is hanging out with friends after the race.

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