May 31, 2015, 581 racers registered for the opportunity to tackle one of the toughest mountain bike courses in Ohio and by the end of the day 67 of them would cry mercy and receive a DNF. Several of my teammates from Breakaway Quickdirt were riding it for the first time and they all said it was the toughest thing that they had ever done. Why was I contemplating retirement from the sport at mile 45? Why did we sign up for this battle in the first place?
I had written a strategy guide for the Mohican 100 based on my two years of experience in the race. I thought I was ready, but Lady Mohican be an angry beast and she would extract her vengeance upon me before the day was done.
Temperatures were in the 60s when we were changing into our kits. It was a pleasant morning. This was way different than the year before when we were all shivering at the start line. Today’s challenge wasn’t mud, or rain, or cold weather – it was heat. The day was going to get into the 80s and good hydration was a priority.
I drove to the race with first-time 100k’er Joe Worboy, a novice racer. We picked up our packets and rode the 1-mile bike path prologue to the starting line in downtown Loudonville. Joe and I were in the first third of the pack at the line and it was exhilarating to look back at the sea of mountain bikers behind us.
Race director Ryan O’Dell counted down to the start at 7am and the flock surged forward out of town and into the Ohio countryside.
***Most photos taken with my GoPro Hero 3 in time lapse mode. Click here to see prices and reviews. I also carry a water-proof Olympus Tough which can handle all the abuse of mountain biking.***
The 100k riders do 8300 ft of climbing and the challenge starts before you even exit town. The first climb is long and steep, but it’s probably the most fun because so many of your brethren are there suffering with you. It’s so early in the race that you want to save something for later, but you don’t want the rest of the pack to slip away from you.
My strategy was to approach the climbs with caution and try to save some energy for the 8 million other climbs that would follow. I can tell you right now that I thought I was racing smart. I never expected that it would all blow up 30 miles later.
My goal for the day was to try and get a PR. My previous best was 6:15 and I thought I was in good enough shape to beat that time. I’ve always thought of myself as a good racer on hot days, so I thought the fact that it was going to be warm was an advantage for me. I had a 70 ounce camelback full of water and a bottle full of Hammer Perpetuem sports drink on my bike. In my back pocket there were two Clif bars and some caffeinated gels. I thought I was prepared.
Despite my competitive nature, I let the lead peloton slip away from me because I knew they were going faster than I needed to go this early in the race. I slipped behind Knobby Side Down racer, Jim Costello. The race starts with several miles of road and I spent at least two of those miles staring at Jim’s butt and soaking up his draft.
When we entered the first stretch of doubletrack in the woods I felt like the effort got easier. I had no problem passing a dozen riders or so on the jeep roads that connect the pavement to the singletrack in the state forest.
I felt like I had done a good job of positioning myself for the long singletrack loop. The traditional bottlenecks where racers get backed up were very short and I had almost no waiting.
Once you get to the singletrack, patience is the key. It’s early in the race and you are full of energy, but this is a good time to relax. I focused on riding efficiently rather than on what position I was in. I moved up a few times when passing was obvious and fairly easy, but for the most part I was chugging slowly up the hills and then catching up to the riders in front of me on the downhills.
I was so proud of my efficient effort that I may have gotten a little cocky. At mile 13, I was careening down a hill to catch up and completely wiped out on an off-camber, gravel-covered trail. A dozen riders passed me as I collected my composure and assessed the damage. My right leg is still covered with mementos from the moment.
This was a minor setback, but I still felt like I was in control of my destiny at this point.
I spent some time riding with my teammates Nahum Burt, Kunihiko “Max” Tanuma, and Joe Worboy. We had a Breakaway Quickdirt train chugging through the woods and we flew right past the first aid station at mile 22. I still had fluids and food left and I thought I was doing a good job of fueling. I planned to have my first stop at aid station #2 at mile 36.
Racers exited the singletrack several miles after the aid station and were immediately treated to one of the most epic hike-a-bikes in Ohio mountain biking. It’s long and so steep that it can be difficult to find your footing. Several teammates told me they never expected hiking to be such a necessary skill in this event. Does anyone train for that?
At this point the race turns into doubletrack and horse trails. There is a very memorable section where erosion prevention logs are placed about every 50 feet on horse trails and you have to ride up and over each one as you are descending. It’s a fun technical moment and requires good bike control, but it’s also fairly taxing. I started to feel a few twitches in my quads, which I thought was odd for this early in the race, but I didn’t give it much thought. As far as I was concerned I was still doing a good job of managing my race.
There was a section of heavily-rooted uphill double-track around mile 31. My bike hit a root that I could normally ride over, but for some reason my legs, without warning, lost power and my bike came to a halt. I put my legs down and both quads immediately locked up in cramps. My body was bent over and I couldn’t move. My bike was blocking the trail, but I couldn’t figure out how to move out of the way without falling over. Someone shouted drink some liquids and stretch it out. I tried to stretch my quads and then my hamstrings locked up too. I was immobile.
The pain was immense. I hadn’t experienced cramping like this in years. I was hunched over for longer than a minute and frustration was starting to mount. I watched my teammates pull away from me. How long would I be stuck here? I was only halfway through, would I even be able to finish the race. DNF is not in my DNA.
My goal of breaking my PR suddenly seemed out of reach. In some senses, my race was over for the day. I was now in survival mode.
I drank the rest of the liquid I had with me and ate a little too. I was able to get back on my bike and pedal, but there was a definite loss of power. Every time I tried to resume my previous pace, my legs threatened to cramp up. I was now out of food and water and just trying to make it to aid station #2 which was a very long 5 miles from my meltdown.
The aid station was a blur. I threw down my bike and started chugging Coke, Hammer Heed and water to replace the lost fluids. Even though I thought I had been drinking enough, I was very dehydrated and low on electrolytes. The heat had taken its toll on me. I ate some fruit and M&Ms and tried to get some mojo back.
At one point, my friend and race rival Jeremy Larson from the OMBC race series tried to give me some words of encouragement – something about catching a second win. It was a nice gesture.
“I think my race is over,” I replied with a defeated tone.
I crawled back on my bike and wondered how I could ride another 26 miles.
Each pedal stroke took a huge amount of effort. Left, right, left, right, left right… over and over again. There was no longer scenery, only pedaling. Competition was replaced by drudgery.
Luckily after two or three miles I did start feeling a little better. My outlook improved from I will never finish to I will finish slowly. My legs didn’t feel like they were on the edge of cramping, but they were definitely slower. We were now on country roads. I tried to draft a few people to save energy, but I couldn’t keep up with them. I could tell how much slower I was by how quickly everyone was passing me.
But I kept on chugging. Three hours is a long time to churn the pedals when you feel defeated.
The pity party started to set in. Why would anyone ever read a strategy guide written by me? I can’t even follow my own advice. I’m an idiot. Maybe I should retire from the sport? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, this is farther than I enjoy riding. The endless thoughts of despair kept roaming through my brain.
For me, cycling is a fun escape. It’s one of the most amazing ways to experience the world. But, once you’ve hit that wall, it can be so deflating. The destination can feel like an infinite number of miles away.
I kept eating and drinking and pretty soon I was full. No amount of food or drink could make me feel better. Only time and rest could do that for me.
I marched forward and the miles ticked away. My average speed dropped and I wondered how low it could get.
I rode right through the final aid station. I couldn’t fit anything else in my stomach.
Those final five miles of singletrack were some of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. I had nothing left. I could barely raise off my saddle and was now sitting over most of the roots and rocks. It felt like I was getting punched in the vasectomy. My vas deferens was screaming at me to stop, but I knew I had to survive this final stretch. I was going to make it. Screw you DNF. I will not submit. I will conquer.
I started dreaming about the beer – the food – the friends – everything that was waiting for me at the finish line. These are the rewards that make the Mohican 100 so fun – the camaraderie that you experience with your fellow mountain bikers after you’ve survived the battle. How many flat tires, broken derailleurs, snapped chains, crashes and OTBs would I hear about?
There was no final sprint. I slowly rolled under the Kenda banner and sucked down the water they handed me in my new Mohican 100 commemorative pint glass. I dragged my bike to the beer tent and toasted my survival with a serving of Dortmunder Gold. My body was destroyed but my spirits were starting to lift. I was surrounded by some good folks.
I may have fallen short of my goal this year, in fact it was my slowest time yet – 6:46:59. But, I learned some valuable lessons and next year I’ll be back to try and set a new personal record. Mohican is tough, but next year I’ll be tougher.
What was your goal? Did you reach it? Tell me about your Mohican experience in the comment section. Also, don’t forget to like Quickdirt on Facebook.
See you next year!
Finished 59th out of 234 racers in the Men’s 100k Open (74th percentile)
Official Time: 6:46:59
Recorded with Garmin Edge 800 GPS. (Click here to read reviews of product)
- Distance: 61.40
- Moving Time: 6:20:01 (Might not include hike-a-bikes where the slow speed caused the unit to autopause)
- Avg Moving Speed: 9.7
- Max Speed: 40.6
- Elevation Gain: 8212 ft
- Avg Temperature: 69.3 F
- Avg Power: 150 Watts
- Max Power: 786 Watts
- Normalized Power: 204 Watts
- Work: 3438 KJ
- TSS: 293.9
- Calories: 2683
Team Breakaway Quickdirt Results
Congratulation to the members of Team Breakaway Quickdirt. We had 8 guys race. For 4 of them, it was their inaugural attempt at the Mohican 100. All four said it was the toughest mountain bike event they had ever attempted. I hope they will all sign up next year and reach for new heights!
- 6:23:06 Kunihiko Tanuma 39th
- 6:32:25 Nahum Burt 48th
- 6:46:59 James Knott 59th
- 7:13:11 Joe Worboy 82nd
- 7:29:09 Michael Whaley 99th
- 8:28:32 Christopher Boyle 132nd
- 10:24:59 Daniel Fausey 174th
- DNF Shannon Williams
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