23 April 2013

Race Report: 2013 Bonk Hard OGRE 154mi gravel ride

When Bonk Hard Racing first announced the OGRE, I thought they were crazy. Who would really want to ride 150 miles on a bike without getting to run or paddle? Not me. Definitely not me. But, long story short, I wound up registering for the race with my Alpine Shop teammate Jeff, who graciously surrendered his "Masters 50+" age category status to race with 29-year-old me in the Coed Open Team division. His dad Leonard and his wife Carrie would be our support crew, and our Alpine Shop teammate David would also be racing as a solo. Cool. Sounds doable.

The week before the race was filled with typical activities like buying junk food from Trader Joe's and planning bottles. To add to the fun, my buddy Zoll needed a support crew too, so we threw him into the mix and hoped he wouldn't freak the first time Jeff played the Quark Song. The boys and I met up at our favorite commuter lot and loaded the Sona van for some Ozark gravel crushing. On the way to the Lake, we ate a lot of Mexican food and visited Jeff's boyhood home, where we picked up Leonard. Carrie was traveling for work and was giving us reports of seriously delayed flights. Oh dear. But she had a game plan which involved driving through the night with three teenage girls to make it to the hotel just about the time we would be waking up to begin our race morning routines. Woman on a mission, she is.

Race check-in was at Oz Cycles and instead of packets, Bonk Hard greeted us with OGRE-approved burlap bags. Seriously the cutest things ever. We saw a route overview posted on the wall, but Gary mentioned that we might have some detours due to high water. Duly noted. We had pizza for dinner at Shawnee Bluff Winery...and honestly it wasn't that great. But it was calories and we left feeling stuffed. Then we went back to Tan-Tar-A for pre-race meeting (short-n-sweet) and gear-sorting (longer). Carrie and the girls arrived right on time, and they crashed into bed while Leonard drove us four racers to the start line at Big Surf Waterpark. I was a little slow getting all my crap together before the start, but managed with about 30 seconds left and was ready to take whatever the OGRE threw at me and Jeff.

LEG 1 (50 miles)
Don't think I know any of these riders but check out that sunrise!!! Beautiful day to be on a bike!
It's barely light out and barely above freezing (35F) as about 100 gravel bikes stream out of the parking lot. We have a few miles of downhill pavement to start, and the high speed combined with cold temperatures instantly freeze my hands despite the double-layer of gloves. Jeff's and my goal for this leg is to finish it without feeling like we put any work in, so every hill we sit and just spin our way up. Jeff is on his AR bike, a carbon Superfly 100 with a 3x9 mtb drivetrain, and I'm on my beloved battlefinch with a 2x10 mtb drivetrain. Our easy gearing makes spinning a reality and we watch with secret satisfaction as other riders stand and crank uphill. Despite this easy perceived effort, my heartrate is pretty high, but I just attribute that to race day excitement combined with an easy "taper" week. I am also using the tow frequently; it's a great tool for keeping team effort equalized (aka....Jeff is a seriously strong cyclist and helps me go faster).
Profile for Leg #1. Somehow the mind-bending climb into Pit Stop #1 is not showing.
As the sun rises, the beauty of the countryside is revealed. The more I've ridden gravel, the more I love the open views, tons of livestock, forests, everything about riding through rural areas just agrees with my soul.  We cruise into CP#1 at mile 37 (no crew access here, just an intermediate time check) in great spirits and I recognize the church from the 2012 Bonk Hard Chill, CP25. We just check in with race staff and continue on our merry way. About mile 45, we start seeing riders come back towards us. They look like the leaders of the race, but according to Friday's course map overview, that would put them about 20 miles ahead of us. Sure, we are riding slowly, but not that slowly. We are confused and scared for a few miles until we see David and Zoll fly past, as well as another guy still eating a donut. These clues tell us that the course must have been re-routed (probably due to high water) and we are on an out-and-back. Our fears are calmed. We crush the hill into the Pit Stop and are greeted by race staff and crews. Carrie and Leonard are quick to direct us to the Sona-van, where we refuel get race updates: we are the first team, and both David and Zoll are feeling good. We arrange our maps for the second leg and get ready to tackle the gnarly hills in reverse.
Hill into Pit Stop #1.
We made it!! I release Jeff's tow as we arrive at Pit Stop #1.
LEG 2 (37 miles)

Me and Jeff rolling out of Pit Stop #1
Back, back, back it up!!!
Profile for Leg #2
Armed with new bottles, new bladders, and bellies full of donuts, we roll out to crush Leg #2. Again, we are just aiming to ride steady here, staying well fed and hydrated and not pushing too hard on the climbs. We ride back to Decaturville Church for CP#3 (again, no crew assistance, just time check) and then head south along Hwy 5. I am very tempted to hammer these few rolling miles of pavement but Jeff keeps us firmly in check. After crossing the highway, we have a few worries about navigation when the maps don't seem to match up with road signs, but after a few minutes everything clicks back into place and we know we are still on the correct course. Around mile 75, I think that we are half-way done with the race, but then I remember it's actually one hundred and fifty-FOUR miles. So I wait until mile 77 for a celebratory turkey-and-cheese sandwich. Jeff and I have been chatting basically non-stop all day, but about this time we both go through a quiet spell. We are both starting to feel the effects of a long day on the bike, and I unknowingly slip into a low patch. We stop to pee and check the map, and the brief break from the bike saddle does wonders for my mood - I'm back to my normal happy self. A few miles out from Pit Stop #2, we spot a familiar single speeder up ahead - it's Zoll, and he does not look happy. We roll up to him and immediately start asking what's wrong. We bombard him with food options we have waiting at the Pit Stop - chocolate milk, coke, mountain dew, donuts, turkey jerky, chocolate covered espresso beans, bananas, the list goes on. This is classic adventure racing behavior - if a teammate is feeling bad, you start pelting them with calorie options to get them thinking about how to fix their energy lull. Even though we're not on an actual team with Zoll, he's part of the STL crew and we want him to have a good race. So we ride as a trio into Pit Stop #2 and get to work refueling. Leonard lubes everyone's chains and Carrie takes care of restocking calories and liquids. Peat comes over and helps us all too. It's beyond cool to see him there and it makes me really motivated to ride strong. We get word that David is having a good day ahead of us. Jeff and I are ready to go before Zoll, but we are confident that our crew can get him back on the road in good spirits so we take off on the third leg.

Jeff riding into Pit Stop #2.

Zoll into Pit Stop #2.

Me into Pit Stop #2. I love my bike.
LEG 3 (41 miles)
I've finally ditched my knee warmers, and the day has warmed up into absolutely perfect temperatures for riding. Again, Jeff and I focus on constant forward progress at a steady pace...no sprinting, keep eating, keep peeing, it's all good. We've encountered low water crossings all day, but I think it's here where we have the longest one, about 20 feet wide. And, there's a car parked in the middle. Ummm...what? We notice there are two people standing outside the car. At first we think it's stalled, but then we notice they have buckets. And they are pouring creek water on the car. No big deal...it's just an Ozark car wash. People, you absolutely cannot see these things unless you are riding gravel. GETCHASUM.
Profile for Leg #3.
Checkpoint #5 is at a gas station around mile 108 and as we ride into it, there are three guys talking to the race volunteer. Where did they come from? We haven't seen anyone in front of us for this entire leg and now there are three people? Just as we are rolling in, the riders depart, but we spend a few minutes with the REALLY COOL volunteer who offers us water and snacks. I can't really describe it, it's not like either Jeff or I was in a low spot coming into this checkpoint, but we left it with way higher spirits than when we came in. Thanks, awesome race volunteer guy. There's not much else to report on this leg I guess, other than clicking over 100 miles (century), and then 112 (ironman distance), and then 120, putting me firmly into longest-bike-ride-ever territory. Cool!

We ride into Pit Stop #3 and we get great news - David is still ahead of us and feeling good, despite going off course for a few miles. Zoll has regrouped and ridden out of Pit Stop #2 in a superior state of mind. And now we only have 26 miles left of this beastly ride! Carrie and Leonard have some fries from the gas station and I stuff a bunch in my mouth as I'm swapping bottles...they are goooooood. Peat is there too and cheers us on with a traffic cone. Jeff and I are totally ready to get 'er done!

LEG 4 (26 miles)
Profile for Leg #4.
There is another guy leaving Pit Stop #3 at the same time so we form a trio for the last leg. His name is Don and I met him at Tour of Hermann last weekend - he's a strong dude! We all chat until we come upon mile 131 - it's the only place on the course where Bonk Hard has warned us to GO SLOW because of a treacherous low water crossing. All three of us are decent bike handlers but the crossing is indeed tricky - no one makes it across cleanly and that water is DEEP!! Thankfully we still have plenty of daylight and we continue riding along. Soon after the tricky crossing, Don gets a flat (his second of the day) and insists that Jeff and I keep riding; he has everything he needs to fix it. What a cool guy. So Jeff and I are alone again and at this late stage in the race, it's unlikely that we'll see anyone else. No worries though, we both have plenty of calories and are feeling great, but my wrists are starting to get a little sore.

There are still a couple monster hills to be climbed, and I am patting myself on the back for the Warbird's smart gearing. Even at the end of a 13-hour day, my legs can still push a 28/36 so we ride everything. Jeff's tow helps too, although I'm trying to only use it on the well-packed climbs. It's not as beneficial on the looser gravel so there's no reason to unnecessarily fatigue my awesome teammate there. We enjoy a really nice, long downhill into the last check point, CP#7, which is manned by another really cool guy. He spots our numbers from way out and then waves us through onto a short section of private-property doubletrack. This is awesome! We get a little bit of bike-handling practice and then a very steep "run-up" which of course we walk. Then it's only 2.5 miles of pavement back to the finish line at Oz Cycles. We hear the signature Bonk Hard cowbells from the bottom of the hill and are really excited to finish as the first team and in 17th place overall! What a great day!

Jeff and I are really happy with how our day unfolded. We never pushed the pace, just rode steady and smart all day long, kept eating, kept drinking, and kept peeing (trust me, we had a lot of pee breaks...but at least they were synchronized!). We worked as a team to keep each other happy and moving forward. Our bikes were perfect with no mechanicals and no flats. The course was marked extremely well (apart from only one tampered sign), and combined with our cue sheets/maps we stayed on course all day. General consensus on course data seems to be 154 miles and about 12,000 feet of climb. Our crew was INCREDIBLE - special thanks to Carrie and Leonard for being prepared and sooooo helpful at all of the Pit Stops. Bonk Hard Racing and Oz Cycles again put on a first-class event, and I can't wait for next year!!
Jeff, Leonard, Carrie, and me at the finish line. Oh yeah!!!
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  1. Congratulations! You guys are awesome, and what a fantastic crew you had! It was fun getting to follow along with the updates posted on FB. See you at Cedar Cross!

    1. All of my dreams will come true at Cedar Cross. So very excited!

  2. so there it is! I can't say I'd finish in such great spirits, or that I'd finish at all! Nice work, it sounds like it went smoothly like a well-oiled machine!

    1. Whoa. A comment from CFR. My life is complete.

  3. Great report! That was a hell of a course to do your longest ride ever. Nice work!