My number for the day: #292 (A numeric palindrome if you will).

August 18, 2013 I entered my first race, ever: The Hampshire 100. From what I’ve heard and read, this is a course to be respected and that’s no joke. Truth be told, and having experienced the entire event and knowing what my own personal strengths are from a technical perspective, I did not find anything on the course over my head or ability. I dealt myself a hand early on that I had to deal with from 20 miles on which was interesting (I’ll get into that one later). The course was superbly marked, set up was amazing, support was top notch and the care that the race supporters had at each station was really inspiring. It was great to see all the locals coming together and help with this event. Comradery amongst the riders was great to see and participate. Subtle nudges of support and brief conversations all helped tremendously with the spirits. Highlights lay throughout the course but most memorable definitely were coming into check points and getting cheers from the race supporters which were huge mental “pick-me-ups”. Especially when those cheering you on were friends and family – my final turn into Oak Park was bitter sweet I have to say. Big thanks to all who helped with the race, the whole Hampshire 100 crew for putting this race on and to the Greenfield Trails Association who definitely deserves lots of props tfor delivering some great trails at the very end (there were some sweet sections along the way too that should not be downplayed!) many of which are home turf and lines I know all too well.

My date with the H100 started at 5 a.m. My wakeup call was provided by my itouch playing “Ex-Spectator” by Fugazi (figured that was a good way to start my day). It really did not wake me up as I was awake since about 3:30 a.m. … Hop in the shower, eyes wide open, suit up, get the bikes on the car (Lynn was racing too) and make sure all our fuzzy critters were fed. Ate my breakfast of granola and topped off things with an extra 24oz of water. Took care of business in “my office”. (That’s the bathroom kids). All our nutrition and post race goodies were prepped the night before so all that went out to the car. We were organized. Into the car for the 10 minute drive to Oak State Park for the 6:15am mandatory rider check meeting. On the pedal over there I was chatting with another rider and not paying attention when my rear wheel went RIGHT through dog sh!t… Nice way to start my morning. So hose that off at the start. Good to go. Pictures taken. Meeting met. Suddenly they’re calling the 100 milers and singlespeeders to the line. A mass of disorganized riders suddenly became “orderly”. Off they went. Experts to the line. Off the went. Sport (that’s us!) to the line. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. And we’re off. The sun was rising, lighting up the sky as you make your way around the park before exiting at one end in a tight turn to your right… The pace was fast with an all encompassing whir of wheels.

Let’s back up for a minute. This was my first race let alone an endurance event. 100k on a mountain bike is a heck of a distance. Pretty much all of my riding career up to this point has been a maximum of maybe 25 miles. Short and fast. Going after lines and pounding singletrack. Very anaerobic by nature. I’m definitely a sprinter with a lot of power and speed. I’d put my technical proficiency on a bike in the advanced category if I may. I’ve done some longer rides of maybe 40 miles on my road bike but that’s pretty much it (and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that but there it is). If I’ve done anything longer I don’t know as I rarely had a cyclometer if ever on rides. So training for this had to be come at from a very different angle for me. I like to go fast. Slow, long rides where I built up to mileage over time with periods in-between concentrating on hills, intervals and speed workouts. Logging miles was important to acclimate myself and my body to the distance and rigors my body would ultimately experience. The course links dirt and double track with technical singletrack and I attempted to replicate that with my training. So I’d come off of dirt roads or double track a bit tired late in rides and have to deal with tech. The race was on a Sunday, so I reserved that day for the long ride to prep my body. I realistically started training in May of 2013 after a full winter of riding my fat bike (which actually built up a lot of power) with the intention of training through till August and tapering appropriately to allow my body to fully recover, be well fueled and rested. Fast forward and somewhere in my training regiment I was out for a 45 mile ride when cramps set in full bore, both quads, both hamstrings… Basically both legs completely locked up about 1 mile from my front door. The wheels had come off. This was bad. I was not doing something right.

So I did a lot of research and think I had this all figured out with my nutrition and what I needed. I’m a larger rider typically weighing in around 180-185 (I used to go 195 or more but I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass over the years in my upper body). So I require more than the average weight person perhaps – which was about 165lbs according to a few sources. According to the research I’ve done I “should” be getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 calories / hour. On all my subsequent training rides, and this summer was a hot and humid one, there was just no way I could handle that many calories in an hour without feeling bloated and full. Often I could only really handle 200-250 calories / hour. Maybe. But after “the event” I dealt with a lot of mental issues because that cramping experience stuck with me. I was hyper aware of what it feels like before they come on and so that was definitely in the back of my mind the rest of the summer which produced an unnecessary layer of stress. Thinking of that spot where it happened even brought on anxiety for crying out loud.

But I knew the biggest factor was Mental Toughness. This is something I had experienced early on as an athlete in my teenage years: Dealing with pain and a lot of it. Finding that mental spot and coping with huge physical challenges. I recall one coach telling us “You’ve got to find a way to deal with the pain”. And he’d simply repeat “Mental Toughness”. So much of sports and competition is the mental side of things. For me, the way I deal with this is telling myself to absorb it. Eat the pain. Drink it up to the last drop. I feel as though I had pushed myself to limits mentally early in my life and had the mental armament and discipline to cope no matter what life dishes out. So that next long ride out I ended my shorter 35 mile loop and every subsequent longer loop on that hill where it happened. No way was I going to let that shit beat me. No way.

35 Miler

This picture is taken just before where my cramps set in…

Throughout my research on cramps, it seemed like no one had a clear explanation or reason for why they exactly occur. Hammer Nutrition by far seemed to have the best explanations as they dealt first with the physiology of the body, how it works and what we need to keep things running smoothly. Electrolytes play a huge role in maintaining our bodies functions especially when you’re pushing it to the limit. Everyone seems to have something that works for them from the simple to the “you’re drinking/eating what?”. However, 3 words in combination always seemed to pop up no matter what the source regarding cramp prevention: Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium. Not just one or the other but all of those 3. Another interesting lesson of course is what you consume and when you consume it. So the order of things has to be right in addition to staying hydrated, and eating just enough so you’re body has the right amount of calories. And it’s not a “what goes in goes out” situation. You can only handle so much and your bodies ability to process things is only so much / hour. So finding what works for you takes some time. After a few rides I felt as though I had this part figured out and I did not experience any cramping on any subsequent ride.

Now let’s talk about The Ride. Here’s what I started out with:

State of the build...

Short and aggressive. 16.25″ chainstays. Cockpit slightly more upright. I place the rider “in” the bike. This is an aggressive trail setup. There’s really nothing cross-country about it. 25 miles and you’re having fun. But when I went into the 30+ mile marker… man was I getting beat up. At first I figured it was the heat and humidity and acclimation to the mileage. That was some of it, but in reality my bike set up was just not appropriate. Good thing I’m a frame builder I suppose. So back to the drawing board:

State of the Build

These two builds are not much different at first glance with the seat stays being the most obvious. What I did do was lengthen my rider compartment so I’m a bit more spread out. I also lengthened my seat post by about 1.00″ to lesson the seat post extension. More seat post extension gives you a bit more softness on trail and helps to dampen some of the trail chatter, but when pushed it also flexes under load and that can mean lost power through your pedal stroke – ok on aggressive trails but when you’re seating in the saddle cranking, you’re going to want that power going to the right place. I also lengthened my chainstays: 16.50″. I found this through past experience to really help smooth out the overall ride but maintain the bikes ability to handle in tech when you need it. Another feature I really wanted were my newer formed chainstays which deliver lateral stiffness. Very important again when cranking in the saddle. I also wanted to start “solidifying” what a 44 Bikes looks like. The above is the culmination of all the builds to date in a more XC package. Bottom bracket drop is 2.25″. Head tube angle is 70.5. Rider is still placed between the wheels and “in” the bike. There’s a lot of positives that I enjoyed about the last build, but some others just needed to be changed for longer days in the saddle. First ride out? What a difference. Just .25″ of chainstay length made a tremendous impact on how the bike feels on trail. Smooth? Hell yes. That slightly longer wheelbase is just what I needed and all these factors help to inform me when clients ask questions about aggressive geometry vs cross country. There’s some parts on the build that aren’t too XC but it’s what I had. After racing the H100, I’m feeling like some instances I wanted just a bit more in the rear so perhaps next time I do the race (and there will be a next time in the future) I’d like to roll XX1 or 11 speed. The wolftooth drivetrain worked flawlessly however. Narry a chain dropped and I was carrying a lot of speed through tech in some sections. Fork is a bit overkill but again, it’s what I had. Two sets of water bottle cage mounts were added too as I wanted to use a water bottle as part of my fueling process (this turned out to be key).

So let’s fast forward and get back to the race exiting the park! The whole course is a bit of a fuzzy image but I’ll do my best to tell it how I remember it. Maybe 20 yards out of the park and I’m watching the riders around me settle into a line. Theres a pack of lead riders, maybe 20-30 or even more that just took off and I can see them entering the first series of dirt roads. That’s when I hear the distinct sound of metal and human on pavement. Bikes are swerving everywhere. We’re still on smooth pavement so who knows what happened. Then another thud and somebody hit a cone? Wow. I make it through this melee and Francois and Louis (fellow buddies and on 44’s themselves) make it through too. We settle into a line and are cranking, darting through beautiful country dirt roads. And riders are still passing us. Who cares. Temps are cool, I feel good and I’m happy to have my arm warmers and windproof vest (Voler 44 Kit mind you). About 4 miles in and I realize I’ve forgotten to start my GPS… so that gets started. This proved to be kind of a joke later on to do simple math at the checkpoints to figure where I actually was after I left the checkpoints. At about 15 miles I glanced down and realized my, or rather our pace, was in excess of 17mph. For me, first thing in the morning… that’s not good and it’s just way too fast. Especially on a long ride. I need to go out slow, warm up for 15 miles and then slowly crank it up. My strategy going in was start slow, warm up, build momentum and if I was feeling good, engage the tractor beams and start reeling in riders. Well rule #1 of my race plan was shot to shit already and that was after many said not to get sucked in by the first 20 miles and riders going out super fast. We entered a hard right turn onto what appeared to be snowmobile trails and we almost missed this one. I could see a large pack of some of the experts and 100 milers off in the distance still pounding pedals. I heard later some got lost and had to backtrack. So they had a good start too I suppose. But we’re still cranking.

Post race and fully raced from start to finish on August 13, 2013 for the 7th annual Hampshire 100.

So as I said above, we were going through a bunch of paved and unpaved roads and along long tracks of snowmobile trails which are basically amounting to 6th class roads I believe. Onto Railroad tracks to the mandatory dismount. This was an equalizer at about 7 miles with a long line waiting to cross. I let a guy in front of me who was a 100 miler who was late to the line apparently. A bit more and we popped out into I believe a field just behind Crotched Mountain. I realize “hey this must be the new section that Larry at the GTA built last year.” Short and sweet section of singletrack! A bit of a technical, twisting down hill. Here’s where my thoughts were confirmed: Both Louis, Francois and I are slowed down by riders ahead who are a bit less adept in singletrack. No matter. We’re hootin’ and having a good time. Passed a pour soul losing breakfast, next to a boulder in a tight switchback. Across a long parking lot I practically choke on my first gel. That fast cool “warm up” has put the freeze on some of my gels and Franky’s asking if all is ok. Up a small climb and I can hear people I know cheering on others i know who left ahead of me. Are we in a good spot? Who knows. It’s just too early and there’s a lot of ground to cover. Past the first feed station and John (who practically built all of the trails in Greenfield) is standing by to cheer us all on. We give him the thumbs up. What happened next is a blur to feed station #2 where we stopped to change out some things and make some adjustments. This is at mile 16 and when I dismounted my right thigh tensed up a bit. This was my first sign of what was coming my way and upon reflection I know I went out too fast. No matter, out of that area along a baseball field and on our way.

Mud. Dust. Dirt. No tears.

More fuzzy images. Somewhere in and around mile 20 or 25 is where my shit started. I know what cramps feel like and I know what it feels like when they’re starting to seep in. I had my GPS unit set on a timer to go off every 30 minutes. I had hit the water and enduralyte caplets early like I normally do to start the fueling process. But regardless, I knew that feeling. Shit. At this point Louis was a few lengths ahead of Francois and I and I said “Hey Franky, how you feeling?” He said he’s good and feeling fresh. I apologized and said that I had to back off the pace. It was cool if he wanted to forge on. He knew what was up. So he said no worries I’m having fun. So on we went at my backed off pace for another 10 miles. And the quads started. Short contractions. I worked through them and made some adjustments. I’m feeling better and thought I was on top of them. Fast forward to about feed station #3 and we’ve found the fiddler (think that’s where she was). They had a keg at this one. Franky took part in a frosty beverage. I asked “oh… is that a keg? I want one but I know I can’t” That brought some laughs. Good group of supporters. Topped off water and we’re back at it. So somewhere around mile 35 just before Abijah Bridge I believe and a really sweet section of prolonged singletrack (really the first good set) and we’re crossing an open field. Actually Before this we railed across a series of 3 huge open fields that overlooked a valley. Gorgeous. Power line climb was in here too at some point? The order of things may not be correct but somewhere around here I had to be out of the saddle as the terrain was smooth but choppy. Bad for the thighs which were already showing signs of cramps. Into a bowl and a rider ahead of us dismounted to cross a patch of wet grass and mud. I followed suit with everyone else and that was that. Both legs locked up. Quads and hamstrings. I must have let out a yell because Francois was just around a corner hidden from view. They turned around and came back to see what was up (which was really nice of them to do so). Basically both teardrops on my thighs looked like a set of piano keys. Francois summed it up nicely: “Now that’s something I’ve never seen.” So I’m cramping 30 miles in to 64 miles. Awesome. Now we’re having fun right?

After perhaps 15 minutes I’m able to walk. Muscles are still not agreeing or paying attention. They’re just off on their own adventure. We’re also joined by another friend who’s caught up to us. He’s had trouble with cramps too with 50 mile endurance runs. At this point I “think” I’ve been doing everything right but also most likely know the pace was too fast to start. I’ve also realized that I might not have been drinking enough either even starting the day with good hydration. Oh well. Pound water, pound electrolytes. I’m at a deficit and there’s nothing to do but try and get on top of it and deal. I walked for a good distance and Francois came back to me (who is in fact my brother-in law), has stuck by me but I know he wants to forge ahead. I just told him it’s ok, and I understand: He’s gotta ride his own race. We had a little discussion and he said he was torn but I just kept repeating it was ok. I was crossing a paved bridge and that’s the last I saw of him or any of them till I crossed the finish line to big hugs from all.

Wolftooth Drivetrain
64 miles and no dropped chains on a 1×10 Wolftooth Drivetrain.

Now along the line, we all had nick names for our bikes. Lynn’s is all flat black and black parts. It became “The Grave Digger”. Francois’ orange 650b was the “Mean Pumpkin”, Louis was “The Rocket” named after his childhood hockey star and Leigh’s blue 650b was named “Bluebell”. Upon hearing the others she realized her nickname was a bit on the less than stout side. Since I was largely riding by myself the whole season, I unknowingly became “Lone Stallion”. Wow. So appropriate to my name I pulled the rest of the day in Lone Stallion fashion. I think I walked for a good 45 minutes to an hour. I was getting passed by anyone and everyone. At this rate the Twins were going to catch me which was not what I wanted to happen (That’s my wife Lynn and her twin sister Leigh who were riding Novice). Fueling my fire however but a bit demoralized by my parting conversation with Francois who added: “The next aid stating is at mile 41 – the next one from there is a good distance. Do you think you can make it there?” Basically the state he left me in appeared to be one of no return. And what I knew of fatigue and cramping of this degree I agreed with him. But here’s where the Mental Toughness I spoke of earlier comes in to play. I made up my mind right there on that bridge: I’m finishing or they’re fucking pulling me. Those are my only 2 options. DNF? No fucking way. I also knew that the mile 41 aid station led into 10 miles of trail I had ridden a few times before. That was a stretch of about 10 miles which put me at near mile 50 and from there it’s 14 miles to the finish. That started to sound like something I could rally behind. Now to absorb the pain. Time to get on top of this shit and get back in it. I continued to hydrate, eat some things and after that walk felt as though I could now finally, FINALLY get back the hell on my bike. What was really a shit end of the stick was a bunch of this was walking some really sweet singletrack. No matter. I was back on the bike. Coming down Jewett road I suddenly recognized I was really close to the mile 41 aid station. I’m not 100% but I’m back. I knew a few folks at this aid station which raised my spirits.

Tire Clearance
Good tire and heal clearance. Really happy with this new setup.

This heads into a fast descent into a small moderate climb up and through some power lines. I climbed most of it but the power lines which I walked. From here on out I had to pick and choose what I rode and did not ride. Climbs I normally could do and especially the short steeps were no longer in the cards. The course description calls this next part some soul searching. But I knew where I was and knew what the trail would be like. Having this familiarity made this section easy on me. I watch the 5 and 6 hour marks come and go since I was walking a bunch and still intermittently dealing with cramps. I played hide and seek with a group of riders I knew from EMS. Then I hit aid station #5. I decided to fuel up and put some distance on these characters. Soon after this I entered some beautiful singletrack and passed some riders. Still walking some hills. But that section was a sweet mental pick up. I think somewhere before feed station 6 there was a long 6th class road descent. Brakes slow you down so I just let it all hang out and I had one hell of a head of steam heading into a road crossing. Saw the trail marshall waving me on. There was rock about 50 feet from the road that went into a dip just before the road. My legs might be in the shitter but I still have something left in the style can. Popped off that rock, kicked out the rear wheel, transition into that dip and launch up and out into the middle of the road. One of those 2 Trail Marshals loved that and was cheering to beat the band. That felt good. Feed station #6. Kind woman held my bike for me as the 100 miler riders were not too far away she said. Sure enough one caught me in a rock garden, I yielded no problem and wished him luck. A LONG walk up and over a SOB of a hill named Bullard Hill. Somewhere along here I was passed by several other 100 mile riders. One on a white singlespeed when I was walking a short but fairly steep climb. I don’t know how those guys do it – 100 miles on a singlespeed and still cranking. I’m impressed.

I know what’s next though. Feed station #7. But not sure exactly how the trail will take me. I come into an open field and onto a 6th class road that overlooks a field. SHIT. I’ve ridden this on my fat bike in the snow! Now I’m stoked.

Sunday Ride
Same place, just going the opposite way in winter.

Still walking some spots but I feel like I’m finally on top of and ahead of the cramps. Still playing it safe and walking sections as any small misstep sends them back into piano key land. Then I’m at aid station #7 and I’m talking to my friend Dale. He said Francois and Louis rolled through about an hour ago. I’m about 6 miles from the finish. AND I’m on home turf and trails I know like the back of my hand. I refuel, top off water supplies and get on the pedals. I caught a 100 miler on a descent but let him go on a climb (naturally I’m walking – mind says yes, but legs won’t let me). Let another pass me and let him know there’s another 100 miler just ahead of me. He’s thankful for that. Hopefully he caught him. Through the “Playground” through the roller coaster of trails and on my way to John’s house (which is the John I spoke of earlier). Course now takes me through familiar but fairly new trails and I got to see all the new bridges that were finished this spring. Where the heck is John and the Hampshire 100 taking me? This must be one of the new re-routes. Clear rock gardens and I see a white t-shirted rider. I know this guy from earlier in the day who stopped and asked me if I needed anything (I was dealing with cramps at the time). Sure enough it’s him and he’s happy to see that I’m back on the bike. That’s another pick up and I can smell the finish line. Pass another rider who seems pretty exhausted. Through a landowners back yard to the chime of cowbells. That’s an awesome sound especially where I’ve been just a few hours before. Street crossing. Trail Marshall’s giving me the green light.

What’s been frustrating me the rest of the day is I’m actually fresh. My head is clear and I’m focused. I’m picking good lines and I’m fluid when on the bike. I’ve never been out of breath. My body feels great. I’m not hurting. My training seems to have worked in this end of the spectrum. The cramping is the set back. A costly one but there it is. I went out too hard and paid for it early. Oh well. But I’m told I’m 2 miles from the finish. Now I’m out of the saddle. Up into Greenfield State Park. I know this road leads out to the right hand turn down the track. There’s a woman ahead of me doing circles on a bike. Asks me if this is the right way? I saw a left hand orange trail arrow, I know that the road I’m on leads me out to the crossing and that I believe we are correct but the only sign ahead is a green trail runner marker… But that’s where I leave her. Trail Marshal’s just 100 yards from the finish usher me across the street and onto the gravel track. I can see that giant Kenda inflatable tire at the finish. Out of no where all my friends come running from a bunch of picnic tables under trees. They’re going absolutely nuts. This feels outstanding. I think I heard someone yell “Holy shit it’s Kris. He didn’t give up!” Hi fives are dolled out. I can hear that rider behind me. Not getting “chicked” today. I storm in across the finish line sitting up hands off the bars. Fists clenched in front of me. I did it. I finished. I didn’t give up despite full on cramps. Mental Toughness. As I was coming around to meet my friends a rider pulls up alongside me and it’s a 100 miler. The wheels I heard behind me were his. We had a good laugh as I tell him where I’ve been and he thanked me for being his target. Happy to oblige. I’m met and surrounded by my friends to big hugs, cheers and shouts of “we heard about your cramps”. When Francois gave me a hug he said “That’s impressive. When I left you I really had my doubts if I was going to see you finishing.” Mental Toughness.

It was great to be back at the finish amongst friends and family. It would have been nice to finish where I wanted, when I wanted with friends but the most important fact for me is despite debilitating cramps and a mountain to climb, I finished. That’s all I wanted to do and what quickly became my only goal once I realized I was back into the race mentally. Finish or get pulled putting out the best effort I could with the hand I had been dealt. Looking over what I consumed start making my head hurt. I consumed over 4000 calories throughout the day. I put down more enduralyte caplets than i can count (which is close to a whole bottle). I drank in excess of 4 100oz bladders worth of liquid in addition to continually refilling/topping off my Perpetuem fuel bottle (this might have contributed to dilution of essential minerals upon reflection but too hard too soon was most likely the culprit along with improper training early on). I weighed in about 2-3lbs below what I started at so I’m about right in terms of what I consumed I would guess.

What went wrong and why I’ll be assessing over the coming days and weeks. What went right and why I’ll make note of too. Where improvements can be made are already committed to memory. The conclusions I can draw from my battle with my cramps early on in the day might have something to do with going out a bit too fast, maybe not hydrating enough initially after starting fueling and also I was in a pretty good sleep deficit. Being my first race by not my first rodeo, I was a bit anxious and that kept me up intermittently throughout the week ahead of the race. I’d have one good nights rest followed by one where I would sleep maybe 3-4 hours over the course of 5-6 days. Being properly rested is key. That I know. This in tandem with other factors may have been just enough to take it’s toll? Who knows. But I’m all ears if anyone has advice. Will I do this race again? Heck yeah. It was a great course and a ton of fun. Will I do it next year. No. I’d like to get a few seasons of long rides in the normal regiment to further acclimate my body to doing this type of ride which previously was practically non-existant. I’d also like to provide race support like I did last year and ask if I can lead out some pre-race rides. The most frustrating part of my day out there on the course was feeling fresh, wanting to crank but just couldn’t because it would put my legs back into a state of cramping. What multiplied this was I did not feel fatigued (could have been all that walking too right?). I didn’t dwell on it, and I did not lose sleep over it post race but on reflection if I was going to put my finger on a disappointment factor, that was definitely one of the two, cramps being first.

My hat goes off to the whole Hampshire 100 crew for putting on an outstanding event. All the locals who came out and supported the riders: what a day and what an experience. Those who cheered everyone on just made you feel good. To all my fellow cyclists I met while out on the trail through good times and deep in the whole: thank you. To all my “teammates”: let’s go for a fun ride, no agenda and share more stories and adventures. That one’s in the books but I’m looking forward to the next edition of the Hampshire 100.