A few years ago it was brought to my attention that I was one of two people who had competed in the Lumberjack 100 since its inaugural year. When I first found out about it I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. In fact, I remember joking with my friends that it was proof that I didn’t have much of a life.
But then I realized that it meant that I had the BEST life. So much has happened over the last ten years and I am so thankful that I’ve been healthy and fortunate enough to show up to the start line every year. This year was the tenth anniversary of the Lumberjack 100 and all of a sudden it became a very big deal to me.
The Manistee National Forest (where the Lumberjack 100 takes place) holds a lot of memories for me. And as I crossed over the finish line this year tons of those memories came flooding back to me. Memories of my first year, where I had no clue what I was doing, or the year I bonked so bad I had to beg a Payday off of a friend just to keep pedaling. Memories of the time I crashed so hard that I had to go straight from the finish line to the hospital and memories of the time I refused to give up and ended up coming from behind to win the race. I've laughed on the course, I've cried on the course and I've cursed A LOT on the course.
While each race had different conditions and outcomes, one thing has remained the same. Each time I've pedaled across the finish line I have learned something new about racing 100 miles.
Here are ten things I've learned in those ten years...
1. Research the course!
If this is your first hundred miler, try to find other people who have done the race and ask them what to expect. Find out where the aid stations are, what the terrain is like, what sort of tires are needed, etc. My experience has been that most racers are more than happy to share all of their experiences and tips when it comes to endurance racing. Before you know it you will probably have more information than you know what to do with.
2. Plan your training and get to it!
It takes time to build up endurance and the more time you spend training the happier and more confident you will be on race day. Granted, most of us have jobs and it’s really hard to put in long hours during the week. Usually my coach has me do short, hard sessions during the week and then longer rides on the weekend. This year I raced a 50-mile mountain bike race and a six-hour solo mountain bike race in the months leading up to Lumberjack. These helped me fine tune my pacing and also allowed me to work out any “race cobwebs.”
3. Build a strong core and upper body!
It probably goes without saying but 100 miles on the road is not the same as 100 miles on singletrack. If you only ride on pavement or gravel you will be in for a harsh awakening at mile 50 when your triceps, neck and back feel like they are going to break in half. Besides spending some long days on the trail, it’s also smart to stay on top of strength training for your core and upper body. Most exercises can be done at home in front of the TV (front and side planks, push-ups, ab work etc.)
4. Nutrition is key!
It took me ten freaking years to figure out what works for me nutrition-wise and I’m pretty sure I made every mistake in the book along the way. The first year I raced Lumberjack I basically carried a sack lunch with me and just shoved food in my mouth whenever I felt hungry. As a result I felt sick to my stomach, stopped eating, and then ended up bonking. PS. It’s really hard to maintain a race pace while eating a turkey sandwich...at least it was for me!
Now I keep it really simple. I use CarboRocket Half-Evil endurance formula in my Hydrapak and carry a few emergency gels for back-up. If I know that race day is going to be really hot I also carry extra Endurolytes. I always count my calories the night before a race when I’m prepping my Hydrapak and bottles. It helps me plan how much I need to drink/eat per hour to stay on top of things during the race.
The MOST IMPORTANT thing when it comes to nutrition is to figure out what works for YOU during training rides and other races, and then implement it on race day.
5. Plan out your gear!
My advice about gear is similar to my advice about nutrition. Don’t try anything new on the day of the race. For example, there was a year at Lumberjack (don’t remember which) where I decided to wear a brand-new pair of socks that I had just bought a few days before. It didn’t matter that they still had the tags on them, I liked the way they looked. Besides, I thought to myself, how much can a pair of socks affect a race? Well, I found out that a small piece of clothing like a pair of socks can actually make you quite miserable for 98 miles because It turned out that the socks that I had bought were a little too big. Once I started racing my socks bunched up under the soles of my feet and gave me blisters. Lesson learned the hard way.
It’s also important to pay attention to the weather. If it’s going to be cold start out with arm warmers and a vest that you can ditch at an aid station. If rain is in the forecast you might want to include a rain jacket and warmer gloves in one of your drop bags. If you know that it’s going to be hot wear your lightest, most breathable clothing.
6. Stay positive!
Mentally prepare yourself that there will be low moment (or two...or ten...or 100) during the race. 100 miles is a long way to go and no matter how prepared you are, things are going to start to hurt and you are probably going to start to feel tired.
Here are my three rules that I try to follow. 1) Don’t get down on yourself if the race isn’t going as planned 2) When your brain starts telling your body to stop, don’t listen to your brain. 3) When your body starts telling your brain to stop, don’t listen to your body.
7. Pace yourself.
You can’t win a hundred miler the first 10-20 miles of the race, but you can certainly lose it. It’s really easy to get swept into race excitement the moment the promoter says go. I am the queen of going out way too hard, only to crack a few hours in. Start out at a pace you know you can sustain for hours. If your reach the half-way point and feel great, bring it up a notch. If you still feel great with ten miles left leave it all out on the course!
8. Make sure your bike is race ready!
Sure, some mechanicals are unavoidable but many are preventable. Hundred milers are usually expensive and require a lot of training. The last thing anyone wants is to DNF due to something that could have been avoided like a worn out chain, brake pads or cassette. Think about it, you’ve spent hours upon hours preparing your fitness...you need to make sure your bike is just as ready as you are!
9. Eat clean, remain hydrated, and sleep the week leading up to the race!
I usually find myself questioning everything the week of a hundred miler regardless of how much training I’ve put in. The important thing to remember is that trying to build fitness or get extra mileage in right before the race will only make you tired. Staying rested is way more important at this point. Usually I keep all of my rides short and easy with a few legs openers to keep things fresh.
10. Have fun and keep rolling!
Aid stations and transition areas are the best. There are usually a lot of people hanging out, tons of good food, and music playing. Sometimes there will even be an empty chair calling out your name. However, pedaling at a slow pace will still get you to the finish line-sitting in a chair will not.
So keep going...the finish line will eventually show up. And I promise you that crossing it is one of the best feelings in the world!
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These are a few of my favorite things: Mountain biking, good coffee, good food, and hanging out with my husband, family and adopted greyhound. It really doesn't take much to make me happy. Of course, winning a race every now and then is good too! www.daniellemusto.blogspot.com