Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Butte 100 race report

Way back in March I was sitting in front of my computer, furiously hitting the refresh key on my browser, waiting for online registration to open for the Butte 100 mountain bike race. At 5:59pm, the link appeared, I filled out my info, and paid the $187 entry fee. I spent the following few months doing the usual riding and racing plus some extra long days with a good amount of climbing thrown in for training, so when the end of July rolled around I felt about as ready as I could be. I figured as long as I paced myself, drank water, and ate some food, things would go just fine.

For those that don't know, the Butte 100 is a 100 mile race outside of Butte, MT that starts at Homestake pass and follows sections of the continental divide trail. So high elevation, lots of rough terrain, about 16,000 feet of climbing, and at least 10 hours of riding time for all but the fastest pros (Tinker Juarez has the course record of just over 8 hours). 

Last Friday I loaded up the car and headed to Butte. The race starts at 6am so after picking up my race number and packet in town and grabbing some dinner with Alden and Ed I headed up to the pass to set up camp:

 Subaru, tent, mountain bike, plus beer in the cooler. What else do you need?

 I actually managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep and was up just before 5am to eat breakfast, pack up my tent, get dressed, check tire pressures, and use the bathroom. I got down to the start line for sign in at 5:45. The pass is at an elevation of 6300 feet and at 6am it was only about 30 degrees. Good thing I brought arm warmers.

At the start I let the lead group go and tried to figure out a reasonable riding pace. Also my fingers and toes were numb from the cold, something you don't expect at the end of July. It took me about 20 miles (almost 2 hours) before I warmed up and figured out a comfortable effort. Here's a picture of me somewhere in the first half, I think just before aid station 5:

The next 30 miles went by pretty fast through rocky and sandy motorized use trails and I caught up to a few other racers. I came into the start/finish in 5 hours feeling pretty good. My dad was there and told me there weren't many riders in front of me and I wasn't too far behind. I had a coke, filled the bottles, a guy cleaned and lubed my chain, and I headed out for the second half.

Riding all day means you need to eat a lot, so I was trying to constantly snack along the way and had an assortment of food in my pockets- bars, fig newtons, gels, candy. I also drank some coke at the aid stations which is 140 calories per can. My goal for the day was to get in about 300 cal per hour, which is a number I've heard is about the max you can take in and use during an endurance race type thing. I may have been close at the start but as the day went on it became harder and harder to take in calories.

The second half of the race starts by dropping down from homestake pass into the butte right next to I-90. It's steep, rocky, and loose like much of the rest of the course, and then you end up on some roads and go to a trailhead. After that it's mostly singletrack to the next aid station (#7). I topped off the water bottles, maybe snacked? and headed out. At this point I was trading places with another racer who mentioned this was his 7th trip to butte. I would gradually catch and pass him on trail, and then he'd go by while I was at an aid station. This happened 3 times I think. I was more concerned with taking a break and trying to eat and drink than being fast at the stops so I wasn't too worried about it. Maybe next time I'll try to be a little quicker at the stops.

After a bit more singletrack we hit more roads over to the next aid station (#8, mile 67) and then some serious climbing starts. I'd already done nearly 10k vertical feet and had been riding for almost 7 hours and felt pretty decent. My thought was "ok, a few hills and 30 more miles, it can't be that bad."

I took my time up the notorious basin creek climb and felt pretty good at the top. Then you hit the continental divide trail and some rolling terrain to the next aid station. This is where things started to hurt. 2-3 other riders passed me on this section and I had to stop and get off my bike a few times. I walked anything approaching steep or tough to ride up, and just willed myself to keep moving and keep turning the pedals.

Crossing the timing pads at aid station 9:

The next aid station (#9, mi 80) finally came, and I sat down in the shade and drank some water, then ate some grapes, and watched riders roll in and pass me as I tried to recover enough to keep riding. At the midway point I was 5th in the open/3 category, and coming into the aid station had only dropped to 7th. Then about 8 other guys went through while I was sitting there. I meant to eat more there but for some reason didn't. About a half hour had passed and I decided that if I didn't get back on the bike I probably wouldn't ever. 10 miles to the next aid station, 20 more to go.

Here I am sitting there not feeling good:

The 11.5 mi to the next aid station went slow- it took over 2 hours. This is the section known as "8 miles of hell," where you are on the continental divide trail and hit around 7800-7900 feet. If I hadn't felt so terrible it probably would have been fun to ride. I do vaguely recall glancing over to see a pretty nice view, but I was mostly staring at the trail in front of me wishing that it was smooth like the trails in Missoula and watching the mileage on the garmin. I could have gone past a bear or cougar and wouldn't have noticed until it started chewing on me. Not even the downhill sections were fun, or even much of a rest. My hands hurt, my back hurt, my arms hurt, and it was technical and rough so I couldn't really relax and catch my breath because it took a lot of concentration just to stay upright and on the trail.

Finally I came to the next aid station where there were lots of encouraging volunteers. I sat down for awhile, got some water, a coke, and some trail mix into me, which was enough to get me back on the bike and most of the way up the next hill. The last section continues along the continental divide trail and drops down to homestake pass.  For most of the way up the first climb from the highway I felt slightly better and caught one guy who had passed me at the aid station and another rider on the trail. Once you get to the top it's mostly downhill, which was good because things were starting to feel pretty bad. I kept drinking water and watching the mileage, and seeing that I only had 4-5 miles to go encouraged me to keep pushing and ignore my body screaming at me to stop. I came to a low point (both geographic and figuratively) and a guy on the side of the trail gave me an encouraging push, told me the top was just around the corner and I was almost there. Turns out it was Tyler Hamilton! I made it down what is probably a fun descent and then came out onto pavement and a quick roll over the interstate to the finish line.

Total time was 13:14. First 50 mi took 5hrs, last 50 took over 8, with the last 20mi taking me 3:30. strava link

I got my finishing mug, spent what seemed like an eternity to find a chair (I was on the verge of tears, thanks Ed for tracking one down), and drank some water. Then I went and laid down in the backseat of my car for about 30 minutes, drank some gatoraid and managed to make it back down to the awards ceremonies. My plan had been to unroll my tent and sleep on the pass, still filthy from the race, but my dad was there and suggested we had dinner in Butte. I tried to eat a sandwich at pork chop John's but it was too painful in my mouth. At that point it seemed reasonable to just drive home, so we did that, Then I took a shower and went to sleep for a long time.

My legs, pre-shower:

In conclusion, I really screwed up the nutrition even though I knew how important it was. I think my pacing was good, had no problems with the bike, and I was even pretty competitive when things were going well. So I guess I need to go back there some time and get it right.