As we are moving to Denver in May/June of this year, I had some plans to “blow out” some of the big SE races this spring, since this would be my last chance at them. This included the 12 hours of Santos, the Huracan 300, PMBAR, and the Pisgah 111k/55k in May. The 12 hours of Santos went pretty well (3rd solo!) and it was a great shake down for my new 2015 Kona Raijin bike packing bike. The bike and fit were spot on, and after the 12 hour and a couple of weeks of easy and fun rides, I was ready to test myself in the Huracan 300.
This year, Karlos (Singletrack Samurai) took out a ton of miles of pavement/path, and added a ton miles of singletrack to total up to 350 miles. Last year, I had an awesome run at the 300 mile route, and after stopping for a 4 hour nap, had a finishing time of 33:22. I felt amazing on the bike the whole time, and sort of wished I hadn’t stopped to sleep, as I could have done better. This year was my chance to do just that. I would be doing an Time Trial (ITT) of the route the week before the grand depart, as I had some unavoidable conflicts on March 14th. The plan was to go 0 sleep, and just ride until I couldn’t anymore.
I went ultra light on the setup with essentially the same gear I carry on big back country weekend rides, along with a water filter and emergency bivy. Not planning to sleep, but figured just in case. At the last minute, I was convinced to pack a rain jacket as well, as the lows were forecast in the 40s at night.
My ride started out really well. Everything was dialed in, the bike felt great, and I got some really good sleep the night before, thanks to a few Benadryls. The route goes through all the Santos single track, and that stuff just breezed by. Next thing I knew, I was in Inverness, FL, and heading down some rail to trail bike path to the Florida Trail single track with a nice tail wind. Recently, the Florida Trail got converted from hiking only to multi use, which Karlos utilized heavily. The first section we rode had a lot of horse traffic, and it wasn’t ridden in at all, which created a super bumpy ride. This took me into the first stop (Control 1) which was a little small town shop/gas station in Lake Lindsey. I stopped in for calories, and had an amazing BBQ sandwich. I’m sure the 78 miles I just rocked out contributed to the sandwich taste, but everyone else seemed to rave about them as well.
Next section was the Croom trails and single track, a precarious crossing under I75, and a stop into the mini city of Ridge Manor (Control 2) before proceeding into the Green Swamp. The only really memorable section of that route was the crossing under I75. The trail was COMPLETELY flooded, so I had to jump a barb wire fence and make our way under the highway on some 45 degree concrete while trying not to slip and fall into the river below. Once I cleared that, it was some more non-ridden in trail, and I was staring at Green Swamp.
This section of the race intimidated me, as it went from being a dirt road last year, to miles and miles of swampy single track this year, including a huge creek/river/swamp crossing of Devil’s Creek. I pushed super hard into this section to get to that creek crossing before the sun went down, as I did not want to do it in the dark. I had plans on water shoes, but ended up not bringing them, and just took my socks off and waded through the swamps. When I got to Devil’s Creek it was every bit as ominous as I thought it would be. 40 feet across, 4+ feet deep in the middle. I took off everything, threw a big stick in the middle of the water to scare off any gators, put the bike on top of my head, and started walking carefully. The water was actually kind of relaxing and it was better than I had pictured in my head. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I think a big adrenaline rush of “actually doing it” and the cold water really helped out. After this crossing were dozens more water/mud holes. I walked most of them saving the drivetrain and bearings on my bike. Glad I did.
The road out of Green Swamp was super packed, tacked down a bit because of recent rains, and fast. I flowed through the next section. The road into Apopka is a big road/pavement ride, and I was looking forward to 50 miles of spinning and getting some miles in. And then……….water road. Water Road is a section of road in Green Swamp that I totally forgot about. Last year it was a few puddles. This year it was a dozen ponds. Mud, muck, some knee deep, some thigh deep. Gross, creepy, and in the middle of the night, it was sketch Vegas. I stopped at every pond, threw a stick in, and waded across with the bike on my head. My shoes were filled with the nastiest, grungiest garbage that FL had to offer afterwards.
As I got into the Clermont, 18 hours in at midnight, (Control 3), I stopped at the gas station and had my first Starbucks Double Shot. I purposely stayed away from caffeine all day, other than my 6am coffee, to get my body ready to be shocked into a night of riding. I also washed my shoes/feet, in the toilet, as the water faucet out back was locked up. Stuck my feet in and flushed. Figured it was way better than what I walked through. Put my socks, arm/knee warmers and jacket on, and back on the bike.
The ride into Apopka (Control 4) was fairly straightforward. The Double Shot did it’s business, and a few hours in, I also popped some caffeine Gu gels. I hit the bike path, some gravel roads, and the biggest road climbs Florida has to offer, and went into the Apopka Gator Preserve. The section coming in “Wolf Head Road”, is basically a fire break, but with the recent rains, the sand was a lot better than in years past. I rode about half of it, and walked half. Still feeling pretty good. Apopka Preserve last year was full of gators, where this year, in the 46 degree temps (THANK YOU to whoever told me to bring a jacket), it was dead. I think I saw one pair of eyes, and otherwise nada. Very uneventful.
I rolled through the gravel roads and into Apopka. This is where I mentally and physically came apart for a bit. I passed by a very comfortable looking park. I was thankful I brought the bivy vs just an emergency blanket. I couldn’t quite talk myself into getting the full bivy out, but if I had the blanket, I would have sat down on the soft grass and napped huddled in that blanket. I pushed through the feeling though, knowing that gas stations, and more DOUBLE SHOTS were waiting for me just 15-20 mins away.
I rolled into Apopka 23.5 hours in and treated myself to a Coke, sandwiches, more bags of Peanut M&Ms and a 15 minute break at the gas station. The first one didn’t have any double shots, but before I panicked, I realized there was a bigger gas station just a mile up the road. Stopped there as well, got a double shot, and another to go. Holy shit I just rode my bike for 24 hours straight through. The sun was coming up. I was feeling ok. The caffeine is kicking in. LETS GO.
The next section was some wet sloppy swampy stuff followed by another creek crossing. This one isn’t intimidating as it’s a natural warm spring and there are no gators. It was an easy crossing (bike above head, naked, don’t want to get the bibs wet) followed by a hard section of single track through Wekiva Springs. Some sand walking, but I mostly rode the edge of the sand breaks and up on the shoulder. This threw me out onto some pavement and then some fast sandy roads of the Seminole State Forest into Paisley (Control 5). For me, Paisley was the make or break point. If I felt good at Paisley, I had a feeling I was going to make it. By the time I made it there it was 10am, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Another double shot, more Peanut M&Ms, some beef jerky, some pop tarts, ohh look Snickers, OMG 3 musketeers, FEED ME. I also took a Red Bull and a Coke to go, knowing that I would want to sugar, and saving the Red Bull for the last 2 hours.
The single track of Ocala National Forest was awesome. It totally refreshed me. Flowy, fast, I could just let the bike go on autopilot. I guess I have good single track instincts as I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just riding. Flowing. It rocked. Karlos and friend (sorry, forgot your name) were out for a ride and actually met me about 3/4 of my way through the single track. Was nice seeing them. I don’t even remember what I said to them though. I got to the Buck Lake area following the Florida Trail, and I noticed that my GPS took me up and off the trail into an area that looked closed. I went ahead and followed the GPS line as I didn’t have enough mental capacity to realize that the track on my GPS was an optional re-route around the lake to get water. I could have followed the orange trail underneath the lake and saved 15 minutes, but instead, I hiked through some nasty closed stuff, and plowed my way into a campground where I surprised some campers, including one guy that was just sleep walking through the trail and wouldn’t get out of my way until I yelled at him. Sorry dude, I’ve been awake for 30 hours now.
I rocked through the Navy bombing range FSRs, as they were recently graded and were super smooth. Saw a bunch of hunting dogs and hunters in the area and just focused on pedaling technique and riding. Eddie O’dea gave me this sort of advice over the last couple of years and it really worked when I started to lose my head a bit. He also told me to stop listening to music as I ride, so I didn’t this whole time, and I saved it for the last 3 hours. I had a perfect 3 hour playlist, and listening to tunes reenergized me a bit. Gave me something to take my mind off things and I just cruised.
I popped the Red Bull with about 20 miles to go and it lit me up. I felt awake, energetic, and I felt like I literally had wings. It was kind of weird, but I knew I was also riding a high, as I had some pavement, some sweet single track in Marshall Swamp, and then a bit more pavement to the finish. This was when I finally knew I did it. I finished up super strong and felt great as I rolled into Santos campground. I looked down at my Garmin as I crossed the road into Santos and I was at 33:32:50. I thought HOW COOL would 33:33:33 be, and I sprinted for my car (starting point). I rolled across my finish line and hit the Garmin at 33:33:33. AWESOME. Strava ended up at 33:4x:xx because I forgot that I paused my Garmin for like 8 seconds. Dang.
I knew that this was a great time. I gave it 100% of everything I had. I sort of knew that Eddie would kill my time, as he’s a pro at this, but I knew that for everyone else, it would be a toss up. Eddie ended up finishing at 30:30, Bryan Frantz had me covered by about an hour until 30 hours in, but finished with 36:58 after rough morning at the Naval range, and Jennifer Moos (adventure race extraordinaire) came in at 36:10 (I think that’s right). Kevin Greten (2nd place from last year) and Jason Murrell (super elite ultra racer) had to drop. A few other riders finished in the 40s, some in the 50s, and as I write this, the other 55 starters are either still out on course, or dropped out. I had the 2nd best time, and only 3 hours behind Eddie! Holy CRAP!
Here is the Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/265196808
I’ve now had a week to recover, spend some time with the wife (I get seriously emo during these long rides when I’m in my head and I’m like a lost puppy when I get home), and I feel pretty great a week later. The day after I had some light left knee pain, which has now gone away, and I’m feeling good. I’ll spend another week doing super easy rides to get back on the bike, and then start training for PMBAR and Pisgah 111k/55k. Thanks to everyone who encouraged, helped, and posted before and after my ride. Thanks to Karlos for an amazing route/race, and thanks to my awesome wife for the encouragement and support before, during (awesome texts!) and after the race.
If you’re still reading, here are some bullet points of things I did right, and my learnings from the race
- Carry 120oz of water. 100oz bladder + bottle. I know some take less, but that saved me a couple of times. I actually took 140oz of fluid from Paisley and used every bit of it
- I took 5 caffeine Gu gels with me and used all of them. They really really helped at 3am and later when I was feeling sleepy
- Go nuts on the calories. I ate everything I could get my hands on. Stay way way ahead.
- Take care of the bike. I saw others riding through knee deep water. Hubs/BB submerged. My bike sounds like new afterwards. I carried it through all those sections, rested my legs, and kept it running top notch
- Emotional support was so important. The text messages I got from the wife, the people posting on my FB check ins (required by the race at each control), seeing Karlos 300 miles in. It’s SO MUCH MORE mental than physical for me
- There was a phrase that kept me going. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. I checked off miles, and sometimes tenths of miles on my Garmin and just kept going. I read another phrase after my race “Pain is only temporary, quitting lasts forever”. Don’t stop pedaling. Don’t stop walking.
- Not listening to music and then saving it for the end was great. I focused on pedaling form, focused on my riding, and then just let it all go and finished strong. That was huge.
- Equipment choice was spot on. Kona Raijin Ti 29er hard tail really helped on the rougher single track. IKON 2.35 tires with plenty of cush, but also fast rolling, and went over the sand sections nicely. Light on gear. I was 38lbs all in with 120 oz water and food.