Race Report: Land Run 100
Land Run 100
By Cassie Santana of BFF Bikes Racing
I had just eaten a burger and cheese fries, and realized it was almost time for the recon ride for Landrun 2018. All participants who wanted to get a feel for the course the day before the race were invited to District Bicycles, the shop that organizes the event every year, to roll out for a 20 mile group ride. I hurried over to the shop and got there just in time to catch an announcement. Then we quickly mounted and started down Main Street through Stillwater, Oklahoma. This was my first time riding after being in a car for 12 hours the day before, and it felt great to spin my legs in a new, beautiful place. I had never been on a group ride with so many people. At least 50-100 riders showed up and there was still another recon ride later. We followed pavement out of town then made a quick turn down a long stretch of hilly, rocky road.
PRACTICE LIKE YOU PLAY -- DEFINITELY GO ON A RECON RIDE
As soon as we left the pavement and got on the gravel pedaling got a little harder, but the anticipation of getting onto the course and finally being at the big event caused everyone to go faster. I was feeling great. Passing, pushing hard to get up hills and making the most out of the descents. About 10 miles in the massive group started breaking up as everyone got a better feel for the course and settled into their natural pace.
I started feeling very thirsty and realized I hadn’t had much to drink that day. Plus the roads were so dry that dust hung hazy in the air for a long time after riders passed. I tried out drinking from my hydration pack, that I bought the week before and had never used for a ride, and it worked like a charm. I was able to keep both hands on the bars while taking a big drink which was really helpful for navigating, but my lower back was already hurting after only 10 miles. I also couldn’t drink enough water. I was so thirsty that even after a long drink my mouth was still dry. My body started feeling sluggish and those hills I had been racing up before had me slowing down now.
I was only 10 miles in and this was only the practice. Why did I wait until today to try out my pack? This was a self supported ride with only a drop bag at the 50 mile mark meaning no water on the course. My back was hurting so much that all I could think about was the heavy bag of water on my spine, and I hadn’t planned any other way to hold that water for 50 miles. And why was I so thirsty today? Was it the dust, or dehydration, or was I just not ready for a ride like this?
So here is the first thing I learned and it is something my dad said to me many times growing up -- Practice like you play, and I’ll add definitely go on the recon ride. I should have gotten my hydration pack sooner so I could practice riding with it, but lucky for me I was able to adjust the straps a little and the back pain went away completely. Also, one thing I have learned about myself and cycling is that I have a very thin threshold for what I can eat. I have tried eating a burger and fries before a long ride and it makes me feel sick and so thirsty. I would never normally eat that way before a ride so I shouldn’t have that day either. Especially since I hadn’t ridden my bike in over 40 degree weather in several months and the day before Landrun was almost 80 degrees and sunny. I should have paid attention to the conditions and had more water throughout the day.
WHAT BRINGS YOU TO THIS PLACE?
I was pretty distracted by all these thoughts, followed the wrong group on the ride, got lost, but found my way back to Stillwater in time for the final events for the day. To say my confidence was a little shaken at this point… would be a very accurate thing to say. I ran into some friends from Chicago when I got back to the bike shop and after telling them all of this was able to laugh about it, realize what had gone wrong, and make a better plan for the next day.
Landrun is basically a huge party in the middle of Stillwater. There was music, food, and so many bikes. I got to meet a lot of new people and catch up with some others. In Oklahoma, you just leave your bike leaned up against a building with all of your stuff on it, and no one bothers it! In Chicago I won’t even leave a light on my bike so that took a minute to get used to.
The final event of the day was a rider meeting led by Bobby Wintel, the owner of District Bicycles and founder of Landrun. I was expecting to go into the shop with a small group for a discussion of the rules and such, but the meeting was held outside in the middle of the street over a loudspeaker because there were So. Many. People. Bobby is full of energy and enthusiasm and it is completely contagious. He kicked off the meeting by singing and playing “Country Roads,” by John Denver, and pretty much the entire group of 1,000 cyclists, and friends and family of cyclists were there singing right along with him. It was energy, community, goofy, and uplifting all at the same time. It helped me understand what this kind of riding and racing is all about -- Getting out of your normal life and getting lost.
Bobby gave a speech that I will paraphrase here, but can in no way do justice. Basically, he said the reason people come out and do a challenging race like Landrun is to push themselves and dig deep. You go through your daily life and you might not be doing as well as you could. So you bring all that stuff with you out to this race and leave it all on the course, bury it in the red dirt. When you go back home you go back a better person.
After the recon ride I was having a hard time remembering why am I doing this? I kept thinking this is really hard, and I don’t know if I’m ready. But I learned that everyone who signs up for a race like this is questioning if they are ready in some way.
Andrea Cohen, a major supporter of women racing gravel, spoke after Bobby and helped me remember the reason I registered for my category -- women’s single speed. Men outnumber women a great deal in cycling and especially gravel racing -- that’s no fault to the men who get out there by the way. By far the majority of them are really supportive of women coming out to race. Thanks to Andrea and many other women who have been riding at these events for many years they have shown women like me that we can do this too. When speaking about the gravel community Andrea said you’re not just welcome, we want you here.
She also announced that an anonymous donor had upped the first place payout for the overall women’s category $2,000 and District Bicycles had matched that for the first place payout for the women’s single speed category. That gesture really showed that the race organizers and supporters want women there, and they aren’t just saying that. Over 1,000 people started Landrun, 800 finished, 100 of those were women, and 15 of those women were riding a single speed. I never would have attempted riding a single speed if it weren’t for all the women before me who not only showed me it was possible but cheered me on, and shared their knowledge.
KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE AND MAKE FRIENDS
So should I actually talk about the race now?
Saturday morning it was a cool 40 degrees at the start line where we met a friend and he asked...
Friend: are you excited?
Me: yes, but scared too.
Friend: what are you scared of?
Me: (thinking for a minute) I don’t know. I guess I’m not scared.
And that was the truth. I was out in a beautiful place with friends, doing something I had been looking forward to for a long time. The worst case scenario I could imagine was bonking or having a mechanical and not finishing the race. But even then there was a fleet of volunteers driving Jeeps on the course who would pick me up. Those are much better conditions than I normally ride in, so yeah there really was nothing to be scared of.
By the way this race didn’t start with a whistle blowing, but with a canon and blasting the Top Gun Anthem -- my husband, RJ, who did all this with me filled me in on that part.
We rolled out of Stillwater together in a massive group. All I could think is it’s finally happening. This thing that I’ve thought about for months -- worried about, anticipated, planned for -- it was finally happening and all I could do was smile.
As you already guessed a 100 mile race takes a long time. There will be lots of stretches where you ride with a group for a while, and then it might change and new people will roll in. I learned from a lot of people who had done these races before to get to know the people you’re riding with. There is a good chance you will see them again, and it’s way more fun to ride together.
Also, a big part of this kind of racing is community as I mentioned. In a gravel race if someone is stopped on the side of the road you don’t just roll by without saying anything. You say hi and make sure they’re okay. If they’re not, you do whatever you can to help. You might lose some time and momentum but the whole idea is to look out for each other. It could just as easily be you who needs help a few hours down the road.
I saw two friends from Chicago stop for a long time to help others -- one of the women stopped for an older man who had a bad crash and was stumbling around. He had split open his helmet and had a concussion. She lost a lot of time waiting with him for help to arrive, but she gave up that time, called for help, and waited with him. That’s a pretty amazing way to race.
Another stopped to help his friend who had bent his fork after taking his 1980’s Schwinn through some single track in a rocky creek bed. They were able to fix the bike together and yes he finished the race on that bike.
One of my teammates from Chicago told me that she had learned about reset words and mantras as a way to keep a positive attitude during the BFF Training Camp. I used both and they definitely helped. My mantra was, “this is just an adventure.” Because I wanted to remember to keep the race fun and to not get down on myself for going “too slow” or how I ended up finishing, as long as I made it to the end of the race and had fun.
ENJOY THE MOMENT
We stayed with a big pack of riders for the first half of the race. The route started the same way as the recon ride from the day before and felt much better now that I had prepared properly. I had been working on descending and was feeling confident flying down those bumpy roads. Normally Landrun is a muddy race but I lucked out and it was dry this year, and the temperature got up to 60 degrees and sunny. So the gravel was pretty loose and the air was all dusty, but I could pedal and didn’t have to carry my bike through ankle deep mud like all the riders did years before.
The first few miles the hills were rolling which made them so fun to ride since you could carry your momentum from one descent to climbing the next hill. Did you think Oklahoma was flat? I did. And then I saw how we were going to gain over 7,000 feet climbing in this race. Some of the hills in Oklahoma look like a wall of dirt far ahead of you, and the cyclists look like little ants climbing them. And just as you make it to the crest of one hill you can see miles and miles of rolling dirty red roads stretching out ahead of you. But the truth of the matter is all hills look much worse from far away. The closer you get they don’t look as daunting and you figure out a strategy to get up them. It’s hard work getting to the top but there is a good chance there will be a descent or even a flat stretch on the other side once you get there.
It’s kind of amazing to look around every now and then and appreciate just how far your legs have taken you, and the fact that you chose to come out here. Oklahoma was beautiful and peaceful. There were rolling green fields and wide shallow rivers. There were stretches of red road where trees grew over the top so it almost felt like you were riding through a tunnel of green.
Occasionally there were people on the side of the road cheering on the racers. That was the best. They shared their roads with us, let us into their home, and welcomed us into their community. Oklahoma is great and full of kind, generous people.
What I have found about support stops:
Do not sit down -- great advice from an experienced gravel racer and friend
Do not stay too long. You really want to, but just don’t. I found that the longer I stay the harder it is to get back in my groove and the next 10-15 miles are a struggle.
Refill your water and supplies
Be kind to everyone cheering you on and helping organize the race. They are amazing!
My first instinct after registering for this race was to keep it to myself. That way if I didn’t finish or decided not to do it no one would know. Sharing my goal with others would have held me accountable. Last fall I attended the BFF Goals Clinic led by Annie Byrne and Daphne Karagianis. That was the first time I told people I had registered for Landrun and everyone was excited for me and supportive. It felt good to share that goal with others, and it kept me motivated.
Some final things I learned:
Test out your gear. I was lucky to adjust the hydration pack and find a way to make it work for me, but if I hadn’t I would have been scrambling to find a backup plan the day before the race. Also, pack your food in an easy to access place. During the race I kept most of my food in my pack instead of in my frame bag. That meant I always had to stop to eat which slowed us down quite a bit.
Have a training plan. I did not have a training plan. I had so many people to reach out to for help creating one and I never did it. My goal was to finish this race, but honestly my only regret is not preparing more because I could have done better. Next year, I will focus more on speed.
Don’t focus on how many miles are left. This was something I struggled with in the last 25 miles of the race, and once I started looking at mileage I knew I had made a mistake. It’s much better to just focus on the hill or stretch you are working on in the moment rather than thinking about what is ahead.
The final 15 miles of the course were by far the most challenging climbing I have ever encountered. I remember thinking only 15 miles left? That’s going to fly by! But the hills were relentless, steep, long, and felt never-ending. Just as our gps died the gravel road we were on turned into pavement. We didn’t realize that we had reached the final stretch of the country roads until they were gone. Quickly we returned to town, stoplights, cars, and people.
The best part of finishing Landrun is a hug from Bobby. He waits at the finish line all day and hugs every single person who crosses. As beat up and exhausted as my body felt on those final miles as soon as I crossed the finish line and got my hug, I was renewed with energy and joined in the celebration.
The next few days after the race I was still riding a little high from finishing it, but felt a little sad too. This big thing that had been a part of my life for the past almost year was suddenly gone, and I missed that feeling of working toward a goal. But the good news about being a cyclist is there is always another race. There is always a goal to work toward. And there are always more adventures to be had.