Goodness, I am still so excited about this race!!!!
So I have some “rules:”
- I don’t do heat
- I am not an endurance mountain bike racer. I am a 80-100 minute XCO racer.
The Tatanka 50k involved both things that break my rules… predicted 95 degree weather and 35 miles of South Dakota single track. But I signed up regardless, as I know the Black Hills are gorgeous and I figured it would be a good teaser for September’s Dakota 5-O. I vowed I’d survive and at least enjoy the sights as I suffered.
Since the NUE series now has a marathon category some heavy hitting pros are coming out, so I knew a podium probably would not happen (probably). Waiting around for the noon start was pretty tortuous, and we all were talking about the heat as we fought for shade at the Piedmont elementary school we were starting at. The start was a few miles of “neutral” roll out (these things are never neutral… my heart rate was pegged and I was getting gapped) before we turned onto a bit up gravel up Dalton Creek to the single track that would tie us into the Aid Station #3, meeting the epic (80 mile) course racers and the Centennial Trail which would take us back to Sturgis.
6 miles in at the first aid station on my course! (Photo Milissa Melle)
The sun was beating down on us, and I know my Garmin said 108 degrees at the start (Karen’s even read 111!), as we climbed up the gravel. It hurt as I struggled to warm up my legs and figure out how this whole day would go. I came into the aid station at 6 miles in with rather good spirits, and topped off my bottle since it would be a grueling 14 miles until I could get water again. The starting climbs on the Centennial Trail were tough, and I made friends with my small chainring, and had some mental talk about how I cannot go to a 1x drivetrain on my next XC race bike purchase.
We came to a summit, and I caught a good rhythm, and we popped out onto some fire road. I was sitting in 4th place, which I was quite pleased about. Unfortunately, I got a little too complacent on the fire road descent, and blew past the turn back onto the trail. My mistake would add about 1.5 miles. I finally realized my mistake when I hadn’t seen a “bull’s head” trail marker in awhile, and I heard voices above me in the trees on the hillside. I turned around and frantically began climbing on pure adrenaline, swearing up a storm. I came upon the turn just as another gal was turning onto it and I get even more pissed that I had given away race positions. I race on many courses that I am super familiar with, or that are all taped off, so I got a bit relaxed in paying attention to the course markings… can’t blame anyone but myself. Luckily I re-passed that gal rather quickly and settled into trying to make up time for my mistake, unsure how many other women were able to gain spots on me.
The single track of the Centennial Trail is just amazing… well maintained, beautiful, and fun! Though I did realize that riding on a bed of pine needles is soul sucking as it absorbs your speed, so sections where you’d expect high speeds you really felt like you were struggling to keep moving. My legs had come under me and felt strong and happy. I was carrying one bottle of plain water and then a 2L Camelback with Tailwind caffeinated green tea endurance fuel. Due to the heat everything was so warm, but I’ve discovered that the green tea flavor remains very palatable at hot temps. I reminded myself to drink often. Surprisingly, I wasn’t really feeling the heat and it was pushed out of my mind, especially once we had cloud cover. The climbs are rewarded with long, fast downhills. I settled in with a guy who was playing music, which was actually enjoyable. I kept asking if he wanted around on the descents, but he sat in, and got to witness my sketchy downhill switchback riding! I had one near wreck on a switchback, but managed to unclip a foot and keep it all upright (skillz, yo). The descents were so long my feet would start to ache and hands cramp up, and I joked that “what goes down, must come up!” as we began climbing again.
Up, down, up, down through the shade of the pines in the Black Hills. I began to notice the strangest thing happening… I was passing other racers. In endurance races I spend my time going backwards through the field, with people always catching and passing me. But it wasn’t happening during this race! It was so surreal! It really lit my fire, kept me motivated. Holy sh!t, I am having a really great day! I thought to myself. On an ascent I caught a glimpse at another woman I recognized from the start line, and I silently swore as I realized I was at least in 5th place. So I vowed to try to catch her.
The trail finally came to the creek bottom, and the weeds and plant life were taller than me (someone later told me we were riding through a field of poison ivy… oh, so that’s what it looks like…). It made for some sketchy riding, as you couldn’t see stumps and rocks alongside the very narrow trail that could be trying to catch a wheel or pedal, and with limited visibility you’d find yourself spat out onto a dry creek bed without much warning. Luckily all the stream crossings were dry, as some years it’s waist deep (which would be a nightmare situation for me and my fear of water). However, they remained tricky to cross, with mobile basketball sized rocks to try to ride across, most slimy with moss that made them slippery. I had to get off a couple of times for 10-20 feet, but nothing too bad. Finally a sign appeared stating it was one mile until the trailhead, which is where the final aid station would be located.
Coming up to the Elk Creek aid station they had placed super cute signs advertising what there was. My favorite one said “Choco Latte Milk!!” which made me laugh, as the idea of chocolate milk was completely unappealing at the moment, but it was fun to let it roll off my tongue several times… choco latte, choco latte! Upon pulling into the aid station, amid cheers from the volunteers, I spotted the women I had been chasing, relaxing and hanging out. As a volunteer placed a heavenly-cold bandana around my neck I filled my bottle, topped off my Camelback, and downed half a can of ice cold Coke (my only non-Tailwind thing consumed!). I didn’t want to waste any time, so I thanked the volunteers, strapped my pack back on, and got moving to more cheers of encouragement – “Only 17 more miles, mostly downhill!”
I was 19 miles in and feeling great.
I found myself out of the saddle attacking climbs. I came across more racers, marathon and epic both, walking their bikes on climbs and I powered past them. I had spied the other lady out of the corner of my eye leaving the aid station, so I knew she’d was back there. Out of the saddle, spin those legs, attack attack attack! The clouds had moved in and thunder rolled, cooling the temps to the high 70s/low 80s. The wind picked up and it felt great to have circulating air after the stifling creek bed jungle of poisonous plants and who knows what creepy crawly critters. I passed another guy, and found myself on a summit, and settled in for a lonely 7 miles of riding by myself, including about 3 miles of straight descending.
My wrists hurt, my feet screamed. I was so thankful that I had replaced my worn, bald tires, and that Anthony installed a new rear brake rotor for me, as I needed all the help I could get! I still descended within my means, knowing that I didn’t want to crash. The dark storm darkened the already shady trails. I became hyper focused on the trail markers, not wanting to miss another turn. I let out some hoots and hollers and began talking to myself as some weird delirium had begun to set in.
The trail turned up again to top out at the “Bulldog.” I was amazed at how fast the last 17 miles were flying by – that volunteer didn’t lie! The climb was TOUGH… averaging 13%, with many steeper sections. I vowed to stay pedaling, passing two more racers who cheered me on as I let out some incomprehensible groan of pain as I granny-grinded up the whole thing! Whole damn thing!!! Who was this person riding my bike?! This isn’t the non-endurance racer Heidi who can’t race in heat!
About this time I started seeing things. Legit seeing things! Black bears for tree stumps… lawn gnomes. Focus Heidi. I eyed the storm clouds, and begun to worry about my tent blowing away back at Hog Heaven Campground. Gotta pedal faster, gotta save my tent! I had already spent a few hours cussing myself out about missing that one turn, so at least I was worrying about something else. My precious tent! Underwear and sleeping bag flying through the air! Hurry, time to descend Bulldog quickly… gotta save my tent!
Plop… out onto the prairie. I could see I-90. Oh my gosh, getting so close! Second bobble of the day, almost fell off on of the super high cattle guard gates, but I caught myself. Laughed with a sprint distance racer about how scary the I-90 tunnel was. Turned onto the power line climb and saw within striking distance the kit of my competitor. It clicks… OH HELL NO I AM NOT LOSING THIS POSITION! I downshifted into a tough gear. It was a long, power climb. I’m a power climber. I can put down the serious watts and I told myself that I could do it, that I wasn’t feeling pain (which I wasn’t, my legs were still feeling completely fresh). Once again I was out of the saddle, forcing myself to go faster. As I turned onto the Fort Meade single track I checked behind me and all I saw was a male epic racer. OK… time to focus. The single track was sandy and loose and you had to take the descents with care. This was no time to lose my race, getting careless while descending.
Finally the Sturgis bike path appeared. Home stretch! This is about the time I felt the first ping of hunger. Wow, my nutrition was on point! I regrouped with the epic rider and we chatted as we rolled towards the park, by the track, and into the finishing straight.
4 hours 34 minutes 23 seconds.
I HAD RACED AN ENDURANCE RACE. THE HEAT DID NOT BOTHER ME. I BROKE BOTH MY RULES.
Pretty much I was bouncing off the walls with excitement. I just couldn’t believe it! And, after some waiting, it turns out that I had finished in 4th, meaning I gained back my spots I had lost while I was out riding some extra credit fire road miles!
In-race Fueling breakdown:
- 2L Camelback with 6 scoops of Tailwind Nutrition caffeinated green tea mix
- 24oz bottle refilled twice with plain water
- half can of Coke
- 3 Hammer Endurolyte tablets
Pre-race, since I had tons of time to kill between waking up at 6:30am and race start at noon I drank, drank, drank and drank some more water! I think I peed 6-8 times before the race started! I did do one bottle with a Hammer Fizz tablet in it so I would have electrolytes on board. I ate half a bagel shortly after waking up, handful of gummy worms. At 10am I had an Egg White McMuffin, Mcdonald’s hash brown, small Hi-C Orange drink, and small iced vanilla non-fat latte. On the shuttle to Piedmont I ate half a Bonk Breaker PB&J bar.
I had… well, I just had no idea I could do something like this! I haven’t been riding much, especially over the last 3 weeks since my crash. The two days I rode before the race my legs screamed at me and I felt dead. I almost considered not starting the race as I rode the day before around the campground… I felt that crappy. I wonder how much becomes mental… like I’ve convinced myself so much that I’m “not” an “endurance” racer that I just go with no motivation or drive to keep pushing. Just somehow for Tatanka it all clicked and finally things came together and I had one of my best races ever… nutrition, hydration, keeping the heat from defeating me. Arghhhh, so happy!
So during a race season that hasn’t seemed to quite work out like I had planned, the Tatanka 50k ended up being a high point and giving me motivation to finish out the rest of my races with more positive thoughts!
Mr. Allosaurus is taking a bite out of South Dakota
Hog Heaven Campground is normally only open for the Sturgis motorcycle rally… but they let Tatanka racers stay there!
My awesome camp spot under a pine tree!
On the way home I decided to check out the Flying V trails outside of Newcastle… well… if faint cow trails are your thing, here’s the system for you!