I participated in my first Land Run 100 on Saturday. I had planned to ride last year and ended up just being a support crew because of time constraints, but this year I was able to make the time commitment.
I trained and trained and trained for this ride, but in February, my left knee started giving me problems. Like, couldn’t ride my bike more than five miles problems. So there went my training rides for the last month before the race. We adjusted my seat and cleats about a billion times, and with every adjustment, my knee hurt worse, faster.
Finally, I went to my dad (a bone and muscle doctor) and he figured out what was going on. Apparently, I have an old injury from my basketball and track days (yes, I was athletic at some point in my life) and the ligaments in my knee and ankle are loose, which has given my fibia the freedom to move wherever the heck it wants. Let me tell you. It is painful.
So my dad put the fibia back in place on the Sunday before Land Run, I got a knee brace and laid off the bike until Friday. I rode around town with no pain all day and helped with race registration Friday night. Then I went home and noticed my left ankle was twice the size of my right ankle. I thought that was weird, because it didn’t hurt and my ankle hadn’t been giving me any problems. So I iced down my joints and prayed for the best.
Frozen peas and asparagus spears to the rescue!
My parents got to town early Saturday morning and my dad taped my ankle into immobility and added a brace for good measure.
I felt pretty good at the starting line. It was finally happening! I’d thought and thought about riding the Land Run, and then lived in fear for the past month because I thought I wouldn’t be able to ride at all. I went back and forth between visions of finishing the race in tears, my leg the size of a tree trunk, but victorious, and visions of barely making it to Ingalls before my knee gave out and I had to call for help.
But at the starting line, I told myself that I would ride as far as I could. No set goals. Just one pedal after another, one mile after another. If “as far as I could” got me to Carney or even back to Stillwater, I would be happy.
So we set off.
You can see my striped All-City jersey on the right, and Austin Turner in the blue windbreaker ahead of me.
I took it easy, quickly falling to the back of the pack, because I didn’t want to stress my knee too early. Before we hit Ingalls, which is 10 miles out, I felt that familiar dull ache creeping in to the lateral side of my knee, but I determined that I wouldn’t give up until I got past Mount Vernon Road, about 15 miles out.
As a personal point of interest, I don’t pray as much as I probably should, but God and I had a real talk on 19th. I started praying with every pedal stroke. I rolled through Ingalls and made it up Blowup Hill, sucking down a couple of Salted Caramel GUs for good measure. I’m not on GU’s payroll, but those things are amazing.
I pressed on, praying and cursing every time my knee let me know it wasn’t happy.
As I neared Mount Vernon, I started listening to my knee and pushing a little harder in my pedal stroke. And you know what?
My knee didn’t hurt.
Sure, I felt the occasional twinges when I moved wrong, but I decided that it was enough to keep going.
From there on, every mile was an adventure. I kept praying and listening to my knee, half expecting for it to explode at any moment. I didn’t go as fast as I normally could have, and I walked my bike up hills that normally wouldn’t be a problem, but I kept going.
I did most of the ride by myself. I lost the pack early, but I played leap frog with a couple of guys until they turned off on the 50 mile option.
I was looking forward to the Brethren hill, and I was also a little terrified. If I was going to crash, it would probably happen on the way down.
I was heading up the hills before turning onto Brethren (I don’t remember the road name) and I heard a car coming up behind me so I tried to get over to the side. It got real soupy and I got real sideways and fell, scraping up my leg really good. It was my first crash to draw blood.
I poured plenty of peroxide on this and I was surprised by two things: how much it bubbled and how much it hurt. I had been under the impression my whole life that peroxide doesn’t sting. MY LIFE IS A LIE.
I made it down Brethren without incident.
Somewhere on Perrotte Road another rider passed me and offered to let me sit on his wheel for a while. The wind was getting stronger and I was averaging about 7 mph. I hung with him for a couple of miles but he dropped me when we crossed HWY 105.
So continue down Perrotte Road alone. That was probably my lowest point. I was getting tired and eating everything in my feedbag – GUs, Stinger Waffles, Shotblox, etc. The lack of training was really getting to me, so I got off and walked again.
After a while I continued on and came across one of the Jeep crew going the other direction. He opened the door and warned me watch out for the pigs.
I said thanks and kept going, and then thought, “Pigs? WTF?!”
I envisioned a swarm of rabid pigs in the bushes, waiting to take my leg off. I pedaled quietly, watching both sides of the wooded road for signs of swine. I didn’t know how many to expect. Were they cute little pink pigs you see in movies, or were they wild boars with evil tusks?
I remembered the scene in Old Yeller where the kid gets pulled into the herd of wild pigs and his leg gets chewed up, and I was certain it would happen to me.
I topped a low hill and there they were. They weren’t pink and they weren’t boars, but if pink pigs and wild boars had babies, these would be them. Dirty, fat jowled things without tusks but full of menace. I tried to imagine what pig teeth looked like, but thought better of it.
There was one on each side of the road and they looked up at me with their beady evil eyes as I neared. I watched both as I quietly shifted up a couple of gears in case I needed to make a quick get away. I knew to kick dogs that rushed my wheels, but I wasn’t sure what pig protocol was.
I tried to not look at either one for too long – prolonged eye contact could incite them or something, you know?
I passed the first one and glanced over my shoulder as I passed the second. They were both facing me and staring hard.
I decided that was the time to get out of there and I cranked hard, praying my knee wouldn’t give out and please God protect me from those crazy effing pigs.
To wrap this story up, I survived the pigs and kept eating GUs. I started getting a little queasy from all the nutrition and looked forward to the turkey sandwich waiting for me at Carney.
I had been warned of the false sense of accomplishment that would come with nearing Carney. You think you’re there about 7 miles before you’re actually there.
I was the last one on the course (surprise surprise) and one of the Jeeps was following me into town. I felt bad because I was managing 7 mph most of the time and 13 on downhills, but I didn’t hear him complaining.
I started getting discouraged again and I looked at the time. I knew I was close on distance and time, but I wasn’t sure. It was 2:02. I had missed the checkpoint but I decided to ride into town anyway. I walked up a hill and saw a million more hills. I waved the Jeep forward and called it a day.
As we drove that last hilly mile into Careny, I realized that if I hadn’t quit where I did, I would have quit on the next hill.
My parents were waiting for me at the checkpoint. The trunk was open and there was the turkey sandwich, waiting for me with a can of Coke and a jar of dill pickles. I didn’t say anything to anyone – I just crammed as much of that sandwich into my face as I could.
Even thought I didn’t finish the race, Austin and the rest of my Gravel Grinding friends did, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They worked hard and deserved that finish line. I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t finish. I made it farther than I ever thought I would.
This race was a day of firsts. First crash to draw blood and the first time to pee on the side of the road. I guess I’m a real Gravel Grinder now.
The next step is to get my knee fixed and start training for next year, because I’m going to cross the finish line in 2015.
And since you read this far, here are the race results!