Betsy O’Donnell: 2017 Maah Daah Hey and More Race Report

So, here it goes, my first race report. The story begins back in August. Nothing like planning a family trip that includes 1500 miles of driving, 5 National parks, and a 100-mile bike race. Building on our Leadville experience, Christoph and I decided to find a race to kick off our family vacation that would bring us to new states and hopefully give our kids a lasting memory. The Maah Daah Hey 100 through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota was the plan. Well, at least that was the plan…

The Griswold’s family vacation began on August 5th when Christoph’s 3:30 return flight from DC got delayed, delayed, and then cancelled. He was able to get on a flight to Providence, rent a car, and arrive home at 1:30 in the morning. (He had not packed yet, of course). Alarm clocks went off at 5:00 and the fun began. We made to Chicago, no problem but then more delays…. Delay, delay, and then cancel (again). Only problem is, there is only one flight a day to Bismarck, North Dakota. We were rebooked for the next day but the drive from Bismarck to Medora is 2.5 hours and my dad (our race support and babysitter) did not make the cut for the flight. Our bikes were out there, rooms paid for, and we had two choices. Drive 1100 miles in less than 24 hours or give up the race. No brainer.

5:30 pm we left O’Hare in the first of our large American-made rental cars. Drove the lengths of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota to arrive in Medora, ND at 3:30 pm 8/6 to find that Christoph’s bike had not actually been built though it had been there for a whole week and they had confirmed that it would be ready to go. 1.5 hours later his bike was built, the entire town of Medora explored, and we were ready to go. We then got back in the car for another 100 mile jaunt to the race start in Watford City. Exhausted, asses sore from sitting in a car for 24 hours with minimal sleep, predictably, our dinner order got lost and we did not get home from the restaurant until 9:00 pm.

4:00 am after a few hours sleep, it was time to drive a half hour to the race start. There has been a drought all summer long in North Dakota and no rain has fallen on the Maah Daah Hey trail for weeks. 6:00 am black storm clouds gathered as the sun rose and minutes before the race was to begin thunder and lightning brightened the early morning sky over the course. Like our flights, the race was delayed an hour as the skies opened up and turned the red earth into fresh cement waiting to coat our tires.

Delayed again. New start time 10:00 am. Drove 30 minutes back to the hotel where we had not actually checked out and passed out still in race kits for a few hours of coveted sleep.

10:00 am rain still falling…Delayed, delayed, and guess what? Cancelled. Wallyworld was f-ing closed. Fortunately, because it was a 100 mile point-to-point, the back 56 miles were raceable. New race start time 12 pm at the 50 mile mark. We made the drive through beautiful portions of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to make our way to the new starting point. The race began with a 2-mile lead in to the Maah Day Hey Trail to try to separate the pack a little. Locked out my front shock for the roads and forgot to unlock it when entering the single track….

After about a mile of white knuckles and jostled eyeballs, pulled out of the path of 2 dozen appropriately annoyed men and unlocked my front shock. Despite the delays, it was an amazing race. The bike race challenge is normally the heat (typical temps in the mid-90s). Our race low 70s and cloudy. Felt good on the uphills but was a hindrance to all others on the course on the downhills. It was truly a single-track course about as wide as the width of my pedals but meticulously maintained. No rocks, no roots, just 100 miles of single track with A LOT of hair pin turns. Probably would have been wise to have gotten out on my mountain bike more than once but we know I really don’t actually like technical mountain biking (white knuckles, shrieks of terror, etc.) Learned the hard way that I am incapable of making a right hairpin turn. Can’t do it uphill or downhill. Flat out stalled and fell over on 4 hair pin right turns… Things to work on….

I made it through the day on a path much more narrow than I expected and managed a third place finish. Won $500 bucks which was great and recouped the added expenses of a rental car and extra hotel! Was happy with my time which made my “best” for my good, better, best time estimates. That said, it’s like running a 10K when you trained for a marathon.

Though the race plan did not go as expected, it was an extraordinary race in an extraordinary place. I think the race director was as disappointed as the racers were. I think the odds of having what happened to us were extremely low and would recommend the race to anyone looking to go off the beaten path and add North Dakota to their list of states visited!

That said, the hunger to feel the hurt was still strong and unfulfilled. In the weeks that followed the race and the additional 1500 miles of driving that followed, I tried to figure out what I could do to make something out of all the training done for this race.

Inspired by Dave “Cakes” Dornaus’ awesome Okemo Everest (i.e. 29,092 ft of uninterrupted vertical on one repeat climb), I decided with a week’s notice to go for it. Not known for my creativity in training rides, Wachusett seemed the logical choice since I have done it over and over again in preparation for Leadville and the Maah Daah Hey. Though conventional wisdom recommends that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission, I am at heart, a big, neurotic nerd so I called ahead to make sure it was ok to use the park off hours. With their blessing, my plans took shape. Got great counsel from Dave Dornaus and Dave Nerrow for my attempt.

After a fitful 45 minutes of sleep Friday night, Christoph and I headed out to Mt. Wachusett at 1 am Saturday morning. Temps were in the 50s and a sliver of a moon was somewhere up in the sky though unrevealed to us. Christoph and I started riding at 2:16 am. The pace was slower than a training ride but the tension of a long-awaited race was present. Six hours passed without much conversation or event except the citing of an extraordinarily terrifying porcupine in my path on the first repeat. Grateful it was not a skunk! With 8 reps in the bag, Christoph headed out to get me some hot coffee and take a short break. Later that morning, with nothing much to do, the only choice was to jump back in and keep riding. He ultimately rode 20,000 of vertical with me.

I took a 10 minute break every 4 repeats. Plan was for a total of 28 reps. It was a clear and cool day. Had 4 Garmins running and all performed without interruption. Over-indulged in half a chicken parm sandwich, Crosby’s synthetic apple bread, and too many under-chewed Swedish fish after 16 reps. For the first time ever, got a stitch/cramp in my side which remained with me for the final 13 reps.

My 6/10 pain was relieved by the good company of Cakes (and Sally and Leo) who joined us for reps 18 and 19. My recommendation for anyone doing this is that you ride with two others. They can chat and you can just be pulled along by the good company without having to actively participate. There was some debate as we road whether I truly needed to do 28 reps as my Garmin was showing that I was well ahead of altitude-gained schedule. As I had read the rules, it was net, not gross feet that qualified for the 29, 029. C and Dave thought I could stop when I reached 29,029 but I was not taking anyone’s word for it. Asked C to called in a consult from Josh Dapice who had been providing support from a far for days. Through these discussions, Dave suggested that I could just keep riding for the High Roulers Society (10,000 meters of vertical in one ride). Though laughable when you are smack in the middle of 28 mind-numbing reps, the idea is not so unbearable when 28 reps comes to over 31,000….

Just as Sally and Dave were leaving, Dave Nerrow arrived with fresh pizza and big energy. Appreciated all the Psycho Karma out on the course! Alone for my final 4 reps because our kids had arrived, the idea of one additional rep and bragging rights as the only Psycho to be in the High Rouleur Society seemed not so badJ

Right on schedule, I completed my 28th rep as the sun set over Wachusett. My final, unplanned bonus HRS lap was done in the dark (once again) by myself. I was greeted at the car by Christoph and the girls. One beer was enough to practically put C and me to sleep at the dinner table.

Here’s to a great day, Psycho karma, and to finding the silver lining in any race gone wrong or plan unfulfilled

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