Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tatanka Epic Race Report - Part 1


I cannot for the life of me remember what got me thinking about doing this race.  Did a family trip to the Black Hills come first?  Was it Tony mentioning they had a bike race on the same course he did an ultra run on?  Maybe it was a Mountain Bike Radio podcast.

Whatever the reason was, back in January I pulled the trigger and signed up for the Tatanka Epic.  It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.



With the abrupt end to the ski season in March with continued unseasonably warm temperatures I got to spend quite a bit of time on a bike this spring which was good.  Most of that effort was expended on gravel though.  Mammoth Gravel Classic 100, Strada Fango 100k, and Royal 162 all saw serious saddle time and effort which gave me confidence in my cycling base.

But the Tatanka is a mountain bike race.  And a technical one at that.  Those that know me know that technical riding skill is probably not my forte.  My early attempts to get into the flow didn't start great either.  On the Woolly Race pre-ride I washed out my front tire and nearly broke my thumb.  Then a few weeks later I went OTB on Erratic Rock and tried to break a few ribs.  The end result was that I didn't end up riding nearly as much single track as I had hoped.  My skills have been improving, but when you have as much room for growth as I have that isn't saying a whole lot.

Based on fitness and skills, I figured this was best to target as an event and not a race.  I always want to push myself, but being realistic, I wasn't going to be able to race competitively.


For the most part I was operating under the "run what you brung" slogan.  While a full suspension bike would have been nice... really nice... what I had was my Trek Xcal.  I put a new Bontrager XR3 on the front and had a slightly used matching tire on the back, both set-up tubeless.

Not a recent picture, but the basic setup I ran with.  Just switch the tires and ditch the seatbag.
Rather than running a framebag as I have in the past, I opted to get a nice hydration pack.  I ended up getting a sweet deal on an Osprey Raptor 14 through the REI member sale and that worked out really well.  I filled it up with water, spare tubes, multi-tool, pump, and a bunch of food.  It ended up a little heavy and I never used any of the tools, tubes, etc, but a good Boy Scout will always Be Prepared.

An Osprey Raptor 14 kept me hydrated and carried all my gear.
Food wise I was planning on following my Tailwind liquid nutrition plan that went well at the Royal and Strada Fango.  I had one bottle on my bike for that plan.  I had some gus and other items along to supplement.  Ultimately that didn't go so well.  I found it really hard to drink from the bottle on the ride and then when walking I still didn't want to drink.  I probably should reconsider this strategy for future mountain bike races.


Alright, almost enough blather before the race.  Almost.  Just a note that we spent two nights at Hog Heaven which is a campground in Sturgis organized with the race.  It was about 3 miles from the start/finish area which was pretty convenient and the camping was perfectly acceptable.

The race is point to point, finishing in Sturgis.  There was a shuttle from the finish area to the start.  It loaded at 5am.  Nate and I rolled from the campground down to the start at about 4:40 just as the sun was starting to come up.

Sunrise over Sturgis race morning

Did I mention we started at Mount Rushmore?  No?  Well that had to be just about the coolest thing ever.

Excuse me while I take a selfie with these four gentlemen.
Me, Mike Colaizy, and Nate Ball all ready to take on the Epic.
The shuttle dropped us off right at the main entrance to the monument and it was pretty much just a hundred or so mountain bikers and race folks, the brilliant sunrise, and the four dudes on the mountain.

The race ended up starting about 25 minutes late as the shuttle and bike transport was running behind and folks were getting set-up with their Quarq Race trackers.  This would end up playing a role later on in the day.

Eventually though there was a count down and we rolled out of the parking lot and down a screaming paved descent on our way to the Centennial Trail complete with a park ranger escort.

I slotted myself somewhere in the back third of the race figuring that was a good place to be considering we were about to hit the trail and I didn't want to be a bottle neck when things got technical.

Hello Mr Washington

Pretty soon though we were off the pavement and onto the Centennial trail.  That first 3 miles averaging 18 mph was nice as it was about to slow down.  A lot.

Initial Single Track -> CP1
Hitting the initial single track wasn't too bad.  It wasn't technical, but we got to climbing pretty quickly.  Initially it wasn't very steep, but I sure felt like I was panting pretty hard and my heart rate was elevated for only being 5% into a long race.

Initial gentle, mildly technical climbing.
After just a couple of miles though things really started to pitch upwards and then really started to get technical.  A combination of the upward pitch and the rocks had most people walking frequently, myself for sure.

Some initial hike-a-bike.
We hit a stretch around mile 8 that was just rocky bench cut that wasn't really pitching up anymore and I thought I was getting in a groove and was riding some more.  And then I crashed.

Off trail.

Clipped in.


Honestly, I'm lucking I only got scraped up and bruised my hand/wrist.  I fell on some rocks and some downed logs.  I bumped my helmet on a log and probably easily could have stabbed myself with a branch or broken a bone.

Thankfully (?) all that was broken was my confidence and some skin on my arm.  My left hand got progressively more sore over the next few hours.  That was probably the biggest issue as it left me with only a few positions to hold the handlebars and descents were pretty agonizing trying to hold on.  The rest of the week was pretty colorful though on my arm with a grapefruit sized wraparound bruise above my right elbow and a few others scattered about.

What caused the crash?  I think I just got hung up on a rock at low speed and when I lost my momentum and balance I just couldn't quite unclip in time.  Just an unceremonious tip over off the trail.  Had it been on the uphill side it wouldn't have been a deal at all.  Of course it was downhill.

But back to riding.  I had another 70 miles to go so there really wasn't much to do other than to get back on my bike and keep making forward progress.

After just a short stretch of semi-rideable trail, things went back to ultimate hike-a-bike.

Enough with this trying to push a bike over big rocks thing, time to carry it.
I totally could have ridden this stretch if  I didn't have people in the way.  NOT.
This first climb topped out pretty close to 6000' elevation.  The reward was a pretty sweet view.

The views didn't get old during the course of the day.  And they continued to be just as impressive as this one.
Later in the day I'm sure I didn't look like I was having this much fun.  At this point though I was definitely enjoying the adversity.
What goes up, must ultimately come back down again.  The descent was technical, and I was going slow, but it wasn't terrible.  Eventually I got to Sheridan Lake after 2.25 hours of riding and it started to dawn on me how long this ride might actually take.  But maybe we had covered the worst of the terrain and it would only get better from here on out.  That is what sounded good at the time anyhow.

The ride around Sheridan Lake certainly reinforced the idea that things might get easier.  It was wide, flat, smooth, and fast.  With a gorgeous view of the lake.

I get to actually ride my bike again!  And look at that view.  Just don't steer off the trail.
The levee ends in a set of stairs you have to climb, but it was pretty sweet right up until then.
After the lake it was only about 1.5 miles until I finally reached check point 1 after almost 2 hours and 45 minutes to cover that initial 16 miles.  That's an average of less than 6 mph.

The aid station workers were helpful and I got my hydration pack filled and refilled my Tailwind bottle I had only finished one of in that nearly three hours.

There were a few folks mentioning cut off times and if they were here or at CP2.  They decided it was CP2 and the time was 12:30.  In my head I figured no problem.  I won't be anywhere near that.  It's only 9:30.  It's 18 miles to the next check point.

Rolling out of CP1 the math finally started to click for me.  Holy crap.  I might miss the cut-off.

To Be Continued...

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