This weekend my family and I competed in the Iceman Cometh Challenge. The Iceman Cometh Challenge is a 27 mile point-to-point mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City, Michigan. Depending on your perspective that sounds really hard or pretty easy. It was somewhere in between. Riding a bike 27 miles is really not that hard unless you have less than ideal conditions e.g. big wind, rain or snow. It might be hard if you never ride a bike but it is not hard for someone that rides or exercises a lot even if they are not an experienced rider. The course was not too technical for an experienced rider at high speed and my wife didn’t seem to mind it and usually she is fairly cautious.
I first heard of the Iceman a few years ago and wanted to try it last year. Unfortunately I was in 59º rainy Mexico while last years Iceman took place in 62º weather in Northern Michigan. I vowed to do it this year and marked my calendar for registration day. Even though the Iceman accepts almost 4,000 entrants it sells out in less than a day. This year sold out in 15 hours. I was able to get my entire family in along with my brother and his girlfriend to sign up as well.
I signed the kids up for the 8 mile slush cup, a shorter version that shares the last 5 miles with the Iceman course. My wife Katie insisted that I sign her up for the full Iceman because “she didn’t want to go all the way up there for an 8 mile race”. I am not sure she knew what she was in for.
I marked the date on the calendar in March, an easy day to remember since it is my Dad’s birthday and it seemed like the date took forever to arrive. That was until the last couple weeks when I couldn’t train as much as I wanted to due to other commitments as well as a full week of insane winds like I have never seen before. 30+MPH with gusts to 50 or 60 don’t make for great training and can be downright dangerous on a road bike. Mountain biking is what I really needed but the time commitment is more than double since I have to travel 30 minutes each way to any of the local mountain bike trails. No excuses here. I still was in decent shape and wasn’t worrying about fitness. My biggest fears were that I or someone in my family would have a mechanical issue. I really didn’t want mechanical issues or physical issues to ruin it for anyone. Our bikes are in pretty good shape but Katie got a flat this summer and had to walk 3 miles to the car because someone (me) didn’t bring the proper tools to fix it. I guess I got lazy after zero issues and hundreds of miles ridden by the kids and myself including much harsher conditions for tires in Blankets Creek in Georgia.
So after getting everything tuned up including visiting Spin Zone about 3 times to tweak this or that in the last week for my bike I felt good about the bikes and they would have to do because I was out of time.
As the race data approached I kept a close eye on the weather. Several weeks out it looked like a repeat of last year, 59º and sunny. As the days grew closer the temperature started to drop and drop and drop again. At this point I didn’t really care how cold it was going to be. I just wanted it to be dry. Cold is fine, cold and wet, not so much.
The day before we left things looked good. A little snow the day before and then a nice sunny day for the race. The snow would add a little moisture to help the sand setup and not be too powdery and make the course faster. Everyone likes faster.
On our way up to Traverse City the snow began to fly. Nothing too bad. Enough to make it pretty but not hard to drive in. We drove up with my parents as well as my brother and his girlfriend Becky. They brought their giant box trailer. This made things much easier for transporting 7 bikes and associated gear as well as storage for the night and keeping our bikes clean during our 4 + hour drive up to Traverse City in the snow.
The night before our trip we all went to see Race Across the Sky to get fired up for the race. It was a great movie and served its purpose well. At the expo, we ran into JHK and Heather Irmiger who were both in the movie. The kids got autographed posters and their picture taken with JHK. They also saw all kinds of cycling gear that they had to have for the race the next day. I made it out with some 50% off gloves for the kids and a couple pairs of $5 socks. Not too bad. After the expo, we went to the all-you-can eat spaghetti dinner to carbo load and pick the brains of those who previously raced the Iceman, hoping to gain something that would help us the next day. We also needed some confirmation that my logistics were actually doable despite looking fairly simple on paper. Add 4,000+ people and things can get more complicated. We did learn that the course difficulty was stacked towards the last 25% of the course. Good to know for newbies
What to wear? This again was more of a challenge than I would have preferred. I didn’t have a problem figuring out what I was going to wear because I did a test ride earlier in the week in similar conditions. It is a different story for Katie and the kids. After multiple fashion shows throughout the week, Katie was still unsure. Less is more, less is more I said. Cold at the start and just right a few miles in is what you are looking for. We eventually figured it out. The kids probably needed more clothes because they started at 9. Katie needed to drop a layer or two and I was just right. I was one of the only people wearing shorts. At least people had something to call me as I went by. I heard “Go shorts guy!” more than once and was never cold other than my toes. Next year some internal toe warmers! I lost my external shoe covers somewhere along the way.
Now that clothing was decided, the next challenge was getting 7 bikes to 5 different start times in 2 places 28 miles apart. No problem. Luckily, I had this through beforehand and brought my 4 bike rack. We were also lucky that the Iceman racers all started between 10:34 and 11:13 so no one had to wait in the cold too long. The kids started at 9:00 am just a few miles away from our hotel. We arrived around 8 with the kid’s bikes loaded on my brother’s truck sans trailer, as well as 4 bikes on my car ready to make the trek 28 miles to Kalkaska for our starts. Our plan was to get the kids situated and watch their start and then bolt for our starts. Some thought that might not be advisable because of potential traffic but we wanted to make it work for the kids sake. Worst case we would be late for our start times and that would add some extra time to our overall time. I parked my car outside the parking lot zoo situation knowing that we needed to head out right away and things worked out just fine.
Once at the Timber Ridge Resort the start and finish of the Slush Cup and the finish of the Iceman we got the kids all set and ready to take off with 297 other racers into the woods of northern Michigan. It was cold. Really cold. Mid twenties cold and felt colder. Mid twenties is not that cold in January but it is cold when you have been enjoying 50-60 degree weather all fall. My son Bazil couldn’t get water out of his CamelBak because it was frozen in the hose. This was a big race for the kids. They have gone further on their mountain bikes but they were not prepared for the length of the hills. Our hills are short enough to muscle over and rest during the downhill. These were much longer. This was also a big race between siblings. Bazil, my 9 year-old, has beaten his older brother in their only 3 races. I didn’t want to show favoritism but I was secretly hoping that Daniel would win this one to help build his confidence. Baz has always been the athlete in the family while Daniel has artistic and mechanical talents. Those aren’t big at this age. They weren’t competing directly but I knew they would compare times. Things turned out not as I thought but as I hoped. Daniel took 4th place in his U12 age group and Bazil was 9th in the U10 group. Unfortunately Charlie dropped out due to the cold. There were definitely some fast kids. The top 2 times for all 300 racers were a 14 year-old followed by a 15 year-old (adults included). The boys are already planning their strategy for next year. They were mad we didn’t let them start in the front row of the U18 wave.
With the kids race on its way my Dad chauffeured us to the Iceman start. My Mom stayed behind to wait for the kids to finish. We arrived in Kalkaska with plenty of time. We found a parking lot of a local swimming and hockey center. Used the facilities (several times) and headed over to the starting line.
After a short ride of about a mile we made it to the starting area with plenty of time to get into our waves. I moved to the front of the line not wanting to get stuck in the back if the group gapped early. Front row center. Couldn’t have picked a better place to be for the start. As the time counted down we were off. I jumped out in front and then slowed slightly to make sure I was clipped in properly and hoping to let the left or right side move to the front so that I could jump into the peloton and not waste too much energy pulling first the first couple miles. Almost immediately the left side surged forward and I hopped on to the moving train. The pace wasn’t too bad to start but the guys in the front were working hard. As the road ended and the trail began guys were starting to work their way up from the back as the front few began to fade. I stayed happily about 4 to 5 back moving along at almost 21MPH average for the first part of the race. As we hit the trail we start running into slower traffic almost immediately. We were on dual track so passing wasn’t a problem but it did break up the peloton slowing down everyone as they were splintered by slower riders. Some advice I was given was to go like hell until you get to the single track because at that point you are stuck behind whoever is in front of you. The first part of the trail went fine. I looked down at my computer and it said 1.8 miles when the 27 miles to go sign appeared. Hmmm I thought. 27 mile race, I have gone almost 2 miles and I have 27 to go. Great…
When we first hit the single track I saw it coming and sprinted around as many slow riders as I could before passing wasn’t an option. I brought about 6 or 8 riders with me and almost ended my race there. As soon as we got into the single track we all ended up behind a slower rider. Not a big deal, I was warned about this and prepared to rest up and wait until the single track ended and then take off again. Then it happened. We hit the first sand, nothing big. Just a small section about 4 feet long. What do you do when you see sand? Hit the gas right? Go fast because you know it will slow you down, no apparently that is not what you do. At least that is not what the girl in front of me did. She slammed on the brakes! I was able to do the same and slide out to the side to just miss her. The same can’t be said for the riders behind me. We created quite a pile up and I think I may have learned some new words. Luckily, no damage was done. My biggest fear was having a mechanical that would not allow me to finish the race. I got hit from behind but no damage done. I got back on the bike, in front of the girl and off I went.
The rest of the race
The first 10 miles or so were very pleasant with nice rolling fast and slow dual track mix. There was a lot of passing going on. It was hard to keep a good pace with a lot of hurry up and wait while thoughts of save yourself for the last 25% echoing in my brain. The miles went pretty quickly and the hills were starting to affect the riders and racers. A rider is someone that just wants to get through the course. A racer wants a fast time. Throughout the day I switched back and fourth several times from rider to racer. It was not that I didn’t want to be a racer the entire time, I would catch groups of riders and sometimes just fall into a herd mentality. Other times you just couldn’t pass and you had to either resign yourself to the fact that there was nothing you could do and enjoy the ride or just be angry. I remember spinning along behind an endless line of riders day dreaming. I looked down and saw my heart rate at 150bpm and thought, what am I doing? From then on I switched over to my screen with MPH and AVG MPH and tried to notch the average up as each mile ticked off. This was not easy since the hills were getting bigger and I was getting more tired. Around mile 17 is when people really started feeling it. The hills were larger and now mostly covered with mud. It became increasingly difficult to weave your way up the hills around masses of people pushing their bikes. People were also timid on downhills. This was really frustrating. The first thing I taught my kids was how to use the downhills to eliminate large chunks of the next uphill. I can’t count the times when I would see someone slowdown (and slow me down) and lose all momentum before hitting the next hill. In the sloppy conditions I was gradually more careful as I tired toward the end but did get to near 30mph on several downhills along the way. Great fun when you stay upright.
Eventually I was forced to walk up some hills. I think that was a mistake. Overall I think I was in decent shape despite not having many miles on the bike for the last few weeks. I knew it wasn’t the distance that would be the problem but time on the bike. My style of riding is short and fast. My best training route is a 20 mile road loop that I do near my house in about an hour. Fast cadence, fast pace, nothing like the IceMan. At this point in my life my heart is generally what determines how hard or fast I go. It has gradually improved over time. I have never felt my legs during or after a ride, never. Not even after a century ride early in the year. About mile 19, after running up a couple hills I jumped on my bike and my left leg locked. It was like I pulled my quadricep. Ouch! As I eased on to the bike I felt both of them. After the initial blow the pain wasn’t bad but I could definitely feel my legs talking. At this point of the race my heart wasn’t my limiting factor, my legs were. That can be a problem in a bicycle race. I continued on and decided to spin faster and not push as hard. This seemed to be working but my average speed was suffering. At the next food stop I waved over the banana lady as I rode by hoping a quick burst of potassium would help the leg cramping. Not sure if was the banana or the fact that I caught my brother who started 18 minutes in front of me but my cramps never hurt too much for the rest of the race.
The final few miles the people began to disappear or at least they seemed to. I wasn’t sure if they already finished or were behind me. I figured that since I was in wave 36 they were probably sipping some Bell’s at the beer tent by now. As the riders thinned, the spectators increased. It was nice to have cheering spectators but would have been more fun to have racers to race against.
In a race like this, the smallest thing can ruin your day ei, broken chain, a flat tire, a broken seat clamp, etc… Luckily, everything seemed to survive despite my chain and drive system sounding horrible once the mud started to pack on. With every shift I thought to myself don’t break, don’t break. Along the way I saw many riders broken down with various bicycle malfunctions. After the race, I noticed my rear dropout slipped enough to move my rear wheel over and rubbed the paint from my frame. One more bolt to check for next year. My tires were right in traction and pressure, fork pressure was right even though I just changed it before the race. No complaints. 29er hard tail seems ideal for this race.
Race format (rant)
This year they changed the starting format for the Iceman. As a first rider time I don’t like it, if I was a repeat rider I would think it is a great idea. Riders were seeded by previous years times. The reason I don’t like the new format was primarily due to differing course conditions. Many of the riders I was competing with started out in the first few waves. 9:00am or shortly afterwards. I started out in wave 36 after literally thousands of other riders hit the trail and the sun had time to turn the dirt into mud. I think trail conditions were probably less of a factor than the thousands of riders in front of me. Since this was my first Iceman I didn’t have delusions of winning my age group (well maybe a few) but I would have preferred to race against my wave (same age 1st time riders) rather than my age group so I knew I was going against guys my own age and same course conditions. I ended up 49th out of 83 finishers and 89 starters of the race. Not sure what to think of my time but it gives me a baseline for next year. I did check against my age group in my wave and I just made the top 10. I also checked the overall verses my wave and found the top 3 finishers overall that started in my wave were 17th, 26th, 27th and the top 10 in the group all started in the first few waves. I think starting with people of similar ability, course knowledge and with very few riders in front of you to deal with is a great advantage and look forward to having that advantage next year. Take that future first year riders!
Overall the Iceman was a great experience. I will admit the during the last couple miles I was thinking this was fun but I can now check it off my bucket list. I was also thinking my wife is going to kill me for signing her up for the Iceman. Shortly after the race I was going over the course in my mind, thinking of where I could cut some time and how I could change my training to better to suit the course. I will be changing my training and look forward to knocking some serious time off my 2:39:47 of this year #1,722 out of 3,503 finishers. My wife Katie came in literally all smiles at 4:08:12. I think she talked to half the riders on the course along the way and even stopped to call an ambulance for an older guy that had a heart attack. She didn’t mind the mud, the steep down hills and although she also got leg cramps she seemed to truly enjoy herself. Either that or she was high on all the energy jelly beans she ate along the way.
After the race we ended up at the same restaurant as the Subaru | Trek Team along with Gary Fisher celebrating his 60th birthday. They were very accommodating to the kids and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The 2nd video is from the bike cam of Jeremiah Bishop the 3rd place finisher in the Pro Race. You will need to click over to Cycling dirt. a Quick NSFW comment and then it is all good. Amazing to see the speed of the pro racers. My wife asked during the video if it was sped up. No they are just that fast.
So is sounded like a great idea at the time. Ride 100 miles for a good cause and a way to make myself get into shape faster. So I signed up for the Fat Cyclist’s 100 miles of nowhere. Ride on a trainer or a small course for 100 miles. Then came spring break, followed by rain and general everyday business and somewhere along the way I forgot how important training for a century can be. Finally this week I googled “How to train for a century” and up popped a nice 10 week plan. Looked easy enough except that I only had 4 days before my ride. So this week I tapered. One ride of 20 miles followed by a couple laps of my proposed course to make sure it was still in good condition.
I have never been a much of a long distance rider, it is not that I don’t like long rides (I don’t) but they take a lot of time. I would rather ride 20 miles fast and typically do. My every day loop is a nice little loop near my house that I have a goal of working up to 22mph average. 22mph undrafted on a semi hilly course is fast. Maybe not for Lance Armstrong but it is fast for this 40 something year old body with stop signs and a couple of short wicked up hills to deal with.
To be honest I am not too worried about the fitness part, I am sure my legs will hold up I am used to suffering, I spent 3 months in the Wind River mountains when I was younger and survived without too much difficulty. I am worried about saddle sores and eating enough. I know, I know TMI. Hopefully my fancy new cycling shorts along with some of the goodies that the Fat Cyclist sent me will get me through without too much pain. The eating part will be interesting. I am used to parking on the couch and stuffing my face after a ride. Eating during the ride will be something new for my body.
Oh well, the day has come and it is time to get ready. I moved up a day after looking at the forecast, high 50º’s-60º’s and sunny looks much better than windy cold and thunderstorms forecasted for tomorrow. I invited an old friend that used to ride with me back in the day so I will have someone to suffer with. I think his training has been similar to mine. At least 20 years later we have nicer bikes.
If you aren’t doing anything today swing by and ride a couple laps with us or point and laugh. I am sure anything will be a welcome distraction.
I will post a followup later tonight or whenever I am capable of typing again.
Update We finished here is the map and with all the details.
So after an hour or so off the bike I am feeling better than I thought I would. I went faster than I thought I would be not as fast as I could have. I played it safe so that I didn’t bonk at mile X and not be able to finish the ride. The things hurt that I thought would but my muscles feel pretty good and were never really an issue. I am sure I will be a little tender in the seat area for a while I am sure.
The course and the weather were ideal. We had one stretch of the rectangle that was mostly flat with a little up hill that consistently had a pretty good headwind that switched from North to North West. But the temperature was nice. Cool enough that I never really broke a sweat and now have a nice tan.
I was hoping not to have any mechanical issues and by in large things were fine other than Andy’s left crank coming off at the 15 mile mark. Luckily it was a two minute fix and we were back off again. We got to know the area painters and lawn guys. Some asked how far we were going and others ignored us as they went about their business. We heard some good stories from people we know in the neighborhood about calls from cleaning ladies about strange guys riding by their house many times. 142 to be exact!
My wife Katie did a great job of occasionally stopping by to make sure we had plenty of water, a peanut butter sandwich or chocolate chip cookie. I was amused when she tried to give us two bananas in their peal inside a giant freezer bag. She quickly learned that simpler is better and didn’t cause too much drama during water bottle handoffs.
My kids were more excited about this ride than I was before the race but quickly lost interest after a couple tortoise and hare moves by us. I think they made it about 5 laps over an hour or so. They weren’t exactly they great domestiques I had hoped they would be but not a bad distraction at the 80 mile mark. Another little surprise at the 85 mile mark was a news crew (1 guy) sent to the scene at the request of my loving wife. Just what we wanted at that point in the ride. The joke was on her though since we were riding, she had to do the entire interview. Look for film at 11 on WNDU.
Here we are on the news “joined by other riders” (my kids)
A film about the Tour de France. Looks interesting.
So yesterday I signed up for the Iceman Cometh Challenge. November 6th in Northern Michigan. The race starts in Kalkaska, Michigan and finishes twenty eight miles later at Timber in Traverse City, Michigan. The course consists primarily of dirt roads, two-tracks, abandoned railroad beds, and the world famous Vasa Nordic ski trail. It crosses only one paved road as it winds through the breathtaking terrain of the Pere Marquette State Forest. In 2009, Iceman attracted 4,586 competitive cyclists from 38 states.
Doesn’t that sound fun? I was intrigued by the race after getting back into cycling last summer and mountain biking last fall. After watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France and the Leadville 100 in Race Across the sky I was ready. I wasn’t quite ready for the Leadville 100, maybe in a couple years. But 28 miles is doable and should be fun. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Last year it was in the 60′s while I was in Mexico freezing in cold rain with colder temperatures than northern Michigan at the time.
Training begins now. I went for my first real outside ride today. Apparently upgrading your bike with various parts and pieces throughout the winter and thinking about riding doesn’t keep you in shape? Who knew? Anyway I wanted to get out in colder temps to see if I had the right gear for the challenge. The gear was fine, I was not. Even with the addition of a new saddle, carbon bars, grips with bar ends and a fancy cycling computer I still had to pedal my bike. I guess I should have spent more time on the trainer and less time scouring eBay for new bike parts.
Actually the ride wasn’t that hard. I just went for a quick 10 mile loop consisting paved and dirt roads. The temp was in the 30′s but it was sunny and not very windy. I wanted to start out small and have something to use as a benchmark so I can track my progress. The computer tracks all kinds of things including my heart rate. This should be good to test my fitness level as spring and summer progress. I figure I will come up with a 20 and 30 mile loops later to better prepare for the Iceman. Today I rode my mountain bike, normally I would ride my road bike. 30 miles on the road bike is a piece of cake. I will need to get used to the mountain bike for that long. Normally the longest I go is about 14 miles which is two laps of Potato Creek single track mountain bike course. A good fitness challenge but completely different riding style than the IceMan. Usually the trail dictates my speed more than anything. Too fast and you hit a tree. During the Iceman most of the time I will be the limiting factor of my speed. More like road racing.
The bike worked great. Not sure about the new saddle though. It felt just fine at the start but not so much at the end and afterwards. Seems a little wide. Other than that and maybe some different tires I should be good to go equipment wise and I am not even running my new wheels yet.
Here is my info from my computer today. I will compare this with the same course in about a month and see if I have improved. Pretty slow to start but I haven’t really ridden since November so I am not too concerned yet.
The Bahati foundation is producing an entertainment documentary series preliminarily entitled Bahati: Out of Compton.
This project captures the essence of the human condition, said Endure spokesperson Matthew Hall. [Rahsaan] Bahati’s story is one of hope, compassion and excellence. We use cycling as a backdrop to tell [Rahsaan’s] story, and weave the excitement of the sport, the passion of the events and celebrity cache for tremendous impact on the community.
The Santos Tour Down Under signals the opening to the pro cycling season. A nice distraction from the cold and snow of the midwest. This is the first outing for Lance Armstrong’s new Team Radio Shack and they look pretty good so far. While not on par with the Tour de France or other high profile races it is a nice race to get to know your new team and stretch your legs a bit in preparation for the season ahead.
Need to get paid but the dude that owes you forgot to bring enough cash? No problem, you can just swipe his credit card and square up. Square is a startup that has created a slick system for completing the transaction described above. Take a look at this quick demo from Kevin Rose.
Cool video palindrome.
About 75% off people don’t notice major changes right in front of them.
It maybe time to sell your Garmin stock! Here is a look a the upcoming (free with the right phone) Google navigation. It has some great features. One major problem is that it requires and cell connection and I am guessing a nice speedy 3G connection at that to work. That could be a problem in many areas of the U.S. Still looks cool and points to the future.
American cycling seems to be stronger than ever these days. Yesterday Garmin announced they are extending their sponsorship of Garmin Slipstream team. Columbia continues with one of the top teams in cycling the Team Columbia – HTC or HighRoad team and some guy named Lance has started a team with Radio Shack that will no doubt be a force in their first year.