Shaun McNally’s Hun-Dirt 100 race report: The Lantern Rouge
So to preface this, I found out about this race about 6 weeks before it was run. I spent most of the last winter getting ready for the spring Tin-man Olympic distance triathlon in Morris and the Fergus Falls half marathon in early June. Both those races went pretty well for me. Although after the half, I got some ITB issues in my knee, so I decided to take a couple weeks off of training. During that time I started my summer job working for the US Fish and Wildlife service (I’m a science teacher, I work for the USFWS in the summer) Sometime during those first 2 weeks I got a tick bite, long story short, I got Lyme’s. But I got in right away and got treated. It was still about a month where I felt kind of crappy and tired all the time. I started training again the first week of August because I had signed up for the Filthy 50 gravel race down in Stewartville in October.
I had seen the post about the Hun-dirt, and thought maybe I’d do the 50 since I hadn’t trained much over the summer and it would be good prep for the other race. I came up to do a gravel ride during the Big Ole bike weekend and met Corey, him and I were the only 2 gravel riders that day and he kind of pimped the race to me, I told him for sure I’d do the 50, but the 100? Well, the idea was planted in my head. A few days after, I did a 50 mile training ride. The longest ride I’ve done since last fall. That went OK. I decided to do a 60 miler a few days later telling myself if that went well, I’d do the 100. It went good so my mind was made up……I had about a month to get ready. Some more 50’s, a 70 and 80 mile long rides once a week with 30-40 milers during the week along with a few shorter HIIT rides. I felt I could go the distance, my only concern was the hills. I live west of Morris, pretty flat country, usually a hill for me is to turn my nose into a 20 mph wind and grind it out.
Race day: A big rain the day before left the gravel soft and sticky. The morning started misty, cloudy and cool with a decent WNW wind. I started in the pack of flashing red tail lights with 3 bottles, a camelback and a top tube bag of gels and bars. The metro hard core guys and the local Alexandria studs took off as soon as the leadout car pulled off and they were gone. The first almost 1/4 of the race I was somewhere in the middle riding with a bunch of 50 mile racers and we were moving along nicely averaging somewhere between 15-16 mph. About mile 15 started a stretch of really soft peanut butter gravel. Part of the group I was with pulled ahead and part of the group fell off, so I was riding by myself. Around mile 20, I started passing a few riders, one of them was Dave, he had gone with the lead group but he had gotten a flat and now was struggling a little, he asked if he could hop on my wheel and I said of course. So the 2 of us were together. Well, between the talking and me skipping a cue number we missed the left turn onto the Korkowski mile. We make the next left thinking it was it and headed north into MIllerville. We got a mile north of MIllerville before we realized something wasn’t right. Stopped, got out our phones and groaned. Yep! We discussed our situation and both agreed we didn’t want to be DQ’d so we backtracked the 5 ½ miles back to the Korkowski turn and headed north from there. We met up with a couple back of pack 50 milers. By this time Dave was cooked and told me to just ride on. I was still feeling pretty good considering the extra 11 miles. I got back to Millerville and made the left onto county 7 and just shook my head thinking “I was just here 45 minutes ago” I guess I’m going to be “that guy” that every unmarked race has that makes all the volunteers stay just a little bit longer.
Onto our Lady of the Hills road, this began a low period in the race for me. One, I’m not the greatest climber and two, as I come up to the road, it looks really dark brown and wet with a road grader finishing up the last ¼ mile. Freshly graded soft wet gravel, the worst possible combination. Grinding up past the statue of the Virgin Mary at 6 mph and then for me what was the worst part of the race, Hillview Drive. I finally had to stop at the top of a big hill and take about 3 minutes to recompose myself. Onto Norwegian minimum maintenance road, this was some real mountain bike type stuff, flying down rocky hills through muddy puddles, and soft sandy patches. I don’t know how I didn’t fall. Stopped quick at the end just to check things over because something sounded like it was rattling, thank goodness I did because my front quick release got knocked open!
A quick bathroom break around mile 60 was my next stop. Since I was on my own, I put my headphones in and cranked the music. Around this time I was starting to get my second wind and was rolling along at about my usual 14.5 mph gravel average speed. I only had one bottle left so I pulled into the gas station in Parkers Prairie around mile 78. Now I knew with the extra mileage, and the fact I hadn’t seen another rider the last almost 50 miles I was probably the last one out there, but I still wanted to be in and out as fast as I could, but of course I got behind a guy buying lottery tickets. Then while refilling my bottles outside, some guy wanted to talk about my bike and what I was doing while I was scarfing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and slamming a can of Mt. Dew, uhhhgggg!
Feeling good after a Reese’s and a can of Mt. Dew I was moving along then WHAM! Those bad washboards on Parkers Road. I had never encountered washboards this deep and for this long. I couldn’t keep any kind of speed going for almost 3 miles. Finally off that stretch and onto some pavement and wind up getting mixed in the rural mail carrier car. He passed me and then stop at a box and I’d have to go around him and then he’d pass me again. This went on for about a mile and a half. Back onto gravel and I see a truck and trailer coming up. It was Jake from Jake’s Bikes. Stopped for a minute or two to talk and he told me not to miss the turn through the Shea WPA. After my earlier mishap, I was really conscious about looking for bike tracks every time I made a turn. Got through that and needed to make a quick stop to switch out empty bottle from bracket with full one in jersey pocket. Looked ahead about a mile and a half and saw some Hi Vis, I guess I wasn’t the only one left. With about 12 miles left tried to make a move but that yellow just kept pulling away. Once I crossed the county road onto Pleasant Grove I was finally on some familiar ground as this was part of the gravel TT course from bike festival weekend, from there it was a fast (for me) shot to the finish. Dead F’n Last with a bacon wrapped Brat!
Looking at my Strava, it showed 114.8 miles total. The true course length was 103.4 miles, so it took me probably at least 45 minutes longer than it should have. I can’t really complain, my average speed for the whole day was about 13.9 mph which isn’t really much slower than my long term average gravel speed. It was by far, the single biggest mileage day for me. The course was tough and made tougher with the gravel conditions, I even stopped at one point for a quick tire pressure check thinking I must be losing air, it just felt like I was riding on flat tires a couple of times, nope, just gravel drag. I even think the wind switched directions from NW to SW during the day.
Overall I felt pretty good except for that real hilly middle section. Bike performed great. The course was tough but beautiful. I now have a score to settle next year.