Maah Daah Hey 100, 2014
August 3, 2014 was the 3rd annual Maah Daah Hey 100 race through the badlands of Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Last year I rode as part of 3-man team to ride the whole trail: my contribution was 28 miles through some of the toughest parts of the trail. This year, I figured it was time to up the ante... 75 miles solo.
The 100 mile racers started at 7am while shuttles took the 75, 50 and 25 mile racers to different aid stations to get ready to ride. This year, all riders would finish in the little town of Medora, ND. Surprisingly, there were only 8 riders signed up for the 75 mile race.
At exactly 8am, we started our journey. 4 of us started together and basically had a great 18 mile group ride. Temperatures were a beautiful 17c, legs were fresh and view like the above blessed us everywhere! Between the company, weather and really flowy trail, the first 25 miles went by pretty quickly!
This year, the race organizers had 2 water stations between each aid station (aid stations were approximately 25 miles apart), which meant I could guzzle my water knowing that refills were never too far away. In 2013, I had the very scary realization that I wasn't far into my section of trail and I was VERY low on water - things worked out then, but I had waaaay more confidence riding this time around knowing I could drink freely.
I wanted to make sure I could finish my 75 miles, so I tried to keep a pace that I could be confident in that I could keep doing for another 12 hours(!). I was also much more strategic with my nutrition and hydration: I set my timer on my GPS to go off every 50 minutes to remind me to stop and eat either a gel, energy chew, cliff bar or banana. I also was consuming Hammer Endurolytes at these times too to replenish electrolytes and sodium to help reduce cramping.
My first 25 miles (mile 25-50 of the trail) included beautiful views of the badlands and the very awesome Devils Pass where a little to either side means a tumble down a few hundred feet of cliff. Coming up to Aid Station #2 means crossing the Little Missouri River, which was about knee deep. I made sure to include fresh socks in each drop bag at the aid stations and after a river crossing, fresh socks were a welcome sight!
Miles 50-75 of the trail are some of the bumpiest, hardest and hottest of sections of the Maah Daah Hey. This is the section I rode last year and save the view and switch backs immediately before aid station #3, this is not a very fun section to ride. This part of the trail includes a lot of valleys where the air is stagnant which makes the 38c feel more like 45c. At one point, after beginning to overheat, and pushing my bike up too many hills, the thought crosses my mind that I won't finish 75 mils and will have to settle for 50 instead.
One tree borrowed me some shade and allowed me to choke down a cliff bar while my body cooled down. By this time, many of the 100 mile riders were catching up to and passing me. Some of them were in surprising chipper shape... others looked more like me - just longing for the next aid station.
Aid Station 3 came just in time and brought with it some of the best views of the Maah Daah Hey trail and some sweet switchbacks. I spent a solid 45 minutes at the aid station, replenishing food and drink and letting my tired legs rest. Continuing past this station was really more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I had avoided cramps, was well hydrated and had food to spare. Fresh socks, a clean and dry jersey and the possibility of finishing before sundown got me off of the lawn chair and back on the trail. I also knew that if I cashed it in at this point, I would really be frustrated with myself the next morning!
The final 25 miles has a net elevation loss and really smooth downhills - a fantastic change from the previous section of trail! My pace was quite slow and my legs didn't have much get-up-and-go left in them. I managed to drain my Camelbak (first time all day) before the first water station and was so happy to see the water trucks waiting for us on the road. Again the thought of ending right there was really tempting.
The volunteers were awesome and encouraging - always suggesting a rest so you could finish rather than agreeing with you about how hard things are. By this time, by GPS had only 6% battery left and I didn't want it to lose its memory if the batter drained completely, so I shut if off and figured I could go the final 13 miles without watching the miles slowly fall off. This is a blessing and a curse: when I came up to the final water station of the trail, I was sure I was only 4 miles from the finish - I was crushed when they were cheering me on:
Volunteer: "only 7 more miles!"
V: "ya, 7 more to go, you can do it!"
Me: "Seriously? 7 more? Not 4?"
V: "Nope. 7 miles, but you can do it!"
Up until this point, the final 25 miles of trail looked nothing like the first 50 I had covered: much of it was a trail through rolling grassy hills. Gone were the buttes, cliffs and rocks and in were long, gradual climbs through the prairies. Very strange. But with 7 miles to go, the badlands were back and so were some pretty sweet trail!
The sun was starting to set, and I had gambled and left my headlamp in my drop bag, thinking that I wouldn't need it. Without my GPS, I had no idea if I had covered 6 miles or only 2 and was starting to get nervous if I would be riding in the dark or not. Coming 'round a bend at the top of the hill, I could see the highway again and knew that Medora couldn't be THAT far away. The final descent into town is fast, flowy and very much welcome to my weary legs.
Crossing that finish line was so good - I had fought through the mental battles and preserved to put 75 miles behind me. My final time was 13hrs 12min - about an hour longer than I was hoping for at the beginning. If you ever have a chance to ride the Maah Daah Hey, doing it during the MDH100 is the best way to do it - almost 200 other riders, fully supported and such a great atmosphere!
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.