Where It Started
The idea to compete in the Butte 100 hatched from the weekly Monday rides that started outside the little bike shop known as Sven’s Bike Shop in Anaconda, Montana. For the 2010 mountain bike season, I was on a work assignment in Anaconda, Montana. I brought my Yeti 575 with me and in doing so, I got to know and become friends with the locals. We rode all sorts of places, everything from flowing single track to jeep trails to game trails – this was Montana. As July crept closer, the guys and gals started talking about the Butte 100 | Montana. The conversation always tended to become a debate about riding the 50 or riding the 100. Competing in the 50 was insane enough with 8,500ft of climbing in 52.4 miles, but the 100 took the crown of insanity with 16,600 feet of climbing in a 100 miles! Pro Mountain Biker Tinker Juarez has been quoted as saying the Butte 100 is “The most difficult 100 mile mountain bike race in the country.” With my assignment complete, I left Montana, but the the thought of competing in the Butte 100 never left my mind.
Fast forward to 2013, the year I aimed to compete in the Butte 100. Not only did I want to compete for the challenge and to push my body to its limits, I also wanted to ride it for my wife Megan. Megan has always been the athlete in the family. At university she earned All-American in Cross Country and she continued with her athletic pursuits outside of university. She picked up mountain biking and cyclocross in Colorado and soon became one of the top female racers in Category 1. She won several Colorado State Championships, 2nd in the XC Nationals, and 15th at Cyclocross Nationals. 15th at CX Nationals? How could that be…unbeknownst to us at the time, a single tick bite was already knocking her to the floor. Soon after CX Nationals, walking up the stairs became more challenging than any effort she put forth in XC and ‘cross racing. For years we did not know what was inflicting the fatigue, headaches, achy joints, insomnia, anxiety, head fog, and all sorts of other nasty symptoms. After visiting several doctors, specialists, and naturopathic doctors we were still stumped. Diagnosis ran the gamut, from IBS to Chronic Fatigue to Plain Craziness. Last year, a nutritionist recommended Megan to see a Lyme literate doctor. The test came back positive, bittersweet news. We finally knew what it was, but it was going to be a long rough road to get better. So far 2013 has been a roller coaster – a scary roller coaster ride, but Megan is seeing promise. Megan and I are a team, together we’ll beat Lyme disease and together we’ll complete the Butte 100.
The trail to the Butte 100 started on March 1, 2013 at 8:00am. I did not want to procrastinate with signing up. Right at 8am I was on the Butte 100 registration website and providing them my USA Cycling Number and my credit card info. Now I could relax, I was registered. The Butte 100 was sold out within 6 hours. The 50 sold out in 3 hours. Now all I had to do was ride my bike.
Megan and I. Megan was my coach and created a 21-week training plan. Megan was also my nutritionist and created awesome delights from Allen Lim’s Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables. Megan as my personal Physical Therapist, kept injuries at bay, especially when the muscles in my neck and upper back started pinching nerves. Megan, as always, provided me with love and support. All I had to do was push the pedals and not quit. I couldn’t quit. Megan is not quitting, therefore I cannot quit.
The Training Plan
We devised the following race schedule: Koppenberg Road Race, RME Ridgeline Rampage Half Marathon, RME Indian Creek Marathon, Vail Mountain Games XC, Vail Mountain Time Trial, and RME Snake River Marathon. Each of these races we focused on hydration and refueling.
- Koppenberg SM 5 – 13th (A good sign training was working)
- RME Ridgeline Rampage Half Marathon – 17th (Reminder to hydrate and consume electrolytes in hot weather!)
- RME Indian Creek Marathon – 13th (Do I really want to ride a 100 miles? 54 miles in 7 hours, will 100 mile take 14hrs? But I did learn that I would not quit – Indian Creek was the hardest thing I’d done to date!)
- Vail Mountain Games XC Race – 8th (Best finish ever, 6.5 mins from winner. I didn’t have speed, but I was catching people at the end. My endurance legs were getting there!)
- Vail Mountain Games Time Trial – 10th (Beat Megan’s fastest time and PR’d by over a minute!)
- RME Snake River Marathon – 8th (7 hours 30 mins – Hardest thing I’ve ever done. I learned that I would not quit no matter the pain.)
Other highlights in the training program were – riding my bike. A bright spot was to bring the Yeti ARC-X to the San Francisco Bay Area and ride the Skyline Rd from my parents’ house. The weather was beautiful and the hills were challenging and fun. In June I took the opportunity and challenge to ride from my house to the top of Mt Evans. After 7 hours in the saddle and 80 miles later I made it to the top of Mt Evans (14,130ft)! I also used the Cycleton Bike Shop Saturday road rides to hone my skills with pace changes and speed work. Megan, as my coach, worked hard to minimize the effects of my work travel. I traveled for work five to six different times to Oklahoma and Texas and along the way experienced tornado shelters twice – EF5 Moore Tornado and the EF5 El Reno Tornado. It was a challenge to find hotels with a bike and when they had a bike in their gym it was a recumbent. The other challenge was finding good food to eat. To avoid the grease, I sought out grocery stores and used the hotel microwave for lunch and dinner.
Fuel and Hydration
Our Sponsors, Bikesource and Honey Stinger, provided me with nutritional products to keep me from bonking and keeping my gut from feeling like a bowling ball. Bikesource provided me with Specialized water bottles and a Camelbak. The Honey Stinger products that I loved to use were the Waffles, Organic Energy Gels, and the Protein Bars. To supplement the Honey Stinger products, Megan cooked and prepared portable rice balls from Allen Lim’s Feed Zone Cookbook and Feed Zone Portables. After trying several different hydration electrolyte supplements, I ended up selecting Skratch Labs. I would use their ‘Every Day Electrolyte Mix’ to stay well-hydrated on the days before the race and when I was traveling. During races or training, I would use Skratch Labs ‘Exercise Hydration Mix’. With the different flavors and easy digestibility, I didn’t get bored drinking Skratch Labs after being on the bike for 7-hours or more.
Final Preparation for the Butte 100
The Butte 100 race is very well organized and wants everyone to finish. A few months before the race we received in the mail, a Butte 100 Race Bible. The Race Bible provided information on aid stations, course profiles, average times between aid stations, and directions on how to get to the aid stations. Megan and I committed the race bible to memory and developed a plan on feed for the aid stations. We were allowed 1-gallon zip-lock bags and these bags were collected at check-in by the race organizers (Triple Ring Productions). We were able to strategically place bags at each aid station. Many of the items we placed in the bags were Honey Stinger, spare inner tubes, chain quick links, chamois creme, Specialized water bottles with Skratch Lab mix & water, Hammer Endurolytes, dried pineapple slices, and bananas.
We left Denver, CO on Thursday July 25th and spent the night in Sheridan, WY. The following morning, we continued on to Butte, MT and checked into the Butte locally-owned Hampton Inn. The community in Butte is extraordinary, everyone talks to everyone – stranger or no stranger….so be prepared to meet people in Butte! While checking in we met Gina Evans, the Butte 100 Race Director, she was super excited and could not wait for us to experience the trails in her backyard. After unloading, we headed up to the Maroon Activity Center (MAC) near the old Berkley Pit (by-the-way now the deepest lake in Montana albeit with a pH of 2.3) to check-in, collect our race number, and drop off our bags for the 10 Aid Stations.
From the panoramic windows of the MAC, the racers enjoyed views of the Continental Divide – tomorrow’s course for the Butte 50 and the Butte 100. The mountains were partially hidden by smoke from fires in western Montana and Idaho. Peaking above the smoke is the Lady of the Rockies, a monument dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the second tallest statue in the United States. Thoughts ran through the racers’ and the race organizers’ minds on whether or not the smoke would dissipate in time for tomorrow’s race. The National Forrest Service provided their support for mountain bikers and requested that everyone be courteous to one another and to other trail users, since the trail had not been closed to the public. The course used several miles of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), a trail that is hotly debated on who can and cannot use the trail. The NFS reminded us, we could lose access to the CDT anytime. Yes we are very lucky to be able to ride the incredible trails in Butte, MT.
Day of the Butte 100
With 21-weeks of training under our belts, here we are. Wow. It’s surreal to believe that The Day is here. We’re up at 4:15am. Drink water, eat, shower, poop, drink water, poop… I can’t poop enough as I really don’t want to be poopin’ on course! We meet our goal to be in the Hampton Inn Lobby by 5:10am. We see Gina Evans again, bright-eyed and ready to race the 100. She’s also here to provide Tinker Juarez a ride to the course. Tinker steps off the elevator with his Cannondale bike; I tell Tinker that he’ll beat me now, since he got a couple more minutes of sleep than I did! Tinker goes on to break the course record and wins the Butte 100 in 8-hours 3-minutes.
We jump into the truck and head east up to the Continental Divide on I-90. The sun is still hidden and all I want to do is climb back into bed. The best part of the morning is we park next to my old Anaconda friend Ray. Ray and I catch up as we unload our bikes and strap on our helmets. I’m happy that I have my Optic Nerve Response 2.0 photochromatic glasses to handle the early, mid, and late hours of this race. We also meet up with Warren, another rider I used to ride with when I was working in Montana. It is great to see them both. Secretly, we’re all saying to each other…”Are we nuts??” The sun slowly rises and to our excitement, the smoke is gone!
The First Fifty
I don’t know what happened, but somehow I ended up lined up on Tinker’s left. I wish him good luck and he wishes me luck as well. At 6:05am the gun goes off. The pedals start turning and we’re off in a cloud of dust. The first fifty takes us on the North side of Interstate 90. The North Loop consists of dual tracks and single track. The course is undulating, up and down, up and down. It’s not a hard pace, since the first couple of miles are more or less downhill. Then we hit the first big climb of the race, I wave my hand and wish everyone good luck. The last thing I want to do is blow-up on the first 4-miles of the course. I race my own race. I end up riding a few miles with Montana’s Lisa Curry. Megan used to race Lisa in Cyclocross. Lisa remembered Megan and told me that Megan nipped her at the line at Boulder Cup! Lisa goes on to break the women’s course record and wins the Butte 100 in 10-hours 43-minutes.
Somehow on the descent I leave Lisa Curry behind and end up on my own. I am thinking to myself, am I burning too many matches here? Soon Ray comes up and he rides with me. Ray and I catchup while the miles pass. We’re on a long fire road descent, I’m out in front and the Butte 100 flags are zipping by. Then all of a sudden the flags stop. I look down and see the tread marks of racers ahead of me. Soon, as I’m grabbing brake, I notice the quantity of tread marks goes down and I notice skid marks. I’m starting to think to myself – “Uh-oh…we missed a turnoff!” Taking a gamble, I decide to turn around and pedal back up hill. I’m spinning the cranks and my heart rate spikes as I’m stressing about losing time. I see Ray and he turns around, then several other riders start turning around as we pass them on the climb back up. Finally, 15-minutes later of climbing we see our mistake. Back on track…but I start to feel the effort spent catching up with me. I let Ray go and focus on racing my own race.
The aid stations fly by in a blur. I trade water bottles. I eat half a banana. I empty my pockets and restock the pockets. The “Neon Army” of volunteers are fantastic, without them there would be no sanity. They help me off and on the bicycle and provide the motivation to continue on.
The last few miles of the first fifty are the fire road back to the Start/Finish line. I slide forward on the saddle and start time trialing. I love flat roads. I can pedal like this for hours. I tell myself “maximize your effort where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.” After 5-hours and 52 miles from the Start, I reach Aid Station 6. I’m elated! Its the fastest 50-mile mountain bike ride I’ve ever done! PR! Also there is Megan, Our Team. She’s snapping photos and helping me with my Aid Station bag. I fill up the Camelbak and lube my chain. I eat a banana. I eat some rice balls. I feel good. Let’s get on with the next 50-miles! Megan sends me off and wishes me the best. She’s awesome, as I know the Lyme and the medications she’s taking are already wearing her down for the day.
The Last Fifty
The last fifty-miles are on the South side of Interstate 90. The last fifty are also the trails used for the Butte 50. The last half of the race is a MONSTER. The gut-wrenching Basin Creek Climb, with grades of 15% to 20%, awaits to destroy you at mile 62. I find that the last thirty miles are a positive for me, since I know the trails. I’ve ridden them before, I’m pumped, because they flow and show off some of Montana’s great wilderness.
Immediately we drop down into the Butte basin… oh boy, we’ll have to climb out of this later! The trails are not closed, especially the trail paralleling I-90 – five ATVs pass me as they head up the hill. They are cool, they pull to the side and slow down as I fly down the hill. I race my own race through Thompson Park. The single track is amazing through the dense trees. Megan cheers me along as I cross Highway 2. Its so good to see her – motivation to keep going.
Once out of Thompson Park, I’m now on a gravel road heading to the bottom of the Basin Creek Climb. The road is flat with some downhill. I picture myself riding on the road bike and soon I’m back into time trialing mode. I’m flying, averaging 18mph. I gain a lot of time on this stretch of road. I catch up with Ray at the Basin Creek Aid Station. Megan is there cheering me on. She helps me restock my supplies and sends me off for the death march up Basin Creek. Before we left Denver, I took the headset cap that I had made for Megan’s XC race bike, “MTN KITTENS ARE FAST!” and installed it on my bike. I read it over and over to myself as I slowly climb up and out of Basin Creek.
I conserve energy when the slopes increase to 12% by walking. I do a lot of walking up Basin Creek and I never see Ray again once he has disappeared in front of me. The climb seems to go on and on – about seven miles worth. The damage of the climb is done, as my heart rate never climbs above 75% of my max heart rate again. Once the Basin Creek climb ends, we get a little reprieve on an old railroad bed. I try to make up lost time and keep a pace of 10mph, I again imagine myself riding my road bike.
Once I turn off the old railroad bed, I was now on familiar ground – the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Except I’ve never ridden the next two sections of CDT together. This is gonna hurt! The first section is in the sun – the sun that has now turned blazing hot as the cloud cover has burned off. Riding this trail now feels as though I was riding my bike with a massive hangover – slow and groggy. The scenery keeps me positive as the wildflowers are out and the views clear. Shut-up legs. Shut-up legs. Pedal. Pedal.
At 3:15pm I pull into Aid Station #9. I’ve made it well before the cutoff time! The cutoff time at Aid Station #9 is 7pm. I know now that I will finish – nothing can hold me back now. A big smile crosses my face as I see Megan there. She’s cheering me on. She has tears in her eyes and I have tears in my eyes. We know we can finish! All my mind is thinking of is finishing. I don’t even realize that Matt Fisher, (whom I used to work and ski with when I was on assignment in Montana) is here volunteering.
The last section of the race…20-miles to go. Also my favorite section of trail. It’s one of the last trails that Megan and I rode together, even then Megan could only go halfway. Megan is cheering me on in my mind.
I reach the final Aid Station #10, hallucinating at 5:14pm. The scenes of a luau fill my senses and I soon realize that the “Neon Army” is motivating us all for the last hurrah. A little boy is handing out peanut butter M&Ms. It’s the best thing ever, I feel myself bouncing back! I soon forget the depressing thought that I had originally wanted to finish the race at 5pm and have failed. But the luau revives me and now more than anything I want to finish this race. I jump on the bike and head across Highway 2. I’m shouting “FOR MY WIFE” as I stomp on the gas! I can’t believe it, I’m passing people again. I somehow find a little bit more power out of the legs. The legs have temporarily shut up. I know where the top is, I know I can get there. I crest the top of the final climb and descend the flowing trail down to the finish line. I feel like I am on the first 10-miles of the course, not the last 10. The trees are zipping by, one by one.
As I come out of the trees and roll onto the pavement, I can see the Finish line calling me. Sprinting through the Finish I know we’ve given it our all. Megan runs up to me and throws her arms around me shouting “I’m so proud of you.” I reply “I’m so proud of you, we did it together.”
With my 100 Mile Finishers Mug in hand and a hundred miles in my legs – I’m happy. Mission accomplished in 12 hours 21 mins. Thank you Megan for all your love and support.
Without our Sponsors: Bikesource, Yeti Cycles, Optic Nerve, Honey Stinger, Emich Volkswagen, Conservative Construction, Lech Strategies, and Specialized Accessories the Butte 100 would not have been possible!