Spotted Horse 2017 Race Director report

200 miles of pavement is a training ride. 200 miles of Iowa gravel is something much more difficult. Here is the behind the scenes action at the very soggy, cold, and windy second edition of the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. This is a tough course on a nice day, and we did not have a nice day at all. Only 8 finished the 200 mile race, and 17 finished the 150 mile race. The fastest racers averaged less than 14 mph.

Peanut butter gravel near Murray. Photo by S. Fuller

The Spotted Horse is a low budget, no profit, volunteer run project of mine that I do simply because I enjoy the hell out of riding my bike on gravel, and enjoy spending time with others that do as well. I put this race together for the first time over the winter of 2015-16 as I was training for Race Across the West. I enjoyed mapping out the route, riding it forwards and backwards, seeing what views I liked better, or what combination of hills and roads was the hardest. It gave purpose to my miles and was a great distraction from the sheer magnitude of the races I had on my own race calendar. And south-central Iowa terrain and weather are fantastic training for any kind of ultra racing. You can freeze to death, bake like bread, and get rained on all in the same ride. And the only true flat we have here is in the C store parking lots.

A little RAAM humor

2016 race day weather was perfect, and the forecast a week out from race day 2017 looked perfect as well. Dry and sunny with mild temps. Minimal chance for rain. Very typical October weather! As the week progressed, the forecast got worse by the day with an expected 3+ inches of rain Thursday to Friday and rain continuing throughout most of Saturday. Add in 20-30mph winds out of the south with temperatures falling throughout the day into the low 50’s, and it was a recipe for a very difficult day indeed. The running joke among the Des Moines locals was that my race was getting “Sumptered”. Scott Sumpter, aka Mr. BIKEIOWA, has brought rain to almost every gravel race he has been to this year. Tropical Storm Sumpter rained pain all over the Spotted Horse, turning the gravel to mush and the dirt roads to mud.

120th st near Hopeville. Photo by Dawn Piech

The weather and life took it’s toll on my roster, and the numbers fell from 81 to 59, and then only 48 showed up to start on race day. That happened last year too though, and the weather was perfect. It’s a bit discouraging, but as my own race plans since RAAM have completely imploded and I’m dropping out of races I have signed up for, I guess I can relate to the life stuff. The weather concerns, not so much. Suck it up and put on a coat. It’s only 200 miles.

Cole Ledbetter. Cole ended up dropping to the 150 route after Orient, probably putting in 175 miles for the day. Not quite an official finish, but a hell of a good ride. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

 

 

The last two weeks before the race were a busy time for me. I’d promised everyone a rideable route regardless of the weather, so with 40 miles of dirt B roads in the original course, the route was in flux until just a few days before the race. I decided to leave 11 miles of B roads on the cue sheets I released, hoping that the rain would miss us but knowing I’d likely end up detouring at least 7 miles of the course during the race. Fussing over the route the way I do is not exactly the easy way to do this, but the route is the main attraction. It has to be just the right combination of beauty and pain or I’m not happy with it. There was very little in this year’s route that I was not happy with, despite having to remove most of my beloved dirt roads.

Andrea Cohen, one hell of a strong lady and the only woman to finish the 200 mile. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

After watching buckets of rain fall during Friday check in, I had dinner with some of the volunteers and athletes, and got a few hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 2am. I was down to St.Charles to set up by 3:30, and the volunteers began arriving by 3:45 to help me set up and get people parked. Several of my RAAM and RAW crew were either racing or volunteering, including Jill Marks who had driven all of the way from Minnesota to help out. Emily Shelton, who was a friend of an athlete racing, had also driven from the north country to help. She arrived just before 4am, worked all day, then drove back home in time to race the Filthy 50 on Sunday.

CP 1 volunteers Amanda Lundstedt and Jess Rundlett with CP2 volunteer Jill Marks before the start. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

With calm and capable Jill in charge of check in, and Emily helping Newbs with parking, I went and stood out by the entrance so no one would miss the turn in the dark. Stretch, my tall, tattooed friend who drives the rescue creeper van eventually came out to relieve me. Before he did, I saw a truck headed towards the driveway take the turn at the very last second, nearly missing it despite me standing right there with a flashlight. “That has got to be Mark Skarpohl”, I thought. Sure enough, Minnesota plates. He drives like he rides. I first met Mark a few years back when he and I both raced the Alexander 380. He kept missing turns and going off course, and after teasing him about it I ended up going off course multiple times myself. It hasn’t stopped me from teasing him though.

The Sona tandem. Always happy and with a great attitude, the Sona’s are simply a delight to have at my event. This was their second year racing the 150. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

It started raining again as we assembled on the driveway at 5:45 for a few safety reminders, and then started promptly at 6am. The Madison County Sheriff showed up right on schedule, and fell in behind the group to block traffic. Not that there was any traffic at that time of day, but it’s nice to have a deputy back there just in case.

 

Checkpoint 1 volunteers Stretch Wilson, Jess Rundlett, and Amanda Lundstedt

I led the group for the first mile on pavement, then pulled off and doubled back around to take a different road to get in front of the cyclists. Steve Fuller, who was supposed to be racing, had broken his finger the week prior, and was now my three fingered co-pilot. Our friendship survived RAAM despite me calling him an asshole several times, and I figured if I had to spend 20 hours straight with someone, he’d be a good choice. He was an indispensable help the entire day. I’m not sure how I would’ve managed all that I had to do without him.

Yvonne Deyo, women’s 150 mile winner just outside Murray. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

We just barely managed to get out in front of the group 5 miles into the race, and drove the course ahead of them. The road conditions were amazingly variable, and we saw everything from dry roads to complete mud. There were long stretches of peanut butter, and one road just outside of Murray that was pure mud. It was not a B road, but a regular gravel road that just happened to have a lot of dirt on it that turned to mud in the rain. It was warm, but lightly raining and the wind was coming straight out of the south and gusting pretty hard already.

Jim Koziol, 200 mile single speed winner near Afton. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I made a quick stop in Murray, then headed straight to Hopeville to re-route Doyle road, a 2.5 mile B road. After hammering in the stakes, Newbs met us there, and he stayed there for a few hours to watch the riders go through. Steve and I headed back east of Murray to see how riders were faring with that first unexpected mud road on 170th. We stopped to help Jim Kozial, who needed a better allen wrench to fix his bike. His multitool was stripping the screw. This is a self supported event, so I expect people to carry what they need and be able to fix their own bike. But I do carry my tool box, and if I happen upon someone who needs help, I help. I just can’t promise I’ll be in the right place at the right time. I pulled out my tool box, and we spent a few minutes holding Jim’s bike while he fixed it. He called his thanks out as he rode away, and I yelled after him “FINISH!” He did, and ended up winning the 200 mile single speed category.

My coach, Greg Grandgeorge. His race ended on a muddy road outside of Murray. Photo by S. Fuller

The next victim was my coach, Greg Grandgeorge, who flipped his derailleur up into the spokes when he tried to ride through the mud. The one tool we really needed was a pair of chain link pliers, which were sitting on my dining room table back home. Kyle Platts passed by on his fat bike, and asked if we needed anything. Oddly enough, he had a pair of chain link pliers and loaned them to us. Greg wasn’t able to convert his bike to a working single speed, so we loaded him up, and did a RAAM style plier hand off to Kyle just outside of Murray. I made a call to Stretch for his first of many rescues that day, and had him meet me in Afton to pick up Greg and ferry him back to the ranch.

Mark Skarpohl and Luke Wilson, Men’s 200 mile leaders,outside of Afton. Luke looks happy, Mark, not so much. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I drove backwards on the route and parked at mile 50 of the course and took pictures of the riders as they went by until it was time to move on ahead to get to Orient in front of the leaders.

 

 

 

 

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Checkpoint 2. Scott Newbury, Jenn Borst, Jill Marks, Steve Fuller, Emily Shelton, Stretch Wilson, and me.

We headed back to Afton to check in with the group of riders that had stopped there, and then moved on to checkpoint 2. As Stretch said in his post race summary, things went off the rails for a bit there as we had a little fun with Jenn, Emily, Stretch, and Jill but then it was on to Orient to mark the 290th street detour. Things had begun to dry out a bit by that point and the roads were looking pretty good. But not good enough that a 5 mile B road was going to be rideable, or even very walkable.

Holly Semple, Orient volunteer and Newbs. Holly kept riders on track near the 290th street detour

We met Holly Semple at the intersection of Trenton and 300th street near Orient, where I had arranged for her to babysit the reroute. Holly is another generous soul that contacted me when she heard I needed help, and sat for hours mostly by herself to make sure that riders stayed on course. I had intended to hang out there for awhile and keep her company, but had to leave after receiving a call from Luke Wilson saying that a section of the Rippy Dumps had been torn up and was now a pile of dirt and an excavator. I handed her the stakes, gave her some brief instructions about where to put them, and headed back to Macksburg.

Daren and Steve, helping me stake the Dirt Mountain reroute

My phone was going crazy with texts about riders dropping out, Jenn was trying to find a rider that was waiting for pick up, two riders were MIA since the start line, Holly texted me to say she’d broken a reroute stake, I needed to call Newbs to help her, and we had a mountain of dirt in the middle of what had been an open road when I passed through just TWO DAYS before. It was oddly fun, and utterly crazy. Doing 10 different things at once is fun for me.

I had told Luke and Mark to pass through the construction zone if they felt it safe, and they did. I pulled up just as the next riders got to the far side of the mountain. I threw my truck in park and sprinted for the mountain, hoping to at least verify it was passable before anyone broke an ankle trying to cross it. Three steps up and my shoes were a muddy disaster. There was a river running through it as well. Pictures do not do this mountain justice.

 

Keeping Joe Mann warm at the finish line. Joe was my night crew chief on RAAM and RAW. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I flagged the 200 reroute, and redirected Joe Mann to turn around and head for the new detour, which cut a few miles off the route. 6 riders passed through the construction site before I had it rerouted, and I deducted 20 minutes from their finish time to compensate for that. It was raining again, and I couldn’t resist telling Joe that it wasn’t really raining, it was just water dripping off the trees. That was a line of BS Joe dropped on me during RAAM. I wasn’t out of it enough to believe that on RAAM, and I had a good chuckle yelling that out the window at him in a very treeless section of road.

Jess Rundlett and the now infamous Dirt Mountain. Photo by one disgusted Jess Rundlett

After placing the reroute stakes in one direction, it occurred to me that the 150 also passes through there from the opposite direction and those riders would be coming through next. Once we flagged the 150 route, it was utterly confusing. I ended up needing to park three volunteers along that detour, two of them for over 8 hours to babysit this monstrosity. It was a pretty long detour with multiple stakes. The resulting picture of Jess Rundlett at the Dirt Mountain Reroute has provided endless hours of hilarity, and almost made this worth the hassle. Stay tuned to the event Facebook page for the entire photoshopped series of Things that Disgust Jess, beginning with Dirt Mountain.

Newbs, letting his truck rest in the ditch. Photo by Carolyn Marsh

After we had Dirt Mountain contained, Newbs called. He’d gotten his truck stuck just outside of Orient on a B road. I told him I had a tow strap, and Steve and I headed back to Orient to rescue him. We first checked on Holly and the 290th st detour, and all was well there. The weather had gone from gloomy and raining to sunny and warm, and the winds were now very strong out of the west, meaning that the riders continued to have a full on 20+mph headwind as they headed into Orient. The only upside to the wind situation was the potential for a rip rocking tail wind back towards Winterset and St. Charles. Or so I thought. The wind died out by late afternoon, leaving most of the field to ride without any tailwind after having fought a ridiculous headwind the entire day. Iowa can be so cruel.

 

Mark Skarpohl near Orient. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Luke Wilson, near Orient. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Mickey Boianoff’s heartfelt gesture of love and appreciation for me. Photo by Carolyn Marsh

Extracting Newbs from the ditch was actually quite easy, so we spent a few minutes talking with photographer Carolyn Marsh and watching riders struggle through the 2 mile stretch of B road just outside of Orient. I had driven down to this section on Thursday and actually ran part of it myself just to verify that the grass ditch on the side of the road was decent the entire way. It was a pretty mean stretch of road; a mile of hike a bike, a beautiful gravel intersection, and then a right turn onto another mile of hike a bike. Having been trapped on that section before myself, I can relate to the mental and physical anguish it delivers. As Carolyn verified with her photos, my name was thoroughly abused and there was much cursing. As is true of most gravel racers, they embraced the struggle with a smile and most seemed to enjoy it despite their complaining. There is a time and a place for complaining, and as most of life seems to require restraint and civility it’s not altogether bad to find yourself carrying your bike and bitching without restraint. It’s quite therapeutic, and often hilarious.

Bruce Woodard, biking a section of road that had reduced everyone else to walking. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Chris Schroeder, 3rd place 200 men’s open. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Jon Duke, making the B Road look easy and fun. photo by Carolyn Marsh

Steve and I headed back towards Winterset to check on Dirt Mountain and where we now had three volunteers babysitting the turns. Jess was at the mountain, Daren was down the road where the 200 mile riders needed to leave the course, and Greg Grandgeorge (who had DNF’d earlier and came back out on the course to volunteer) was farther down the 150 mile portion of the reroute in an area that I thought was confusing. Not only was there construction on the road, but one of the farms was also doing some construction and there were pink construction stakes freaking everywhere in addition to my pink reroute stakes. I couldn’t have imagined a worse mess to leave for people to figure out. It was much less confusing after it got dark and the construction markers were no longer visible. To my knowledge, we only lost Jon Duke there briefly, which was still something I felt pretty bad about. Getting lost is not the kind of frustration I want people to experience. He had the misfortune of going through the detour in the daylight when I hadn’t had a volunteer at that corner and he missed the marked turn.

Kate Geisen on the B road near Orient


Heather Poskevich on the B road near Orient


Michael Conti and me at the finish line. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

Steve and I made a quick stop in Winterset to gas up the vehicle and wait for 150 mile leader, Michael Conti. Michael is my friend from Utah, and while he has done several gravel races before, none had been in the midwest under conditions like these. I’m not entirely convinced that Michael didn’t accidentally add on a few bonus miles but he eventually reached the finish line looking thoroughly worked over and with a barely functional drivetrain. 2nd place overall and first place single speed Mickey Boianoff arrived a short while later, also looking throughly worked over.

Michael Conti and Mickey Boianoff, first and second place in the 150. Mickey was also first place single speeder

My participation in their finish line celebration was short lived, as I received a series of humorous and also frustrating phone calls from Luke Wilson, who was still riding with Mark Skarpohl and holding a 30 minute lead over third place Chris Schroeder. There was an oddly placed street sign and a frankly wrong street sign that weren’t an issue for folks that were using a GPX file, but were for folks only using cue sheets. One of the street signs was labeled 165th street when the map clearly shows 168th street on Ride with GPS, Google maps, etc. Both of these were roads that I ride frequently, but I had verified the roads only by maps and checking the turn with the GPX file; I had not visualized that particular street sign in any of my wanderings. You look at things differently when they are on routes you ride all of the time. I sent Greg to hang out in the vicinity of the two questionable signs to make sure no one got lost. Greg ended up staying in that area for hours after dark making sure that riders stayed on course there. Volunteering is not an exciting job.

Saraleigh Munroe, creeping us all out at the finish line. Saraleigh and Bill volunteered back at the ranch and hosted two out of town athletes


Mark Stender, 150 mile finisher


Kyle Platts, 2nd place 150 mile men’s fat bike and last official finisher of the 150. Kyle also won the Good Guy Award for loaning out his chain link pliers.

 

Luke Wilson and Mark Skarpohl, men’s 200 mile first and second place. I could hear them arguing like an old married couple about who was going to win as they came to the finish line. They were fun to watch all day!

The rest of the evening was spent hanging out at the finish line waiting for the finishers to come in. Kathy Fuller managed the prizing back at the ranch while I waited for finishers up on Valleyview Avenue. Kathy escaped the entire weekend without having her photo taken… We may have to photo shop her into one.

 

 

Stretch Wilson, creeper van driver, and all around nice guy. No one wants to DNF, but if you have to bail from an event, at least you can go home with a good story about being picked up by a man with a bag of candy and a creeper van.

The finish line is one of my favorite parts of this race director deal, and I now have two big files of photos with finishers of my race. It warms my cold, black heart. I’m a big fan of ultra racing, carbon bikes, and all things aero AF. But gravel racing is not always about fitness, and who is the fastest. It’s about decision making, mental toughness, and being humble enough to let go of your expectations and embrace the struggle and the adventure of the day. A day spent with like minded people who enjoy that kind of experience is a day well spent. Even the texts I received from folks who couldn’t finish were uplifting, as many of them offered thanks and were willing to come back out on the course and volunteer.

Final finishers Matt Miller, Women’s 200 winner Andrea Cohen, and Men’s 200 FatBike winner Scott Sumpter

The volunteers that had been out in the sticks at checkpoints or detours eventually wandered in and kept me company throughout the evening before they tired and went home. The final finishers rolled in at 1:30 am, including Matt Miller, Andrea Cohen (the only woman to finish the 200 mile), and the rain maker himself, Scott Sumpter.

 

 

Kate Ankofski. Kate had quite the difficult, muddy adventure, but finished her day with a smile near Macksburg

Aaron Duncan, finishing his ride in Winterset. Aaron put in a great ride, but was delayed by adventure and ran short on time.

Newbs ended up driving the course backwards to look for Kate Ankofski and Aaron Duncan who had been unaccounted for since morning. Both had gone down one of the B roads that had been detoured and lost quite a bit of time there. Kate was picked up near Macksburg and Aaron continued on all the way to Winterset and was just barely shy of making the time cut off. He was Jenn Borst’s last pick up for the day before we all headed home, just over 24 hours after my day had started.

Despite the weather being rather rotten most of the day, I’d say this year’s event went well. The course came together well despite not using the dirt roads I wanted to share. As of this writing, I am planning on a 2018 event. I am committed to keeping the cost to the participants low, the size small, and the profit non-existent. I hope to have all new routes for 2018, including a rideable rain route, just in case!

If you enjoyed yourself at my event, please thank your volunteers! They drove many miles, missed sleep, lived on gas station food, and gave up part of their Friday and all of their Saturday to make sure that you went home with stellar photographs, a tired body, and a smile. Thank you to Eric Roccasecca, Carolyn Marsh, Daren Munroe, Kathy Fuller, Steve Fuller, Stretch Wilson, Amanda Lundstedt, Jess Rundlett, Jennifer Borst, Jill Marks, Emily Shelton, Holly Semple, Greg Grandgeorge, Scott Newbury, Saraleigh Munroe, and Bill Lorenz for your time, energy, and willingness to help me make this event happen. These volunteers truly made this race enjoyable for me as the race director. They are all amazing people, so generous with their time, and so willing to do whatever needed to be done to make sure the riders had a good experience. They took my pins on a map and turned them into epic photography, less stressful detours, and fun and energetic checkpoints. This event would not happen without them!

This has been an epic year for me in life and in racing. I’ve tackled extremely difficult ultra cycling events. I’ve finished most, and ended one hypothermic and delusional, huddled on a dog bed in rural Iowa. The strength that I have found through taking on these great challenges has carried over into every aspect of my daily life. I no longer worry about my limits, the expectations of my gender, or what people think of me. I have always enjoyed the caregiver role as a nurse, mom, and friend. But it hasn’t been until this year of my life that I have found myself in the position of needing so much from my friends and family to accomplish my goals, without being able to give back as I would like. I now have a better understanding of what generosity truly means to someone who needs it. I have received much assistance, generosity, and support in all that I have taken on in life this year. Thank you all for your support.

Sarah

RAAM 2017

4 nights after RAAM ended, I woke up for the first time thinking that I was still on RAAM. I truly believed when I awoke that I was still racing and needed to get to my bike. Hearing my husband asking me if I was OK set me straight. The night before that, I had awakened and navigated myself into my closet instead of the bathroom. Sleep deprivation is a crazy thing.

During the day though, I appear to be making rapid strides in physical recovery. I have significant bruising on my right side from my crash late in the race and my hands are completely numb, but I am beginning to feel more like myself. I have a bit of residual death rattle in my lungs, but as I’m not training currently, it’s not problematic. Hopefully that will resolve before I decide to run or ride my bike. Death rattle appears to be only a minor annoyance while sedentary. I’ve seen a hand specialist for my hands, and they’ve done what they can do for now. Time will take care of the rest.

Being tended by Kathy Fuller after rolling into Durango with a bloody nose

I’m not sure how to adequately tell the story of this race, and thank all of the involved parties. A blow by blow account seems like it would be quite boring, so I’ll offer you a brief summary here, with a few images. A more detailed account regarding the amazing people involved in my race will come out when I have more images to share, and time to do so. And of course there will be the Religion of Sports documentary next year. They caught some seriously funny stuff, numerous very painful moments, and hours of monotony. I believe they will turn it into something you’ll want to watch. I teased them quite a bit about their seemingly excessive sleep relative to mine, and regular meals. They were good sports about my grumpy envy, and cheered me on the whole way. I’m a very shy and private person, but the camera crew melded into the experience of my race. They captured me as I was, from elite athlete to rolling shit show. I think it will be a RAAM documentary like nothing else done to date.

Stretching. Photo by Jill Marks

I have had numerous falls from horses, several bicycle crashes, one head injury resulting in a dent in my forehead, and a few cases of whiplash. While I’ve never had trouble with my neck, I knew that I was at risk for Shermer’s neck during RAAM. It was still quite a shock to find it setting in by Colorado, not even halfway into the race. That in essence became the story of my RAAM past Colorado, and yet I refused to say the actual term Shermer’s neck to my crew. How do you ride from Colorado to Maryland with over 10 extra pounds of edema, a lung infection, and neck and shoulder muscles that are failing you? Slowly, painfully, and as upright as you can get. I had decided prior to the race that I would do whatever it took to finish and win, and ride through whatever the race dealt me. I won’t have the luxury of a second RAAM to try again for a finish. It was one of the most painful and yet amazing experiences of my life, filled with incredible scenery and fantastic people. I told Fred Boethling upon finishing that if you offered me perfect weather and a shot at the course record, or the struggle I had just endured, I would choose the struggle. It was an experience like none other. It was the ugliest win I’ve ever had, at the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Cuchara pass, Colorado. My favorite part of Colorado, and the beginning of the end for my neck.

People have asked me long before I had actual sponsors how to get them, and I still don’t have a great answer. Win every race you enter for three years, ask for nothing, and don’t be a pompous entitled jerk appears to be the method that worked well for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa Cycling, Carbo Pro, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage, Klite, Beaverdale Bicycles, and Ice Friction Technology. 3100 well fueled miles without a saddle sore or a major mechanical issue is something to be celebrated, and is due to their efforts both before and during the race. Any shortcomings during this race were my own, my equipment and nutrition support were worthy of a pro athlete. Unfortunately for them, I have the heart and mind of champion, and the lungs and 45 year old body of something far inferior. I thank them for their continued support, and look forward to sharing in greater detail their contributions to my race.

Obviously none of this would have been accomplished without the efforts of my 10 crew:  Brian Arnold, Connie and Joe Mann, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Daren Munroe, Laurel Darren-Simmons, Alex Hernandez, Erik Newsholme, and Jill Marks. Part of what makes this race so difficult is the relentless nature of the task, and the time limits imposed upon me. I had really no concept of time once I was off the bike and my Garmin was no longer in front of me, so it was their job to keep me safely on the bike as long as possible, and get me back on the bike in a timely fashion no matter the weather or my physical state. Seeing the photos and videos of my physical decline late in the race, I know that had to be hard for them to do. I am at most times pretty frank and blunt in my communication style and my expectations for their performance, and I can only say that that got probably both more entertaining and more abrasive for them as the race rolled on. So many stories to tell, I’m not sure I’ll get to them all! They gave up over 2 weeks of their life, their vacation time, and time with their families to do this, and all they received was a hat, a few shirts, and time on the stage in Annapolis. I hope the experience was all that they hoped for.

More later! Thanks for reading, and for following my journey.