The Tuscobia 160 was my second snow race and second qualifying race for the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI 350). Although the terrain was not as challenging as the Arrowhead 135, which I raced at the beginning of 2018, other racers warned that Tuscobia is frequently colder.
This year we all lucked out, and the lowest the temperature got according to my Garmin unit was the low teens. I’d guess the windchill was close to 0 or less overnight. The course was also phenomenal. Most of it was already pretty packed down making for fast riding.
After my experience at Arrowhead, it was my goal to ride my next winter ultra through the night and stop only minimally.
The route is out and back on railroad grade trails in northern Wisconsin with supported checkpoints at about 45, 80, and 115 miles. We were allowed to have drop bags with food and gear at the checkpoints. There was a bonus tent to warm up at about 15 miles to go that was a godsend as well.
The first few miles of the race were extremely fast. Actually, pretty much the whole race was extremely fast except one section a few miles from the halfway that was crowded with 160 mile runners on their return to the finish and only had a single rideable lane.
One of the most difficult parts about winter riding is dialing in your gear for every temperature range. It’s counterintuitive, but one of the biggest issues you might encounter in a winter race is overheating. I made the mistake of wearing too much at Arrowhead heading into the first night. This time, I was dressed better, but I was still sweating a bit too much. I had to back off the pace a little bit to dry off, but I wasn’t too upset.
Somewhere between the first checkpoint and the halfway point, I started to pass the 80 mile riders who were heading in the opposite direction. It was encouraging to hear everyone’s words of support as they passed by. Everyone in these races is so friendly. I got a special shout out from my buddy Hank who was doing the 80 miler as well.
At the halfway, I had a Wawa classic hoagie that I brought all the way from New Jersey. That really hit the spot after hours of granola and trail mix. The volunteers also gave me a couple grilled cheese sandwiches that were also pretty amazing. The sun was just about setting when I made my way back to the trail.
By the time I got to the third checkpoint, my stomach really wasn’t feeling great. I had fallen behind a little bit on food intake and hydration. Nothing I had seemed palatable to me, and all I really wanted was something warm like mashed potatoes or mac and cheese (note to future self…). Unfortunately, the checkpoint was out of vegetarian chilis and soups, so I just refilled my water and pressed on, forcing myself to eat my granola and Raisinets.
Eventually I felt a little better, but fatigue was really starting to set in. I’ve ridden almost 40 hours straight before, but the constant pedaling necessary to bike on snow takes its toll in a way that road biking never could. I had the good sense to get off the bike when I was feeling extra tired and walk for a few minutes. I did end up falling asleep for a split second while standing up on more than one occasion. I listened to dubstep to keep me going.
I was feeling a bit down and out of it by the time I got to the bonus checkpoint at about mile 145. I didn’t realize how close I was to the finish. In my stupor, I thought there were about 30 miles left to go. I think there were three of us in the tent, and we talked sparingly while we drank hot chocolate. One of the racers mentioned that we had 15 to go, and a new wave of energy hit me. I rode as hard as I could for the rest of the race and finished just a little after sunrise for an overall time of just about 25:30. I had hoped initially to come in at 24 hours, but considering the fatigue and food issues I dealt with, this wasn’t bad at all. I can’t wait for the next one.