15 February 2015

Susitna 100 - 2015

Hello all, 
I want to start off with a huge thank you to Amanda and Fiona.  For this ride I have been doing a lot of training (over 1300miles since October) which has eaten into our family time.  Thank you both for being so understanding, you are both so awesome!

The Susitna 100 is a "Hundred Mile" race using mushing trails and frozen rivers in the big lake area of Alaska. 

The race for me started a last year well the preparations did at least.  I have been trying out different pieces of gear for the last few months trying to figure out what works and what doesn't.  If it has been cold below 0F I have been out riding testing everything to ensure my layer system has been optimal. On top of this I have also been experimenting with food to see what can fuel me for longer races. 

The pre race meeting was on Thursday, all racers have to turn up to get their mandatory gear checked

  • Sleeping bag rated to -20F (see details below)
  • Closed cell foam sleeping pad-minimum size = 3/8" x 20" x 48"
  • Bivy sack or tent (NO space blankets)
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Rear flashing light to be used after sunset
  • Two-quart (64 oz) insulated water container
  • 1-day of food (3000 calories) may be consumed after the last checkpoint
  • 15 lbs of gear at ALL times-including the finish line
My gear weighed in around 18# including my 3000 cal so what did I take as the extras
Camera, extra hat, gloves, base layers, GPS, back up GPS yep I really wanted that ride to be recorded :) tools, spare tubes and that was pretty much it.

On the Friday I prepared the food I would be taking and packed up my gear.
These two pictures capture pretty much everything I would be eating whilst between checkpoints, I really wanted to try and be self sufficient for as much as possible since I know time not moving forward is not a good thing if you are trying to finish as quickly as possibly, it is a race afterall.

Tasty food around 4000 cals
Hunter Sticks
I loaded up the rental car on Friday night and headed out to the start on Saturday morning. This is my bike fully loaded and ready to go, it weighs around 52# in this picture as a comparison the same bike with no bags or extras on weighs around 25.5# and with just empty bags weighs around 29#.  After writing this blog I am going down to take all the extras off the bike so It will feel fast again, at least for the next couple of weeks :)

fully loaded and ready to go
As with all races they start off fast and its a good idea to get to towards the front of the field for a couple of reasons.  One stay out of the way of crashes and two to try and ensure you have good trail conditions as they can deteriorate quickly with softer snow. 
Su Start - Photo Credit Kevin Murphy
I'm on row two in that picture, which worked out pretty well for me, I got a reasonable start and the trails were pretty good for the early part of the course, the sun had just risen and we were treated to some spectacular views. 

Just me and my shadow
Stopping to let a little air out as the trails were starting to soften up.
Letting some air out

grove already forming

The pace was pretty high and by the first checkpoint I was over 0.5 hours back on the leaders, this did not bother me so much as they were flying.  However I could see what I had done not as well I as hoped.  By checkpoint one  I was too hot and should have adjusted my layers (Temperatures were in the high teens at the start and warmed up to the 30's fairly quickly), I hadn't aired down enough on the softer trails. I also missed leaving checkpoint one with Clint who was trying to catch Laura, I thought I would catch them later on but as it turns out they were riding at the same or a much faster pace than me all the way to the finish, they were not stopping to take photos ;-). 
I left checkpoint one just after Christina and followed her for a short while, until the trails started getting soft.  I think that the only reason I was able to pass her was due to the soft trails,  my tyres are about 0.6" wider than hers and in soft snow this makes all the difference. 

Christina riding towards the sleeping lady
towards the sleeping lady
more sleeping lady
sleeping lady and the lath we are following
Denali or Mckinley depending on what side of the fence you sit 

After following a long straight section of course we arrived at Flathorn lake, this was the first section of trail which was really soft, this is where I compounded my two earlier mistakes, I didn't let air out until I got to checkpoint 2 and still kept my layer on under my trousers, thinking it would be cooler on the river.

Checkpoint two bike park
Check point 2 Mile 34ish
After finally being sensible and airing down the trails became a little easier to ride. 

The next landmark we got to was the wall of death, this is an entry point onto the Susitna river, its steep and I am glad we didn't have to ride up it :)

Wall of death
What followed next was for me the slowest part of the course, I aired down a fraction more and rode what I could for the next 5 miles, it seemed to take forever! In reality it was only just over 1 hour until I reached Scary Tree, from what I have read, Scary Tree used to be a big cotton wood tree that stood on this spot, now.... well you make your mind up :-)
Scary Tree
After this the trail actually improved significantly as we rode to checkpoint 3 - Five Star Camp. I was actually worried I had missed the camp as I thought it was at mile 50 it was actually at mile 51.  At this checkpoint I finally decided to take off my base layer under my trousers, it was a good decision and I wish I had removed them sooner.
Five Star Tent Camp
Following five star tent camp we continued along the trail until we finally left the river (the hill off the river is a tough one).  The trail was pretty good, soft sections were kept to a minimum and I managed to see a dog sled team, a few of snow machines (Snow mobiles if you are not in Alaska) some of which passed me at about 9million miles per hour.

Dog Sled team

Checkpoint 4 is EagleQuest Lodge at 60 miles (really 62) where I got the surprise of the day.  Amanda, Fiona and Angie were there to cheer me on.

Daughter hugs
Daughter pacing
As can be seen in this photo I am already having to use my light, it was around 18:00 and just getting dark.  I had already planned not to stop at this checkpoint and it was really hard for me to stick with this plan (sorry Amanda, Fiona and Angie).  I received some go faster hugs had some photos taken then headed back onto the trail,

the awesome cheering squad!
a little Daddy time

It was hard to leave my family!

Given I hadn't stopped and refuelled I knew I was going to have to be extra careful with my fuelling over the next 17miles to Cow Lake, I surprised myself and actually got it right, within 10 min of eating I already felt my mood changing. 

Big swamp stop

trying to capture the glow of Anchorage
Once you have crossed the big swamp you are almost at Cow lake, then the hills started and they are tough.  Most hills I was walking up and some having to tripod down (one foot on the pedal the other being used as an outrigger)

At cow lake tent camp (You guys rocked) I had some soup which was really welcome and then I headed off for the next 12miles into Big hunter loop trail tent camp.  Note if you are thinking of doing the Su please be aware that this is the hilliest section of the course and the best way I could describe it is soul destroying!

I arrived at the last checkpoint, talked with the checkpoint workers about a friend I had met on the trail who was really struggling and then headed off for the final 9ish miles.  If you have got to this point don't worry the trail is flat and was the second fastest part of the course for me, even with tired legs.

Don't miss the last turn 
I finally finished at 00:26:47 and was delighted to get hugs from Amanda and Fiona as well as support and congratulations from Clint and Laura who smoked the trail.  Laura won first place for the women's 100 mile event and I think Clint was top 10.  I was top 20 I think which given how much I stopped to take photos (at least 1/2 hour going by the GPS timing) I am very happy with my performance.

What would I do differently if/when I race this one again, I would better control my temperature, I would eat more sooner and I would probably take fewer photos and treat it more as a race....

Here is a photo of the Revolution Racing team members who rode the event, we are all pretty relieved to have finished and I'm sure looking forward to our next ride... just not to soon.
Revolution Racing

I would like to thank all the people who have trained with me in particular Kevin who is a fountain of winter biking knowledge and all the other riders who have joined me on rides, If I missed your name I am sorry there have been a lot of you.  Chuck, Oscar, Margaret, Roger, Angie, Adam, Amanda, Fiona, Andrew, Kent, Sandy, Josh, Megan, Laura, Clint, Jordy, Brett, Susan, Brant, Curly, Scott and Will

Finally I would like to thank the Susitna 100 organisers and the checkpoint workers who with which we wouldn't have an event!

Here is the track of where I went.


  1. Awesome job Nick. You should be proud of your accomplishment and I'm inspired!

    1. Thanks Julie, It was fun and I am very happy I rode the way I did. Looking forward to next time when I will actually race it.... probably.

  2. Really enjoyed your story Nick! Thanks for sharing all the details. Congrats on such a big accomplishment.
    Curious in SC,