I have made two previous attempts at completing the Maah Daah Hey 100 and was unsuccessful. I figured it was time to try a different 100 miler so I signed up for the Lutsen 99er.
I used to live in Minnesota and was excited to get back there for a race. Northern Minnesota along Lake superior is a beautiful area and a great backdrop for a long distance race. I have hiked there in the past, but have never ridden a bike in the area. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as difficulty, trail quality, race setup, etc…
My wife and I packed up and headed out for a 13 hour drive from western North Dakota. We arrived in Lutsen Friday evening and headed to pick up my race packet. Every time that I pick up my race packet the nerves start to kick in. It was immediately evident that this was a well organized race. The check in process was quick and easy. Since the business was taken care of, we headed north to Grand Marais and had a dinner on Lake Superior. I figured I better make some attempt at getting some carbs in my system so I had a delicious smoked lake trout on some fettuccine.
The next morning came quickly and we headed to the race start. The race is based out of the ski area and there is ample parking. After a short warm up, we were lined up for the start. There were a lot of riders signed up for this race. I was a little nervous that this huge group of riders would be going down a fairly long hill together, but the start went off without any problems. The race starts with a few miles on the pavement; first a big downhill, followed by a long climb. Once we were at the top, we turned onto a snowmobile trail and the real riding started. The first 10 miles were pretty fast due to a combination of pavement and easy trails. I should have known this wouldn’t last…
My confidence was pretty high early in the race and then the rain hit. Not just a small shower, but a heavy downpour for a while. A certain section of the course requires two laps if you are doing the 99 distance and this portion was sloppy mud. I started this section wearing my black bibs and a gray jersey and finished this section completely brown head to toe. Once the second lap was finished I was approximately half way done. I was feeling pretty beat after the muddy section. I have a bit of a cramping problem while racing and this muddy section didn’t help at all. I took a quick breather at one of the aid stations, grabbed some food, and the cramping subsided a bit. I decided to continue.
I’m glad I chose to keep going because I would have missed out on the hail during the next section. I hit one of the higher points on the trail which happened to be on top of a hill with a clearing. The lighting and torrential rain created a nice backdrop for the hail! The hail wasn’t very big, but created a nice beat on my helmet.
The worst was over. The trail opened up and included more roads and firmer trails. I kept watching my cycling computer and the miles kept increasing. At mile 78 I knew I was going to finally finish my first 100 miler unless something went really wrong. With 1-2 miles left I was really pumped to cross the finish line and thought it would be all down hill from here. Nope! The last couple of miles are at the ski area and finish with some seriously steep and short climbs to the finish. Fortunately nobody saw me hike a bike up the final hill before crossing the finish line.
It’s hard to explain how you feel after completing a long race. Immediate thoughts usually include the following; I’m really tired, I could use a beer, I’ll probably never do that again, and Wow I am really dirty. After I got a little food in my system, a delicious beer, and got hosed off I was able to think clearly again. This was a fun race and I’m ecstatic that I finally finished a 100 mile MTB race! 8:41:59 (Not very fast)
What I learned at this race
- Lutsen 99er is a very well organized race
- This trail can be very fast or very slow in sections depending on the weather
- Good aid stations and plenty of workers along the whole route
- Well marked and nearly impossible to get lost
- Really good deal at $99. Included a high quality shirt, post-race food and drink
- Unique finisher medal shaped like a lumber jack axe
I’ll definitely be doing this race again in the future.