• Posted Oct 7, 2018

200? OK.150.. Err 180?

The Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra is one of those events that does not disappoint.

You know terrain will be challenging in that part of the state and even more so when Sarah Cooper is the Race Director. And the weather seems to "play along".

The 6:00 am race started in a light drizzle that got heavier up until the 1st checkpoint in Orient at 59 miles. It would rain off and on for the race duration. It rained in the Winterset area all last week and some heavier rains on Friday already forced a couple of re-routes before the race started.

All racers in the 150 and 200 were on the same course to Checkpoint #1 (Mile 59) and Checkpoint #2 (Mile 84). At Checkpoint #2, racers were given the option to drop to the 150 or advance to the 200.

Attrition was the name of the game on race day. By Checkpoint #1, the race had already claimed a few derailleurs and hypothermic conditions forced many others to drop from the race.

The final results are not up yet, but only 3 people finished the 200 miler, and 30-40 finished the 150. Maybe 60-70 started ? I will update those stats here when they are posted.

My Race

Signed up for 200, dropped to 150, rode 180 ?!?

I had not been riding much long distance since Gravel Worlds in late August as cyclocross season started the week after, so my training rides have been 30 minutes to an hour for the last month. I think long distance riding helps my cross endurance, but cyclocross does not help my long distance endurance. Especially since cyclocross and post-race beers are synonymous.

I was signed up for the 200 miler on my fat bike. I've been racing the same (fat) bike for a few years now and have the bike and gear dialed in pretty well for all sorts of conditions. It wasn't the bike or gear I was concerned with, it was my fitness.

First 59

It always takes me 35-45 miles for my legs to get into the groove and by mile 35, I knew it was going to be a struggle to keep up with my normal pack and pack.

I ate a good breakfast.. OK, it was 1/2 of a Panchero's chicken burrito, a banana and a Gatorade. I call it a good breakfast and it usually sustains me. I was 20 miles in and started to have hunger twangs, so an RX bar to the rescue followed by a salted nut roll 10 miles later..

My legs, lungs and body felt great, I just knew not to push it too hard since I hadn't been riding as much. So... I got passed, and passed again, and again. I'm way OK with it as well all have good and bad days on the bike. I was still mid-pack at Checkpoint #1.

Checkpoint #1

I arrived on fumes. Check in. Fill water bladder. Use the facilities and eat. I went with my old stand-by of a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, a small can of Pringles, a piece of beef jerky and a Mountain Dew. I probably should have eaten more.

Orient Express - "Wong Turn"

Racers left Orient the same way they came into town - an out and back. For some reason, my GPS would not route me out of town. It kept wanting to take me back into town. So I stopped the course, and started the course again. It took a few minutes to Re-calculate the route and then I was off again. The GPS route was spot-on all day, and why would I think it would fail me now? Here is where I made a BIG mistake. I have my GPS set to a .5 mile window. This way I can see the turns and watch the curves in the road. Nine miles later, I saw the "Big Picture". Mr. Garmin was telling me to get into Highway 92. It had a big shoulder, but I still thought it strange, so I zoomed out and saw it was routing me the fasted way to Checkpoint #2 via Highway 92.. DOH ! I had kinda questioned my self a few miles sooner if I was on the right route. There were tire tracks for awhile, then the road was harder surfaced so I just figured the tracks weren't showing.

What to do? I had a few options running through my mind. The one I settled on was: "just ride back to the Winterset Winery and DQ myself and have a good afternoon. So I started riding North for a 4-5 miles when my conscious kicked in and said "Scott - you aren't a quitter"... So, Suck it up Butter-Cup - I decided to ride back to Orient to the intersection that had led me a-stray and get back on course. the screw-up cost me 2.5 hours, but.. I was still in the race and had gotten back on course where I took the wrong turn earlier.

The first thing I did was to turn OFF the "recalculate route" option. This is a Garmin System setting and not an individual route section. This setting had to be one for years as I know I never changed it.

No one was around and I knew I had to be last guy on course. My Mojo was low and I wasn't breaking any land-speed records, but I was still in the race and rolling forward. I got to the Level B roads and was able to ride probably more than most since I was on a fat bike. After the first mile of Level B road, I saw the cross-road thinking "whew - it's over", but then looked down at the GPS and noticed we were going straight again.. right into another Level B. Same for the next cross-road too. So 3 (or maybe 5) miles of Level Bs and I was able to ride maybe 3/4 of a mile. Some stretched had ditches that was walkable/rideable, the next did not, so Mr. Sling came into play which worked out great. On the 2nd section, I came up on a "walker" on the other side of the road, stopped with a stick cleaning his bike. I yelled "How's it going? Need anything" - He looked over for a brief moment, didn't say a word then turned around and kept cleaning his bike. I just kept moving. On the 3rd section, I see 3 more "walkers". It was Rose, Joselyn and Greg. I caught up to them, and they were like "What are you doing behind us?!?". I explained my story, and we chatted a bit and I rolled on.

In hindsight, I should have double-checked the cue cards against the GPS after the re-calculation in Orient. I've never had my GPS recalculate like that before. It always recalculated to the course, not the end. i was lazy and didn't want to take off my gloves and get the cue cards out of the holder. Rookie Mistake and learning experience..

Checkpoint #2

Check in. Dropped from 200 to 150 (along with almost everyone else). The reality was I would never make the 2am cut off if I attempted the full 200. I was already WAY behind and had already ridden an extra 30 miles and my legs were pretty fatigued.
Ate 6 pieces of banana-nut bread, some M&Ms and some chocolate milk. I said goodbye to the volunteers and a few racers that were dropping out and I continued on with a little shivers that subsided when I started to pedal again.


I had 2 friendly farm dogs follow me at different times during the day. Both followed for 5-7 miles and they were having a ball. I thought I'd lose them on the down hills, but they'd catch me on the up hills. One even followed me though a town and across highway 34. they were fun to watch as this was probably the most exciting time they had in a while. they were having a ball running full-tilt beside me. I hope they both found their way back home.

To the End

I am glad Jill had food at Checkpoint #2, because it was one long slog to the next place to get food in Murray. I arrived at 8:50pm at a Caseys. Pizza or Chicken Noodle Soup didn't sound that good and the deli area was closed, so I pleaded with the lady to make a fresh double-turkey wrap (which she did - THANK YOU!). I had a set-down meal there and Newbs (Scott Newbury - one of the race volunteers and good friend) walked in and we chatted while I ate. After supper, I filled my water-bladder and assessed my food for the last 30 miles. It's always a challenge not to buy a bunch of sugary snacks to take with. I held back as I had enough food already on the bike to get me by.

30 miles doesn't sound like much, but it is still a 3 hour window in the dark at a 10mpg avg with semi-moist clothes and 150 miles on your legs already. Almonds, an RX bar and a GU were my fuel to the end.

I left at 9:44pm and I started to playing mental games with myself to see if I could shave off some minutes each of the 3 hours by pushing my pace. One good thing about riding at night is that you really cannot see how big the hills are. Some I was careening down at 30 mph and others I was climbing at 2mph which is a feat of itself just to keep balance at 2mph. The first 10 miles was exactly an hour. The 2nd 10 miles was 61 minutes and the last 10 miles was 59 minutes, so 3 hours for the win. Lots of rollers and twisties in the last stretch to keep your mind sharp. Wildlife was plentiful too. I saw too many deer, rabbits, raccoon, possum and a few cats in this dark-thirty stretch.

The Finish

I had called Jess at the time when I made the decision to ride back to Orient, so she knew not to look for me anytime before midnight. Newbs also sent her a text when I left Murray.

I saw the taillight at the Finish Line about 3/4 of a mile sooner than expected. There were 8-10 folks at the finish line cheering which made this slow old guy smile. Finish Line photos with Sarah Cooper and then I rode 1 mile back to the Winterset Winery for a little BBQ pulled-pork and a beer.

18 hours and 45-ish minutes from start to finish. I stayed way too long at stops. I'd guess 15-16 hours on the bike? I didn't make my goal of 200, but I still got to finish the 150 with an extra 30 "bonus" miles.... Still WAY better than sitting in an office chair!

I got to bed around 3:30 am, exactly 24 hours after my alarm went off. Zzzzz....

Cliff Notes

It was hard. Not at hard as some though. Mother Nature still hates me. I love riding my bike.

Gear and Bike

I wouldn't change a thing about my set-up. I've done it enough where I trust what I take and I know what I need for different races with varied distances and weather.

Specialized Carbon Fatboy with a dyno hub, lights and sinewave charger. My electronics (gps, phone and blue-tooth speaker) were topped off all day long. Want a dyno hub? Talk to Ed At Beaverdale Bicycles.

Random thoughts
  • I streamed Pandora all day. Lots of trance which acted as a pedaling metronome (as Chris Kyl put it).
  • My Selle Anatomica leather saddle rocks for long distances.
  • I debated on taking the Pika tailbag, but glad I did. I had a heavier wool base layer, extra socks and some leg warmers than I never used. I did switch out gloves and my 45 NRTH wool hat at Checkpoint #1.
  • Frame Bag - holder of a 70oz water bladder, tools, pump, tube and food and various misc "what-if" things. I absolutely love frame bags.
  • Pogie Lites - still a game changer for keeping your hands warm. I did get a little water inside early on from rain running off my sleeve. I just snugged the cord up a bit to stop that.
  • Sling and Spatula - Both came in handy a few times. Both gear i will not leave without.
  • Helmet Light - for looking at Cue cards, street signs and side to side. Super nice if you just have a bike-mounted light.
  • Press-n-Seal - Such a simple solution in the rain. I used it to line the outside of my helmet. Thanks to David Markman for tuning me onto this tip a couple of years ago. And David was a photographer at the race this year too!
  • Fender - I don't leave home without it if rain is in the forecast. There is nothing worse than the grit hitting your arse for 150+ miles.
  • Photos - I did not take one single photo all day. My phone was tucked away in a zip-lock bag and it would have been a pain to stop, take off gloves, and dig out the phone. There would have been some awesome photo opportunities though!

Top - I wore my rain jacket and Merica vest the entire race. under that, I had a short-sleeved BIKEIOWA jersey and a short-sleeved lightweight wool base layer. At Checkpoint #1, I added Primal arm-warmers.

Bottom - Primal Bibs and some synthetic knickers. at Checkpoint #1 I added some "custom" knee warmers which was the 6" tops of some old Smart-wool socks that I worn out the bottoms. The wool was super comfy and kept my knees warm. I didn't need the full length knee warmers than I had brought.

Shoes - decided on old Lake Winter boots with thin Smart Wool socks. I took a chance with a 3 inch cuffed sock and they worked perfect. I didn't overheat and even though I got some water inside the boot from rain run-off, they still remained warm (but squishy) the entire race. were warm. In hind-sight, I would have taken off the boots at a checkpoint and wringed out the socks. I also wore another 6"inch cuff from an old arm warmer where my boot met my leg. I figured it would keep some of the rain and muck out and it did. It also kept the boot flap from coming un-velcroed like it does sometimes when hike-a-biking.

photo credits #1 - Jill Marks, the rest - Jess Rundlett


Want to watch more on our bike and gear selection? Watch my 9 part You Tube series on gear selection and ancient gravel secrets.


THANKS to Jess for being my support and Sarah and her crew of volunteers for putting this race on. Just the logistics on managing two courses with road construction and every-changing weather would be plenty.

I'll be back next year!

Scott Sumpter





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