A shot fired at 6am and the first wave of the Drenthe 200 was off. I stood shivering gently for another 20 minutes waiting for wave three to start. My guts churning, toes cold and anticipation rising. I had no idea this racing thing could be so nerve racking, I was apprehesive of my ability to finish this now infamous 200km off road ride within the 18 hour cut off. I’ve rarely cycled such a distance, definatly not off road, a little training might have been a good idea too.
Any New years resolution worth doing is worth starting before New Year. Signing up for The Drenthe 200 for me was insurance that I’d start training for next years Freedom Challenge Race across South Africa on time. Under trained (December totalled about 150km of riding my fixie) I started my first ever bike race at 06.20 am on a cold December morning.
The rolling start for the first couple of kilometers went at a ridiculous pace close to 30km/h, a pace I probably wouldn’t even normally ride on a road bike. I allowed everyone to pass me to give myself some room, I hate cycling in groups. As the follow car for the rolling start caught up to me I was self assured at this point that I was in last place, things could only get better, but I obviously had to increase my pace slightly as the rear lights of the other 1000 riders were dissappearing into the woods.
Before long the first mechanical casualties fell around me, people with punctures or needing to adjust derailleurs, brakes and lights, I was no longer last though cycling way faster than was good for me.
The next two hours were zigzaging along sandy or muddy forrest trails and fields through the nice flat(and very dark) Dutch landscape. Despite it still being busy on the small trails most of the riders were curtious and the josteling for positions was a much more civilized business than I’d expected. I regularly found myself behind a Santos with red Rohloff so eventually decided to just hang in behind this guy to try and slow my pace a little. At foodpoint 1 in Balloo (39km) my time was 2hrs…..I really was moving too fast, almost 20km/h off road is not a sustainable speed for me.
My LCHF way of living is still going strong 13 months on but I’d fallen off the wagon a little over Christmas, so was a little worried I wouldn’t be totally in fat burning mode so ate half a banana with my pork chop and home made rusk. I was moving on again in less than 10 minutes, water bottle full and still feeling strong.
At foodpoint 2 in Gieten (57km) there was a long queue for the coffee and cold drinks, everyone seemed to just be hanging around waiting. I still had half a water bottle so just blasted straight through, though I would of loved a coffee I didn’t see any reason to wait 5 minutes for it.
Soon after Gieten the route got interesting as it picked up a couple of MTB routes. I enjoyed this part slightly too much and attacked the hills and bends a little too enthusiastically, later in the day my back would often remind me of this big mistake.
At foodpoint 3 in Schoonloo I was still riding too fast, I’d covered the first 81km in 4hrs35. I took a short break here for coffee and had to hunt around a little for water, sports drinks were everywhere but water was strangly enough almost a special request. A little against my principles I ate another half banana plus a fruit bun with my bacon. I figured 4 hours in I could get off with eating some carbs.
More forrest trails and fun MTB routes and before I knew it I hit the 100km mark at exactly 6 hours. My gps said my overall average speed was 16.7km/h…..Could I keep this up for another 6 hours and be done in 12 hours instead of my expected 15hrs? The idea of only 2-3 hours cycling after dark was appealing. The chase was on to keep my pace above 16.7…
20 minutes later I was at foodpoint 4 in Beilen, a quick water refill and a cup of pea soup and I was on my way again. By now my knee was sore, an old issue that pops up if I cycle too hard after not training enough…imagine that……..sadly it slowed me down for the rest of the day.
As the day passed it was interesting to ride among other riders, something I never do. Reflecting that my lack of MTB experience has been well compensated for by some 5000km of off road bike packing trips. Most riders where faster than me but many were really bad on the MTB routes, not anticipating, messing up gear changes (happy I have a Rohloff) or just not blasting around the corners for fear of parking in a tree. That said, no one is that fast 150km into a ride like this when riding a MTB route.
At food point 5 the weather, my legs and energy were still holding well. I had 126km behind me and the clock was on 7hrs37. This foodpoint in Dwingeloo would have been my baggage drop had I not forgot my bag during the morning stress. (you are allowed to send 1 bag to Beilen or Dwingeloo with spare cloths/parts/food).
No bag….GOOD…no time wasting looking for the bag or deciding what to use. I still had enough high fat carb free snacks with me, the only thing I’d later miss was spare batteries. In a hurry to leave at the end I finished off the last of my choc-fat-bombs with my last Pork chop, being in a hurry I ate them together. Bacon/90%chocolate/butter/coconut oil/dried blackberries all together in ones mouth can only be summed up as a culunairy orgasm, I now have high fat chocolate covered bacon on my to do list for high fat trail food trials 🙂
By foodpoint 6 in Appelscha (9hrs40 and 156km) I’d been feeling a little sorry for myself for the last hour or so, strangly enough I wasn’t quite feeling 100% after 9 hours of pushing too hard, my knee was quite sore and I’d been feeling sick for a while. The main thing that kept me going was Jocko Willinks’ mantra of “never ever complain”. I took a 15 minute break in Appelscha for coffee, warm up my feet on a fire and polished off a nice warm pancake.
Two more hours to Norg at 185km, now dark again and cycling in the light bubble around my head torch ( and not seeing much through the mist), with every 5km I rode the overall average speed on my gps dropped by 0.1 or so, more during rest stops, despite my best efforts 12 hours wasn’t going to happen, but I continued to give 100% hoping to get done in a respectable 13 hours, which would mean getting back to my hotel before the kitchen and bar closed :). In Norg I briefly enjoyed a cup of boullion next to a camp fire to warm up, the salt blast a little overdue. After waiting 5 minutes for the Missus to come and deliver an energy boosting kiss for the last hour or so. Getting worried about the ticking clock I phoned to find out where she was. Whether it was a blond or senior moment who knows, but dumbass was in the wrong town and already waiting at the finish. So I blasted out the last hour in the cold and dark without the promised kiss…
I crossed the 200km finish line at 12hrs 42 minutes in position 745 only 5 hours behind the winner, and 3 hours ahead of the last finisher. Not bad for a first serious ride.
Conclusion: The Drenthe 200 despite the negligable amount of climbing is a tough bugger of a day out (especially untrained…./dumb). 200km is a long ride in the cold and mud.
I had a blast and this was a great self confidence boost for things to come. Now to plan a couple more of these rides in before June.
But first, New Year….