We rolled into Watford City just in time for the start of pre-race meeting, and walked into a crowd that was 95% young ultra-fit males. We sat down at a table and were soon joined by a couple who asked Artur if he was racing solo. They looked a little surprised when he informed him that he was not racing, I was. The surprised look on their face left me thinking that to them, I must look something like the Pilsbury Doughboy on the RRR jersey. The guy asked me what I'd been doing to train for the event and I said "running". The look of surprise changed to a blank stare. I tried to explain that we ran very long distances etc., but that didn't seem to give them much confidence that I wasn't going to be lizard fodder out on the trail.
As we listened to the race director give us a run-down of the trail and the things to watch out for I actually started to feel scared and leaned over to Artur to announce that likely I was going to die and who did I think I was signing up for this thing? Artur did not seem too concerned about my imminent demise, likely because he would be the one holding on to the car keys and would be able to get home with or without me. After the terror session, we zipped over to the CCC Campground which was at the MDH trail head and was where the race was to start at 5am the next morning. Got my bits and pieces together and curled up for what was going to be about 3 hours of fitful sleep.
The next morning was freezing and I was more than a little nervous as I stood at the start line feeling like an enormous nerd in my 'RUN' shirt and rain jacket, standing among all these super fast looking folk and in their awesome biking outfits. At 5 am exactly the race was on. The first 1.5 hours was in total blackness and I thanked Kevin and Ryan many times over (silently of course, out loud would have been weird) for lending me their lights with zero notice. The nervousness was gone, replaced by exhilaration. The night riding was very cool and although I missed out on some great scenery, the other 14.5 hours I was on the trail offered unending spectacular views. I can't begin to count the number of times I let out "Oh WOW".
The first leg was just under 25 miles and I pedalled along fairly conservatively, quite sure that I was at the very back of the pack because I couldn't see or hear anyone behind me. I wasn't overly concerned about that, after all, I was just here to have fun (I had now decided that I likely wouldn't die after all). As I rolled into the first aid station the volunteers were very excited telling me I was the first female and 28th overall (which put me about 1/2 way in the pack). I was more than slightly surprised and right then the competitive juices started flowing. I wasted no time at the first aid station and blasted off into leg 2.
Leg 2 was a pure delight, I was absolutely flying high, loving my bike, loving life, loving everything. I arrived at aid station 2 (approx 50 miles in) still feeling great and chomping at the bit to get leg 3 done. I'd heard it was the toughest leg but wasn't worried because I had made good time in the first 2 and had approx. 7 hours to complete leg 3 (the first 2 legs took me about 3.5 to 4 hours each). I spent more time at that aid station then I should have and then really lost time because about 1.5 miles into leg 3, the trail was completely washed out and there were no posts or flags to be seen. I was convinced I'd somehow taken the wrong route and rode all the way back to the aid station to inquire. It turned out I had been on the right path and should have simply crossed the ravine where I would have found the trail markers. All in all about an hour was lost at that transition area, but I still felt sure I would get to TA 3 before cut-off.
Leg 3 was a slog. Constant climbs and descents, very rough trails, lots of hike-a-bike portions (given my skill level, I know a lot of people would have ridden all or most of it). For sure I was tired but the ultra-running experience paid off big time. At no time did I ever feel the same fatigue that I do during an ultra. Brad is right, running is immoderate, but boy does it make you tough! It also helped that for about 1/3 of the course I had the company of a guy on a CX bike—talk about hardcore! The 3rd leg was approximately 30 miles—I had miscalculated and thought it was less so for most of the leg I still thought I would make cut-off. Once I realized I would miss it, I felt some disappointment, but I had done more than I expected to and certainly enjoyed the experience more than I thought possible.
As I was closing down that last couple of miles of the leg I spotted a person sitting on top of a butte and perhaps due to fatigue, insanity or poor eye-sight decided it was a blonde woman doing yoga. Then I noticed that this blonde woman was taking pics (I could see the flash). Then I realized that this blonde woman was actually Artur who looks nothing like a blonde woman. Ian Hall had ended his ride at TA 3 and had offered his bike up to Artur so that he could take a rip on the trails. Very cool, Ian. As CX guy and I rolled up to Artur, he informed us the remainder of the tail was smooth, flow-y, and mainly downhill. It was pure bliss for the last 1.5 miles and we came zipping into TA 3 to sound of the volunteers cheering. High 5s all around. 20 minutes past cut-off, but it was OK. I had had the time of my life, and it's just the beginning.
Huge thanks to Kevin and Ryan for their "more powerful than the sun" lamps and to Artur for driving all over the middle of nowhere with my crazy dog to cheer me on and whip up all those PB+J sandwiches!