In December of 2018, the MGRS Ultra was announced via facebook, which looked out of this world intimidating, but at the same time, looked like a serious set of rides that if I put my mind to, I would be able to complete. I was already signed up for the Mohican 100 Mile MTB event, but I would be able to make four of the five races. The committed races for me were:
- Barry-Roubaix Psycho Killer
- Hellkaat Hundie
- Michigan Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder
- The Crusher
In December, I committed to the events and signed up for all four before spots could be sold out on the events. At this time, my fitness was nowhere nearly good enough to complete these events, I had one 100 mile MTB ride, one 100 mile gravel ride, and one 200 mile road ride to my name. Those were hard, very hard, but MGRS Ultra is another level of insane.
Throughout November and December of 2018 my fitness was declining. Every time on the trainer or outside, I would tire out before completing rides. I would get to the end, but the effort level according to my legs was very strenuous. Christmas Eve began as the first training day for The Crusher, I set out and ran a half marathon, first one in a month and a half. Every week from this point on was training: long runs, treadmill, zwift, and MTB rides on weekends. Plus, I had a pile of events to complete to get ready for The Crusher. Here’s the list of events completed to continually push myself to the next limit:
- 3/30: Carmel Marathon (https://www.strava.com/activities/2252202495/overview)
- 4/13: Barry Roubaix Psycho Killer (https://www.strava.com/activities/2287383005/overview)
- 4/28: Glass City Marathon (https://www.strava.com/activities/2325731118/overview)
- 5/5: Hellkaat Hundie (https://www.strava.com/activities/2344776065)
- 6/1: Mohican 100 (https://www.strava.com/activities/2415649502/overview)
- 6/15: Muddy Mini Half Marathon (https://www.strava.com/activities/2451773043/overview)
- 6/22: Michigan Coast to Coast (https://www.strava.com/activities/2472303221/overview)
Throughout these events, I had ups and downs, but with each event and a time tag, I was able to push harder, manage cramping better, and understand how to consume energy during a ride responsibly.
Preparing the Equipment:
The Crusher website helped out a ton on this. I’ve never bike packed. I’ve never adventure raced. They had a list of mandatory equipment and I carried every bit of it, 27 pounds of gear on the scale. This included gauze, medical tape, full set of bike tools, links, tubes, pump, cartridges, 4.5 liters of water and…a…snorkel? Ok, gotta have it. Most importantly, I had 6,000 calories of clif, honey stinger, and infinit products as well as a sawyer micro squeeze water filter. I received clarification in the rules leading up to this event and was informed it’s fully solo and outside help that is not offered to all racers is disallowed. A passport was going to be given to us for places to stop and refill the water, so basically, I was prepared to pedal from start to finish, at whatever speed I could maintain to get there without having to get anything other than water refill in route.
I had ridden three previous MGRS rides, not really doing fantastic in the first two. BR100 took just a little less than 7 hours to complete on an FSI, and Hellkaat gave me the worse cramps I’ve ever experienced riding a Trek Domane. From those two rides, I decided to ride the FSI at Michigan Coast to Coast, crossing the finish line just under 13 hours, that ride went great, didn’t stop much, and just pedaled to the end.
From the above experience and having no outside support, I set the goal time of 24 hours. The Crusher was going to be 232 miles long, with a lot more difficult terrain than any of the previous rides. For a pacing effort, I set a planned max heart rate of 140. In previous unknown efforts, I’ve used this heart rate as a gauge to manage long duration efforts, mainly to not put in too much of an effort and avoid cramping. Cramping would almost certainly be the main reason I would not be able to finish this event.
Changes to the Race Format:
So, as race day was nearing close, there were announcements about water stops. Houghton, MI (mile 77) and L’ance, MI (mile 160) were both in route, and both stops would offer water refills, plus, there was going to be a hidden trailer in the woods with water as well.
This was a bit of a game changer for me. I’ve only field tested the water filter once, but with 4.5 liters of water, getting between stops was not going to be an issue. Carrying the water filter at this point was a novelty.
The event started at 6:00am and the event was a slow roll start for about 500 feet, then Tinker Juarez set off to the front and it was hammer city out of town. Within 5 miles, we were on enhanced gravel. 5 miles after that, I had my first issue, my rear bag had the Velcro come loose and slipped into the rear tire. Note the tools: I put a zip tie on to secure one of the Velcro straps to the seat and ran electrical tape around the bag and seat. Issue resolved.
From mile 16 to mile 50, groups would form and fall apart pretty quickly. The first notable stop was at mile 50 which was a required stop to get a selfie with the cliffs, I was pretty stoked:
By mile 60, I was riding solo, which was ok as I was able to start riding to that manageable heart rate. I rolled all the way to Houghton without seeing another rider. At mile 77, I crossed the bridge and topped off my water bag at the neutral stop. Rolling out of the stop, I heard some yelling, looked over and seen a bunch of vehicles, thinking to myself, “that’s a lot of people hanging out to cheer.”
Climbing out of Houghton was awesome. There was immediately a steep gravel climb, to a long winding road climb. During this climb, I passed a pickup stopped on the side of the road and then the pickup passed me and stopped at the top of the climb. He yelled out the window, “need a shot block,” I was a bit startled and just rode on by.
Within a few more miles, I saw a pack of cars on the side of the road and people waiting around to provide support to riders on course. At this point, I realized I’m packed and prepared to be fully self sufficient and others are using vehicle support to complete the ride. Throughout the rest of the ride, I continued to see the same support vehicles every 20 miles or so. In my opinion, receiving support is fine, but it’s not the rules I followed that were posted on the website and a specific bit of text I received:
In any case, I rode solo on to the Freda Ruins, which was an awesome sight and got my second selfie:
At the Freda Ruins, I finally got a bite to eat, a clif bar, but until this point I was taking in infinit, so I was likely still positive calorie for the ride. This was around mile 91. I really didn’t gauge the terrain much to this point, so I rode out with the same effort to get to this point, maintaining that max heart rate of 140. There was a climb getting out of Freda, and I didn’t think much of just punching it out and moving on, but I paid for this. Around mile 96, I had my second issue; I was hit with knee pains. I’ve heard people speak of knee pains, but I’ve never experienced them myself. This wasn’t cramps, this was a shooting pain through the knee that would deliver a sharp pain and actually prevent me from pedaling. At mile 98, I stopped. Right before I headed to the start line in the morning, I tossed 8 Advil in a baggie and put them on the bike. Never before have I taken a pain reliever in ride, but never before had I ever experienced knee pain. I took two of the pills ate another cliff bar, and started pedaling again. Around mile 105, a 15 person group had caught me. The Advil was kicking in, the knees were doing a little better, so I jumped on the group. Close to mile 110-ish, there were several cars parked off the side of the road, a few riders jumped off the pack and went to support cars, including a titanium Lynskey.
Over the next 5 miles, the group was shredded to pieces. If it was smooth surface, the gravel bikes would hammer, if it was rough surface, the MTB bikes would hammer. I seen at least 4 people in this stretch stop with cramps. I knew chasing any groups, that I would be right there, cramped up. After everyone blew each other up, another rider and I headed up the path maintaining pace. He looked at my jersey and said, “Maumee Valley Wheelman, you know Jeff Crawford?” I lost 10 beats per minute right there. Jeff’s a serious rider, I’m just a weekend warrior trying to complete the hardest and longest event of my life. After a bit of chit chat, this riders name was Tom from Grand Rapids, MI. This guy was killing The Crusher riding a full suspension Trek Farley #beastmode.
5 miles later, two riders rolled up on us, a Kona full suspension bike and a titanium Lynskey. The titanium Lynskey rider yelled up, “Where did you guys come from?” I replied some along the lines of just riding the route. There were some introductions; the Kona was ridden by Steve from Chicago and the titanium Lynskey was ridden by ‘fat-bike.com’. This was around mile 120, with 40 miles to the next stop. During the next 25 miles, I was riding above my 140 heart rate pace zone, but at the same time, the terrain was rolling and the scenery was beautiful. Around mile 145 my wife sent me a message, letting me know my daughter and her were waiting to see me at the L’ance stop. Cool! Now, I have a little bit to push for. Well, at 13 miles per hour, 15 miles is a long ways. To make matters worse, those knee pains were back. The next 15 miles were brutal, it was all about managing effort to not push too hard on the pedals and cause that striking knee pain to force me to stop before the L’ance stop. If nothing else, having the suspension fork open relieved a ton of stress off my knees. After being dropped X number of times, I somehow rolled into the stop with the three others. I seen my wife, but I was in serious pain as seen here:
I racked my bike, took 4 more Advil, filled all my water, drank some pickle juice, ate a couple chips from the neutral stop and got my third selfie:
I didn’t take any assistance from my wife, this ride had supported and unsupported registrants, and since I was signed up as supported, I figured all the rules applied to me, so I only ate from the resource provided to everyone. I made two mistakes at this stop. Number one: I didn’t eat anything to speak of, I mean, it’s on the bike right? Number two: I waited for the other riders. They took around 20-ish minutes at the stop. By then, my knees were done, the pain relievers hadn’t kicked in, and I was hitting the wall. I rolled with them for about two miles, but it was obvious I wasn’t hanging on. ‘Fat-bike.com’ decided it was time to roll hard and told him I wasn’t going to keep up, and they rode off. At this time, I didn’t know this was a defining race moment for 'fat-bike.com'.
Any case, my knees were shot and the pain was getting ridiculous, like my brain is telling me to turn around and go back to the car because this hurts. I opened a clif bar, ate it, pedaled, opened a pack of clif bloks, at them, pedaled, then around 170, a couple riders come by yelling, “Giddy up!” It took a minute for the words to reach my legs, but then, it’s like I forgot about the knee pain and just started pedaling again. Mile 175 was finally reached, and the dreaded Mt. Arvon was here to climb. I really didn’t push on this climb at all, as I knew my knees were going to explode at some point. I put the bike in 32x42, and just pedaled to a cadence that didn’t hurt. This really wasn’t going bad, as those guys that yelled “Giddy up” were just a few hundred yards in front of me and I managed to maintain that distance to the top. Along the way, ‘fat-bike.com’ was doing this paperboy routine back and forth up the hill. He said something along the lines that he dubbed Steve, “Super Steve”, and sent him on his way. Ok, ‘fat-bike.com’ has a god complex, but whatever, you do you boo. I said something along the lines of “you got this” and just kept pedaling to the top…and I rode right past the mailbox, but the GPS routed me back quickly to the correct location. Selfie at stop 4:
Coming down Mt. Arvon in the daylight was awesome. Open fork, let it rip; two solid miles of knee relief. From here, there was about 50 miles to the finish plus one more selfie stop. During this stretch, my pacing of a heart rate of 140 was over, now 120-ish, but I just got to get to the finish line. I lasted until mile 197, and I got my first leg spasm. Nearly 200 miles complete and now I’m going to cramp up! Not if I can help it. I immediately stopped. I dumped all the infinit I had left in my water bag and took the last two Advil I had. During this stop, I was passed by Tom from Grand Rapids, then a bit later, ‘fat-bike.com’. I started pedaling out soft, getting to the rhythm, then just rode to mile 203, where the trailer was. At the trailer, I refilled my water and ate another clif bar. Another three riders had caught me at this point. What appeared to be a husband and wife team, and another 16 year old rider. The 16 year old said he’d ride with me, I told him I was pretty shot at this point but he was a little worried about GPS. So we left the checkpoint, waded the creek and headed right up this monster climb. This climb was ridiculous. I was in the 32x42 the whole way and it took a solid 5 minutes to climb. I finished the climb just as the sunset over the horizon, turned on my light, and immediate noticed we were not on course. That climb, that whole climb, not on course. So we rolled all the way to the bottom, and turned right, entering mosquito gulch. This was three miles of bike pushing and slow riding torture, and to boot, we were 205 miles into this ride. During this climb, we passed the husband and wife duo that were making their way safely through the gulch. This should have been a warning, oh well. I pushed on, I pedaled as much as I could nearing the top, only because I knew the GPS needed to reach a 3 mile mark from the start to finish mosquito gulch. Then while riding a skinny section between trees and a mud hole…bang! I came to a complete stop falling off the back of the bike into the mud hole. I crashed my helmet directly into a six inch diameter tree branch hanging out into the trail. That tree left a dent in the helmet:
I decided to push my bike to the top. Turns out, I was only 75 feet from the top. Oh well, I got there. One positive to hitting that tree, I got a huge rush of adrenaline, or at least I was so tired, it seemed like I got a huge rush of adrenaline. The next ten miles rolled well. The road was a mix of hard and soft packed sand, but the pedals turned and I rolled. Around mile 216, a faster rider came by and the 16 year old was off with him. Both of those guys had some serious speed for being on MTB’s 216 miles into a ride. Five miles later, I reached the red road intersection. It was dark as could be, and this obvious sign took ten minutes to find in the dark. Last selfie, and to be honest, I was dead tired and everything hurt:
While getting my phone out, the husband and wife duo, plus another rider came into the intersection, I quickly pointed to them where the sign was located. Shortly after leaving the stop they rode by me, the last guy in the group asked if I needed anything, I told him I was good, and thanked him for asking.
Getting to the finish was everything at this point. The knees were giving a pain with literally every pedal stroke. I couldn’t lock the fork to even coast. Just ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch…but I got there. My wife and daughter were at the line to give me hugs as I made it in. Finish time of 19:31, 236 miles, and 10,700 feet of elevation. According to the trackers, I was the 25th to finish, but that really doesn’t matter. For me, events like this is about reaching the finish line, and I was able to get that titanium mug. The MGRS Ultra series has standings placing me at 15th, but I’m not certain if that is accurate as I have not seen official crusher results. Non-glorious, but I made it, finish pic:
My wife and daughter took my gear to the car and I headed to the food tent. As soon as I got to the tent, I was handed a grill cheese sandwich. Finally, a non-energy food related item and time to sit down on a non-bike seat. Who’s at the tent? ‘fat-bike.com’. This dude looks at me and says I’ve dubbed you the cockroach, you just couldn’t be killed. I replied with a whatever, rolled the eyes, and sat down at a different table.
- The Crusher 225: https://www.strava.com/activities/2549577475
Being Put on Blast:
There were several blogs put up about this ride, each entertaining and giving moments that riders had to overcome challenges and get to that finish line. Two Friday's after the ride, The Crusher facebook page posts this: https://fat-bike.com/2019/08/the-crusher-race-report-by-greg-gentle/?fbclid=IwAR24KQND3o0XFN7rel3zVrzGZu5SK-KSc0b_ztxovwkH_JkSGWiKcAlpsbY. After seeing the rider’s picture, I recognized this as ‘fat-bike.com’. In his report, he puts me on blast, saying I sucked his wheel for 70 miles, never took a pull, and I absolutely have no credit as a rider in his eyes. Well ‘fat-bike.com’, this section is in reply to you and your statement, “I don’t care if that’s your race game, or not. If you’re in a group for 5+ hours and you don’t take a turn you’re dead to me.”
- This wasn’t a race to me for any purpose more than completing the event and completing the MGRS Ultra. Sorry I could not contribute to you placing higher.
- We met up at mile 120, prior to that, you jumped out of a group I barely rode in to receive roadside support. I did not receive on course support, only the checkpoints that were open to all. We rode together for a max of 43 miles. Your 70 mile calculation is off and you didn’t follow rule #10, though your blog skipped this detail.
- You truly are god like. I mean you laid down some serious pulls on a gravel bike in comparison to three others on MTB’s when the surface was solid. Reality: you guys routinely dropped me, I maintained a pace and then I was back on. This was on repeat for the entire 40 miles. Drafting mileage was about 5 miles max and was always above my target heart rate. If you guys were slowing up for me, I didn’t know it, but if you did, thank you?
- In you blog, did you really take glory in your post that you beat people that missed the red road sign? Getting 16th is that important? Let’s just say I don’t have a lot of respect for you as a rider as you found glory in others missing a very difficult road sign for you to obtain 16th place. Props ‘fat-bike.com’, props.
- I’m OK with being dead to you; I just want everyone to know who you are referring to as the cockroach. Feel free to update your blog and/or respond to this using my real name.
The 906 adventure team put on an incredible event. The route was every bit as difficult as advertised. My best plans turned into rubbish as the day moved on, but the point of the event is to overcome the struggle, and at the end of the day, I crossed the finish line and got a titanium mug. Took 8 Advil to get there, but I got there. For the next two days, the knee pain was there and had a limp. The Tuesday after the knee pain had subsided enough to start running again as I prepare for events this fall.
For anyone that has the time to train for this event, it’s worth putting on the calendar and completing. It’s tough, it hurts, and you might not become friends with everyone you ride with up there, but that’s ok. You’ll ride the bike on incredible terrain and in due time, the finish line will be reached.
To be fair about ‘fat-bike.com’, I have no real idea who this guy is, nor do I care to research any more than just reading the one blog. For all I know, this dude is a great guy and is a strong positive influence to many people. I don’t wish anything bad on him nor do I actually have little respect for him. He’s simply someone on a bike ride I met, and now a guy that got me to write my first blog for a response to being labeled a cockroach. But on the very slim chance ‘fat-bike.com’ ever reads this blog, I kicked your ass up Mt. Arvon, bitch. Cockroach out.