It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog with a race/ride report! After dropping out of Dirty Kanza, I needed a bit of a mental/physical break to reset my mindset and let my knees fully heal. Then it was back on the training plan to prepare for the Lutsen 69er. For those who are unfamiliar with the race, the Lutsen 99er (the full event name) takes place in Lutsen, MN and has a handful of race distances to choose from: the 99er, 69er, 39er, and 19er. While most people race it on mountain bikes, the course is not technical and favors riders who are strong climbers and can drop lots of watts on flats. My husband Cory and I headed up to Lutsen on Friday night to stay at a cute little condo right across the highway from Lutsen Resort, overlooking Lake Superior. It was our first wedding anniversary that weekend so we went all out and rented a VRBO with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law instead of camping. The night before the race I unfortunately had a pretty bad IBS flare up and was up a lot with stomach cramps, nausea, and urgent trips to the bathroom. I’ve actually been pretty fortunate this year and haven’t had many IBS issues, but for some reason my gut decided Lutsen weekend was the weekend to throw a party! I’ve raced through IBS issues in the past, though, so I knew I could do it again.
The next morning I took a few moments to practice yoga and do a quick meditation, which typically helps my GI issues. My stomach was still too upset to eat a proper breakfast so I lined up with nothing in my stomach. This is actually not a super great idea, but you do what you gotta do. When I bike to work (which is 17 miles each way), I don’t usually eat breakfast beforehand so I knew I could make it at least 20 miles before I needed to start force feeding myself. After listening to people sing the national anthem while a drone flew over us (strangely spot-on as far as patriotism in 2018 goes) the gun went off and 1,000-ish riders rolled out from the start line. The first bit of the race is paved. From the start line, you ride downhill towards Hwy 61 (which is briefly closed for the race), then you turn back uphill away from Lake Superior and CLIMB. I had to dodge one sketchy crash on the downhill portion (I saw the dude after I finished and I’m pretty sure he broke his nose) and then wove my way through riders to try to get closer to the front group before we were funnelled on to the double track. One thing to note is that many of the riders who do Lutsen do not have much experience riding in a peloton so it’s important to ride defensively. Keep an eye out for anyone who could possibly swerve and hit your front wheel because there’s a solid chance they actually will.
Cory wasn’t feeling great on that first climb so I dropped him, but he quickly caught up to me on the double track. Starting there, my stomach started cramping again so I slowed down my pace a bit and watched him ride away. It’s the worst when your legs are feeling great, but other parts of your body make you slow down! I remember the first stretch of double track as being bumpy and not fun, but honestly my stomach pains/nausea could have been influencing my perception of the race quite a bit at this point. I popped a ginger candy into my mouth and told myself that I was going to finish this thing, even if I had to use all the emergency toilet paper I brought with and average 9mph. I was able to stay hydrated despite all the GI issues and was feeling significantly better by the time I hit checkpoint #1 around mile 25. There’s a short lolipop section that leads out to checkpoint #1 so I was finally able to get a feel for where I was ranked because I could see the leaders going the opposite direction. I was pretty sure I was in the top 5 for my age group (which I thought was 20-29 — it was actually 1-29), but it was hard to tell for sure. Around mile 30 I started feeling good enough to finish off the food I’d been tentatively nibbling on and actually start racing. I picked up the pace and started passing riders, which was a huge boost to my mindset. Every time we were routed onto gravel or forest roads I felt good enough to just tuck down and hammer until the next turn. The rest of the course was a mix of smoother double track, short rideable water crossings, forest roads, and gravel roads. My least favorite portion of the race was Sawbill Road. This wasn’t everyone’s experience, but while I was on it there was a fair amount of vehicle traffic that was kicking up dust from the road. I was already breathing pretty hard from trying to make up time and I could feel the dust being sucked down my throat, turning it to sandpaper.
The final 4 miles of the course are also some of the most grueling and memorable. Just when you’re good and tired, the course routes you through some tight, twisty singletrack. At this point, I was passing a couple of the last 39er riders and getting passed by the lead 99ers (actually, the first and second place 99er finishers passed me around mile 45. They were cruising!). Compared to what I ride at home, this singletrack wasn’t anything crazy, but my upper body was so fatigued that I clipped a tree. Luckily I was going at such a slow speed that I was able to put a foot down before actually crashing. After popping out of the singletrack, there’s one more super aggressive climb up to the finish. I’m not sure how steep the steepest part was, but I jogged with my bike up that section. I was able to pedal my way up the rest of it, fueled by the cheers and heckles of the spectators by the finishing chute. What an epic way to finish!
My overall impressions of this race were that it was well-run, very organized, and that the spirit of the race can’t be beat. The volunteers at the aid stations were ready for riders to come in and totally would have filled up my bottles and given me food while I slow-rolled through it if I had asked. They treated every rider whether you were first or last like you were going for a PR, which was cool to see. The course itself was absolutely stunning. There’s nothing quite like racing through the northwoods and riding over a crystal clear burbling stream or catching a glimpse of a serene lake dotted with beaver dams. I thought the course markings were pretty easy to follow, but I know of a couple 99ers who ended up riding a few extra miles due to some misunderstanding of the course so be sure to check out the map online before toeing the start line if you’re like me and can get turned around pretty easily. If you’re on the fence about signing up for Lutsen, literally just do it. You can always switch distances later on if you want the challenge or realize you forgot to train all winter/spring and, regardless of which distance you do, you’ll get to experience the fantastic energy of the race and a beautiful part of northern Minnesota via your bike. Cory and I rounded out the weekend and celebrated our wedding anniversary by hitting up Fika Coffee and then grabbing some pizza at Sven and Ole’s in Grand Marais. The last time we were here was 2 years ago on a camping trip and it was fun to think back to a time before we were even engaged and how our lives had progressed to this point. It was bittersweet to make the return trip home, but slightly more sweet than bitter knowing that we’d be back up here on a bikepacking trip in 2 short weeks. Stay tuned for that blog post!
- Salsa Woodsmoke (built this up from parts off of my Karate Monkey)
- Whisky No. 9 Riser Bar
- Velocity Dually Rims laced to Hope Boost Hubs
- WTB Bridger Tires 27.5×3″
- Revelate Feed Bag
- iSSi Pedals
- Kali Helmet
- Borah Kit
*Disclaimer: I work for the company that owns or distributes most of the brands listed above. My bike team is sponsored by Kali and Borah. That being said, I’m super picky about what brands I choose to support or work with and wouldn’t have changed a thing about my Lutsen setup (except maybe my shoes, which were Giro).