RACE REPORT: The City of Lakes 20K Puoli Fat Bike Loppet

>> Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Or, "Trying Something New Because I Haven't For a While"

Or, "Wait, Did I Miss a Turn??..."

As I mentioned last week, my brother-in-law convinced me pretty last minute to try a fat bike race. I'd NEVER been on a fat bike before Saturday's test ride with Matt where we tried them out in our neighborhood:

Matt in our alley.

The Salsa "Mukluk" he brought for me to ride.

Matt's had a 4" wide front tire, but mine was 4.8 or 4.9"!!
It was COMICAL! Check out my tiny feet compared to the tire!

A 5.5 mile test ride at 11 mph.

Matt commented that 11 mph on a lake and on trails would be about race pace. And testing the clothing I'd wear the next day was a real mental boost as well. I didn't feel super confident, but I was ready to race! Saturday night, we ordered pizza and Matt beat Henry and me in a game of Exploding Kittens:

Henry's dramatic face as these 2 played a second game.

Henry also laughed at Matt's Garmin display.

It was WILD getting ready for a race that started at 11:45 a.m.! We didn't prepare anything the night before because we didn't need to get up at 5:30. We spotted a car near the finish and came home to casually eat breakfast at 10 a.m.

We arrived with our bikes at the parking lot near Bde Maka Ska and walked up to the race start area to check things out. I got my traditional pre-race shot:

More layers than usual.

Back at Matt's car, putting on toe-warmers and getting ready!

During our test ride the day before, it was 11 degrees. For the race, it was about 20, but we'd also be going into the wind the majority of the way. About the only adjustment I made from the test ride was to wrap the toe warmers a bit around the front of my toes - my toes were about the only thing I was worried about for the race. My fingers started to get cold pre-race (and I warmed them by a fire next the the race start with a guy doing the same thing), but they warmed up once we got going.

The 33K had taken off 20 minutes earlier, and now us 20K fat bikers were starting to show up.

Matt and I on the ice about 5 minutes before the race started!

Gym buddy Anne (perennial top-10 finisher) on the other side of me!

Oh yeah, we lined up RIGHT AT THE FRONT!!

The night before, I asked Matt his race plan, and he said he wanted to go out hard. I asked if going out TOO hard wasn't as bad in a bike race (because that feels like it could be true when compared to a running race where it's BRUTAL if you go out too hard), and Matt assured me that I could go out "too hard" and let up without feeling too horrible. So RIGHT UP TO THE STARTING LINE we went!! Yikes!

"5... 4... 3... 2... 1... GOOOOO!!!!!!"

We shot out and I nearly slid down. We worked our way through some softer snow and got down to single-file (or side-by-side) to be on better snow. I was sliding around a bit more than I wanted to be! Matt and I were in around 4th through 7th at any given point.

On the far side of the lake, Matt thinks the leader (who had pulled away) took us a bit off the "packed" course. The snow got crunchy, and people starting hopping off their bikes to run with them. "OK... I guess that's a thing we do during races!" (This was all new to me!) But I think my wider tires (and Matt says my lighter body) let me stay on top of the snow a bit longer, so I hopped off to run much later than most people. When I got back on, I realized I was in 2nd place! Whoa!

I stayed in 2nd for just a few minutes. A few guys slowly caught me as we headed north into the wind on the far side of the lake, and we all even hopped off to run once more. I hit the channel to go under Lake Street and the Greenway Trail in 6th place.

Oh, and there were big ice pillars on the lakes from the "luminary loppet" a night or 2 before our race. Here are a few pics from a professor friend of mine who was out there with friends:

We rode around these at the north end of Isles (I think).

Pretty cool scene!

I stayed in 6th place as we looped around the islands on Lake of the Isles, but there was a BIG pack (of a dozen or so) slowly gaining on me the entire way. They started to catch me after the long channel that connected to Cedar Lake. Matt was near the front of that pack, so I settled in with him, with both of us still barely within the top-10.

The first half of the race was ONLY on lakes, channels, and ice! Here's my Garmin map of it, and you can see starting faster with the wind, slowing (to the blue color) heading north into the wind, and you can see the dark blue in the lower right that was running through crusty snow with my bike (and another dot of that in the NE section of Bde Maka Ska):

ALL on lakes for the first 10K until I-394!

We shot through a NARROW little tunnel (practically a culvert) as we left Cedar Lake for the tiny Brownie Lake. (Matt was disappointed there weren't any brownies.) And then our first elevation change of the race: we had a short, steep hill to get off the lake and up to a bridge that went over 394. I stayed on my bike, but I was surprised just HOW much my back wheel was spinning out! With all that surface area, all those "knobbies," and at like 8 psi, I did NOT expect to be spinning out like that.

After crossing 394, we were on some trails. (I think they were some of the same trails that I've run on for the "MDRA Mudball" race in 2009 and in 2010.) Being we were going after all the ski races, after a snowshoe race, and after the bigger 33K fat bike race, the snow was pretty soft and "gouged." I was really working to not fall down as my tires would hit ruts and take me where they would. I think I walked 1 or 2 sections in there. Matt ended up next to me again, and we rode the 2 short sections of actual paved road together:

The last half of the race. The paved roads are the 2 red areas lower/middle.

Now on a "trustworthy" surface, I tried to get a sip of water, but my bottle was frozen. Matt said he barely got a dribble out of his. Here's a pic from post-race back in my car after I was able to bust the top open:

I don't know who's hair that is in the upper right...

We had been catching cyclists from the 33K for a bit. As we crossed Wirth Lake, Matt and I were behind another 20K racer (I'd assume that guy was 6th and we were in 7th and 8th?... maybe?), and we had a line of 6 cyclists from the other race in front of us. We all caught one of them as we wove around on the west side of the lake, and then on that map below, you can see my pace turn orange for a while coming back east across the lake to blast past a few more of those guys. (Note that leading up to that, I was blue and green for a while - I was being held up a bit, but I really think it was good for me that it was happening that way!)

Wirth Lake at the bottom of the map, and lots of little hilly turns at the lower right coming!

Once we crossed to the east side of the lake, we had LOTS of little turns to be making. And it started with a SUPER LOOSE climb (dark blue coming off Wirth Lake). There were cyclists walking all over the place - no one biking up it (no one COULD!). I got off to run my bike, and I passed SOO many of them - I learned I was good at running up hills compared to these cyclists. (Because I'm a runner, although Matt teased that it was my triathlon transition training.) Now we were catching 33K cyclists AND snowshoers as well. Never a dull moment!

SOON, A MINOR DISASTER HAPPENED. I was coming up to an arrow, and I followed it along with the cyclists in front of me. As I did that, someone came running up to that arrow. After a few moments of riding off, I wondered if I saw a RED arrow (the 20K race I was doing) or if it was just a BLUE arrow (the 33K race I wasn't doing). Was the woman running up to fix an arrow that fell down? Were people going the wrong way and she was running over to start giving orders? Well, I was on a track now, so I just needed to hold it. But after a few more minutes, I was getting pretty sure I had taken a wrong turn. I glanced at my distance because I knew I should be crossing a foot bridge around mile 11... but I was already around mile 12. "Damn it. Wrong turn confirmed. Just ride this out and get back on track!"

Here's a close-up just north of Wirth Lake, and I SHOULD have followed the red arrows, but did this BIG loop to the south:

About 8.5 minutes extra. Damn it.

I was disappointed I did that, but I was still going to push hard for the final 2 miles. The good news about doing that little "extra credit" was that now I had more "red" 20K racers in front of me to be passing! So I told myself it was a good "cycling skills" challenge. :)

That extra bit took a lot out of me as there were some big hills in there. (The dark blue in the middle of that screenshot was NASTY.) My heartrate maxxed out at 210 in there, and I'd never seen that number before! So the last 2 miles felt a little extra gassed. I think I stopped to walk 3 more times in the final stretch around the finishline: once just after the foot bridge, once climbing up to the twists and turns with about a mile left, and once in the last real climb just above the finish area. But anytime I was doing that around another cyclist, I was faster than them while running my bike, so I wasn't complaining!

Matt and I saw a guy in a full raccoon "onesie" who was doing the 33K before we started the race, and I laughed when that guy passed me in the finisher's chute with about 100 yards to go.

A big smily face was in the finisher's area shouting my name. Because I was overworked (and therefore my brain stopped working) I couldn't tell who it was. I thought it was my friend Aaron from high school, but he was taller than Aaron. It turns out it was my friend Cam from high school! (He had a beard, and that's my excuse.) Nice to see you Cam!!

Matt called my phone as he was trying to get my attention from across the finisher's chute. I worked my way over to him, and he said he wasn't far behind me when I took the wrong turn, so he STARTED off that way and realized it was wrong and turned around right away. So he had been done for 10 minutes.

Shot of a few cyclists with the finishing area in the distance.

Unflattering selfie with crooked Turtle Fur shortly after finishing.

Matt's results: SEVENTH overall!!!

My results: 23rd overall, but still 1st in my age group after the "extra credit!"


Steve Stenzel, M, 40, St. Paul, 21.8K race

23 out of 90 overall
19 out of 64 males
1 out of 7 in the 40-49 age group

Garmin: 14.18 miles, 1:20:22, 10.5 mph (Matt had 12.90 miles over the "actual" course, so my detour was nearly 1.3 miles, and around 8.5 minutes based on my Garmin times)

UPDATE: As noted in this post, the updated results a week later showed I was 24th out of 91 overall, and 6th out of 15 in my age group. Had I not made that wrong turn near the end, it seems I would have finished 2nd in my age group as I noted in my "update" post.


• OK, so how WOULD have I finished? I'm not going to play the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" card because I screwed up. I'm truly not that bummed about it, just slightly disappointed in myself. My Garmin said that extra loop was around 8.5 minutes, which would put me at 1:12:03 if I just took off that time. That would have put me easily in 10th (ahead of 11th by nearly 3 minutes). But that extra loop was HARD and took a lot out of me when I thought I was nearly done with the race, so I easily could have been up with Matt as well, which would have been 80 seconds faster - I don't know how our finishing kicks compare. So I can say with near 100% certainty that I would have been top-10, and MAYBE a few spots better. But I'm not dwelling on any of that.

• First in my age group?!? That's hilarious I was still able to hold on to that after my detour! THAT made me feel not so bad for jumping off course. Updated results show me in 6th out of 15 in my age group. That makes more sense.

• My heartrate was NUTS. I've only been wearing my new Garmin for 6 weeks or so, and I've hit 189 and 190 on 2 of my hardest runs. But I hit 210 on the hills of my "extra credit" at this race! And look at my zones:

Only 0:37 below zone 4! I was WORKING!!!

• My clothing choices were about perfect! I unzipped my outer coat a bit near the beginning, but I think I probably would have froze without it. Here's what I wore top-to-bottom: ski helmet (NICE and warm) and Turtle Fur ski mask with mouth exposed on my head. My top was my warm black Nike, my SUPER warm GoLite top that I only wear while running on the COLDEST of days, and a slightly thicker zip-up (more than just a windbreaker). I had a thin pair of gloves under my wife's "lobster claw" mittens. On my legs I had my wind-proof briefs, bike shorts, calf sleeves, full-length tights, and my wife's wind-proof pants. #MarrySomeoneWhosPantsYouFitInto And I just had trail running socks with toe warmers on top on my feet inside my normal bike shoes. (Oh, and they were OLD bike shoes without any clips - I rode on some big flat pedals that just had some spiky "grips" on them, and I was SOOO glad I wasn't clipped in!)

• I hit all 3 of my goals for this race. When I first posted about it, I noted that I didn't want to fall and hurt myself, I didn't want to freeze anything off, and I wanted to push hard to the finish. Done, done, and done! I put a foot down to catch myself SOOO many times, and I nearly went down on the last stretch of Bde Maka Ska or someone on Isles where I slid out HARD and threw my left leg down and actually BOUNCED on it and slid on it some more, but I never was down on the ice or snow! Right after the start of the race (and throughout where I DID see people going down), I was pretty sure I'd be covered in snow by the end, and I came to terms with that. I'm surprised I didn't fall!

• Everything feels OK 2 days post-race. We all know I'm injury prone, and I didn't know what pushing hard on a bike that's not my usual "geometry" would do to my legs. (Or lower back for that matter.) But I just felt "worked" after the race, and I even just did a short version of my normal Monday long run yesterday. (Only 8 miles instead of 10-11, and less effort in the middle than normal, but I still felt good about that.) Today's ride will be extra short and extra easy, but my legs seem fine!

• About my only complaint for the race was that it really felt like the fat bike events were just tacked on to the end ski races. (I mean... because they were.) The bike races didn't seem nearly as discussed. A pre-race email noted that sweet reusable cloth numbers would be worn, but we still had paper numbers, so they were just talking about the skiers having the cool new numbers. They noted having a shuttle to get back to the start, but a cyclist we talked to was having problems because apparently the shuttle was not able to haul bikes. (That would have been nice to have been communitcated.) There were just a few small things like that that could have been communicated better, or made clearer in pre-race emails.

The race in the 33K would have been fun to see: 1st and 2nd were 1 second apart, and Sean Cooley who I know from the triathlon world was 4th just 10 second behind the winner:

Oh yeah, and the winner was Matt's coach Chase!

The top 4 at the finish were the 3 on the left and the guy in black and yellow on the right.

Anne who I started next to was just behind Matt was the 2nd overall female in our 20K!!

Matt and I grabbed our "bag drop" bags, but I didn't want to try to change anything yet - I just wanted to get back to the car. Matt changed into some dry gloves, and we rode back to my car parked in the Bryn-Mawr neighborhood:

Road, then unplowed trail, then some singletrack nearing the car.

Flashback to 13 years ago (!!!) and here's my wife running on some of
those same trails we did heading back to my car as seen in this post.

Ahh... the memories of casual workouts together before kids! :)

We stopped for burritos on the way home, where I learned Matt is a psychopath. After his normal rice, beans, and meat, Matt only added dairy: queso, shredded cheese, and sour cream. WHAT?!?!? And then he drove a few hours back home to WI before working a night shift starting at 11 p.m. Yikes!

Matt, thanks for convincing me to join you, and thanks for finding a bike for me to ride! I don't want to do this every weekend, but it was a fun new adventure!

The Loppet says they'll be sharing photos, so I'll post some when they come in.


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