I’ve been wanting to do one of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) MTB100 marathon races for a few years, and although the Wilderness 101 didn’t fit great into my racing season with Untamed New England (a 3-day, non-stop adventure race) a few weeks away, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do this killer course. A course considered by many to be the toughest technically and physically on the NUE circuit.
The Wilderness 101 takes place outside State College (home of Penn State) in Rothrock State Park and surrounding state lands. The 160 km course is mountainous and extremely rocky. There would not be fast flowy single-track here like we are accustomed to in Ontario; instead it would be a maze of gnarly rocky single-track interconnected by old coal mine trails, fire roads and the occasional paved state park road.
With Untamed New England only being a few weeks away I would force myself to race with a little less intensity than normal — I didn’t want to risk a slow recovery or injury in a crash. Treat it like a very long and hard training day… While some racers were going purely on water bottles which were available at the Aid Stations (AS) every 20km’s or so I wanted to make sure I had enough water and tools on me, so I carried my Osprey Raptor 18 hydration pack. Although the 18L capacity may have been overkill for a supported mountain bike race, I opted for Raptor pack due to it’s comfort and ease of refilling the unique bladder. I had used the pack in several adventure races and knew as the hours of racing got longer, the great fit of the pack would appreciated.
The 7 a.m. start through the town of Coburn was ceremonial with a pace car leading the approximate 300 racers for the first few kilometres. Once through the paved roads it was onto our first climb of the day on a fire road. I settled into a nice easy cadence, knowing more than 10,0000 ft of climbing was coming. Once over the top it was a fast descent on a steep gravel road until a flat-ish few km’s.
Immediately pace-lines formed and my memory from the TransRockies a few years ago told me to grab onto one quickly. I got into the first slipstream of 4 racers that almost blew by me and we took turns pulling in the front, rotating every few minutes for the next 8 km or so. By the time we rolled into AS1 there was about 20 of us. Since I had my hydration pack and my bladder was still almost full with water my stop in the Aid Station 1 (AS1) was very quick, only grabbing a fresh gel container.
Once gone from AS1 it was several more climbs, descents, climbs, descents into AS2. As I came into AS2 I noticed a clicking on my back wheel. On the last descent down Laurel Run Road, I had blown apart a spoke. I wrapped the spoke around the neighbouring spoke, grabbed a few cookies and was off again within a few minutes. No need for water yet as I still had another litre or so in my hydration bladder.
Shortly after leaving the aid station was a very long and technical descent, just waiting over the next climb, called the Telephone Trail. About halfway down I heard that oh-so-familiar “psssssss” sound of a flat. Arghh! The rhododendron in the area was dense and I had bushwhack off the trail for a repair while other racers screamed down the descent. It took me a good 15 minutes to repair the flat while dealing with the unsuitable repair site. Once repaired I put my wheel back on to a rubbing brake pad which would need some adjustment now as well. I decided to wait for the next AS to do this repair as the minor rubbing of the pad/disc wasn’t significantly slowing me down.
At AS3, it looked about what I had expected — a lot of mechanicals and potential DNF’s — the effect of 100 km of tough mountain biking. I took a few minutes in this AS to adjust my brake pads and refill my hydration bladder.
Once back on my bike the race meandered up a steep single-track section that a lot of riders were now walking. I hate walking my bike and find it more exerting than riding so I just plugged away in granny gear and tried to remain upright. The riding from AS3 to AS4 mainly consisted of more climbing and descending with the heat of the day really taking it’s toll on the riders. I was doing pretty well though; I had trained in enough hot Ontario summer days to be acclimatized.
In AS4 I took in some cold Coke and gels. The volunteer staff was great. Leaving it was another tough gravel road climb and then into more rocky (surprise!) single-track. This had a bit of ‘flow’ to it actually and was a pleasure to ride, even though biking in this terrain was a full body/jarring workout. On a side note, I would highly recommend a full suspension bike for this race!
I came unto AS5 knowing the end was near and the relentless hills were almost through. One last surprisingly quick climb up another fire road and descent down to an old railway bed trail finished off most of the course. I came into the finish chute around 9 hours, 20 minutes after race start, feeling good and happy about the way I ‘raced’ the Wilderness 101. After taking a quick dip in the nearby river I collected my finishers pint glass and rewarded myself with a nice pizza dinner with my wife followed up by some ice cream at the Penn State Creamery.
The next day my wife, the family dog and I took a hike in Rothrock State Park, near where we had raced the day before. I loaded up my pack with some lunch and water while we trekked a few of the trails in the area.
Next up for me is the Untamed New England adventure race, where our team will try and conquer the wilds of New Hampshire. I am hoping to be able to use my Raptor pack there as well but if the gear need is high, I always have my Osprey Talon pack as well!