November 15th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors
By Chris Abston, Team OAM Now Cyclist
ICEMAN!! Why is this race one of the best races of the year? What is the allure of this famous race? It’s a race with so much history and is recognized not only nationally, but also worldwide. This was the 26th year of this race that is deemed the largest point-to-point MTB race in the country. It started in 1990 by a few guys who wanted to see if a mountain bike could make the trip from Kalkaska to Traverse City. 35 eager participants made the trek. Now, this year over 5,000 participants took on the challenge to conquer the historic event.
The first year there were no prizes just the satisfaction of accomplishing the goal. This year, the total purse was a whopping $61,430.00. So, as I look at this race, comprised mostly of fire roads, two track and some single track, just shy of 30 miles with about 1,700 ft. of climbing, I ponder why this race is so important to many. The race is not technical by any means. Thank god because its no secret that I am not a very good technical rider. I would call it a time trial thru the trees and forest. A pure hammer fest. No real pre-riding is necessary unless for the last 4 miles or so because that part changes from year to year. I started racing bicycles 4 years ago at the ripe old age of 44 and I feel like I am still a neophyte.
My first Iceman was in 2011. It was only my 3rd race ever and my first MTB race, so I really had no training guidance other than just riding hard all the time. A few days prior to the race I was a little off and not quite feeling 100%. After registration on Friday, I started to develop a fever, but I didn’t know how high. When we arrived at our friend’s house, I was surprised that my temp had spiked to 102. I was unable to get any sleep that night and also unable to get the temperature to budge. My wife and friends tried to talk me out of the race, but I was bound and determined. I was not about to let a fever stop me. As I warmed up, I started to develop a cough, but it seemed mild. As the race progressed, the cough started getting worse and by the time I finished I could not stop coughing. I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:27:57 on my old 1999 26” Cannondale hardtail. Unfortunately, I wasn’t up to sticking around and enjoying the festivities that were taking place after the race so we packed up and went home to Livonia to rest for the remainder of the weekend. My symptoms hung on so off to the doctor I went. It was determined that I had developed pneumonia. I wasn’t able to work for a week. It was just awful. For what? A race. A silly race that placed me 54th out of 92 in my age bracket. What was it about this race that I felt so compelled to compete in when my body had other plans?
That winter I ended up joining my first cycling team “The Racing Greyhounds” out of Livonia. As I started to meet new people and develop relationships, I began to learn the importance of doing well at Iceman. What I started to learn was that even though a person did well at other races, it seemed that your Iceman results were indicative of how good you really are. My 2012 Iceman was much better. I went into it feeling pretty strong. Because I started in wave 13 or 14, there still was quite a bit of congestion in front of me. I remember picking up my bike and running thru some of the single-track to try and get around it. I trimmed my time to 2:06:56, good enough for 15th place in my category.
Unfortunately, the 2013 Iceman was a bit of a motivation challenge for me. In 2012, I went from a road Cat 5 to a Cat 3 in 4 months. Seeing that I was 46, I felt that I needed to justify my Cat 3 status, after all most of my competition was only 20-25. I have children that are as old as the kids I was racing against. After the road season was over, my training slipped a little bit and I didn’t feel as confident going into Iceman. My time that year was 2:05:21 and good enough for 13th place in my age group. Still better than the year before, but not really where I would of liked to have been.
As the 2014 season began, I was bound and determined to leave my mark on the race. This was my first year with Team OAM Now/Athletic Mentors and I wanted to have a good showing not only for my new team. but I was also feeling a bit of pressure from my old team. I was riding well going into the fall, but my dreams were quickly washed away one month prior to Iceman when I crashed 5 hours into an 8 hour endurance MTB race at Addison Oaks. As I put my head down for a brief second to get aero and build up some speed on a long straight-away, I raised my head only to find out that I veered off the paved path and was heading for a tree. I thought “Oh God this isn’t going to end well!” I ended up missing that tree, but I was still going too fast to be able to control the bike. A second later, I found myself lying on my back in excruciating pain. My bike was about 10-15 feet away from me so I must have flipped over my handlebars and landed on my head because my helmet was cracked and my face was cut up. The Garmin data showed that I was going 25mph when I crashed. A trip to the emergency room resulted in stitches to close up my the gash above my eye, a separated shoulder, and a fractured back. My season was over, no Peak-to-Peak race and, more importantly, no Iceman. A huge disappointment for me because I was feeling very confident in my abilities at that time. I had to wait two months until I could get back on the bike and it was a long 9 months until I felt 100%.
As the 2015 season began, I thought to myself, “I am 48 years old and I am not getting any younger.” I felt if I could produce a time of 1:50 or less at Iceman, I could be in the running for the top spot, if not at least the podium. I was racing quite a bit leading up to Iceman., but again I was involved in a crash at the Gravel Grinder in Boyne on October 3rd. Even though my ribcage was pretty sore, the doctor confirmed that there were no broken ribs, but some bruising of my ribs and internal organs. I lost a little fitness because I had to back off my training for a couple of weeks while I healed up.
As race day approached, I was wondering if those few weeks that I had to back off would affect my overall performance. I attended a pre-ride of the last 4 miles that Terry Ritter organized the day before the big race and I felt pretty good. The morning of the race it was a crisp 37 degrees and sunny. I felt good, my legs felt good, and it was time to rock and roll. I was in Wave 2 this year and hoping I could get in with a fast group with the goal of not having to wait for anyone on the single track.
The start of the race was seemed slow as we rolled thru Kalkaska. I found myself pinned in the middle of the pack. I couldn’t get out to try and speed things up a tad, but at the same time I tried to tell myself to stay patient because it’s a long way to the finish. At the 12 minute mark, I was attempting to pass someone on the two track and I ended up clipping his handlebars and we both went down. I was thinking “You have got to be kidding me…. I am going down again…do I know how to ride a bike?” As I picked myself back up, I noticed my handlebars were off by 90 degrees. My heart sank when I tried to move them back and they didn’t move. I tried again, but this time I put everything I had and got the stem to move back into a position that wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. As I hopped back on my bike, I also noticed my front wheel was out of true, but it wasn’t bad enough where it was rubbing on the fork. I tried to stay relaxed and tried to get back into a grove. At that point, I figured winning was not an option but I would try for a podium spot. My goal was to try and finish strong and make up some time at the end of the race when hopefully others are getting tired and slower.
Towards the end of the race I felt pretty strong and I could tell I was making up some good time as I was passing quite a few people. As I crossed the line, my Garmin was showing that I finished in the 1:50:00 time frame. I knew this time was where I wanted to be, but wondered if the crash had cost me a spot on the podium I so desired. After I relaxed and chatted with my wife and other racers, I rode my bike back to my car to get a change of clothes. Upon checking my phone, I saw a text from Richard Landgraff saying “Great ride. Looks like you won your category.” I was shocked and couldn’t believe it! I thought it was pretty cool that he was checking it out online.
Posted results confirmed that I won my category of 48 yearr olds with a time of 1:50:35. I finished strong as planned. At the first check point I was in 4th place in my age group. At the Williamsburg check point, I had moved up to 3rd. The 3rd check point I moved into 1st and I held that until the finish. Standing on the podium and looking out to see my wife, friends, old teammates, new teammates and hear the huge crowd cheer, not only did I realize how blessed I am to be able to experience a victory at Iceman, I finally realized what the allure of the Iceman Challenge is all about.
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