Chris Chavie, Minnesota Bike Trail Navigator'
With a wintery April and a major winter snowstorm only six days before this year's Minnesota Ironman Ride, there wasn't much opportunity to train on the bike outdoors. That didn't stop a record number of cyclists from coming out to ride the new routes through the St. Croix River Valley. This year 4,696 cyclists turned out for this 47 annual tradition that kicks off the Spring riding season. The beautiful weather forecast for ride day that was provided by meteorologist Kristin Clark from 2WheelWeather, helped!
I arrived at the Washington County Fairgrounds, a little south of Stillwater, Minn., around 6:15 a.m. to a flurry of activity. Many cyclists had already arrived and many more were filing into the fairgrounds parking areas.
By 7 a.m. many were headed towards the starting area and ready to hit the road and I joined them. The weather conditions were perfect and many described it to be some of the best in the history of the Minnesota Ironman.
I planned to do the three loops making up the century ride and wanted to get an early start. I would start with the Scandia Loop, jump onto the Afton Loop and then finish with the Gateway Loop. The Scandia Loop headed north through farm country towards the town of Scandia and back down through the river valley on the way through Stillwater. Part of the fun riding was seeing all of the different styles of bikes being ridden. I saw every kind of cyclist along the way, the seasoned veterans, recreational riders, children and the elderly, recumbent bikers, fatbikers and a unicyclists or two.
There were two, well stocked, rest stops conveniently located along the Scandia Loop, one in Scandia and the other at Pine Point Park, in Stillwater Township. I made a quick pit stop at both for water and a little refueling for the long ride ahead.
By the time I made it through Oak Park Heights to catch up with the Afton Loop, at Oakgreen Avenue I was still feeling pretty good, after 50+ miles. It was this section of the ride that would put my legs and will to the challenge. My longest ride outdoors this year was only 54 miles and that was three weeks ago, the rest of my training was all indoors doing hill climbing intervals on the spin bike.
Another three miles it was all downhill to Afton. The ride was fast and was one of the most scenic sections of the entire course.
After all of that downhill riding, I knew that meant a big climb up out of the valley after leaving Afton. Afton Town Square Park was the sight for the rest stop here where I took a break, ate something, got some more water and applied some sunscreen. By now the temperature was nearing the high 70's.
Now it was time to tackle the category 5, mile long uphill on the St. Croix Trail. I took it slow and steady and made my way up out of the valley passing a unicyclist along the way.
I rode along quiet country roads with plenty more hills and stopped a couple of times to work out cramps in my hamstrings.
There was one last big hill on Manning Avenue, as I made my way back to the fairgrounds to join up with the Gateway Loop. Physical exhaustion was setting in and even though I was drinking plenty of water and Gatorade, I was feeling a bit dehydrated. The Afton Loop with all of its hills really took a lot out of me, but I conquered it and only had about 30 more miles to go to complete my first century ride.
I went past the fairgrounds and started on the Gateway Loop without taking a break. I told myself a break would come once I made it onto the Gateway Trail. When I got a couple of miles into the Trail, I stopped and rested shortly and got right back on my bike. I had enough water with me and I figured I would stop at the rest area at Pine Point Park at the end of the trail. There, I would take one last break before facing the strong headwinds on the way to Stillwater, and Oak Park Heights.
The hills on the last four miles of the route seemed to be the toughest ones of the day since I was all out of energy. My body was telling me "no," but I powered through it knowing I was almost done. I rode into the fairgrounds feeling relieved that it was over and excited that I had just completed my first century. My bike computer read 107.3 miles with 7 hours, 34 minutes ride time in the saddle. My goal was to complete 100 miles in under 7 hours and I was successful with 6 hours, 56 minutes.
My sponsor Penn Cycle was going to set me up with a road bike for this one, but I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it on my mountain bike. I will be doing a gravel century later this summer and wanted to get a feel for what 100 miles on a hilly course with a mountain bike was like. After the Ironman, I think I have a lot more training ahead of me, biking on gravel isn't going to be as easy as paved roads.
Thanks to Jon Ridge and the rest of the people and sponsors that made the Minnesota Ironman Bicycle Ride possible, they did a great job putting this event on in a wonderful new location. It was very well organized, the routes were scenic, challenging, well marked and I'm looking forward to doing it all over again, next year. For additional photos from the event, please see their the Ironman Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/minnesotaironmanbicycleride.
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About the Minnesota Ironman® Bicycle Ride
As the original Ironman®, this Minnesota bike ride has hosted over 100,000 cyclists in their 46 year history for an exhilarating start to their Spring cycling season. The Minnesota Ironman® Bicycle Ride is a ride for all cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. They offer short routes for new riders and families, as well as the traditional and more challenging 100-mile option for true Minnesota Ironmen and Ironwomen. The Minnesota Ironman® Bicycle Ride is hosted by Hostelling International-USA and supports their non-profit mission and work here in Minnesota. They operate the Mississippi Headwaters Hostel in Itasca State Park.