Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400: Final Thoughts

1512621_646163545497642_4396870491403490646_nNorb Dekerchove did an amazing thing by putting the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 together. When I first heard about the race, I immediately said “I’m in.” Then when the reality hit regarding the scope of the ride and training it would take I started going back and forth on my decision. It was fun to talk about it, but I was hesitant to actually make the commitment. I stalled for so long that Mary finally got tired of it and started encouraging (nagging) me to “JUST DO IT.” Learning that my friends Rob Adams and Doug LaMott were both going to participate in it created a mixture of emotions. Encouraging that I knew someone else and discouraging because I wasn’t in their league when it came to cycling. The results of a more focused training became apparent when Mary and I rode the Knobby Tire event to Idaho City and back. While riding the seventy seven miles on the Weiser Trail with Doug and two other friends, I realized that I could do the longer distances on the bike. I committed to completing a thirteen week endurance mountain bike training program that I found in Chris Carmichael’s book “The Time Crunched Cyclist.” I didn’t do all the workouts nor was I able to complete some of the ones I attempted. However, I believe the structure provided a focus to my training that made the difference.

I started researching bike packing bags and equipment for the event. Skye and Jeremy at Meridian Cycles proved to be great resources and helped me get geared up. Thank you! Once I had all the gear gathered it was a matter of testing it. It was during my solo weekend test/training ride that I realized I really liked bike packing. After the final weekend training ride with Doug, I felt my emotions and confidence shift from anxiety to excitement about the race. Somewhere in the process of preparing my race strategy (shared in the previous post) my confidence and commitment soared. I went from worrying about finishing to setting an aggressive goal for me, finishing in less than three and a half days. My transformation was the product of planning and preparation. Rolling out of Hyde Park at the start of the race I felt confident about navigating the 420 miles ahead. I would summarize the race by days from my post as, the first day was fun, the second was a challenge, the third day was a grind, and the last day was a matter of enduring and not quitting… even though I did end up quitting the race, due to mechanical issues. It was a hard decision to make, but looking back I am at peace with myself as I believe it was the right decision.


Things I learned and will do differently if I ever do a bike packing event again:

Gear: The bike, bike bags, and camping equipment, all worked well and I will use again. The shifting problem that resulted in dropping the chain and breaking the first spoke was likely caused by rider error. At that point in the race I wasn’t alert enough to let up on the pedals when I shifted. I hesitated on taking a lighter sleeping bag and even went to REI and looked at them the night before the race. I am thankful I didn’t after experiencing the cold nights camping out. For me carrying the extra pound was worth the warmth and comfort. I would find a water filtration system that is easier and faster is to use in my next event. I think Doug may have the best solution and I plan to copy it.

Clothing: My layered clothing worked well for the drastic temperature swings. A definite addition for clothing would be a pair of light fingered gloves. I only had my fingerless riding gloves and lobster claw mittens. With the bitter cold in camp, a pair of light fingered gloves would have made a big difference in comfort and saved a lot of time. I inadvertently left out my second pair of biking shorts. The plan was to alternate shorts each day. This ended up not being an issue and I will seriously consider only taking one pair the next time. I did alternate between the two pairs of wool socks each day which worked well.

Hydration and Nutrition: This is the area where I can make the most improvement. The INFINIT Sports drink was one of my primary sources of calories and electrolytes. It worked great until my water bottles froze on the second morning. In addition, I believe I needed more calories and will consciously focus on consuming a pre-determined number of calories every two hours in the future. Bonking at the end of the second day cost me making the last 26 miles into Stanley as my plan called for. That put behind my schedule and changed the outcome of my race. Jerky and mild cheddar cheese worked well for me, but Corn Nuts didn’t. Stomach concerns and discomfort were daily issues after the first day. Hydration wasn’t optimized as a result of not wanting to drink when the temperatures were low. A more disciplined approach to eating and drinking will be part of any future event.

Strategy: Looking back, I feel my race strategy was pretty good for my first ever attempt. But, there is room for improvement in the execution of the strategy.

I should have used less energy on day 1, in order to save more energy for day 2. I wanted to accomplish the same amount of miles without over-exerting. On day 2 and Day 3 I had doubts about completing the race due to total exhaustion and what felt like the inability to continue. Looking back, I may have been lacking the nutrition and hydration more than I realized. In the future, I would combine eating a bunch of calories and resting for twenty minutes before calling it the end of the day. I decided that learning to manage my pedal strokes would improve my performance too. I would only have to sacrifice a few minutes of time to reduce my energy consumption and muscle fatigue.

Physical: Leading up to and during the race I rode stronger than I have ever ridden on my mountain bike. To improve I would do two things. First, is to start focused training sooner to make additional gains in power and endurance. Second, is to lose five to ten pounds. With 40,000 vertical feet of climbing, being leaner and stronger would pay huge dividends.

Mental: I learned throughout the race that the physical demands were not as challenging to deal with as the mental when it came to pushing the limits. Overall, I am pleased with how I handled the psychological stress and strain of the event. There were three times when I really wanted to quit. First, the afternoon of the third day being behind schedule and knowing that Rob and Doug were both many miles and hours ahead. Second, when my chain jammed between the cassette and wheel breaking the first spoke. The third was climbing Alder Creek Summit when the rear wheel was rubbing making it extra hard to pedal up the steep grades. Quitting was the last thing I wanted to do when could see Boise in the valley below from the Ridge Road.

The Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 is the hardest physical challenge of my life to date. I swore to myself on Day 3, and told Norb after the race, that I was taking Tour the Divide of my LEAP List. Furthermore, I would not be back for the Idaho Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 in 2015 or any other year. Now less than two weeks later I find myself plotting an improved training schedule and race strategy. Will I be back next year??? That is a very DEFINITE…….. Maybe!


Click on these to read more: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Strategy, Preparation

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