About the Race
Susitna 50K - www.susitna100.com
On February 19 two unicyclists, George Barnes and Brian Schuster, competed in the Alaskan race covering
parts of the historic Iditarod trail.
Run in conjunction with it's older brother, the Susitna 100, the Little Su 50k
travels the same course but turns around at the famous "Nome" sign just a
couple of miles from the Little Susitna River and the Little Su Checkpoint. It
finishes where it begins at the Big Lake Lodge for a total distance of 50
kilometers (approx. 31.1 miles).
Race Report - George
Pictures up HERE
Brian's video of the race up HERE
February 19, 2005
The 50K racers get to start at 11 AM in the morning, 2 hours later than the 100 mile racers. By this point conditions are ideal - no wind, relatively warm temperatures, and mostly clear skies. Unsure how our pace will match with the other racers (bikers, skiers, and runners) we choose to start at the back of the pack.
The first few miles roll by quickly as the trail is packed and firm, ideal for unicycling. We quickly pass all of the runners (which was interesting on the narrow trail), but never catch the bulk of the skiers and bikers. When we're riding our average is around 6-7 mph.
Upon crossing Sevenmile Lake we begin to see signs of deteriorating trail conditions. The snow is less packed, and because of the warming weather we're sinking in more. After 4-5 miles we're resigned to walking stretches of unrideable soft terrain, and remounting for down hills and packed sections. Runners slowly catch and pass us as we walk.
At around mile 7 we stop on an unnamed frozen lake for our first real break, and pause to eat and take pictures of passing dog teams. Moving again, we ride as much as we can, but we're forced to do a fair amount of walking.
After the lake the trail is primarily shrouded by trees. Enough runners and snowmobiles have passed us that the formerly smooth trail is fairly chewed up, making riding the flat sections more work than it is worth. Downhills are a welcome change from pushing. We meet a biker who has turned around early at the Little Su river checkpoint (instead of the Nome sign). We hear that the bikers are having similar experiences with the softening snow. It's so warm that I'm in only a polypro shirt and not wearing a hat or gloves.
We're closing on the Little Su checkpoint as the trail breaks out of the forest and onto the frozen marshes. Sections of this are rideable with increased effort. We reach the checkpoint just as two 100 milers (who left 2 hours earlier) leave it. We're still ahead of some runners, though a few of the skiers have already made the turnaround and passed us on their way back.
The trail past the checkpoint is pretty soft - we're walking all the uphills, most of the flats, and riding the downhills. A few dog teams pass us as we make our way to the checkpoint. The two 100 milers are pulling heavy gear sleds, and at times the packed trail they leave is more rideable.
When we finally make the turn around sign at around 4:00PM we've gone 15.6 miles - an average speed of just over 3 mph. We learn that the bikers in the 100 miler are also suffering, and our pace is similar to theirs. We fool around quite a while at the sign, not anxious to get moving again. Finishing in the dark is now unavoidable, so there's no real rush. We figure that we have plenty of time to finish before the 12 hour cut off time.
Moving east again we find the snow is beginning to firm up as temperatures drop. It's still too much work to ride portions, but we have high hopes for the trail near the finish. I've developed a fairly nasty ache behind both my knees, presumably from the walking. Half way back to the Little Su checkpoint we meet a skier still heading out, the only person behind us. We'd later learn that the skier and five others wouldn't finish the race. My personal goal was to beat somebody, so I guess that counts.
Back at the checkpoint I top off my Camelbak with near boiling water while Brian brews some hot chocolate. At this point we're consciously taking our time, hoping the dropping temperatures will yield rideable snow.
Our wishes are somewhat granted, though the trail is hardening the footprints of 30+ runners. Riding is somewhat of a challenge, but much faster than walking. We make great time across the frozen lakes. The moon is bright enough to light the trail and cast shadows, but we don headlamps to improve depth perception.
The last five miles would prove to be the greatest challenge. Trail conditions were decent, but we're exhausted from the previous 26 miles, so we alternate riding and walking. Stops get longer, "motivation is definitely lacking", and the 12 hour cut off isn't so far off. I can tell I'm getting goofy, and focus all my energy on just moving forward. My unicycle's bumper sticker serves as a reminder to "Cowboy Up" and keep moving. I'm trying everything to stay in the game - recalling Chris LeDoux lyrics, counting to 10 over and over (I have no idea why), and fantasizing of food other than Clif bars. I'm quickly realizing that this race is probably the hardest physical thing I've ever done.
About a mile from the finish we get passed by a skier from the 100 mile race - he's done 100 miles in 2 hours more than the time it took us to do 30. Clearly skis are the fastest mode of transportation in this race, last year's winner had an average of around 11 mph.
We force ourselves to ride to the finish, and reach the line at 10:32 PM, 28 minutes under the cut off. A warm welcome and chili dogs at the warming house are much appreciated. Our overall average speed (including stops) has been around 2.7 mph, and I estimate our moving average at around 4 mph. All told, we probably rode around 40-50% of the course. Faster times and higher percentages would have certainly been possible with colder weather. Regardless, we're done with the race and the first unicyclists to complete the Susitna 50K! Many thanks to our sponsors and everyone that made our ride possible!
February 21, 2005 -- Post Race Commentary
Race Report - Brian