In the Saddle: 2019 Land Run 100 – by MG
With the proliferation of gravel events across the country and around the world, a handful of iconic events have risen to nearly cult-like status. The Land Run 100 is one such event. Since 2013, gravel cyclists have flocked to Stillwater, Oklahoma to race on a course that’s often muddy, and always challenging.
I’d never visited Oklahoma before, so my trip to Stillwater for the 2019 Land Run 100 was an adventure of firsts. It was also my first gravel event of the season, and after a long, cold winter filled with injuries, I came into the Land Run with two goals: to finish and have fun.
In the end, I succeeded in both goals… But it wasn’t without significant challenges.
Planting the Seed
Last year, while riding in the inaugural Dirty Kanza XL, I found myself in a group with Land Run promoters, Bobby and Crystal Wintle. I’ve known Bobby for at least a decade, and Crystal for nearly that long, dating back to the early days of the Dirty Kanza 200.
They wanted to know why I hadn’t come down for the Land Run yet. Quite honestly, I didn’t have anything other than weak excuses to offer. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to do, but the omnipresent threat of mud kept me away in the past. That said, when friends like Bobby and Crystal asked me to come and see what they’ve got going on, it was hard to say no.
Shortly after my return from Emporia, I began to hatch a plan to ride the 2019 Land Run 100, mud be damned. At the time, I was pretty fit from finishing the 350-mile DKXL, and decided that a singlespeed would be my best bet for success if the conditions were challenging. At least I wouldn’t have any derailleurs to mess with in the mud!
What I didn’t plan for was a mid-winter ribcage injury, which led to shoulder issues later on, so my 2019 campaign started with more of a whimper than a roar. As a result, I came into the Land Run with fewer than 500 miles in my legs for the year. To make matters worse, none of those miles were on a singlespeed, but I pressed on with my plan undeterred.
Arriving in Stillwater
After a relatively easy six hour drive from my home in Lincoln, Nebraska, I arrived in Stillwater in the late-afternoon on the Friday before the event. As I parked in a public lot downtown, I was immediately greeted with the somewhat distorted sounds of live music from several blocks away.
Figuring the music had to be associated with the Land Run, I simply walked toward the sound. Amazingly, Crystal was one of the first faces I saw as I neared the commotion. She pointed me to the race check-in and gave me a quick lay of the land.
As it turns out, the concert stage was directly between Bobby and Crystal’s bike shop, District Cycles, and the county courthouse lawn that would be my campsite for the weekend. I was right in the center of the fun!
It was good that I didn’t have high performance expectations for myself, as it was impossible for me to resist hanging out the night before at District Cycles. The mood was festive and it felt great to be among so many friends.
I began my traditional race day routine at 6am, with coffee, breakfast and a walk around downtown Stillwater. As I made my final preparations for the start, I thought about how fortunate we were to have relatively dry conditions on the course.
Since I was racing a singlespeed, I didn’t feel a need to start anywhere near the front of the field. I found my good buddy, Adam Blake, who was riding with his wife Jessica as she chased the Land Run Double (50k run Friday, 100mi ride Saturday). We stood stationary for nearly a minute after Bobby fired the starting cannon, waiting for riders ahead of us to move out.
The roads were fast, relatively dry and smooth in most places. There were also a few high-speed rocky sections littered in, which caught plenty of riders off guard, based on the number of riders stopped to fix flat tires after each. With 45c WTB Riddler tires mounted to my Singular Gryphon singlespeed, I had no such issues. I was able to confidently charge through each of the rocky sections.
At the Mid-Race Checkpoint
The small town of Perkins hosted the mid-race checkpoint. It was there I quickly found a crew of friends including Joe Reed and Rick Becker from Emporia, Kansas. They were set up to support some teammates in the event, and were gracious enough to fill my bottles and trade out a warm beer from my jersey pocket for a cold one from their cooler. I was filled up and back out on course in a matter of minutes. Thanks guys!!
In hindsight, perhaps I should have taken a bit more time to refuel at the midway point. Let’s just say this: that minute I lost at the start paled in comparison to the amount of time I wasted out on the course in the second half of the event. Somewhere around mile 65, my legs started struggling to push my 46/21 gear. I was blowing up and I knew it, but for a while, I slowly kept pushing forward.
Somewhere around mile 90, I decided to take a nature break, which quickly turned into an impromptu nap aside the race course. The ground was soft and I drifted easily off to sleep… How long I was there is anybody’s guess, but after being awakened by another rider asking if I was okay, I wearily remounted my steed and continued.
While the finish was just about 12 miles away, it felt like it took forever to complete. My teammate Joe passed me shortly after I got back onto the bike. Unfortunately, despite his encouragement, I couldn’t muster the pace it would’ve taken to finish with him and he quickly disappeared up the road.
My mood brightened as I rode into Stillwater. I could hear the music, and as I made the final turn and pedaled to the finish, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic when Bobby started jumping up and down in anticipation of my arrival. His hug at the finish was well worth the effort on the road.
Takeaways from the Land Run 100
Anyone who thinks the gravel scene has lost its grassroots feel needs to check out the Land Run. It proves there’s room for riders at every level on gravel. Yes, there were a number of notable pros in attendance, but it was by no means a pro-only event. There’s room for cyclists of all abilities at the Land Run, and I feel like it’s an event almost anyone could enjoy.
A 100 mile ride is never a walk in the park, even for experienced endurance riders. It’s always hard, but I made things particularly hard on myself this year due to injuries and nasty late-winter weather. I also underestimated my fitness during the race, which absolutely killed me in the later miles.
Next year, I’m hoping to come into the Land Run 100 with a little better fitness, and perhaps a geared bike. Those two changes would make it easier for me to enjoy the course and its beauty, and keep a more consistent pace throughout the event (assuming the mud stays away).
Learn more about the Land Run 100, including dates and sign-up details for the 2020 event, at LandRun100.com.