Kronser does all of them
BY CHRIS SCHOTZ
What happens when someone attempts every epic off-road bicycle race he can find? That’s a good description of Wisconsin’s Corey Kronser, a bike mechanic from Platteville.
There are races that go beyond speed and skill. They put a racer on the dirt all day where fatigue and misfortune are all but guaranteed. These races are a challenge of psychological twists and turns through a minefield of things that can go wrong. Many of us might set our sights on the finish line in one of these events. This year, Corey Kronser decided to ride them all.
Some of us were skeptical way back in June. Racing these arduous events all year is hard to sustain. Kronser planned to use six races in the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series as a jumping-off point to five of the most noteworthy point-to-point races. As his journey began, we wondered if he could sustain his energy all the way to October. How could one person stack up against all 11 monumental courses, and how would those events stack up against each other? I wanted to know for myself, so I followed Kronser like a mad scientist follows a helpless lab rat.
The experiment was in full swing when Kronser went the distance in the WEMS long-course race at 9 Mile in Wausau. There was speculation that putting in an off-road century would leave him spent for the Chequamegon 100 only one week later, but our intrepid test subject was able to recover and take a solid fifth on that soggy course. Kronser had come prepared with good legs and a fresh set of brake pads. Those spares weren’t necessary because the race was cut short by the deluge that eventually washed out Highway 2, but Kronser would have been ready if the muddy grit had devoured the brakes on his Santa Cruz Blur.
That 30-year-old had a plan. He’d been using the WEMS races as long training rides all along and would enter them without full recovery prior to the event. Kronser had been training 20 to 30 hours per week using rides of two to four hours depending on the intensity level. He monitored his resting heart rate as a measure of his level of fatigue and knew that if his heart rate was 10 bpm off of baseline, it was time to relax as hard as he’d been training. He sometimes started workouts at 4:30 a.m. before heading to work at Momentum Bike in Platteville, but he still made sure that he averaged eight hours of sleep per night and made time to sit and seriously relax.
Kronser considered the Cheq 100 to be a “B” race on his calendar, one for which we would experiment with more recovery. This was also true of his next event, the Tatanka 100, a Black Hills climbing extravaganza that was held in the scorching 100-degree heat this year. This was an event that has defeated strong racers with harsh cut-off times in the past, but Kronser not only got it done but finished strong with an 11th place in the National Ultra Endurance Series event. Two-hour long climbs put the Tatanka past 10,000 feet of ascent and tested Kronser’s hydration strategy. He’d been checking his weight before and after events and it was not uncommon to lose 15 pounds during a race. He tries to gain all of the weight back in a few hours, but sometimes it takes all day. This data collection also taught him that his body could process about a liter of water per hour. He uses Elete electrolyte in his pack and consumes about 90 carbohydrate grams per hour with Endurolete in his bottles, but the 2018 Tatanka roasted him beyond his ability to hydrate sufficiently. He resorted to walking and drinking five-ounce bottles of pickle juice to calm the misfiring motor neurons that were giving him cramps. Kronser was wise enough to know that although pickle juice can speed recovery from cramps, it is not a miracle. Electrolytes, hydration and a reduction in the effort are required to fully recover and keep cramps at bay.
I saw Kronser ride a solid WEMS race just a week later and then get scientific again at the Maah Daah Hey 100 in North Dakota in August. This was the first of his “A” races where he would taper his training from a hard Sunday ride to a Tuesday spin followed by three days of rest before race day. As the sun rose over the Badlands, I got another hint that Kronser does his homework. I was probably eating a chocolate chip muffin with iced coffee when I saw Kronser dig into a bowl of something purple. His pre-race meal was a mix of quinoa, blueberries, cucumbers and beets, which seemed random until he explained how beets or beet powder aid muscle oxygenation. I’ll have to ask him about pickled beets when I see him again.
I trailed Kronser across the wide-open Dakota prairie and heard that up ahead, our test subject had been running third until he was caught by a rider who could run faster through the creek crossings that were thoroughly pock-marked by free-range cattle. Before the river ford at the 50-mile mark, he was already in a tight battle for fourth, and I worried that a duel that early in the race would lead to the self-destruction of one of the combatants. Instead, Kronser showed his wisdom and maturity, aware that sometimes you have to let a guy go, especially while climbing 10,000 feet of steep switchbacks at the Maah Daah Hey. He finished a solid fifth in North Dakota and was still ready for Wisconsin’s toughest race two weeks later. Kronser says he was sorer after the Hundred Down in the Underdown because its three, 33-mile laps are virtually all hilly singletrack. Nonetheless, he felt that he was actually getting faster as the long season progressed. In the past, he had faced a wall at the six-hour mark in races, but now he was not even hitting that fatigue threshold after 10 hours.
It got him excited to see all of his hard work come together with his two toughest races on the horizon. First, he would drive for two days to Fruita, Colorado, before taking a nap and rising in time for the midnight start of the Kokopelli 140. He encountered technical desert trail in the cold darkness but still led the race for 80 miles before a wrong turn sent him all the way down a big hill that he would have to climb right back up. By the 90-mile mark, he was faced with temperatures that had risen from 47 to 90 just as the toughest climbing began. He endured another wrong turn and a 3,000-foot climb on a gnarly road with no shade. The descents offered little respite with multiple three-foot drops that Kroner wisely chose to walk out by his lonesome. No style points would be given for taking stupid risks in the Utah desert. He kept clicking his shifter in search of an easier gear on the final five-mile climb that preceded a 20-mile run-in to Moab and a stellar third-place finish.
Tough as it was, the Kokopelli was only the second toughest race on his agenda. That would be a race that has often been called the toughest single-day mountain bike race in the country – the Marji. Michigan’s Marji Gesick is legendary for monstrous climbs and relentless chunky descents, but the community support and atmosphere make it Kronser’s favorite. Just ask someone about the green unicorn and fireworks at the start or the bagpipes at the Top of the World. You’ll get the idea that Marquette is a fun place with lots of fun people. Kronser got to see the familiar faces from his epic year meet his greatest support crew. The boss at Momentum Bikes even shut the shop down so that he could see his mechanic chase the buckle challenge at the Marji. Each year a custom forged buckle is awarded to every racer that completes the course in under 12 hours, but only a handful of the hundreds of starters leave with that prestigious honor.
Kronser had the legs and the skills, but the Marji is also about testing your wits. Early in the race, he broke half of a pedal so that he could only clip in on one side with some of the most technical trails ahead of him. He had to fiddle for the right side of the pedal every time he unclipped through the rocks and roots of the South Trails, including Scary Trail and Mount Marquette. After 30 miles of adaptation, he was able to find a replacement pedal, but by then, he had clipped two trees and snapped the mount to the Garmin GPS that would guide his progress and let him know how far he had yet to ride before the 12-hour mark. His Garmin restarted and switched to some foreign language while bouncing around in his pocket, but he still reached the Negaunee checkpoint with what he calculated to be two-and-a-quarter hours to do two hours worth of tough climbing and old school descending. The Marji directors throw absurd obstacles at racers on purpose, and the final mile was no exception. With seven minutes to spare, Kronser had to climb straight up to the top of the iron formation of Jasper Knob that is locally considered the “world’s largest gemstone.” At the summit, he found a bucket containing the last poker chip that would represent the completion of his quest if only he could deliver it to the finish line in downtown Ishpeming before time expired. He nearly crashed on the way back down but did indeed cash in his chips for the coveted buckle with just five minutes to spare.
Two WEMS races later, he had completed his stellar season and was already dreaming of next year and reflecting that he expected his 2018 odyssey to be worse. It took over 10,000 miles on the truck and 1,076 race miles on the bike to make it happen. He conquered 11 tremendous events with enough variety to keep him engaged. His year was a beautiful, priceless thing that defies explanation. Why would someone spend $50 on nutrition to win a prize that would at best be a token or $20? He did it for the excitement and a bounty of pride that he shares with all those who finish an all-day event, no matter if they come in first or take twice as long to find the finish. Kronser earned the respect of the older generation of endurance racers. He was not a naive upstart. He is a man of fortitude who confronts a daunting challenge with eyes open to the obstacles and the temperament to endure them.
As uncompromising as his 2018 season was, it may have just been base miles to set him up for greater things next year. He may not complete the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series again because of hands that have been repeatedly damaged by cold, so he’s planning to race the Huracan 300 in Florida this February. That monstrous loop includes 100 miles of single track, three river crossings and an unknown quantity of alligators. In April, he’s looking at the Arizona Trail 300 before he rides from Denver to Durango in the Colorado Trail 500 in July. That bike-packing adventure has 70,000 feet of climbing, but still had more finishers than the grassroots Manistee 250 that is really four laps of a 75-mile loop through Michigan in August. No person has ever finished that event, and I suppose the same is true of the inaugural Marji Out-n-Back. The race directors aren’t shy about calling it one of their dumber ideas, but that didn’t stop Kronser from sending in his resume.
Keep an eye on Corey Kronser next year, and find a few adventures for yourself while you’re at it. There’s a challenge for every appetite out on the trail.
Date Kronser’s 2018 Calendar State Miles Time
|5/26||WEMS Buzzard Buster @ Levis||Wisconsin||90||9:30:00|
|6/09||WEMS Romp in the Swamp @ 9 Mile||Wisconsin||105||10:04:02|
|7/7||Tatanka 100||South Dakota||100||9:31:48|
|7/14||WEMS RASTA Rock N Root||Wisconsin||83||9:06:57|
|8/4||Maah Daah Hey 100||North Dakota||105||10:48:12|
|8/18||WEMS Hundred Down in the Underdown||Wisconsin||100||11:01:21|
|9/29||WEMS Stump Farm||Wisconsin||100||6:57:36|
|10/6||Greenbush WEMS Championship||Wisconsin||82||7:20:49|