Monday, May 19, 2014

TransIowa V10 - Race Report - Pt 2

After parking my bike out of the way, I trudged into Norway's convenience store and looked around. While it certainly didn't have the selection of a Casey's, it was not as bad as Mark had made it out to be. I was expecting the Wadena C-store that was used during TIV4. I wandered the aisles for a bit and finally settled on a quart of chocolate milk, a bottle of V8, a pizza burger, a slice of pizza and a bottle of Mountain Dew. I walked over to a small table, sat my food down and just stared at it while Mike Johnson and Ben Oney came over to sit and rest. I started eating the pizza burger, but it tasted like cardboard. I sat and stared at my food for a while, completely unsure what to do next. I grabbed my phone so I could make "The Call" when the time came. Ben noticed I wasn't eating and suggested that I start in on the chocolate milk to try and get some carbs and sugar into my system and jumpstart things a bit. I slowly worked through the quart of milk, V8 and the pizza burger. By this time more people were coming in and many of them, at first glance, seemed to be as miserable as I was. I heard some mumblings from others in my group about figuring out when to leave. I was still convinced that this was the end of the line for me, but I walked back to my bike to get my water bottles and at least go through the motions of getting ready to go. The chill of the wind hit me like a hammer and my body instantly tensed up and started shaking. I brought the bottles back in the store, sat down and warmed up a bit more. Despite sitting inside again, I was frozen, so I grabbed all of my spare clothes, other than my rain gear, and put them on. The guys I had arrived with were starting to put on their helmets, so I filled up my bottles, and pulled up Mark's number on my phone so I could call him after I put the bottles back on my bike. Mike must have sensed I was still hurting as he asked how I was feeling, then told me that I should just climb back on the bike, sit in, take it easy for a while, and give my body a chance to process the food. He mentioned the cooling temps and the tailwind we would be enjoying. It was all my brain needed to decide to hop back on the bike, at least for a bit. After all, if I needed to, I could slow down, or drop somewhere else on the course if I needed to. At this time I opted to use one of my bottles of 5 Hour Energy as a bit of insurance against the sleep monster. The next thing I knew, we were rolling west out of town on pavement.

We took it easy, letting the tailwind push us along. As we turned north and then west off the pavement and on to the gravel, it was obvious that I was wearing too many layers to be comfortable while riding. I stopped, quickly removed the neck buff and another layer, then rejoined the group while Mike soft pedaled to let me catch up. Looking at the cue sheets, I was pleased to note that we had a long, straight stretch heading west. Cool after removing the layers, and buoyed by the flat roads and tailwinds, my mood started to lift. Soon, I was up front, bombing the downhills and letting the tailwind push me along. After a couple of short jogs north and then west, we were once again on another long west stretch and I finally felt like I was getting some of my strength and alertness back. We crossed Hwy 30 and continued along a meandering 320th Ave for quite a few miles. A few short eastbound sections interspersed with our now northbound route confirmed that the winds were not letting up at all. By this time, it was well past dark, and we were well into a routine of stopping briefly for food or bio breaks once per hour, and I was feeling really good.  We meandered north for a while, and then enjoyed another big push west, with the wind making eerie howling noises as we passed underneath power lines every mile or so.

Not too long after this, we noticed another rider stopped up ahead. It turned out to be Sarah Cooper, who was dealing somewhat unsuccessfully with what appeared to be a fairly rambunctious puppy. It turns out that the pup was attacking her front tire and she had stopped in front of a house to figure out if the situation was going to get worse. Evidently, feeding him a snack had meant that they were now best friends and he was pretty much willing to do whatever she wanted. Our group of eight, now a group of ten with the inclusion of Sarah and her puppy, took off into the night. The nine riders took to the road, and the pup opted to run beside us in the ditch. We turned east onto a B road, and soon we noticed a vehicle parked where the B road ended. It turned out to be Mark, who was letting riders know about a reroute that was necessary due to bridge construction. After a brief chat, we took off along the reroute, which meant a bit more B road and heading east into the wind, Sarah's puppy in tow. After running with us, and in front of us for about 5 or 6 miles, the pup had disappeared and soon we were turning west and enjoying a bit more tailwind. Before running into Sarah, we had been taking note of a spectacular light show to the south of us. Concerned, we stopped and pulled up radar to make sure the storms weren't going to hit us. It appeared that we might miss the rain until we took this latest turn west. We were starting to ride straight towards a fairly strong looking cell that was sending plenty of lightning to the ground. Knowing we were going to get hit, I suggested that we stop to put on rain gear. Barely 5 minutes after this, there was a close ground stroke of lightning that caused most of the group to stop and assess the situation. With the rain starting, and more lighting flashes, we some of us decided to see if we could take shelter in some nearby farm buildings. A small wooden one was unlocked and had just enough room for our group, so we quickly piled our bodies and bikes inside just as the storm hit.

After we were out of the storm, we made a call into MTB Radio and sent a text to Mark to let him (and others) know what was going on, and that we were safe. We kept one eye on the radar, but also tried to eat some food and maybe catch a bit of rest while we waited for the storms to pass. It was obvious that another cell was headed our direction, so we decided to stay in place until that one passed by and then try and get moving. Luckily, we had time in the bank from earlier in the day, as it was 3:30 AM when we were finally able to start moving again. Two hours had passed, and while most of us were just a bit stiff from the break, our group was starting to shrink. Corey Godfrey had gotten too cold during the break and decided he was unable to go on. Corey had been riding strong all day and had been a steady source of encouragement and conversation to the group for the entire day, and it hurt me to see him go back in the barn and close the door behind him. Ben Oney had been battling stomach issues for some time after Norway, and they had finally caught up with him. He had called his girlfriend while we were stopped and arranged for her to come and pick him up in just up the road in Gladbrook.

We had a big push south out of Gladbrook. While it wasn't a headwind, the strong crosswinds were making everyone work and making it hard to hear or think. Along here, we passed Robert Fry who, based on his pace and state of dress, was obviously feeling the effects of both the long day and the storms that had passed. I thought that Sarah had slowed to talk to Robert and even heard her yell at him over the wind. I would find out after the race ended that she had gotten a flat tire at this point and was yelling to let us know. We rode on, leaving Sarah and Robert together. We made our way into Montour, on some of the very same roads we rolled over during TIV9. We were in a pattern of pedaling, breathing and eating. I was getting a bit disoriented as far as what direction we were heading. The roads were still hilly, and the scenery was still bleak but beautiful. At one point I rounded a corner, only to have to swerve around a large bull snake that was sitting in the middle of my line. We entered a small gathering of houses that turned out to be named Ferguson, and we were through it before I knew what happened. After a few miles, we turned east into the headwind and our pace slowed significantly. However, we knew that a town was coming up, so our small group of five buckled down and pedaled on. Like Norway, the convenience store in Gilman had a number of bikes sitting out front, and a number of riders attempting to warm up and figure out how to proceed. We went inside and fell into our normal routine of slipping out of wet clothes and refueling. Matt Gersib was sitting inside and was pulling the plug, despite being 40 miles from the finish. He was convinced he would not be able to handle anymore riding into the headwinds. I talked to Matt and tried to convince him to sit in behind us for the headwind push, but he had already made the call to both Mark and his wife, and he was sticking to his plan.

Our group, now down to four, headed out of town and after a few short miles, I found myself looking with dread at the next two cues -  L onto 318th. R on 90th. This was 9 miles straight into the headwind, with some big hills thrown in for good measure. We got into a paceline and Josh Brown went to the front and started pulling, like he had been doing for a good portion of the early morning. Mike pulled up next to me and told me this was the long headwind push that Matt Gersib had talked about. I nodded and said that all we could do was put our heads down and keep pedaling. Josh, Patrick Lackey and I settled into slow, but steady pace. Unfortunately, this was faster than Mike wanted or was able to go at this point. Having ridden with Mike most of the day, I knew that he was riding his own race and his own pace. If we would have slowed down, I was certain that he wasn't going to try and match our pace, even if it was in a draft. Josh, Patrick and I continued on, with Josh powering us into the headwind for almost all of this stretch. As we took the right onto 90th, I knew we were going to finish, it was just a matter of when, although I was worried about the condition of the B roads that were marked on the cues. Amazingly, both were ridable, probably due to the strong winds that had been blowing throughout the morning. As we looked at the last few cues, I was getting elated, and Josh couldn't understand why. After a bit of conversation, he had figured out that we would have a tailwind to the finish, and not a headwind like he thought. Both he and Patrick were happy that they were going to finish their rookie TransIowa. Mark managed to find 5 miles of hills and fresh rock for our last big tailwind leg just to make sure we were completely worked over. At the end of this section, the three of us stopped so that I could remove a few layers. The sun was up, and I was still riding with rain pants and some other insulating layers on. We had decided to spread out a bit so that everyone could finish on their own and enjoy a bit of time in the spotlight at the finish. In the end, Josh finished 8th, I finished 9th and Patrick finished 10th. Once out of the headwind section, Mike turned on the afterburners and came in just two minutes behind Patrick in 11th.

Once again, I had the support and congratulations of my friends and wife at the finish. Cold beer from Kyle Sedore in my hand almost as soon as I stopped (and demolished in record time) and a big hug from my wife. I was happy to be done and, at the same time, sorry that it was over.

A few thank yous to close this out -

Thank you Mark, for putting together a tough course for TIV10. The B roads, rain and the winds, despite being out of your control, made an already tough course even tougher. Thank you for 10 years of allowing us to have fun.

A huge thank you to my teammate, Mike Johnson, for digging me out of a deep dark hole at CP2. Without his race experience, and concern for me at that point in the race, I would not have finished this year. I cannot ask for a finer person as a teammate and as a friend.

Thank you to my coach, JJ Bailey at Zoom Performance, for getting me ready for this adventure, and many more over the next several months.

Thank you to Cindy McGuire at Hands On Sports Massage for keeping me in tip top shape, and being a great sounding board.

Thank you to all of my friends, old and new, that rode with me this winter and spring. You made prepping for TransIowa much less lonely for me.

Lastly, a huge thank you and "I love you" to my wife for letting me play bikes for the last 5 months, putting up with my crazy training schedule, plans, and keeping me company during the many hours I spent in the basement this winter.

Monday, May 5, 2014

TransIowa V10 - Race Report - Pt 1

My alarm went off at 2:30 AM, but I was already awake. Another TransIowa start was 90 minutes away and I could not stay in bed any longer. I took my clothes into the bathroom so that my roommate, Vin Cox could catch a few more precious minutes of sleep. I checked the temperature and made my clothing selections - 45NRTH merino t-shirt, standard bibs and jersey, arm and leg warmers, 45NRTH Greasy hat, lightweight Salsa windvest and a medium weight pair of Specialized gloves. By the time I was dressed, Vin's alarm had roused him from slumber and he, too, was in the process of getting ready for the upcoming day. Soon, we were both sitting in the hotel's breakfast room, along with a number of other riders, filling our stomachs with what we hoped were enough of, and the right, calories to get us safely to checkpoint one.

A number of us gathered at the front of the hotel, so we could ride to the start as a group. Leaving the hotel, I rode alongside one of my teammates, Brett Bebbe, and chatted. It was a cordial ride, good for spinning out the legs, with one hard sprint up a small hill to get them slightly warmed up for the day's work. Once we arrived at the start line, riders continued to arrive, flash bulbs flashed, and the level of excitement and nervousness continued to increase. Mark Stevenson, the Race director, took the opportunity to remind us about the railroad tracks and B road that we would encounter within the first few miles of the race. Soon, the countdown was on. A horn beeped, and I, along with 103 other cyclists, followed a dusty maroon pickup truck through the streets of Grinnell and into the black of rural Poweshiek county.

Unlike the start of TIV9, the people at the tip of the race opted to gently ease up to speed, rather than hit the gas hard. After a few rollers strung the field out, I found myself in a swiftly moving double pace line, keeping pace with the others, but not working outside of my comfort level. The tracks were bad, as promised. I lost one of my 3 full water bottles while hurtling over the second set. I opted to leave the bottle and keep moving, rather than lose contact with the main group. The wind was relatively benign and I wanted to make as much progress on the course as possible before it intensified. As we approached the first of ten promised sections of B roads, I allowed a small gap to form to the riders in front of me. I figured that would give me enough time to figure out if the road was ridable without sacrificing too much of my driveline. It turned out that this road was ridable, much to everyone's surprise,. I spent the next few minutes following the tracks of those that had entered ahead of me, shifting my weight to maintain traction as my bike crested the small hills that this road traversed. At the exit, a quick check of my tires and driveline showed nothing to worry about, so I continued to ride on, letting the movement of the wheels and the abrasiveness of the limestone clean the mud from my tires.

After a bit, I found myself in the company of Paul LaCava and another rider. We talked briefly and stayed together until we pulled up next to Matt Gersib. Matt had told us there was a group of four to six riders ahead, but that he dropped off to ride his own race. Paul looked at me and asked if I was going to chase them down. I knew it was going to be a long day, and I was happy with my current pace, so I told Paul "no". With that, he and the other rider picked up their cadence and steadily rode away from Matt and me. Paul would go on to finish the race in second place overall. Matt and I rode together and chatted for quite a while. I don't get to see Matt too often, so it was good to spend some time turning pedals with him in the quiet of the morning. We quickly noted that no one else seemed to be working their way up to us, we weren't even able to see any headlights at the top of hills when we looked back. This caused me a bit of concern, but I was still feeling comfortable with our pace, so I continued on. We marveled at the beauty of the fire red crescent moon with Venus in the east sky and pedaled on. A bit after sunrise, I noticed it was almost too quiet, and I looked back to see that Matt and I had split from each other. Matt is an experienced rider, and was obviously riding his race, so I continued past the photography crew and up the hill behind them. I arrived in Lynnville and took a brief wrong turn due to some worn street signs. I quickly corrected my error and got back on course. I saw the checkpoint ahead of me on the main street, but opted to drop into the convenience store first. Through poor race craft, I was behind on calories and fluids a bit, and I also needed to replace the water bottle I lost at the railroad tracks. The winds had been picking up since sunrise, and I knew that even four bottles was probably not going to be enough for the next 120 miles. The volunteers at the checkpoint were friendly and efficient. I had new cues quickly and they took any trash I had from me at that time as well.
As I finished a bottle of V8, I saw another rider coming in. At first, I thought it was Matt Gersib, but I could tell by the silhouette that it wasn't. In a few seconds, the smiling (?) face of Mike Johnson came into view. It didn't take Mike long to get his cues swapped and other affairs in order, and soon we were riding out of town together.

Mike and I rode together for a while, but it was becoming apparent that, although we were headed the same direction, our paces were different. Mike was locked into his plan and wasn't going to alter it, at least not with just two of us fighting against the east wind. Soon after, I was riding by myself again. The next 50+ miles passed without much fanfare. I stopped a couple of times to eat and to take a quick bio break and kept fighting the hills and the headwind. I found myself nodding off and yawning a few times, even though it was only between 10 or 11 AM. I wasn't sure what the cause was, but it had me concerned. A few miles west of North English, Joe Fox and a couple of other riders pulled up next to me. After riding by myself, it was nice to have some people to draft off of and share the work with. Joe said they had been catching glimpses of me for quite a while, but they weren't able to bridge up to me until just then. We rode together into North English and took a much needed break at the Casey's on the main highway. I remembered this Casey's from my TIV5 attempt, and at this point it looked much the same - Sunny with bunches of tired cyclists hanging out all around the building. Due to the heat and hills, I hadn't been eating properly for the past few hours, and had started to dig a hole in my energy reserves. I went in to the store, grabbed a chocolate milk, ice cream bar, a slice of pizza, a coke, a v8 and some water. As I was working through my pile of food, some riders left and others arrived. Soon, a good sized group rolled in - Ben Oney, Mike Johnson, Corey Godfrey, Josh Brown, Patrick Lackey, and a two other riders. Not too long after Sarah Cooper rolled in, looking fresh as a daisy. Mike reminded me, and others in his group, that the next C-store was the one that was supposed to have a limited selection of stuff. I passed that info onto Sarah and went in for a second round of food. Deciding that I was better off sharing the workload instead of trying to power through another 60 miles on my own, I cast my lot with Mike, Ben, Corey and the rest of their group. This was one of the smartest decisions that I would make all day.

As we headed north out North English, I remembered that the road we were riding on was also in TIV5. I also remembered that it was a series of big rollers, and we were going to be attacking them with a 20+ MPH crosswind. Remembering the sage advice Charles Parsons imparted on me in TIV9 - "Nothing but positive words from your mouth" - I said nothing about the upcoming hills. They were there, the winds were what they were, and we would deal with them, like those ahead of us had already done. We rode north for five or six miles, then turned west and enjoyed the tailwind for another four miles. Sarah Cooper, who had ridden with us since we left North English, turned on the afterburners on the tailwind sections and was gone. A couple of others in the group asked me what was going on, to which I replied that she had a lot of ultra distance experience and was riding her own race. I don't remember only bits and pieces about the rest of this section. We stopped near a river for a bio break and so I could apply some chamois cream to my shorts and backside. We made a right turn onto R Avenue west of the Amana Colonies and rode through a lovely flat section with lots of trees for a bit. The next left turn had us charging down a B road that I had chased riders up in the middle of the night during TIV7. It was really nice to be able to see the road during the day, as well as have it be perfectly rideable. Not too long after that B road, we arrived at Checkpoint 2. I had still been fighting sleep through the last fifty or so miles, and was becoming concerned that I was a danger to myself as well as the group I was riding with. I considered my options and, as the group prepared to leave, I got Mike Johnson's attention and made a slashing gesture across my throat. Mike motioned for me to pull up next to him and we talked for a bit. I was tired, I was sore, and just about to the point where I was going to crack. Mike convinced me to just sit in the group, refuel at the convenience store, and think things through. Although I knew I was less than a mile from the convenience store if I rode off course, Mike convinced me to follow him back to the group, which seemed like it was soft pedaling a bit to help make my decision easier. Although the roads were flat and we had a bit of a tail wind, the next few miles to the convenience store on Norway were some of the longest that I had ridden all day. My body and mind were in survival mode at this point, and I knew it. After just under fifteen hours since the start of the race, we were 183 miles in, and I had a short amount of time to make a big decision.