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. 

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