Texas Time Trials- The Tejas 500 2015

I had ice cream for breakfast this morning. I can barely open my mouth an inch to get the spoon in, and I am sick of scrambled eggs. The ice cream did the trick, and I feel like I want to ride my bike at least a little bit today. My face is still very swollen, but it appears that I am finally on the mend. I would like to say that I will never try this stunt again, riding 500 miles with a bad tooth. But these things aren’t entirely predictable, and I can only hope I don’t have another tooth decide to give up the fight when I’m 12 hours away from my dentist at a very important bike race. It has been a completely miserable experience. My dentist is a pretty funny guy though, and after his assistant finished drying my tears, he reminded me that pain is temporary, and at least I won the race. Yes, I did indeed win, and in far better fashion than probably everyone but my coach expected.

I signed up for the Tejas 500 in mid summer, and decided it would be my A race for the fall. It is 19 laps of a hilly, 26.4 mile loop held concurrently with 24, 12, and 6 hour races, as well as a one loop sprint. I wanted to do another 500 mile event this year, but did not want the expense of another fully crewed event that I had to fly to. The Texas Time Trials are held in Glen Rose, Texas, which is a 12 hour drive from Iowa. My friend Paul Black was available to crew for me, and willing to help me with the drive there and back. Logistically, it all came together perfectly and was far less expensive than any other fall race option would have been. I had heard pretty wonderful things about the race from my friends who had done it in years prior, and the only negative thing anyone had to say about it was related to the chip seal road surface. The race was otherwise pretty well known for having a competitive field, tough course, and fun vibe.

I rode the entire race on my Venge with 808's. The Di2 shifting lasted the entire race without additional charging

I rode the entire race in the same Panache kit and Specialized Evade helmet, on my Venge with Zipp 808 wheels. The Di2 shifting lasted the entire hilly race without additional charging.

I definitely put more time and intensity into training for the Tejas 500 than I had into the two prior 500 mile races I completed. My spring and summer were spent racing gravel in varying stages of fitness and fatigue, and although my overall results looked pretty good, I have to say I felt like I did a lot of wandering around getting lost, falling off my bike, and injuring myself. It was fun, and yet frustrating at the same time. There was no race that I felt satisfied with, that was an adequate expression of my fitness and the work that I had put in to my training this summer. But that is gravel racing for you. It requires a hefty measure of good fortune, resourcefulness, and the ability to navigate without preconceived notions of what a road looks like and where one should or should not ride a bike. It’s a little less about fitness, and more about being one of the few people left standing at the finish. I love gravel racing, but I was ready for at least one race with a little more planning and execution, and a little less adventure.

About 10 days out from this race, Greg Grandgeorge and I started talking about race pacing and estimated finish times. The forecast looked to be hotter than usual temperatures for September, with highs in the low to mid 90’s and overnight lows in the 60’s. Greg has been helping me plan my races since 2013, and has been fairly accurate in predicting my finish times for the ultra distance cycling races I have done in the last two years. He took over as my full time coach in July of this year. I trust his numbers, but when he came back with a projected ride time of 28:30, I was a bit shocked. I’ve never doubted him before, but given the hot temperatures and chip seal road surface, I was surprised to see a number under 30 hours. I had thought that I would need to race a better paved course in cooler weather before I saw a finish time like that. Greg actually re-ran the numbers for me, modeling me as being more inefficient than I usually am both on and off the bike, and still got 32 hours for a finish time. I was optimistic that this would be a good race if I could stay on the bike, but still doubtful that I would see a time under 30 hours.

hanging out at the Sonic before the race with Paul

hanging out with Paul at the Sonic before the race

There were three options for start times, 48, 42, and 36 hours. The 48 and 42 hour started Thursday night, and the 36 hour started Friday morning at 6 am. All races would finish by 6 pm on Saturday. I signed up for the 36 hour race primarily because I disliked the idea of starting at night after driving to the venue all day, and being awake for 50 hours again, a la Heart of the South. I’ll do that when I have to, but I prefer to avoid it if possible. It’s difficult to be functional when I return home with such a huge sleep deficit.

As the projected race day temperatures rose into the 90’s, Greg sent me a spreadsheet of the temperatures for each start time over my projected duration of racing to see how this would impact my race and if I should consider switching to a night start. There was really no benefit to me to start at night given my projected ride time, and the temperature average for the 48 hour start time was actually warmer than the 36 hour start time by 2 degrees. My primary concern was when during my race did I want to ride in the heat, on the front end, or 12 hours into it, because it was going to be hot no matter what. I opted to stick with the 36 hour start time and start after a full night’s sleep.

The theme of my 2015 season has been “I sure hope this gets better by Friday.” I have been plagued with minor disasters before every single race. Fortunately all have been relatively minor, and only one injury forced me to not start a race. But still, this is beginning to feel more than a little ridiculous. I’ve had smashed toes, broken toes, a smashed ankle ligament, bee stings, and other minor ailments. I’ve broken major bike components, and trashed tires and chains at a ridiculous rate. Prior to every Ironman race, my friends and I would joke about wearing a bubble wrap suit and carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer just to make it through race week unscathed. I’ve decided I need to step up my game for ultra cycling and wear a biohazard suit and roll around in a large plastic hamster ball.

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Bruce Woodard and me before the race

When my tooth first started hurting the weekend before the race, I was not at all surprised, as I had been expecting something to go wrong. I dutifully went to the dentist on Monday and he made some minor adjustments to relieve pressure on the tooth. I knew in my heart that this wasn’t going to go in my favor long term, but I accepted his optimism and instructions to come back in 10 days for a root canal if things weren’t better. I think if I had done a better job of conveying the pain I was already in by using words like ‘agony’, ‘excruciating’, or ‘eating motrin like candy’, perhaps he would have been less inclined to let me go to Texas without more significant intervention. Stoicism is a virtue in my family, and I strive to embrace most situations without excess drama. Perhaps this would have been a good occasion to be a little more dramatic, but I certainly was not in any hurry to have a root canal if I could avoid it. What I really wanted to say was “FOR F***K’s SAKE WHY?! Why this week? Why not next week? How about never? I brush my teeth, honestly!”

There are certainly worse things that could have happened to me during race week, and at least I could still ride a bike, so I stifled my inner drama queen and got busy trying to figure out how to still have a good race with a bad tooth. I had two days to train with the pain and work out some solutions before leaving town. I cut down a mouth guard to fit over the back molars to keep me from inadvertently biting down, and used wax to keep the air and cold drinks away from my sensitive tooth. Although it looked ridiculous, it seemed as if this might work out well enough if I could stick to mostly liquid nutrition. The worst part about this was breaking the news to Greg that I did not in fact make it through race week intact. I debated not telling him so that he wouldn’t worry… but I did end up telling him. My tooth didn’t get any worse before leaving town, but it didn’t really get any better. It was pretty uncomfortable on the 12 hour drive to Texas, but Paul and I made it in good time, and got checked in to race without incident.

The very small 36 hour start. Photo by Paul Black

The very small 36 hour start. Photo by Paul Black

Race morning arrived all too quickly, and there were only three starters remaining in the 36 hour start time. Everyone else had moved to the night start times, or a different race. Given the situation with my tooth, I was even more dubious about my ability to finish the race in under 30 hours, but I was determined to stick to the race plan if possible and see how things panned out. I told Paul I would ride two loops between stops as many times as possible before it got hot, and then I would need to stop every loop to pick up two bottles and put ice in my jersey. When Paul and I made plans for this trip, we brought a bike along for him so that he could take off and ride if he wanted, and also head back to the hotel and sleep at night. It should have been easy enough for me to crew for myself for a little while, as he could leave my cooler by the side of the road where I could easily get what I needed. Things were so intense during this race that he never did leave for anything fun or restful, and the only trips away from our transition spot were to get ice or drinks for me. Most of my races I try to joke around and have a bit of fun out there. Maybe if I had been acting like my usual self, he would have been comfortable leaving me, but it was all very serious for the most part.

The first loop in the dark ended up being just me and the pace car. I inadvertently stole it from the other two morning starters when I took off faster than they wanted to ride. The route was very well marked, and it would have been very difficult to get lost even without the car in front of me, but it was fun to have it to myself for the first 7 miles until the one and only left hand turn on the course. That was probably my last moment of pure joy for the entire race. Paul and I had driven the course after arriving the day prior, and my first impression of the chip seal was that it was not going to be as bad as advertised. Riding the first loop, I realized that it was every bit as bad as advertised, and driving it did not even remotely do it justice. It’s like they took gravel and mixed it with black top and then did a poor job rolling it out. There were newer sections of chip seal that were pretty well rolled out, but the older stuff was just bumpy. My gravel buddies would love this stuff. I looked down at my power meter on a descent, and it was 200 watts to go down a hill. That’s just crazy rough stuff right there.

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photo by Grace Photography

I stopped every two laps for the first 105 miles, then switched as planned to every lap. Once the sun was up, it heated up pretty quickly and  my lap times began to slow. The temperature rose into the 90’s, with a brief peak of 102 degrees in the afternoon. Fortunately the temperature fluctuated around the loop, and the occasional passing cloud made it feel at least briefly cooler in spots. I gave thanks to every cloud that gave us shelter, no matter how brief. I picked up baggies of ice every loop and stuck them in the front and back of my sports bra. The ice would melt by halfway around the loop, so the far side always felt like a trip across the face of the sun.

After my fourth lap, my left cheek started to swell on both the inside of my mouth, and outside. The pain moved mostly into the soft tissue of my jaw and face, the tooth itself was no longer terribly painful. At first I was pretty grateful, as this made the race easier to manage nutritionally and I was able to take out the awkward mouth guard. But after a few more laps it occurred to me that the nerve inside my tooth had probably died, and I now had a raging infection that might eat my face if I took too long to finish this race. GREAT. I’ve come home from all of my races this year in varying states of disrepair, but this one was going to be hard to explain to my husband.

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The biggest hill on the course. Photo by Grace Photography

The combined effect of the heat and the chip seal took the worst toll on my feet. By mid afternoon, hot foot had set in. I tried a number of different strategies to manage it, and all were effective for at least a little while, but then I would hit certain bumpier areas of the course and be back in misery. Anytime I descended a hill it would bring on a wave of agony. I eventually ended up off the bike for a few minutes to spray my feet down heavily with Trislide and put socks on. Once they were encased in the gooey, slippery mess, they felt much better. I definitely lost some time to this problem both due to loss of power while riding and off the bike time in dealing with it, but overall it was much improved over previous hot racing and training experiences. I don’t know if gooey feet will be the solution for future races, but for this one it worked out pretty well.

In every other race that I have done, things are usually pretty friendly out on the course and everyone says at least hello as they pass, or exchanges a few words. This race, not so much. I tried to at least say hello to the other women and 500 mile racers, but it was just so painful out there, sometimes croaking out a ‘hi’ was more than I could do. I did on as many occasions as I could, but most of the time we just passed each other without a word. In general, I hurt, and I felt pretty crappy for most of the race. I was sick with this tooth infection, and I knew it. I saw and talked to Bruce Woodard (my other Iowa friend in the 500 mile race) on a few occasions, but then it was many laps of relative solitude and private misery. Most races when I am alone, I take in the scenery and its changing colors as the light of the day gives way to night, and then day again. I noticed almost none of that this time. It was all pretty intense. Chris Hopkinson in the 24 hour race lapped me once at night, and it was probably the first time I had smiled and spoken with genuine expression for hours.

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It was sad when they turned the lights to the town off at night. It was really cool to ride through there at night. Photo by Grace Photography

During the night, the temperature dropped into the 50’s. I started to see riders decked out in full winter gear and tights. I wished I had a pair of light gloves, but never took the time to get them when I passed by Paul every loop. Otherwise the temperatures felt downright pleasant to me after baking in the oven all day.

I started to do the math on when I would finish if I maintained my current speed. I initially struggled with the math, and came up with a 34 hour finish time. Thankfully I did not give up in any way based on my crappy math, because as I neared the 400 mile mark in under 24 hours, I realized I was right on target to finish in around 29 hours. I understand that in general, it is more helpful to think of things in the positive, and not spend time telling yourself what not to do. But once I knew that 29:XX was definitely right in my hands, the last 3 laps were all about ‘don’t throw up’, and ‘don’t fall off’. Those were my primary concerns in the last miles of the race.

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After the finish with Dan Driscoll

I did make it to the finish line without falling off or throwing up, and I finished in 29:21, good enough for first place woman, a new course record by over 6 hours, and second overall within a large male field. The race director Dan Driscoll was at the finish line waiting for me, and it was so much fun to see how happy he was to see me do that well. This race was extremely well organized, and I can’t say enough good things about it. The volunteers were so nice, and with the roving sag support all day and night, I never felt alone on the loop. Linda Middleton, the photographer, was present on the course day and night, and was so full of enthusiasm she even managed to get me to smile a few times. I can see why so many people love this race. I only wish I had felt better for more of it, and been less miserable so that I could have enjoyed it more. I guess I will have to go back for another race sometime, without a toothache or some other affliction.

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photo by Grace Photography

I ended up putting down a little more power over the race to ride a little slower than predicted. My ride time was 28:48, just 18 minutes longer than what Greg had predicted. It was so very hot, and not an easy day out there by any means, so a sub 30 hour ride time and finish has added meaning for me. I rode well, and kept my stopped time to 33 minutes. I am so thankful to Greg for believing that I could do this, and for challenging me to believe in myself and get it done, regardless of the circumstances.

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Bruce and me at the awards. I had the privilege of chasing Bruce through his final lap. Photo by Grace Photography

Bruce and Paul helped me get back to the hotel room. I had the chills, and could barely stand up straight. Bruce had been done for several hours, and looked fresh as a daisy and ready to ride some more. I felt like such a sissy. After a few hours and some Motrin, I was in much better shape and fairly functional by the awards that evening. I had a fever though, and every time the Motrin wore off I would start to chill.

Paul had to do most of the driving on the way home. I drove maybe 4 hours of a 12 hour drive. I called my dentist when we were about 90 minutes out of Des Moines, and picked up a prescription for an antibiotic on the way home. I had a root canal Tuesday morning, and they were able to save the tooth. The resulting infection in my face was so incredibly painful though that tears streamed out of my eyes during much of the procedure, during my trip to the pharmacy after, and for about two hours after. I think after the initial pain response, the tears were for Wade, and for every sad and frustrating thing that has happened in the last few months, and less about the physical pain. Funny how that happens sometimes.

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My pro crew, Paul Black. Photo by Grace Photography

A big thank you to Paul Black for crewing me to another 500 mile course record, and my first sub 30 hour finish. Your quiet demeanor and easy companionship make the long drive and difficult race so much better. Sorry I was not quite myself this trip, and pretty close to useless on the drive home.

I have some pretty exciting news to share before closing. Joe and Connie Mann took the last open spots on my Race Across the West crew, so I am full up with crew and very excited to begin planning and preparing for that race.

Greg Grandgeorge has made available a new website with the same planning and coaching services he has provided to me for years. It’s been exciting to see this take off for him, and to see his other athletes do so well this season. You can check it out here and his personal blog over here .

And last but not least, Kyle sold me a Specialized Fatboy. Rumors of my fat bike purchase made it all the way to the Bike Bag Dude in Australia, and  I will be racing it decked out in their custom, ultralight frame bags sometime this winter. Now I just need to find a race!

 

Idirtarod 200 Gravel Challenge 2015

I rode gravel today for the first time since getting home from Colorado. My bike is now covered in grey Iowa gravel dust, and the remnants of Colorado dirt are gone. I was sad to see them go. It was a wonderful trip, and the Idirtarod 200 was a fantastic first year event. I am so glad I had the opportunity to go.

I stumbled across the Idirtarod 200 on the Riding Gravel race calendar when I was looking for an event to fill a gap in my schedule. Labor Day weekend was not the time frame I was looking for, but I kept coming back to the website over and over again… I was drawn to it. I had always wanted to race in Colorado, but had not yet had an opportunity that worked out so well with our family schedule. This year the race started in Palmer Lake, and finished at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch in Elbert. There were four 50 mile sections of Colorado front range gravel, dirt, and a little bit of single track, with over 14,000 feet of climbing. The course itself would be challenging enough to justify the 10 hour drive from Iowa, but in addition the entire race took place at an average elevation of 7,000 feet. The opportunity to spend a weekend of hard riding at altitude sounded like something that would be fun, and good for me. Maybe good for me in a painful way, like a root canal, but still something I should do. I added it on to my already full calendar in the middle of my last big training block before the Tejas 500.

The boot my friend Ebe named Das Dreamkiller

The boot my friend Ebe named Das Dreamkiller

My ability to attend this event hung in the balance until just a few days prior. I had injured my left ankle and missed Gravel Worlds two weeks before, and the projected timeline for healing did not look to be in my favor. I had walked into my doctor’s office with a persistently swollen and painful ankle, thinking she would tell me to tape it up and carry on. I didn’t think it was all that bad. Our initial conversation was promising, and then we started talking about my races, and training volume, and next year… The next thing I knew I was imprisoned in an air cast boot wondering what the heck had just happened. Yikes. Immobilizing the joint and restricting my walking helped things to improve rapidly enough that I felt like I could take some chances and continue on with my planned training schedule. The weather looked promising for a dry Labor Day weekend in Colorado, and little chance that I would need to hike through mud carrying my bike, so I decided to take the risk and race the Idirtarod before my ankle was fully healed.

The Idirtarod is a self supported event, meaning there is no on course support, but crews were allowed and recommended at each of the 50 mile checkpoints. I brought my friend Katherine Roccasecca along as crew, as I knew she would be able to find enough single track and gravel to ride over the weekend to make the trip worth her time. Logistically, this event could not have worked out much better for us. Katherine found mountain bike trails to ride within minutes of our hotel in Monument, and the 10 hour drive from Iowa was one of the easiest I have ever done. As a destination race, this was perfect for us.

getting ready before the start. Photo by K. Roccasecca

getting ready before the start. Photo by K. Roccasecca

Race morning dawned clear and cool, and we lined up in the dark for the neutral rollout on single track. I haven’t ridden single track in two years, and I’ve never ridden anything but gravel on my cross bike. About a mile into the trail, we encountered a deep rut on a downhill. When I saw the rut at the last second, my first thought was that I was not going to clear it. I have more experience with Iowa B roads than I do single track, but I know that once I think I am not going to clear something, I don’t. Sure enough, I went down on my right side and slid to the edge of the trail. I scraped and bruised my right leg and hip, but no major damage. It was highly embarrassing, but I was up and back on my bike in seconds. I cleared the remaining ruts without problem.

The start. photo by K. Roccasecca

The start. photo by K. Roccasecca

After a few miles, the neutral rollout ended where the trail crossed a road and opened up into two track. The sun was rising over the hills just in front of us, and it was a beautiful morning. Naas (the race director) had warned us that some of the lines had more deep sand in them than others, but it was impossible to tell which line to ride in the faint light of dawn. I have never ridden in sand like that before, so I got behind a man that seemed to know what he was doing and stayed behind him. We were moving pretty quickly, darting from line to line and occasionally passing people. Whenever he snowplowed into sand, I was prepared to plow into it soon after. The key seemed to be to hit it as fast as possible and not crash when you hit it. We made it through unscathed, but if there is a way to ride sand with more finesse, I would like to hear it.

photo by Naas Tredoux

photo by Naas Tredoux. Lots of sand.

A few miles later we emerged onto gravel, and I thought I had seen the last of the sand. Oh, naive innocence… the sand was a constant feature throughout the day. My heart rate was a little higher than I wanted it to be, probably due to the altitude, and I got dropped by the front group of men. I noticed that I was making time on them on the climbs, so rather than push to catch them I let the hills bring them back to me. It took some time, but I eventually worked my way through them, and then it was just me and Austin, the eventual overall winner of the 200 mile. I didn’t go into this with any expectation that I would race hard or do very well, so it was a nice surprise to find myself out front.

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Peyton, CO. Last minute directions from Heather Tredoux. Photo by K. Roccasecca

The first 50 miles was very beautiful, with pine trees, farms, and a lot of climbing. I was surprised when Austin and I arrived at the first checkpoint ahead of all but one of the 100 mile men. Part of the fun of gravel racing is the tall tales we tell afterwards, so if you ask me directly, I’ll tell you that first stage was 10 miles of fast, and 40 miles of sand and washboarded roads. That’s what it felt like anyway. These weren’t washboards like we get in Iowa, where it’s generally in short sections near stop signs and turns. This was the entire road, ditch to ditch, washboarded for long stretches at a time. And often covered in deep, momentum killing sand. It was really tough.

I left the time station a minute or two ahead of Austin, and he caught me soon after. Our style of riding was very different, so it was hard to really ride together but it was nice to have the company whenever possible. He was stronger and faster on the rutted dirt roads, washboards, and deep sand, and I would get out front on the easier, faster rolling gravel. It was enough of a mix that we ended up fairly close throughout the entire race.

photo by Naas Tredoux

photo by Naas Tredoux

The terrain in the first 100 miles reminded me of the Alexander 380, with its big, long hills and fast, curving descents. My top speed descending was 45 mph, and there were others where I topped 40 mph. Some of the descents were washboarded or covered with sand in places that was difficult to see until you hit it. About 15 miles into stage 2, I hit a long patch of deep sand going well over 30 mph. My bike went sideways, twice, and then I ran it off the road onto a narrow strip of solid dirt between the sand and the ditch. I stopped, and waited for Austin to make it down. He said it was one of the best saves he had ever seen, and that I missed my calling as a mountain biker. I felt pretty good about that, and I guess as long as there are not trees or ruts involved, I am not half bad at mountain biking.

In the middle of another heavily sanded section, Austin joked about this day being like riding on the beach. That struck me as being hilariously funny, and I laughed to the point of dysfunction. SO MUCH SAND! I could barely pedal I was laughing so hard. I suffered from intermittent giggles for the remainder of the ride. I have very little finesse as a gravel racer, and usually get beat down by the course and the weather to the point that it’s really not so much about racing… more of a survival experience. I was very ready for some humor.

Calhan, CO. photo by Heather Tredoux

Calhan, CO. Two fisting my drinks. photo by Nancy

Austin and I rolled into the second checkpoint at the softball field in Calhan together. I emptied my pockets and pulled out a handful of uneaten gel. Between the bumpy roads and the sand, it had been difficult to take my hands off the bars long enough to get anything out of my pockets. I hadn’t started this ride rested or with full glycogen stores, so that hard 50 miles on next to nothing was a big problem. I had chocolate milk and soda, and tried to get in as many calories as I could before I rolled out. Katherine gave me a gentle reminder that I needed to actually take in some calories at some point during the next section. She should’ve just smacked me.

Katherine waiting on me at checkpoint two. Photo by Nancy

Katherine at checkpoint two. Photo by Nancy

I left the second checkpoint just a little bit ahead of Austin. There was one long climb up past the Paint Mine and wind farm, and then it was a nice long tailwind and a lot of descending. I spun out in my 46/11, and spent a lot of miles going over 30 mph and not pedaling at all. I wished I had a bigger ring on the front, I could’ve made up more time on that section. The third 50 mile section from Calhan to Simla was on the high prairie, and very desolate. There was nothing to see beyond the occasional farmhouse, and miles of uninterrupted blue sky and brown and gold fields, with the occasional splash of something green. The wind was howling. There were few cars, but it was difficult to hear the few that came up behind me because the wind was so loud.

I tried to do a better job with my nutrition, but my hands were so dysfunctional that I never really managed to get much in. When I could let go of the bars to get something out of my pocket, I was happy to see my own gloved hand, and not a shriveled old lady claw. I don’t think my hands have ever hurt that bad before. My triceps felt like they had been beaten with a baseball bat, and it was ridiculously painful to reach behind me, or pull my bottles in and out of their cages. I used to have a nice pair of cycling gloves that were perfect for gravel riding, and never had trouble with my hands. But my dog had a thing for them, and while he never chewed them up, he carried them around in his mouth and slobbered all over them. They became too disgusting to wear. The gloves I was wearing were not up to the task.

Austin caught me just before a dirt road, and passed me as I struggled with the sand and ruts. The dirt roads were very much like those in Nebraska, miles and miles longer than Iowa B roads, with ruts that were incredibly deep. Austin put some time into me on that road, and then we turned into a very long, very miserable headwind and sandy stretch. The temperature had risen to 90 degrees, and the sun was beating down on us. There were just under 70 miles to the finish, but from that point on it would be predominately uphill and mostly into the headwind. Naas had told us that section 3 would be a good place to make up time, and it was a little faster than section 2. But the howling wind, heat, desolate prairie, and sand made it tougher than advertised.

rolling into checkpoint 3 in Simla, CO. Photo by K. Roccasecca

rolling into checkpoint 3 in Simla, CO. Photo by K. Roccasecca

There was a bit of tailwind and some fast rolling gravel in the last miles of section 3, so I made it to the checkpoint in Simla a few minutes ahead of Austin. I sucked down as many liquid calories as I could stomach and was getting ready to roll out when he rolled in. His family had brought him some food, and I couldn’t think of a single thing I would’ve wanted Katherine to bring me. My mouth and throat were so dry from the lack of humidity and altitude that I feared if I had anything solid I would choke on it.

As I was getting ready to leave the first two checkpoints, I would look over at Austin and ask him if he was about ready, and then I would leave knowing he was coming. I looked over at him as I was getting ready to roll out of checkpoint 3, and all that came out of my mouth was “ow, f*%k, ow, f*%k”! Well, there was nothing more I could say after that, so I left. The longer I ride, the more my social skills deteriorate.

The IDR crew. A great group of volunteers. Photo by Naas Tredoux

The IDR crew. A great group of volunteers. Photo by Naas Tredoux

The last 48 miles were mostly headwind and climbing. I’m not sure how much time I had on Austin when I left, but he had told me earlier in the day that there was a lot of sand and ruts in the last stage, so I knew he would likely catch me before the finish. I am prone to making profound navigational mistakes at the worst of times, and unfortunately I went off course before a dirt road. Another bike that I assume had been in the 100 mile race had gone left there, and I followed the tire tracks around to the left instead of going straight. I hadn’t noticed that the patch of weeds in front of me was actually a road. My Garmin beeped when I went off course, but the wind was raging so loudly I didn’t hear it. By the time I backtracked to the weed patch dirt road (for my fellow Odin’s Revenge survivors, think Brushy Road), I could see Austin a short way ahead of me. I managed to catch and pass him back, and put a little time back into him. The race was on then, but he caught me back in another long stretch of headwind and sand, just before the last long climb of the day. That climb sucked for the both of us, and I managed to keep the gap between us pretty close until the turn off to the jeep road to head to the finish line at Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch.

Katherine and I at the finish. photo by Naas Tredoux

Katherine and me at the finish. photo by Naas Tredoux

When Naas said that the last few miles to the finish was on a two track jeep road, I envisioned hard packed fast dirt, and the possibility that I could still run down Austin. About 50 yards into the road, I started cracking up laughing and knew that I was going to finish second unless Austin wrecked. I love gravel races, you really never know what you are going to get. The jeep road was twisty, sandy, bumpy, and really hard to negotiate in the dark. Just before the last turn to the finish, there was a set of steps to ride up. That was fantastic, and a fun way to finish. I finished just 4 minutes after Austin, and 2nd out of only 3 finishers in the 200 mile.

Sometimes you get your awards wherever you land. For me, it was in the dirt. Photo by K. Roccasecca

Sometimes you get your awards wherever you land. For me, it was in the dirt. Photo by K. Roccasecca

I was the only woman entered, so it didn’t feel like any kind of win for me, but I still enjoyed the prizes. I was so tired, Naas had to hand them to me where I was sitting in the dirt. I won a set of BMC bibs, and everyone got a pint glass for finishing. Katherine even got one too. The Tredoux family were fantastic hosts, the event was well organized, and I can’t say enough good things about it. The course was challenging, brutal in places, and definitely worth the trip. The altitude was an added challenge, and I definitely felt it, but not to the point that it would deter me from doing the event again. Katherine is already making plans for next year, so hopefully it will work out with my race schedule to do it again.

Austin Spencer, winner of the Idirtarod 200 mile, and me, the only woman entrant.

Austin Spencer, winner of the Idirtarod 200 mile, and me, the only woman entrant.

Katherine and I drove home the day after the race, and I jumped right into my last big training week before the Tejas 500. I am so very tired, and pretty ragged around the edges trying to get all of this training done around our normal busy life. My ankle hurt during the race, and it still hurts. It’s just another pain at this point. My hands have been numb for a week, but they are improving. I’ll be ready for Texas.

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It’s been hard not to dwell on all that has been difficult, sad, and tragic this year. A family member passed away, and two more friends died far too young. I have felt sad, and overwhelmed by it all at times. This weekend away with Katherine was a much needed break, and just plain fun. Thanks Katherine, for the fun and friendship, and for being stellar crew!

#RIDEFORWADE

 

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24 Hours of Cumming 2015

Dealing with the aftermath of gravel racing has become an entity all its own for me, and for my family. It’s me, standing in front of my husband bleeding and covered in dirt, asking him, “Can you bandage this up?” It’s my daughters combing the mega knot out of my pony tail that I get every time I spend hours in the wind and gravel dust. And it’s my son, driving me to various errands around town and teasing me about maybe needing to drop my sorry ass at the door or park in a handicapped parking spot. It’s a thing now, a consequence, and a shared burden more so than it ever had been for triathlon. And then there is the sleep deprivation, and the trip to the bike shop to fix whatever I broke, and the ice cream… there must always be ice cream.

24 Hours of Cumming this year for me was plagued by random misfortune, mistakes, minor injury, and bad weather. There was definitely more of a physical aftermath to deal with than I had hoped for, and it was a lot slower finish time than I anticipated. I won’t pretend that I am not disappointed by that, but I learned a few good things in the process, and felt a bond with my crew of friends that made the suckiness totally fade away. I just love this event.

Lee Buell (aka Brewer Beebe) and me

Lee Buell (aka Brewer Bebe) and me

The course for 24 Hours of Cumming this year was exactly the same as last year. Four 100K loops starting and ending at the Cumming Tap, with a 24 hour time limit for finishing the entire 400K. New this year was a 100K race added to the mix for Loop 1. It’s tough, hilly terrain with over 15,000 feet of climbing. I live near the course, I train on the course, and I know it pretty well. I know what I can do in good conditions and in bad, and I had what I thought were realistic expectations for a sub 17 hour finish. I met fellow 400K competitor Lee Buell only a week before the race, and getting to know her was one of the highlights of this experience for me. Lee said that if I fell in a ditch she was going to go right by me for the win… I really wish I had met Lee ages ago. She is truly awesome.

My hope for a PR started to circle the drain Monday night when I broke the fourth toe on my left foot. My bike repair stand and trainers are all in the same tiny little corner of my basement by the water heater, and I caught the leg of the trainer with my toe when I was working on one of my bikes. I felt it crack, and without even looking at it I walked up the stairs and told Brian and my kids that I had just broken my toe. I grabbed the Kinesio tape and hobbled into the living room and had my first look at it. It was crooked, and the joint was dislocated. I taped it up while my husband and kids watched and told them I was going for a short ride, just to make sure I could. Not even 5 minutes had passed, and I’m headed out the door to ride on my newly broken toe. Right then I realized that this race was a little more important to me than I had known.

Our transition space

Our transition space

There wasn’t much Brian could say to me at that point, and to give him credit he didn’t say much at all. Once I got halfway down the street on my bike, I tried standing up while pedaling and the pressure popped the joint back into place. That eased the worst of the pain, and I no longer wanted to vomit. I rode a few miles just to make sure I could, and it didn’t suck too bad. I went home, re-taped it, told everyone it would be fine, and went off to the grocery store with my daughter. Life goes on. Nothing to do but keep it taped, keep riding, and hope for the best. There are worse things I could’ve done to myself on race week for sure.

The rest of that week went well thankfully, and I was able to ride on my broken toe without too much pain. By Friday, I was able to walk without much of a limp at all as long as I had it taped, so I didn’t anticipate that it would be too much trouble during the race. The big concern became the weather forecast, which disintegrated as the week wore on. It went from sunny and perfect, to rain and a high probability for severe storms overnight.

Race morning looked pretty dismal, with a large band of rain moving in to the area. I watched it rain until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and then I texted Lee and told her I was heading down to get set up a little early. With an 11am start time, there is really no need to get there too early, but Lee texted me back that she was already there. I had to laugh, because usually I drive people crazy with my obsessive punctuality and early morning cheer, and she beat me to the punch. Score one for Lee.

Steve Fuller, Lee Buell, and me

Steve Fuller, Lee Buell, and me

Lee, Steve Fuller, and I set up our gear together behind the Cumming Tap. I brought both of my gravel bikes, a titanium Eriksen and a carbon Crux. Given the wet forecast, I planned to ride the Eriksen and use the Crux only as a back up. I had my nutrition and gear set up so that I would not need a lot of support from my crew. All I needed was to grab new bottles and my nutrition after each loop, and lights and reflective gear for the night loops. Liz Bryant, Katherine Roccasecca, Daren Munroe, and Rachelle Little had all volunteered to come by at various times. I definitely did not need such an army of people, and I was overwhelmed by the offers of support.

The band of rain broke up quite a bit as it hit the Des Moines area, so the roads were not very wet at all. It was a pleasant surprise, and a PR still looked possible. I lined up for the race start behind David Krohse, Steve Fuller, and Lance Harris, all doing the 100K. Next to me were Luke Wilson (the eventual men’s winner of the 400K) and Brian Pottorff, also doing the 400K. We took off out of Cumming Tap, and promptly almost ran into an old lady driving around the corner on 44th street. She picked a really bad time to drive into Cumming.

I stayed on Steve and David’s wheels for a few miles, then rode up next to Steve to blow him a kiss and say goodbye. I had no plans to ride their 100K race pace up the hills right out of the gate. Steve and David pulled on ahead, and I looked around for what I hoped would be the 100K chase pack to ride with. It was just two guys, Luke and Lance, with a third guy barely in sight yet. So much for that plan. I rode with them for a few miles, then they went on after Steve and David a few miles later, and I decided to do my own thing.

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photo by Eric Roccasecca

I lost a water bottle somewhere shortly after that, because by mile 10 or 11 I noticed I had only one. A fourth of my calories and half of my fluid, just gone. I hadn’t ejected a bottle since Odin’s Revenge last year. As if on cue, it started to heat up and the sun came out. 50 miles on 24 oz wasn’t going to go well for me on a hot day, so I would have to spend some time trespassing and foraging for water.

There were two bridges out around 17 miles into the first loop. Steve Fuller was stopped there, changing the first of two flats that ended his 100K early. Both bridges were pretty easy to get around, but immediately after them was a large, steep hill that you had to ride up with essentially no momentum. It was really slow, and very hot. The first B road was not far after that, and it was mostly dry. It was, in fact, in the best condition I have ever seen it, despite the rain we had gotten. There was only one small muddy section I dismounted for. I took off running for the few steps I needed to get around the mud, and promptly jammed my broken toe into the front of my bike shoe.

There had been another guy riding near me until the B road, and then he fell back shortly after. For the rest of Loop 1, I was alone. The second B road was again mostly rideable, but with a bit more mud to hike through. My toe was fine as long as I remembered to put my heel down first. I felt pretty optimistic that this day was going to turn around soon, and the next loop would go better. I stopped at a farm with a water pump near the road about mile 40 and chugged water for a few minutes until I felt like I was no longer going to die of dehydration. I finished the first 100K in just under 4 hours, about what I expected.

celebrating my Loop 2 finish. photo by Eric Roccasecca

Steve and Liz were there to help me transition to Loop 2. Liz jokingly apologized for helping Luke get in and out so quickly for his transition. I told her to help him, and help everybody that needed it. That’s how we do it in my camp. Steve and Liz handed me the few things I needed, I switched to dry shoes, and took off. Loop 2 is at least a 4 hour loop for me. In my opinion, it’s the hardest of the 4 loops and I’ve never done it in less than 4 hours in training. I had a tailwind heading out though, so my speed was good and I was happy. Sometimes you get to stay happy for awhile, sometimes you don’t. Sadly, my happiness was brief.

The T intersection of Bevington road and 218th street is where it all got pretty crappy for me. I came towards the intersection too fast with the tailwind on a lot of loose gravel. I had committed to the center of the road as I was planning on making a left turn there and I heard a car coming up behind me on my right side. A car was coming from the right at the T intersection as well, and began to slow as it entered the intersection and spotted me heading towards it. I prayed that he would just shoot on through the intersection, because I could then roll the stop and complete my turn behind him without crashing. But the sight of me sliding sideways towards the intersection did not inspire his confidence in my ability to stop, so he stopped in the center of the intersection, eliminating my last hope of escape. The car on my right pulled up next to me just as my rear wheel fishtailed around, dumping me on my left side. Had she not been coming up on my right I could have moved right and still saved it, but alas… there she was.

Liz Bryant, helping me after Loop 2

Liz Bryant, helping me after Loop 2. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

I had not seen two cars together at any point thus far, and I never did again the entire race. It was sheer bad luck to have two cars show up together on such a low traffic loop in the one situation where I really could not stop quickly. It was my own fault for going too fast, but still…. what were the odds? The man that stopped in the intersection asked me if I was ok, and waited until I was on my feet before leaving. The lady on my right asked me if she could do anything for me, so I asked her to please wait and watch me ride away to make sure I could ride and that my bike worked. She waited while I retrieved my bike and my shoe (it had flown off my foot) and put my chain back on. I rode off down the road and made my next right turn before she pulled away. Iowans are pretty nice people.

I was rattled by the crash, but pretty much ok. It was a minor deal, or so I thought. I had a painful and bloody left knee, and my left arm was torn up and badly bruised. I was pretty sure my hip and shoulder were going to be bruised, but no bones were broken. I was incredibly thankful that I hadn’t torn open my bib shorts on the rocks, because I know that I would never, ever be allowed to forget rolling into Cumming with my backside hanging out. There would have been pictures and much teasing.

My bike had minimal damage that I could see. Only a missing bar end plug and some torn bar tape. I had 171 miles to go at that point, and I was still pretty optimistic that I could PR, although my optimism by this point was peppered with a large dose of profanity. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had broken my light mount, and my neck and back were completely jacked up from the crash. The pain did not set in until later.

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I don’t know what Liz is doing for me here, but I look like I don’t want to leave. photo by Eric Roccasecca

My ride time for Loop 2 was 4:10 by my Garmin, which I didn’t think was too bad considering. When I got back to Cumming to transition to Loop 3, Katherine offered to swap out the torn arm sleeve for something less bloody and dirty, but I declined. I didn’t want to know what was under there, and I didn’t feel like messing with it. I splashed a little water on it trying to wash it off, and it hurt. I told her it felt like I had a rock stuck in there, but I wouldn’t let her do anything about it. She didn’t pressure me into taking the rock out. If I wanted to ride 171 miles with a rock stuck in my arm, she wasn’t going to argue with me about it. She knows better than to force good common sense on me unless it’s something serious.

Before my rock and I left on Loop 3, Liz told me thunderstorms were expected to hit by 11pm, about when I anticipated finishing that loop. Not far from Cumming, whatever adrenaline I had going on that got me around Loop 2 was gone. My neck and back hurt really badly. Something felt out of alignment in my neck, and I was having a hard time with the extra weight of the headlight on my helmet. That had never bothered me before.

Once it became dark, I realized that my light mount was busted, and I could not tighten it to keep it level on the bars. I would pull it into the position I wanted it, only to have it droop back down and project a nice bright spot on the ground next to my front wheel. It was completely useless. Fortunately I had a headlight on my helmet, but it wasn’t very bright, and definitely not bright enough to ride fast on the descents. In training on this course, my typical speeds on the descents were 37-40 mph, with a few bigger hills where I could top 40 mph. My top speed on Loop 3 during the race was 32 mph. That is ridiculously slow. I lost so much time simply because I could not see where I was going. Loop 3 was incredibly slow and painful.

Steve Cannon's Facebook commentary on the storm

Steve Cannon’s Facebook commentary on the storm

Within 10 miles of returning to Cumming, I could see and feel the storm moving closer. There was a lot of lightning. I planned to switch out my light for one with a functional mount once I got back to Cumming, but I was distracted by the storm and flat out forgot. So I was stuck with the useless light for Loop 4. The good thing was that at some point whatever was out of kilter in my neck self adjusted, and it was less painful. Daren and Katherine were there to help me swap out bottles and nutrition. I again complained about the rock stuck in my arm, but resisted Katherine’s offer to extract it. I’m not sure why I felt the need to keep telling her about it if I wasn’t going to let her help me.

Katherine and Daren told me the storm was mostly red and orange on the radar, and that the race was still in play. I made it just a few miles out of Cumming before the storm hit. The rain was so heavy that I could barely see. The rain drops lit up by my headlight were mesmerizing and beautiful. I had to force myself to look past that and try to see where I was going. Water was deep on the roadway in places, and running in small streams down the hills. The lightning was frequent and uncomfortably close. It was a doozy of a storm.

The storm lasted through 10 miles of that loop, and after that it was intermittent rain. The roads were soaked, and my legs and bike were coated with gravel sludge. It became very difficult to work the right shifter, and there was a lot of resistance when I pushed on the lever. A few times the cable popped out, but I could feel the knob of the cable end through the cover, and was able to push it back into place. That happened a few times when the cassette was in the 11T on a downhill, and I was stuck in my hardest gear for a few moments of panic as I looked forward at the next monster hill. This was getting more difficult to deal with by the mile.

My shifter cable popped out at the top of a hill when I was in the easy 28T gear, and I could not find the cable end to push it back in. I thought I had broken it completely. Jim Cummins and I had leapfrogged a few times on Loop 4, but were riding together again at that point. I told Jim to go on ahead, as I wasn’t moving very fast in that gear, but he said we would stick together until past the B road and then he would go on ahead.

Jim Cummins and I after the finish. Photo by Steve Cannon

Jim Cummins and I after the finish. Photo by Steve Cannon

It was nice to have Jim’s company, especially for the B road hike. We dismounted and started walking as soon as we made the lefthand turn onto it. With all of the rain, there was not one inch of that road that you would want to ride. The worst part about it was not the slow pace, or the mud, but the BUGS. The moths were dive bombing my helmet light, and at any moment I had a flock of 5 or more slapping into my face. I ended up with too many mosquito bites to count. As far as B roads go, when dry this one wouldn’t have been anything too gnarly. But the rain turned it into a swamp, with mud of biblical proportions. Jim and I ended up walking in the weeds on the side of the road as much as we could.

It felt like it took over half an hour to walk that mile, but I’m not really sure. When we finally got to the end, Jim took off to take the win for his 4 man team, and I spun along slowly in my 28T hoping I could hang on to second place overall. I had no idea who was behind me, or how far. I did finally locate the shifter cable end and get it back into place, but I never took a chance on shifting down past the 25T until I was past the last big hill and within a few miles of the finish. It was slow going.

The finish line. Photo by Steve Cannon. The mud on my face is from swatting at bugs

The finish line. Photo by Steve Cannon. The mud on my face is from swatting at bugs

There were more people at the finish line than I expected, despite the early morning hour. Sometimes the finish line at ultra events can be pretty anti-climactic, but this one wasn’t. Steve Cannon, Luke Wilson, Katherine Roccasecca, Jim Cummins, and a handful of other people were there. It was just perfect, and very cool. Even though this wasn’t the race that I hoped I would have, I never wanted to quit, and I never wished it were over before the finish line. Physical misery never progressed to mental misery, and that is a skill I have worked very hard to develop. I wanted it to suck less, and I would prefer that my next race suck less, but in the moment I wanted it all. The ride, the hills, the storm, the mud, the adversity, and the time spent with friends new and old. I was right where I wanted to be, and I couldn’t imagine being any happier about finishing a race.

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First place woman, second overall. 6 of 12 solo starters finished this year. Photo by K. Roccasecca

Shortly after I finished, Lee came in from her third loop and got ready to go out on her fourth. Her Garmin had died, so I plugged mine into a charger and mounted it on her bike. While she finished getting ready, I finally peeled back my arm sleeve, and a pea sized rock popped out and fell into the grass. I wish I had caught it before it got away. It would’ve made a nice souvenir.

400K winner Luke Wilson and me

400K winner Luke Wilson and me

Thank you Kyle Robinson and Kyle’s Bikes for keeping me going for another season. I could not do this without your support, and the excellent customer service. Thank you Kyle, for another ‘blessing of the bike’. It’s becoming a favorite part of my pre-race routine. You bless it, I break it!

Steve Cannon and the race volunteers: Thanks for another great year! This event is really something special. Thank you so much for making it happen. A special thank you to Stretch Wilson for finding me after the event, and for your kind words.

Thanks so much to my crew for lending a hand at all hours of the day and night!

Liz Bryant: you were the only one I asked to be there, and I told you to come once after loop 1…Thanks for going above and beyond yet again, and for taking care of me and Luke. Thanks for shoving my sorry ass out of Cumming in a timely fashion

Steve Fuller: thanks for joining in the fun and racing the 100K. It would not have been the same without you. Thanks for pitching in after loop1. You are hired! 🙂

Daren Munroe: I saw you at whatever dark hour that was and I thought, “Daren is here? Of course Daren is here”. Thanks for being there for me yet again.

Rachelle Little: I no longer remember what time it was that I saw you or what you did for me, but thanks for being there 🙂

Katherine Roccasecca: Thanks so much to you and Eric for being there all night, for taking care of both Lee and myself, for taking pictures, for at least trying to get me to take the rock out of my arm, and for editing all of my writing. There is hope that someday your common sense will get through my thick head during a race, so please keep trying.

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The Alexander 380

I stood in my kitchen the morning after the Alexander with my wrist in a brace, one arm in a sling, and more sore than I have been in a long time, struggling to remember the basics of making coffee. Scrapes and bruises, swollen legs, a huge knot in my hair that stuck out from the side of my head that I couldn’t get out…I’m sure I looked as dismal as I felt. I hadn’t intended to end up in such a miserable state, but apparently it’s just not a good gravel race unless I arrive home exhausted, starving, and a little battered. Viva la gravel!

The Alexander is a free, self supported 380 mile gravel race through Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin with almost 30,000 feet of climbing and some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere. Every turn brought a new view to appreciate, and there was never a dull moment. The terrain was mostly rolling gravel hills through midwestern farm country, with some long and very steep climbs near the Mississippi River. The event costs nothing, and starts on a Friday morning in Spring Valley, MN, the day before the legendary Almanzo 100. There are no time cut offs to make and no checkpoints anywhere, so you can ride until you are done, or broken. The Alexander was definitely one of the most beautiful and thrilling rides I’ve ever been on, and I hope to ride it again next year.

The Alexander was to be my fourth ultra cycling race already this year, having started with 24 Hours of Sebring in February, and Heart of the South 500 and Trans Iowa V11 in April. Heart of the South, Trans Iowa, and the Alexander are all each three weeks apart and definitely the most difficult combination of events I’ve ever attempted in such a short period of time. I felt pretty well recovered from HOTS and ready to race Trans Iowa. But despite that event being super short due to the poor weather and road conditions, by the time the Alexander rolled around I felt like I had lost a little something along the way. I had still wanted the experience of completing three long events that close together, so I did a pretty long solo ride the week after Trans Iowa. The weather sucked so bad that it took more out of me than it should have. Mother Nature had the last laugh even on my Trans Iowa do-over. I could have done without that and felt better for the Alexander for sure.

Kelsey Regan and me before the start

Kelsey Regan and me before the start

I drove up to Spring Valley Thursday night with my friend and fellow endurance cyclist, Kelsey Regan. It had done nothing but rain buckets all day, so the course was sure to be wet and mushy to start. After Trans Iowa, I was not excited about racing in those conditions again, but the weather for most of Friday was expected to be dry so road conditions would improve as the day went on.

The race got off to a late start, since they had real numbers for the Alexander participants I think for the first time in the history of this race and it took time to get everyone checked in and waivers signed. We finally got rolling at 5:16 am, and promptly got off course. The GPX file I was using to navigate had a different start location, and my Garmin refused to give me turn by turn directions, so I was relying on everyone else to point me in the right direction until we matched up with the cue sheets. Not even a mile from the start, and we were off course. The mistake was easily corrected though, and we were soon headed out of town in the proper direction.

Mark Skarpohl and I ended up out in front of the other cyclists, but I didn’t feel very good and didn’t make any effort to keep up with him. The gravel was mushy and wet for the first 200k, and my bike and I were soon covered in grey gravel sludge that hardened like cement on my bike and my legs. I could feel it cracking as I pedaled. Mark asked me once in passing if I had a time goal for the event, and I gave a pretty lame answer about just finishing. I always have a goal in my head of some sort, but given the state of the roads and my general malaise, I wasn’t too keen on sharing it. Trying to predict a finish time for a gravel event is difficult at best when you are uncertain of the road conditions, but I had 28 hours on my mind and sub 30 hours for sure if I had a smooth trip and didn’t stop for long. It’s good to have some kind of goal to keep me moving, but I’m never so attached to it that despair sets in when I inevitably get sidetracked. Gravel racing is all about the adventure, and adventure always takes a little longer than planned.

IMG_9029Mark and I never did ride together, but we crossed paths a few more times after he got off course and I bumped into him as he was coming back on route. He laughed and said he would probably get off course many times during the event, and I flippantly said “I won’t”. I knew as soon as I said that, it would come back to bite me. I don’t even know why I said it. I had gotten off course at each gravel event I had done last year except 24 hours of Cumming. I knew that course pretty well, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve gotten lost there too.

I rode alone for the entire ride, and only spoke a handful of sentences to Mark and people I met in passing along the way. Despite that, I never felt bored or lonely, as the trip was exciting enough to keep my mind engaged. There were the usual numerous encounters with farm dogs, and I even felt one touch his cold nose to my thigh as I sprinted away. The hills were constant and quite steep, and the descents were fast with loose gravel turns. I thought surely I was going to kiss the ditch on a few of them. I did not, and the descents kept me awake and focused at night, that’s for sure.

I was nearly out of fluids when I stopped in Mabel at mile 77. I pulled into a business that had an OPEN sign in the window, not even caring what kind of business it was. I just hoped it had a sink I could use to fill my bottles. It turned out to be some type of knick knack shop, and the elderly lady that worked there was reluctant to give me water. She said her water was bad and her sink didn’t get run very often, but I told her I was in a bicycle race and had been drinking dirt water for hours and anything she had that didn’t come from a sewer would be fantastic. I must have been quite a sight with mud up to my knees, and all over my face and glasses. She laughed and filled up my filthy, gravel cement covered bottles, then she let me use the restroom and I was on my way.

Nearly my entire bike was coated in gravel sludge

Nearly my entire bike was coated in gravel sludge

I stopped again near mile 100 and stole water from a farm house in Eitzen that had a pump next to the house, then fled their property before stopping to mix powder into my bottles. I chiseled about a pound of mud off my bike and re-lubed the chain, then continued on. I didn’t find a C store that was on route until mile 126. There were probably more options off route, and several bar/grill types of places I could have wandered into if I had wanted real food, but I preferred to subsist on what I had brought with me, and buy candy and soda along the way. In hindsight, I wish I had take the time to look at the pass through towns on google maps to find the C stores that were off route, as I wasted time and added bonus miles looking for them. I assumed they would be visible from the route as they had been for other events, but that was not the case. I know better than to make assumptions, as they are usually wrong.

Photo by Steve Fuller from the Alexander 2014. This looks a lot like Irish Hollow Rd.

Photo by Steve Fuller from the Alexander 2014. This looks a lot like Irish Hollow Rd.

The scenery for most of the ride was simply fantastic. At times I thought I should be taking pictures, but I decided I would rather just enjoy the experience and let the pictures go. Irish Hollow Road was one of the most beautiful roads I have ever been fortunate enough to ride on. I feel regret that I did not take at least one picture there, and of the Mississippi River crossings, but I know that my phone camera would not have done it justice.

The first B

The first B “road” where I hurt my shoulder. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

There were 2 B minimum maintenance roads, and the first was at mile 140, just past The People’s Republic of Turkey Run. The handlebars on my Crux are a little too wide for me, and my shoulders just don’t line up right. I entered the shaded area of the B road unprepared for just how bumpy and steep the descent was. I hit a bump and my right shoulder jammed back into the socket. It was extremely painful. I’ve know for quite some time that these handlebars are a problem for me, and I have a new bike shipping next week with different bars, but these were having one last go at me before I got rid of them. The pain from that incident faded initially, but as the day went on, I started to have increasing pain in my rotator cuff with the steep climbs and any kind of bumpy descent. Being that this was a gravel ride, there were a lot of bumps. I jarred my shoulder another time on the B road at mile 210, and from there until the finish it was pretty much constantly painful.

The slightly terrifying bridge across the Mississippi River into WI. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

The slightly terrifying bridge across the Mississippi River into WI. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

Shortly after crossing the Mississippi River into WI, the spokes on my rear wheel began pinging on each of the long and steep climbs. I stopped at the top of a long climb and cleaned a bunch of gravel sludge off the spokes, hoping that dirty spokes were contributing to the noise, but it didn’t help at all. I had two fiber fix spokes in my bag thanks to a suggestion from Steve Fuller, so at least I had a means to repair them if they broke. It was annoying and stressful to think that my spokes might break miles from anywhere, or in the dark hours of the night. But although they were noisy the rest of the ride, nothing ever broke and the wheel stayed true.

I made my first big unintentional detour at mile 171 on Shanghai road, and ended up in Eastman, WI. I misunderstood the cue sheet, and took a right hand turn where none should have been taken. My Garmin would show me the GPX route I had loaded on to it, but only if I had that screen displayed. It refused to give me turn by turn instructions, so if I wandered off course, it would not beep at me. I was not looking at the route screen, and did not figure out my mistake until I had reached Eastman without finding my next turn. My phone refused to fully load a map of my location, so it was a frustrating and time consuming process of trying to backtrack my way back on to the route. It added an hour and many miles to my ride. That’s what I get for teasing Mark about getting lost.

I made it to Prairie du Chien, WI mile 197 just before 7:30pm, and stopped at the Qwik Trip. It was 74 miles to Decorah, IA with nowhere to stop in between. I reached Decorah by 1:30 am, and stopped at the 24 hour Casey’s. The lady that worked there had surely seen every kind of oddball there was to see in the world, because she didn’t bat an eye at seeing a smelly dirt covered cyclist in the wee hours of the night. I bought what I hoped was enough food and fluids to get me through the 110 miles until the finish. I should’ve planned for 120.

The second B road. I rode it at night in light rain. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

The second B road. I rode it at night in light rain. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

It rained near Decorah, and the roads became wet enough that I could see Mark’s bike tracks in the wet gravel. It was reassuring to know that I was on route, especially near the road closures and construction sites. The first road closure was easy enough to get through, but the second proved to be impassable to me. I followed Mark’s tracks down to the site, and did not see any evidence that he had backtracked. There were three barriers to go around before reaching the actual construction, and I finally arrived to find a giant pit. It was pitch black, and even with my headlight on high I could not see a way to cross it without carrying my bike down the steep embankment into the hole, nor could I see if there was stable ground at the bottom to cross on.

I called out for Mark, thinking he must surely be lying broken at the bottom of this pit, but didn’t hear any answer. My right shoulder and upper back hurt badly no matter which arm I used to carry my bike with, and I feared I would fall down the embankment or tear my rotator cuff trying to carry my bike up and out the other side of this nightmare. I figured in daylight this would look pretty benign and harmless, but self preservation had kicked in (as well as the strong desire not to have to explain getting trapped in a construction site to my husband), and I opted to go around. I took the next street over, which took me up a painfully steep hill and dumped me on to the highway. Then I backtracked onto the route from the highway. It was a time consuming side trip, and added more bonus miles. I saw Mark’s tracks as soon as I got back on route, and was relieved to know that Mark was not dead. He and I traded a few messages after the event, and he did in fact find a solid dirt bridge through the construction after going down the embankment and made it across safely.

Photo by Kurt Stephens, taken during the Almanzo 100

Photo by Kurt Stephens, taken during the Almanzo 100

My Garmin by this point in the ride was becoming a frustration. It locked up for the first time in Decorah, and I was able to restart it by holding down the power and start/stop keys. It randomly shut down a few more times after that, and began adding excess milage on to my total that didn’t match the milage between turns on the cue sheets. Between mile 309-329, the route takes you on and off County Roads 10 and 30, and Highway 15 in a few different places. At that point my Garmin was now showing so much extra milage that I became convinced that this was just taking me in circles on the same three roads, and I was not heading back to Spring Valley, ever. I tried to zoom out on my Garmin navigation screen to see where I was on the route, but it looked like a big squiggly circle, and it was not at all reassuring. Fortunately this was not my first time at a 24 hour event, so I knew that this was just the paranoia I sometimes feel for no reason at dawn, and I kept riding and navigating with the cue sheets. My Garmin continued to randomly add on milage, and was up to 426 miles before it shut down 20 miles from the finish, and would no longer restart.

My next series of turns were all on target, so my paranoia faded. I just needed to keep riding, not tear my rotator cuff, and make it to the finish line without getting lost again. Unfortunately I took a large detour before the water crossing, and ended up backtracking to get to it. The stream wasn’t very deep, but crossing it sucked. No matter what I did with my bike, I felt awkward, unbalanced, and in pain, and I’m thankful I did not fall over in the stream. I was not happy. There were only 20 miles left at that point, but it was a sucky and slow 20 miles with two soul crushing steep hills and deep fresh gravel. I had run out of food and water about an hour before the water crossing, and had zero energy. Fortunately a wicked south wind had picked up that carried me north towards Spring Valley, and only the hills were any kind of struggle.

The finish! There weren't many people there.

The finish! There weren’t many people there.

When I got to Spring Valley, the cue sheets took me to Main Street to finish. I asked a group of people who looked to be associated with the race where I was supposed to check in to get my time recorded. One person told me the community center, and I was about to park my bike and go in when another said I had to go back across the highway. I got back on my bike and rode across the highway. Another person there then directed me to the Almanzo 100 finish line, which was set back a way from the road. I went there, but there was no one there either.

Given that I had already put in at least 20 bonus miles, a few unnecessary trips around town weren’t welcome, but weren’t that big a deal either. I still needed to drive three hours home though after having been awake since 3am Friday, so I really needed to be done wandering around town.  I told a random nice lady working at a tent near the Almanzo 100 finish that I had been riding my bike since early the day before and really needed to be done now, but I would like my time recorded in the results if possible. She didn’t know where to tell me to go either, but kindly took my picture and wrote down my finish time, and said she knew the woman in charge and would pass it on to her later. My name didn’t show up in the results, but I emailed a few people and I think we have it sorted out. I received an email that I finished second overall, behind Mark Skarpohl. It hasn’t been updated on the website yet, but I’m sure there are other results they still need to sort out before that happens. I know there were others that finished that are not listed either.  I don’t have a super exact finish time due to my crappy Garmin dying before the finish line, only the memory of looking at my phone when I rolled into town and Spot Tracker GPS points, which only up date so often. I have mapped out the areas where I went off course on ridewithgps.com, and a new friend fixed some of the corrupt data points on my Garmin file. I rode at least 400 miles in 30ish hours. 20 bonus miles….I am sorry to everyone I have ever teased about going off course in an event!

Thank you to Spring Valley Tourism for keeping this event alive! I had a great time, and thank you for sorting out the results. Hope to see you next year.

Thank you to Steve Saeedi for repairing my Garmin file. I have not smashed my Garmin with a hammer, which surely would have happened had I tried to repair that file myself.

Thank you, Steve Fuller for the use of your spot tracker/dog magnet, and for the photos.

Thank you Katherine Roccasecca for tracking me, and for being willing to come rescue me if my husband couldn’t get there! Thank you for checking up on me during my drive home, and making sure I got there safely.

Trans Iowa V11

When Katherine and I were talking about Trans Iowa in the last few days before the race, she wanted hashtag ideas for tweeting during the race. The days of me sneaking off to a race and telling people about it after appear to be over for the short term. I don’t speak hashtag, I rarely tweet, and I am a silent observer on twitter. The only idea I had, but did not share with her until the day before the race was #TIV11#weareallDOOMED. No one appreciates a pessimist, or even a realist in the face of what was certain to be a really hard day, so I kept my doubts mostly to myself and a few friends. I continued to plan, and contemplate what I would need to do to complete all 331 miles, but as the weather forecast continued to disintegrate, it was hard not to think about the possibility of my first real DNF.

Checking in

Checking in. photo by K. Roccasecca

The extended weather forecast looked good, but it also did last year for TIV10. In the last three days preceding that race, the rain chances and wind speed were dialed up significantly. The same thing happened this year; the forecast went from sunny to progressively more rain and higher winds. One of my last texts to Katherine Friday night before I finally tried to sleep was “I hear thunder”. Grinnell ended up seeing more rain than was predicted for both Friday and Saturday, with 20-25 mph winds and gusts over 30 mph. I didn’t really expect good weather, but this was atrocious weather for riding, and would turn the course into a mushy, muddy mess. I rode through a thunderstorm at Heart of the South 500 just weeks before, and a drunk woman behind my follow car at a stop sign opened her window and yelled “honey, y’all neeeeeed to get out of the raaaaaainnnn.” I didn’t take her advice then, and the weather didn’t appear to deter many for TIV11 either. 94 people took the start, with only 2 no shows. I am proud to be a midwestern gravel rider. We are a hearty bunch.

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more hugs at the pre-race meeting. photo by K. Roccasecca

The Meat Up at the Grinnell Steakhouse was excellent, just like last year. A great opportunity to reconnect with friends, and make new ones. I think I hugged everyone I had previously met at least once, and I’m pretty sure I got Mike Baggio at least twice. I may have hugged a few complete strangers too. I guess everyone deals with their nervous energy in different ways. I hug people, especially race volunteers. At the pre-race meeting, Mark announced that we could look forward to 14 B road sections, and three low water crossings. With a wet course, that would be quite a task.

Bike to You in Grinnell, IA

Bikes to You in Grinnell, IA. photo by K. Roccasecca

I got up at 2:15 am, and Katherine and I headed down to the start by 3:30. Last year I rode the 3 miles to the start, but this year I asked her to drive me. My excuse was that I didn’t want to stand around wet for 30 minutes in case it started raining, but the truth was I just wanted a few more minutes with my sane friend before I went forth into whatever awaited. I hugged several more people, and then it was time to line up behind Mark’s truck. I started up front next to Greg Gleason, last year’s winner. After Mark pulled his truck away from us just outside of town, the entire pack stayed behind Greg Gleason. It was a little way before anyone rode up next to him. He truly led from start to finish.

the start

Last minute instructions. photo by K. Roccasecca

Riding with the pack was both exciting, and a little scary. The road conditions were initially not as bad as they would become, but it was still difficult riding and pretty challenging to ride as a closely knit group. Two pace lines formed, with a short third line to my right that was nearly on the edge of the road. It was almost surreal to be doing that in the pitch black at 4:00 am, and to watch the group break apart and then come together again as we encountered hills, potholes, piles of mushy gravel, and standing water. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done on a bike.

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The start. photo by K. Roccasecca

I knew there would come a point when I would either get dropped or choose to leave the group, and it happened around mile 10. We turned into a long hill, and I lost momentum in the mush on the turn. I decided not to hammer up the hill to catch them. I mentally wished them all good luck, and hoped I would pick up a couple guys to ride with on the other side.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

There was a brief stretch of tailwind, and I got some momentum on the downside of the hill. I caught Dave Mizelle and Scott Robinson, and had brief delusions of catching up with the main group. We kept them in sight for several miles, but never did catch up. It started to rain, and I asked Dave if he needed his coat. I was trying to suggest that he should stop and put it on, without being a bossy old lady. Dave must have stopped to do that, because soon I didn’t see him anymore. It was just me and another Dave from Wisconsin, and Scott Robinson. A few miles into a 5 mile eastward stretch into the wind, the gravel got really thick and peanut buttery and we lost sight of the main group. Wisconsin Dave and Scott moved on ahead of me, as I could no longer keep up. That was the worst section of the race for me. The wind blew me all over the road, and I could barely keep my bike upright and moving forward.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

I caught back up with Scott and Dave and one other guy on the B road at mile 35. I ran pushing the bike in the ditch when I could, I jogged with it on my back, and at one point even had the bike sideways on my right shoulder with the tires rolling along on the hill next to me. In dry conditions, this would’ve been a pretty easy B road, but the rain made it just crazy. When we got to the end of the B road, I tried to switch to the next cue sheet, but they were wet and stuck together. A little water had snuck into my previously bulletproof cue sheet holder, and I now had no cue sheets for the miles remaining to checkpoint 1.

my favorite photo, by Wally Kilburg.  I knew I had not made the cut off time, but I still enjoyed the ride.

my favorite photo, by Wally Kilburg. I knew I had not made the cut off time, but I still enjoyed the ride.

We turned east into the headwind, and I had the same trouble keeping my bike straight as before. I have ridden in all kinds of crazy wind, but I have never struggled that much to keep my bike straight and moving forward. I could at least see the men ahead of me, and with the ruts in the road from the bikes that had passed through before me, it was really no trouble navigating for the rest of the race. I passed a few guys pretty late in the ride, and one of the German fellows kindly told me the next turn after I passed him. When I got to it, the ruts from the bike tires turning were so deep and obvious there was no way to miss it, and they were for the two remaining turns after that as well.

checkpoint 1, and the end of my race. Photo by Steve Fuller

checkpoint 1, and the end of my race. Photo by Steve Fuller

I knew before the B road that time would be pretty tight, and there would need to be some seriously easy flat roads in the remaining miles to get me there on time. I knew after the B road that I was not going to make it on time no matter what. I made getting there before 9:00 am my new goal. I had a little hope that maybe Mark would extend the cut off time, but in my heart I knew that was not going to happen. It was just my effort to remain optimistic and provide an incentive to push through to the checkpoint as fast as I could. At 8:30 am, I was under 5 miles from the checkpoint. I made it there by 8:50.

Scott Robinson and me, with Mark Stevenson in the background. Photo by Steve Fuller

Scott Robinson and me, with Mark Stevenson in the background. Photo by Steve Fuller

Arriving at the checkpoint was bittersweet. Mark told me Greg Gleason was the only guy to make it, with just minutes to spare. The remaining field of 93 riders was not going to finish. Greg made it to mile 123 before it was over for him too. Although the weather ended the race for all of us, Greg was declared the winner of TIV11, and that is as it should be. He led from start to finish, and persevered through bad conditions long after the rest of us were warm and dry. I am proud to know him.

My initial emotion after hitting the checkpoint was disappointment. Profound disappointment. Disappointment in myself for not riding fast enough to make it there on time, and disappointment that I would not get to see any of the remaining course. No more crazy B roads, no beautiful scenery, no making friends along the way, no struggle to get through the cold night, and no dawn to celebrate. Mark is a genius at designing gravel road courses. He finds the biggest hills, and the best B roads in places that I will not otherwise have the opportunity to ride. I feel a keen sense of loss that I will not get to see and experience any of that, because I’m positive that it would have been awesome. And that is the worst part about this for me.

I’ve gotten some really nice messages from folks after the event, and I honestly don’t feel that bad about the DNF, just the loss of the experience and the weird sensation of being done with an event before I was physically “done”. The only other time I’ve not finished an event was when a friend of mine crashed, and I stayed with him instead of riding on. It was the right thing to do, and never felt like a DNF to me. I have persevered through terrible weather and road conditions before. I’ve raced sick, finished injured, coughed up blood for miles, and ended up in the medical tent after races so many times it’s embarrassing. But I’ve never ridden through pouring rain in cold temperatures for the first 53 miles of a 331 mile event before. It may not have ended well had I continued, and my desire to continue until exhaustion was purely selfish. While this event is self supported, it is not a brevet. This is a real race with volunteers and a race director dealing with the same rotten conditions that the racers were. Mark cares about everyone that shows up to Trans Iowa. That much is obvious to all who have met him and have been to Trans Iowa. I am thankful that with only one person making the cut off, at least he had far fewer people to worry about.

another soggy hug for Steve Fuller. Photo by Katherine Roccasecca

another soggy hug for Steve Fuller. Photo by Katherine Roccasecca

There were more soggy hugs at the checkpoint, and after a brief stay in Steve Fuller’s SUV, Katherine came to my rescue. It was scary how fast I went from feeling warm and well while riding, to shivering and hypothermic after stopping. We gathered up the two muddy German guys who needed a ride back to town, showered, and grabbed breakfast. Then it was on to home. I was home to help my family with some spring cleaning, and made it to my son’s jazz band concert that I otherwise would have missed. I ended up with scrapes and bruises on my legs and hip from the B road, and a good sized lump on my shin, but otherwise weathered the experience just fine. I had just woken up from a nap when I saw two texts telling me that the race was over, and Greg was done at mile 123. Well done Greg, well done.

Thank you, Mark Stevenson, for another incredible Trans Iowa experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to start a second Trans Iowa. I still feel the loss of what was surely an amazing and challenging course, but I know that things played out the way they should have to the benefit of all involved. It wasn’t the experience I hoped for, but it was one I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, no matter the weather, and no matter the outcome.

Thank you to Katherine Roccasecca for being my support person, my cheerleader, and for your endless optimism and faith in me. You are a good friend, and I am lucky to know you.

Thank you to the tireless volunteers for all of your efforts before the race, for being out there in terrible weather, for your concern as we came into checkpoint 1, and for the hugs. Thank you to Steve Fuller for letting so many of us stink up your SUV.

Thank you to Kiley Mars and Ronni Scott for praying for me during this event. Both were up early, and I know Kiley actually set her alarm before dawn to begin praying for me. Your faith sustains me, and inspires me, and I am beyond blessed to have friends like you!

Thank you once again Kyle Robinson, and Kyle’s Bikes for checking my bike over before the race. I had no mechanical issues in severe riding conditions, and that is simply fantastic.

Thanks to everyone who offered support and encouragement going into this race, and after. I tried to dial down your expectations as the weather forecast worsened, but some of you would not be deterred. Your faith in my ability to get it done was inspiring, although somewhat delusional! Thank you!

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Heart of the South 500

This last year has entirely changed my perception of difficult, and what I thought I knew about my own personal limits. What I thought I could do and what I have accomplished are surprisingly similar, but the how has been more challenging than I ever imagined, and painful in ways I could not have anticipated. I’m not prone to drama, nor do I participate in the celebration of suffering as do many cyclists. Having seen true human suffering, I have a hard time categorizing anything I do on a bike for fun as suffering. But the unique combination of weather conditions and terrain at Heart of the South 500 put me as close to the edge of what I can do physically as I think I have ever been, and I reached a state of misery that really defies explanation. Yet still as I sit here to begin writing this less than 48 hours after finishing, I am eager to ride again and well on the way to physical recovery. The human body is an amazing thing.

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

Heart of the South (HOTS)500 is 517 miles over, around, and back over the Appalachian mountains in Alabama and Georgia. You are either riding up or down the entire event, with very few sections of road that you could call flat. There is everything from rolling hills to miles of continuous climbing and 38,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The pavement varies from good to bad, with chip seal and wheel eating potholes in a few sections. The race begins in Birmingham, Alabama at 8pm on a Friday evening. The night time start is essentially to avoid Birmingham city traffic, but only adds to the difficulty as racers are awake for a much longer period of time before the start and the need for sleep will likely hit everyone before the race is over. IMG_8720

Finding crew for these longer events has been surprisingly easy for me for the events I have done thus far, yet I find asking people to crew to be very difficult. Crewing is a busy job and a lot of work without any of the physical exertion that we all thrive on, but so far my friends have embraced the challenge and the opportunity to try a new adventure. For HOTS, I had one experienced crew member and two rookies. Paul Black is a Race Across America (RAAM) finisher, a very experienced and successful ultra cyclist, and has crewed for Race Across the West (RAW). Joe Robinson is an Ironman, fellow Triracer, and my original mentor when I began racing triathlons back in 2008. Greg Grandgeorge is also an Ironman and fellow Triracer, and we became friends after I beat him on the bike leg of a local triathlon and we began sharing power files. That led to lots of discussions about everything related to triathlon, and I have learned a great deal from him over the years. He is super organized and a real data geek: the perfect crew chief.

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Greg and Joe doing the sign limbo

Paul and I drove to Alabama from Iowa, arriving late on Wednesday. Greg and Joe arrived Thursday, and much of that day was spent preparing the vehicle and bikes for the race. Ideally we would have met farther in advance of the race to review my gear, but there was just no time. So the day before the race they had to learn about the rules, route details, lights, chargers, Di2 electronic shifting, my clothing and nutrition, and the Cardo bluetooth communication device. It was a lot of information to throw at them last minute. It was so helpful to have Paul there, and his RAAM and RAW experience was a priceless asset.

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Specialized Venge and Tarmac

Thursday I went for a short ride in the neighborhood where we were staying. In addition to being the hilliest neighborhood I had ever seen, the pavement was in terrible shape. I dumped the front wheel of the Venge in a large pothole on a steep descent and the Di2 shifting quit working. It’s not the first time I’ve had to hike up a hill with my bike, but it was the first time I’ve hiked up a hill with something other than my gravel bike. I’m sure the cars driving past me had a nice laugh at me on their way to work. I made a few panic stricken calls to Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes) and Mike Wilson (my coach), and Paul and I ended up at Bob’s Bikes in Birmingham. One of the cables in my right handlebar had been jarred loose, and the slam into the pothole had caused the system to need a reset. Both simple fixes and they had me on my way in minutes. It was a good learning experience, and the only really bad thing about it was that it caused me to miss completing the workout that would allow me to sleep well that night, and hopefully sleep in a little on Friday. My daughter had broken her foot earlier in the week which also caused me to miss a few workouts and had me feeling both more stressed and more rested that I ideally would have been at that moment. Fresh legs are normally a good thing going into a race, but for this race the ability to sleep beforehand was a high priority, and if I’m not worked I usually don’t sleep.

busting my gut laughing at Rob's homemade Caution Bikes Ahead sign. It was just that awesome

busting my gut laughing at Rob’s homemade Caution Bikes Ahead sign. It was just that awesome

Friday morning I woke up at 4:55 am, after about 6 hours of sleep. That was better than I expected given the circumstances. I hoped for a nap later in the day before the start of the race at 8pm, but it never quite happened. I lay down twice, and started to doze off but never managed to fall asleep. I had not ever reached a point in a race where I could no longer stay awake, or felt like sleep deprivation was impairing my ability to ride. But with over 15 hours awake before the race even started, it looked quite likely that I would reach that point in this race. But this was one of the reasons Mike wanted me to do this race. I am planning on entering 860 mile Race Across the West next year, so it’s best to figure out how to deal with sleep in a multi-day race before I get there. I did not feel any anxiety about it, or dread. I was curious to see what would happen to me.

left to right, Andy Christensen, Rob White, me, Erik Newsholme, Brian Toone

left to right, Andy Christensen, Rob White, me, Erik Newsholme, Brian Toone

Vehicle inspection went off without a hitch, then the athlete meeting at 7, followed by the race start at 8pm. Mike had taken over as the new race director this year. He sent off the solo starters 2 minutes apart, followed by the two man team, my friends Rob White and Andy Christensen. There were only 3 solo starters this year: Brian Toone, Erik Newsholme, and me. Brian and Erik are both training for RAAM, as is Rob White, and Andy Christensen is training for RAW. I was the only woman, and the only one not doing RAAM or RAW this year. Greg had run some race projections based on my estimated power over the course, and it gave me hope that I would have a finish time I could be proud of if we didn’t run into too much trouble. Greg nailed my last ironman finish time, as well as my Silver State 508 finish time, so I have a lot of faith in his geeky projections. IMG_3547

Brian Toone started first at 8pm. I got to leave second two minutes later, and I knew I would soon have Erik and Rob breathing down my neck. Direct follow is required at night, so I had my crew in the car right behind me from the start. The first 6 miles of the course leading out of the city were on badly paved roads. We had been warned about it at the athlete meeting, and they were not kidding. Giant, massive, wheel eating potholes were everywhere. There were hills right from the get go, so some of these potholes were on significant downhills, or right after a curve in the road. Joe took the first shift driving behind me, but at times the headlights of the truck would still be cresting a hill while I was on the downward side. It was difficult to see some of the potholes until I was just on top of them. Even riding very cautiously I took a few pretty hard knocks.

Rob passing me.

Rob passing me for the second time.

As expected, Rob caught and passed me pretty early in the race, and it was fun to see Andy, Birgitte, and Leanne in his follow car go by. I caught Rob again a few hours later when they were stopped, and I called him a pansy for wearing a coat and leg warmers when it was in the 60s. I knew full well that I would be wearing that and more at some point during the race, but I had to get my digs in where I could since he passed me right back like I was standing still once they got moving again. That was the last time I saw them during the race. Erik got out ahead of me at one point after I stopped as well, but then I passed him back and we settled in to the order that we finished in, and never passed each other again the entire race.

The storm that hit us

The storm that got me

The temperature at the start was in the 60s, with a light tailwind pushing us along. Storms were predicted for the late evening hours, with good chances for high winds and hail. Almost from the start, Greg was on the weather websites watching the storms build and progress and keeping me updated. After Trans Iowa last year, I swore to myself that I would never wait out a storm again unless it was truly dangerous. When the rain drops began to fall, we made a quick stop to put on my rain jacket and helmet cover and then pressed on. Pretty soon it was raining buckets, and the wind picked up. I had to take my glasses off as I could no longer see through them, and rain stung my eyes and face. There were stretches of time where I only had one eye open at a time, because water had gotten into one of them. The wind was so strong, at times I was leaning sideways to keep my bike upright, and the rain came down horizontally and ponded on the roads. It was like riding along a stream. We were crossing a dam when I got hit by a big gust of wind. That was the only moment in the storm that truly frightened me, even though realistically  there was little chance the wind would actually blow me off the dam into the water below. I don’t like bridges on a calm and sunny day, so being blown around on one at night during a storm really sucked for me. IMG_3574

Once the rain passed, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped into the 40s. I swapped out my rain coat and short sleeve jersey for a long sleeve jersey, but left my wet bibs, socks, and shoes on. I was reluctant to change my shoes while the roads were still wet, as I only had one dry spare pair of shoes to get me through the rest of the race. I don’t recall at what point I began complaining to Greg about my feet (I think it was pretty late in the day on Saturday) but my feet were frozen and wet pretty much the entire first night. For the remainder of the race I would have stretches of tolerable discomfort, followed by waves of severe pain in both feet. There was a small wrinkle in one of my socks that eroded the skin on my left big toe over the course of the ride. It was about 400 miles of misery as far as my feet were concerned. I don’t know if the severe pain was due to the prolonged cold and wet I had unnecessarily put myself through, or from all of the climbing and pressure on the bottoms of my feet. Whatever the cause, If I had it to do over again I would have switched out my shoes as soon as the roads had dried out, which was 7 or 8 hours before we actually stopped.

Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

Sometime during the night, we rode through Little River Canyon, where the storm had taken down lots of branches and there was debris all over the roadway. The road twisted and turned in addition to being up and down and it was just mind boggling. I had no idea what direction I was headed in at any point, and it seemed to me as if we we had entered a maze we were never going to get out of. Joe could not keep up with me in the truck on the sharp turns, so I put my light on high and hoped I would not run into any of the larger debris on the road. I think that is a road that would be a ton of fun under different circumstances, and I would love to ride it sometime during the day. IMG_3595

After the sun rose, we spent several miles talking about what needed to happen at Time Station 3, mile 219 in Resaca, Georgia. The guys needed to go on ahead in order to get the Tarmac ready, as I planned to switch bikes. Greg was reluctant to leave me too soon though, as the sun was just up and he was worried that the cars would not see me in the glare of the rising sun. There was quite a bit of traffic for a Saturday morning. Even when they were not in direct follow behind me anymore, having my truck in the vicinity with it’s lights and signs at least alerted cars to my presence on the road ahead somewhere, so I was thankful to have them near. Throughout the race, Greg was very cautious and concerned for my safety, and I felt so thankful for that. They finally left me just a few miles before Resaca, and drove on ahead to the time station to get ready for my arrival.

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

After I switched bikes and changed clothes in Resaca, we moved on to do a big loop in Georgia, including the most beautiful climb of the event up to Fort Mountain State Park. I say it was the most beautiful because it was the only major climb with views I could see during the day, and it was a spectacular seven mile ride up to the summit. The main downfall of the night time start was missing so much of the beautiful scenery, as the majority of my ride was spent in the dark.

The descent from Fort Mountain was slow in terms of speed, as most of them were. I would hit a high rate of speed, only to have the road tilt up again. Throughout the event, any descending was really a series of short high speed sections with sharp turns or climbing in the middle that slowed me down. Nothing like the long, sustained high speed descents out west. But although the really fast stuff was pretty short lived by comparison, it was still fun. Anytime you go fast, it’s fun.

more climbing

more climbing

As the race continued on into Saturday, the parallels between Heart of the South 2015 and Trans Iowa V10 were remarkable. I felt like I was in Trans Iowa, the 500 mile paved road version. I had been chased by countless dogs (some of them quite aggressive, but most just annoying), dodged deer and possums, been rained on, and the wind was relentless. The hills were never ending, and there was even gravel on the roadways in a few spots were the rain had washed it off the shoulder and across the roads. The wind speed was not as bad as TIV10, but it never let up. As the wind direction changed during the day, it seemed as if a tailwind would never materialize. The roads twisted and turned, so if you curved into a tailwind, it wasn’t long before the road turned again and the wind was blowing from the side or the front again. There was no escaping it. This race was an unrelenting challenge, from start to finish. IMG_8457

One thing about the south that made me progressively more angry as the race wore on is just how much trash was on the roadways. Alabama was bad, but Georgia was worse. Way worse. The state is so beautiful, if you could look past the garbage on the side of the road. I found it harder to ignore as time went on, and it really made me mad. The parks were very well picked up, the people we met along our journey were nice, but for hundreds of miles it was ugly, ugly trash everywhere. These are the things you see when you are riding a bike, and not zipping by in a car.

IMG_3636Our stops to that point had been only for essentials, and my crew was very efficient. I would relay to Greg via the Cardo what I needed in terms of clothing or nutrition, or if anything mechanical needed to be done with my bike. Then he would write it down and relay it to Paul in the back seat. Paul was on top of every detail. If something was taken out and used, when it returned he put it where it belonged. If a bottle came back empty, he filled it right away. He and Joe switched out driving as needed, and they both did a fantastic job with that. Greg navigated and kept me on track with my nutrition.

The stoplight dance

The stoplight dance

I never felt like we wasted any time when stopped, but I worried about them getting bored as the race wore on. They happened to be behind me at a long stop light around mile 300. Initially it started as stretching, but then I started waving my arms around and dancing to entertain them. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but Tom Robertshaw (the former race director and official for that section) happened to be there and watched the whole thing as well. I knew that Tom and Mike would be present on the course, but I hadn’t expected them to make their presence known and to cheer us on as much as they did the entire race. It lifted my spirits every time I saw them, so I was glad I could make Tom laugh as well. Watching an event this long has got to be a pretty dull job sometimes. And no, thankfully there is no video of me dancing. The photo is embarrassing enough.

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365 miles in. The picture looks way better than I felt

Right before Time Station 5 at mile 378 was where I finally admitted to myself that I was beginning to struggle, although I’m sure it was apparent to my crew before that. I only had 140 miles to go at that point, which sounded possible but only because I was naively optimistic about the difficulty yet to come. I remember telling Greg that I didn’t feel well. Usually when I have a lull or don’t feel well, I have some idea of what to do to make that better, but I was pretty much at a loss. My feet were in agony, and my right knee hurt a little. I was checking out mentally at times, and not responding to Greg when he spoke. That concerned me, and I made a big effort to check back in and was successful for awhile longer at least. We had to separate for a time, and I went on ahead while the guys prepared the vehicle and bikes to be in direct follow for the rest of the night. At 7pm they were required to be behind me again, so any stops they needed to make after that would require that I stop too. It was always such a relief when they came back after a departure. The beep of the Cardo switching back on and the sound of Greg’s voice was just such a relief…you’d think I’d never ridden alone before. It was evident to me that this race was giving me quite the smack down, and I needed them near me more than they may have realized.

Mile 375. Greg's caption on Facebook was 'doing great'. Definitely not feeling great right here

Mile 375. Greg’s caption on Facebook was ‘doing great’. Definitely not feeling great right here

As we neared Chiaha, a section before Talledega with some significant steep climbs, I swapped out my Tarmac for my old Trek Madone. It had a compact crank, long cage derailleur, and a 32t cassette. I hadn’t been able to emotionally part with the bike to sell it, so I had Derik Spoon at Kyle’s Bikes revive it for me as a climbing bike. I mostly intended to loan it to Rob for RAAM, but brought it along just in case I needed it. I was hoping the low gearing would give some relief to my feet and knees, but it really didn’t, and the fit wasn’t quite right so I swapped back to my Tarmac before the big climbs. It was worth trying, and it might be a good thing for Rob for RAAM, but I didn’t like it.

I felt a little better climbing up Chiaha with only 100 miles to go, and I perked up a bit. Greg was being quite funny and started calling it Chia Pet instead of Chiaha. For the rest of the ride we called it Mount Chia Pet. The Chia Pet had many long and steep sections over 15% grade. I weaved up several of the steep sections, and I could hear the truck fall behind and wait because they literally could not drive that slow. Or maybe Joe was afraid I would tip over in front of the truck. IMG_3678

I can’t recall when I first became interested in what the guys had to eat in the cooler, but at some point during the race I began to feel intermittently starving despite having stayed on track with my hourly calorie goal, and it seemed to happen at the tops of the climbs. I became convinced that the guys had something delicious in that cooler, and I WANTED IT. Greg ran through the list of what they had, and the pack of turkey lunchmeat was a winner. I am a big fan of processed meat. Kielbasa, hot dogs, lunch meat… it is the food of my people. Greg started feeding me lunchmeat at the tops of the climbs until we reached the summit of Chia Pet. My dad will be so proud! Next time I will pack Kielbasa! It was a fairly slow and pathetic climb up to the top, but I did not tip over and I made it up everything without stopping.

I put on my full winter gear I believe before climbing Chia Pet, and I remember being comfortably warm before beginning the descent. The descent was just like the other park roads; it was confusing, winding, and endless. The surface was chip seal with potholes. I would speed up and lose Joe on the tight turns, only to have to climb again before descending more. Greg told me several times according to the map, I had miles of descent but each time he would say that, the road would turn up again. It was funny and frustrating at the same time. We decided downhill meant uphill in Alabama. The Chia Pet was slowly killing me with it’s delightful road surface and steep climbs, and then I got cold. I was REALLY COLD on that descent. Although I had on the same layers and windproof coat that had gotten me through subzero windchill back home, it was not getting the job done even though the air temperature was a balmy 35 degrees. I’ve done 9 hour rides in temperatures colder than that, so it was so frustrating to me to be getting hypothermic at a temperature that would I would ordinarily consider just fine for riding. At some point Joe gave me his coat too, so I had normal winter cycling gear plus a tall man coat on top. Not very aerodynamic, which I’m sure drove Greg nuts.

The rest of the event is a blur of hypothermia and hallucinations with a few small doses of reality. I remember perking up and talking to Greg, and then not. At one point in an attempt to make conversation, he asked me a simple question about how long I was a nurse. I could not answer it. He asked me again a little later, and I just could not remember. I refused to even talk about it, because I could not access that part of my brain and it scared me. I don’t recall if that happened before or after Talladega. I zoned out on a descent just before reaching Talladega, and I remember feeling like I was on autopilot and not really riding the bike. Greg said I never swerved or misjudged a turn, and I am certain he would have pulled me off the bike if I had, but I felt like I wasn’t far from that. It was time to stop and pull myself together.

We stopped at a gas station in Talladega and I told the guys I wanted coffee and chocolate. I sat in the car with the heat on high while the guys went into the store. It was the first time I had sat down since the race started. I remember thinking I didn’t know if I wanted Greg to hurry up, or take his time. He was back pretty quick, so I ate super fast and got back on the bike, but didn’t get far at all before I was too cold to continue. I asked Greg if we had any of the hand and foot warmers left. Paul found some, and Greg hopped out of the truck and handed me a few packs of Little Hotties. I put a pack in my bra, and a big clump of them in my shorts on top of my tail bone. I thought for certain that this was a funny moment, being in Talladega in the wee hours of the night with a Little Hottie in my shorts, but there was really no energy to laugh about anything at that moment. The artificial heat helped a great deal, and I was finally able to ride with some momentum. I wish I had thought of that sooner. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve finished a ride with a Little Hottie stuck somewhere unusual.

At the finish with Mike. I'm wearing Joe's coat, which I had on for probably 75 miles.

At the finish with Mike. I’m wearing Joe’s coat, which I had on for probably 75 miles.

I had my first hallucination sometime before Cheaha, and then none for a long time. The floodgates opened in Talladega, and everywhere I looked there was something strange. I either hallucinate on a grand scale, or Talladega is one incredible town. The stuff I was seeing was very detailed, and quite fascinating. I have hallucinated at other events, but this was by far the best show I have ever seen. The streetlights and the lights from the truck shining on buildings and vegetation caused them to transform into animals, trains, and all sorts of weirdness. Once we got outside of town with less light, the show stopped. I was also a little warmer, which may have helped. I shared some of this over the Cardo with Greg, and I think I completely freaked him out.

There were 2 climbs over a mile long in the last 50 miles to the finish, plus the same relentless hills that had been present throughout the event. It was a pretty slow and sucky ride, but we finally made it to the finish. My finish time was 33:47, which is a new women’s course record and 11.5 hours faster than the old record. My time was just over an hour longer than my Silver State 508 time, and on a much harder course. I was awake for a grand total of 50 hours straight. It was another 36 hours after I finished before I slept more than a few hours in a row. In hindsight, stopping for longer in Talladega to warm up would’ve been a good idea. Had this been a longer event, that would’ve been a good time to sleep. Had I warmed up to the point that I could ride without Joe’s coat, or even just a little bit faster, I don’t think it would’ve negatively affected my finish time by as much as I thought.

IMG_3688Anytime I go to pieces at the tail end of an event, I have a difficult time celebrating the overall accomplishment. Physically I’m fine; I only had minor muscle soreness after the first day and some bruising on my feet. I’ll be just fine for Trans Iowa. But even though I’m being fussed over a bit with the TV interview, Facebook, etc. I am still stuck on Talladega. For weeks before this race, I found myself listening to the same few songs, again and again. A lyric in one of them was “split you wide open, just to see what you’re made of”. I had a feeling that this was going to be that kind of event for me, and it definitely was. Mike said this was the hardest 500 mile race in the country, and I don’t doubt that. Even without the additional challenge of less than perfect weather, this race would’ve been a challenge for me. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate, and to my crew for supporting me along the way, and for sticking with me when it got rough.

A big, heartfelt thanks to my crew for supporting me. Joe, I gave you nothing but a date and an address, and you showed up with absolutely no idea what you were in for. I knew I could count on you to be there when I needed you, to do what needed to be done, and to do it well. Paul, I’ve never cold called someone I don’t know before and asked them to crew for me, but I felt very strongly that I needed you. Your experience was a huge asset and I knew you could jump in with little direction. Thank you for keeping things together in the truck, and for doing so much of the driving on the way home. I really enjoyed your company, and I’m glad I can now call you friend. Greg, thank you so much for all of the time and planning you put in to this event with  me. Thank you for embracing the role of crew chief and running the entire show in your rookie start as crew, for keeping me going, and for getting me to the finish line safely. You were simply outstanding.

Kyle Robinson, thanks once again for the last minute repairs to my wheels, and for helping me trouble shoot the problem with my Di2 over the phone. I keep trying to not break stuff, or at least break it at a more convenient time, but it’s not working out. Thanks for your support!

Mike, you put together a fantastic event. It was amazing, beautiful, and as every bit as difficult as you said it was. Thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for your guidance. It was an incredible experience, I learned a lot, and I hope to be back next year.

Katherine Roccasecca, thank you for your unwavering support and tireless enthusiasm for my races. Thank you for all of the work you put into editing my writing, and for your honest feedback. Any remaining grammar errors in this report are entirely my own fault.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the Facebook and Twitter nonsense during the race. Greg read me your comments, and it was very amusing to hear what some of you were doing while I was riding my bike. Thank you for your interest, your humor, and your support!

IMG_8491

Sebring 24 hours 2015

 

It was a much different race at 24 hours of Sebring this year. Same course, same bike, same rider, but my experience was very different. Personal circumstances going into this race made it much more challenging mentally, and events during the race made things very difficult for me to stay positive and focused. Yet it also at times felt more like a happy family reunion than a cycling race. This was surprising to me considering I started doing ultra cycling events just last year, and yet not surprising because that is how friendly almost everyone is. Notice I say almost… I found “that guy” again. Every so often, I meet “that guy” during a race who can’t seem to coexist peacefully with his fellow competitors, but more on that later. I completed 460.6 miles, set a new Sebring course record for women on standard bikes, and finished fifth overall in a talented field.

December gravel ride

December gravel ride

A significant portion of my training this winter was indoors on the trainer, usually in the hours before my kids get up at 6am for school. Any intervals or hard efforts I prefer to do inside due to poor road conditions, cold temperatures, and the fact that it’s technically still night time and dark when I’m riding. I have a few more race numbers on the wall now, and I occasionally dust the top of the hot water heater, but otherwise I have done nothing to improve my indoor training situation. I’m essentially staring at a hot water heater and the wall for hours. My husband calls it my ‘serial killer corner’.

I did manage to get in quite a bit of outdoor gravel riding this winter. Usually on weekends with a group, or solo as a second ride after my trainer session. This was my first full winter of outdoor training. Last winter was ridiculously cold, and prior to that I never had need to ride so much during the winter. Initially it was quite a struggle dealing with the cold, but I felt that it was an essential experience for me to adapt to. Almost every event I did last year had long stretches of time where the temperatures were in the 30s or below, and I felt like I mentally struggled with the cold more than I should have. I had the gear I needed to prevent hypothermia, but being cold during a race wasn’t a discomfort I could tune out very well. I have a much better handle on that now, although I still don’t like it. I will celebrate when spring arrives.

January training ride. Beautiful, but unforgiving and so cold

January training ride. Beautiful, but unforgiving and so cold

Training went relatively well over the winter. I had a brief time off after the Silver State 508 and over Thanksgiving, but the weather was so nice in November and early December I ended up doing a lot of gravel riding. Nice weather is relative to where I live, and not California nice. Iowa nice means cold temperatures and high winds, but dry roads and very little snow. The only disruption to my training schedule was a minor bike crash in January when I hit a dog on a 200K permanent brevet route in northern Missouri. Fortunately I was only going 15mph when I hit the dog, so it survived with minor injuries and I ended up with bruises and a hip hematoma. I did my best to be stoic and continue training through that, but injuries were a lot easier to accommodate when my training volume was about half of what it is now. It could’ve been a lot worse though. The temperature at the time I crashed was in the teens with a significant windchill, and I was alone in the middle of nowhere. Frankly, I was very lucky I wasn’t seriously injured.

Friday group ride before the race. The weather was so nice, we behaved like goofy children let out to play

Rob, Brian, and me at the Friday group ride before the race. The nice weather lifted our spirits and we behaved like happy children let out to play

Sebring race day weather was very similar to last year, windy and cool during the day with highs in the upper 60s and night time lows in the 30s and 40s. My milage goal for the day was 450 miles, although that wasn’t a number I shared with anyone who asked. Last year I managed 433.8, so I hoped with better fitness and a little more efficiency on the pit stops I could crank out a few more miles. For pit crew, Rob White and I were sharing Leanne Short and then Brian Arnold would jump in to help after finishing the 12 hour race. My friends from Iowa, Bill Lorenz and Saraleigh Monroe would be there to represent Kyle’s Bikes as well. Saraleigh was crewing for Bill for the 24 hour race, and was available to help me out if needed.

Bill, Saraleigh, and I before the race

Bill, Saraleigh, and I before the race

At the start of the race I wore shorts, a short sleeve jersey, sun sleeves, time trial shoe covers, and a light jacket with two sets of cotton throwaway gloves. I was amazed at the amount of clothing almost everyone had on relative to me. Maybe the cold weather training did me some good. After 3 laps of the track, even though it was in the 30s I was too hot in my jacket and I stopped to give it to Lucia Parker before I left pit road for the big loop. I ended up having numb hands and feet and my face was cold, but my core was warm from the effort, and I never felt too cold despite being dressed for a summer day. It warmed up to 50 degrees 3 hours into the ride, and then 60s by afternoon.

On the long loop. Photo by Sean Rayford photography

on the long loop. Photo by Sean Rayford photography

Shortly after leaving the track to the 89 mile long loop, a draft pack caught and began to pass me. It was pulled by my Panache Elite teammate Wayne Dowd who was racing the 12 hour. If I were to ever race the drafting category, I would definitely jump onto his pack as he is a big, strong guy with a great smile who looks like Captain America. Since I was RAAM non-drafting, we just said a quick hello, and he gave me his million dollar smile and moved on. Unfortunately though, only a few guys out of the large group of people in that pack actually passed me, the rest just stalled out next to me. I hollered at them that I was non-drafting and that they needed to move on, but they did not. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see if I could drop out the back, but I could not even see the end of the group as they were too many and filling in behind me. I was trapped. One of the guys started to crowd me, and move into my space. So I yelled at him “I’m on your right”. He must have taken great offense at that, because I was then told in a streak of profane language exactly what he thought of me. My intent had been only to let him know that I was still there, as I feared he was going to cut me off and cause a crash. At that point I decided it was time to end this situation before I got hurt, so I did pass several men on the right while dishing out my own heaping dose of profanity and rode up to Wayne and told him to get those guys out of there pronto. He looked over his shoulder, and it was clear that he was surprised to see one angry woman and a large mass of men behind him. He put down the power and pulled them well out of my way while I coasted out the back of the pack.

photo by Lucia Parker

photo by Lucia Parker

I have no desire to call this man out by name, or make any sort of issue out of this. I believe I ended up passing everyone in that pack as it broke up into smaller groups well before the turnaround in Frostproof, and I certainly passed all of them before the end of the race. He was clearly excitable in the early stages of the race and took offense where none should have been taken. What I would like my fellow athletes to realize is that as a RAAM non-drafting competitor, once their draft pack failed to overtake me and essentially trapped me, they were interfering with my race. I understand that it was not intentional but it is not acceptable! If you are not strong enough to completely pass me, then don’t pass. You are not allowed to ride next to me, or draft off me. Don’t assume that because I am a woman, you are faster than me or that you should pass me because you see me on the road in front of you. And when you are asked to move along, please do so. Not one guy out of that group of 20 or more moved to the front to inform Wayne of the situation, or made any effort to move faster when I asked them to leave. As a woman, I realize that many men can hold a similar speed as me in the early miles of a 24 hour race, especially those that are drafting. I need you to have some respect and give me the space I deserve.

As the group passed me, a few men made fun of the guy that was a jerk, a few had supportive comments, and I got one nice pat on the ass from a good friend. I was also told I needed to chill out and pace myself. I found that very insulting. I came to Sebring to win. I put a lot of time and thought into my race plan, I know how to pace myself, and I was riding well within my ability and according to plan. You chose to ride next to me when I did not want you there, despite being given explicit pre-race instructions not to do so. If I appeared impatient with you all, it was because I knew that if the draft marshall had happened upon that situation before I was able to escape, I likely would’ve been the one penalized even though it was not a situation that I entered into willingly, or had any good way out of. I will not cheat, but there is no rule to protect me in that situation, and I am not willing to allow a black mark on my record that I do not deserve.

Bottle exchange and having fun with Saraleigh Monroe

Bottle exchange and having fun with Saraleigh Monroe. Photo by Lucia Parker

The rest of the trip out to Frostproof was blissfully uneventful. I was largely alone for long stretches of time on the return trip. The wind had picked up quite a bit by then, and at times the crosswind gusts felt like someone was punching my front wheel.

At mile 70, I saw Rob White standing on the side of the road with an obviously broken collar bone. He had two people tending to him so I rode on, but I lost it emotionally for several miles. Rob is a good friend and one of the nicest guys I know. I am crewing for him at RAAM this year. I spent some time dwelling in worry about how he was doing and what this meant for RAAM.

When I got back to pit road, I stopped at the Cruz Bike tent and was told that Leanne had taken Rob in my rental car to the hospital, but that he was ok and would be back later. I had finished the first loop in 4:41, pretty close to on schedule. Saraleigh jumped in to crew for me with help from Lucia Parker, but initially nobody knew where any of my stuff was, or what I meant when I told them what I needed. Saraleigh asked me if I needed a chair, which made me laugh. I’m pretty sure I can’t set a course record in a chair! We weren’t the efficient machine I was hoping for, but we had a lot of laughs, and she kept me fed, hydrated, and rolling on schedule. She has now been drafted into my pool of forever crew, from which there is no escape.

Rob back on pit road to help crew despite his broken collar bone.

Rob back on pit road to help crew despite his broken collar bone.

The volunteers controlling the intersection at the stop sign on the 11 mile short loop did an amazing job of keeping things under control. I only had to yield to other cyclists once, and they kept all traffic under control. Cars were stacking up periodically, and I felt like my life was literally in the hands of those volunteers as they held everyone back so I could barrel through the intersection without slowing down. In order to avoid slower cyclists and cars, I ended up threading the needle between the two volunteers each time, and they never flinched. They were fantastic.

There was far more traffic this year at that intersection and on highway 98 than there had been last year. It was quite a circus. I felt like I was choking to death on car exhaust. Very different from last year, and much more stressful. Only one car honked at me the entire day, but he took time to roll down his window and yell at me before cutting me off and forcing me to nearly stop to avoid his rear bumper. Between the traffic, Rob breaking his collar bone, crew switching, and random angry men yelling at me, it was a very stressful race compared to last year and more work than usual to keep a good attitude.

On the short loop

On the short loop. Photo by Sean Rayford Photography

There is so much to think about in terms of time management in 24 hour racing. You need to plan and consider each detail of your stops and when they will happen. Time off the bike is just that, time off the bike, and the less time you spend moving, the fewer miles you accrue. I tried to minimize my stopped time throughout the event, but at night there were more things that needed to be done, and I had to stop for them. I needed to put full winter clothing on because the temperature dropped rapidly as the sun set. I wore a wool base layer, long sleeve winter weight jersey, tights, and wool socks. I switched from vented triathlon shoes to full cycling shoes with winter shoe covers. Initially I wore only lightweight cotton gloves, but later added lobster claw mittens and a windproof coat. Full winter ninja cycling gear.

I had my clothing bag organized so that I pulled out what I needed in the order that I put it on. Very much like an Ironman transition bag. And my shoe covers were already on my spare shoes, so I saved a few minutes not needing to wrestle them on. I also made another stop to air up my tires, as I had latex tubes and they just don’t make it 24 hours without going soft. I needed to charge my Garmin and my light, but my charger had disappeared in the chaos of the day and was no longer in my gear bag. Rob had come over to the track to help out with crewing and tried to help me find it, but he was pretty limited with his broken collar bone and one arm. We had some laughs about the situation, and I did have a spare that I found straight away. I also had a spare USB cable, but it was super long and I had a big mess of cable flopping around on the front of my bike driving me crazy for the next 10 hours. Yet again, I was not the machine of transition efficiency that I aspire to be. But I am improving.

Brian Arnold came to the track with french fries for me, and I stuffed them in the chest of my jersey. Because I had a wool shirt on, I couldn’t stick them in my sports bra like I normally would, I just zipped the jersey around them. I jiggled my fry cleavage at the guys and took off down pit road, but I didn’t make it very far before the fries slid down my shirt and settled on my stomach, just out of reach. That was a bummer. By the time I got to them several laps later, they were cold and icky.

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Rob, my one armed crew. Leanne is to his left. Photo by Lucia Parker

Because it was cold and I knew I could get away with it, I took in just the bare minimum of fluid. It’s playing with fire, but I’ve done enough self supported training and endurance racing to develop confidence in just where that line is between tolerable dehydration and disaster. In gravel races, you often have long stretches of time with no access to services and only have what food and fluids you can carry. I’ve had a lot of practice at rationing. As a woman and especially at Sebring, stopping to go to the bathroom consumes a huge amount of time. There is really nowhere that doesn’t require a trip far off the road or into a bathroom during the day, or behind a wall on the track at night. The men have a definite time advantage in that regard, especially at night. They were stopping anywhere in the dark and a lot of them didn’t even pull off the track. They don’t even have to get off their bike. Each stop for me took several minutes, and I stopped once during the day on the short loop and twice at night on the track. On one of those night stops, I did not get my tights properly situated in my hurry to get back on the bike, which led to painful chafing. I should’ve stopped to fix it but I didn’t want to waste the time, so by the end of the 24 hours every pedal stroke felt like it was removing skin. It was horrible.

Leanne huddled up on pit road. Photo by Irma Baloh

Leanne huddled up on pit road. Photo by Irma Baloh

Midnight was a tough moment. It was dark and cold with still over 6 hours to go on that bumpy track. I don’t have accurate temperature records for the night because my Garmin was right next to my light and the warmth from the light made the temperature read much warmer than it felt. Judging from the state of the crew and racers I saw huddled in blankets on pit road, I’m guessing it was every bit as cold and windy as last year.

My crew, Leanne Short and I after the finish

My crew, Leanne Short and I after the finish

There were times when I felt cold, especially in the headwind sections, but then I was able to forget about it. I did much better at tuning it out this year than last year. My chemical foot warmer packs were another item that had gotten lost in the gear and crew shuffle, so I did not initially have them when I switched shoes. Rob was later able to locate a set for me, but even though my feet were a little numb I opted not to take the time to put them in. I would’ve had to stop and take off my shoes, which is not a quick thing with shoe covers. It would’ve cost me several minutes. I also considered whether I truly wanted to feel my feet 18 hours into the race, and decided that I really didn’t. I had smashed one of the toes on my left foot prior to the race, and it was still pretty bruised going into the shoe that morning. Judging from the state of my feet the day after the race, I’m really glad I opted not to warm them into full sensation. In a 24 hour race, these are the things you can get away with. In a longer race, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to neglect myself in quite the same manner as I did throughout this race.

Night time nutrition has been and continues to be a struggle for me. Last year at Sebring, there were several hours during the night where I consumed no calories at all and became hypothermic because I no longer had the energy to keep myself warm. Leanne Short took on the majority of the night time crewing hours, and thanks to her support I did manage to keep adequate nutrition going until probably 1am, and then it just became a trickle of chocolate milk and the occasional random stop to have her or Rob shove potato chips in my mouth. I had mittens on by then and couldn’t feed myself. I felt pretty decent until after 5am despite falling off the calorie goal, so it was a huge improvement over last year. I’m not really satisfied with that as this unwillingness to eat or drink during the night appears to be largely mental, and certainly something I should be able to fix in future events.

just after I finished my last lap.

just after I finished my last lap.

The finish line was fairly anticlimactic. I finished with time left on the clock because there was not enough time to complete another lap, and only finished laps count. So suddenly it was just done. My time off the bike was 39:35, which was almost 10 minutes longer than I had planned. I was still very satisfied with 460.6 miles and the new Sebring course record, but it was a few days before the accomplishment really set in.

A few days after the event, a friend contacted me about the UMCA 24 hour record. I was not aware of what the record was, or that I had been close to breaking it last year. My mileage total of 460.6 miles at Sebring exceeds that of the current 24 hour record of 439.65 miles. I have since learned that there is a process for establishing UMCA records within events, but I was not aware of it, and did not follow it. The process is laborious, and far better suited to individual record attempts on a small loop. I have no plans or desire to attempt an individual record outside of an event, and plan to remain focused on preparing for the events I have chosen to do.

Pascale Lercangee, 50-54 AG record holder and Cassie Schumaker, 12 hour upright winner

Pascale Lercangee, 50-54 AG record holder and Cassie Schumaker, 12 hour upright winner

Thank you to everyone who sent me texts, emails, and messages before, during, and after the event. When I turned my phone on late at night to put my music on, it literally went crazy with all of the messages. I didn’t take the time to read them until after the event, but I was very touched. Thank you!

Thank you to Daren Munroe for stalking the weather and my flights to let me know if I needed to make any changes when I got off the bike. I successfully dodged the ice storm and made it home on time. Even when you are not crewing for me, I find things for you to do 🙂

Thank you to Saraleigh Monroe for jumping in to crew for me last minute during the day, and to Leanne Short for managing most of the night. I couldn’t have stayed on record breaking pace without good support, so you both had a big part in that record. Thank you to Brian Arnold and Rob White for helping out as well. Rob you went above and beyond the call of duty crewing with a broken bone. I will see you in Oceanside.

Mike Wilson, Kyle Robinson, Katherine Roccasecca, and the entire staff of Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply: There are countless little decisions I make over the course of a race. To push the pace when I’m tired, eat when I don’t want to, stay in aero when it’s uncomfortable, and stick it out when the conditions get bad. There are equally as many decisions made during training, and so many ways I could let myself off the hook. I never take it easy, and I never quit. I know that you all have made sacrifices on my behalf, fixed my equipment in a hurry, and spent time helping me to be well prepared for these races. Knowing that you support me and have my back helps me to be fierce out there during races, and stick with it when it gets tough. You guys keep me strong, and I thank you!

Beautiful Iowa

Iowa gravel. photo by Steve Fuller