Spotted Horse 2017 Race Director report

200 miles of pavement is a training ride. 200 miles of Iowa gravel is something much more difficult. Here is the behind the scenes action at the very soggy, cold, and windy second edition of the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. This is a tough course on a nice day, and we did not have a nice day at all. Only 8 finished the 200 mile race, and 17 finished the 150 mile race. The fastest racers averaged less than 14 mph.

Peanut butter gravel near Murray. Photo by S. Fuller

The Spotted Horse is a low budget, no profit, volunteer run project of mine that I do simply because I enjoy the hell out of riding my bike on gravel, and enjoy spending time with others that do as well. I put this race together for the first time over the winter of 2015-16 as I was training for Race Across the West. I enjoyed mapping out the route, riding it forwards and backwards, seeing what views I liked better, or what combination of hills and roads was the hardest. It gave purpose to my miles and was a great distraction from the sheer magnitude of the races I had on my own race calendar. And south-central Iowa terrain and weather are fantastic training for any kind of ultra racing. You can freeze to death, bake like bread, and get rained on all in the same ride. And the only true flat we have here is in the C store parking lots.

A little RAAM humor

2016 race day weather was perfect, and the forecast a week out from race day 2017 looked perfect as well. Dry and sunny with mild temps. Minimal chance for rain. Very typical October weather! As the week progressed, the forecast got worse by the day with an expected 3+ inches of rain Thursday to Friday and rain continuing throughout most of Saturday. Add in 20-30mph winds out of the south with temperatures falling throughout the day into the low 50’s, and it was a recipe for a very difficult day indeed. The running joke among the Des Moines locals was that my race was getting “Sumptered”. Scott Sumpter, aka Mr. BIKEIOWA, has brought rain to almost every gravel race he has been to this year. Tropical Storm Sumpter rained pain all over the Spotted Horse, turning the gravel to mush and the dirt roads to mud.

120th st near Hopeville. Photo by Dawn Piech

The weather and life took it’s toll on my roster, and the numbers fell from 81 to 59, and then only 48 showed up to start on race day. That happened last year too though, and the weather was perfect. It’s a bit discouraging, but as my own race plans since RAAM have completely imploded and I’m dropping out of races I have signed up for, I guess I can relate to the life stuff. The weather concerns, not so much. Suck it up and put on a coat. It’s only 200 miles.

Cole Ledbetter. Cole ended up dropping to the 150 route after Orient, probably putting in 175 miles for the day. Not quite an official finish, but a hell of a good ride. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

 

 

The last two weeks before the race were a busy time for me. I’d promised everyone a rideable route regardless of the weather, so with 40 miles of dirt B roads in the original course, the route was in flux until just a few days before the race. I decided to leave 11 miles of B roads on the cue sheets I released, hoping that the rain would miss us but knowing I’d likely end up detouring at least 7 miles of the course during the race. Fussing over the route the way I do is not exactly the easy way to do this, but the route is the main attraction. It has to be just the right combination of beauty and pain or I’m not happy with it. There was very little in this year’s route that I was not happy with, despite having to remove most of my beloved dirt roads.

Andrea Cohen, one hell of a strong lady and the only woman to finish the 200 mile. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

After watching buckets of rain fall during Friday check in, I had dinner with some of the volunteers and athletes, and got a few hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 2am. I was down to St.Charles to set up by 3:30, and the volunteers began arriving by 3:45 to help me set up and get people parked. Several of my RAAM and RAW crew were either racing or volunteering, including Jill Marks who had driven all of the way from Minnesota to help out. Emily Shelton, who was a friend of an athlete racing, had also driven from the north country to help. She arrived just before 4am, worked all day, then drove back home in time to race the Filthy 50 on Sunday.

CP 1 volunteers Amanda Lundstedt and Jess Rundlett with CP2 volunteer Jill Marks before the start. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

With calm and capable Jill in charge of check in, and Emily helping Newbs with parking, I went and stood out by the entrance so no one would miss the turn in the dark. Stretch, my tall, tattooed friend who drives the rescue creeper van eventually came out to relieve me. Before he did, I saw a truck headed towards the driveway take the turn at the very last second, nearly missing it despite me standing right there with a flashlight. “That has got to be Mark Skarpohl”, I thought. Sure enough, Minnesota plates. He drives like he rides. I first met Mark a few years back when he and I both raced the Alexander 380. He kept missing turns and going off course, and after teasing him about it I ended up going off course multiple times myself. It hasn’t stopped me from teasing him though.

The Sona tandem. Always happy and with a great attitude, the Sona’s are simply a delight to have at my event. This was their second year racing the 150. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

It started raining again as we assembled on the driveway at 5:45 for a few safety reminders, and then started promptly at 6am. The Madison County Sheriff showed up right on schedule, and fell in behind the group to block traffic. Not that there was any traffic at that time of day, but it’s nice to have a deputy back there just in case.

 

Checkpoint 1 volunteers Stretch Wilson, Jess Rundlett, and Amanda Lundstedt

I led the group for the first mile on pavement, then pulled off and doubled back around to take a different road to get in front of the cyclists. Steve Fuller, who was supposed to be racing, had broken his finger the week prior, and was now my three fingered co-pilot. Our friendship survived RAAM despite me calling him an asshole several times, and I figured if I had to spend 20 hours straight with someone, he’d be a good choice. He was an indispensable help the entire day. I’m not sure how I would’ve managed all that I had to do without him.

Yvonne Deyo, women’s 150 mile winner just outside Murray. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

We just barely managed to get out in front of the group 5 miles into the race, and drove the course ahead of them. The road conditions were amazingly variable, and we saw everything from dry roads to complete mud. There were long stretches of peanut butter, and one road just outside of Murray that was pure mud. It was not a B road, but a regular gravel road that just happened to have a lot of dirt on it that turned to mud in the rain. It was warm, but lightly raining and the wind was coming straight out of the south and gusting pretty hard already.

Jim Koziol, 200 mile single speed winner near Afton. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I made a quick stop in Murray, then headed straight to Hopeville to re-route Doyle road, a 2.5 mile B road. After hammering in the stakes, Newbs met us there, and he stayed there for a few hours to watch the riders go through. Steve and I headed back east of Murray to see how riders were faring with that first unexpected mud road on 170th. We stopped to help Jim Kozial, who needed a better allen wrench to fix his bike. His multitool was stripping the screw. This is a self supported event, so I expect people to carry what they need and be able to fix their own bike. But I do carry my tool box, and if I happen upon someone who needs help, I help. I just can’t promise I’ll be in the right place at the right time. I pulled out my tool box, and we spent a few minutes holding Jim’s bike while he fixed it. He called his thanks out as he rode away, and I yelled after him “FINISH!” He did, and ended up winning the 200 mile single speed category.

My coach, Greg Grandgeorge. His race ended on a muddy road outside of Murray. Photo by S. Fuller

The next victim was my coach, Greg Grandgeorge, who flipped his derailleur up into the spokes when he tried to ride through the mud. The one tool we really needed was a pair of chain link pliers, which were sitting on my dining room table back home. Kyle Platts passed by on his fat bike, and asked if we needed anything. Oddly enough, he had a pair of chain link pliers and loaned them to us. Greg wasn’t able to convert his bike to a working single speed, so we loaded him up, and did a RAAM style plier hand off to Kyle just outside of Murray. I made a call to Stretch for his first of many rescues that day, and had him meet me in Afton to pick up Greg and ferry him back to the ranch.

Mark Skarpohl and Luke Wilson, Men’s 200 mile leaders,outside of Afton. Luke looks happy, Mark, not so much. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I drove backwards on the route and parked at mile 50 of the course and took pictures of the riders as they went by until it was time to move on ahead to get to Orient in front of the leaders.

 

 

 

 

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Checkpoint 2. Scott Newbury, Jenn Borst, Jill Marks, Steve Fuller, Emily Shelton, Stretch Wilson, and me.

We headed back to Afton to check in with the group of riders that had stopped there, and then moved on to checkpoint 2. As Stretch said in his post race summary, things went off the rails for a bit there as we had a little fun with Jenn, Emily, Stretch, and Jill but then it was on to Orient to mark the 290th street detour. Things had begun to dry out a bit by that point and the roads were looking pretty good. But not good enough that a 5 mile B road was going to be rideable, or even very walkable.

Holly Semple, Orient volunteer and Newbs. Holly kept riders on track near the 290th street detour

We met Holly Semple at the intersection of Trenton and 300th street near Orient, where I had arranged for her to babysit the reroute. Holly is another generous soul that contacted me when she heard I needed help, and sat for hours mostly by herself to make sure that riders stayed on course. I had intended to hang out there for awhile and keep her company, but had to leave after receiving a call from Luke Wilson saying that a section of the Rippy Dumps had been torn up and was now a pile of dirt and an excavator. I handed her the stakes, gave her some brief instructions about where to put them, and headed back to Macksburg.

Daren and Steve, helping me stake the Dirt Mountain reroute

My phone was going crazy with texts about riders dropping out, Jenn was trying to find a rider that was waiting for pick up, two riders were MIA since the start line, Holly texted me to say she’d broken a reroute stake, I needed to call Newbs to help her, and we had a mountain of dirt in the middle of what had been an open road when I passed through just TWO DAYS before. It was oddly fun, and utterly crazy. Doing 10 different things at once is fun for me.

I had told Luke and Mark to pass through the construction zone if they felt it safe, and they did. I pulled up just as the next riders got to the far side of the mountain. I threw my truck in park and sprinted for the mountain, hoping to at least verify it was passable before anyone broke an ankle trying to cross it. Three steps up and my shoes were a muddy disaster. There was a river running through it as well. Pictures do not do this mountain justice.

 

Keeping Joe Mann warm at the finish line. Joe was my night crew chief on RAAM and RAW. Photo by S. Fuller

Steve and I flagged the 200 reroute, and redirected Joe Mann to turn around and head for the new detour, which cut a few miles off the route. 6 riders passed through the construction site before I had it rerouted, and I deducted 20 minutes from their finish time to compensate for that. It was raining again, and I couldn’t resist telling Joe that it wasn’t really raining, it was just water dripping off the trees. That was a line of BS Joe dropped on me during RAAM. I wasn’t out of it enough to believe that on RAAM, and I had a good chuckle yelling that out the window at him in a very treeless section of road.

Jess Rundlett and the now infamous Dirt Mountain. Photo by one disgusted Jess Rundlett

After placing the reroute stakes in one direction, it occurred to me that the 150 also passes through there from the opposite direction and those riders would be coming through next. Once we flagged the 150 route, it was utterly confusing. I ended up needing to park three volunteers along that detour, two of them for over 8 hours to babysit this monstrosity. It was a pretty long detour with multiple stakes. The resulting picture of Jess Rundlett at the Dirt Mountain Reroute has provided endless hours of hilarity, and almost made this worth the hassle. Stay tuned to the event Facebook page for the entire photoshopped series of Things that Disgust Jess, beginning with Dirt Mountain.

Newbs, letting his truck rest in the ditch. Photo by Carolyn Marsh

After we had Dirt Mountain contained, Newbs called. He’d gotten his truck stuck just outside of Orient on a B road. I told him I had a tow strap, and Steve and I headed back to Orient to rescue him. We first checked on Holly and the 290th st detour, and all was well there. The weather had gone from gloomy and raining to sunny and warm, and the winds were now very strong out of the west, meaning that the riders continued to have a full on 20+mph headwind as they headed into Orient. The only upside to the wind situation was the potential for a rip rocking tail wind back towards Winterset and St. Charles. Or so I thought. The wind died out by late afternoon, leaving most of the field to ride without any tailwind after having fought a ridiculous headwind the entire day. Iowa can be so cruel.

 

Mark Skarpohl near Orient. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Luke Wilson, near Orient. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Mickey Boianoff’s heartfelt gesture of love and appreciation for me. Photo by Carolyn Marsh

Extracting Newbs from the ditch was actually quite easy, so we spent a few minutes talking with photographer Carolyn Marsh and watching riders struggle through the 2 mile stretch of B road just outside of Orient. I had driven down to this section on Thursday and actually ran part of it myself just to verify that the grass ditch on the side of the road was decent the entire way. It was a pretty mean stretch of road; a mile of hike a bike, a beautiful gravel intersection, and then a right turn onto another mile of hike a bike. Having been trapped on that section before myself, I can relate to the mental and physical anguish it delivers. As Carolyn verified with her photos, my name was thoroughly abused and there was much cursing. As is true of most gravel racers, they embraced the struggle with a smile and most seemed to enjoy it despite their complaining. There is a time and a place for complaining, and as most of life seems to require restraint and civility it’s not altogether bad to find yourself carrying your bike and bitching without restraint. It’s quite therapeutic, and often hilarious.

Bruce Woodard, biking a section of road that had reduced everyone else to walking. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Chris Schroeder, 3rd place 200 men’s open. Photo by Carolyn Marsh


Jon Duke, making the B Road look easy and fun. photo by Carolyn Marsh

Steve and I headed back towards Winterset to check on Dirt Mountain and where we now had three volunteers babysitting the turns. Jess was at the mountain, Daren was down the road where the 200 mile riders needed to leave the course, and Greg Grandgeorge (who had DNF’d earlier and came back out on the course to volunteer) was farther down the 150 mile portion of the reroute in an area that I thought was confusing. Not only was there construction on the road, but one of the farms was also doing some construction and there were pink construction stakes freaking everywhere in addition to my pink reroute stakes. I couldn’t have imagined a worse mess to leave for people to figure out. It was much less confusing after it got dark and the construction markers were no longer visible. To my knowledge, we only lost Jon Duke there briefly, which was still something I felt pretty bad about. Getting lost is not the kind of frustration I want people to experience. He had the misfortune of going through the detour in the daylight when I hadn’t had a volunteer at that corner and he missed the marked turn.

Kate Geisen on the B road near Orient


Heather Poskevich on the B road near Orient


Michael Conti and me at the finish line. Photo by Eric Roccasecca

Steve and I made a quick stop in Winterset to gas up the vehicle and wait for 150 mile leader, Michael Conti. Michael is my friend from Utah, and while he has done several gravel races before, none had been in the midwest under conditions like these. I’m not entirely convinced that Michael didn’t accidentally add on a few bonus miles but he eventually reached the finish line looking thoroughly worked over and with a barely functional drivetrain. 2nd place overall and first place single speed Mickey Boianoff arrived a short while later, also looking throughly worked over.

Michael Conti and Mickey Boianoff, first and second place in the 150. Mickey was also first place single speeder

My participation in their finish line celebration was short lived, as I received a series of humorous and also frustrating phone calls from Luke Wilson, who was still riding with Mark Skarpohl and holding a 30 minute lead over third place Chris Schroeder. There was an oddly placed street sign and a frankly wrong street sign that weren’t an issue for folks that were using a GPX file, but were for folks only using cue sheets. One of the street signs was labeled 165th street when the map clearly shows 168th street on Ride with GPS, Google maps, etc. Both of these were roads that I ride frequently, but I had verified the roads only by maps and checking the turn with the GPX file; I had not visualized that particular street sign in any of my wanderings. You look at things differently when they are on routes you ride all of the time. I sent Greg to hang out in the vicinity of the two questionable signs to make sure no one got lost. Greg ended up staying in that area for hours after dark making sure that riders stayed on course there. Volunteering is not an exciting job.

Saraleigh Munroe, creeping us all out at the finish line. Saraleigh and Bill volunteered back at the ranch and hosted two out of town athletes


Mark Stender, 150 mile finisher


Kyle Platts, 2nd place 150 mile men’s fat bike and last official finisher of the 150. Kyle also won the Good Guy Award for loaning out his chain link pliers.

 

Luke Wilson and Mark Skarpohl, men’s 200 mile first and second place. I could hear them arguing like an old married couple about who was going to win as they came to the finish line. They were fun to watch all day!

The rest of the evening was spent hanging out at the finish line waiting for the finishers to come in. Kathy Fuller managed the prizing back at the ranch while I waited for finishers up on Valleyview Avenue. Kathy escaped the entire weekend without having her photo taken… We may have to photo shop her into one.

 

 

Stretch Wilson, creeper van driver, and all around nice guy. No one wants to DNF, but if you have to bail from an event, at least you can go home with a good story about being picked up by a man with a bag of candy and a creeper van.

The finish line is one of my favorite parts of this race director deal, and I now have two big files of photos with finishers of my race. It warms my cold, black heart. I’m a big fan of ultra racing, carbon bikes, and all things aero AF. But gravel racing is not always about fitness, and who is the fastest. It’s about decision making, mental toughness, and being humble enough to let go of your expectations and embrace the struggle and the adventure of the day. A day spent with like minded people who enjoy that kind of experience is a day well spent. Even the texts I received from folks who couldn’t finish were uplifting, as many of them offered thanks and were willing to come back out on the course and volunteer.

Final finishers Matt Miller, Women’s 200 winner Andrea Cohen, and Men’s 200 FatBike winner Scott Sumpter

The volunteers that had been out in the sticks at checkpoints or detours eventually wandered in and kept me company throughout the evening before they tired and went home. The final finishers rolled in at 1:30 am, including Matt Miller, Andrea Cohen (the only woman to finish the 200 mile), and the rain maker himself, Scott Sumpter.

 

 

Kate Ankofski. Kate had quite the difficult, muddy adventure, but finished her day with a smile near Macksburg

Aaron Duncan, finishing his ride in Winterset. Aaron put in a great ride, but was delayed by adventure and ran short on time.

Newbs ended up driving the course backwards to look for Kate Ankofski and Aaron Duncan who had been unaccounted for since morning. Both had gone down one of the B roads that had been detoured and lost quite a bit of time there. Kate was picked up near Macksburg and Aaron continued on all the way to Winterset and was just barely shy of making the time cut off. He was Jenn Borst’s last pick up for the day before we all headed home, just over 24 hours after my day had started.

Despite the weather being rather rotten most of the day, I’d say this year’s event went well. The course came together well despite not using the dirt roads I wanted to share. As of this writing, I am planning on a 2018 event. I am committed to keeping the cost to the participants low, the size small, and the profit non-existent. I hope to have all new routes for 2018, including a rideable rain route, just in case!

If you enjoyed yourself at my event, please thank your volunteers! They drove many miles, missed sleep, lived on gas station food, and gave up part of their Friday and all of their Saturday to make sure that you went home with stellar photographs, a tired body, and a smile. Thank you to Eric Roccasecca, Carolyn Marsh, Daren Munroe, Kathy Fuller, Steve Fuller, Stretch Wilson, Amanda Lundstedt, Jess Rundlett, Jennifer Borst, Jill Marks, Emily Shelton, Holly Semple, Greg Grandgeorge, Scott Newbury, Saraleigh Munroe, and Bill Lorenz for your time, energy, and willingness to help me make this event happen. These volunteers truly made this race enjoyable for me as the race director. They are all amazing people, so generous with their time, and so willing to do whatever needed to be done to make sure the riders had a good experience. They took my pins on a map and turned them into epic photography, less stressful detours, and fun and energetic checkpoints. This event would not happen without them!

This has been an epic year for me in life and in racing. I’ve tackled extremely difficult ultra cycling events. I’ve finished most, and ended one hypothermic and delusional, huddled on a dog bed in rural Iowa. The strength that I have found through taking on these great challenges has carried over into every aspect of my daily life. I no longer worry about my limits, the expectations of my gender, or what people think of me. I have always enjoyed the caregiver role as a nurse, mom, and friend. But it hasn’t been until this year of my life that I have found myself in the position of needing so much from my friends and family to accomplish my goals, without being able to give back as I would like. I now have a better understanding of what generosity truly means to someone who needs it. I have received much assistance, generosity, and support in all that I have taken on in life this year. Thank you all for your support.

Sarah

RAAM 2017 photos

I need more time. More hours in each day and more days in each week just to slow things down a little. People often ask me how I manage to do all that I do as a cyclist and a parent of four, and the truth is that it’s often a little much. Sitting down to organize RAAM photos hasn’t been and isn’t going to be a priority any time soon, but I wanted to share what I could. There are plenty of cool photos of me on a bike during RAAM, but few of those are shared below. The more interesting side of any race to me are the people involved in it, and those are the photos and stories I want to share. So here are some of the photos and stories from RAAM 2017, in no particular order or priority.  The rest of the stories you’ll have to get out of me on a bike ride sometime.

This 3T stem was given to me by Tom Navratil, Men’s rookie of the year. Tom passed me in Ohio, and asked me why he was passing me after I had been ahead of him for the entire race so far. I explained the troubles with my neck and that I’d been riding sitting upright since Kansas, and he said he had something that would help. His crew handed the stem off to mine, and Tom himself even stopped to talk to my crew. English is not his native language, but sleep deprived and over 2000 miles into RAAM he took the time to talk with my crew about relieving some of the strain on my neck. This is the spirit of ultra cycling. We are all family, and even though it’s a race, we all try to help one another out as best we can. Someday I’ll pass this stem on to another athlete in need.

Cassie Schumacher came out to ride with me twice for a few minutes in Ohio. Once in the pouring rain even. She brought snacks for my crew, and a gluten free pizza for me. It was so humbling to have people like Cassie show up just to lift my spirits. It’s pretty obvious from my position on the bike that I was in a great deal of discomfort, yet somehow I’m smiling thanks to Cassie.

My glowstick family, Amy and David Croll from Urbandale, IA. David and his daughter showed up on the course after midnight near St. Louis with a bag of glowsticks and money for food for my crew. I asked David what brought them out there at such a late hour, and he said he ‘wanted to show his daughter what a strong woman looked like’.  I’m sure I looked anything but strong at that point as I was in a good bit of pain and struggling to hold my head up. Having the courage to be in that race in the first place, and remaining in that race and enduring all that it threw at me wasn’t exactly the display of strength I was going for, but they reminded me that it was strength all the same. Quite a lesson from a simple shopping bag full of glow sticks.

My crew tried a few times that night to get the glow stick necklace off me. I’m sure they were worried about the weight on my neck. I refused to let them have it, and replied that glowsticks are “aero as f**k”. They did eventually get them off me, and I never saw them again. Amy and David graciously brought me a new set at my welcome home party after RAAM.

My custom RAAM kit designed by Kim Hopkins from Velorosa. It was a bit anxiety provoking trying a new bib short so close to RAAM, but these ended up being real winners. I made it 3000 miles without any saddle sores. When they proved their worth in training, Kim and Lisa got me four more pair in a hurry plus helped me find similar non-custom black bibs to take on RAAM. It was quite moving to see photos of friends and people I had never met wearing a replica jersey that they had purchased to help fund the expense of RAAM. Thanks to Velorosa, the GoFundMe account that Connie set up on my behalf, the fundraiser at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee, and all of the people that mailed checks to my home address, more than half of my crew expenses were covered. RAAM is not an inexpensive race, and their generosity was much appreciated.

Stretch Wilson and Jenn Borst showed up on the side of the highway in Missouri. Both are good friends, and Stretch had a weird alien mask on when I first saw them and I didn’t even recognize him until he took it off! The sleep deprivation was real; a 6’6″ tattooed alien, and I didn’t guess that it was Stretch. They made the 5+ hour drive just to see me for a minute, then drove back to Iowa.

Gina and Bob Fourney caught up with me in Kansas. Bob escorted me into one of the Kansas time stations, and they followed me across much of Kansas. How can you top the experience of having a child decide on her own to follow your race? They were simply a delight to have along, and a pleasant diversion from the increasingly obvious fact that the race was otherwise not going as I had hoped. Gina hopes to be an endurance rider someday, and I’ll be honored to say I knew her back when.

The traffic on RAAM is a constant source of stress, especially for the day shift crew. The race passes through several high population centers and there are areas of heavy traffic that you have to be prepared to ride through. I have been hit by a car before, and have serious residual stress regarding traffic. Brian Arnold and Erik Newsholme were the primary drivers on dayshift, and they did an excellent job of alerting traffic to my presence, while Steve or Jill talked to me over the cardo about what was coming. From my perspective, how they managed that aspect of the race could not have been done any better.

Adam Ashwill and his family staff Time Station 30 in Fort Scott, Kansas. Adam follows many of the RAAM athletes on Facebook, and I enjoy following him back. It’s been fun to watch him grow as a cyclist and take a Strava KOM this year. I asked Adam to ride with me for a bit, and he rode the 7 miles from his house to the Missouri border.

 

 

 

And what do you do when your sponsor sends a youth medium shirt for you instead of an adult medium? You put it on Steve Fuller and take pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And thanks to RAAM media for capturing this gem:

 

100% of my training and race nutrition expenses for the entirety of the my 2017 season has been covered by Carbo Pro. The support and generosity has been truly overwhelming. Fully supporting an ultra cyclist is not an inexpensive endeavor considering I ordered what would normally be a year’s worth of product for one race. I used to despair of ever finding a nutrition sponsor, as I’d previously only been able to tolerate flavored products for roughly 6 months at a time. And once I’d raced gravel with anything flavored, I could usually never do so again. Gravel has a way of permanently influencing flavors for the worst. Carbo Pro has no flavor, so I’ve never been traumatized by it. Mix it with electrolytes, and I’m good to go for days. I’d been racing with it successfully for over a year when Connie contacted Carbo Pro on my behalf after RAW, and they’ve been taking care of my nutrition needs ever since.

Matt Taylor, a friend from REV cycling, met me in Ohio and escorted me on his bike into one of the time stations. Matt and I had made arrangements for him to accept shipments if I ran out of nutrition. I ended up not needing anything, but it was nice to have a plan in case I ran out. There is another picture that I can’t find where I’m hugging Matt, and it looks like I’m trying to take a catnap on his shoulder. I probably was.

 

The cheese finger. I’m not sure why I’m waving it, but it’s in lieu of a real finger and that’s the media crew in front of me recording this nonsense. The blue shirt I’m wearing is Connie’s Quad Cities marathon shirt. She let me borrow it when my base layer got rained on. It became like an emotional security blanket to me; a constant hug from Connie. When it got rained on in West Virginia again and they had to take it off me, it was like a kick in the teeth. I was so sad.

I mostly consumed liquid nutrition on the front end of the race. As the days went on, more food was added in to supplement the calories. Daren offered me a banana on the night shift, and he offered to serve it to me in at least four different ways. I lost patience with the multiple options,  saying “For f**ks sake Daren, just give me a f***ing banana”. Daren, without missing a beat replied, “Well you’re in luck. I happen to have both regular and f****ing bananas.” This isn’t THE banana, but any banana offered after the initial offense was a source of amusement. And however it came out the window was how I took it, without complaint.

This young man and his family were standing by the side of the road in hot, humid Kansas with popsicles. I’m so thankful that my crew captured the ‘You bet I’ll take a popsicle!’ moment. It was just amazing and so humbling to see how many people followed this race online, then either sent me a message, or positioned themselves along the route to be there to offer encouragement when I went by.

Erik Newsholme, self appointed road kill shoveler, popsicle man, and dayshift driver of the ancillary support van. I developed a taste for popsicles during my pre-race stay in Borrego, and Erik went out and bought a special cooler just for popsicles. He also shoveled all of the road kill out of my way across the entire country, so if you were ever behind me, your path was clear because of Erik. Later in the race I struggled with balance related to my neck issues. Quite often someone had to catch me when I stopped, because I couldn’t get off without falling over. This is Erik after a catch. I’m holding my head up with my fist, and you can appreciate the edema in my legs trying to bust through the compression socks.

This is my favorite picture of Alex. Everyone loves Alex. He’s easygoing, can fix anything, and can catch a rider before they hit the dirt. One of my sleep stops got interrupted, resulting in me falling asleep on the bike a few times before we got things worked out. Alex saw me starting to lose it, and was out of the car and had me in his arms before I hit the ground. I woke up in his arms looking up at his face. Falling asleep on the bike is never a good thing, but that ended up being one of my favorite moments of RAAM. It’s amazing the lengths my crew went to in caring for me.

I used to give my husband a hard time about his ability to fall asleep literally anywhere during his sleep deprived medical training days. Now I get it. 2 hours or less of sleep a day ensures that you can fall asleep anywhere, and sometimes without control. I fell asleep standing up waiting on a train in heavy traffic in Indiana. Jill and Steve were working on my neck, so I locked my knees and had a nap on Steve’s shoulder. They did eventually wake me and put me in the car, the train was that long!

 

Jill, Janice Sheufelt, and me at the awards banquet after the finish. I followed Janice’s ultra cycling career as I contemplated taking on longer races, and she is one of the women that inspired me. Janice stepped in as a RAAM official this year after the rider she was crewing for DNF’d. She poked her head into my van when I was stopped to offer encouragement during the big storm in West Virginia. I remember laying there like the dead listening to her tell me she believed I was strong enough to finish. I believed it too, but I really did not want to go ride in that storm anymore. I did anyway.

My crew chief, Brian Arnold. I’m almost certain when Brian agreed to be my crew chief that he did not expect to get felt up by his athlete on the side of the road while wearing a ladies disco top, but such is RAAM. Brian is very professional and not often seen running around in costume. In the haze of sleep deprivation, I couldn’t believe this was him so I grabbed a handful of pectoral muscle and gave it a good squeeze just to confirm.

The majority of my past crew members had been guys, so I did not anticipate my reluctance to communicate with Brian and the other men on the crew about things as they began to go wrong. I’d never done a race where so much went so seriously and scarily wrong at once. Everything is “fine” when you’re riding with guys that are stronger than you, even when it’s clearly not fine. I trivialized all of my major issues, beginning in Colorado with the pulmonary infection and the edema, and continuing through Kansas and the onset of Shermer’s neck. Brian was left to connect the dots and make decisions as best he could. I know he was frustrated with me on a few occasions, and I with him, and the responsibility for that was all mine. There are times to suck it up and be tough, and there are times when you need to say ‘I can’t ride the next 50 miles without stopping, or my head is going to flop on my chest like a rag doll and we’ll never get it back’… In hindsight, I wish I’d had the courage to do that. It would’ve been better for everyone.

The storm in West Virginia. It had rained for hours the day before in Ohio, and the crew didn’t tell me I was about to ride into the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy. I guess they figured I’d find out soon enough, and after several hours and a tornado, I think it was Daren that finally mentioned it. “You are telling me this nightmare has a name, and you didn’t think to share that with me earlier?” Like any good midwesterner, I enjoy complaining about the weather vigorously and often. It’s a nice distraction from the things that truly concern me, as it’s never wise to dwell on anything of importance during a race. I figure they cheated me out of several hours of quality complaining by not telling me about this in advance. Quite possibly someone had told me, and it was lost in the haze of sleep deprivation.

My Katherine. Everyone should have a friend like Katherine. Katherine managed the media side of the event for Kyle’s Bikes, and she and her husband Eric drove down to see me as I passed through Jefferson City, MO. There is a picture of me riding later on in Missouri while zapping my neck with a tens unit. I promise you that was not a pleasant situation to be in, but there is a big smile on my face because Katherine and Eric surprised me again there.

 

 

My coach Greg turned up first in Kansas, and later on in Maryland. Greg and I have been friends for years, and he’s been my coach since 2015. He told me he’d be out there somewhere, so I was expecting to see him. I was still in denial about how bad things were getting when he saw me in Kansas. By Maryland, there was no more denial. Greg once said he didn’t know anyone else that could tolerate pain quite like me. I think friendships like his are part of the reason why I can. There is confidence in knowing that people care about you, and believe in your strength. My body can utterly betray me, the weather can punish me, and the time constraints of racing are real. But the courage to continue making forward progress in whatever fashion that I can while I still can comes from somewhere. I’ve found a lot of strength in the relationships I have with my family and friends.

The crew does what needs doing, and sometimes things come up that aren’t the most appealing of tasks. Among many other odd tasks, Laurel ended up drying my rain soaked shoes under a hand dryer in West Virginia. I had two pair, both soaked. I was optimistically hoping for a dry day the next day, but the shoes ended up just getting rained on again. Laurel is also a trained massage therapist, and worked on my neck whenever she could. She also taught others on the crew what to do since the times that I was stopped didn’t always coincide with her shift. The goal was to keep my neck functional to the finish, and we did.

Alex swapping Ice Friction chains on my bike with Daren looking half asleep in the background. I’ve been using Ice Friction chains on my bike since 2016. The specially coated chains are designed to improve drivetrain efficiency and speed, with a side benefit of cutting down on maintenance and work for my crew. Rather than cleaning and lubing chains, they simply swapped them out on a schedule. This coating is far better than conventional lube, especially on gravel. I do most of my training on gravel roads. Gravel dust eats drive trains, and using these chains has prolonged the life of my entire drivetrain. I love it. It’s a noticeable disappointment when I have to ride a bike without an ice chain.

Rob White and his girlfriend Leanne made the long drive from northern Wisconsin to Missouri so Rob could ride with me for a few minutes. It was on the worst stretch of roadkill littered highway I’d ever had the displeasure of riding on, and Erik was frantically shoveling loads of dead, liquified armadillos out of our path. Rob can always make me laugh, and it didn’t take much more than “I love Missouri. This road was my favorite part of RAAM” to have me laughing so hard it hurt. Rob and I have been friends since my first 24 hours of Sebring in 2014, and I crewed for him for the first half of RAAM in 2015. The best advice he gave me was to make sure that I had thought about all of the possible DNF scenarios, and to be prepared to ride through anything. If there was any excuse in my mind, any reason to quit that I was ok with, I might take it. It was great advice, and a great way to focus my mental preparation for RAAM.

NEWBS! The only guy I know that would stand on the side of the road dressed as Burger King in the middle of hot, humid, Colorado when he was supposed to be in Kansas is Scott Newbury. I met Newbs (it rhymes with Bewbs) at a triathlon in 2008, and I haven’t had a Newbs free week since. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and helped organize the fundraiser and welcome home parties for me at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee in addition to surprising me in Colorado. It was over 90 degrees and humid when he put that costume on, and I’m thankful he didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion before I got there.

In the final miles, a group of cyclists out on their training ride came to ride with me. One of the members had been tracking the race, and knew that I would be passing through. They had to slow way down to stay near me. What a kindness that was. They obviously were giving up any semblance of a workout just to lift my spirits. I was pretty pathetically slow at that point; just when I had thought it couldn’t get any worse, I crashed during the night with about 70 miles to go, and my right side was messed up. It was surreal watching them surround me and flow up the hills without effort. The sleep deprivation and exhaustion added a dreamlike quality to the entire experience.

Eddie Rayford has been photographing me at 24 hours of Sebring every year for the last four years. He always photographs RAAM as well, and had told me that he would see me in Maryland. And when he saw me there it would mean that he was still alive, and that I was almost done with RAAM. Eddie got a big sweaty hug.

Kathy, coming to tend to me after a nose bleed on the way into Durango. Kathy was my daytime off the bike ‘mommy’, and for the last two years has spent the week prior to RAW and RAAM with me in Borrego while I acclimated to the heat. This year, the pre-RAAMcation was not so smooth. We ended up bailing on two separate condos due to bugs and a smoking air conditioner. She ended up on the pull out couch of a friends condo… RAAM started a little early for her.

 

Erik had arranged with Revolution Cycles to help me with a seat issue when I rolled through their Missouri time station, and when I stopped there was an enthusiastic group of girls with signs. I remember being amazed at their enthusiasm, and thinking that surely no one had told them that I was riding super slow and totally sucking. But then I realized they probably didn’t care, and wouldn’t have cared had they known. They’ll remember being there, and they’ll remember witnessing a woman competing in the world’s toughest bicycle race. I didn’t have many women athletes in my world as a child. I’m honored to have been there for them. It also ended up being a pretty slick and efficient stop. Revolution Cycles stays open 24 hours a day during RAAM, and they fixed up my seat and I was on my way in just a minute.

I was hard pressed to find a picture of me and Kate that didn’t look like I was trying to take a nap on her when she met me at the Mississippi River crossing. This one with what I think was supposed to be a smile is the best of the bunch. Kate Geisen is another friend from gravel riding, and I was so surprised and grateful to see her there as we celebrated getting over the Mississippi well within the time cutoff.

I wish I had more pictures of the night shift guys, but I just haven’t located many yet. Being on the night shift in direct follow, these guys had a lot of uninterrupted air time to fill, especially Daren. He was the master of sports psychology, positive talk and distraction. One time we saw what was likely a drug addicted man walking straight at my bike and the follow car. The rest of the night was filled with a discussion of zombies, halloween music, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The first thing that popped up when I opened Safari on my phone after the race was the search for zombie apocalypse music. I still haven’t cleared that page from my phone.

This is Connie and Joe with relatives of Joe’s that met me in costume at a time station at some wee hour of the night in Indiana. Connie is not a tall woman, and this pint sized, blue wig wearing bundle of energy that came up to Connie’s shoulder would’ve needed a step ladder to look me in the eye. She and her pink wig wearing husband were a delight! They are just one example of the many people that followed me on RAAM because of my family and crew members. 

RAAM media captured this photo somewhere in Arizona. I had been approaching 50 mph on a descent when my bike suddenly went into speed wobbles. It was terrifying. This photo was taken after I stopped. The guys tended to swapping out my wheel and tightening the headset, while Jill took care of me. In every photo I have of Jill, she is taking care of me, physically or emotionally. Ever practical and always caring, Jill never missed an opportunity to get sunscreen on me, cram food down my gullet, and offer a word of encouragement before sending me on my way again.

This is my favorite photo of Connie and Joe. Joe and I had raced together at Trans Iowa and the Alexander. After I registered for RAW in late 2015, they contacted me and asked if I needed crew. Joe offered to let me use his minivan as my main follow vehicle. Their generosity has been simply amazing. Connie took care of most of the lodging logistics for RAAM and RAW. Using their vehicle for both races saved me a lot of time, hassle, and money. Joe served as my co-crew chief for both RAW and RAAM. I can’t imagine that I would have been as well organized as I was, or as well prepared for the problems that ensued on RAAM had it not been for their help. Joe and Connie had crewed for other athletes at RAAM before, but had not made it to Annapolis until this year. I am proud to have gotten them there, and so grateful to them for their help and support.

Penny Barker and me, at the finish line. Penny took Kathy and I in when we needed a place to stay in Borrego before RAAM, and we traded text messages via our crew during the race. Penny knew that she would likely struggle with Shermer’s neck at some point during RAAM, and it unfortunately ended her race prior to Annapolis. As soon as she was able, she was out on the course offering encouragement and humor at some of my hardest moments. I knew as hard as that race became for me, Penny would have given anything to have been out there still racing. I so appreciate her support and friendship, and her courage continues to inspire me.


I’m not quite recovered from RAAM, but I am at least back to racing short distances on a fat bike. My hands and neck continue to be a problem, and I’m better off for now sticking with the fat bike. I asked Kyle if he had a set of wheels that I could borrow to make my tank of a fat bike more appealing to race on, and as is typical of Kyle, he just gave me his much nicer fat bike to use for as long as I need it. More than a sponsor, Kyle is a good friend. The photo does not lie, the fat bike is good fun!

I have so many more photos and stories, and maybe someday I’ll find a way to share them all. For now, life goes on…

 

 

 

 

 

RAAM 2017

4 nights after RAAM ended, I woke up for the first time thinking that I was still on RAAM. I truly believed when I awoke that I was still racing and needed to get to my bike. Hearing my husband asking me if I was OK set me straight. The night before that, I had awakened and navigated myself into my closet instead of the bathroom. Sleep deprivation is a crazy thing.

During the day though, I appear to be making rapid strides in physical recovery. I have significant bruising on my right side from my crash late in the race and my hands are completely numb, but I am beginning to feel more like myself. I have a bit of residual death rattle in my lungs, but as I’m not training currently, it’s not problematic. Hopefully that will resolve before I decide to run or ride my bike. Death rattle appears to be only a minor annoyance while sedentary. I’ve seen a hand specialist for my hands, and they’ve done what they can do for now. Time will take care of the rest.

Being tended by Kathy Fuller after rolling into Durango with a bloody nose

I’m not sure how to adequately tell the story of this race, and thank all of the involved parties. A blow by blow account seems like it would be quite boring, so I’ll offer you a brief summary here, with a few images. A more detailed account regarding the amazing people involved in my race will come out when I have more images to share, and time to do so. And of course there will be the Religion of Sports documentary next year. They caught some seriously funny stuff, numerous very painful moments, and hours of monotony. I believe they will turn it into something you’ll want to watch. I teased them quite a bit about their seemingly excessive sleep relative to mine, and regular meals. They were good sports about my grumpy envy, and cheered me on the whole way. I’m a very shy and private person, but the camera crew melded into the experience of my race. They captured me as I was, from elite athlete to rolling shit show. I think it will be a RAAM documentary like nothing else done to date.

Stretching. Photo by Jill Marks

I have had numerous falls from horses, several bicycle crashes, one head injury resulting in a dent in my forehead, and a few cases of whiplash. While I’ve never had trouble with my neck, I knew that I was at risk for Shermer’s neck during RAAM. It was still quite a shock to find it setting in by Colorado, not even halfway into the race. That in essence became the story of my RAAM past Colorado, and yet I refused to say the actual term Shermer’s neck to my crew. How do you ride from Colorado to Maryland with over 10 extra pounds of edema, a lung infection, and neck and shoulder muscles that are failing you? Slowly, painfully, and as upright as you can get. I had decided prior to the race that I would do whatever it took to finish and win, and ride through whatever the race dealt me. I won’t have the luxury of a second RAAM to try again for a finish. It was one of the most painful and yet amazing experiences of my life, filled with incredible scenery and fantastic people. I told Fred Boethling upon finishing that if you offered me perfect weather and a shot at the course record, or the struggle I had just endured, I would choose the struggle. It was an experience like none other. It was the ugliest win I’ve ever had, at the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Cuchara pass, Colorado. My favorite part of Colorado, and the beginning of the end for my neck.

People have asked me long before I had actual sponsors how to get them, and I still don’t have a great answer. Win every race you enter for three years, ask for nothing, and don’t be a pompous entitled jerk appears to be the method that worked well for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa Cycling, Carbo Pro, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage, Klite, Beaverdale Bicycles, and Ice Friction Technology. 3100 well fueled miles without a saddle sore or a major mechanical issue is something to be celebrated, and is due to their efforts both before and during the race. Any shortcomings during this race were my own, my equipment and nutrition support were worthy of a pro athlete. Unfortunately for them, I have the heart and mind of champion, and the lungs and 45 year old body of something far inferior. I thank them for their continued support, and look forward to sharing in greater detail their contributions to my race.

Obviously none of this would have been accomplished without the efforts of my 10 crew:  Brian Arnold, Connie and Joe Mann, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Daren Munroe, Laurel Darren-Simmons, Alex Hernandez, Erik Newsholme, and Jill Marks. Part of what makes this race so difficult is the relentless nature of the task, and the time limits imposed upon me. I had really no concept of time once I was off the bike and my Garmin was no longer in front of me, so it was their job to keep me safely on the bike as long as possible, and get me back on the bike in a timely fashion no matter the weather or my physical state. Seeing the photos and videos of my physical decline late in the race, I know that had to be hard for them to do. I am at most times pretty frank and blunt in my communication style and my expectations for their performance, and I can only say that that got probably both more entertaining and more abrasive for them as the race rolled on. So many stories to tell, I’m not sure I’ll get to them all! They gave up over 2 weeks of their life, their vacation time, and time with their families to do this, and all they received was a hat, a few shirts, and time on the stage in Annapolis. I hope the experience was all that they hoped for.

More later! Thanks for reading, and for following my journey.

Trans Iowa V13

I had all but given up on blogging since Race Across the West last year, but I’ve ended the blog hiatus to do at least one post on Trans Iowa V13. It’s hard not to want to talk about your experiences at a race like Trans Iowa. It’s unique, it’s brutal, and in any given year you never can say if or when you’ll finish. Now I’m 2 and 2; 2 finishes, and 2 DNF’s. Both finishes were on an even numbered year, so I’m holding out hope for a TIV14.

The weather is usually the main story for Trans Iowa, and this year it did not disappoint. Highs in the 40’s, lows in the 30’s, rain for most of the event, and winds gusting over 30mph. Even though I frequently train in poor conditions, I don’t usually choose to go out in weather like that. I get caught in it, or have to endure it for hours at a time during a race, but a continuous 330 mile gravel race in these conditions was a bit of a stretch for me. I have always struggled with hypothermia during endurance races. My husband calls it my kryptonite. It can be 70 degrees and I’ll end up hypothermic, and that’s no exaggeration. As lean as I am right now for RAAM, I was in the worst possible position for dealing with this type of weather. I invested in some better gear last fall, but still had never managed to last longer than 50 miles without needing to get out of the rain and warm up for at least a few minutes. A race like Trans Iowa with uncertain opportunities for shelter was going to be quite a challenge for me.

Part of my RAAM crew. Steve Fuller, and Joe and Connie Mann

I talked with Joe Mann and Joe Stiller about gear prior to the race. Joe Mann talked me out of shoes and into boots, and that proved to be a wise decision. Joe Stiller over night mailed me a set of his possum fur socks, which is just classic Joe. The opportunity to smell like dead possum with a side of Joe Stiller sock funk sounds like something I also need to bring to RAAM (Both Joe Man and Joe Stiller are on my RAAM crew). I also talked with my coach Greg Grandgeorge about using bar mitts. I couldn’t see my hands surviving that long in the rain without bar mitts, so I asked Greg what kind of aero penalty they would cause. Trans Iowa is a race where you can weight or aero weenie your way into a DNF, but I still like to know what I’m dealing with. He sent me some numbers and a formula, which basically translated to 20 minutes. I’d be roughly 20 minutes slower for warm hands. Sold.

To start, I ended up wearing a 200 weight wool shirt with Louis Garneau detachable bibs under a Goretex rain coat and Specialized Therminal tights. The Louis Garneau bibs I discovered through my sponsorship with Velorosa. The bibs are plain jane black, and I didn’t get to wear my sweet new Velorosa RAAM kit, but the detachable front meant that I could keep my jacket on and my top covered anytime I needed to go to the bathroom. That ended up being crucial in delaying the onset of hypothermia. The tights I’ve worn all winter in all sorts of cold and wet situations. They are water resistant, not water proof, but take a while to get really wet. It’s like wool, you end up warm and wet instead of cold and wet. I wore them with the Specialized Defroster boots, which are currently the best boot I’ve ever owned. The tops are more flexible than the 45North boots I previously used, and I can wear them for hundreds of miles at a time without pain. The tights fit over the top of the boots and keep the rain from running down into them. The bottoms of the boots are water proof, so I didn’t end up with a boot full of water until I thoroughly dunked them on a B road. With wool socks and foot warmers, my feet were warm and wet and not a problem until very late in the race.

On my hands, I started with a set of gas station throw away gloves that used to belong to Mark Skarpohl. One of the benefits of being a race director is that you get to keep anyone’s cast off gloves, and he handed me those last fall just prior to the Spotted Horse 200. I’ve been wearing them all winter, so I thought I’d take them along for luck. After it started raining, I switched to neoprene divers gloves. Between those and the bar mitts, my hands were never cold for long. The problem with the bar mitts though is that your hands are pretty much locked into one position on the hoods if you want them to be warm. That ended up causing some pain by the end of the ride. For my head, I had on a thermal skull cap, buff for both my head and neck, and a helmet cover after it started raining. I wear the helmet cover on my head like a shower cap under my helmet. It keeps my hair dry, and the water from running off the helmet and into my face and neck.

In my seat pack I packed a 260 weight wool shirt, waterproof rain pants, two extra pairs of socks, and a dry set of gas station gloves that I ended up not needing. I went light on repair gear, and only had one tube, two CO2, and minimal tools. I figured with it being cold and rainy, a big mechanical was going to be a DNF due to hypothermia even if I got it fixed. And I decided to trust the tires that have served me well for thousands of miles, the Clement MSO tubeless 36s. A new set is pretty damn durable, and I rarely puncture before a set has been on my bike for 1000 or more miles. In my frame bag, I had a third water bottle (only 2 on the frame), 1200 calories of Carbo Pro, and chocolate. I had spare hand and foot warmers, and one of the large body warmer packs. In my top tube bag I had my charger and cable for the Garmin, the only device I needed to charge. Also caffeine tablets and a few Tylenol in case my back went to shit. It sometimes does on long gravel rides, but has been less of a problem since I switched to the vibration dampening Specialized CG-R seatpost. For lights, I had a Blackburn battery headlamp zip tied to my helmet, and a k-Lite dyno hub light. My bags are custom BikeBagDude lite skin bags with one large and easily managed zipper pocket on the side. I prefer these bags to any other that I’ve tried. When the zipper gets muddy and my hands get sore and dysfunctional, I can still open and close the pocket.

I rode the same 10 speed Specialized Crux that I rode last year, only all of the components were new. I wore everything out last year, and replaced everything but the shifters. I have been using and abusing the Ice Friction chains and coated drivetrains on my road bikes, and this was my first gravel event relying on it. This stuff is simply amazing, and is far better than conventional lube, especially for gravel. The big deal about it is that it reduces friction in the drivetrain, saving watts over time and improving speed. I’m sure it does that for me, but what I appreciate about it on gravel is that it simply works. Usually on wet gravel, the chain begins to skip around and the entire system quits working eventually. Not once in the nightmarish road conditions did I ever worry about my drivetrain working, have to clean my drivetrain, or utter a single prayer to the lord to spare my drivetrain. It’s amazing stuff.

I weighed the entire bike and helmet and boots, and it weighed in at 37 lbs. That’s just a few pounds heavier that what I’d been rolling around with all winter, so at least it didn’t feel like I was rolling out on a larger tank than usual. I felt pretty confident in the set up, as I’d literally put in thousands of miles on it all over the winter training for RAAM. Packing for TI was less of an ordeal than it had been in previous years. It was just a few minutes of taking out a few things, and putting in some others.

Katherine Roccasecca was my support person again this year. We always have a good time together, and she’s good at the social media stuff that I’m supposed to do now that I have sponsors, but suck at. We went to the Meat Up at the Grinnell Steak House for the fourth year in a row (Katherine’s third year). After getting the first set of cue sheets at the rider meeting, Katherine mapped out the route to CP1 to let me know that the first town was going to be Baxter. That was one of the towns we passed through on TIV12, but it was at night.

Race morning was cold, damp, humid, and windy. I have struggled with an asthma exacerbation for the two weeks prior to Trans Iowa. I worked out a few times with a pulse ox, and I was desaturating into the upper 80’s in zone 3. That’s not good. I really haven’t had anything quite that bad in two years. I went to the doctor and got a new prescription for a rescue inhaler since the only ones I had were long expired, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately I got the worst. Shortly after the neutral roll out ended and the front of the pack started racing, I started to struggle. I thought I was going to die, actually. I got spit out of the front of the pack pretty much right away, and by mile 7 I was moving backwards through the field. I really couldn’t breathe at all. I was reluctant to dig out my inhaler in the dark with so many people around because I feared that I would drop it and not be able to recover it. The first B road provided some relief, and an opportunity to walk and catch my breath. I finally did dig out the inhaler when the sun rose and I had some room to maneuver and dig in my bag without worrying about being dodgy on the road next to another cyclist. By that point, I had been passed by both Janna Vavra and Leah Gruhn and was in third place. Being on the chase is not a position I find myself in very often at an endurance race, and I wasn’t terribly happy about it.

I got a rock stuck in my front derailleur on the first B road, which bumped the cage off kilter causing the chain to rub on it the rest of the day. After I got the rock out, I started passing people and moving forward through the field. It was pretty cool to talk with folks and visit a bit as I started moving forward again. I rolled into the first checkpoint with Dave Roll, and we caught up to Corey Godfry there. The crew at the checkpoint were all friends of mine, but I had no smiles, and when they asked me how I was doing all I said was ‘not good. I can’t breathe’. Most of the race I felt like I was breathing through a plastic bag.

I rolled out with Dave and Corey, but Corey soon dropped us. I think Dave had a pretty good idea how badly I was struggling, as at one point he told me to come over and get on his wheel. We rode together for a while, and then suddenly Dave dropped off and I was alone. Not long after that, I had another episode of acute scary wheezing. I’m really glad I had gone to the doctor and gotten a new inhaler. There really isn’t much to do when things suck that bad except give up, or try to find a pace that didn’t make things worse and hope for the best. I’m not big on giving up, so I settled in to my day of suck. My power output to the first two checkpoints was 20 watts less than I expected, and my heart rate was all over the place. I haven’t struggled that much at the beginning of a race since I can’t remember when.

We had been told at the race meeting that the ride would feature several local bike trails, and I recognized several of the roads on the cue sheets leading up to the High Trestle Trail. I knew there was a C store in both Madrid and Woodward, and as it was starting to rain as I approached Madrid I opted to stop there. The bathroom was pretty muddy, so I told the store clerk that Trans Iowa was coming through, and apologized for the mud. He laughed and said he’d seen a few of us crazies already and it was fine. I love Iowa.

I swapped out my light gloves for the neoprene gloves and put on my helmet cover. I chugged a coke and mixed new bottles, and was out of there in a flash. The nice thing about settling into a sucky lower zone pace so early in the race was that my caloric requirements dropped quite a bit. The 1200 calories of Carbo Pro that I had was going to get me a lot farther than I had anticipated. Since it was cold and I wasn’t going to be drinking much, I mixed everything super concentrated.

The next set of cues I recognized as heading towards the Raccoon River Valley Trail on a route that I frequently train on. It passes not far from where I live. I knew there were C stores just off route in Adel, and I made a quick stop there. I didn’t really need to, but knowing at some point there could be another 100 mile stretch without another opportunity to stop, I grabbed a coke and some more chocolate. It was raining pretty hard by then, and it was nice to get out of it for a minute. The clerk said another rider had just gone through 10 minutes before me, and I wondered it it was Luke. I knew he wouldn’t have passed up that C store, and with it being off route, people in the front of the pack might not have gone for it being so soon after the last one.

The next two sheets of cues were all roads I recognized, and included some roads from my own race course, the Spotted Horse 200. The route south on Hogback Bridge road and into Winterset on 8th street was a direction change that I have been riding frequently and was planning on adding to this years race. My race last year headed north past the Hogback Bridge, which is the easy way. Heading south, you get the harder climbing.

Pulling into Winterset, I got stopped by a traffic light and the wind was gusting so hard I had a hard time standing up. I pulled into the C store just off route, and Luke’s bike was there. For those that don’t know Luke, he is my training buddy, and he and Steve Fuller are the closest thing I’ve ever had to brothers. I was super excited to know that he was there, although I knew if I was catching him in the sad shape I was in, he was likely in sad shape as well. Luke had a severe stomach virus during the week before the race, had lost 8 lbs, and still wasn’t 100% by race day. I didn’t see him in the store, but I could hear the hand dryer running endlessly in the men’s bathroom so I figured he was in there drying his stuff. I camped out by the door in the ladies room and pulled my boots off to change into my dry socks. An older guy came out, and I asked him to please go back in and tell Luke I was there. The funny thing about Iowa is that most people really are pretty nice, and even though this guy clearly thought I was bonkers for being out riding my bike in the rain and needing a message sent into the men’s room, he just looked at me with a bemused expression and gave Luke the message.

The weather was really affecting me by then, my lungs weren’t good, and I don’t think I was terribly right in the head anymore. I think Jess Rundlett had the best description of the weather, “wintery monsoon”. If it had been just a bit colder, that rain would’ve been snow.

I forgot half my stuff when I went into the store, and I had to go back out to my bike in the cold three times before I finally had my act together. I didn’t feel like going back into the ladies room again to change into my dry shirt, so I ended up stripping right in middle of the store. Normally I’m excessively modest, but something happens to me when I’m racing and I just don’t have the energy to care about modesty anymore. Like that time on RAW when we were stopped at a construction zone waiting on a pilot car, and I wouldn’t get in the van to deal with my saddle irritation issues… I asked the construction worker if he minded if I stuck my hand in my pants in front of him. It makes me blush now, but of course he didn’t mind, and I’m sure no one in Winterset cared about the half naked woman in their store. Maybe someone took a picture and it lives somewhere on the internet.

I enlisted the help of another store patron who was hanging out having coffee and watching the shit show rolling in as other riders began arriving. I handed him things to open as I was struggling with my wet hands, and he happily obliged. Luke and I rolled out after what felt like forever, and we were joined soon after by a few other cyclists.

We hit the descent on Holliwell bridge road right after Winterset, and I warned another rider about it. Mark had warned us about some of the fast descents on the course, and this is one of them. It’s currently on my race course, and it was one I’d also warned riders about. It has a sharp, steep ramp that launches you over 40mph in a hurry and it keeps curving beyond what you’d expect for Iowa. It’s usually littered with loose gravel, so you are cornering fast and sharp with your bike bouncing underneath you. Gravel racing is not for the faint of heart.

Checkpoint 2. Photo by Steve Fuller

After this, things get fuzzy in my memory. I had already begun the slow decline into hypothermia, and my brain wasn’t good for much beyond reading cues and riding a bike. I remember a B road that was literally a swamp. I pushed my bike through a swamp in the middle of a wintery monsoon. The experience just boggles my mind. People who don’t understand Trans Iowa think that a race this tough must have been good training for RAAM. If I didn’t already have my mental and physical shit together for RAAM, I wouldn’t have been prepared for this Trans Iowa. It was that hard.

Sam Auen and me at the Cumming Tap. Photo by Sam

Checkpoint 2 was at the Great Western trailhead in Cumming, next to the Cumming Tap. I knew Steve Fuller was the Checkpoint 2 volunteer, and I had worried about him being stuck out in the middle of nowhere all day in the rotten weather at a checkpoint, and here he was hanging out in Cumming just a short drive from home! Given the nightmarish weather we had been riding in all day, it was simply amazing to walk into a familiar establishment and find friends hanging out there. It was a hero’s welcome to anyone that made it that far on such a horrible day, and it was a huge boost to my spirits. Mark has always been so vehemently against outside support of any kind during Trans Iowa, including emotional support, and had even frowned upon the social media stuff that sometimes happens during the race. So it was kind of surreal to find myself in a bar with Sam Auen getting a hug during Trans Iowa, but it sure was cool.

My Garmin froze up in Cumming. Luke said he would navigate for us, so rather than waste time trying to reset my Garmin while getting rained on, we rolled on. He said he wasn’t leaving me and I trust him with my life, so it wasn’t a decision I struggled with. I don’t think he realized he was dooming himself with his decision to take over my navigation, and I didn’t realize how much that Garmin and clock keep me tethered to reality and the passage of time. My lungs were still in a pretty bad state, and maybe I should have thought a little farther ahead about what might happen to me, but at the time I thought I was going to be able to tough it out to the finish.

Maybe it was the epic weather and hypothermia, but time and events became surreal. We headed south to Indianola on a route that used several roads from the 24 hours of Cumming course. There were very long and steep hills, some of which had rivers of water and thick mud on them. It was torturous. My glasses were so muddy they were useless, and I took them off. I ended up descending most of each hill with only one eye open, which probably was the most useful RAAM training exercise of that entire day. The B roads were so slow and difficult at night, and I lost body heat each time I had to get off and push my bike.

At some point we became a group of 6 riders. I can’t remember when any of these people showed up, which is unusual for me. Luke had to remind me who they were after the race, because I couldn’t remember any of their names. Usually I have vivid and sharp memories from my races. This one was a blur of struggle and pain with a little bit of fun. Our group was Scott from Oregon, Dan from Canada, Mark on the single speed, and Josh who used to live in Iowa and race for Sakari, but now lives in Colorado. Of the 6 of us, Mark was the only one who went on to become an official finisher.

We all ended up in Indianola at the Casey’s. I asked for a garbage bag, and one of the clerks got us each a few of the really big bags to put on our bodies under our coats. Luke even had one stuffed in his pants, which I found quite amusing. We made such a mess of mud in that store, but the staff were so kind and encouraging. It was simply amazing how nice they were to us, despite the mess and the oddity of our journey. Those garbage bags and their generosity were what enabled me to keep going. I was out of spare dry clothes, and the bags helped keep what heat I had left inside my coat. I put on the extra rain pants that I had brought along. Normally I hate wearing them because they are like a sauna suit at any other time, but they kept the heat in and the wind out.

It was tough getting going again, but I warmed up pretty decently. Once we left Indianola, I was no longer in familiar territory. Knowing where you are and when your next stop is going to happen is so crucial to successful training and self supported racing, especially in bad weather. The cue sheets for Trans Iowa are just a set of street names and turns. You are given no other information. Not what city you are in, not when your next opportunity to refuel will be, not where the B roads are… Just turn here, then here, for 330 miles. Mark used to give out more info, but people used it to cheat. So now we get basic directions, which oddly enough makes the race more difficult, and therefore better.

I don’t know what mile it was, but at some point after Indianola we reached a very long B road. It was a T intersection, so we trudged through the mud for a mile, and got to the end only to find a left turn and another mile of mud. I lost all of my remaining body heat walking that road. I fell into a thigh deep hole full of water, and filled my boots with ice water. I’m 5’10”, so thigh deep is quite a hole. That hole would have nearly eaten some of the other women racing. Cold water seeped under the bottom edge of my coat and reached my base layer. And that’s really where the end happened for me, although I didn’t stop until a few hours later. One of the guys pulled the bike off me while I crawled out of the hole. I’m really glad I wasn’t alone on that road.

I don’t know if it was that road, or a B road after it, but Luke actually came back down the road and carried my bike the rest of the way. Once you slow down and people start waiting on you, everyone gets cold and then you are all doomed. This is where not knowing how far we were from the next stop really made decision making difficult. I could see city lights, but it seemed like we were now riding away from the city, not towards it. It could’ve been another 50 miles before we got to a city for all we knew. We knew there was a 24 hour Walmart on the route, but not exactly where it was. The plan when we left Indianola was to get to that Walmart and buy a dry shirt and socks. Not knowing when that was going to be possible was a huge concern. It wasn’t safe to continue unless I could get dry.

My friend and RAAM crew member Laurel called me after the race, and she said something about how hard the decision to end the race must have been for me, and there must have been some serious thought that went into that, and how was I feeling… Um, no, there wasn’t a lot of thought, emotion, or inner turmoil. I was going to collapse and die from hypothermia if I continued, as well as endanger the safety of the people I was with, so I took shelter in a garage outside of Knoxville. Once we stopped in the driveway, it was over. I started shaking uncontrollably, and then soon after I stopped shaking or feeling anything at all, which is when you know things are quite bad. Josh stopped with Luke and me too, as he had been struggling longer than I had and was also quite hypothermic. I remember Luke telling me to lay on a dog bed in the garage, and he said after that I complained about it being dirty. I have no memory of that at all, and how odd that I would even think to complain about dirt on a dog bed when I was covered in mud. Luke had gone up to the house to wake the people that lived there so they wouldn’t hear what was going on in their garage and come out and shoot us. At first they weren’t too happy about being woken up and were suspicious of our intentions, but the wife convinced the husband to let us in the house. I think a dysfunctional, mud covered woman huddled on their dog’s bed in the garage may have helped convince them we weren’t criminals. She made us coffee, and he got us warm towels and blankets.

I called Katherine, and Luke texted Mark to let him know the three of us weren’t going to make the finish. We had a nice visit with the couple whose house we invaded, and discovered we were only about 6 miles outside of town. We only had about 80 miles to go to the finish, which seemed totally doable until it suddenly wasn’t. Looking back at the timeline of events, it took 8 hours to go less than 60 miles from the Cumming Tap. That’s just crazy slow. What crazy weather, and what a crazy experience. I lasted a full 24 hours outside in a wintery monsoon with rain, high winds, and temps in the 30s, pushed and carried my bike down impassable roads, and ended my race curled in the fetal position on a dog bed in a garage in Knoxville. You gotta love a race that pushes you to that kind of ending.

I’m pretty much ok now. My arms took a beating from being stuck in the bar mitts and carrying my bike, and I’m tired, but that’s about all of the damage. The lung stuff should resolve once the weather dries up. The rain and cold seem to make it worse. I feel bad that Luke was collateral damage in this situation, and that we had to wake up a couple of really nice people and disturb them early on a Sunday morning because of our foolishness. Luke and I will send them a thank you card and a gift, and I suppose at some point I’ll quit feeling like a big jerk and move on.

I didn’t put a lot of thought into whether or not I would do Trans Iowa this year. After last year, I thought I’d be done with it. I won, and had a decent race despite some mistakes. I had RAAM to train for this year, and Trans Iowa is dangerous. There is a high risk for injury if you mess up. But then Luke asked if I was sending in a post card again, and I said yes. My coach likes to remind me periodically that a life not lived is no way to live, and too much living is no way to die. I’m a 45 year old amateur athlete. This is my life, I’m driven to live it, and sometimes I ride the line. People always ask me why. I don’t know why. Why are some people so tame, content to get through their workday and have a drink and watch TV, have a socially acceptable number of children, ride the bike trail always, and take their vacations relaxing on a beach? Why?

If there is a Trans Iowa V14, I’ll send in a post card.

I’d like to thank the sponsors who have supported my training and racing these past few years. Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa, Carbo Pro, Ice Friction Technology, k-Lite, BikeBagDude, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports massage, Beaverdale Bicycles, Bar Yak. These are all relatively small businesses, and yet they do everything they can for me. In addition to assisting me with equipment, some of them even crew for me, which is simply amazing. I abuse the hell out of everything they give me, and I am so focused on training and racing that I don’t take the time thank them publicly often enough. So if you see me putting it in and on my body or on my bike, know that it works, and it comes from people that I trust with my body, my life, and my safety. I’m not paid to use any of it.

And to the cycling community of Des Moines, and the global ultra cycling community, thank you for getting behind me and supporting this crazy adventure that I am on. The jersey sales and the donations to cover my RAAM crew expenses have moved me to tears. My body might fail me at times, but my mind is strong and I won’t give up. Thank you for believing in me!

And to my friends who were so involved in this edition of Trans Iowa: Katherine, Luke, Steve, Connie, and the Joe’s. You guys are tops. Everyone should have friends like you.

The link to Katherine’s Flicker album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kariadne/albums/72157683206151016/with/34265384171/

Below are the photos of my bike and Luke’s bike post event. The devastation is amazing. I can’t believe we were still rolling. I cranked this post out in a hurry, and I’m on to other things. Sorry for the chaos.

the damage to my derailleur

 

Race Across the West 2016

I’ve always said that I would have a hard time writing about a race that went well, and such has been the case for Race Across the West. 928 miles, from California to Colorado with over 50,000 feet of climbing. Yes, it went very well, and mostly according to plan. The race plan my coach put together had me arriving in Durango pretty close to Leah Goldstein’s record time from 2012. Even with the extra 68 miles on this year’s course, we beat her record and his prediction, arriving in 2 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes. The overall win was a bonus, and a tribute to my skilled crew.

We had our share of trials. Three flat tires, and a loose headset resulting in a severe case of speed wobbles on a fast descent. A support vehicle that had to be towed out of the desert sand. Temps as high as 112, and lows in the 40’s. Sandstorms, tough crosswinds, road construction, traffic, elk and wild horses on the road, hypothermia…and a rider determined to push the limits of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. We managed it all with good humor. I am so proud of my crew, and thrilled with what we accomplished.

I was very impressed with this race. The organization, the people, the entire experience. It was a very warm welcome into the RAAM and RAW family. I could have done without some of the crazy traffic, but the desert, the mountains, the scenery, and the toughness of this race was the experience of a lifetime. Officials were a frequent sight on the course. I felt very watched, and that is a good thing. It adds to the legitimacy of a race, especially one of this length.

There has been talk of next year, and RAAM. I am overwhelmed by the number of people around the world that have contacted me to offer congratulations to me and my crew. I am humbled by those within the RAAM community that have told me they believe that I have what it takes to succeed at RAAM. It’s a daunting task. There is much to consider. We’ll see what the year brings.

I have not experienced any depression since this race. Often I fixate on my mistakes, or the times when I was weak. There was plenty of that during this race, but I am ok with all of it. My crew was there to support me during those times, and they struck the right balance of tough love and mercy so that I could get the absolute best out of myself physically and mentally. There were times when I felt so bad, all I could do was pedal and listen to a crew member talk. And I was so, so tired at times. It has been hard for me to explain the opportunity that really racing an event of this distance was for me. The crew managed the logistics of navigation, hydration, and nutrition that would ordinarily be limiters. My job was to hurry up, harden up, get back on the bike. See what I am made of. No excuses.

What follows are the photos captured by Steve Fuller (unless otherwise identified) and some narrative about the race. The pictures tell part of the story of our race, but there are so many stories that they didn’t capture. I thought I hit my limits outside of Flagstaff, and yet somehow I found myself back on the bike after 20 minutes of not really sleeping and rode another 300+ miles. The experience still amazes me. And the funny moments…Greg, reading the nutrition log in the morning and saying “That looks like it says cheese dick”. Yes, yes it did say cheese dick. Connie, giving me a hug in Flagstaff at my low point and telling me “Let’s just work on getting you to Tuba Shitty”. I have no love for Tuba City, hence the nickname. As difficult as this race was, we did manage to have quite a bit of fun along the way. This is only a brief summary.

Specialized Shiv, KMC ice chain. Zipp 404/808 wheels with a Wheelbuilder rear wheel cover. Pro zip tied bottle cage on the aerobars.

Specialized Venge

Specialized Venge, KMC ice chain, Zipp 808 wheels.

Specialized Tarmac

Specialized Tarmac. My climbing bike. KMC ice chain. Zipp 202 wheels.

 

somewhere in Utah

Somewhere in Utah with Kathy Fuller on the drive out to Borrego. Kathy spent the week ahead of the race with me in Borrego, and drove the Transit van with Connie during the race. Photo by a random stranger

training in Borrego with my friend Erik.

Training on the World Championship loop in Borrego Springs with my friend Erik. Photo by Erik Newsholme

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Some of the elite in ultra cycling on a group ride in Borrego Springs. All smiles at 110 degrees. I’m living the dream right there. Photo by Birgitte Haaning

The RAW press conference.

The RAW press conference.

 

Kathy and Greg, putting on the vehicle signs.

Kathy and Greg, putting on vehicle signs. photo by me

My first interview with Media 1.

Pre-race inspection. We were early for our appointment and passed without any problems

Pre-race inspection. 3 bikes, 3 vehicles, 5 spare wheels, all 8 crew, 2 officials, and me. We were early for our appointment and passed without any problems. Photo by me

With Marko before the start. I don't recall what we were discussing

With Marko Baloh before the start. I don’t recall what we were discussing.

Coolest start line in the world

Coolest start line in the world

Brian running up one of the many climbs with me.

Brian running up one of the many climbs with me. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

One of Steve's tweets from Borrego

One of Steve’s tweets from Borrego

Sandstorm outside Borrego

Sandstorm outside Borrego

Another shot of the sandstorm. 100 degrees and a mask was almost as bad as breathing sand

Another shot of the sandstorm. 100 degrees and a mask was almost as bad as breathing sand

The first of many photos of my backside

The first of many photos of my backside

On the road to Brawley

On the road to Brawley

Stopped at a traffic light in Brawley. photo by Laurel Darren-Simmons

Stopped at a traffic light in Brawley. photo by Laurel Darren-Simmons

First stop for a kit change 342 miles into the race in Salome, AZ

First stop for a kit change 342 miles into the race in Salome, AZ. Photo by Connie Mann

On the way to congress. A beautiful view, marred by death metal and my backside. I remember feeling horrible right there

On the way to Congress, AZ. A beautiful view, marred by death metal and my backside. I remember feeling horrible right there. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Getting passed by Stefan Schlegel between Congress and Prescott

Getting passed by RAAM solo Stefan Schlegel between Congress and Prescott. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Playing leapfrog with Stefan. He and his crew were so energetic and nice. It was nice to be near a fellow solo rider for a while.

Playing leapfrog with Stefan. He and his crew were so energetic and nice. It was nice to be near a fellow solo rider for a while. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

My 20 minute stop before the climb up Mingus Mountain.

My 20 minute stop before the climb up Mingus Mountain. Photo by Terry Grapentine

Media One following me to Jerome. The crosswind was pretty wicked on the descent, ruining the fun factor

Media One following me to Jerome. The crosswind was pretty wicked on the descent, ruining the fun factor

Past Camp Verde, before I lost my mind

Past Camp Verde, before I lost my mind

Rob, checking in with me on a climb between Camp Verde and Flagstaff.

Rob, checking in with me on a climb between Camp Verde and Flagstaff.

Sun setting on the way to Flagstaff

Sun setting on the way to Flagstaff. Well over 500 miles into the race, and officially farther than I had ever ridden before.

Leapfrogging at night with Stefan. We did our best to introduce him to some better music.

Leapfrogging at night with Stefan. We did our best to introduce him to some quality music.

Getting passed by Marko Baloh after Flagstaff.

Getting passed by Marko Baloh after Flagstaff. photo by Rob White.

 

Stopping in Tuba City to pull off the winter clothes and change back to summer kit. I had a rotten time in Tuba City last year crewing for RAAM; it earned the nickname Tuba Shitty

Stopping in Tuba City to pull off the winter clothes and change back to summer kit. I had a rotten time in Tuba City last year crewing for RAAM; it earned the nickname Tuba Shitty. Photo by Terry Grapentine

Connie or Kathy putting sunscreen on me. Those two ladies went without a bed, and slept in the van the entire race.

Connie or Kathy putting sunscreen on me. Those two ladies went without a bed, and slept in the van the entire race. photo by Terry Grapentine

photo by Terry Grapentine. Terry did a good job of photographing the off the bike moments when you could see my exhaustion

photo by Terry Grapentine. Terry did a good job of photographing the off the bike moments when you could see my exhaustion

Leaving Tuba City and beginning the climb to Kayenta, AZ. That stretch is all uphill, and on a shoulder littered with broken glass. 72 miles of just getting done. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Leaving Tuba City and beginning the climb to Kayenta, AZ. That stretch is all uphill, and on a shoulder littered with broken glass. 72 miles of just getting it done. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

Monument Valley. For the entire race, this was my only off the bike, let's take a picture and enjoy this moment. Photo by Vic Armijo

Monument Valley. For the entire race, this was my only off the bike, let’s take a picture and enjoy this moment. Photo by Vic Armijo

Connie, taking care of me again in Mexican Hat. She made the best smoothies for me during the race

Connie, taking care of me again in Mexican Hat. She made the best smoothies for me during the race

794 miles in and hot as hell at Mexican Hat. Only 134 miles of mostly climbing and rough roads to go

794 miles in and hot as hell at Mexican Hat. Only 134 miles of mostly climbing and rough roads to go

A long hot climb on the way to Bluff. I started hallucinating in this section, watching a beautiful picture of mountains and scenery on the surface of the road that wasn't really there.

A long hot climb on the way to Bluff. I started hallucinating in this section, watching a beautiful picture of mountains and scenery on the surface of the road that wasn’t really there.

Connie or Kathy, feeding me something before getting me back on the bike after a 20 minute break in Bluff. I think I actually slept there.

Connie or Kathy, feeding me something before getting me back on the bike after a 20 minute break in Bluff. I think I actually slept there. Photo by Terry Grapentine

In a word, hypothermia. This is the last photo of me riding during the race that I could find. I ended up adding another coat that belonged to Greg, and Connie's yoga pants. It wasn't that cold, 40 something degrees.

In a word, hypothermia. This is the last photo of me riding during the race that I could find. I ended up adding another coat that belonged to Greg, and Connie’s yoga pants. It wasn’t that cold, 40 something degrees. Photo by Greg Grandgeorge

The awards banquet with George Thomas

The awards banquet with George Thomas. First overall, new course record

At the banquet with my crew

At the banquet with my crew

My crew took me back to the time station after the race to thank the volunteers who staff it. Here with Caroline Eastburn

My crew took me back to the time station after the race to thank the volunteers who staff it. Here with Caroline Eastburn

We also took a trip out on the RAAM course to find friends, including Erik Newsholme. Friends make the journey so much better.

We also took a trip out on the RAAM course to find friends, including Erik Newsholme. Friends make the journey so much better.

Special thanks to my coach and crew chief, Greg Grandgeorge of Tri2Max Coaching, Kyle Robinson and the staff at Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply in Ankeny, and Ice Friction Technology (for re-coating and testing my chains post race). Thank you to the people around the world and at home in Iowa for the support and encouragement. Your kind words and congratulations are much appreciated. I can’t think of this race without a smile.

Greg Grandgeorge, Connie and Joe Mann, Terry Grapentine, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Brian Arnold, Rob White. How do you thank 8 people for giving up so much of their time to help me accomplish a dream? I’m still trying to work that out, and words seem to fail me. And my husband, Brian Cooper, who shouldered so much of the load at home while I was training and racing. They all believed in my ability to succeed, to break a course record, and win the whole damn race despite being nothing more than a 44 year old mom from Iowa. It’s a pretty cool thing, to have people believe in you like that.

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Trans Iowa V12 2016

I say a lot of stuff to myself during a race, some of it good, some of it bad, a lot of it complete and utter bullshit. As we rolled into Baxter, Iowa in the dark hours of the night at Trans Iowa V12, I thought to myself, “I am closer to home right now than I am to the finish line. We could ride there from here, and it would be tailwind all the way. Less than 3 hours to o’ bacon thirty…” It was an errant thought that lead to an elaborate fantasy and a few miles of pleasant distraction thinking about showing up at my house in the middle of the night with three filthy, smelly men and sharing a pile of bacon. Complete and utter nonsense, as I would never abandon a race for anything short of mechanical or physical devastation. But I had been thinking about Race Across the West coming up in June, and dwelling on the idea of RAAM, and wondering how I could possibly contemplate such long races when I was struggling with a 340 mile race just miles from my home. That was a very dark place I didn’t need to be in. Bacon. Better to think about bacon.

Luke Wilson, Kyle Robinson, and me

Luke Wilson, Kyle Robinson, and me

This was my third consecutive year at Trans Iowa. TIV10 was my first ever gravel race, and I had spent much of that spring recovering from a left ankle injury that progressed into a rip roaring case of tendinitis. I finished dead last and tied for first with the only other woman to finish that year. For TIV11 I was much more fit going into the race, but it was a washout and no one finished due to the weather.

RAW crew Joe Mann and me

RAW crew Joe Mann and me

For TIV12, I had ridden almost double the miles between January and April than I had for TIV10. And they were good miles too, quality training and really no junk miles. Luke Wilson (eventual third place male) and I had done most of our longer rides together, and having a strong and always cheerful training partner made the miles and bad weather much more tolerable. I felt pretty confident in my fitness, my gear, and my level of experience. My main concern was getting through the race without injury, and without a major mechanical problem.

Before the race with volunteer Mike Baggio. It's not a gravel race unless it starts with a hug from this guy

Before the race with volunteer Mike Baggio. It’s not a gravel race unless it starts with a hug from this guy

For once the weather was not the main story going into Trans Iowa, although I doubted the forecast until the moment I was actually riding under blue skies and bright sun, and later not freezing to death during the night. We had some rain in the days leading up to the race, but it was not enough to devastate the roads like it had for TIV11. The B roads might be muddy, but that didn’t really worry me. I was more concerned with the amount of road repairs and new gravel that was being laid down in the area where I train. I’ve only been riding gravel for a few years now, but this was the most new gravel I’d ever seen laid down at once. On my last gravel ride before Trans Iowa, I got boxed in by a road crew that was grading and laying gravel. I paused at the top of a steep, curving hill covered in a few inches of new gravel to contemplate the ride down, and pray that the road crews in other counties weren’t quite so busy. Rocky gravel is my nemesis; I hate riding it and it beats me to a pulp. That day ended with me riding slowly through seven miles of deep, chunky rock and taking the ride of shame home on pavement so I could get home on time. Definitely not the confidence boosting ride I was hoping for to cap off the training.

Katherine Roccasecca and me

Katherine Roccasecca and me

Katherine Roccasecca signed on once again to be my behind the scenes support person, ready to bail me out if I needed a ride home from a tiny Iowa town in the middle of nowhere or to haul my sorry carcass home after I finished. We once again attended the pre-race Meat Up at the Grinnell Steak House, which has become a great way to catch up with friends I don’t get to see very often. Race director Mark Stevenson (aka Guitar Ted) never reveals much about the course, but he did make a point of saying to me at the Meat Up that it was different from previous years. Well, it’s different every year, so I wasn’t really sure what he meant by that but maybe that’s what you say when you’re a race director trying to say really nothing at all. What was different for sure was that the locations of the C stores were not identified on the cue sheets. That ended up being a small but vitally important bit of information that I really wished for late in the race.

Mark Stevenson and me before the start. Photo by KRocc

Mark Stevenson and me before the start. Photo by  K. Roccasecca

It was a pretty stacked women’s field on the roster this year, which is always a good thing. Included in the list of starters was Janna Vavra, a two time Trans Iowa finisher and the first woman to ever finish a Trans Iowa, and Andrea Cohen, who has finished Trans Iowa in previous years as well as many other demanding and brutal events. I enjoy a good race, and it can be an especially mental experience at a race like Trans Iowa where you can never be certain exactly where the competition is unless they are within your line of sight. I lined up to start in the front of the field between Janna Vavra and Greg Gleason, and tried to enjoy the moment.

Last minute advice from Steve Fuller, another RAW crew member. Hang around with me long enough and you'll get drafted too. Photo by KRoc

Last minute advice from Steve Fuller, another RAW crew member. Hang around with me long enough and you’ll get drafted to crew too. Photo by K.Roccasecca

The first few miles out of town were a neutral rollout behind Matt Gersib and Mark Stevenson in the lead vehicle. Matt pulled the vehicle ahead shortly after we hit gravel, but no one made a move to ride faster. After what felt like an eternity, but what was probably less than a minute, I asked Greg, “Don’t you think you should ride faster now?” I didn’t like the idea of hitting the hills with the entire pack right behind us. Greg obliged with a smile, and we finally launched off the front of the field, taking a much smaller group with us.

The first 53 miles to the first checkpoint in Deep River were completely benign, relative to the traumatic experience of last year. Last year was mud, rain, and struggle. This year was friends, smiles, and forward momentum. I made the first checkpoint without burning any matches and with plenty of time in the bank.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

I rode solo for quite some time after that, but was eventually caught by a fellow Des Moines area cyclist Scott Sumpter. I was overjoyed to see a friend, and have a strong guy to ride with. We made a quick stop at the first C store on the route, and ended up catching my friend Joe Mann. Joe is crewing for me for RAW in June, and knows the drill when it comes to efficient stops. I was ready in a hurry and announced I was leaving, and ready or not Joe hopped on his bike with a sandwich in hand and we headed out of town. Scott hustled to get ready, and caught up just down the road. We picked up a few other guys soon after; David Swanson whom I had met at TIV10, a rookie named Jackson, a guy on a single speed whose name I never did catch, and smiling Joe Frost.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

The wind was at our backs, and the sun was shining.  Joe Mann and the single speeder guy dropped back after a few hours, and it was just five of us together the entire day. There were a lot of smiles and beautiful views. The course was tough, and there was so much new gravel, but with the wind at our backs we made great time. We made checkpoint two at the end of a sandy B road 5 hours ahead of the cut off time.

checkpoint 2 photo by friend and volunteer Robert Fry. Katherine had arranged for him to check on me and text her a picture

checkpoint 2 photo by friend and volunteer Robert Fry. Katherine had arranged for him to check on me and text her a picture

We stopped at the Casey’s in Hudson after the checkpoint, and I made sure to stock up pretty well. Mark had said to be prepared to go 100 miles between stops, which would surely take longer once we encountered headwind. Hoping to minimize our stopped time, I rushed the guys through every C store, to the point where the guys were eating in line while waiting to pay. Afterwards, Scott referred to it as “mom-like bossiness”, which is a nice way of putting it. They were really good sports about it. We were in the top ten and I was the first woman; it seemed a shame to blow our lead sitting at a Casey’s.

The best day ever. Photo by Joe Frost

The best day ever. Photo by Joe Frost

After Hudson we had a stretch of westward riding, and rode through the middle of prom night in Grundy Center before finally hitting a long southward slog into the wind. I’m pretty sure Scott and I photo bombed a few prom night photos on our way through town.

photo by David Swanson. Scott Sumpter taking a pull

photo by David Swanson. Scott Sumpter taking a pull

 

 

After a long and difficult southward stretch in the wind, David got a wild hair and took off and left the group behind. I had finished a long pull and resumed slogging along behind the guys in front of me, and when I looked up he was far ahead on the horizon. He made the right hand turn onto the bike path section past Grundy Center and was gone. And then suddenly we were four. We later caught back up to David on a B road, but then he had a flat tire and we lost him again. From the beginning of our little group early in the day, the odds had been against all of us finishing together. I knew we would lose people along the way, but for me that was the moment the race went from fun to grim.

photo by Scott Sumpter

photo by Scott Sumpter

I started to get really hungry, and despite having plenty of food along, nothing really filled the gnawing hunger in my belly. Anything I ate was like putting a drop of water on a raging fire. I’d eat, and five minutes later I would be starving again. It was painful. We all talked about how hungry we were, and every time we saw a town on the horizon I thought for sure that was going to be our salvation. Before the sun set, we turned north toward a town on the horizon that glimmered like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. We all got our hopes up, only to have them dashed. We passed near Marshalltown, and again no C store. I had only a few sips of fluid left by Marshalltown and had already been rationing it out to the point where I was pretty miserably dry. I had food, but without anything to wash it down with, I feared I would choke. We didn’t find a C store until State Center, after 11pm at night. I had been starving and dry for about 4 hours by then. It was pure misery. Had I known for sure the C store was going to be hours ahead in State Center, I’m pretty sure I would’ve opted to go off route before then to get water.

photo by Scott Sumpter

photo by Scott Sumpter

Not long before State Center, Scott told me his shifter had broken, and he was going to be single speeding it from that point on. He dropped behind, and we lost another guy. That was a huge disappointment, and another pretty dark moment. At some point we had picked up single speed guy again, so we were still a group of four. But as rotten as I felt, I knew I’d be the next to go. Every time we came to a section of road layered in chunky rock, I would fall off the back of the group and get behind. There had been so much of that stuff to that point, it was really taking its toll on me. The guys rode so much better on it than I did. Sometimes the sections were miles long, and I would get pretty way off the back, and have to work pretty hard to catch back up. That stuff just absolutely beats the living daylights out of me. It hurts my feet and my hands, and my wheels seem to lose any ability to go forward in it. If I throw down power, my back wheel just spins and sinks. That stuff is my worst nightmare, and on a hill its awful.

The finish line. Photo by K. Roccasecca

The finish line. Photo by K. Roccasecca

State Center was probably our longest stop, as we all had to take time to put on coats and warmer clothing. As soon as we stopped I caught the chills. I took all of my bottles inside to fill them up, as I was shaking so bad I wasn’t sure I could manage it outside. I took the time to finally eat something standing in place for the first time that day. After four hours with only a gel and a few sips of water, it was too little too late in terms of getting any power back in my legs. I just needed to get through the last 80 miles to the finish. It wasn’t even midnight yet, and my addled brain thought we still had a chance of getting to the finish between 5-5:30am.

We had caught up with Major Matthew Kutilek in State Center, and he and I shared a few words and some potato chips. He had been riding solo for the last 130 miles, and he ended up riding solo for the last 80 miles as well. Scott single speeded his way in as we were on our way out, and he looked strong and optimistic that he would make it. It was still hard to move on without him.

Me and Smiling Joe Frost at the finish

Me and Smiling Joe Frost at the finish. Photo by K. Roccasecca

The last 80 miles were terrible. I don’t recall at what point I lost the two younger guys, but sometime after I stopped dreaming about bacon I realized they had moved on ahead. It was just me and Smiling Joe Frost. I had been riding just behind the group solo for quite some time. I don’t know if Joe made a conscious decision to drop back and finish it out with me, but suddenly we were two again. My instinct tells me that was a move made out of pure compassion on his part, and I was most thankful for that. The last 40 miles were especially difficult. The hills were steep, the descents were fast, and there were endless miles of chunky rock gravel. I almost hit a rabbit, and the deer and critters were on the move. It was nerve wracking. That would have been much worse solo, and even together we hemorrhaged time in that section.

I finally rolled to the line at 6:14, and Joe right after me. Handshakes and hugs all around, and it felt so good to be done. After two years of gravel racing, I knew more people than not at the finish line, so it felt a bit like coming home.

 

FullSizeRenderI won a set of WTB tubeless tires. These are a brand new design, and right now there are only two sets out in the wild. I have one, which is just awesome. I can’t wait to wear out my other tires so I can get these mounted up.

bruised palms. I wore heavy duty leather gloves, which saved me from any nerve damage. Photo by Steve Fuller

bruised palms. I wore heavy duty leather gloves, which saved me from any nerve damage. Photo by Steve Fuller

 

 

All things considered, I survived Trans Iowa V12 pretty well. My hands took a beating, and I was exhausted, but other than that I am fine. Mark had said it would be different this year, and it was different for me. I was a more confident rider, confident in my decisions, able to move beyond my mistakes, and not dwell on my demons in the dark of the night. This race is always brutal, in good or bad weather. There is always something to be learned in the midst of whatever Trans Iowa dishes out. I think my good friend Luke Wilson summed the experience up best: in suffering lies salvation.

Thank you, Mark Stevenson for another Trans Iowa. Barely surviving TIV10 and tying with another woman never felt like a win to me. I have never called myself a Trans Iowa winner, and you letting me in as a past winner for TIV11 and V12 felt like a status I hadn’t really earned. I feel like I earned that title now. It was not easy, and I feel a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Thank you for the opportunity to make that right.

Thank you to the volunteers who make it all possible. I know so many of you now, it was like a day with friends. What could be better? You guys are awesome. Wally Kilburg, thank you for the photos that make us all look like heroes.

Thank you to the people who keep me rolling! Kyle Robinson, Katherine Roccasecca and the staff at Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply; Greg Grandgeorge with Tri2Max Coaching; Ed and Jenn Veak at Beaverdales Bicycles for the dynamo hub lighting system; Amanda Lundstedt with Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage Therapy; Pauline Tan with Spark Barre Pilates and Yoga. It takes a small tribe of people to keep my body and bikes going, and I could not do it without your support!

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Sebring 24 hour RAAM Qualifier 2016

This was my third year at the 24 hour RAAM qualifier in Sebring, Florida. I don’t often repeat races more than a few times, and I was mentally prepared for this to be my last year racing there. Now that it is all said and done, I cannot say with certainty that I feel done with this race. 479.4 miles is a course record that the next lady can feel very good about breaking; I am happy with that mileage on a road bike. But I may be back next year with a TT bike, or I may instead be racing the fat bike at Tuscobia and Triple D. Only time and opportunity will tell.

The course. 89 mile big loop, 11.7 mile short loop, 3.7 mile track

The course. 89 mile big loop, 11 mile short loop, 3.7 mile track

I have not manufactured any more time in my schedule to train, so this winter was much like last winter. I rise in the night, do a little laundry, and get a few hours of training in before dawn. I feel like a creature of the night, doing laundry at 2:45 am and keeping vampire training hours, but at least I am guaranteed a few uninterrupted hours before I get the kids up for school. Some days I am back on the bike a second time after the kids leave for school, and Sunday is the long ride. My coach Greg puts each week together by TSS (training stress score). Each ride has a purpose and objectives, and when I reach the TSS score for the day, I get off the bike. After doing a few races this way, I am confident in this approach. It has resulted in a lot less worrying for me about whether I’ve trained enough, and fewer junk miles.

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The friday social ride

Comparing my Performance Management Chart from last winter to this winter, there is a much larger cluster of rides at a much higher intensity during this past December and January. When you start ultra cycling, you can get a lot better (as I did at least initially) by riding a lot. After a certain point that becomes less beneficial on its own. Over the winter I did a lot of longer, harder intervals than I had done the year prior. Greg also introduced me to the Sunday race pace trainer ride. I had done something similar prior to Sebring in previous years, but Greg put it in my schedule weekly and made it much harder and a little longer. He is fun like that. My longest rides in the last 8 weeks before Sebring were just under 6 hours of nausea inducing work. I wanted to throw up for most of December, and all of January. It was really hard, but it worked. By the time February arrived, I was fast, healthy, and uninjured.

Kelsey Regan

Kelsey Regan. Photo by Eddie Rayford

While I was back home training in Iowa throughout the winter, I was following the adventure of my crew, Kelsey Regan, as she journeyed around the west and then headed south to meet me in Florida. You can read about her adventures on her blog, and follow @ridingultras on Twitter. Kelsey and I are about as different as two women can get. I am a middle-aged stay at home mom, and she is a young, free-spirited wanderer. But despite our differences we always get along great and have fun together. It was a great weekend, and logistically it all worked out perfectly. Her dad arrived in Florida in time to loan her his truck for the weekend, so I was able to cancel my rental car and save a few bucks. Travel went smoothly for me, which is so unusual it deserves mention. Flights were entirely on schedule and no bike fees from either airline coming and going. Good fortune smiled upon me. I flew with the Venge, and shipped a spare bike to Legacy Bikes in Sebring, which I had never done before, and we picked that up on our way into town.

Me and Mark Pipkin

Me and Mark Pipkin

A few weeks before the event, my friend Mark Pipkin from Florida contacted me about helping out with crewing. I met Mark and his family when I raced Sebring for the first time in 2014. They were set up on the miracle strip right next to me and my friends, and were a big help to me that year. This year, Mark rode the century ride in the morning, and helped Kelsey crew for me all of the afternoon and part of the night, giving Kelsey a break now and then, and covering the time she was absent to move the truck to pit road for the night. It made the day flow seamlessly in terms of support for me, and I wanted for nothing. Mark is a positive, upbeat guy which is always a good thing as the day gets long.

The pre-race dinner

The pre-race dinner

Sebring has historically been one of the most fun and competitive races I attend each year, and always draws a good mix of elite men and women. A fast ride at this event is a great way to kick off the season. With it being a loop course, there are no vehicle inspections or any of that type of procedure to suck up every pre-race moment. We tend to gather and socialize much more than at any other event. The Friday ride has become a thing now, and a group of us met for dinner, too. My friend Rob White had not really trained much for Sebring this year, and when asked why he would show up for an event that long and difficult without training for it, he replied that it was because of the people. The people are worth the trip, and I would have to agree.

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Ice Chain

As with previous races, Greg put my race plan together using the program Best Bike Split. It has been surprisingly accurate at predicting my performance for ultra distance cycling. If I stuck to the plan, my mileage would end up between 470-480 miles.

I made a few changes to the equipment I used this year. I rode the Venge with Zipp 808 front and rear wheels; the last two years I had ridden the Tarmac. Kyle had given me a set of CEP compression cycling socks that significantly decreased the discomfort in my feet. They were a definite win, and I’ll be using them in the future. I also used an Ice Chain from Ruster Sports. It is a lubricated chain designed to reduce friction and improve efficiency of the drive train. I am not certain yet how much benefit it provided to me, but I did enjoy how it performed on my bike, and I will use it again in the future.

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Pre-race hilarity. Photo by Beverly Newsholme

Two years and several ultra cycling races later, the start of a 24 hour event is still a very cool moment for me. As the group is heading down the track behind the follow car, I think about the fact that I am not stopping or resting until the same time the following day. My power and pace drop as the day goes on and I begin to fatigue, but the effort is always hard. I never let up for the entire 24 hours. I am using the same muscle groups and maintaining the same position for 24 hours without relief. It takes strong motivation, solid core strength, and smart pacing to maintain that level of effort consistently for the full 24 hours. I’ve gotten better at it each year, but for me the mental aspect is the most important. I have done more physically demanding events with much more climbing and hair raising technical descents. This race is distressing in its sameness; there are no descents to look forward to, and the tailwind only lasts a short distance until the next turn. If you rest, you lose miles. Only the relentless will succeed.

before the start with Rob White, Valerio Zamboni, and Erik Newsholme

before the start with Rob White, Valerio Zamboni, and Erik Newsholme. Photo courtesy of Valerio Zamboni

The race day forecast looked to be the best it has ever been in the years that I have been there. Upper 40s for the lows, and low 70s during the day, with 10-20mph winds. The start was uneventful, and I settled into my pace right away. I caught up with Rob on the track, and he shared a few motivational sentiments with me and chased a drafter off my wheel before I rode on ahead. I took the first few laps on the track out harder this year than last year, so I was behind the fastest draft pack, but well ahead of the next draft pack. It was a perfectly peaceful position that I would stay in for most of the big loop.

On the big loop

On the big loop. Photo by Eddie Rayford

Once I hit the open road, I noticed a difference between my heart rate, perceived effort, and the number on my power meter. My heart rate and effort were high, but my power was a good 10 watts lower than I would’ve expected. I had noticed a similar difference using that wheel at Texas Time Trials, but I hadn’t given it too much thought considering the dental issues I was having during that race. It’s a newer race wheel, and I don’t put training miles on it. I have since borrowed Greg’s PowerTap pedals and will make some comparisons for future races.

photo by Eddie Rayford

photo by Eddie Rayford

My speed was right on predicted pace into the headwind, so I ended up targeting a lower number and hoping my instincts were correct. Fortunately I do a pretty good mix of indoor and outdoor riding even in the winter, so I wasn’t terribly concerned that I was being a big baby about a little headwind in Florida. But you never know, I could morph into a big baby at any time. Losing your feel for the outdoors is one of the hazards of indoor training. The only way I would be able to tell that would be to see my position within the field at the turnaround relative to Marko and the front of the field. Fortunately, the place where I saw Marko last year came and went, and I was a pretty good distance closer to the turnaround this year before I saw the front of the pack heading back towards me. Alexander Hernandez, a friend and future crew person, was waiting at the turnaround with his usual good humor and smack talk. I always appreciate good natured harassment.

The miracle strip. Photo by Kelsey Regan

Heading in to cross the timing mat on the short loop. Photo by Kelsey Regan

The rest of the big loop passed without incident, until the very last stretch on Highway 98. I loathe that last section heading back to the track. It is always heavy traffic with a shoulder that comes and goes, so sometimes you are sharing the lane with fast moving highway traffic. The headwind was strongest here, and cars passing in the other direction created a pull that grabbed my front wheel. I lost some time due to the struggle, at least in that section. Fighting with that wheel in the wind can be terrifying in a high traffic situation. I was buzzed by cars several times. I made it back to the track two minutes later than predicted.

photo by Eddie Rayford

photo by Eddie Rayford

Kelsey had met me out on the big loop at mile 37 and 72, and she was waiting for me in our pit area near the timing mat as expected when I returned to start the short loops. We did quick bottle and nutrition exchanges and kept it moving all afternoon, and I ended up not stopping for more than a few seconds at a time until after 4:00 pm.

The traffic on the highway 98 section of the short loop was intermittently rotten as expected. My first few laps were nearly solo, until others began finishing the big loop. I could smell smoke on the first loop, and began to wheeze. I think they were doing a controlled burn in the nearby orchard, or someone was burning garbage. It was constantly annoying, my power dropped a little bit more, and my lap times were consistently one minute slower than I had anticipated. I held my splits pretty close to 33 minutes, with a few seconds here and there for bottle exchanges and random traffic. I got hung up at the intersection near the track four times this year, last year I sailed through every time without stopping. They were minor delays. The volunteers at the intersections were awesome as always.

A larger fire broke out in the afternoon, and firetrucks were called to the scene. After two laps of smoke, I signaled Kelsey to meet me at the bathroom and I made a pit stop. I was wheezing so badly that I could hear my breathing over the traffic on highway 98. I had her pass me my inhaler, just in case, although I never did use it. My last two short loop times after the pit stop were over 35 minutes, primarily because I couldn’t breathe even after the smoke cleared. I hate having asthma, I hate using that inhaler, and I don’t always make the best the best decisions about my health during a race. I probably should have used the inhaler instead of just resenting the weight of it in my pocket. The move to the track brought relief from the smoke, and I was able to pick my speed back up quite a bit. Kelsey and Mark kept me moving, and I only stopped briefly to pick up my Garmin charger, lights, nutrition, and warmer clothing. No resting.

The cheeseburger stop

The cheeseburger stop. Photo by Kelsey Regan

After a few hours, I started to slow a bit. I pulled in to get a fresh bottle and asked Mark if he would mix some whey powder into one of my next bottles since I was starving. As I was leaving, I made an offhand comment that I would really rather have a cheeseburger. Rubin Randel overheard the comment, and offered to go get me one. I’ve never eaten anything quite that substantial during a race and the idea made me nervous, but it is really hard to turn down a cheeseburger after riding your bike for over 16 hours. Rubin had been cheering me and all of the other racers on all day, even though I had never met him. His enthusiasm was inspiring.

On the track at night. Photo by Eddie Rayford

On the track at night. Photo by Eddie Rayford

Rubin brought me two cheeseburgers, and I ate one and saved the second one for later. I peeled the bun off it since I’m intolerant of wheat, and rode a slow lap while I ate it. At the time, it seemed like the best thing I had ever eaten. I had also taken a few Tylenol for back pain and a caffeine tablet, so those three things combined gave me enough energy to surge through faster laps for several hours. I started to lag again later, and the second cheeseburger was effective, but not nearly as amazing as the first. I probably will never do that during a race again though, and I’ll have to find a completely wheat free substitute in the future. I did the same thing after the race too, eating a couple burgers that had been peeled off the bun, and I ended up developing sores in the back of my mouth and throat, and probably all the way down my esophagus and into my gut. Revenge of the burger bun was a miserable three days post race. I’ve always been able to deal with a small amount of gluten contamination, but perhaps the stress of the racing situation made that unbearable, or I ingested more wheat than I thought. At any rate, I was fortunate to learn this lesson at a 24 hour race. I was long done before symptoms set in.

In previous years, my pace has slowly drifted downward as the night progressed, never getting any faster. My pacing plan was set up much the same way for this year, but I was able to hold my pace higher than predicted, and for longer during the night. Instead of staying slow when I slowed down, I was able to rally. It was pretty painful, but Kelsey and Mark were both positive and upbeat, and kept me moving. I rolled in for a quick bottle exchange, and Kelsey asked me if there was anything else I wanted. As I was rolling out, I said “I want to die,” and Kelsey said,  “Well, you’re doing great. Keep it up!” The entire pit area started laughing. Good times.

Rob's number, aka The Aero Knob. I cannot look at this picture without laughing.

Rob’s number, aka The Aero Knob. I cannot look at this picture without laughing.

I had some fun with many of the other athletes on the road and on the track at night. My Panache teammate Robert Baldino challenged me to a sprint to the timing mat on the track. Robert is 71 years old, and still recovering from being hit by a truck during RAAM four years ago. And I have not had a chance to talk with Valerio Zamboni outside of racing, but for some reason during this race we always tease each other. I always sing his name when I lap him, or give him a big grin. When he passed me as I was stopped on pit road, he called out, “Take your time!” so I wouldn’t lap him again. It’s the little interactions along the way that make the race fun. I saw Rob several times, and one time Rob, Erik and I came together briefly out on the track. It’s pitch black out there, and we all felt like hell, but we immediately started giving each other grief. Rob’s number on his bike was a source of much amusement… very similar to his serial killer Caution Bikes Ahead sign from Heart of the South. He is arts and crafts impaired.

At the awards ceremony with Kelsey and Erik. I'm wrapped in Kelsey's sleeping bag because I had the chills

At the awards ceremony with Kelsey and Erik. I’m wrapped in Kelsey’s sleeping bag because I had the chills

My Garmin had shut off during the night, so my mileage was inaccurate. I asked Kelsey to keep track of my total, and she let me know when I had passed 460 miles, my mileage total from last year. There was about an hour to go at that point, and enough time to  finish another 5 laps. I finished with 479.4 miles, and 6 minutes left on the clock. I was the first female finisher, and third overall. I believe my total stopped time was 20 minutes or less, but with my Garmin file missing some data that is only my best estimate. It was definitely less time off the bike than last year.

Marko Baloh 533 miles Erik Newsholme 491 miles me 479 miles

Marko Baloh 533 miles
Erik Newsholme 491 miles
me 479 miles

I am very happy with how my race went this year. I finally felt strong during the night, and my pace didn’t degrade nearly as badly as it had in previous years. I feel stronger than I did last year, and I am in a good position going forward with training for Race Across the West. Staying injury free will be crucial. That has always been a struggle for me.

Immediately following the awards ceremony, Erik, Kelsey and I began packing my bikes and equipment. Erik was so tired, as was Kelsey, and they were real troopers. Kelsey and I got everything packed, slept for about 90 minutes, and then she drove me to the Fort Myers airport for my 6:00 pm flight. I made it back to Des Moines by midnight. I was so tired, I walked in the door and fell right on to the couch. I didn’t even make it upstairs to my bed.

Tired Erik and me. Note our red eyes from the smoke

Tired Erik and me. Note our red eyes from the smoke. Photo by Beverly Newsholme

I’ve had a few days of catching up on sleep, but now will be back to more disciplined training, and monitoring what I eat, and what I weigh, and planning…. always planning. “See you in Oceanside” are words that carry a weight and meaning all of their own. You can’t say it without a little tug at your emotions, whether you are going to crew, or going to race. Whether you will be there for Race Across America, or Race Across the West, I look forward to seeing you in Oceanside in June.

Thank you Kelsey Regan and Mark Pipkin for crewing me to another course record. You both were fantastic, organized, efficient and fun. I can’t thank you enough for taking care of me, and taking the time to help. I look forward to many more adventures with the both of you!

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