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

IMG_4979

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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