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

Heart of the South 500

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

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

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

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

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Greg and Joe doing the sign limbo

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

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Specialized Venge and Tarmac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob passing me.

Rob passing me for the second time.

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

The storm that hit us

The storm that got me

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

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

Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

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

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

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

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

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

more climbing

more climbing

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

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

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

The stoplight dance

The stoplight dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Odin’s Revenge 2014

Finish line photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

Finish line photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

 

Another crazy gravel road adventure is in the books, and somehow I managed to survive a really tough day and come out on top as the overall winner at Odin’s Revenge. I had heard nothing but positive things about this small event in Gothenburg, NE and was really looking forward to an epic challenge. It ended up completely exceeding my expectations on all levels, and became a good lesson in persistence and determination.

This year’s course was 170 or so miles of dirt and gravel roads. It’s a free event, and mostly self supported except water is available at points approximately 50 miles apart. The course winds through the countryside and is fairly remote. Cell reception is spotty to nonexistent, and unless you were fairly familiar with the area I imagine bailing out of this event at any point other than a checkpoint would be quite difficult. My friend Liz Bryant graciously agreed to come along as my support person to rescue me from the event if needed, and we rode out to Gothenburg with Dan Buettner, the only other Des Moines area cyclist signed up. In an attempt at brevity, I’m going to leave out some of the off the bike details, but the entire weekend was really a great time. Liz and Dan are fun people, and good company!

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Me and my carbon fiber bike with the skinny 35 mm tires and only 2 water bottles

Race check in was friday night at the KOA campground, and it was nice to reconnect with some of the folks I had met at Trans Iowa. It was decided that support people would be allowed at checkpoint 3 (just 42 miles from the finish), but the rest of the time you were on your own. I usually carry most if not all of my own nutrition for events under 250 miles and don’t need much beyond fluid along the way, but planned to have Liz meet me there just in case I needed something unexpected. Planning what to eat for gravel events is way more difficult than paved road events. The course is usually unknown or remote, and I never really know how long any given distance is going to take because the road conditions vary so much. I’m a bit neurotic about what I will and won’t eat during an event given my food allergy; I don’t care to be 50 miles from nowhere and start having problems with my gut. So it’s an added challenge that requires a bit of planning, and I was thankful to have the possibility of extra food available if I went over my predicted race time.

I had pretty high hopes for a good performance going into this race. I really wanted to finish among the top couple of guys overall. I had struggled with injury prior to and after Trans Iowa, and also discovered after TI that my iron was low, and my hemoglobin was barely in the normal range. I think the long cold winter and my never ending sequence of endurance events sucked the life out of me. I ended up taking iron supplements for a few weeks. I’ve not had my blood counts rechecked, but things really started to come together with my training and I felt a lot better so I assume all is well now. I’m doing well in the Elkhart Time Trial Series, and knocked out a really stellar 400K brevet in May, so I had every reason to think that I could do well at Odin’s Revenge.

Odin's Revenge start. Photo by Garrett Olsen

Odin’s Revenge start. Photo by Garrett Olsen

Rain soaked the roads during the overnight hours which promised to turn the course into mud. Race day weather was predicted to be sunny and 80’s. Chad Quigley, the race director, promised that things would dry out at some point. I’d not had the opportunity to race or even ride in much mud, so I knew that this could be a long day of learning things the hard way. The course was predicted to be tough in good conditions, and miles of mud was going to be a pretty extreme challenge.

I lined up in front, and decided I would try to hang out with the lead men as long as possible. I didn’t see any other women, although I thought a few others had signed up? We rolled out behind Chad’s truck for the section on pavement, then Matt Gersib and a few other guys pulled off in front as soon as we made the first left onto gravel. It was indeed squishy, wet, and thick. I ate a lot of dirt in the first few miles, and made one pathetic attempt to pull and not be a barnacle on Matt’s wheel. I ended up apologizing and dropping back behind him because clearly I had no idea how to pick a good line in mushy gravel. Matt was cool about it, and we had the opportunity to talk for a few minutes. He told me that there weren’t going to be many finishers that day, and that persistence would pay off. Sounded like words of wisdom to me. I felt pretty good, but noticed that my heart rate was climbing into the 170’s. That’s not really a zone I wanted to be in given the long, hard day ahead, so I dropped off behind the guys after 10 miles. I was having shifting difficulties already, which was very worrisome, so I just let them go. That was pretty disappointing, but definitely the right decision.

Brushy Road. Photo by Scott Redd

Brushy Road. Photo by Scott Redd

I almost blew by the turn onto Brushy Road, the first MMR (minimum maintenance road). It was pretty overgrown with grass and weeds, and caught me by surprise. Look at Guitar Ted’s blog for great pictures and an accurate description of the road conditions. I had never seen roads like this in my life. There were steep climbs and descents littered with big rocks and slick mud, and massive bike-eating ruts. It was very challenging, and fairly stressful to navigate with my narrow tires. About a mile or so into the first MMR the real battle with the mud began. The course turned into a complete quagmire, and I struggled to maintain any forward momentum. I definitely did not have enough clearance between my tire and my bike frame, and mud repeatedly jammed up my wheels and brought me to  a complete stop after riding just a short distance. I got passed by several men after mile 15. Jim Cummins happily cruised by as I was wallowing in the muck, then Mike Johnson on his Muktruk. Both had kind words for me as they passed, for which I was most grateful. I watched Mike just float over the mud and up a giant hill. I cleared the mud from my bike near the bottom of the hill, and only made it partway up before the wheels completely jammed up again. I got off and started to push, but the wheels wouldn’t even turn. There was a guy with a camera at the top of the hill, and he offered some kind words as well when I finally got there, but also said there was nothing but miles of mud ahead. Fantastic. I really wanted a Muktruk.

Checkpoint 1. Photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

Checkpoint 1. Photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

There were some short rideable sections intermingled with pure quagmire. After passing around a completely flooded section of road, I could see a dry downhill section of dirt road ahead. I cleared my tires, but not completely. I thought the momentum from the descent would help fling the mud from my bike, but the dirt was soft and sandy and it stuck to the mud. My wheels jammed up again, the bike stopped, and I flew off into the dirt. My Hapkido friends will be happy to know that I still know how to take a fall, and all of the time I spent being thrown around in class is proving to be time well spent. I landed well, and got back up and moved on. I wrecked one more time before checkpoint 1 when I hit a canyon wall on a descent. I slid on mud, bounced off a rock, and T-boned right into the wall. That hurt. I finally made it to checkpoint 1 around 11, and heard that Matt Gersib had passed thru an hour ahead of me. Chad Quigley was there, and he reassured me that things were going to start to dry out and the back half of the course would be dry. With that dose of optimism, I topped off  my water bottles and moved on.

Within a few miles of checkpoint 1, I noticed I was missing a water bottle. Instead of getting better, my whole day just got a lot harder. I think I lost it on a bumpy MMR, but can’t say for sure. I may have left it at the checkpoint. I only had two 25 oz bottles to start with, which was looking like a seriously stupid decision. I had already gotten behind on fluids, consuming maybe 40 oz in the first 5 hours it took me to get to checkpoint one. At that point, I had 10 oz of fluid to get from mile 55ish to mile 71, where there was known access to water. And then that one bottle would have to get me from mile 71 to checkpoint 2 at mile 86, where there would be access to a store. The temperature had climbed into the 80’s and to that point I had only been averaging just above 10 miles and hour when I managed to actually ride my bike, so I was looking at a really long time to be without water on a hot day, and I was already dehydrated. Fantastic.

I began the search for water, slowing every few miles when I passed a house to look for a spigot or hose. I finally found one after about 10 miles. I saw a house with a big garden set way back from the road. I knew they had to have some way to water that garden as way back as it was, and sure enough once I pulled into the driveway I could see a spigot. I dumped my bike in the front yard and took off running down a steep hill and over to the garden, hoping no one would come after me with a shotgun. I filled my bottle, drank the entire thing, filled it again, and ran back up the hill to my bike. It felt really good to get off my bike and run, so maybe I still have some triathlon left in me 🙂 Unfortunately, the water tasted like dirt. My shot blocks and food were also covered in crusty dirt as I had pre-opened the packaging, and dirt got in there when I fell off my bike. So I rolled on, eating dirt and drinking dirt water, hoping this was not going to make me sick. This kind of thing never happens in paved road events!

I turned my phone on, and miraculously was able to get a call thru to Liz to let her know that I was going to be hours behind schedule, but I definitely needed her at checkpoint 3. If I could make it to checkpoint 3 without collapsing from dehydration or dirt poisoning I could get a second bottle from my truck for at least the last 42 miles to the finish.

A Nebraska canyon. photo by Scott Redd

A Nebraska canyon. photo by Scott Redd

The terrain was pretty relentless and rough, but the scenery was beautiful. I found the water spigot and hose at mile 71, and washed all of the mud off my drivetrain and re-lubed the chain. The roads were definitely drying out by then, and I hoped I had seen the last of the mud. I drank an entire bottle of water mixed with the Skratch labs mix I was carrying, and took some salt tablets. I left with my one bottle full of water, which not surprisingly tasted like dirt. Since I had mixed it with Skratch labs lemon lime mix, I now had sweet lemony dirt. It was a unique flavor for sure. The bitter irony of this is that I chose to carry bottles instead of using my camelbak pouch because I had hung my camelbak in the laundry room for weeks, and it had absorbed the scent of my laundry soap. I had tried everything to get that taste and scent out of my water, and exhausted the power of google in my efforts. I opted to limit my fluid carrying capacity simply because I had no time to replace the pouch, and did not think that I could bear to drink laundry fresh sports drink for an entire day. I’m guessing it would have been better than lemon dirt.

Photo bike Dan Buettner. Dan's bike in a bike eating rut.

Photo by Dan Buettner. Dan’s bike in a bike-eating rut. Most of the rutted sections had only narrow strips of rideable road in between these giant ruts. I slipped off the edge of one of these and into the abyss.

Some time after that, I caught my front tire in a rut on a downhill MMR section and crashed again. It was a hard fall, but miraculously the bike and I were both ok. I definitely should have slowed down in that section, and my “the faster I go, the sooner I can stop” philosophy ended in a more abrupt and painful way than it usually does. Just to add more discomfort to the situation, as soon as I hit the ground the horseflies descended on me and started biting my rear end. I had slid a little ways, and lost a little skin off my knee but was otherwise ok. My skin offering to Odin didn’t hurt too bad, so I rubbed some dirt in my wound for good measure and moved on.

I rolled  into the town for checkpoint 2 and miraculously was somehow well ahead of the original cut off time of 4pm. I saw the grocery store and stopped there before checking in. I felt dazed and lightheaded, and everybody was staring at me. I guess tall, mud encrusted women with pink hair don’t wander through there very often. I bought Gatorade, a few candy bars, a banana, and a coke. I stood at the cash register smelling like a cattle ranch on a hot day and told my entire tale of woe to the cashier before leaving. At the end of my  long story,  there was a brief and awkward moment when I thought she was going to tell me to get the hell out of her store, but she just wished me good luck.

Elevation profile for the first half of the course

Elevation profile for the first half of the course

Checkpoint 2. Photo by Matt Bergen

Checkpoint 2. Photo by Matt Bergen

I slammed 20 oz of Gatorade, filled up my bottle with more Gatorade, and put one 20 oz bottle of Gatorade in my bottle cage, the coke in my sports bra, and biked off to checkpoint 2 down the street. I was surprised to find Jim Cummins there, and Mike Johnson and Matt Gersib were still in town at a nearby store. Jim said he wasn’t sure how many of them were going to be going on from there. I felt better after getting some fluid and calories in, so I got my cue sheets in order and moved on. Checkpoint 2 volunteer Matt Bergen told me I was moving into the lead, but it felt a little surreal and I didn’t quite believe him. There was still a long way to go yet.

Elevation profile of the second half

Elevation profile of the second half

The back half of the course was mostly dry, and really hot. There were fewer climbs in this section, but they were tough. Each ascent had an extra bit of something, whether it be rocks, ruts, loose gravel, or just bumpy dirt to make it that much harder. I only had one functioning brake which made the steep descents a little tense. Despite the challenges, I was really able to appreciate the beautiful surroundings. I started to run low on fluids once I hit Government Pocket Road (31 miles into the second half of the course). I passed a creepy looking house with the window shades drawn. There was a five foot metal gate locked with a big loop of heavy chain, and a water spigot and hose just on the other side of the locked gate. I decided to stop for water and scale the gate. I turned my phone on first in case I needed to call 911…It looked like the kind of place you might disappear into never to be heard from again. Still no cell signal, but I scaled the gate anyway. I intended to climb down the other side, but ended up falling off the gate. If there was anyone in the creepy house, they were probably laughing at me now. I got my water bottle filled and got out of there in a hurry.

herding cattle

herding cattle on Government Pocket

The road for awhile after that was filled with cattle, and I had to herd them off the road with my bike. I saw vultures, wild turkeys, hawks, snakes, deer, and a panicked calf ran down the road in front of me for a good half mile. It was pretty fun, but I was starting to feel pretty bad. I was dehydrated and really nauseous. When I got to checkpoint 3, Liz wasn’t there as she had gone up to the ridge to try and get a cell signal in case I had called her. She had left a cooler with coke, gatorade, and potato chips, so I refueled and filled up bottles while the other people at the checkpoint flagged Liz down. I asked how many people were still on the course, and at that point there were still 11. They verified that I was actually in first, and that the guys were trying to catch me. Liz got back to the checkpoint with my truck so I pitched the rest of my dirt covered food and grabbed a few things that were clean, although I wasn’t optimistic that I would actually be able to choke any of it down. The potato chips and soda were not sitting well. Liz asked me how I was doing, but I never admit to not feeling well during a race. If I ever do, you might want to call an ambulance. I hurried out of there before I threw up on her.

Checkpoint 3. Photo by Garrett Olsen

Checkpoint 3. Photo by Garrett Olsen

There were a few tough sections in the last 42 miles, but the road conditions were so much better by that point that it went fairly quickly despite the fact that I was coming unglued. I remained really nauseous, although the threat of actual vomiting went away once I got moving again. I did not drink much despite finally having two full bottles on my bike. After turning on to pavement with just a short stretch to the finish, I finally took a minute to look down the road behind me and saw no men in sight. The finish was pretty cool. Just a handful of people clapping and taking pictures, but totally awesome. Winning is always fun, and being first overall was just great, but I really just had to pause for a second and take in what I had just accomplished. I signed up for an adventure, but that was a bit more I expected! What a really challenging and difficult day! Chad told me that I am the first woman to ever win overall at a gravel event. All I can say is that I’ve been working pretty hard at this for the last several years, and I have the support of my family and many really awesome people that made that possible.

Awards Photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

Awards Photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley

I was so excited to win actual prizes! Really quality and practical stuff! Most of the ultracycling events I’ve done don’t offer prizes to the winner, or they just offer something to the overall winner (usually a man). There is nothing quite like that moment when you tell people that you rode your bike for some crazy amount of miles, finished first, and got…. nothing. For some reason that makes the whole endeavor sound even more ludicrous to my family and friends. I obviously don’t do this for the fame and fortune, but I do appreciate a nice prize for winning now and then 🙂

My haul for winning. There is even more great stuff from My Alibi Clothing that is yet to come.

My haul for winning. There is even more great stuff from My Alibi Clothing that is yet to come.

At the finish line with Chad Quigley. Photo by Dan Buettner

At the finish line with Chad Quigley. Photo by Dan Buettner

After the event, it was nice to visit with Matt Gersib and some of the other athletes and volunteers who made the weekend special. The aftermath wasn’t pretty however, and I almost passed out in the shower when I got back to the hotel. Liz took great care of  me, and sweet talked the bartender at the bar across from the hotel into opening back up the kitchen so Dan and I could get some real food. I have a million bug bites and minor scrapes, and my right leg looks like I’ve been beaten with a stick, but I’m otherwise just fine. My bike may never be the same though. I damaged the carbon frame, and it needs repair 😦

Liz Bryant, my most excellent support person

Liz Bryant, my most excellent support person

Thanks so much to Chad and Merrie Quigley, Matt Bergen, and all of the volunteers who put so much work into this event. Thank you Chad for answering my pre-race questions and for putting together such a stellar course. Challenging all the way through, and a grand adventure!

Thank you Liz Bryant for coming along to support me on my adventure, waiting for hours for me at checkpoint 3 despite the rattlesnake, for feeding Dan and I after the event, and for chauffeuring my sorry carcass home the morning after. You are the best!

Thank you Mike Wilson for everything you’ve done for me this year. Hell yeah, I’d say it’s all coming together pretty well 🙂

Kyle Robinson, Bret Whitaker, and Darrick Watson at Kyle’s Bikes thank you for keeping my ride in good shape. This event was really hard on my bike, but I made it through some rough conditions with only minor mechanical difficulty. Thank you so much for spending that extra time checking things over on race week, even though it completely freaks me out when you start taking my bike apart, piece by piece. I couldn’t do this without your support.

Me and Matt Gersib. I'm covered in dirt and I stink, but he still came over to congratulate me. Photo by Merrie Mitchel-Quigley

Me and Matt Gersib. I’m covered in dirt and I stink, but he still came over to congratulate me. Photo by Merrie Mitchel-Quigley

 

 

 

 

 

Trans Iowa V10 Gear

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I have really appreciated reading the Trans Iowa race reports over the years, and especially appreciated the descriptions of the gear and bikes, so here is the gear that I used. Hopefully someone will find it helpful. The race story will follow in another post, as it was quite an adventure and deserves it’s own space. I had done exactly zero gravel riding until August of last year, and hadn’t ridden more than 50 miles on gravel prior to entering Trans Iowa. TIV10 was my first gravel road cycling event, so take my entire experience with a grain of salt, as my experience is minimal! My gear was pretty typical, with just a few things that I chose to do differently that worked out well for me. Some stuff is missing from the photos, as I only took pictures as I was unloading after the event and some things were used or lost.

Bike&Bags:

used Specialized Crux, SRAM red components, SRAM XO rear derailleur, gearing 46/36, 11/32 cassette. Crank brothers candy pedals. Profile Design T2 clip on aerobars. Cobb Vflow saddle. Hed Ardennes+ wheels. 35mm Clement X’PLOR USH tires. All purchased at Kyle’s Bikes.  Lightweight Power Reflectors. Revelate Designs Tangle frame bag, Pika rear seat bag, Gas Tank on the top tube. No name cheapie bag mounted between the aerobars

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I needed a light bike to get through this event. I had knee issues last year, and messed up my ankle after Sebring 24 hour in February, so there was no way I was getting through 336 miles of hilly gravel with 10 potentially hike-a-bike B roads on a heavy ride. I paid the price for riding this geometry versus something better suited to long hours of rough gravel. But with Trans Iowa you’re going to hurt no matter what. It’s really just a matter of deciding which issues you can live with and still make it through the event. I’m used to that frame (it’s essentially the same as my Tarmac), I had ridden a similar position for Sebring 24 hours, and I decided to go with the devils I knew versus a whole different set of potential problems, and limited time to address them.

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dawn on a training ride

I found that the four bags spread over the bike with the objects that weighed the most loaded in the gas tank worked the best at balancing the weight evenly, and made for the best bike handling. I was limited to two bottle cages on the frame, so I used a 3 liter camelbak bladder in the frame bag to carry enough fluids to get me to each Cstore. The absolute worst training day I ever had was when I loaded the seat bag with my tools and tubes and then put clothes on top of it and went out on a 30mph wind day. The second worst training day was when I tried carrying a lightweight back pack. Having all of the weight on the back end of the bike made the rear end squirrelly on steep descents with a cross wind (think ditch magnet), and the back pack forced too much weight on my hands and changed the pressure points on my seat. I longed to rip that back pack off and launch it victoriously into a cornfield. Try everything in training, and nothing new on race day. I’ve been told that many times, and it is TRUTH.

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missing lever and CO2

missing lever and CO2

IMG_3238My charger and light batteries were in the cheapie stem bag, cue sheets clipped to the bag in a ziplock. A USB cable reached from the bag to my Garmin. I mount my Garmin on the aerobars, which meant that I had to mount it sideways while it was charging. I had a second Garmin mount to accommodate that.

Two tubes, CO2 and inflator, tire lever, caffeine tablets, salt, tums, Kinesio tape, fingernail clippers, sample size Aquaphor, 4 chain links, rear der hanger, Lezyne multi tool with chain breaker, small roll of electrical tape were in the gas tank. Frame bag had the camelbak,  Leyzyne mini pump, park tools brush with scraper, hand and foot warmers, nutrition, sample sized waterproof lube and rag. Clothing only in the seat bag. I also had a spoke attached to the top tube with double sided velcro. This set up worked really well for me, and everything I needed was easily accessible.

I had one flat tire, front wheel, easily fixed. In my rush to get rolling again, I stuffed my tire lever into my pocket instead of stowing it in the bag. It must have fallen out of my pocket as I removed food I had stowed there as well. I would have been screwed had I had a second flat, so I should have stowed it back in the bag after I used it.

I brought along a few strips of Kinesio tape to use as a bandage. It stays on when wet, and does a good job holding small wounds closed better than a bandaid would. It also makes a decent tire boot if you leave the backing on. It came in handy, as I managed to cut my finger opening packages the night before the event. I wore a piece of yellow KT tape on my left first finger and it lasted the entire event. The fingernail clippers were substitute scissors, to cut zip ties or electrical tape.

photo by Scott Redd. note the yellow tape on my finger

photo by Scott Redd. note the yellow tape on my finger

Electronics:

Garmin Edge 510. I had previously used an Edge 800, but it shut down spontaneously during a training ride two weeks before TI. It wouldn’t accept a charge, and I couldn’t get it to reset. I replaced it with a 510, which has a longer battery life. I also bought a cheapie bike computer as a back up.

Jackery 5600mAh Charger: charged my garmin twice

IMG_3162Lights:Serfas True 500, one on the bars and one on my helmet. I had gotten a crazy good deal on the second, and couldn’t pass it up. I was very happy with this set up. I had plenty of light, and it didn’t feel heavy on my helmet. I broke the helmet mount prior to the race, and gorilla taped it to my helmet. The gorilla tape was solid though the rain, and was a good choice despite being a little Fred. Since both lights were the same, I only had to worry about one type of battery. Each battery was good for four hours on the lowest setting. I carried a quarter because it fit easily into the slot to remove or tighten the battery, and made the changing process quick and easy. The biggest concern I had was getting the batteries changed before it started raining.

Clothing: I tried not to be cranky with people about their comments about race day weather. Who could be cranky about a sunny day with a high near 70? Someone who has to carry clothing for four seasons, that’s who. I was hoping to pack for only winter and spring, but needed to be prepared for winter, spring, summer, and mud.

my shoes are some sort of Specialized MTB shoe. This was a fun training day

my shoes are some sort of Specialized MTB shoe. This was a fun training day

I started wear my Rev Endurance Cycling waterproof windbreaker coat, short sleeve jersey, sun sleeves, beat up old running tights, cheapie merino socks, my oldest pair of of cycling gloves with merino glove liners, one pair of cheapie throw away $1 gloves, Scott Newbury’s Bluff Creek Triathlon hat (for good luck) and Remington clear $8 shooting glasses. In my pocket were Oakley sunglasses and Louis Garneau lightweight wind blocking shoe covers. I also wear a bandana to pull over my face to block dust when cars go by, and frighten Cstore employees. It was a nice mixture of quality cycling kit and walmart fashion.

Packed in my seat bag was my long sleeve heavy weight jersey, North Face balaclava, 200 weight merino base layer shirt, rain pants and waterproof gloves, latex exam gloves, Blue Seventy wetsuit socks.  The Blue Seventy socks were a purchase I made years ago for cold water triathlon training. They are really useless for swimming in a race setting, but probably saved my race at Trans Iowa. My feet were not dry, but they were warm even when wet in 30 degree temps. The latex gloves were a back up in case my waterproof gloves failed, which they eventually did. I ended up wearing the two sets of gloves that I started the race with, put hand warmers inside, and the latex gloves over the top.

Nutrition: I’m gluten intolerant, so having to survive on Cstore food posed a challenge for me. I got by on candy bars, potato chips, coke, and purple gatorade and enjoyed trying all that in training probably far more than was good for me or necessary. I packed 8 gluten free pancakes. They are flat and fit well in my pocket. I packed enough Cliff shot blocks and gel to get me through 150 miles, and one coconut bar that ended up getting fed to an angry dog. By the end of the event, I was longing to have a piece of pizza like everyone else, but this worked out ok.

I feel pretty happy with how my set up worked out. I’d never done any distance quite this long totally unsupported. I feel like I lost a lot of gear testing time to the Polar Vortex and then my injury, but managed to get enough time in with various gear options and was fairly comfortable with everything prior to race day.

Thank you to Steve Fuller, Mike Johnson, Mark Stevenson, and all past Trans Iowa finishers and participants who participated in the Trans Iowa clinic or have shared their stories in person and online. Having so much useful information available to me made it possible to put together a decent combination of bike and gear and be successful in my rookie attempt.

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Sebring 24 hour Non Drafting RAAM qualifier 2014

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I hardly know where to begin, I’m so overwhelmed by my experience. I had never even heard of this event until mid-December when our family schedule necessitated some big changes to my planned events. Several very cool opportunities came up for our kids, so two big events that I had planned on I was no longer going to make it to, and then the Death Valley Double Century was cancelled. Just like that, I had a gaping hole in my event schedule that I needed to fill. I was very interested in working out any issues that I might have with riding thru the night prior to Trans Iowa, so a 24 hour time trial in the winter actually sounded like a good idea, and a great learning experience. Such is the strange world I am living in these days! A quick google search turned up Bike Sebring. The timing was decent; I still had seven weeks to get ready and theoretically would have enough time to recover after and not interfere with my Trans Iowa prep. It all happened so fast, one minute I’m asking George Vargas if he thinks this would be a good event for me, and the next thing I knew I’d been introduced to and adopted by Rev Endurance Cycling team mate Rob White who filled me in on all of the race details and logistics, and had me set up with his friend Brian Arnold to crew for us both during the night. They also planned to bring the equipment that I would need but couldn’t carry on the plane. It just couldn’t have worked out any better than that.

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My awesome view for 15-20 hours a week

I didn’t have long chunks of training time available this winter, mainly 3-4 hour blocks of time either before the kids went to school, or just after they left for school. So most of my training rides started at 4am, and although I managed to get in a sufficient volume of cycling, any training rides over four hours were broken into two or three separate rides with an hour or more in between. That’s probably not ideal training for a 24 hour event, but it did allow me to ride at a higher wattage  and was challenging in it’s own way. I think it got the job done. On the rare day it got near 30, I rode outside on my cross bike. I trained with a power tap on a trainer or rollers, and used modified workouts from triathlon training plans, or from the book Training and Racing With a Power Meter, by Allen & Coggan. Really anything that I found interesting and was motivated to do. My trainer was set up in the unfinished corner of our basement near the hot water heater, so it was essentially just me, the power tap, and music. My husband plays guitar, so after the last few years of listening to him practice I’ve gotten in the habit of mentally pulling apart the different guitar parts and trying to hear just that one section of the song. I listened to the same albums and the same songs for each interval set, over, and over, and over… That’s how I kept myself entertained. I put a few pictures and race numbers up on the wall, and a white board next to me for my workouts. It’s not a plush set up, but narrowing down the distractions really helped me to focus on cycling, instead of trying to count the minutes until I could quit. Once the end of January was near, my resolve faded… I hope none of my friends that received my texts really worried about me having a fork in my eye 🙂

I stopped at the Manatee sanctuary just outside of Fort Myers on my way in. Saw a few real manatees in addition to this cute guy

I stopped at the Manatee sanctuary just outside of Fort Myers on my way in. Saw a few real manatees in addition to this cute guy

I got into Sebring late Thursday, built my bike, and bought the groceries and water that I would need for race day. Somehow I managed to remember my torque wrench, but forgot arm warmers! Rob immediately replied to my text and said that I could use his. He and Brian were on the spot with anything I needed, all weekend long. I seriously wanted to ask them if they had organic, MSG free alligator jerky just to see if they could put together a plan to get that for me 😉 They were truly amazing!

Cassie Schumacher and crew, Chris Hopkinson, Marko Baloh. Anthony Parsells, me, Rob, and Brian barely in the pic

Cassie Schumacher and crew, Chris Hopkinson, Marko Baloh. Anthony Parsells, me, Rob, and Brian barely in the pic

Friday morning I drove the 11 mile short loop of the course, then met Rob and Brian for the first time. We were supposed to meet to ride with his friends, but he neglected to tell me his friends were all legendary RAAM athletes… My jaw about dropped when they all started getting out of their cars. After introducing me, Rob quietly asked me if I knew ‘who they were’…Um, YEAH. I just tried to keep my mouth shut and not say anything stupid, although I’m not certain I was entirely successful. It was just a very cool experience, it was awesome to ride with them, take in all of the helpful information they shared, have dinner with them, and then share the race course with them. Totally amazing experience, and way more than I expected when I entered this race.

Greg’s Sebring projection chart with his initial numbers

A few weeks prior to Sebring, my friend Greg Grandgeorge had sent me an excel spread sheet where I could plug in my planned wattage and planned rest stops over the 24 hour period to get an idea of how many miles I might accomplish. It’s awesome to have geeky friends that will do this type of stuff for you! He has seen a number of my power files, and calculated the ratio for how my watts translate into mph. It also calculated TSS, so I could see how much stress I was going to be putting on my body over the course of 24 hours. I really had no idea what TSS I could handle before I cracked, but I knew that my Ironman TSS had been in the 900 range for an 11 hour event, so spreading more stress over 24 hours might be ok. It’s just guesswork really, since this was my first 24 hour race.

I changed the ratio to 9.1, a number grabbed from a more efficient ride and cut back on the break time

I changed the ratio to 9.1, a number grabbed from a more efficient ride, and increased the power for the first 12 hours

  I had to laugh, because when he originally sent me the sheet he had plugged in 10 minute breaks every three hours. 10 minutes?! GREG, IT’S A RACE!!! You don’t plan to stop that long if you can help it 🙂 I played with the chart a bit, left some breaks in there, and came up with a few different plans based on how the weather might be over the course of the day. If the winds were high, I strongly favored riding at higher wattage on the road and cranking out as many short loops as I could before hitting the track for the night. Give the constant turns, rough surface, and 1950’s pavement on parts of the race track, I doubted my ability to ride that well on the track in the dark. I knew the winds would die down at night, hopefully making it easier to maintain speed at a really low wattage. My goal was to get in 300 miles by midnight, then just hang on til sunrise. I wanted to RAAM qualify, and I was going to ride however hard I needed to in order to make that happen… and hopefully not fall to pieces before dawn.

Rob and I at the start. Brian started in the back

Rob and I at the start. Brian started in the back

Race day forecast looked good, but way windier than originally predicted with 20 mph winds gusting to over 30mph. The predicted high was low 70’s with lows in the mid 40’s (HAH! weatherman wrong again!). I had packed winter gear that would normally get me through temps as low as the 30’s for hours, so I wasn’t worried at all about being too cold at night. Ah, blissful ignorance! Rob had brought a cooler for me, so I had twelve bottles premixed and ready to pick up as I needed once I transitioned to the short loop. Brian was riding the 12 hour, and then planned to begin crewing for us once he was done. Rob and I met up at the start line in the cold, dark morning. He pushed us up to the front of the start area, which was totally cool. I had my headlight on my bike, and just planned to leave it mounted the entire 24 hours, Rob planned to pick his up later. I was glad that I had it, because the men took off like this was a one hour race and I promptly was spit out the back of the front of the pack. It was still pretty dark, so it was nice to be able to see the potholes and bad pavement before I ran myself into them. The track surface is not great, but honestly that’s part of the charm of this race and it’ll be a sad day when they finally need to replace the pavement. Some people deal well with things like that, some people are driven crazy by repetitively hitting the same bumps for hours on end. It bothered me much less than I thought it would.

Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 5.42.24 AMThe big loop was very easy to navigate, and very well marked. It was sunny and very windy, but not too hot and I wasn’t staring at a hot water heater so all felt right with the world. Brian went by me in a group of drafters a few hours into the ride. It was nice to see him having so much fun. I was averaging 190ish watts and over 20mph by that point, and they just flew by me. I had packed powder to mix bottles at the turn around, but I decided on course that I wasn’t stopping until after the 100 mile loop. It sounds a little stupid in hindsight, but I did the first 100 miles on just the 3 bottles of fluid I had on my bike. If it had been just a few degrees warmer earlier in the ride, I would have stopped for fluids.

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Early on the big loop. I’m wearing Rob’s arm warmers. The pink monkey gloves are mine 🙂

The first 100 miles went by in under 5 hours. I had one scary moment with my front wheel when it was caught by a cross wind gust. It literally blew 45 degrees off to the left, then bounced equally as far over to the right. It did that four times, back and forth before I got it under control. I am just amazed that I did not dump my bike, and it was only by the grace of God that I didn’t. I’ve ridden those wheels in all kinds of crazy wind, and that was my first close call with wrecking. The wind gusts caught my front wheel many times over the day, but never caught me off guard again.

After finishing the big loop, I picked up 3 more bottles and food for another 100 miles and hit the short loop. Highway 98 was by far the worst stretch with the headwind and traffic. It seemed I always passed the most people on that stretch, and venturing out into the traffic to pass was a little nerve wracking. No real issues with the cars though, they were considerate all day. There was a little diner on the right hand side of the road just before the turn off 98, so that was my reminder to eat something every lap. I ended up drinking a bottle an hour by this point, and Brian had taken a break during his 12 hour ride to pass me what I needed. When he went back out to ride more, the Pipkin family that was set up next to us in the JPR Mobile Services trailer handed me stuff as I needed it. It was all very efficient, and I really can’t thank them enough for jumping in to help. To keep myself entertained and celebrate every loop, I blew the timing guy a kiss every lap. I hope I wasn’t driving him crazy, but being just a little silly at the turn around helped me to blow off stress and get back into focus for the next loop.

ECR_8161-(ZF-8716-96709-1-004)My wattage was a little lower on the short loop due to the downhill and tailwind sections, and my speed was fairly consistent despite the nasty headwind section. I saw 200 miles on the garmin just past 9.5 hours and felt good, ‘good’ being relative to being on a bike for almost 10 hours. As I was riding along, I thought of all of the cool things people had said to me prior to this race and how many people were praying for me. My friend Katherine Roccasecca had posted “kill it. just kill it.” on my facebook wall the day before… I probably repeated that in my head hundreds of times during the race. Rob had started me listening to Hatebreed back in early January, and whenever I started drifting out of race mode I repeated the refrain from Boundless (Time to Murder It), or Own Your World over and over.

Brian told me I was in third overall at my second pit just after 200 miles, and I just had to laugh. I’ve seen a good amount of garbage on facebook and twitter this winter about how training on a trainer is ‘fake’ riding and ineffective, and real men ride rollers or outside no matter the weather… I had read those words and felt doubt in my training but now I can honestly say what a load of crap! A trainer is just a tool, you only need to use it right to get results. I would have loved to ride outside more this winter, but all of that indoor riding was certainly not ‘fake’ or ‘mindless spinning’.

I had time for a few more short loops before hitting the track for the night, but I was growing mentally weary of the short loop, and the relentless wind. I told Brian I was ready to get off that merry go round and get on the other one. I’m glad I got in those last few laps though because I got lapped again by Marko Baloh on his way to crushing the 12 hour race. We exchanged a few words as he went by…. actually I think he talked and I just nodded like a moron 🙂 Anyway, it picked me up a little as I hadn’t been feeling very good in that particular section. He is really an amazing cyclist to watch, and I forgot all about not feeling good.

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Having fun on the track at night

Transitioning to the track went very smoothly. The first few laps were light, then the sun set and the temperature dropped rapidly. It was pitch black outside of pit road, but strips of red tail lights laid out on the pavement lit the route around the track, otherwise it would have been easy to ride off into the wall. After a few loops, I made a longer stop to air up my tires (I had latex race tubes that bleed air quickly) and transition to winter gear. I wore a smart wool base layer, long sleeve jersey, windproof coat, full finger gloves with liners, face mask, toe covers, heavy wool socks… I thought I was dressed for your average Iowa training day in the polar vortex. I later stopped for leg warmers, thermacare heat wraps, and hand and foot warmers. My garmin recorded low temps in the 40’s for most of the dark hours, then dipping into the 30’s before dawn. That’s cold!

Fries, music, friends, and biking: all things that make me happy!

Fries, music, friends, and biking: all things that make me happy!

The night actually went very quickly. It was way more fun than I anticipated, and not at all boring. The Pipkin family, the same folks that were set up near Brian to crew during the day were also nearby all night, and jumped in to help me when Brian was gone. I really can’t thank them enough, their generosity and enthusiasm over the entire race was exceptional. Their daughter literally gave me the soup she had been eating, because I pulled up and needed something when Brian was gone. He took my rental car and came back with coffee, chocolate, and French fries. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see cold fries in my life. I stuffed the fries into my jersey, Brian poured the coffee into a water bottle, and off I went. When I got to the far side of the track where it was dark and lonely, I shouted “I’ve got french fries!” What a strangely good time this event turned out to be. The full moon and clear, starry sky was amazing. The crowd on pit road was small, but people cheered every time I went through pit road. I really appreciated that!

rolling out of pit road, looking tired. That's Brian behind me, keeping things together

rolling out of pit road, looking tired. That’s Brian behind me, keeping things together

I hit 300 miles well before my midnight goal, and was fairly consistent with pacing and nutrition. I knew my power had dropped off dramatically, but I felt ‘ok’ and couldn’t see my Garmin in the dark to see how bad it was. I was reluctant to drain the battery by lighting up the screen. I started to have some knee pain that really had me worried about making it until dawn, but then Rob pointed out that I had not yet put on my leg warmers. That seemed to help. This is why Rob is ready for RAW and RAAM, and I am not even close. He kept his brain together the entire race, while my IQ got progressively lower, and my decision making ability went to pieces. By 350 miles, it was all bad. I started to get really cold, and completely stopped eating and drinking. Brian kept asking me if I needed anything, and I just kept telling him no. Your crew can’t help you if you don’t let them! I started hallucinating, and saw translucent cats running next to bikes. I saw unrecognizable things moving in the pitch black areas of the track. The Michelin Man that was lit up on the sign above the timing mat was seriously creeping me out. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

This is a day shot of the sign we rode under that I pulled off google. Seriously, at night he looked scary...

This is a day shot of the sign we rode under that I pulled off google. Seriously, at night he looked scary…

I hung on til 400 miles, and did a few more laps to set a new record. I was so cold and stupid by that point I was starting to have trouble steering my bike and I knew it was time to stop and regroup. I hadn’t had anything more than a few sips of coke for two hours. If you’d asked me my middle name, I would’ve had to stop and think for a few minutes. Brian put me in the truck to warm me up. I told him to give me 20 minutes and get me back out there. I was in a pretty bad way, and I just could not reconcile the fact that my race was about to end with me as a shivering, stupid, hypothermic mess and quitting before dawn. Brian handed me the Ipad and I remember George trying to give me a pep talk but I was not processing much at that point. It can’t end this way. It’s  not going to end this way. I didn’t spend 20 hours a week on a trainer to quit. Will this happen to me at Trans Iowa too? I knew if I didn’t get myself back out there and finish the last 60 minutes it was going to haunt me.

Creepy….

I asked Brian if he had a sweatshirt, and he literally pulled off the one he was wearing plus his thermal gloves. I put it on over my other layers and went back to my bike. There was one hour left, and I told Brian I would do two laps. I did the first lap super slow to minimize the wind chill, but then people started to pass me that hadn’t passed me the entire day. I found that very irritating, which made me laugh. My head was back in the race! I did the next lap faster, avoided looking at the scary Michelin Man, then had time for two more laps before the official finish at 6:30am. I FINISHED. The sun was just starting to glow on the horizon and it was so beautiful to see.

One of my last laps in Brian's sweatshirt

One of my last laps in Brian’s sweatshirt

I must have stopped my garmin at some point because it was off and Rob had to tell me my total mileage. Tears came to my eyes when he told me 433.8. First woman overall, 3rd overall RAAM 24 hr, and a new course record. I’m just so happy I stuck it out, that is a really solid day. I knew I was taking a chance by riding harder on the front 12 hours, and it was really coming apart pretty badly by the end, but I accomplished my goal and then some so I’m going to say it was worth it. Age comes to us all, and at 42 I feel like my time to push my limits is now. I’d rather take chances and leave it all out there.

Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 5.37.34 AM

My power over 24 hours

speed and elevation profile

speed and elevation profile

My normalized power for 24 hours was 164, TSS 932, IF .643. I burned 12,510 KJ. My Normalized power for the first 100 miles was 191, then got progressively lower as the day went on. My speed stayed near 20 mph for the first 200 miles, then thanks to the wind dying down a little, held near 18 mph on the track for another 100 miles before it got ugly. I rode in aero most of the day and some of the night, which helped me maintain speed for less power. I also came into this race reasonably light, which always pays off in terms of speed. I had great people, selflessly giving me whatever I needed. There you have it 🙂

A lot of hard work went into preparing for this, and anyone that knows me knows that’s something of an understatement. I am so totally overwhelmed with gratitude to Rob White and Brian Arnold for taking care of me this weekend, and ensuring that my race ran like a well oiled machine. With their help, I was able to have the race that I was capable of, and that is an absolutely priceless gift. I am so very blessed to have met them, and honored to have them as friends. I am forever in their debt.

Rob and I at the finish. I'm all bundled up in Brian's sweatshirt

Rob and I at the finish. I’m all bundled up in Brian’s sweatshirt

Thanks to the race directors for putting on such a great event. They really have this race dialed in, the transitions between loops were smooth, and I had way more fun than I ever imagined I would riding in circles. My apologies to the timing guy for annoying him… Thanks for putting up with my nonsense.

George Vargas! Thanks for supporting my dream! Don’t kill me at your training camp. And next time you want me to break a record, please tell me that while I’m training…. The week before was a little late 😉

Kyle Robinson and Kyles bikes: thanks once again for getting my bike ready to roll. Every race I bring it in to you, and every race you get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. Thanks for your patience with me, and your enthusiasm for my kooky long races.

Greg Grandgeorge: Your Sebring projection sheet was exactly what I needed at the exact moment I needed it, and it gave me the confidence to believe in my training. It’s always good to start a 24 hour event with confidence, so thank you!

I didn’t tell a lot of people that I was doing this race, but my friends that knew were over the top supportive. Katherine Roccasecca, Liz Bryant, and Steve Fuller: thanks for breaking up my solo monotony and keeping me company on a few trainer rides. To my support crew at home, there are far too many people to name here, and I am so very blessed to have you. You all sent me messages before and during the race, and I saw those when I was weak and shivering in the truck. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me, making me laugh, and giving me the strength to get back on my bike.

ECR_9158-(ZF-8716-96709-1-006)What’s next? Yes, I’ve qualified for RAAM, but no, I’m not anywhere near ready to consider an event of that magnitude. The other Sebring winners looked like they could have a meal and get back on their bikes… My eyes were swollen shut, I was in great pain and could barely walk straight. Recovery has been difficult, and ironically I have been so swollen that I resemble the Michelin Man that haunted me during the race. I need to get back on my bike ASAP  and hit the gravel to prepare for Trans Iowa in April. I’ll need to be massively prepared for that race. It’s sure to be a bad weather year! I need to work out my issues with cold, hypothermia, and nutrition, and make sure I have a reasonable plan in place. Poor decision making at any point in that race will lead to a DNF, it’s just that hard. Beyond that, I’ve got a great list of events to prepare for, and I’m very excited about my season. My kids and husband all have cool stuff going on this year as well, so hopefully we can all stay healthy and enjoy the adventure.

Thanks for reading!