Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trans Iowa v9 Recap - Part IV: Saturday and Sunday, The Race

My previous TI posts can be accessed using the links below.  
Part II: Preparation and Training, Bike Set-up, Clothing, Nutrition, Hydration

Breakfast, last minute stuff

Good or bad, I have become accustomed to eating McDonalds breakfast the day of a big ride.  It’s not exciting, but it avoids the surprise one might have at a mom-and-pop place.  I like having something other than oatmeal or an energy bar in my stomach at the start of the ride; I know this not what a lot of people smarter than me recommend, but it works for me. 
I microwaved and ate a sausage McMuffin purchased the day before.  I also ate yogurt and drank chocolate milk.  I threw the bottles on the bike, the hydration pack on my back, and rode the 2 miles or so to downtown Grinnell, arriving about 3:30 am.  I mingled with a few other riders, made one last bathroom stop at the bike shop and lined up near the back of the group in anticipation of the 4 am start.

photo by Wally Kilburg

 Leg 1 – Grinnell to Ira

The race started promptly at 4:00 am with Guitar Ted leading us out of town.  A couple of miles and we were on gravel so rough it was hard to find a good line.  A heart-rate of 150-160 bpm (75-80% max) seemed to correspond to a 12-13 mph average, so I kept it there.  If the roads had been wet, sticky, and slow I felt I could have ridden much harder to ensure making the checkpoint in time.  But as it was, I believed I was safe maintaining this lower effort level, so I parked it there.  

photo by Wally Kilburg
photo by Wally Kilburg
 I felt I rode the first leg near the 2/3 mark, meaning 2/3 of riders were in front of me and 1/3 behind me.  I don’t have anything to base that on really, but it would be interesting to see my position at the 1st checkpoint.  I caught up with John Welsh about half way to the checkpoint in Ira.  John and I first met in the muddy trenches of Dirty Kanza in 2011.  John and I rode into Ira together and arrived about 8:09 am, ahead of the 9:30 am cut-off.  

I spent more time at the checkpoint than I planned.  Between shedding clothing, a bathroom break and cue sheet arrangement (an obsession of mine), I did not leave cp1 until 8:29 am.  This was a little ahead of John who was getting help to zero out his cyclocomputer. 

Leg 2 – Ira to cp2

John caught up to me in Melbourne around mile 74.  We rode into town only to find there was no c-store there.  We back tracked, got back on route, and rode to the highway where we could see the c-store about 3/4 mile off course.  Rule #1 at TI is don’t pass up a C-store.  I filled up all my water, prepared another nutrition bottle, ate a turkey sandwich, and drank a Coke.  Rolled out at 10:41 am.

At mile 82 we passed a Casey’s directly on the route, too bad we didn’t know about that one.  During this time we rode briefly with Ari Andropolous and Special K.  They were riding well, holding a steady pace, good guys to talk to.  My legs felt good, so I charged ahead, arriving in Eldora mile 121 about 2:30 pm.

photo by Wally Kilburg
 There were several cyclists stopped at the Freeway grocery store in Eldora, so I stopped there as well.  In hindsight, I think it would have been worth my time to ride another 4 blocks west to the Casey’s.  The grocery store did not have what I’m used to buying from a convenience store, in particular sandwiches, so I settled on a bag of nacho cheese Doritos and a Coke.  I also picked up a couple of Paydays and water for the road.  Besides lack of selection, it seemed like half the town was doing their grocery shopping, so I probably spent an extra 10 minutes standing in line, well more than the time it would have taken to ride to the Casey’s and back.   But standing in line did make for some pleasant conversation.

On average, I think I was taking in about 300 calories per hour, supplemented by Cokes, turkey sandwiches, and chips at the C-stores.   Previous experience at the 24-hour Iron Butt in 2011 proved to me that 200-250 calories per hour is not enough; I experienced a mini-bonk there after 18 hours from which I emerged by taking in, wouldn’t you know, a turkey sandwich and Coke.  The saving grace for me on Trans Iowa and other long rides in 2013 is the bulk of my nutrition was coming from my nutrition bottle, so anything else I ate I thought of as “comfort” food, something to boost my spirits.  I had only been at the grocery store for 10 minutes or so when John arrived.  He was still eating and getting his stuff ready when I rolled out from Eldora around 2:55 pm. 

photo by Wally Kilburg
I'm not sure, but I think it was somewhere in this next stretch I caught up with Steve from Wisconsin and we rode together a few minutes.  He was riding a Karate Monkey and had gotten separated from his two friends after having a flat.  (I enjoyed talking to all three Wisconsin friends over breakfast two days later on Monday.)  I reached cp2 at 7:15 pm, ahead of the 9:45 pm cut-off.  I was there when Robert Fry posted his announcement on TI radio about the international riders.  Again I spent a lot of time folding the cue sheets to fit in my 5x7 bag.  My plan was to have two in front and one or two in back to minimize cue sheet manipulation later on when I’m tired and disoriented.  I left cp2 about 7:30 pm.

Leg 3 – cp2 to the Barn

During the 10 mile stretch between cp2 and the c-store in Gladbrook, I saw a pickup truck stopped on the road, and the man driving waved me down.  I also stopped and he asked me what was going on.  I explained this was Trans Iowa, a 323-mile endurance ride on dirt roads of Iowa with a 34 hour time limit.  His wife in the passenger seat asked where we were stopping for the night, and I said we weren’t stopping, at least not slow riders like me, perhaps some of the faster riders would have time to stop…  They were both surprised, thanked me for my time and said they had better let me go so I could finish.  I smiled, waved goodbye and continued on.

I arrived at the Gladbrook c-store, mile 185, at 8:20 pm, just a little after sundown.  I bought another turkey sandwich and Coke; they did not let me down, these really hit the spot.  Also some more paydays and a Coke for the road, and some other things I can’t remember.  Besides the normal filling of water and preparing the nutrition bottle, I changed out all batteries on my headlights, noticed my I-phone was at ~50% battery, so connected it to the Li-Ion charger.  I put on leg warmers, arm warmers, jacket, and balaclava.  I spent 5-10 minutes cleaning and lubing my chain.  There was no noise at this point but it had been looking pretty rough since cp1.  I texted Katrina at 8:52 pm to tell her I had 17 hours left to ride 140 miles.
John rolled into the c-store about 30-40 minutes after I did.  He said I was welcome to ride with his group; this was tempting, but I felt really good and decided to ride into the dark alone, leaving the store at 9:20 pm.  One hour was more down-time than I wanted, but I felt good as I left; time well spent to refuel my body and re-set my brain.

Just a few miles from Gladbrook I caught up with a cyclist from the UK, I believe it was Vin Cox.  We rode together a few minutes and he explained he flew to Iowa just for this ride and that Steve Fuller had picked up him and another UK cyclist Paul Errington from the airport.  There are so many good folks involved with this ride.  After 10 minutes or so riding together, Vin urged me to ride on, so I pulled away into the night.  A little while later, I caught up with two cyclists I believe were Brian Gillies and Christina Mihaescu at an intersection where we were heading east and supposed to turn south, but the street sign did not exactly match the cue sheet.  Almost without exception the cues were spot on.  I believe the spot might have been after the 10 mile stretch east on 400th St where we turn south on 197th St which is also T avenue, but I’m not sure of that.  I presumed Brian and Christina had stopped to check the cues; I told them this had to be our turn.  They passed me soon after that and we leap-frogged one another a few times the rest of the ride.

It was colder both mornings than the 45F weather forecast.  I think my Garmin reads a little low, but it showed in the 30's each morning, down to 35F Sunday morning.  On this second morning, about 4 am I found myself on a B-road with some mud and standing water, probably the only mud hole on the entire ride, and I somehow plant my left foot in it!  I was concerned that might come back to haunt me, but it never did.  I’m not sure if the heavy merino wool socks are that good, or if I was just really out of it.  Although my foot was cold it did not go numb.  No sock change required.  I never had to wear my toe covers either.  In general, my body felt cold in the dark but not too uncomfortable.  If I was a faster rider with more relative wind this might have been different.  

My past long rides have taught me that the hardest time to stay awake is between 3 and 5 am.  At around 1 am I started taking in 100 mg of caffeine every hour, first using gels and then using Stay Alert caffeinated chewing gum.  I did this for 5 hours until 6 am.  The caffeine did help me stay awake; I was tired, but I never felt myself nodding off.  Sometime after 5 am, however, I realized it was time to stop the caffeine:  my face felt flush and my eyes seemed to be bulging a little.  There is probably a point where caffeine will not help you stay awake, but rather will just make you sick.  I know 500 mg caffeine may sound like a lot, but considering a large Starbucks coffee has 400 mg and each shot of espresso has 150 mg helps put things in perspective.  After the sun came up about 6 am, I had no problem staying awake.   
Just prior to arriving in Brooklyn I caught up with three cyclists, I believe they were Jeff Burnett, Brad Patty, and Derek Weider.   We stopped at the Casey’s together at 6:05 am.  In reading other ride recaps written by cyclists faster than us, this store was closed and those folks had to forge on another 15 miles to the c-store on the highway.  I don’t think the Brooklyn Casey’s opened until 5:30 am, so this was one time it paid to be slow!  I filled my water bottle and Camelbak, made up one final nutrition bottle, downed a breakfast sandwich and chocolate milk and left Brooklyn at 6:32 am.  Besides getting slower on the bike, everything else seemed to slow down as well.  I’m not sure why I spent almost 30 minutes at the Brooklyn store; there weren’t that many things I had to do, but I guess it gets harder to stay on task after 26 hours.  Just before leaving, I texted Katrina saying I was 55 miles out and I gave an estimated finish time of 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. 

Since about midnight, my rear shifter cable was squeaking every time I shifted.  I thought it was probably dry where it passes through the cable guide under the bottom bracket, but I kept putting off dealing with it.  Well about 15 miles out of Brooklyn, shortly after crossing highway 21, it was driving me crazy and I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I got off my bike, turned it upside down and threw some chain lube on the cable and guide.  I think I also shed some clothes at the same time.  

After that, the last 40 miles had the worst hills and the worst gravel of all of TI!  This section would be a tough training ride just by itself, let alone with 280 miles already in your legs.  With about 25 miles to go, where the route turns west off of 200th St onto 470th Ave (I think), I again came across Brian and Christina.  They had over-shot the turn and were returning from the north.  I stopped to check my cues, but Brian assured me I was on the right road.  A little while later while climbing a steep hill, they got off their bikes to walk the hill.  This was the first time I noticed Christina was on a single-speed; I did not realize that before when it was dark.  I felt lucky to have my 26t bail-out ring those last 40 miles, I can’t imagine riding it on a single speed.  I passed them on the hill and did not see them again until the finish.

Besides testing me physically, Trans Iowa tested my mental will as well.  As I got closer and closer to the finish, I noticed I was obsessing about finishing.  I really wanted to finish in the 34-hour time limit, but I honestly would not have stopped riding even if I went over 34 hours.  I realized that would not get my name on the list of finishers, but for me it was much bigger than that.  Just the satisfaction of riding all the miles would have been an accomplishment for me, a closure to some unfinished business from TI in 2011.  

At 11:00am I was 11 miles from the Barn with 3 hours before the 2 pm time limit.  I reasoned that if my bike became unrideable, I might be able to jog with with it at 4 mph the rest of the way.  Then at 11:30 am I had 6 miles to go and felt I might be able to finish by 12:00 noon, but only if I sped up from the 10 mph I had averaged the last 50 miles.  I got down in the drops and told my legs to work harder.  At first they did not respond, but I kept trying and after a mile or so the legs came around and I could tell I was getting faster.  I rode as hard as I could (considering), covering the last 6 miles in 25 minutes, and pulled into the finish line at the Barn at 11:55 am, with a total time of 31hours, 55 minutes.

Guitar Ted shook my hand and congratulated me.  I was very relieved and very tired.  Katrina and her sister were there to pick me up.  I loaded my bike and congratulated Jeff, Brad, and Derek as they finished just a few minutes later.  Then as we were driving off, Josh Lederman who finished before me, asked for a ride back to the hotel.  We loaded Josh and his bike and left, congratulating Allen Brunner, then Brian and Christina who we passed on the drive to the hotel.  It was great talking to Josh who will also be tearing up Dirty Kanza in a few weeks.

My immediate feelings after Trans Iowa were more ones of relief than jubilation.  Only now, when I’m writing this four weeks out, am I starting to feel some of the latter.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m really glad I finished TI, but it was such a test both physically and mentally, that I was initially just glad for it to be over.  My hands were “buzzing” for about 5 days after TI, but that has gone away.  This was a great experience for me, definitely my high-water mark in cycling.  

Continue on to Part V: Lessons Learned and Special Thanks

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Kevin, and it was a pleasure talking to you as well!

    (Michael from Wisconsin)