The pre-race prep went really smooth. I was stressing over it a bit but was packed well ahead of time and incorporated a detailed-list strategy that worked really well. Basically I had several lists I worked from:
· Packing list of required gear needed before leaving DSM
· Everything that needed done the night before
· Everything that needed done in the a.m. before going to the start
· Everything that needed to happen at the start
After my lists were done all the thinking was out of the way and it was easier to relax. I felt very comfortable that if I followed the checklists, I would have everything I needed, when I needed it, and wouldn't waste time or energy trying to remember a bunch of stuff or worse yet, risk forgetting something as basic as my helmet. :)
I still hate the early am starts but we got there with plenty of time to spare and once I cleared the fourth and final checklist I was all set for the start. It was rather chilly and I was wearing a t-shirt. I knew I'd warm up after the start but I did decide to change into a heavier long-sleeve shirt. I think it helped but the sleeves got pulled up on the 2nd hill so I may have been fine either way.
A brief announcement from the race director about not outrunning your headlights (big down hills with hairpin turns at the bottom) and we were ready to go.
The 1st queue sheet (10 in total for the 1st half) only took us to the 7 mile point. To avoid having to switch queue sheets so early in the race I started with page 2 opting to follow the pack the 1st seven miles...the 2nd queue sheet took us to mile 25 and I figured that'd be a good time for a break anyway. Right away up the 1st hill I had to shift into my small ring, in doing so my chain jammed and I came to an abrupt stop. Of course I panicked thinking how can this be, I'm 5 minutes into this thing and I'm out of the race! A little finagling in the dark (more than usually required for dropped chains) and an up-shift to the middle ring corrected the situation and I was off again from the back of the pack. I was afraid to use my small ring after that so I probably expended some extra energy on the early hills. In retrospect, I think I was just cross-chained as the gears worked fine when I got the nerve back to try them a few hours later. Ultimately, I passed several riders and ended up mid-pack where I stayed for the rest of the day.
With a course that big I wondered how often I'd see other riders. As it turns out, I could always see someone in front of me and often times behind as well. That kept my spirits up as I knew I was never alone and by the numbers of riders I saw in town I knew I was right where I should be in terms of time/distance. I leapfrogged Kyle and Mark (from Irwins) all day long. They caught me, I pulled away, I stopped they passed, they stopped, I passed.
Other than throwing my chain in a panic at the start, the rest of the 1st half went like clockwork. We hit LOTS of hills of course but the pain was offset by the views you got rolling over the tops of some. I didn't take many pictures and swear I saw more gravel (heads down biking) than anything but both the "ridge" roads & "river" roads provided the occasional stretch of relatively flat terrain to move over. Transitioning from one to the other was a bear though!
No "B" roads the 1st half. Gravel was dry and hard. Almost like pavement for a lot of the ride.
My nutrition plan worked very well for me. I broke the cardinal rule of never trying anything new on race day. After realizing my training regimen of Propel, ham sandwiches and Mike&Ikes wasn't going to cut it in a 34 hour race, I decided to go with a powder supplement...Hammer Sustained Energy (unflavored). I mixed it up thick (pancake batter consistency) which gave me four hours fuel in one water bottle. I had pre-measured 4-hour bags in my pack so I could quickly mix up more when needed. I kept plain water in my Camelbak and between the two that's mainly what kept me going. I also brought along electrolyte tablets and took 2-3 every hour so I replaced what was lost due to sweat.
I didn't eat anything else and other than the expected fatigue, I felt fresh all day long. Never had a sign of cramping. Had to pull off the side of the road frequently so knew I was staying hydrated. I was very impressed since I'd never used any of this stuff before. The unflavored Sustained Energy was bland but not at all dissatisfying. I brought individual flavor packets made by Propel to spruce things up a bit if necessary but I never felt the need to use them.
Also along for the ride were Peanut butter rollups (Tortilla shell style) and about 15 PowerGels. I didn't touch either of these. If anybody wants some Tangerine Power Gel I got tons to give away.
Contrary to past years, the weather was perfect. Temps were a little warmer than desired but the electrolytes helped me out there. Winds were a little heaver than desired but that also helped keep the heat away. Winds were from the NW and other than the 1st 3 hrs we were moving SW most the day. Later in the day the Westward sections sucked pretty bad but by then we were mostly heading South.
What really got to me in this race were the hills. For the distance I was really expecting to come out of the hills of NE Iowa around mile 60. As it turns out, we didn't open up to the flats of Iowa until just after mile 90. Even then, with the monster hills out of the way they were able to find some pretty good rolling hills to route us over.
I made it to the checkpoint (131.7) in 12 hours...two hours before the cut-off time so I was well within my initial goal of just making it to the check point on time. I still felt fresh and if I had to estimate I figured I had 20% left. Considering 20% was not the 55% required to finish, I was able to do a lot of soul searching the last 30-40 miles to the CP. I came to the realization that:
1) While I still felt good, there was absolutely no way I was going to complete this race. Considering the CP at 131 miles was still not even half way.
2) Given an imminent DNF, I had absolutely no desire to push on to the point of complete exhaustion. I was ok with this. At that point I knew I could call it, get a nice meal, a good nights sleep, and still be able to enjoy the rest of my weekend.
3) I was having a BLAST! Good weather, good riders, feeling good, hitting some awesome terrain. Since a finish wasn't anywhere in sight I didn't see a problem with taking a good day for what it was and being happy with it.
I knew for sure I wanted to leave CP1 and at least enter the 2nd half of the route. Sarah brought up what was also going through my mind about looking for a different kind of goal. Leave it to Sarah to keep pushing me on. With 322 out of reach, what other milestone was in sight? I settled on 150. Seemed a nice round number and anything beyond that point was going to be West and North (into the wind). At this point Sarah headed back to DSM and I headed off down the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.
It took me just under 2.5 hrs to go another 20.6 miles to where I agreed to meet up with Amy. I knew quickly I'd made the right decision to drop out. The first 10 miles were along a dirt trail that used to be a railroad bed. Other than a lot of debris it was smooth, flat and somewhat sheltered from the wind. Regardless, at that stage, it was still a tough 10 miles and it drug on. Now imagine feeling that way in those prestine conditions and still needing to push on yet another 120 miles just to be in the hills of NE Iowa with 70 additional miles to get to the finish. No thanks.
After the trail the route took us for another easy mile through town and then back on fresh gravel for the remaining 9 miles (I hate fresh gravel...bumpy!). More hills and considering my pickup point was actually 152.3 miles (I had time to do the math) I stopped biking, took off my pack, came very close to calling Amy and having her back up 2.3 miles figuring that was really my goal. Given everything else that'd gone on that day, I finally yelled at myself for being a wuss and pushed on to meet Amy at the designated pickup point. It was the perfect place to stop...on the heels of a right turn straight into the West wind. I couldn't have been happier. The next day at the awards ceremony I talked to one of the other racers that dropped out in Traer...13 miles from where I dropped. He just looked at me, smiled and said, "You made a wise choice." There are hills in Iowa and Guitar Ted knows how to find them.
While Amy was waiting for me to finish the last few miles she received the call from the Irwin guys. They were calling it a day also. Like me, they felt like they had some fuel in the tank but with the end-goal out of reach, decided to call in the reinforcements while they still could.
Kudos to Amy...she put in a longer day than the rest of us. While we called it quits and ended our day, she drove us all back to Decorah to drop off Kyle and Mark (That's a long drive by the way), then got me back home safe to New Hampton. When all was said and done, she looked about as cooked as many of the racers.
WOULD I do it again? Definitely!
WILL I do it again? Not a chance!
I think any future endeavor like this is going to need to be in the 150-200 mile range. Something completeable by sensible human standards. If this was a 200 mile race, I think I could have pushed on, suffered if not hurt myself, and drug myself across the finish riding on borrowed time. When the finish is unbelievably out of reach, however, it really takes away any motivation to continue.
Here's a summary of the data my GPS gathered: http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/activity/2620573#