Tuesday, November 12, 2013

End of season report – Part I : The races

A year ago when I moved to the Midwest I have never heard of gravel racing before. Now, after one season full of gravel I raced 12 amazing gravel races totaling ~1700mi of pure fun (averaging 150mi/race). There is no better introduction to the Midwest than riding gravel!
That was my race calendar:

Apr 27/28   Trans-Iowa (Grinnel, Iowa) - 325mi
May 18       Royal 162 (Spring Valley, Minnesota) - 162mi
June 1         Dirty Kanza (Emporia, Kansas) - 200mi
Jul 20          Operacion Muerto (Verdin, Manitoba, Canada) >300mi
Aug 24        Gravel Worlds (Lincoln, Nebraska) - 150mi
Sept 7         Inspiration 100 (Garfield, Minnesota) - 100mi
Sept 3-15    Gravel Conspiracy (Grand Marais, Minnesota) - 180mi
Sept 28       Heck of the North (Two Harbors, Minnesota) - 100mi
Oct 13        Filthy 50 (Stewartville, Minnesota) - 50mi
Oct 19        Dirtbag (Clearwater, Minnesota) - 88mi

Thanks to Guitar Ted for an epic start of the 2013 gravel season. I was never as nervous about a race as this one. With six months of preparation, I have never gotten ready longer for any other race. Trans Iowa is not just a race, it’s an emotional roller coaster, a game with the sleep monsters and IMO the queen of all gravel races.

Royal 162
If you want to see what passion for gravel racing looks like meet Chris! Chris lives and breathes gravel. I wouldn’t be surprised if his house is made out of gravel. The Royal started with friends and ended with even more friends. It was great to see how many people enjoy gravel racing!

Thanks to Jim Cummins for introducing me to Kansas, to the beauty of its meadows and to the queen of pain – Rebecca Rush. Dirty Kanza attracts gravel racers from all over the nation to visit Kansas. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this race is: Kansas is by no means flat! With the finish line ending in downtown Emporia, the entire town cheers for you on the final stretch!

If Trans Iowa was not enough, take it a step further and ride with no cue sheets as the Canadians do it. And if you are game for surprises (like walking into a strip performance in a bar) then this race is a must do! Thanks to Hal Loewen for creating Operacion Muerto. Huge thanks to Ian Hall and Lindsay Gauld for helping us logistically and for their cue sheets (they probably anticipated the headline of the local newspaper: Search rescue to find German and American cyclists sleeping in the ditch.)

What other gravel race starts with a German shaking an enormous cow bell around his waist? What other gravel race honors you with a winner’s jersey that has World Championships stripes.  Thanks to Corey Godfrey for putting on the Gravel Worlds!

I wasn’t aware I could attend a free concert when I signed up for Inspiration 100. Thanks to Deek Surly and his crew mile 80(?) not only offered foods and drinks but a two-man music performance on self-created instruments. Plus, I never thought I would be so happy about receiving a rusted chain ring!

Gravel Conspiracy
You know how to make omelets without a pan and stove?  And how to create a feast for 20 hungry riders if nothing else but a gas station is your resource? Ask Josh Stamper because he knows it all. The three day event made this gravel ride a great adventure in the most beautiful area of the Midwest!

The Heck was my first ever gravel race last year and I couldn’t wait to come back. I realized also in this event how close, friendly, welcoming, helpful and awesome gravel riders are! Thanks to Jeremy Kershaw for a great event, whether sunshine or rain!

Whether you are rookie or veteran, the Filthy 50 is the perfect race for everyone! The shorter distance made it for a nice change in race and ride strategy. The race was so well-organized that you would not realize that that was Trenton Raygor’s first race promotion. Thanks to Trenton for putting on a great race that welcomes any level of rider.

Last but not least, the Dirtbag, the race that finished my gravel season for this year. On the drive up to the race, it was rainy, cold and windy! Who would show up in these conditions? Oh my, did I underestimate the mentality of gravel racers when I saw 90 riders at the start line! Nothing deters them! Thanks to Ben Doom for an awesome race!

It goes without saying that without all the volunteers no race would be as organized, welcoming and yummy as they are! 
I am sad to say goodbye to all the amazing people I have met through gravel racing! What a great community!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How I prepared for Trans Iowa

Trans Iowa was the most epic race for me this year. I was nervous. What did I get myself into? Would I be prepared? What equipment, tool or nutrition am I missing? Would I be able to hang with people? What should I know that I don’t know yet?

Looking back, I learned that 80% of this race is mental. Yes, it would be a good idea to get a few centuries in before but Trans Iowa was not decided how fit I was (of course, a certain fitness is required) but how I dealt with myself in my darkest moments. I was teaching myself a certain attitude that nothing can stop me – whether it is weather, sleep-deprivation, hunger, thirst or the blister on my pinky.

But to successfully apply this “No obstacle is too big” attitude, I had to train it.

To get ready for the worst, I had to train in the worst. I had to ride when it was the most humbling with no glory or Strava segments to get. Most of those rides were alone. No one else wanted to join. That was the best indicator for a bad ride.

I still remember one particular time that tested whether I stuck to my own philosophy. Every Wednesday I joined a group ride which was 15 miles away from my place. One day in January, I decided to ride to the group ride. On the way it started raining. The group ride was still happening but we shortened it because it got colder, windier and darker. Everyone was shivering. During the last few miles when we were heading towards the end point of the group ride I was debating with myself. I could easily ask one of the riders to drive me home, sitting in a nice warm, dry car, preferably with seat heating. Or I could ride the 15 miles in this wet, cold, and dark condition home. 

The car option was winning!

But then my conscience reminded me of Trans Iowa. Would there be an option on the course where I could get a ride? That would be called “giving up.” 

I had to ride home!

To avoid someone potentially offering me a ride I didn’t do the usual stop and chit-chat at the end point and just headed towards home. It was cold, wet, windy and dark, but I made it. I realized that more treacherous conditions had to come to make me give up!

Trans Iowa is like an obstacle course with unknown hurdles along the way. Every rider gets their own personal obstacles. It will not be perfect so it’s about how to deal with the imperfection. On a few rides, I simulated running out of water and food. I was thinking of every “worst-case” scenario possible and how I would deal with it. What if I get lost? What if my lights run out of battery? How will I feel at 2 am and how my body will try to convince me to stop and how I will convince my body not to stop. (Cinnamon rolls did the trick for me)

Trans Iowa is an epic event; it is an exciting journey with great people. It is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when crossing that finish line! I am very excited for everyone who will race TI 2014!