Tips From The Back Of The Pack

wpid-FxCam_1272290632827.jpgSome race for the glory of the podium.  Some race for the thrill and challenge.  A lot of us are just racing the cutoff times and for the satisfaction of a strong DFL* finish.  I am a one of those types who tends to live in that neighborhood of riders that cause checkpoints to be staffed until the very last minute, a place called The Back Of The Pack.

The Back Of The Pack isn’t a glorious place, but it doesn’t have to be without its good times and fun.  I’ve put together a few tips and tricks here to help those of us BOTP’ers be more successful at last place.

  • Ride your bike: You don’t have to have a personal coach or even a HRM (although monitoring heart rate/power is pretty helpful for distributing physical resources during long distance riding), you really need to simply ride your bike. Ride as much as you can, take a rest day or two here and there.  If you are planning to do a 200 mile event, work your endurance up by riding longer hours in the saddle. Once you can put in a couple 80 mile or more days in a row, you can probably finish that DK200.  The main point is that if you don’t ride your bike, you aren’t going to be any good at riding your bike.
  • Navigation Is Salvation: If you are off the back and relying on cue cards for direction, PAY ATTENTION to what is going on around you.  Riding solo, or even in a group of folks who are having their own struggles, can end poorly if you aren’t practicing the three R’s for yourself: Reading the Cue Card, Remembering The next turn or sequence of turns, Reacting to the landmarks.  It’s easy to sit on someone’s wheel and hope they are navigating properly, but face it: self supported means you are on your own. Too many times racers have taken wrong turns and added to their race mileage because of trusting the person up front, not having a proper light to see road signs, or simply spacing off.  Remember that these events are difficult enough without adding to the challenge with your own personal bonus mileage.  Pay attention to navigation at all times.  Getting lost sucks.

READ, REMEMBER, REACT. Learn it, Live it.

  • Conserve Energy:  It’s REALLY tempting to go hard off the line.  This is probably one of the biggest fails.  You’ve prepared for your event, your legs are feeling fresh, and there is a veritable Excitement Buffet buzz buzzing around the start line feeding your confidence level. The signal happens. It’s go time. Do you:
    • A) Take off like a jackrabbit with the lead pack and blow up shortly after starting?
    • B) Stick with the middle of the pack until you can’t maintain pass and drop off the back or
    • C) Ride your own pace?

It’s always best to ride at your own pace, especially if keeping up with whatever group you’ve opted to ride with is draining your physical resources. Ride smart and if you are feeling fresh at the half way or past, kick it up and burn it on in!

  • Know What To Wear: Some of these events span the course of 24 or 36 hours, and you will see temperature drops and possibly erratic weather changes.  This kind of goes back to riding your bike. When you are doing said riding, do some in shit conditions. Make note of what clothing/shoes/gloves/eyewear works for what temperature/conditions.  I have a mental log of temp ranges and which base layers/outer layers/socks, etc work within those ranges.  I also do a stupid thing I call Training Cold, which involves long rides in cold weather being purposely under-dressed for the conditions (I pack extra layers in a seat pack for safety sake – in case my mom is reading this). This prepares me for sudden unexpected weather changes out on the road when maybe extra warm gear didn’t get packed, or I just don’t feel like stopping to layer up.  My point is DON’T OVERDRESS, if you are super warm and toasty on a 30 degree 4am starting line, you will sweat out in 5 miles. I see folks out on 50 degree days on the bike trails with full on winter gear, helmet covers, lobster claw gloves, and it’s kind of ridiculous. These fine folk are probably not going on a century ride like that, but still.   DON’T OVERDRESS. Sweating out/overheating is a sure fire fast track to failure.
  • Don’t Over Pack: The more weight you are carrying on your bike, the more you are pushing up hills. If you are riding gravel, you are most likely pushing up a LOT of hills, and if you are just fit enough to pull a DFL or back of the pack, an extra pound or five can be enough to wear you down more quickly.  If you are riding a 5-6 hour gravel event do you really need to pack a spare tire?  If you have a drop bag option at the mid point, do you need 6 water bottles on your bike?  Take a good look at what you are using during training. What do you use on the regular? How far are you riding? How far is the event? What are the conditions of the gravel?  Are your tires up to the task? How much food do you really need to carry?  So many questions that can be answered by a pretty simple formula: If you didn’t need it for 100’s of miles of training/preparation, you probably won’t need it for a 100k event.  This subject deserves a post of its own.
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    Bring some comfort er…food

    Bring a few comforts: Yes, don’t over pack, but bring something that motivates you or can comfort you if you pull out. I bring a flask of Wild Turkey 101 on almost every long ride, and on TIV8 I packed that and some Marlboro Reds (yes, I once in a while have a smoke with my whiskey. It’s a terrible habit and I know it).  When my ride went south right out the gate (cold, rainy 4am start, mechanicals from mile 10 on, etc) I reached a point where it was do or die, try to squeak through CP1 or hang a right on the highway and tailwind back to town. I had some whiskey and a smoke, weighed options, and made the hard call to drop out.  You don’t have to drink or smoke, I might be a little extreme, but bring one of your favorite candies or a picture of your family, or an iPod with your favorite playlist, or whatever will comfort you when the chips are fucked.

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    Nope.

    Pick The Right Bike: Obviously, if you have one bike for everything, take that bike. Beats walking 100k.  If you have some options, pick the one that is most comfortable, is geared properly for the amount of climbing, and has the proper tire for the terrain.  You don’t need to try being a hero and ride your loaded fat bike through 100k of climbing, I’ve seen it happen and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve also made the mistake of trying too much climbing on a bike geared for flatter riding (or better climbers), and that kicked my ass entirely too fast.  Come to think of it, I didn’t do great on that bike riding a flat course either.  It was a rough year… Ride what you are comfortable with, could be a Cross Check, a Fargo, a Routt 45, a vintage steel Bianchi, a Beargrease, whatever it is run what gets you to the finish without fighting you the whole way there.

  • PICK THE RIGHT TIRE: OOOOOOWEEEEEE this is a doozy.  We have a 100k gravel race here in Central Iowa called CIRREM.  It’s held around the end of February and it has seen weather from 15 degrees and somehow raining (that year was really weird), to 60 and sunny with a mild breeze.  It’s generally known to be a shit show. On some of the more nasty years, the week leading up to the race has social media buzzing with the query “what tire should I ride?”  If it’s 25 out and the roads are a fresh sheet of ice, don’t try riding slick 28’s. (or old chewed up Michelin Mud 35’s, I did that year and ended up with a cracked rib from wrecking on the ice about a dozen times)  If there is a ton of fresh rock on the road, also don’t ride 28’s. In fact, just don’t ride 28’s on gravel unless your power/weight ratio is in the Pro Peloton range. A file tread 40mm 700c tire is pretty solid choice for any condition, as you can work the tire pressure to adapt to conditions.  Similarly, 650bx47 handles most any gravel condition. Two true “do it all” tire sizes for everything but gnarly single track or ice riding.  If it’s sheets of ice, and you are super cereal, pick up some lightly studded cross tires or bring out the MTB for something more substantial and grippy.  Also, take into consideration that more voluminous tires will provide a little extra cushion, which your arms and back will thank you for on ultra distance stuff.
  • Know when to say when: The best tip I can give is to know your limits.  Riding past your limit is part of endurance racing, indeed, but there is a vast plain of physical and mental badlands that lie somewhere after that 4th or 5th wind.  Know your own personal signs. Dropping out isn’t a crime, but injuring yourself is criminal if you knowingly take things farther than acceptable “too far.” Have an extraction plan (or know the shortcut back to the civilization), means of communication, also see “Bring A Few Comforts” above. I’ve definitely taken things too far and spent weeks recovering from making that mistake, don’t be that person.  Live to ride another day.
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Know when your ride is over, even if it’s not the end of the race. 

This is in no way a comprehensive lesson on “gravel racing,” but if you follow these words, it might help you achieve that DFL finish you’ve always wanted!

Until next time, ride your bike!

CNB

*DFL: Dead Fricken Last. If you aren’t familiar with this term, good for you pal.

In Review: Clement Xplor MSO 40

I’ve burnt through some gravel tires in my time. LOTS of them. Back before “gravel tire” was a thing, we rode cyclocross tires. I fell in love with the Michelin Mud, a light, fast tire with minimal tread and a decent line of gripping knobs on the side. These tires were made for doing laps around a closed course for an hour, not for riding 10-12 hours straight on rock roads. They lasted accordingly, aka not very long at all. I caused many dead Muds, but man did they roll. I, along with many of my dirt riding compatriots, needed something that would last and not break the bank.

As time meandered on, companies started introducing more durable tires that were gravel specific like the Kenda Small Block 8, and Clement’s Xplor Series. Clement caught my eye. I started of with their smaller offerings, but soon the MSO 40 was in my sights. I got a pair. It was mildly life changing. Here was a voluminous tire that wasn’t TOO heavy, rolled fast, and felt supple on the dirt roads. It performed well on pavement. I felt that it looked pretty sexy. My first pair of these adorned my Salsa Fargo for training and ultimately riding Trans Iowa 10 (TIV10), I fell in love with their performance in the racing realm, and riding 40’s on a MTB allowed for zipping through muddy B-level roads with ease, giggling to myself as others were off to the side with their various “scrapin sticks” trying to get their wheels free of their muddy bonds.  Gotta love a little extra clearance, Clarence.

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POOR BIRDY

All was well through miles and miles of riding, then the MSO’s were transferred to another bike, my Warbird. The Bird was the new kid on the block, and took over the brunt of my mileage.  I finally got a flat. A flat that thwarted a perfectly good sunny century day at mile 35. Now, I will admit that checking my tire condition before riding is not really on my list. It should be, I keep a close watch on tire inflation (which is subject for another post for another day), but don’t think about inspecting the outer casing. Noted: will change this. I didn’t just flat, the casing of my tire either split or was cut. The tread was also just chewed up, all the way around, which lead me to believe is was more the tire than some errant object in the road which made cause for this pause. I was close to a town, so I booted the tire, got it rolling, stopped for lunch, then limped another 20 miles in to Des Moines to Rasmussen Bike Shop for a replacement. I was so burnt out that I just handed them the bike and said “go for it.”  They got me back on the road and disposed of the tire accordingly.

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POOR BIRDY PT 2

I rode the new rear tire for another 500 miles or so (not in a row) before encountering any more problems. I had another flat, this time a pinch flat that you can read about here, which I quickly fixed and got home for lunch.  A few days later I was on the Gent’s Race, you can read my race report here, having fought through some difficulties in the beginning I was well on my way to finishing with my team, and BOOM flat. Fixed it. We rode another mile or so, within 2 miles of the finish, and BOOOOOM a total blowout. Upon inspection, the kevlar bead and sidewall had separated. Race Over. Good Day.

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Mark Showing me the exposed Kevlar bead, AKA POOR BIRDY PT 3

I talked over the life of these tires with a good friend and team mate, who has a very keen knowledge of gravel tires. We came up with the hypothesis that the Clement MSO is not durable or reliable enough to be pulling long miles on gravel, at least not for someone my size (read:large).  He told me other people have had similar issues with these tires, and I’m not surprised. This is the only tire since I started riding “gravel specific” tires that have done such things. I’ve gone years and thousands of miles without flats. This all leads me to…

My final thoughts on the Clement Xplor MSO 40mm: Fast, Light-ish tire that is best suited for equally light-ish riders that ride low mileage, or for shorter circuit-style lapped gravel races that won’t leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. I absolutely would not used these again for any type of distance or “adventuring” as they are more volatile than most other gravel tires I’ve had the chance to ride.  In fact, they kind of remind me of the good old days of ripping through tire after tire on those Michelin Muds.

Sam, CNB

Gent’s Race Ride Report

Last Saturday saw the second coming of the Gent’s Race here in the DSM.  5 person teams, 66 miles of gravel, and a bunch of fun. In theory.  My team consisted of myself (der) and 4 awesome gents known collectively as Team Careless Whispers and singularly as Steve Fuller, Mark Stevenson, Bob Moural, and David Cornelison, all men with deep ties to the biking scene (their names are linked to either their businesses or blogs, visit their sites)  I would be hard pressed to put together a better team for any ride of this type, those guys are golden and got me through a rough day of whining and sniveling.

Bob, David, Steve, Mark, and myself right before shit got real

I am not going to give you the play by play.  I honestly don’t want to think about it too much, it was painful but an incredibly good time.  This was probably the most challenging flat terrain gravel ride I have ever done due to a recent road resurfacing (and me not being able to gain any momentum whatsoever).  It was demoralizing at times, but we kept it together, no flats and no mechanicals.  The guys were riding strong and there were some amazing moments when it all came together and we were pinning it to the wall.  Ultimately my motor came up more on the Yugo side than it should have and I managed to be the anchor this year.  All good, the guys took turns babysitting me while I cussed my legs, my bike, mother nature, birds, pretty much everything along the way.

Thank you to the Careless Whispers for all the good times this year.  I can’t wait to return next year, maybe with a different team name.

CNB

 

93 days….Why I Miss The Pink House

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A bout with sickness and a continued struggle with being the laziest/fattest bike racer in Central Iowa is continuing to f*ck with my Trans Iowa chi, but with only 3 months remaining I am still confident that when the rubber hits the rock that I will be in sufficient shape for the challenge.  (I don’t know that you can actually be fully prepared for that monstrosity, at least not if you are me, and the physical challenge Is only part of the odeal, there are many other factors).

Training for gravel used to be so much more convenient at my old abode, known to he world as The House Formerly Known As The Pink House (it was repainted in spring 2011).  THFKATPH sits at the intersection of the Great Western Trail and Adams Street, a gravel road which is known to the gravel grinding freaks of DSM as the entryway to all of the finest gravel South Central Iowa has to offer.  Adams is a big part of the Booneville Loop, is touched upon briefly during CIRREM, and during the fall and winter seasons is a great place for run-ins with like minded rock riders.

In the “old days” or the last two years really, gravel riding was as simple as wheeling my bike out the kitchen door, riding down the dirt drive, and hanging a left on Adams.  Then it was on to Gravel Glory, heading east then catching a few loops on my “vintage avenue loop” then back on Adams for parts unknown, riding until either my legs, brain, or comon sense started to get he best of me.  Then it was time to plot a course into DSM and to one of my favorite watering holes for a recovery drink (PBR Tallboys and Fireball) then point south on the GWT for my ten mile trek home to shower, eat some food, and bore my family with details of the ride.  I do miss those days of simple, convenient gravel. 

Today I live in Des Moines proper, South Side to be exact.  It takes work to get out to my old Grinding Grounds, Adams being an 11 or so mile ride from my house.  What? So I have to do the old ride home first now?  Not a big deal, right?  Well, it evidently is a big deal and has messed with my motivation on more than one occasion.  Being able to look out my bedroom window to survey the gravel conditions, walking out to the mailbox and looking west down Adams,  even mowing the enourmous lawn, were all just the preamble to leg and lung oblivion.  Seing that road made me gravel horny.  I would think to myself “just wait til I am done with _____, you dirty little road, I am ging to make you my bitch”.  And now I am whining about riding a few miles to get in touch with my rocky romance. 

I think this got me a little worked up, and I appreciate your time. It seems that I should quit writing and start riding…I mean Adams is only 11 miles away…

I Am Really Doing This? I Am Really Doing This.

I got in.  I am officially on the roster for the Trans Iowa V8, a 300+ mile gravel race which starts in Grinell, Iowa on April 28, 2012.  This is an exciting development as I have been talking about this monster for a few years, but never put my postcard where my mouth is and stepped up to the plate.  That has all changed.

Back a few months ago when I was still in the beloved Pink House and had just become its sole occupant I decided to make some changes, start a new blog (as if I need another), and begin training for TIV8 with hopes of losing some weight and gaining some more legs.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.  It seems that my goals were about as lost as Doug in The Hangover.  I just looked at the “other blog” and noticed that it had been almost two months since its waters were last piddled in, weighed myself and saw that I am still at my record-breaking weight, and tried to recall if I had done any “training” since my move into town…other than drunkenly pedal my ass up MacRae park hill for pass-out time.  Nope.  Life has not been conducive to taking care of myself, but that’s all right.  There is always a time for beggining, and a beggining is a delicate thing.

Random skipping around point:  here is a trailer for an upcoming documentary about the Trans Iowa race filmed during V7 in April of 2011.  This will give you an idea of what the race is all about (hint:hills, mud, gravel, hills, hills).

So I killed off the “other blog” today and will be tracking my progress here (at this point “tracking my progress”=whining about how I am failing at my goal)

Here is the last post from the dead blog for you enjoyment:

Well, the two people out there who may pass through here for whatever reason, I am officially on the Trans Iowa V8 roster, #50 out of 100.  Smack dab in the creamy center.  I had some great intentions with starting this blog, but I think that I will move this to my original/actual cycling blog location, CyclistNotBiker.  I will talk less about diet and specifics of my fatness reduction and more about riding, but who really gives a fuck anyway?  The important part is that this training-ish thing gets documented and that I am making good on my promise to myself to take this event seriously.  I am also trying to make up for a piss poor year of blogging, and starting a new blog when I already am responsible for so many, a few of which really never get any attention.  That’s right, 2012…you are hearing what the beginning of every year human kind has occupied the planet.  You are currently “next year” and “next year” is always the year everyone is going to make things happen.  At least it’s good for a laugh when looking back.

It’s been a very strange year, this 2011.  Looking to the future for peace, answers, and stability (and back to some serious saddle time) is definitely a symptom of the human condition.  I, for one, will work hard at bettering mine: Mentally, Physically, Emotionally, to live a more peaceful, fulfilling live surrounded by family, friends, a shit ton of gravel, and a few less snacks.

Here’s to the future, only 136 days left until the “Meat Up” in Grinell, Iowa.

Yes, here’s to the future…only 136 days left until TIV8 kicks off.

CNB