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.

55 Days…Can I Get A Ribness?

(new, improved smaller font action today should ease the amount of scrolling.)

One week ago at nearly this exact moment I went down on the ice at CIRREM for the second time that day, culling the pain gods from their roosts (although maybe those were just some sort of regular bird) not-so-high above.  Bruised ribs, knee, elbow, shoulder bruising, a little blood, and some dashed hopes all came crashing together as beard met ice and rock.  Seven days in I have made little progress.  My doctor gave me no physical restrictions, so I did a little riding to the tune of a whopping 25 easy going miles.  Oddly, I hurt less when on the bike than when I am lying dormant on the couch…my ribs can hang freely without the pressure of rolling a heavy body from side to side.  Sometime during the week I had a little sneezing fit and felt another “POP” in the old cage.  I think that was Thursday morning?  Hard to tell as I have been laid up on the couch with Netflix and my cat as my sole companions watching an almost seamless 24 hour a day lineup of bike and skate documentaries and wasn’t paying much attention to the time or day or really anything else.

All I could think about was the pain and TIV8

The Gents Race is coming up on April 7th, but it isn’t really much of a worry.  The course is on the easy/forgiving side with no real climbing challenges, just some mild rollers here and there with a mostly flat gravel terrain.  If the wind is kind this year (last year it was a little mean) and everyone on my team brings the right bike for the ride, we will be just fine.  In fact, due to this injury, I may actually be the weak link this time around.  I don’t like the thought of that, but it is a reality I may have to face when 4/7 rolls around.  Guys, I will do my best to be in ready mode…

So back to the pain and the TIV8.  The race “Meat Up” is in 55 days, with the start just a few short hours after that at 4 am.  I effectively have about 50 days left to train if I heal up enough to climb hills by next Wednesday.  I have been dreaming of this race for a few years, and not treating it with enough focus which is raising some pretty big doubts in my mind.  It is a terrible feeling to be physically unable to train for something you are officially entered in, and something which requires some rigorous training.  I now know, on a very small scale, how my good friend Steve felt when he had to spend time off the bike due to some nerve damage.  This is really frustrating…even more frustrating is knowing that I usually write these posts as a ruse to get you folks reading to call me out for being a whiny pussy and tell me to just go ride my fucking bike….but I can’t ride, not until I heal up some more, so your “words of encouragement” will be falling on gimp ears.

So that’s what I have going on right now.  Laid up in bed watching movies like “Ride The Divide” and wishing I could be out riding some kind of divide type thing.

CNB

80 Days and THIS Is My Fortune

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There are two 40’s left until TIV8 kicks off, which means that there has been a solid 60 of me “preparing” and whining about things.  Yesterday I broke the noose…um…news that now my bike choice is in question, a sure sign of bush league struggle.  This weekend I am participating in a ten mile trail run race, another sign of sub-healthy thinking.  So today (I actually got this last week,but it resurfcaced today) I come across this fortune. 

“Work on improving your execise routine”

Sage advice passed down from a cookie received at the end of a Chinese Buffet feast.  Thanks, cookie, I will work on that. 

Cnb

92 Days…Gravel Insomnia

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92 days from now, at this very hour, I will be lying awake in my hotel room in Grinnel, IA waiting for the clock to strike 1 a.m.  My alarm will not be going off until 2 a.m., but I am 100% certain that the excitement of being mere hours from the 4 a.m. roll-out of Trans Iowa V8 will be running so high that any hope of sleep between the Friday night meet up and whenever I finally stop for a patented Power Hour nap somewhere past Checkpoint 2 is non-existent.  My T.I.V8 travel partner/pep squad/rescue unit will be up along side me, and most likely counting down the minutes until they can return to the room and finally get some rest. 

How can I be certain?  Because it has already been happening, it’s happening right now.  I am laying here writing about it counting down the minutes until I start tonight’s overnight training ride attempt (attempt because I have been sick all week, not sure if I will make it far) at 1:30 a.m.

I have to go suit up now, everyone else get some sleep. 

100 Days…

The Trans Iowa race is officially 100 days away, and I am seeing some holes in my preparations. It is going to take some serious work to pull this off, and I am not proud of the way I am handling something that has been a dream/goal for so long.

When I toe the line on April 28th I vow to be ready, but the next 100 days are going to be brutal!  Wow, that just made me smile. 

Thnk you for letting my whine breathe, I think I will drink it down and get out in the balmy 5 degree weather.

Sam

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