-Robert A. Heinlein
Well, T.I 7 didn't go as planned. I knew my fitness wasn't tops. A broken bike and lack of willpower to train on less than perfect days saw to that. Still I hoped I'd manage to pull it off though the same sort of determination that saw me through Arrowhead this year. Unfortunately there's no comparison between the AHU and TI. Determination might have seen me through to the end of a 322 mile gravel ride, but not Trans Iowa.
The first problem I noticed was on the ride from the hotel to the start. I couldn't read my bike computer in the dark. The digits were too faint. Without knowing how far I had gone it would be difficult to navigate.
It was wet and foggy as we rolled out of Grinnell, but there was no wind and the gravel was reasonably fast. I always seem to start myself off towards the back of the pack and then have to work my way back up to the front. I did it again and found myself stuck in no man's land between a group of singlespeeders and the large lead pack. I decided to bridge up and take advantage of the big group, but it took a little bit out of me to get up there. I wouldn't be able to race like that all day and all night.
There was a course detour that took us a mile north, and then a mile west, but we had been warned about it.
Then, about ten miles in we came to a stop. Ahead was a B road and no one seemed to know what to do. Someone mentioned that we hadn't found our turn at 110th Ave, but since I couldn't easily see my mileage and hadn't been paying attention to the cue sheets I had nothing to contribute to the decision. Somebody started down the B road I followed and then everyone else. It had to be the right way. This was Trans Iowa and it lead down a B road. Of course.
The B road was unridable, but the ditches weren't too bad and we made our way mostly walking. As B roads go it wasn't too bad. It felt a lot like bike pushing at Arrowhead. At the end of the level B we stopped again at an intersection with a paved road. Again, nobody seemed to know what to do. So we kept riding.
One mile further on it became clear to someone that we were on the wrong road. Our left turn on 92nd Ave had appeared about 5 miles too soon and led down a dead end. After some discussion the group turned around and headed back the way we had come. We ran into a lot of riders who were slower and luckier than the rest of us. They only did the B road and not the extra mile out and back we had done. We turned south on the pavement, where the group started to break up, and after a mile east on gravel we were back on course though I was a bit behind.
The whole B road experience had been off course. Including the on-course detour the lead group had done approximately 6 miles extra. I wasn't that worried, I was still reasonably close to the front and nobody appeared to be in any hurry. It was early.
Soon the sun rose and it was looking like it would be a beautiful day. A few miles south and the course turned back to the east near Newton. I was now on my own. I could see a few riders up ahead of me, and none behind, but the lead group was gone. With the sun there was now a strong wind out of the west. We were headed straight into it and I didn't have anybody near to help out. I crouched down into the drops and geared down.
I knew I wasn't making good time and the hills were really taking it out of me as well. I was pedaling downhill and then grinding up the next one in my lowest gear. I was 25 miles or so in and knew that making the cutoff at 9:15 would be a close thing.
Over the next few hours I passed a few riders with mechanicals or who had just had enough. Some folks were walking the hills only 1/10 of the way through the race. A bad sign. With about five miles to go the course finally turned back to the east, with the wind. I threw the bike into the big chainring and pushed as hard as I could to try and make it before the cutoff. I didn't think I could make it, but I knew that if I didn't try I'd regret it.
With only about three miles to go I turned down a road that I thought was on course. There was a broken course marker lying in the middle of the intersection but I wasn't sure whether to go left or straight on. I chose left, then after a couple hundred yards I changed my mind and headed back the other way. A half mile down that road I realized that that was wrong. I had had it right the first time. A couple of other riders caught me and we took the correct road. Half a mile down we ran into another rider coming back towards us. He was even more confused than we were.
I pushed it as hard as I could the last two miles into the town of Baxter, but I was pretty sure I'd be about five minutes too late. I was hoping my bike computer was off by a few minutes. At the checkpoint there was a large group of riders, including some folks I thought would be in contention for a win. The CP volunteer told me he had some good news and bad news. The bad news was that I had indeed missed the time cutoff, the good news was that I was done.
Last November when I signed up for Trans Iowa I said that if I were to do it again I'd have to go all in. I would have to set a training schedule and stick to it if I wanted to have a chance to finish. I did a pretty good job of it too up until I broke my race bike on a B road. After that I didn't feel like riding any of my other bikes for mileage and instead I went running, made excuses, and slept in on the weekends. That more than anything contributed to my failure. I should have done more riding at night to check my light and computer setup and riding in a group would have made me more confident in staying with the front pack at the beginning. I should also have learned by now that I need to be self-sufficient for navigation and I can't count on others to do it for me.
Will I be back next year? I'm not sure. It is hard for me to focus on a race of this magnitude so soon after Arrowhead. Shifting from a ski or run focus to a bike focus is tougher than it might seem. It is hard to have two "A" races only three months apart. On the other hand I did have fun at Trans Iowa this year. My past two experiences were somewhat miserable and I was expecting more of the same at this one, but I had a good time at the "meat up." I have a desire to finish this thing again and maybe I will.