I'm recovering quite well from Trans Iowa. My knees still bother me a bit, but I can once again ride without grimacing in pain, even sitting down.
This years Trans Iowa was more of a mind-over-matter kind of event for me. I knew I was in better shape and had done more training than for any previous ride, but somehow I didn't quite feel prepared. I suppose you never can for an event like this. There is just too much up to chance. Still, I knew that my body was up for it and if I could just get my head in it I'd finish if it was humanly possible.
There isn't much to say about the race that hasn't already been said, but I'll try to give my take on it.
Hearing the wind, rain, and thunder through the night sure didn't help me sleep. A part of me wanted to call it quits even before it started, but I knew I couldn't do that. I had set my alarm for 3:30 AM, but woke up about twenty minutes earlier. I had everything ready so all I had to do was dress, eat a sandwich and ride to the start. It's much easier when everything is laid out the night before.
The rain had quit by start time, but the roads were still wet and there was a stiff wind out of the west. Once we got off the pavement I made sure to settle in with a group so I wouldn't be fighting the headwinds alone. I'm not much of a joiner when it comes to riding (or anything else), but I felt it was necessary to avoid burning out.
Once we headed south about 30 miles in the groups broke up a little and I rode alone quite a bit. For a while I rode with Jeremy Kershaw and Jay Barre, but by Checkpoint Alpha (Montezuma, mile 53) I was alone again. After CP:A I caught up with Charlie Farrow and rode with him and the guys from Lincoln for a while. It worried me that I was riding with Farrow as I know him to be a stronger rider than I am. He mentioned that the folks at the front were pushing it too hard and he expected some attrition. I had heard that one before, but it was a reminder to keep riding within my limits and not push too hard (actually it turned out to be true).
At some point Farrow dropped me and was riding alone again. I really do my best when alone on these ride/races. My mind stays more focused, I make better time, and I have a better attitude. So for the next ~200 miles I rode mostly alone. I went through the towns of Hedrick and Agency, then crossed the Des Moines river near Eldon (we really should have ridden by the American Gothic house). At mile ~170 I reached Checkpoint Bravo (the middle of nowhere), sat for a minute, ate an energy bar, and was on my way into the night.
Around mile 200 I arrived at Checkpoint Charlie (not a German to be seen) in Attica where I was told that I had just missed a group of riders headed by Dennis Grelk (last year's winner). Now I had a carrot. I felt like I had only ridden 100 miles so I started pushing a bit more, hoping to see their taillights ahead.
There was a beautiful long hill outside Pella that I'd like to see in the daylight sometime. I was able to spin up it in my lowest gear without working too hard and it seemed to go on forever.
I finally caught up with the group at the convenience store in Pella (mile 230?), but they were ready to go and I needed to fuel up. It wasn't until ten or so miles later in Galesburg that I caught them for good.
As soon as I started riding with the group I found myself falling asleep. I just couldn't keep my eyes open. It was as though, now that I didn't have any goals but finish, my mind just began to shut down. I'd feel okay for a few minutes, then terrible for a few. I drank a 5 hour energy and felt great for about 20 minutes, then I was nodding off again. I'd find myself unconsciously charging up the hills, following Dennis and then falling off the back of the group.
Eventually Dennis broke away and then Mark Johnson (I think) followed him. At this point I felt it was safer to stay with the group. There were bound to be headwinds down the road.
By the time dawn came it was down to four of us in the group: Mike Johnson, Corey Godfrey, Charles Parsons, and myself. The gravel was getting rougher and we were still heading away from Grinnell. I knew that couldn't last. It was looking like we were going to spend the last 35 miles of Trans Iowa battling the winds.
I finally knew for sure where we were when we arrived in Melbourne. It was going to be all fresh gravel, hills, and headwinds back to the finish. I was hoping for a convenience store, but I was pretty sure Melbourne wasn't the place to find one. We rolled through town, but didn't see anything and kept on going. As we headed out of town I called out that I was stopping for a minute and everyone else should continue (I won't give the details of that stop, but was a desperate stop and involved venturing into nettles and poison ivy). I was left to battle the course alone.
I made a plan to ride 10 miles, rest, ride 10 miles, rest, and ride the final 10 miles. I made it seven and had to stop, then another five, but I told myself that every turn of the pedals was getting me that much closer to the finish. Conditions were horrible, I was happy that there were hills so that I could rest in the wind shadow on the way up. It turns out I'm a better at climbing than fighting into the wind.
As I took another break, sitting in the lee of a hill, eating a Cliff bar, I saw three riders approaching from behind. I was disappointed that I had been caught, but decided to wait and ride with them. When they got close enough I saw that they were the same group I had been riding with all night. Just after Melbourne they had spotted a convenience store and stopped there (it turns out my trip to the bushes was unnecessary). We teamed back up and agreed to ride in together.
Things were going as well as they can 320+ miles into a race when we came to a final, unexpected B road. It looked like it might be ridable and Charles charged ahead. Corey wasn't so lucky and his rear derailleur clogged and tore out. Mike and I stopped, but there was really nothing we could do. Corey would either be able to fix it and ride in or he would walk. We left him and walked the rest of the B road to be safe.
Charles was out of sight and Mike was riding stronger than I was so our group was shot. I rode in alone, as I had ridden the better part of the race, and was ready to be done.