Here are my thoughts with respect to what did or did not (mostly did) work for me at my successful Trans Iowa ride.
I did a lot of shorter rides this year. Many weekend rides of just 100k and lots of evening rides of around 15 miles. I probably did more miles in preparation this year, but fewer long rides. I did a lot of running as well because sometimes it's just easier to get out the door and do that. I think that running helps endurance and hill climbing, both of which I needed. The warm winter didn't hurt my biking at all (it did hurt my skiing) and biking the Arrowhead reacquainted me with endurance biking. A couple of weeks before the race I did a 100k ride that was at least half in a pretty severe thunderstorm. I think that more than anything that reminder that I could keep going was good for me.
I have been called a cheap-grouch and I think I have to agree. My Surly Cross Check is not expensive or flashy, but it fits me well and I am comfortable on it for hours on end. Having ridden this bike and set-up (sort of) for 11 years certainly helps. Some highlights:
- I did build some new race wheels. I am pretty easy on wheels compared to a lot of folks so I laced some Open Pros to DT 350 hubs with 28 14-15 butted spokes laced 3x. That made for some pretty light (where it matters), but smooth riding wheels. Pretty fancy for me, but nothing compared to what others are using.
- For tires I stuck with Michelin Jets which are nice and light with a fast rolling tread (no need for flat protection on Iowa gravel) aired to 70 psi.
- My WTB Rocket V saddle is nearing the end of it's life, but did fine.
- Planet Bike 2 Watt Blaze on the handlebars and a 1/2 Watt blaze on the helmet (which I removed as soon as it was light out) lit the way for me and I didn't feel like I needed a torch like some folks had even on steep downhills, but that may be overconfidence born of too much riding in the Des Moines river valley.
- I taped my bars with Planet Bike bar tape as always, but broke with tradition in two ways. First off I put a little foam on the back of the handlebar from the brake lever around to the tops. I rest my hands here 90% of the time so I wanted the surface to be a little broader to even out the load. It worked great and I had no numbness in my hands! The other break with tradition was the use of white tape. It's pure decadence. White looks great, but gets dirty easily. Just something special for the big race.
- As always I taped over the speed on my bike computer. Speed is just a distraction from how I'm riding. It's all about how I feel not how fast I'm going and I feel better when I don't know I'm slogging along at 8mph.
- My map holder is just a Ziploc bag reinforced with cardboard and duct tape. It took me about 5 minutes to make and worked great.
- As far as the "YES" goes it could mean anything. It's whatever I need it to be, "Yes, keep going," "Yes, you should drink," "Yes, you're going to make it."
I maintain that the best way to train mentally is to train physically. Riding in that thunderstorm was big. I also have a bit of experience to look back on for inspiration. Thinking back to skiing the Tuscobia Ultra with huge blood blisters on my feet, walking the last few miles of the Arrowhead when my hips and knees were giving out made me face how much Trans Iowa was going to hurt. Knowing how much it can hurt makes it easier to bear and even makes it easy when things aren't that bad (which they weren't this year).
I ate too much "performance" food this year. I could have done with fewer Cliff bars and gels of all sorts. I really wanted a Subway Sandwich or a plate of pasta at 1am, but I wasn't getting that. String cheese did a lot of good and I could have used more towards the end. Really though, I have learned that I can get by on just about any food so long as I eat.
I know that I am a more comfortable a little cold than a little warm so I kept clothing versatile and to a minimum. At times I was down to just my Cannondale shorts and Skunk River jersey. More often though I had on leg and arm warmers and for the wet or windy times I had my well worn Bellwether jacket. Gloves were an old pair of Salsa full finger gloves with minimal padding. I kept what clothing I wasn't wearing in my frame bag and food in my jersey pockets. My Camelbak was just for water, no gear.
I used Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek cycling shoes. They're a little odd, meant for hiking off the bike as well as riding, but they have served me well. The wider last and use of laces rather than buckles make it the most comfortable shoe I've worn (there is still room for improvement however). I suppose they're a little heavier and not as stiff as some, but for hike-a-bike (of which there was a little) they are more than worth it.
Why didn't I make it in previous years? Weather, sometimes it's just not up to you. Poor planning, one year I forgot sunscreen, a costly mistake. Navigation errors which resulted from following the herd, and on the other side not being willing to work with a group when it would have been smarter. I think I always had it in me, I just had to get everything together.