Monday, February 28, 2011

CIRREM Gravel Road Race 2011

On Saturday the 26th I entered the third annual CIRREM gravel road race held in Cumming Iowa (10 miles south of Des Moines).The 64 mile race is put on by Des Moines area cyclists who three years ago organized a group ride as motivation for some cold weather training  This year saw 80 riders pre-registered with another 30 race day entrants. 

I have been eye-balling this race for a couple weeks as training for April’s Trans Iowa.  With 7 weeks to go it is time to ramp up the training intensity and start to focus on hill climbing.  As the day approached the weather forecast looked pretty good with temperatures in the low 30’s and no snow or rain.  Mid-week we got about 3 inches of snow but it missed the Des Moines area and the forecast temperatures was still in the mid 30’s.  Earlier in the week, before our snow, our gravel roads were in great shape so I figured the race course would be dry and fast.  Friday night saw 2 inches of new snow and colder temperatures for the race.  I tend to stress about rides like this as I over think every little detail.  What tires to run, what to carry to eat/drink, what to wear, will I stop at the sag stop.  Every time the forecast changed my strategy would change.  This was a 4 to 5 hour training ride and not that important for my season.  For Trans Iowa my mind will really be in overdrive. 


Leaving Muscatine at 6:30 a.m. we headed west for a 9:00 arrival in Cumming and a start time of 10:00.  With temperature in the upper teens my main concern was keeping the water from freezing during the 4-5 hour ride.  I had two insulated bottles filled with warm water, one was Perpetuam.  I also was trying a Camelbak under my jacket.  I had some Power Gel bites along as an extra fuel source that would be easy to eat on the move.  I was worried I might be a little under dressed and hoped the harder pace would generate enough heat to get me by and it did.

After the start Connie was headed to Des Moines for some shopping and to meet Chris for lunch.  They were going to meet me back at the Cummings Tap after 5 hours or earlier if I called.  The pace was pretty social as we rolled out.  We even stopped at one corner for a nature break. It was interesting after an hour it seemed like we rolled though the feed zone.  Riders started digging in there pockets for gels, bars and thawed water bottles.  The challenge was completing this simple task with lobster gloves on your hands.  More then one gel ended on the ground. 

Our front group of 30 hit some serious hills around mile 20 and the group began to thin out.  The hills were endless and after the 4th or 5th serious roller I was one of the casualties.  During a brief reprieve a handful of us were able to get back on the tail of the group.

Near the 25 mile mark we had a long gradual downhill. Partway down the hill a rider on the far left of the road hit a rut that launched him and his bike sideways through the middle of the group.  I was behind him and had to move clear to one side to avoid the carnage.  Total three rides hit the deck.  Once we got to the bottom of the hill we stopped to wait for everyone to re-group.  When was the last time you saw that during a road race?  A few miles later I was off the back again for good.

My plan was to ride non-stop so I rolled through the sag stop at the 30 miles mark.  1:57 was my time at that point.  That is less then 15 mph average.  I was comfortable with the fact I was going to be on my own the rest of the race.  I caught a few riders, got caught by a few, but basically was on my own.  Just past the sag stop both my water bottles were frozen beyond use.  I could not even unscrew the caps to get the liquid out.  Getting my Camelbak nozzle out from inside my coat, while moving down the road, proved impossible wearing my heavy gloves so I decided to pull over.  I also needed to remove my goggles because they kept freezing over and I was tired of scrapping the ice off them to read the cue sheet.  My heart sank as I grabbed the nozzle that would supply the only water I would have for the next two hours only to find it frozen solid.

Around mile 45 I was passed on a climb.  A couple miles later I was feeling pretty good and decided to use the rider ahead as a rabbit.  I picked up the pace and kept my mind focused on the chase. By mile 58 I caught up with him.  At the pace we were going there is not much benefit to drafting but misery loves company.  With all the hills it is easier to ride your own pace.  A few miles later it was obvious his uphill pace was more then mine and I was on my own again for the last 5 miles of the race.

I really had no goals for this race other then a really good workout.  Not drinking or eating enough had it’s effect on how I felt finishing.  The last 4 miles seemed to take forever as I counted down each mile.  It was nice to finally see the finish after 4:34 of riding.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out I finished in 12th place. 

This is the third type of in-formal gravel road ride I have entered.  Very low key with the focus on the social event before and after the ride.  Each race has had less then ideal riding conditions but I have come away really enjoying the day.  Next time I need to stick around longer to partake in the post-race activities and get to know more of the riders.


My write up will come later today. Here is a link to the Garmin stats of an ISU student who was on the back of the winning tandem. I have also added a few write ups.

Guitar Ted

Cycling Obsession
Rest Stop Pictures

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cast of Characters

With the warmer weather the area saw last week I was able to get a nice ride in with a group for a change. For some reason this off-season many of the locals have been hiding instead of riding. Cylcling is always more fun if you are surronded by a cast of characters. Meet the group I spend quite a bit of time with.

Greg Harper has always been up for a few winter time rides but this year his calender seems to be a little busier. He runs the roller races in Eastern Iowa and that keeps him traveling most weekends. Thankfully those are almost over. A few winter-time get aways south of the border have kept him busy as well. He just added a cross bike to his collection and has been out a few times. Hopefully that will continue this spring.

Mike Doyle(Doyley) has been the closest to a regular riding partner I have had this off-season. He just got a new cross bike around the first of the year so he has been eager to explore the gravel roads with me. His work schedule has been a little crazy so he has been hit and miss as well. The earlier in the season I can get him out the better chance I have of talking him into some crazy long spring rides. He is so gullible!

Bill Ford (Wiford) dropped off the face of the earth in September. Until this year he has been the rock steady guy to get out with in the winter. It was nice to see him re-surface to join us on Sunday's ride. The rides are always a little more intense when Bill is along. His motto is "every ride is a race" and "every stop ahead sign or city limits sign is a sprint". Don't invite Bill on a tail wind ride. His idea of enjoying the tailwind is to see how fast he can go the entire time. He is great to have along as a horse in the headwind though.

Jon Sulzberger (Jonnie) had a really strong fall and joined me on cross bikes early in the winter. You never know if he is going to show up. He will call thirty minutes before a ride to ask if anybody is riding and not know for sure if he is going to ride. Last year for the ride out to RAGBRAI an hour before we were leaving for a three day trip he was not sure yet. He did not go with us. Hopefully we can rope him into this years ride out.

Bill Harper (Billy) has not taken the cyclo-cross bike plunge yet. A couple of really dusty gravel road rides in the fall ruined his taste (literally) for the gravel. He teaches a spin class on Sunday mornings so that screws up early Sunday rides. He will be a steady participant as the spring approaches. Last year he rode out to RAGBRAI with us and had a great time. I think I can get him on a few more crazy adventures this year.

Chad Bishop is the proto-typical racer type of the group. Put Chad and Wiford together on the same ride and hold on for dear life as the testosterone is thick. I am trying to teach him the meaning of a base building ride. He did a pretty good on Sunday keep the pace down. Chad want to work on building his endurance so hopefully I can get him on some longer (3-5 hour) rides this spring.

I have the fortune of riding many miles each year with my wife Connie. She is definitely a far weather rider. Once the weather warms up she is out in full force. Monday nights are her riding night and once in a while I can convince her to come out and play on a Tuesday night ride. When she does join us she can hold her own. She really likes the longer weekend group rides for the social aspect. She

Trash talking is always part of any group ride. On this weekends ride Wiford shows up, pats Doyley on the stomach and says"now I don't feel so bad". Greg was way over dresses. There is a lady who rides with us on accasions and she is always overdresses. I told Greg he looked like her. Let the season begin!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Spring is Around the Corner?

With only six weeks of winter left it still feels like it will never get here. The 16 inches of snow that fell/blew this weeks only reinforces that feeling. I have ridden more miles outside this off season then any other still I yearn for a ride that I can sweat from a hard effort on a warm day instead of from being over dressed. Or to feel the wind cool me on a 40 mph decent instead of freezing me to the core. Getting motivated to spend 30 minutes getting dressed, 20 minutes getting undressed and several hours getting warmed back up gets harder each ride. Now that I am done complaining I will switch to some brighter subjects.

The last two days the sun has shined while I was riding. Last week the weather man said we had 50 out of lasts 60 days that were cloudy or mostly cloudy. It was really nice to look back and see my shadow following you as I passed huge piles of snow on the local gravel roads. Just having the warm sunshine while riding always makes the ride more enjoyable.

I am fortunate to live outside of town so I don’t have to deal with the slushy city streets every time I venture out to ride. My housing addition has been a little messy but that is only half a mile from the highway that has a clear dry paved shoulder for riding. From there I have many gravel roads and county paved roads to choose from. The county has done a great job keeping these clear after the big storm. For the most part the snow has melted and the roads are just a bed of frozen gravel. That makes for fast riding conditions.

Since the housing additions has been snow packed most of the year the cyclo-cross bike has been the ride of choice. Of the 17 outdoor rides this year only three have been on my road bike. Outdoor miles have ranged from 97 to 12 with most falling in the 30-35 mile range. Two to three hours of riding in the below freezing temperatures is all I care to ride. Besides the normal water bottles spouts are usually frozen enough that you can’t drink from them after an hour. During the summer I don’t like to use the insulated bottles because they don’t hold as much water and are too hard to squeeze. During below freezing rides filling them with hot water is the best way to ensure you have something to drink longer then an hour. With temperatures in the upper 20’s it takes about two hours for an insulated bottle to freeze beyond use.

Since the first big event of the year will be the Trans Iowa(TI) on my cyclo-cross bike getting big miles on that bike has been a training objective. Eleven weeks from today (Easter Weekend) I hope to be sitting here writing my story about what an awesome adventure TI was and how I can’t wait for next year. In a few weeks I will ramp up the intensity of my rides by adding some hill repeats and increasing my weekly long rides. If you have ridden many gravel roads you know they tend to be a little hillier. The big hills are also steeper and add in some gravel for poor traction and the going gets pretty tough.


This is the Mapmyride route for one of my planned training routes. Both big climbs are on gravel and the second one, at the 12 mile mark, is very tough. I have ridden it four times. Twice I had to walk. One of those times was in the snow and they had not plowed it. Between the 14 and 16 mile mark are a series of rolling hills. On one of the hills I managed a max speed of 36 on the cyclo-cross bike. That is a little scary on gravel.

Another training route will be the hills up the bluff off highway 22 east of Muscatine. In a 10 miles stretch of highway 22 if you go north there are four paved climbs and three gravel climbs. It will be interesting to wear Connie’s GPS on that route and see what percent grades they are.

For the next couple weeks, prior to increasing the intensity, the plan is to increase the miles each week with the focus being the long rides on the weekends. Hopefully the temperatures will start to increase and there will be some group rides to add a little more fun to the rides and get me motivated.

Total miles Year to date: 992

Mileage goal Year to date: 944

Outdoor miles: 610

Indoor miles 382

Weekly average: 193