Sunday, February 23, 2014

2014 CIRREM Report

My 2014 race season began yesterday with the annual CIRREM gravel race.  This 100K gravel road race has become very popular.  It usually sells out in a few minutes when registration opens.  Why is it so popular?  Why do people what to ride their bikes on hilly ass gravel roads that during this time of year can be frozen, slick as owl shit and so muddy that it take a small part of your sole to drag your bike up them?  The answer can be found below.

Truth be told I did not really want to make the 3 hour drive up to Cumming, Iowa for the race. My longest ride so far this year was only 45 miles and that was in friendly gravel grinding conditions. The area got a few inches of snow during the week.  Most of it was either packed down frozen or quickly becoming a muddy energy sapping nightmare. 

Bike setup and gear choice is always hard to do on days like this.  I wanted to ride my Single Speed, but the bottom bracket was all frozen up on it and needed replacing. Should I bring my old MTB with disc brakes?  Would I need the tire clearance?  How muddy was it going to get?  Would we get lucky and the temps stay cold enough to keep the ground frozen?  I decided to ride the Ritchey Swiss Cross.  I knew it was going to get a little muddy and wanted to test the bike in some adverse conditions.  I did not dream the conditions would deteriorate so much out on course. I am glad I rocked the Komando 700 x 32 tires instead of larger tires.  The added frame clearance helped. 
If you had a good pair of legs and could climb today your old challenge was how to deal with all the mud and spray.   The leaders were rocking the course. It was like they were just floating on top of the mud.

 Early on I got into a group with about 6 riders.   I tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible and save energy.  The problem with following riders was the mud spraying in your face.  My glasses were covered after the first hour.  I know first hand what damage gravel and dirt can do to eyes so I tried my best to keep them on. 

The check point offered a chance to refuel, fill up those empty water bottles and have a beer.  I want to know where the bacon is?  The Dakota 50 has bacon and bear.  Is that the best combination or what?
I arrived at the check point ready to call it a day.  My legs were already tired, I could not see out of my glasses due to the mud and my back was starting to hurt.  Carolynn said I was doing great and looked good.  I personally thought I looked liked hell.  I sure as heck felt like hell. 
I started to eat some and drank an entire water bottle. I had drank two full bottles and was started to get some leg cramps.  I cleaned out my frozen gears an and decided to keep going.  I knew if I quit I would be very disappointed with myself. How much worse could it get?

I rolled out from the check point with clean shifting bike, three water bottles and a new attitude. 
What does a wife do while her husband is suffering like dog?  Mine goes to sample the local Moon Shine.  Here I thought you were all worried about me.
Conditions really deteriorated especially on the hills where the sun shined on them.   The flats were really not bad.  Those bastard climbs were a different story. Trying to find the best line, one that would not cause your tires to sink down in the peanut butter mud, was very hard.  Usually it was best to ride in the wet mud.  If you got in sections that were drying out it collected on your wheels and you soon stopped rolling.  On some of the climbs I actually thought I was going to snap a chain.  

The last 25 miles I had no rear brakes.  This is not always a bad thing.  When you are flying down a frozen road the last thing you want to do is hit the brakes.  If I was with a group of riders I always made sure I was in the front if it was shaded which normally meant it would be frozen.  I lost the front brakes a few times but reached down with my water bottle and beat off the frozen mud off.  This worked to a degree.  Riders with disc brakes had the best set-up for sure.  If you had the legs to climb I think a single speed would have worked well also.  I only had three gears that would work anyways :-)

The last 10 miles was a suffer fest.  I started getting very cold and was out of water and food.  Not a good thing.  Not really much you can do other than keep pedaling.

I rolled into the finish line a happy to have finished.  I passed many riders that had given up or their  bikes had broken.  On one climb I bridged up to 3 riders who had just made it up the very muddy hill.  At the top they stopped and put their heads down on their hand bars.  I waved as I passed and wanted to say to keep going because if you stop you may just not get going again.  Endurance racing has a large mental part to it.  It is easy to quit.  That is one reason I felt so good about today.  I pushed past my current physical ability, powered through all that thick mud, used every muscle I had to make my bike keep rolling. Those last two miles worth it. Lately my mental attitude has not been the best.  Pushing past the pain and suffering through tough times does a lot for you. 
Results got posted.  Some interesting results.  I rolled into the first check point at 2:05. The last 2 times I participated in CIRREM I rolled that same check point in 2:05 and 2:08.  This year I lost over and hour on the back side of the course.  My best finish was 4:20.  This year it was 5:19.   Mostly due to conditions but it just shows how important conditioning is.  You can fake short events but once you get past the 3 hour range fitness really stands out.  Looks like I need some more saddle time.

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