Saturday, March 7, 2015

Hitting Rock Bottom at CIRREM

The 7th Annual CIRREM was held last weekend.  It was cold as hell (10 degrees) at the start but the gravel roads were frozen and remained that way for the entire event.  Conditions were really not that bad for racing and several course records were set including overall male winner Joe Peterson, overall female winter Liz Martin, Single Speed winner Marc Thierry, Fat Bike winner Taylor Webb and the overall tandem winners Dennis Grelk/ChristieAnthony.  Basically every category except fixed gear set new records.  That frozen gravel sure is fast.

While other riders were having great rides I was having one of my worse.  It has been a rough winter for me.  I have put in what I thought was some quality training rides including several gravel grinders.  As with anyone, with enough miles my form comes along nicely by the beginning of Spring.  This year that has not been the case.  I have reviewed and analyzed  my training logs but still have not found a reason for my poor performance.

Part of me did not even want to go to CIRREM this year.  When you are not not felling strong it is easy to stay home.  I had already made plans to head up with Tige so I stuck with those plans and we ended up staying with his cousin up in Des Moines IA.  It was nice not having to drive the 2 1/2 hours in the early morning like I have always done in the past.  After Tige's super secret breakfast and "Dirt" coffee I actually felt good and was looking forward to getting out on course.

I knew my day was going to be long when within the first 5 miles I went to shift into my big chainring and nothing happened.  After a quick look down I see my front derailleur had twisted.  I checked every bolt on my bike except that one 5 mm clamp.  Nothing to do but stop and fix it.  It took awhile, especially with the freezing temps, but I got the cage all lined up and shifting again.  I start rolling again in last place.

After a couple of miles I catch up to George Williams and Chris Orr of  Dirty Dogs.  All of us settled into a comfortable conversational pace with an focus on finishing.   This would become a real challenge later on as with each mile my legs became more tired.

In past years I usually roll into the half way checkpoint in around 2 hours.  This year I was pedestrian slow at 2:26.  As a reference my teammate Tige Lamb rolled the first half on a single speed in 1:44.  That is really sad when you think about it but when the legs are dead they are dead.  The ladies at the checkpoint were offering water, food and hugs.  I needed all three just to get up enough motivation to continue on. I filled up my water bottles, got a nice warm hug and tried to ignore the guy who was calling out "if anyone needs a ride back I am leaving now".  I downed another cinnamon roll and reluctantly rolled on.

The next couple of hours were some of the most trying of my life.  Each hill got progressively harder.  While my energy level was normal my legs were like piece of iron.   For about 10 miles I rode with a group of women but they soon left me behind.  I stopped trying to figure out what was wrong and just wanted to quit.  But when you are out in the middle of Iowa you can not really just put up your hand and ask for a ride home.  At one point I stopped just to rest some and eat.  A couple of rolls of hay provided a nice shelter from the cold wind.  After a couple of minutes I realized I needed to keep going.  There was not going to be any sag wagon to pick me up.

As the miles slowly clicked off and the finishing town of Cummings grew nearer it started to snow.  Great, just what I needed.  I was cold, tired and hungry but I still had an hour or more to go.  The last 10 miles or so skirt the edge of town but then takes you back onto the frozen gravel roads.  Part of me really wanted to take that short cut direct route back up to the Cumming Tap but I knew I would not be able to sleep well if I did not complete the entire course and finish.

Finally the last mile came and I rolled in the finish.  5:38 was on timer stop watch.   As I ate my post race meal I questioned whether this would be my last CIRREM and/or my last endurance race.  When you are at bottom it is hard to find a reason to continue on.

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