Monday, January 16, 2012

Triple-D 2012: Third Place! Sort of, not really.

I stepped into this year's Triple-D not knowing what I wanted to get out of it.  A good workout for sure, but I didn't know if I had what it took to finish this year, still injured and out of shape as I am.  So I rolled up to the start line behind the brewery with the vague goal of covering some miles with a bunch of other snow bikers.

Once we got racing through, I felt pretty good, and it wasn't long before I decided I was going to try to finish.  We were pushing and clawing our way up the huge climb on snowmobile trails along the “Arterial Highway” out of the Mississippi River Valley.  The racer in me got the best of me and I started pushing it, just a bit, I was no longer out for a Sunday ride.  By the time we got to the top of the climb I counted 13 bikes strung out in front of me (with the leader certainly well out ahead even at this point) leaving me in about 15th place!

I have to say I felt a bit proud of myself for just being a better snow biker than a lot of the other guys.  Sounds immodest, I know, but here I was on my proto-fatbike (44 mm rims and 2.5” tires) and I was keeping pace with the guys on the fatbikes that were much better equipped for the loose snow conditions that day.  I was carving corners better, picking better lines, rolling over loose squirrelly sections, taking the short downhills faster, and overall not crashing as much as everyone else.  I was holding my own despite being injured and out of shape and on a lesser bike.  But I thought about it later and realized that my ~20 years of snow biking experience might have something to do with that.  I would be surprised if anyone else out there had been snow biking for as long as I have.

I managed to catch a couple guys over the next few miles of rolling hills.  There was a group of four of us together as we rode through an industrial park, fairgrounds, corn fields and cow pastures.  Somehow on the last climb (effectively, the last climb of the whole race) up to the ridgetop, I managed to drop the other riders and I hit the paved Humke Rd all alone with at least a minute gap on the one guy still behind me.

The pavement is where my bike actually does have an advantage with its faster rolling tires and lighter wheels I made good time while tucking myself into a quasi-areo pose, lowering my head and shoulders and gripping my brake levers instead of my handlebars.  Then came Potter Hill Road, one of Iowa's infamous “B Roads”.  This is the most fun part of the course; a technical, rutted, rocky section of steep downhill double track.  I passed 3 more riders here!  But, to be fair, one was on a fixed-geared bike, and another had dropped some gear out of his bag on this rough section and was walking back to go pick up his stuff.

Doing the math later, it seems I must have broken the top-10 by the time I hit the Heritage Trail... but that was as good as it was going to get for me.  The snow on the trail was very fluffy and loose since it had been cold and the snowmobiles had churned it up.  And it was clear that I had “shot my wad” I was getting sore and tired already.  So it was only a matter of time before the riders on fat bikes began to, one by one, pass me as we rode on towards Dyersville.  It was hard, non-stop pedaling as I rode up the ~1% grade out of the Little Maquoketa River Valley.  My gluts and hamstrings in particular started to really hurt, I had to get off a couple times and walk in order to stretch out the muscles.

I ran out of water right around Farley, but I figured it wouldn't be long before I got to LeRoy's Pizza to refuel.  I was feeling a bit sick from the hard effort of the past 1-2 hours so when things leveled out near Farley, and we had several miles with little snow on the trail, I sat up and soft pedaled, trying to bring my breathing rate and heart rate down so my digestive system could do its thing.  More riders kept passing me here but I had to just keep telling myself that I was in it to finish, not to race.  And if I was going to finish, I needed to pace myself.  It seemed to work, and I wasn't feeling so bad by the time I got to the turn-around point in Dyersville.

I took my time refueling and resting at LeRoy's, I was there almost 40 minutes, while others were getting in and out pretty quickly.  Then back on the bike I started out slow, trying to let myself digest my meal.  This wasn't easy with the 20mph headwind coming at me, I was down to 6mph on hard ground for a time there.  Another 2-3 people passed me.  But eventually I started down into the river valley and the wind was cut by the trees and hills.  It was now pretty warm, above freezing, and the trail was, to my surprise, getting well packed under the treads of the fat bikes, so the rolling was pretty fast.  I was able to move around a little more on the bike so my sore muscles didn't get any worse at least.  I went back and forth with a couple riders on the ride back to Dubuque, but in the end I think I made up one spot.

I took a few seconds to get some photos on the return trip, this is what I came up with:

 Notice the little burned section on the left.  I'd like to think this was a bit of restoration work on the (seemingly) lovely bit of prairie along this old rail line, but it was probably just an accidental burn.

 This was taken while in motion on my bike, must have been a lot of light to freeze the action! (also, the fact that I was only going 6mph might have had something to do with it).

 Scenic Iowa farmland as seen in the short open stretch at the "top" of the course.

Most of the Heritage trail travels through a scenic river valley, that looks something like this.

I was in and out of the checkpoint at The Handlebar in Durango (Iowa) pretty quick and back into the dark night down a dark tunnel that is the Herritage Trail.  Coming to the highway there was no route marking at all, I had to guess where to cross to get on the snowmobile trails, and I guessed right.  I was a little annoyed by the lack of route marking, but more pleased with myself for actually finding my way along the route, and through the streets of Davenport without getting lost (a first)!

I finished in 25th place overall in 8 hours 45 minutes.  Technically the race was divided into fat bike and “skinny” bike categories, so technically I may have finished 3rd or 4th in my category... we'll see when the results are up later in the week... No rest for the weary, after a shower and a short massage, I was in the car and on the road for 3 hours to Batavia, so I could be at my wildfire training at the Morton Arboretum this morning.

In retrospect, I would only change 3 things.  #1 Get in shape.  #2 Get a fatbike.  #3 pack an extra bottle of sports drink for the outbound leg of the race so I don't run out of water and fuel.  Other than that, it couldn't have gone much smoother all things considered.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The History of Triple-D from My Perspective

The eve of Triple-D is upon us, and once again I have decided to partake in this madness.  A metric century on snow in January is no easy task, and with 3 previous attempts, I have only completed the race once, indeed until last year, only a handful of people had.  I thought now would be a good time to review my experiences with this race before treading these hazardous waters once again:

2008: In the inaugural year of this race we were faced with over a foot of snow on the ground and a fresh 4 inches just before the race.  There were  bitter cold temperatures the temperature at the start of the race was 2 F, and it only went down from there.  Winds in our face going outbound was 20mph.  Still I managed to overheat and took a bunch of clothes off which allowed my camelbak hose to freeze.  it took over an hour for the hose to defrost once I got it under some clothes again.  Between the dehydration and the cold I and some other riders decided to turn back early where the route when down from the highlands to the Heritage Trail.  I made it a few miles back towards the start/finish as the temperature dropped below -4 and the thermometer on my cyclocomputer stopped working. After stopping at the nice warm bar which was the last check point, I decided to call it a day.  Exhausted, cold, soaked with sweat, the Triple-D had defeated me.  Only 7 of the 30 starters had finished.  Read my full race report if you wish, here.

Tackling the Triple-D course in 2008.

2009: I decided to skip the race in favor of going to the bike swap.  I stand behind this decision.  After a heavy snow fell right before the race, the course became impassable and NO ONE finished the race.

2010: Another bitter cold year. Lance Andre the race director decided to shorten the course, and make it a lot easier in the hopes that some people might finish.  At first things looked very good for me.  The entire race was on the Heritage Trail, which was essentially flat, and the snowmobiles had worked it into a hardpacked surface.  I was cruising along using my bar-ends as aero bars and after a few miles I was in the top 5.  Then a big snow grooming machine came along, and what was a hard, fast surface become a loose fluffy mess.  Immediately, it took all my skill and power just to continue going forward.  I did manage to pass a few guys on 29ers where were just wallowing all over the trail on their "skinny" tires.  I ran out of water and had to go off-course to get some water at a farm house.  I made it to the half way point and turned around, and since the course was nominally downhill in this direction and the snow was 'settling', I felt like I might make it.  Then the grooming machine came by AGAIN loosening up the trail again and ruining all hope.  I managed to make it several more miles but it was getting cold, an hour or two after sundown the temps had dropped to -6 F, and my lips were going numb (I had forgotten to pack a face mask and a balaclava was not cutting it!)  In the little town of Graf called Carol for an evac and she came to rescue me.  8 of the ~35 starters finished that year.  They must have all been on fat bikes, my proto-fatbike wasn't much good, I can't image standard MTB's being ridable at all on that surface.  My finishing distance was good enough for 14th place, I think.

2011: I had managed to get some decent miles in on the snow bike last year, and was DETERMINED to finish.  It wasn't so cold (highs in the low-20's I think), so that wasn't an issue, the snow conditions were pretty good too.  Lance decided to run us on the full, difficult course.  I got ahead of most riders in the initial stretch of trail, a lot of people were inexperienced on snow and wallowed around.  Then on the first big climb my glasses fogged up completely, not sure I made time there or lost time.  Got a little lost on the outskirts of Debuque, but eventually found my way onto the course and down to the Heritage Trail.  I ate a few pieces of pizza at the turn-around point and headed back in, kind of got into a mindless zone.  I was tired and sore, but I kept pushing, and managed a 5th place finish in 7 hours and 14 minutes!

This year... really, I have no business doing this race.  My fitness was mediocre last year, this year its abysmal.  Since I'm still recovering from my the knee injury I am putting very few miles on the bike, and a snow bike race means constant, hard pedaling, and some hiking through snow for 8+ hours.  Honestly, I signed up because we didn't have any snow, and I thought I could do a nice fun event. On my monstercross bike on frozen (or even muddy) ground, 62 miles wouldn't be so hard at all. Then we got a nice snowstorm, 7 inches of very soft, cold powder in Debuque. Still, I feel I can use this as a gauge as to just how out of shape I am, see how far I get compared to years past.  New frame bag is made, saddle position is switched, food assmelbled, rusted chain removed and replaced... I'm as ready as I'm going to be.  Bring it.