Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tips for Triple-D First Timers

A riding buddy and his riding buddies are going to take on the Triple-D for the first time this year. I wrote up the following Tip sheet for them. Then I thought, maybe some other people could use this too. So I thought I'd post it here.

Special thanks to Michael "Sconnyboy" for editing and adding some additional notes, especially about the course.

The old-school neutral roll out, circa 2010.

The Course:

  • The start is a short neutral roll-out. If you want to be competitive, better get to the front early on. If you just want to ride it, I’d still recommend getting at least to the middle, some of the folks in the back just mosey along. (I think the course may have changed for 2014. Lance’s stated goal was to start right from the hotel parking lot, so the rollout may have been eliminated. -ML) 

  • Once we get to the official starting point all hell breaks loose. It narrows down to doubletrack/singletrack very quickly. Riding on snow is hard, people are anxious, people make mistakes. It can result in a serious log jam. Be patient, be prepared to hike-a-bike for a bit.

  • The first few miles are hilly and pass through a variety of conditions on the outskirts of Dubuque. You will have some hike-a-bike sections, some long climbs too, ranging up to 100-300ft of elevation gain. For reference the longest climb at Blue Mounds State Park on Overload (from the bridge up to Ryan Rd.) is about 200ft.

  • The course will be marked with flags and ribbon outbound and with some reflectors nearer the finish. How things are marked is discussed at the pre-race meeting, so be sure to listen for that info. (ML) The route can be hard to follow at times during the first 1/3rd of the course, and the last couple miles, so pay attention. Don’t assume that the tire tracks in front of you went the right way. (FH)

  • Once you get out of town a bit you have a few more climbs on snowmobile trails and “B-Roads”. Some of these can be icy, so keep your eyes peeled. There is one downhill in particular 11-12 miles in that everyone talks about, its after a long stretch of pavement pounding on Humke Rd., that b-road downhill is long, and can be really tricky. Take your time.

  • Once you’re at the bottom of the Humke Rd. decent, you are through just about all of the really technical and hilly conditions in the course (except for the last climb). You will have another ~1/2 mile of pavement to get to the Heritage Trail (roughly 14 miles in), and then its rail-to-trail from here on. (Humke is fantastic, but got rerouted last year to avoid the pavement and B road portions because it was so icy. We rode next to Old Highway, Sundown and Potter Hill roads to avoid it and picked up Heritage at the bottom of Potter Hill. -ML)

  • The trail conditions on that first 1/2 mile or so of the Heritage Trail will give you a good idea of your odds of finishing and maybe your finishing time, based on your average speed on this stretch since the conditions on most of the trail are going to be like this. Time for the mental math. (Also note that you may want to air up your tires a bit at this point, since it’s mostly cruising from here to Dyersville and back to Sageville/Hwy 52.- ML) (Unless the snow groomer comes by to soften up the trail / destroy’s your soul. -FH)

  • The next couple miles of the Heritage Trail aren’t too bad, typically. Slight up, but you’re usually out of the wind since your down in the stream valley.

  • This slight grade (~350 ft gained over ~10 miles) is largely imperceptible, but it will make you “feel slow”. Don’t let it discourage you too much on the way outbound, it will be downhill on the way back.

  • You will emerge from the stream valley into the uplands after passing under Holy Cross Road. (The box culvert under the road can be icy and dark, so watch it –ML) If you are out of food or water, it is 1 mile south to the town of Farley where there is a convenience store.

  • Its less than 5 miles from this point to the turn around in Dyersville. This stretch is fairly flat, out in the open and very exposed to the winds. This can be the hardest or the easiest stretch of the race depending on conditions. There can be bare crushed limestone, slick ice, big drifts… probably all three in various proportions. Usually you have to contend with strong, cold winds one way or the other. Put your head down and push through.

  • When they say look for the tank, they mean a real freaking army tank! This should be (roughly) the 30 mile mark). Maybe a mile from here to the turn-around.

  • Follow directions carefully in Dyersville, it can be a little confusing the first time. (Left at the two huge grain bins, then right after the tracks. Chad’s Pizza is just across the river –ML)

  • Don’t get too comfortable at the pizza place, you don’t want to let your body temperature drop to much. A short visit is best. On the other hand, you could try putting on a dry base layer and hanging out for a while to refuel with a modest meal.

  • Once you cross Holy Cross Road north of Farley and are back in the valley on the Heritage Trail, you are more-or-less home free… assuming you can keep your energy up and you don’t get too cold. Just get into a rhythm, don’t forget to eat and be ready to put an extra layer on. (Leave something in the tank for the stretch between Sageville and the finish…hard going and hilly. -ML)

  • The bar in Durango can get a little too comfortable. Don’t stay too long if you really intend to finish. I like to go just in and out (you have to check in), but certainly don’t spend more than 10 minutes in there.

  • (Michael) From Durango, it’s a couple of miles to the Heritage trailhead at Sageville and Rupp Hollow roads. I haven’t been there [since last year], but I think the trail has been finished now to the bridge over Hwy 52. From there, the course passes near the Dubuque Driving Range bar and restaurant, crosses [back over] 52 at a traffic signal and picks up the ATV trail that runs next to the NW Arterial (Hwy 32.) Be ready for more uphill pushing here (300+ ft of elevation gain!). There’s a stretch of unmaintained paved bike path between Kennedy and Plaza…use it wisely, because you’ll soon be back in the ditch. After Middle Rd., you’ll pick up the outbound section of the course and follow it back to the hotel.

Race Conditions:

  • Race conditions vary widely every year, but sub-zero temperatures and deep snow are common. Mentally go through you clothes and gear a head of time to be sure you have what you need for any possible condition.


Psssh. Typical.  The inagural DDD had 2ยบ F temps at the start, 20 mph winds and deep snow.

  • Watch the Triple-D blog or Facebook page in the week leading up to the race to gleam some information about the trail conditions.

  • Watch the weather forecast for Dubuque for the week leading up to the race so you have the best idea of what the weather might be like for the race, and so you’ll know what to pack with you.

  • Assume that it will get substantially colder than the predicted low temperature, because it will. The valley that the Heritage Trail runs through is a low area on the landscape and cold air drains into this valley. Have the closes on hand to handle temperatures 10-15 degrees colder than predicted for Dubuque. I have bailed out twice in this section after getting too cold (FH)


  • Plan on eating 300-350 calories per hour to maintain yourself over the race. Finishing anywhere from 7 hours to 12 hours depending on conditions. You will need 2000-4000 calories over the course of the race. You will need to pack some with you of course, but you can get food at the turn around point, a pizza place in Dyersville, and at the Handlebar in Durango. There is also one convenience store in Dyersville, but remember, this is 35 miles into the course, so figure its 3-6 hours in depending on the conditions.

  • As much as it sucks to bonk in the summer, in the winter its way worse because you will slow down and get really cold. Don’t let it happen.

  • Test any food you might want to use during the race by putting it in the freezer for several hours. If its too hard to eat after that, then its not going to work for Triple-D. Some things that do work:

    • energy gel (kept warm close to your body)

    • crunchy granola bars

    • Clif blocks (warm them up in your cheeks)

    • nuts

    • pretzels

    • jerky

    • jelly bean

  • It can be really hard to open food containers while riding in the snow, whether you have thick gloves on or not. Either pre-open most of your food items, or choose things that don’t have difficult to open packaging. Even simple things like granola bar wrappers can be a PIA.

  • Having your water supply freeze is always a major issue. Insulated bike water bottles aren’t going to cut it. Might work OK if its carried right next to the body, kept in an insulated holster or has a hand warmer taped to it. But I often have problems with the valve freezing up.

  • The best bet is a camel back worn under your jacket. The weak link here is the hose freezing, blow air back through the hose to prevent freeze up.

  • If your hose freezes anyway, you can bend it, bite it, etc to break up the ice and suck hard to pull warm water through to thaw the ice in the tube. Those hard plastic l-bends in the tubes can be a place where ice builds up and you can’t do anything about it. Just take it off before the ride and put the bite valve directly on the hose.

  • Be sure you have enough water to get you to Dyersville 100oz is probably safe, 70oz minimum.

  • I’m a big fan of using electrolyte tablets. I try to take 2 an hour, but I sweat a lot. I feel like these keep me feeling fresh for long days on the bike. YMMV.

Body & Gear:

  •  Assuming conditions are good enough for a lot of pedaling, your body can get sore from being in the same position all the time on the Heritage Trail. Be sure you have a comfortable, efficient, kinda-low position you can settle into. Or you may want to find a way to vary your position to keep it fresh.

  • You may want to have your saddle at MTB height for the first ~15 miles of the race, and then raise it to road height for the Heritage Trail.
    It can really help out if you’re getting sore to stop and stretch a bit. Keep them short though so you don’t cool down too much.

  • Along these lines, it doesn’t hurt to get off the bike and walk or jog next to it for a while. This uses different muscles. A good strategy for warming up cold toes too.
    Always pack some extra clothes with you. You will be out there until after dark, and the temperatures WILL DROP. This will be compounded by the fact that you will be riding through a deep valley on the way back and cold air settles into it.

  • I like to carry a spare hat, balaclava, wind breaker, liner gloves, and core layer. Try to mix and match how thick/warm these things are compared to what you are wearing. For example, if you start warming-up mid day you can take off your medium weight hat and put on a light weight one. Then if it gets cold later, put on the balaclava and the light hat… if it gets even colder you have the medium weight hat in reserve.


Heritage Trail, ice canyon. Gets cold.

  • Toe warmers and hand warmers can save your butt. Have at least one package of each, even if you don’t think its going to get that cold. If you have porgies you can just leave the hand warmers loose in them to warm up the whole poagie…. might need two per side though.

  • Poagies can be a good place to store food. Keeps it a little warmer, and its right at your finger tips.

  • I like to run just a very small (3AAA battery) headlamp velcro-ed to my helmet. I usually just run it on low, the snow reflects a lot of light, so this is all I need on the Heritage Trail. Its small and compact and easy to pack. And it allows you to be able to see where you are looking, such as into your bag to get more food/clothes out. Michael uses two brighter lights mounted just above his wheel. Pick your poison.

  • Nipple chaffing is a likely situation. Pack 2 large band-aids in your kit. Apply them as soon as you start to feel chafing… or else.

  • Along those lines, shammy cream is your friend. My favorite is Bag Balm… it can last the whole ride.

  • As always, give your bike a thorough once-over 2-4 days before the race. Give the drive train a very thoroughly cleaning and re-lubing, with a lubricant that you think will be able to withstand the conditions for the extent of the race. I like Pedro’s Syn-Lube. Usually a wet lube is a good choice, but pick one that does not get thick at cold temperatures. Clean the bike thoroughly and look for anything that’s not as it should. Don’t worry too much about minor wear issues (its better to avoid making any substantial changes to your bike right before the race if you can) but if you find any serious problems you can’t fix, run into the shop screaming and panicking: “I have a huge race on Sunday! HELP!”