A Hard Rain's (Probably) Gonna Fall
by Ashton Lambie
Lots of people remark that it takes a certain kind of rider to ride and appreciate Trans-Iowa. This 340-mile gravel race is known for rough weather, and this year was no exception. As many of you already know, this was a year where absolutely 0 riders finished (with 97 toeing the line), due to a grueling dirt road hike, 20mph winds, lots of rain, and 40 degree weather. We started at 4:00 am Saturday morning. Everyone knew the roads would already be soaked, since it had rained over .50” the day before, and we were set to get more rain over the course of the day. The race had several checkpoints throughout, with time cutoffs at each one. The first one would be a grueling; 4.5 hours to cover 55 miles, with an average speed of 11.8 mph required. We were doing well--averaging around 12.5 mph--until in started raining at 5:30 am,. The rain made road conditions even more peanut butter-y, with tires cutting into the mud underneath the already swollen gravel. As I continued, I knew it would require an all-out effort just to keep 12 mph to the first check point. It would have been a closer race if there hadn’t been a B-road at 35 miles in. An Iowa B-road is basically just an unmaintained dirt track; with around an inch of rain, it turns into a muddy mess that is completely un-rideable (yes, even on a fat bike). Everyone was walking, and my 12.5 mph average was a dismal 10.4 mph by the end of the hike. At this point, there was nothing left to do but ride it out, as I knew the ride was over for us. I made it, completely drenched, to the end of my 55 mile ride, to checkpoint one, at 9:15 am, 45 minutes after the time cut off at the first checkpoint.
It takes a certain type of rider to appreciate extreme weather, and the sort of gratification that it provides. That type of rider enjoys the after-party of the race, the glow of having worked hard, the camaraderie it provides, the joy of having attempted it, and the rest earned after giving it your all. I, however, am not one of those riders. As soon as I arrived at the pre-race meet up, my focus was all on visualizing the night riding, the food plan, the weather, and crossing the finish line. I was 100% prepared to finish the race, and didn't even bother with a contingency plan in case I didn't finish. I had been training 15-20 hours per week since December; I hadn’t counted on the weather being bad enough to not continue. The worry about the equipment, training, resting, nutrition, and numbers had been my main concern for the past several months. Why worry about what you can’t control? Not being able to continue after the first checkpoint was difficult to say the least. I was expecting 300+ miles, and my appetite was only whetted after the 55 miles to checkpoint one. Admittedly, it did still take 5+ hours, but far less than the 30 that I was expecting. The experience was definitely one to remember, and I am still glad that I attempted it. The training for such an event certainly helped my cycling, both physically and mentally. With Trans-Iowa V11 firmly behind me, I turn my sights to a sub-24 hour 600k (373 miles) brevet.
Brevets are similar to the Trans-Iowa self-supported style of racing, but on the road. They are sanctioned to a greater extent than Trans-Iowa, and basically a more organized way of doing exactly what I trained for. It has been a few years since I did randoneurring last; I completed my first 1200k (770 miles) when I was 20 years old in 2011. Even though quite some time has passed, I think my Trans-Iowa setup (minus the tires) translates very well to nighttime road riding. Without getting too nerdy about it, basically brevets are ultra-distance road riding sanctioned through a European organization. They don't worry too much about finish time or placement—just finishing. I'm a big fan. When I completed my 1200k, it was a great feeling; I had worked very hard to prepare for and to complete the event, and I got the same award as everyone else. Do I think that is the right way to stage an ultra-distance race? Maybe, but it takes a certain kind of rider to appreciate brevets.