Race Priority: C
Race Execution: B
- About the race(s): Two races… one weekend… let the “fun” begin. The Buffalo 105 Renegade Race is a two loop course in Newton, IA, with rolling terrain, a couple B roads (limited maintenance, usually dirt), traveling through the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge. The IC Gravel race is a single loop course in River Junction, IA (south of Iowa City), featuring roughly 15 miles of B roads.
- What went well:
- Aerobars. I know this probably violates some sort of purist gravel grinding code, but with winds from 20-35 mph at the Buffalo 105… being able to get in a reasonably aero position can make a huge impact. They also allowed me to get into a comfortable (and a bit faster) position later in the IC Gravel race, setting the fastest time between CP 3 and 4.
- Fuel between races. From my experience with American Triple T, I knew I’d need to increase my calorie intake during the first race, as well as consume a lot of calories between races, to minimizing the loss of glycogen stores racing back-to-back days.
- What I could have done better:
- I could have backed off my intensity a bit in day one (Buffalo 105), and still taken the win, and had more gas in the tank for day 2 (ICG 100).
- I underestimated the weather impact on the ICG 100 race, and was short on calories. I also made a mistake not getting water at CP2… and rationing water and calories leads to less than ideal performance.
- What I learned:
- Hike-A-Bike (HAB). I’ve avoided training in really muddy conditions and have very little direct experience with when to ride, when to walk and when to carry in these situations. Frankly, it just didn’t appeal to me as it seemed like a great opportunity for me to get hurt (my joints are pretty frail / suspect after being run over by a pickup in 2012). I received a rather quick baptism-by-fire experience in the ICG 100 race, and adapted somewhat well… but I have a lot of opportunity to improve.
- I’d do this double again… it was both challenging and fun!
- Buffalo 105 – 1st place, with a time of 6:16, at 16.8 mph. I did the first loop (55 miles) in 3:05, which was the fastest time for that as well.
- IC Gravel – 7th overall, with a time of 9:42. Over 70% of the starters were unable to meet the time cutoffs to officially finish the race.
- TrainingPeaks Links: Buffalo 105, IC Gravel
- Buffalo 105: 1 GU, 1/4 Honey Stinger Waffle, and 100 cals / Carbo Pro per hour, for approximately 250 cals / hr. I carried a Camelbak with around 60 oz of water, drank as needed.
- ICG 100: Started the race with the same strategy as above. Around CP2 (roughly 40 miles into the race), I backed off my calorie intake as I knew I’d run out of fuel well short of the finish at my original consumption. I was around 250/cals per hour for the first 4 hours, and then dropped to 140 cals / hr (average) for the balance of the race… ouch. Although I had Camelbak with around 60 oz of water, I simply forgot to refill it at CP2 (40ish miles), and ended up rationing water to make it to CP3 (72ish miles).
- Buffalo 105: 65-72 degrees, with winds generally 18-25 sustained, gusts 30-35 mph.
- ICG 100: 53-57 degrees, winds 4-10 mph, intermittent light rain for the first 4-5 hours. Worth noting was that there was rain most of the prior evening, some heavy, resulting in very wet gravel and B roads for the race.
Race Report Commentary, Buffalo 105:
I just couldn’t end my 2017 with my DNF at Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. I had put in a lot of focused effort this year to build my fitness for a late season gravel race… and I wanted to finish the season with a solid race effort. Sarah Cooper had initially planned to do the Buffalo 105, and one of my Facebook friends had liked the IC Gravel 100 race, which sounded interesting as well. I oscillated on which race to do. I suggested to Sarah that she consider doing both races… and then thought… why shouldn’t I? That would certainly be a bit unique and interesting, and a reasonable test for my cycling fitness.
Sarah gave me a little expectation of how it would go, based on her experience doing a double double-century road bike a few years ago (two 200-mile courses in one weekend). The summary was to expect oscillating waves of “okay” and “death” on day two. With a pep talk like that… I was ready. 🙂
The race starts and ends at the Newton YMCA. Both the 55-mile and 105-mile race share the same first loop, and everyone starts the race together. After a quick race briefing, we started with a neutral roll-out, following a police car. I chatted briefly with Jennifer Borst (a friend I coach, who was doing her first gravel race), but then rode up near the top 10 riders as we approached the end of the roll-out. My plan going in was simply to hold on to the lead pack through 55 miles, and then possibly push a bit more through the remaining 50 miles, hoping to be in a position to either win or be in the top 3.
Sometimes plans change… sometimes for the better… sometimes not. As we rode south into the wind, everyone was lining up behind Steve Cannon on his fat bike. We turned west, and I felt like the pace was a little slower than I wanted (pedaling a fat bike into the wind is a big challenge, as I found out in The Juicy Race), so I decided to pass and see if anyone followed. I could see a couple of guys passed Steve to try to close the gap. The smart thing probably would have been to wait for them to catch up, and then work together going forward. But the competitor in me said, “if they want your draft, make them work for it…”. It wasn’t that I was pushing to the max, but held a pretty solid (for me) 240ish watt NP for the first two hours. This isn’t unusual or extreme for this type of racing, but I found the other two dropped out of sight behind me. I focused on staying in aero position as much as possible, which wasn’t too hard to do. The gravel was fast, and although there were rolling hills, nothing was that extreme (I shifted out of my big chainring only a couple of times). The only issue I had on the first loop was nearly wiping out a few miles before getting back into town. I consciously thought to myself… “you are leading, don’t be stupid”. Literally, coming into the very next corner I was riding with the wind, took it too fast, and had to chase my bike all the way across the road into the grass before I got my bike corrected. It was the wake up I needed to refocus again.
I came into the Y, checked in, refilled my Camelbak and headed out on loop 2. Being in first, I had no idea what my lead was over the other riders. I felt really good, although I knew I was riding at a higher intensity than planned. I decided to simply continue to push a bit (but not all out), as I felt I was in a strong position for the win. My thought was that I could pull back a little later in the race to recover a bit for the following day. There is one section where the two courses overlap, and by chance I happened to hit that section as Jenn was getting close to the finish. I rode up and briefly asked her how she was doing. She looked and sounded good (she finished as the first woman and 6th overall in the 55-mile race) and it gave me a little adrenaline boost to race around other people. Soon I was on my own again. I found the 2nd loop to be a bit slower, as it had more loose gravel and the hills were a little more challenging (I was using my small chainring more). It also had a B road with a closed bridge, which required me to carry my bike briefly. I felt it was a little more scenic than the 1st loop, although maybe it was just that I was riding a bit slower and a little less racing focused overall. As I got closer to the finish I backed off my intensity a bit more, although I found myself looking back to
see if I could see anyone else behind me. I caught a train coming back into town, and had to wait a minute or so for it to pass… although it felt like forever. I kept thinking how bad it would suck if someone caught me at the train (I’m full of positive self-talk like that). As I came into town, it looked like if I pushed a bit I could finish with a nice even 6:15 total race time. Unfortunately, that was squashed when I failed to make the correct turn on 8th street and had to stop to figure out where I was. The street sign actually shows 7th street (which it is on the east side) and I needed to turn west on 8th (with no sign, but essentially the same road). I figured it out, and rolled into the finish with a total time of 6:16.
Overall, this is a great race. It’s a fast course that is definitely friendly for newer riders. It has enough total climbing to make it a challenge, without any single quad searing climbs. You can also shower at the Y after the race, so you don’t need to ride home (or to your hotel) dirty. And… it’s a huge bargain… it’s free. I brought three bags of canned goods to the event to contribute to charity (at around $25 cost), and paid $10 for a race t-shirt (and that $10 is also contributed to charity). Gravel racing + charity = Everyone is a winner!
Race Report Commentary, IC Gravel 100:
Before I left Newton, I started loading up with food. I had a recovery drink (Endurox), stopped at DQ for a Blizzard and a hot dog (total calorie count trumped quality), and headed out to Iowa City to spend the night. I took a brief 20-minute nap when I got to the hotel, and went out for Mac & Cheese noodles to get a few more carbs and calories. I then loaded up with protein drink, carbo-pro and more recovery drink before bed, and spend about 30 minutes in my recovery boots. Overall, I managed to get in around 4900 calories during the day, with around 4400 burned with my exercise. This still left me with around 1400 deficit calories for the day (based on my basal metabolic rate), so I knew I’d be starting Sunday a bit low on glycogen stores.
Saturday night it rained continuously, with hard storms at times. The temperature predictions were for a temperatures in the 50’s with rain on Sunday morning. I put my frame bag on my bike, with the thought I would dress warm and shed clothes if necessary. There was light rain as I drove to the race start, which made me a bit worried about how the race would go. I had looked at the Iowa Gravel Roads site the week before the race and estimated that there was around 15 miles or so of B roads on the course. With little experience with Hike-A-Bike, I was wondering how this would go for me. I did have two plastic knives with me to scrape mud, but as I found at the SHGU race… I sometimes ride when I shouldn’t… I needed to be a little smarter or cautious as I approached this race.
As I lined up for the start, I consciously put myself around mid-pack. We started on a B road and I wanted to see how others managed the mud. When we started, one person took a brief ride in the mud, and quickly went back into the grass in the ditch. We all rode in the grass, until someone stopped, and it immediately created a backup. Many people carried their bikes to the adjacent field (all the crops were gone) and started riding again, and I ended up just pushing my bike through the grass. Quite a few people passed me in this very first short section, but I was intent on trying to ride a little smarter than SHGU to avoid an early end to my day.
Once I was back on the wet gravel, I started passing people. I felt surprisingly good… much better than expected. After about 30 minutes of solid riding, I started counting the people in front of me and realized I was likely close to the top 10. I linked up briefly with four other riders, and got a little break in the draft. The guy pulling into the wind was on a fat bike, and he was making a really nice draft zone. After a bit of recovery, I rode to the front to give him a break pulling. We took turns a couple of times, and ended up dropping two of the riders. We got to a point where the top 5 were in sight, but then we hit our next B road. It was too muddy to ride, so I was pushing my bike in the ditch and field. I tried to ride a bit, but it was really rough and I was still in a conservative mode. My riding partners (Rob McKillip and Nicole Roth) got ahead of me in this section, and I caught them again when were back on the gravel. We rode together until CP1, and it was nice to have the company… they were both strong riders.
I checked in at CP1 and got back on the road. I had all my nutrition with me and didn’t need water until CP2. Unfortunately, this meant I was on my own, as I was out of the checkpoint before Rob and Nicole. My intensity started dropping a bit at this point. I wasn’t feeling bad, just more general fatigue (about as I expected). I started to hit more B roads as well. The first after CP2 was something I could ride, as it had enough grass that the mud wasn’t too bad. The next was deeper grass… almost like a grass field or just a trail at times. It was a bit slow going, but much better than H-A-B. Then the “fun” started. I hit some B roads that were extremely muddy, with sections where you simply didn’t have enough room to even push your bike on the side of the road. I was carrying my bike, pushing at times (getting it muddy and having to top scrape it all off as the wheels would stop rotating there was so much mud in the frame)… and these sections
were consuming a lot of time and energy. My shoes were completely caked with mud (and felt like they weighed 20 lbs each) and I was slipping as I walked. Not exactly how I had planned this race…
Eventually I got back to gravel and settled in for a while. As I approached CP2, I knew I had to cross a small bridge, and hoped it wasn’t wooden. It was… and I rode really slowly, trying to to slip and fall. I was really happy to get across without wiping out. The people were friendly and offered a hose where I could clean my bike up. I didn’t want to take the time, so I checked in and got on my way, passing a two people in the checkpoint. A couple miles down the road I realized that I had forgotten to stop for water. Although was only around 30 miles to CP3, I’d only been averaging around 10 mph with the B road factor… which meant 3 hours before I could get more water. Although I wasn’t out of water yet, I decided to cut back consumption a bit. Likewise, doing the math I knew I’d be well short of nutrition to make it to the end of the race, so I cut back on calories as well. I knew this wasn’t ideal, but it was just adapting to the situation at hand. I was now firmly in the mode Sarah had mentioned… okay, death, okay, death, etc. Briefly perking up, then fatigued and down… but more down than up.
A few things stick in my mind between CP2 and CP3. The first was that we had two longer sections of gravel at this point that seemed to take forever… one going east and then another coming back west. The gravel was basically like peanut butter at this point… sticky and slow… not much breaks or resting, just slowly grinding out the miles. The second were the B roads. Some were partially rideable, others were not. What was most debilitating at this point, was seeing my Garmin tell me I had 0.7 miles left, and then a turn ahead. Walking and riding my along, I figured, “it’s only 7/10ths of a mile of this nonsense, and I’m back on the road”. The cruel twist was realizing that my Garmin thought there was a turn, but in reality, there was around very slight jog between roads (meaning a couple of feet… or that’s how the map saw it), and we were right back on another B road. Somewhere in this section the quiet internal curses in my head transitioned into me “weaving a tapestry profanity” that was shouted at each new B road sign I’d see… and I have to admit, it made me feel marginally better. The last notable item in this section was a particularly nasty B road a few miles before the Barn at CP3. It was a road that required quite a bit of carrying, and my back was getting really tired. I think I had to stop and rest about 5 or 6 times, just to carry my bike up the last hill in the road (and it wasn’t that big of a hill). To take my mind off it, I was trying to count the number of footprints I had seen on the road, to figure out my position. I thought I counted 5 sets, so I thought I was in 6th place. After finally getting through the B road, I passed another racer walking. He had passed me looking really strong after CP2, and had ripped his derailleur off in that last road. We chatted briefly, and I noted the mileage so I could let the volunteers know when I got to CP3.
I was happy to get to the barn at CP3. I checked in, refilled my Camelback with much needed water, and filled one of my water bottles with Gatorade, as a backup. Although
my stomach doesn’t always tolerate Gatorade well, I figured I’d need the calories later in the race. The bike mechanic from World of Bikes offered to lube my chain, which was great as it was starting to make some nasty grinding noises. He also made an adjustment to my derailleur, (explaining what he did and why) and cleaned my bike up a bit. I felt like it was well worth the time, to keep my bike running correctly. They checked my position for me, and told me I was in 7th place overall.
From CP3 to CP4, I started getting a little concerned about making the final cutoff. The official finish time was 6:30 pm, 11:00 hours after the start. In general, I was oscillating between 9:30 and 10:30 of racing time, depending on how bad the B roads were. I was really concerned about the last section of B roads, which I believed were over 3.5 miles in length somewhere around mile 90… which could take well over an hour if they were all H-A-B. With this thought, I was trying to push when I could, riding aero as much as possible and practical. The roads were finally drying out a little, so I felt like I was making reasonable time. I started catching and passing people, but realized they were the 100k riders. I got in and out of CP4 pretty quickly. This was close to 90 miles in the race, and I was getting anxious to get to the finish.
Shortly after leaving Nichols, IA, we turned onto another B road… the first of a few before the end of the race. This one was rideable, and I was a happy camper. My Garmin was showing it around 1.7 miles long and I was “flying” at a whopping 6.9 mph. Because there was so much grass (and still muddy… but not sticking), I was still burning over 180 watts of power to go 6.9 mph… but it beat the hell out of walking at less than 3 mph carrying my bike. I got to the turn marked on my Garmin, and made a left on to the gravel road. Then my Garmin said I needed to make a U turn… crap. Like before… it told me I was done with B roads and I wasn’t, and the next B road wasn’t as nice. Matter-of-fact… it really really sucked. No bike tracks before me, just the footprints of people carrying their bikes. I tried to push my bike in the woods, in any grass I could find or in the leaves. The mud was like a magnet to my bike. I felt like my tires would make 4 revolutions and would be completely packed until they wouldn’t rotate. Stop and clean my bike, push 10 feet, stop and clean my bike. It wasn’t going well. Really, it sucked bad. I was also out of my nutrition at this point, choking down the Gatorade to at least get some calories down. Then I got a text from Sarah, asking me how the race “went”. As I was cleaning my bike for what seemed to be the millionth time,
I was pondering how to answer that question. Figuring I couldn’t answer it with any degree of civility (and thinking that I really wasn’t “racing” if I had “spare” time to text), I carried my bike off to the side of the road and finally found an area where I could push my bike in the tall grass. I was then able to push and carry to the end of that soul sucking B road, and cleaned my bike one last time before continuing on to gravel. We had one more rideable B road before the finish, and the remainder was just typical gravel roads. The people at the finish area were watching for each of us as we approached, and they were banging drums and cheering loudly with 1/10 of a mile to go… I felt like a rock star coming up River Junction. The finish line is also on B road (the same we started on), but there was grass so I could ride across the line with some degree of dignity. 🙂
They had food at the end of the race, drawings for prizes, and a pressure washer to help get the bulk of the mud off our bikes. It was well organized, and I really appreciated the enthusiasm of the volunteers… it was much needed after a long day of riding.
After getting some food in me, I answered Sarah’s text about how the race went. I summarized it with emoji’s at left. At the time, it felt like a lot of death march… peanut butter gravel, then a B road, then more peanut butter, then two B roads in a row… etc. Compounding the conditions was my miscue on being low on calories and fluids, dropping my already low energy level from the race the day before.
That being said, it was a great experience and I am really glad I did the IC Gravel 100 race. I learned a lot, and certainly got the challenge / test I was looking for in doing the back-to-back racing. As I looked at my data from the IC Gravel race, it’s clear that my primary issue was not handling B roads as well as the top riders. I could see the separation occur at each B road in the Strava Flybys, particularly in the early B roads as I was figuring out what to do and that last soul-sucking B road at about mile 92… where I was basking in a self-pity party. My Garmin recorded 8:25 of moving time, relative to my 9:42 race time… which is a LOT of stopped time. The time spent at the checkpoints was relatively small at around 10 minutes total, even with the work on my bike at the barn (that total stop was just over 5 minutes). In fairness, sometimes I was walking so slowly that my Garmin was in autopause when I was still moving. When removing all the walking time and looking strictly at when I was actually on my bike, my actual riding time was around 7:30. So… over 2 hours of pushing my bike, carrying my bike or stopped cleaning my bike. A different type of racing than I’m accustomed to, for sure.
Since the race, my gravel racing friends have directed me to this awesome video from Scott Sumpter of BikeIowa on ideas / tools for better managing muddy conditions. Yes, I’ve already got these on order… live, learn and improve!
Overall, I’d definitely recommend the IC Gravel 100 race. The course is interesting (wet or dry conditions), it was well run, great swag and fantastic volunteers.