Race Priority: C
Race Execution: A
- About the race: Cirrem is an early season gravel race in Cumming, IA. It is approximately 64 miles in length, with more than 4000′ of elevation gain. It’s a popular event, selling out the day registration opens, and drawing racers from across Iowa as well neighboring states.
- What went well: My performance was much better than I expected. Although I went into the race carrying a high training load (fatigue), I held my intensity well over the entire race. Efficient riding helped overcome some of the power I lost in the off season. I had no equipment problems and my fueling strategy went well.
- What I could have done better: I should have positioned myself a little closer to the front for the start of the race. This would have reduced the amount of passing (and surges) in the first few miles.
- What I learned: Cirrem is a fantastic race venue and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys gravel racing. The course, racers and community (Cumming Tap / spectators) are all great. I also reaffirmed the benefits of aero bars anecdotally, which lead me to quantify the benefit in a recent blog. Finally, carrying fatigue doesn’t necessarily mean poor performance… although I’ll still be tapering for “A” races. 😉
- Results: I finished first in the 50+ category, 12th overall, and set the new 50+ course record. My official time was 3:33:50, with an average speed of 18.1 mph, 250w NP / 221w AP / 157 Ave HR. TrainingPeaks activity located here.
- Breakfast: Two Honey Stinger Waffles (150 cals ea) and one Carboom gel (110 cals).
- Race: 2.5 bottles of Carbo Pro (around 500 cals total), 3.5 Carboom gels (385 cals total), for a total of 885 calories or around 250 cals/hr.
Weather / Gravel conditions: The temperature at the start was around 46 degrees and peaked around 56 degrees. Winds were around 20-21 mph with gusts around 27-28 mph for most of the race. Other than one short section of fresh / deep gravel, the majority of the gravel was packed and fast.
Race Report Commentary:
This year marked the 10 year anniversary of the Cirrem race. It’s had it’s share of tough conditions, which is to be expected with a late February race in Iowa. I had planned my schedule to give myself a reduced training load for race week to lower my fatigue and be as race ready as possible (not really a taper, just a reduced load). Unfortunately, with an ice storm the week prior to the scheduled for February 24th race date, the race was postponed a week. I couldn’t afford two lower load weeks in my training schedule, so I went back to normal training and ended up carrying a Training Stress Balance (TSB) of -21 into the race (ideally I’d like to be above 0 for a “C” race and above +20 for an “A” race). My Garmin Performance Condition flashed -6 while doing my warmup, capturing my poor HR response due to accumulated fatigue. Although not ideal, in the end, you simply race with whatever fitness and fatigue you bring to the start line.
As it got close to the race start time, I meandered up to the growing pack of riders in front of the Cumming tap. I wasn’t sure how aggressive the riders would be at the start of the race. I had zero expectations of being able to hold on to the lead pack. My hope was to be able to get in the 2nd or 3rd pack, and see how my race unfolded. I knew that many of the stronger riders would be hard for me to hang with early in the race, and hoped my stamina would help me out as the race progressed. I tried to find a spot where I could see some of the stronger gravel riders I knew… Kevin Betters, David Krohse, Heather Poskevich and Brad Stoermer, in the hope we could work together in the winds.
I ended up about in the middle 1/3 of the pack, riding next to Heather. The initial pace was brisk, but not frantic. I had no desire to toast myself in the first 30 minutes, but I also didn’t want to lose touch with the faster groups in the race. As I saw Brad, Heather and Kevin moving up early, I started pushing to make my way closer to the front.
I settled in with what I believe was the third pack of riders around 8 miles into the ride. There were 12+ riders in the group, including some really strong riders (Lisa Vetterlein, women’s winner and Aaron Wrabek, Fat Bike winner). When we turned west onto 130th (around 23 miles in), the lead three started pulling ahead a bit… or maybe it was that everyone else was dropping back… but I decided to push forward and stay with the three lead guys (Greg Gleason, Chad Skinner and Tim Metz). As typical for me, these guys were killing me on the climbs, pulling away at each hill. I’d catch them at the top or descent and we repeated this pattern several times. When we got to a flatter area on North River Trail, I dropped into aero and got in the front with the intent to pull for a while, but ended up riding away from them briefly. They caught & passed me at the next hill, and I wondered briefly if I should let them go. As they recovered, I caught up again. We rode together for a while until we turned east on Nature Trail, at around 32 miles (half way point). It felt like they were easing off a bit, and I was feeling pretty good. We were on a flat stretch going into the wind, so got in aero and focused on being consistent on the power, and I gradually pulled away. I knew another bigger hill was coming in a couple of miles, so I thought I’d get a lead going into the hill, expecting they would catch me again. After getting to the top, I realized I was still on my own. I then set the goal of staying in front of them into the checkpoint, so I wouldn’t get caught in a line of people trying to check in. I focused on being efficient in an aero position, and keeping my power in the 220-230w range. It worked… I passed a few more people and only had to slow down to shout out my number at the checkpoint.
After the checkpoint, it was a matter of continuing to ride efficient, and staying on the gas. In my mind, the group that I left was right behind me, and I couldn’t afford to let up. I knew there were guys in my age category in that group, and that they were likely working together into the wind. Since the winds were a bigger factor at this point in the race, I continued to focus on staying in the aero position with my head low, as much as possible/practical. I knew I’d have an advantage with the headwinds / crosswinds, and decided to make the most of it. I continued to catch single riders, and was somewhat surprised that nobody was jumping on my wheel. I gradually caught a second group of riders riding north at the end of Valleyview avenue, going with the wind. As we turned back east into the wind on 155th, I sat in the back of the pack for a couple of minutes to recover. One of the guys mentioned that something about being surprised that I had caught them, and I gave credit to where it was due… my aerobars. I didn’t know if there was anyone else in my age group in this small group, but wasn’t taking any chances. I got back on the gas and passed the group. I saw one of the guys try to stay in my draft for a couple of minutes, and then dropped back. I was surprised how many Sakari kit’s I was passing along the way… as they are usually passing me. 😉
Once we turned north on 43rd avenue, I knew the rest of the course was with the wind, and everyone’s pace would be fast. I just focused on keeping my power consistent, and pushing all the way to the finish. I didn’t catch any more riders, but didn’t get caught by anyone either. I was excited to find out I finished 12th overall, with an age group win… resulting in a cool trophy, good beer, and a great gift card to Kyle’s Bikes.
Since I can’t do a race report without a graph 😉 … here’s a retroactive look at my data. There is a distinct (and visible) difference between riding with others, and riding solo:
In looking at the left side of the graph (first half), you can see much more variation in the power data (particularly through 15 miles or so), as well as much more HR variation. In general, we were pushing up the hills, and coasting down the descents. Riding in groups also means backing off at times while following, and riding harder on pulls. During the first half of the race, my Normalized Power was 257w, Average Power was 219w, with an average HR of 155. This represents 92.6% of my threshold HR (based on a modified version of Heart Rate Reserve), 91.8% of my threshold power, and a Variability Index of 1.17. On the second half of the race, my NP was 243w, AP was 223w, and average HR of 158. This represents 95.4% of my threshold HRR, 86.8% of my threshold power, and a VI of 1.09. Although my NP decreased in the second half, my AP increased… which is what your bike actually sees for power. Being on my own, I ride much smoother than in groups. The increase in HR in the second half is mostly a result of cardiac drift, probably primarily driven by increased core temp and somewhat by lower hydration levels. I was really happy with the steady HR and limited power drop on this race (little if any fade), and the ride intensity (power) of 89% is right where I’d expect an event of this duration.
It was a great day for me overall, and I’d highly recommend this race!