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TransIowa is a cult event. I heard of it via blogs from some serious endurance cyclists. The event webpage is practically a stream-of-consciousness by a guy called “Guitar Ted”, and he’s a cult figure if ever there was one. It begins “Scroll down! This is a LONG page!”, and you have to read it – rather than scan down looking for a friendly diagram or banner – every word of it is necessary to understand the challenge: Over 300 miles non-stop on dirt tracks, self-navigated from instructions given at checkpoints, starting 4am on the last Saturday of April and finishing by 2pm the next day. 34 hours!
It’s so tough, typically 80% of racers quit. As Guitar Ted likes to say “people have been known to break-down and cry at the roadside” – and that sold it to me. I love a challenge and an adventure. So I joined the cult of TransIowa last year, without thorough research, understanding or preparation.
I ended up being among the quitters rather than the finishers. I was unprepared in many many ways, but I almost got away with it until it got much colder than forecast overnight. Like many others I called for rescue to avoid hypothermia and eliminated myself from the race. This year I’m returning much better prepared. Conditions are likely to be tougher, so I need not only to correct the mistakes which cost me a finish last year, but also those I got away with.
Here are the basics:
• Most importantly, I’m taking more clothes! Enough to be safe even if the forecast is wrong again in the night when I’m tired after 200+ miles. Clothes stuffed in a Stingray frame bag and a handlebar bag.
• I shall eat more. “Stem-cell” pods each side of my handlebar stem will be packed with food and I’m now well use to steadily eating while I ride. Food helps maintain pace, warmth, and moral.
• I no longer underestimate the challenge. Last year I though it couldn’t be mainly gravel, but it is, and rough. There’s a LOT of gravel and dirt tracks in Iowa! There might only be 10 miles smooth road in total. They’re quite hilly too. I will start steady and pace myself right for it.
• Physically, I’ve ridden more and lost weight. Being 10% lighter, and stronger with it, ought to help a lot!
• The bike is better than last-year too. It’s more comfortable, which makes a big difference, and things like water and luggage is better fitted.
‘Training’ isn’t a true description of my physical preparation (maybe “worshiping the cult” would be?). I love riding my bike and keeping fit, and for the past 6 months or so this activity has been further inspired by TransIowa. There’s been no ‘program’ and no coach, but there has been great progress…
In September I got some cycling buddies together and instigated regular “Tuesday Night Training”. By Christmas, as the weekend cyclo-cross race season came to an end, Thursday nights were added as a long ride of 45 miles, mainly off-road. I also walk an hour a day, go to the gym each lunch time, and ride hard on the weekends.
Through the spring I targeted events such as Battle-on-the-Beach and Hell of the North Cotswolds. These acted as deadlines, and tests of body and bike. Each test has gone well. I created my own training challenges: On the day of the famous “Ronde Van Vlanderen” (Tour of Flanders) race, I spent all day in foul weather on my private “Ronde Van Kernowen” through Cornwall.
I’ve enjoyed seeking out suitable bridleways, byways, cycle trails, and broken old lanes to treat my body, mind, bike, and luggage to TransIowa style toughness. It’s hard to get a perfect match; living in Cornwall I’m blessed with coast and moorland trails, but there’s still too much tarmac. Lack of gravel is compensated for in my riding by super-hilly lanes. Iowa’s back roads typically have about 3000ft of climbing per 100 miles travelled, but I’ve found Cornwall’s coast is many times that hilly - one of my last training rides had 7000ft in 50 miles! When I can also find muddy lanes with puddles over the wheel axels, I feel I’m submitting fully to the cult.
The bike for Iowa is a Genesis Fugio cyclo-cross racer. I tested the prototype of this bike last year and the production model is even better. It’s a light and racey 853 steel frame, but it handles great and can take the knocks of both the race and the baggage handlers in transit (airlines smash carbon bikes). I’ve got a pretty much full Ultegra 11 spd group on the bike, which feels lovely. Extras you wouldn’t normally see on such a ‘cross race bike start with aero-bars, and a Brooks saddle on a USE suspension seatpost. Then there’s triathlon style water bottles behind the seat, plenty of lights, spares and tools in a bag behind the handlebar stem, food either side of that stem, and a lot of clothing carrying space in the rest of the luggage.
The only way out of the cult looks to be by finishing the race. Although most who do that go on to join more extreme cults like Tour Divide or Iditabike…
(Ed. Vin was joined last year by fellow Alpkiteer Paul Errington, you can read his account of the race on his blog.)
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