While I'm not generally big on writing race reports, I thought I'd write this one to introduce VC riders to Ultra Marathon Cycling. After a total knee replacement several years ago, I decided it was time to give up my not-so-promising Cat 4 racing career. Then last year, a friend asked me to register for a 200 mile ultra marathon race with him- the No Country For Old Men 200 mile solo. He bailed, I rode and was hooked.
Ultra marathion cycling races come in many formats- generally 200 mile and 400 mile routes or 12hr or 24hr timed events. 500 mile and above rides are also becoming more popular with the Race Across America (RAAM) being the best known. Each race is based on elapsed time- ride as far and as fast as you can, minimizing time off the bike (including for sleep). The primary challenge in these events is balancing nutrition, hydration and electrolytes while riding in mostly in the endurance power zones with forays into tempo and above. Races at 400 miles and above add sleep management / depravation. Races can be ridden solo or by teams of 2, 4 or even 8 in some cases. Number of entrants in the 200 mile solo category is typically in the 5 to 15 range.
While there are an increasing number of ultra races each year, the RAAM Challenge series features seven 200 and 400 mile events in six states across the country including Texas, Oregon, Florida, Ohio, California and Minnesota. Other Texas events include the No Country for Old Men race in Alpine and the Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose. The following report is from last weekend's Minnesota RAAM Challenge.
2014 RAAM Challenge Minnesota
Despite weather reports from earlier in the week predicting thunderstorms, high humidity and high temperatures, race day weather was great. Clear skies, moderate to low humidity and temperatures in the mid 80's (hot for Minnesota, nice and cool for Texans). The course, a 193 mile square around Minneapolis-St. Paul, was flat by Austin standards with a modest 6,500 feet of climbing.
The race, for me, was broken down roughly into thirds.
1st Third: Start time was 5am (yes in the dark) and riders were staged out one at a time with support vehicles (my wife drove as my crew chief and crew). Less than 30 seconds into the race, I ran into my major challenge of the day. Attempting to shift onto my big ring, nothing happened- no click, no chain movement. After some choice words, I got off the bike to assess the issue - basically a missing piece of the front deraillure. Losing time, I applied some 'southern engineering', found the perfect rock and jammed it behind the deraillure. All set for a day in the big ring! The next 20 miles were playing catch up- picking off the other 200 solo riders one at a time until I got to the front. Once there, I swapped the lead for the next 20 miles or so (no drafting in RAAM solo events) with the guy who would eventually win, losing him when I stopped for food and fluids- I think he had some type of IV set up. I never saw him stop or even drink :-)
2nd Third: Pretty unremarkable for a while- relatively flat, good cadence, riding in the zone and comfortably in 2nd. Then, at a longer then usual stop (fuel issues), I was passed. Mr. 3rd place, riding strong, took off and pushed the gap. Once back on the bike, I got him in range and followed for a while. That is, until the "The Battle in the Mountains" (uh, actually, more like the tussle in the hills). There are two category 4 climbs around the mid-point in the race. On climb 1, I caught up, shot past and then- my deraillure rock fell out. More choice words. Mr. 3rd place rode by and pulled away while I hunted down and repositioned the magic rock. (Think back to Andy Schleck dropping his chain on the Port de Bales in the 2010 TDF and the classless act of Alberto Contrador shooting by. It was just like that... only way slower and on a little Cat 4 hill.) Anyway, I caught him at the top, beat him to the next cat 4 and dropped him for good.
3rd Third: No more categorized climbs, nice views along lakes and rivers and a consistent 8-12 mph head for 50 miles or so. This was my 1st ride with aero bars- a great investment given that all 3 of the events I've ridden have had 50 mile plus stretches of headwind. One slight navigation error (construction detour induced) cost about 10 minutes but I was then able to settled back into the zone and cruise.
At the finish, my final moving time was 10 hours, 37 minutes- an average of 18.2 mph... Solid second place finish. A little disappointing (my first two events resulted in 1st place finishes on much rougher courses in much worse conditions) but still not bad. Next up are the Texas Time Trials 'Tin Butt Challenge', a12 hour timed event around a 26 mile loop where the winner is the one with the most miles in 12 hours. After that, my first 400 mile/24 hour event- the NCOM 383 mile race (I'm looking of a few good crew members if you're interested in riding support :-) )
There are a number of good resources on the internet:
Ultra Marathon Cycling Association- http://ultracycling.com/
Hamme nutrtion site- http://www.hammernutrition.com/downloads/fuelinghandbook.pdf
No Country for Old Men Race Site- http://dextooke.wix.com/ultradex#!ncom-home/c1nbj
A great first ultra event is the NCOM race in Alpine hosted by ultra cycling hall of famer Dex Tooke. Feel free to contact me if you have interest or questions.