I raced he Balltown Classic back in May 2012. A 200-mile race through the rolling hills of Iowa that had about 10,000ft of elevation gain. Quite a change from the flatness of Michigan, though lots of small hills is not as fun as the BIG mountains.
As ended up being a trend for my 2012 races, I drove down to the race start in Dewitt
from St. Paul, where I had been for the week at a conference. I arrived
around 10:30pm, inflated the sleeping pad, and curled up in my car for 6
or so hours of sleep. At 5am, I crawled out of my car, not too rested,
but ready to go. When I picked up my race number, the organizer, a nice
fellow named Dave, whom I will surely get to know better, said “You’re a
winner!” I was confused, but it turns out I had won a raffle at the
pre-race dinner the night before. I was probably somewhere in Minnesota
at the time.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, I just stuck with the lead pack. I
like these races better because everyone just takes off going FAST. The
short, normal bike races, everyone is too tactical and won’t just go to
the front and hammer away.
At the 50-mile checkpoint, I took too long to get my water refilled and
had to catch back up. I caught up, then had to take a nature break.
After that, I was about 1/2 mile back from the main pack and they were
hauling. I went all-out and managed to catch them after 11 miles or so.
They were clipping along around 25mph, so I must’ve been averaging 26 or
27. It hurt, but I didn’t want to get left behind.
As we approached Balltown, the turnaround point, the group was down to
five. Up to this point, I’d realized I went up hills considerably faster
than anyone else. The people who’d done the race before said they took
the big hills out this year. I expressed some disappointment, citing my
love of climbing, and they looked at me like I was a bit crazy.
Anyhow, we reached Balltown in 4hr 30min, for an average pace of 23.7mph
for 105 miles! How? There was a 20-25mph tailwind pushing us the whole
way. Uh-oh. Also, the temperature was up to 95. Even worse.
We all refilled water quickly at the turnaround and started on the next
leg. We hit a steep hill around 9% grade, and everyone dropped like a
stone behind me. However, I didn’t really feel like riding into a
headwind for 95 miles, so I waited for them. Well, then we hit a series
of three even steeper hills, around 11-12%. At the top of the first one,
I just said, “Screw it. Time to go.” And flew away from everyone else
going as hard as I could for the next hour and a half.
After about 2.5 hours out front, someone caught me. Not just someone.
Kurt Searvogel who has won 7/8 races he’s entered this year, set course
records in a few of them, and is doing RAAM in a few weeks. I knew he’d
catch me eventually. I followed him for a bit, but fell behind when I
stopped to pour cold water all over my head. He had his wife as support
crew, so no stops for him.
At this point, I’d felt thirsty for a solid 3 hours despite drinking
over 3 liters of water. I was hot and everything in my body said,
“You’re crazy!” I mentioned this to Kurt’s wife when I would pass her
and she would laugh and cheer me on.
At the 150 mile checkpoint, I realized I was going about 14-15mph and
had 3.5 hours to go. While demoralized, I just kept telling myself to
keep pedaling. The wind was so strong, I would go the same speed up the
hills as down the hills as on the flats. There was just no relief.
Eventually, the route turned east, so the wind switched to a crosswind
and I was able to get back up to 20mph again. I encountered Kurt’s wife
stuck on the side of the road, where the wheels had sunk into the soft
shoulder, but she was getting pulled out, so I waved and kept going.
With six miles to go, I turned south for the final section. I put my
head down and just forged ahead. As I neared Dewitt, I was able to see
Kurt one hill ahead of me. Unfortunately, the race was ending, and I
didn’t catch him.
I finished in 10:48, 4 minutes behind Kurt. The next two finishers came
in 27 minutes after me. I spent quite awhile talking with the other
racers, getting advice, and just having a good time. It was much needed
after 6 weeks that included: three weeks of stress-induced exhaustion, a
grueling quals presentation that I liken to academic hazing, a week-long
conference, and a final project for a class.