Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Trans Iowa Experience


I have waited a week to write my report for Trans Iowa as I felt I really needed some time for it to soak in and to also let my feelings about finishing die down a bit. I will admit, after finishing Trans Iowa (after three failed attempts and one near miss where I pulled the plug at mile 200!) I got a bit of a big head. I am typically a pretty modest guy, but finishing this beast made me feel like I had really accomplished something. I certainly didn't want to write something that sounded pompous as that just isn't me.

Finishing Trans Iowa, even dead last, has really challenged my thinking about some things. You see, in 2001 I wrote my masters thesis on a topic called Locus of Control. Essentially, one's Locus of Control is the place that a person puts responsibility. Do people take personal responsibility for what happens in their life, or is it other people or luck that determine what happens in their life. Is it because of what I do that determines my success, or is it what others do to me that determines my success or failure? I have preached to my students during my whole career that they need to take 100% responsibility for what happens to them and they will ultimately succeed. I took this approach to TI doing everything I could to finish.

There are many life lessons to be learned about finishing something like Trans Iowa and I may be taking this little weekend a bit too serious, but this is how I feel. In life, there are people that dream big. There are people that tend to really believe they can do things and they reach for the stars. People may think they are strange, different, or odd, but something about them makes them want to achieve things that are out there. I make a living instilling this attitude in my students. I want them to feel that what is down the road for them is beyond their wildest dreams. That if they focus their work and goals they can achieve the impossible. We should not put limits on what we can do! We need to be around people that we can travel the journey together. I have had people such as Skip Cronin, Mark Stevenson, Jeff Kerkove, Jon Billman, Jim McGuire, Matt Maxwell and Patrick Humenny befriend me and show me what it is all about to go after huge goals, and through several failures, finally finish the task at hand.

Completing Trans Iowa Version 5, no matter cheesy it may seem, is something that ensured that I am the person I am longing to be. It was a gut check and I passed.

What has challenged my thinking so much was the fact that being successful at Trans Iowa depends so much on factors that we have little or no control over. Number one is the weather! Without perfect conditions I had no chance at finishing Trans Iowa. None! Also, when it comes down to it, I had something that I do not believe in happen to me, LUCK. I was incredibly lucky during Trans Iowa and now I have to admit that I have changed my tune just a bit on the concept of LUCK. You see, during Trans Iowa my body worked like it has never before. God must have been tired of my many prays for strength and just granted it. For whatever reason, my body felt like a machine for once. I never got tired (sleepy yes!), for whatever reason I was able to just go. It was probably a once in a lifetime feeling.

For the months leading up to TI I ran and ran and got into great running shape. I was only biking maybe 3-6 hours a week and some weeks none at all! Then, in February I started getting pretty serious and put in a couple of centuries, a handful of metrics and was commuting into Ames quite a bit. I have always believed that the key to finishing TI was to be a commuter. My good friend Jon Billman rode about 2 miles to work and back for six months, rode a handful of 20-30 milers and then went on to finish the Great Divide Race! Yes, that is right! I have watched in amazement just how fast Matt Maxwell is and the guy really just commutes everywhere (including to his parents house 120 miles way!) and he is a very strong rider! So, I decided to commute into Ames a lot more. I donate plasma on the south side of Ames and I think it was in December that I had decided to ride the 9 miles to and from Biolife Plasma Services twice a week until TI. I rode every time, but once. Also, I tend to believe that riding after donating 800 ml of essentially electrolytes was probably teaching my body on how to ride at with low levels of electrolytes. Call it blood doping if you want. I think it may have helped.

Then, in March I made a goal to ride 25 25 milers in about 34 days or so. This was the kicker! I swear this is what helped me finish. I will admit, I only got to 18 out of the 25, but I also had about 6 or so 15-18 milers. When Trans Iowa came I just focused on twenty five miles at a time! I know that helped a ton!

On to the report:
Jim, Gary and I were up at 2:39 on Saturday morning (I could hear that the guys one floor above us were up so I had to get up as well!). I ate two PB sandwiches, a Boost (swear by it!), one cup of coffee and a Clif Bar (love them!). Once we got to the start I ate two more PB sandwiches and someone was passing around Clif Bars so I ate another one.

We got to the 40 mile check point easily and which was my goal. Get to the first check point like you had just started. Goal met. I will admit, I did take longer at this checkpoint than I wanted (20 minutes?), but we had gotten there around 7 so I wasn't concerned. The plan was to go just the right speed to make the checkpoints as we had 12 hours to complete the last 100 miles of the race which should be pretty doable. I hit the bathroom and decided to take 100 ounces with me just in case. I took off with Andy Stockman (7th place finisher!), Steve Fuller, and Ron Saul. It wasn't long and Steve started pulling away and Andy went with him. Ron and I stuck together and we both admitted that we were seriously missing our morning coffee! We were making decent enough time, but we were in a funk. Suddenly I came upon Andy standing alongside the rode and he wanted to ride with me. He admitted that he had taken off too fast and needed to slow down a bit. I asked him were Steve was and he told me that Steve was in front of him and he decided not to go with him. Andy and I rolled into North English and stopped at the Casey's General Store. This was great as I grabbed some chicken strips, my Dirty Kanza favorite, potato wedges, and RED BULL! Honestly, I have never had Red Bull other than with a Jagger Bomb or two so I had no idea what to expect. All I can say is my lack of coffee funk was gone!

Andy and I were now motoring for the checkpoint knowing we were going to be kinda close. We kept on riding and riding. I was now getting a flat so we pumped it up. Then just 10-20 miles down the road I tried pumping again and broke the stem connection of the tube. New tube and some pumping (15-20 minutes!) and we were off. We now were getting a little too close for comfort to the cut off time so we pushed it a bit. Andy had almost run out of water so we stopped at the truck stop on the interstate for all of 1 minute and then were off again. We took off and were determined to get to the checkpoint in time.

When it came down to it I think we made the checkpoint by 20 minutes or so. I waited patiently for my friends Jim and Gary and talked with some other riders. Jim and Gary made the checkpoint with about 5 minutes to spare. We ate and rested. Around 7:40 or so I was very ready to get the ball rolling again (Andy took off about 20-30 minutes earlier with another group thus his 7th place finish!). I waited until 8 when Gary and Jim were ready and we took off together. I knew I had 6 hours to ride 67 miles and since I was averaging about 10 miles per hour with stops then I was off the pace I needed so at this point I needed to push just a bit. Not really push, but I had to stay on the bike. I am not fast so I had to make sure that any stop was going to be very short. Within just seconds of leaving the gas station Jim and Gary were off my wheel so I decided I needed to just keep going or I was not going to make my goal.

Jim and I have known each other since about 1977 when I was a little tike and he was often my doctor. In 1994 we became climbing buddies and in 2005 watching TI V.1 I was absolutely blown away and had to buy a bike! The rest is history! We had a talk the night before TI and I told him this, "Jim, there are two things that make TI very difficult, one is the distance, and the second is leaving a good friend behind." He promised me that he would not have any bad feelings if I continued on without him if he was safe. You know me.... worried about how people feel. I decided to keep pushing.

Between checkpoint 2 and 3 I ended up having to go to the bathroom twice and so those were my only stops (a few minutes at most)! It was maybe 11:30 or so and I got a call from my new friend Warran Wiebe from Kansas. He asked if I was still going and I asked him where he was. He was only about four or so miles away. He said he would soft pedal so I could catch him. This gave me even more motivation to keep going strong. I caught Warran after about 6-7 miles and he was freezing. We were right by the town of Garwin (I believe) and he decided to bail and to get picked up. I was once again alone. I continued on my way. I saw 1:50 AM on my computer when I got to a T intersection right outside of Traer. I was confused. I suddenly saw the gray tape sign that GT and DP made that pointed down a B road of sorts. I took it as it was going into town and I thought it had to be it. I rode into town and found Ken Yokanovich and Skip Cronin waving their arms in the air! I had made it at 1:53! I had just made the cut off by 7 minutes!

I said something to the effect, "What town is this? Toledo?" Ken says with a bit of shock and concern, " No, this is Traer!". "TRAER?" I say. This town had some memories from TI V.3. Actually, it was about 30-35 miles from after going through Traer in V.3 that I pulled the plug. I got a bit of fire in my belly thinking, "NOT THIS TIME!". I will admit though, with those guys about to take off from the checkpoint, as it closed at 2:00 AM, I was thinking about quitting for a couple of seconds, but I was sitting next to two past finishers and I really respect these guys. I had to get moving. I was pretty bummed that the gas station was closed as I was really looking forward to some kick ass coffee, and a bunch of other junk. A roller dog would have really hit the spot! But, no!
"So, Ken, how far is the next town?" I honestly was thinking it had to be just down the road. It had to be. "It is 57 miles Paul." "Fifty seven miles?" That didn't make me too happy as I had just ridden 67 miles without a stop. Well, back on the bike with cheers behind me! Damn I felt good!

This portion of the course I was in damage control. The second I had gotten back on the bike it was as if the finish (97 miles away) was right around the corner. I can not explain that feeling. I have bonked on 30 mile rides, trust me, but at this point, at mile 217 looking at another 100 just didn't seem like that big of a deal. This is how I wanted to feel when I quit at mile 200 of V.3, but I gave in. This time was different. I continued on my way. The gravel wasn't always the best, but I kept going. I had always believed that the night would be horribly long, but it was crazy fast for me. The sun was coming up and I felt like I had just left the checkpoint. Craziness. I made it to the town of Belle Plaine around 8:30 or so. I honestly do not know when exactly. I ate two donuts (mistake!) and a chocolate milk. Some guys talked to me in the gas station and they wanted to hear all about the race as a group had just left an hour ahead of me or so and they had watched them hangout and then leave. This actually helped me get a grasp of what I was doing. I was exactly where I had dreamt about many, many times. I had about 40 miles to go.

I took off and called my wife. Tammy was at home and I had learned at checkpoint two that I was going to need a ride back to Gilbert from Williamsburg. I didn't hear the part that my ride was going onto Davenport after the finish. I called Tammy and she was coming to get me. She usually takes an hour to get ready (she had just gotten out of the shower) and it is a two hour drive to Williamsburg. I sat up and enjoyed the ride. I took it easy as I knew I had it licked. I was feeling really good (ok, my brain was fuzzy!) and I felt incredible knowing I was going to do it. BUT!!!! It was around mile 290 or so that Dave Pals put the hurt on me! To me, we went through some of the steepest hills of the ride and some hairy terrain. I didn't feel so good at this point and those donuts were killing my gut. I actually had a few thoughts that if I cramp up I could be finished. I took in some nutrition and 3 Endurolytes (swear by them!) and hoped for the best. We then had some miles of pavement along the Iowa River and this flat section really helped a ton. I was rejuvenated at this point. I was on the phone with several friends and family telling them that I was finally finishing Trans Iowa! Did I mention my mother called me every two hours from 10 pm until when I finished! The poor thing. %^)

I rolled into the finish and felt like Superman. It was incredible. I had riders I had looked up to shaking my hand and giving me hugs. You see, if you google Paul Jacobson and cycling you will not see many results. I am not much of a cyclist. I am just a guy that had Trans Iowa on the brain and had to train for four years to finish it. I think my final time was around 32 hours and 30 minutes or so which was good for 11th place. I will take it!

I was very fortunate to win the Vassago Fisticuff frame for coming into checkpoint three in last place and still finish. I am one lucky guy! That is right..... LUCKY!

Next up.... Dirty Kanza 200! This will be by third time down there and hopefully I will become one of the few three time finishers! And.... 200 miles is so much smarter! :)

Happy training.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Trans Iowa V.5

I have been trying to put into words how I feel about Trans Iowa V.5, but it is hard to do. It is very hard to explain to people unless you (like many of the people that will be reading this!) have set a goal and had that be one of the top goals you have for a year. And fail at meeting that goal for three years in a row until you finally succeed. I will start at the beginning and will be as modest as one can be after finally feeling like Trans Iowa. :^)

In 2005 I was a support person for Jim McGuire and Gary Cale. Jim actually was my doctor at times during my childhood and stitched up my leg in the ER after a bike accident during my freshman or sophomore year in high school! I guess I owned him! The first person I met at TI V.1 was Mike Curiak. Jim went up to him to talk and Jim was obviously star struck. Jim later told me something to the effect, "That is the Michael Jordan of endurance mountain biking." At the time I didn't get it!

I watched the start that year (HECK! I think the start was at 8 AM that year! How is that fair?) and drove the van around the course and watched in total amazement. I thought I was watching what was the edge of human possibility. I had rode RAGBRAI in high school and thought that was an accomplishment. To almost ride across the state in a day on gravel and B roads was just out of this world. It was only a few months later and I bought my first mountain bike.

That winter I signed up for Trans Iowa V.2 and was completely addicted. I was riding like crazy in all kinds of conditions. I had the support of several good riders telling me I was doing well. The race came and we all know how horrible those conditions where! I literally went into a mild depression I swear. I was so bummed that I had put hundreds of hours into training and actually got off course at mile 35 and quit in a town at mile 50. I was devastated.

The training for TI V.3 was not quite as intense, but was still pretty solid. I was still riding my 500 dollar 26 in mountain bike. We had IDEAL conditions for TI V.3 and I really had a shot at finishing. I was feeling strong and got to the first and only checkpoint at mile 135 or so with plenty of time. We got to the next town of La Porte City and we sat around a little Dairy Sweet for a good hour and a half sharing stories and eating a ton. We took off and I quit with a friend named Dwight Beavers at mile 200. At the time Dwight was out of fluids as he crashed and his bottles came open and spilled! We went into a town to see if there was a bar open at 1:45 in the morning and there was nothing. We called in supports and that was it. Ever since that day I have fought with my morals on whether I should have stayed with my friend Dwight or if I should have gone on. I have battled this demon for a bit actually. I am a bit selfish with this and I am normally not this way, but I have invested so much into wanting to finish TI it has been a bit of a mental struggle. I know I did the right thing in staying with Dwight that night. I was the better man for it.

Then came TI V.4. My training was a bit less than the previous year, but I had a better bike. I had a Redline Monocog Flight, had some lightweight rims built up and put some Kenda Small Block 8 cross tires (35's) on. This made bike noticeably lighter, faster and I was able to coast quite a bit more. I was feeling pretty good about TI. Well, let's say it actually snowed the day of TI V.4 and the winds were in the 30 mph range with larger gusts. I actually saw a very strong young lady get blown right off her bike the wind was so strong. Well, barely anyone made the checkpoint (I quit at mile 96 as I was going too slow to make the cut off) and only a handful left the checkpoint. I can honestly say this didn't bother me much as this particular time I was a bit more sane about it all.

Then came Trans Iowa Version 5. TI V.5 totally over took my thinking much like it did in during my training for V.2. I was a running machine during the winter months and was riding single speed all winter. I wasn't riding a ton in the winter, maybe 5-8 hours a week tops. I had some weeks where I didn't ride at all. Over the winter I started commuting into Ames at least twice a week which is usually a 15-20 mile round trip ride. I threw in some rides with friends Paul Varnum, Matt Maxwell, Stephen Carney, and Nick Wethington. All of these guys really pushed me. I had down two centuries and 4 or so metric centuries before TI. One key workout was a metric starting at 6 on a Friday night and then waking up around 5:30 on Saturday morning to ride a full century. This was a very good indicator as I rode the metric very hard and still finish the century with quite a bit of gas in the tank. I really felt I had pretty fitness going into TI V.5. But, what I think made the most difference was my plan to ride 25 25 milers in just over 30 days. After work I would ride nearly every night and this REALLY made the difference. Riding the gravel at night by myself always trying to get to 25 really helped at TI. I broke Trans Iowa into 25 mile chunks and it actually made TI feel shorter if that makes sense.

Ok. Time for bed. I will write about the specifics of the ride tomorrow or Thursday!

Happy training.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What an incredible experience

I will write more in the next couple of days, but I wanted to let you know that I, after 3 other attempts, have complete the Trans Iowa bicycle race! Plus, I won this for being the last person to make the last check point at mile 217 and to still finish (in other words, I got last place!):

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009