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.


gpickle said...

Ya stole my title! Ah, no biggie, my story is old news. Thanks for the big write up and congratulations Paul.

Good luck in Kansas

Ari said...

great ride and I am glad you had supplies to be able to go long without and chance of refueling.
Good Job!
from Sycamore,
I almost made the second checkpoint. Missed by 15 minutes.
Next year though!

Reflector Collector said...

Paul, thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts with us. Yes, I think unless you've done it, it's hard to explain how the ride changes you. Congratulations!

See you next year? :)

Adam said...

Nice work Paul. This is really an accomplishment. Thanks for writing this all up!

I did chuckle when you said that the donuts were coming back to haunt you. While it wasn't actually during the race, I went to pizza hut buffet on Monday and thought that I was going to die afterwards. :)

Chris said...

Awesome job Paul. Loved the report and loved that this was your year!

Paul said...

Thanks guys! GPickle, your race was an awesome one! It was guys like you, flying through Pilot Knob State Park around midnight during Trans Iowa V1 that made me want to do this race! Thanks so much for your support over the years. It is appreciated more than you know.

Ari, you had a great race! I look forward to seeing you make it through the checkpoints next year and cheering you onto the finish!

Ken, what can I say. You are a great friend. I sure wish we could ride together more.

Adam, time to get the bike tune up! You should check out the Dirty Kanza 200! It is the most amazing race I have done. If you love the endurance of running marathons you should give off road endurance biking a try. The endurance freaks are very cool people.

Thanks again guys! I appreciate all the kind words.

Steve Fuller said...

That "LUCK" was all of your preparations and your determination to finish, no matter what you say Paul. Finishing this race and winning that frame could not have happened to a nicer guy. It wasn't luck. You EARNED it. See you in Kansas.

Mike Howard said...

Great right up Paul ! I was so happy,glad and just smiling from ear to ear when I seen you were going to make it...TI is on my bucket list again and you have inspired my whole race season !

Guitar Ted said...

Paul, I agree with Steve here. No luck involved. Blessed? Yeah....maybe so.

Great write up and thanks for the kind words. I'm glad that something I might have done provided you and others the experiences that have come from T.I. I am truly humbled.

Andy said...

What a story! I think I read the whole thing with a smile on my face! Congratulations on TI and good luck at DK!

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
d.p. said...

Good job Paul! You probably know this already, but Ben Shockey's green Fisticuff was the prototype so yours was awarded by the "test pilot."

Joe Frost said...

Nice job finishing! It's a beast of an event...impossible when you think about it. 300+ miles of gravel, wind, hills, nonstop, on bicycles? No way. can ride 3.4 miles then turn right on 134th avenue, right? Then you can do 1.3 miles and left on River Street, right? You just keep doing those little rides one after another and almost before you know it you're achieving your goal. We can achieve the impossible if we just take it one step at a time.

Congrats again, awesome!

Adam said...

Hey Paul! Hope all is well. I can't remember if I've sent you this guy's blog before, but when I saw his most recent race report, I thought of you (as one of the hard core mtn bikers that I've actually met)

dyana said...

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dyana said...

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Charlie Farrow said...

Dear Paul: There will be a Summit Beer with your name on it at noon on September 5th at a Ski Resort near Boone Iowa in a cooler next to a feeble old and broken man from Duluth, MN...If he is unconscious, just go ahead and get the beer...
Best regards,