Iowa Wind and Rock Race Recap
Sorry, this is gonna be LONG!
Iowa Wind and Rock is a 340ish mile, single stage, cue sheet navigated, self supported, gravel/dirt road bicycle race.
Held in Winterset, Iowa in mid-April. Hosted by Sarah Cooper, Steve Fuller, and Dori Jansma. The rules are simple, you get your bike, and anything you are willing to carry on it, and cue sheets to navigate the course. No personal outside support is allowed. Check Points and Finish Line operate on a 10mph cutoff, get there before it closes and you get to continue on. Every year is a new course and is a closely guarded secret, no one other than the race directors know where we are going.
I did this race, in 2020 fashion it took on some changes and a different than normal date, in October of last year. Calling it quits after 200 miles and 19ish hours. Being honest, 200 miles was my goal for that race, I had no thoughts of a finish. I had a mental block of ‘Do I really belong here’? I felt like the little kid sitting at the adult table. I have zero regrets from that race, but it opened my eyes that maybe I do belong here.
Registration opened on November 9th and closed about a month later IIRC. I signed up as soon as registration opened. This gave me 5 months to get everything squared away. A finish is way more complicated than making sure a few things are done right, hundreds, maybe even thousands of things need to go right for a finish. That said, a Finish was always a goal, but there needs to be a healthy respect for what could end your day and you can’t hang your definition of success on a finish.
Since November 2020 I’ve logged over 243 hours on the bike and over 4,200 miles(many of these are ‘virtual miles’ take that how you want) to prepare myself for this race, I have never put this much focus and effort into a race effort before. Countless hours spent in the basement staring at some sort of screen. Outside riding was few and far between November through February. I was really hoping for decent enough weather in February to really turn up the heat on outside riding, but a late winter cold snap stopped that. The one aspect of this race that I had ZERO experience with was navigating with cue sheets, I have always had a route loaded on my bike computer that would tell me when I needed to turn. I needed to get used to paying attention to mileage compared to the cues and checking road signs to make sure I was where I belonged. This is something that can’t be practiced riding in side and that February cold snap made me even more nervous about being able to get enough practice in. It’s not complicated or difficult but the consequences of an error can be massive, adding hours to your time possibly.
One aspect that stuck from 2020 was the introduction of ‘Drop Bags’. At each Checkpoint on the course(of which there was 2) you would have access to what ever you deemed necessary and would fit in a 2 Gallon ziplock bag. It’s fun to see what other racers felt they needed. One other racer had a serving of lasagna! Another had nothing but a bottle of hydration mix and a rice crispy bar! Mine tended to look like a mini C-Store. A bottle of Coke, bag of chips, beef jerky, Tylenol, etc.
Beth was informed this year to not be so willing to come and pick me up. She was instructed that either my bike was to be broken, or I was questioning if I should be calling her or 911 before she would agree to come and pick me up. I wasn’t quitting until either I finished or was told to quit.
The race was broken into 3 segments.
Start to Checkpoint #1 - 80.5 Miles
Checkpoint #1 to Checkpoint #2 - 111 Miles
Checkpoint #2 to Finish - 150 Miles
Race start was 4am on Saturday April 17th. Racers needed to show up to get our cue cards for the 1st leg a bit earlier. Weather is always the biggest question mark. The forecast leading up to the race was dry and windy with a chance of light rain overnight Friday into Saturday morning. Low temps in the low 40’s and High’s in the high 50’s with N-NW winds 10-20mph. Nothing to be too concerned with, a pretty good forecast by all measures.
Got to the start around 3:30am and unloaded the bike, and collected my cue sheets and made my final preparations. It wasn’t actively raining but the ground was still wet from rain. Hopped on the bike to head to the start line to find out 5 minutes before the start I had a problem with my generator hub and light, kind of a problem at 4 in the morning and the looming 10+ hours to be spent riding in the dark Saturday night into Sunday morning. I had my rechargeable battery powered headlight with me but it’s battery life is woefully short of making it through the overnight segment(It might last 6ish hours IIRC) But it was enough to get me to daylight Saturday in hopes of troubleshooting the problem. With Stress levels through the roof we left promptly at 4am.
It took all of 1 mile before the entire group made a cue sheet error and blew past a turn, literally the second turn!, we weren’t even outside of Winterset! Once we hit the gravel we were off to the races. Either my fitness was way lower than most everyone else’s or they had a ‘hotter’ start planned than me. Either way, I found myself pretty much riding alone within an hour, with the occasional rider passing me or me passing them. No big deal, everyone needs to ride their own pace on something like this, trying to stick with someone that is faster than you will put you in a hole you won’t be able to get out of and sticking with someone slower can cost you precious time you don’t need to give away.
We hit the first B-Road and the nerves of if they would be rideable or not were rising. At the start it was tacky, but not sticking, good going, but cautiously watching for build up on the tires. With about 100 yard left, it started sticking, uh oh! At Steve suggestion of going faster would help, I gave that a try. FYI, it didn’t work and I had to stop and clean the bike off and walk the ditch to the end.
This first section was by far the hardest part of the course IMO. It was mostly North, into the wind. The hills on this section were relentless. 80.5 miles and almost 7k feet of elevation gain. Plus 1 B-Road that made me clean and walk and then there was Lewis Ave. At mile 44 was, hands down, THE WORST Non-B-Road I have ever seen. I don’t know what this county was doing on this road, but it was nothing but wet, sloppy dirt with road rock mixed in just enough that your tires would pick the rocks up and run them through your frame or drivetrain. This road cost numerous people their race with broken derailleurs and chains. I like to think I’ve seen quite a bit of different kinds of Iowa gravel, but this one takes the cake. If you were there, you know, if you weren’t, I don’t even know how to describe it! All told I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in myself after the first leg. I got to Checkpoint #1 @ 11:19am, cutoff was 12:03pm. After the first 80 miles I only managed to build a 44 minute cushion. I had no idea why my light wasn’t working or what I was going to do. I was above my pacing target. I didn’t feel as good as I thought I should. It felt like very little was going well enough to finish. It was way too early in the race to be in this dark of a place.
All the volunteers at the checkpoint were positive and reassuring me that things were not as dire as I felt they were. Sarah told me to just keep moving and see what happens. The only things the racers knew about the course was that it started in Winterset, and ended at the Madison County Winery. Given that information we had to turn and go south at some point where the wind benefit us, but for all we knew we still had another god knows how much to go North, into the wind. Knowing I had only built such a small cushion, I rushed through my Checkpoint routine and got back on the road.
The second leg was 111 miles with ~8300 ft of elevation gain, no mud and better winds. The B-roads were dry and fast and great to actually ride them, instead of walk in the ditch. Numerous old Iron bridges! The majority of this leg headed West with a significant south section that I got to before the afternoon winds started to die off. Met the race directors and volunteers at an old Iron bridge on a B-road and everyone was commenting how good I was looking at that point, I don’t know what it means when how I feel doesn’t align with how I appear to others, but I guess I’ll take it. While I wasn’t feeling terrible I didn’t feel great either. Maybe it was just the doubt and fear of how I was going to make it through the overnight. Then came the first C-store of the course at mile 140, in the town of Defiance(also aptly nicknamed Deliverance or as I named it Despair). Despair because at that C-store I purchased a $4 flashlight to try and somehow get myself through the overnight. I had no idea how this was going to work, but I at least had another light source! A couple of roads on this section in Shelby county had fresh rock laid down for a couple mile long sections. The rock they use is horrendous to ride. They spread it the full width of the road, leaving no good line to ride. The rock itself is a mixture of different sizes and is just a major PITA to ride on. I opted to walk a few of the steeper hills with this stuff. Shortly before I got to Checkpoint #2 I noticed a brighter spot on the road in front of me. My lighting system began working again! No clue what was wrong, or when it started working. The sun hadn’t set yet, but it was starting to. I made it to Checkpoint #2 at 8:44pm, cutoff was 11:08pm. I now had a 2:24 cushion. That felt better, but still wasn’t confident in my ability to not loose it all, but at least I had lights to get through the night. Took a little longer at this checkpoint but still didn’t spend long here. got my stuff squared away and I was off again. Once again, all the volunteers at the checkpoint were amazing, I apologized repeated as I felt like I was being short and bossy to them.(Once again Rose Deanne and Greg I’m sorry!)
The last leg could be split into 2 legs. The first from Checkpoint #2 to a 24-hour C-store at mile 256 and that C-store to the Finish. I was venturing into unknown territory at this point. I have never ridden farther than 200 miles and I had never spent more than 19 hours on the bike. How I would react to being up this long on an effort like this was unknown. It took until about 2am(I think, but time at this point just kind of blurs) at which point I started getting sleepy. I started to use my caffeinated gels at this point and consume them at a higher rate than I had to try and get through the night. I knew daylight would be helpful at restarting my circadian rhythm. About 10 miles away from the C-store, it really started to hit me, nodding off while riding the bike, limped in to the C-store where I found Sarah and Tyler waiting for me at 3:50am. Given my sleep deprived state, I proceeded to do something I don’t do, I bought a Starbucks Triple Shot energy drink. I purchased a hot coffee and short poured it and mixed some of the energy drink in to cool it down so I didn’t need to wait for it to be a consumable temperature. Topped off my bottles and hydration bladder and I was back off. 256 miles down, 85 to go! Still fighting doubts about my ability to finish, I had no reason to quit and no one was telling me I was done, so onward! At this point the doubts began to diminish. 3 hours to go until daylight. About 3 miles outside of Adair I encountered what I thought was a raccoon running down the road. As I approached I realized I was WRONG. It was a skunk! It went left, I got as far right as I could. As I passed it raised it’s tail and I could hear it spray at me! Luckily I was on a flat stretch and was moving at a decent pace and by the time it sprayed I was past it! The amount and what I consumed at the C-store was causing me some GI issues which stopped me from fueling for a solid 1.5-2 hours. At least I wasn’t falling asleep on the bike I kept telling myself. We hit a paved road leading to Dexter, with large, long climb, nothing too difficult but I started to get light-headed. Got off and started walking, and it wasn’t getting better. Stopped and sat down for 5 minutes. I’m assuming the 2 hours of no food screwed with my blood sugar causing it. After sitting for a bit I started to feel better and got going again. I don’t know if it was my sleep deprived state or what, but I felt the final stretch from Dexter to the Finish was the most scenic of the entire route. There were a hand full of cool old bridges(I like to tell myself that Sarah puts these on the course for my benefit🤣) There was an awesome section of B-Road that would have been a total nightmare if it wasn’t dry. There was chasing yard chickens down the road. I got to ride my bike across one of the famous Madison County Covered Bridges. There was numerous homesteads with baby goats for some reason. If you were wondering, baby goats make the neatest sounds! It took until the last 40 miles before I finally started to believe I was going to finish. Seriously, it took riding my bike for 300 miles before I believed that I could actually finish! I was on the home stretch! But first, a second trip through the Rippy Dumps, apparently we rode it the other direction when we left Winterset, I don’t remember it though. The Rippy Dumps are the most ignorant rollers you’ll find at mile 325/341 of a bike race! I walked them, my legs were full of fatigue and I wasn’t gonna tempt a cramp 15 miles from the finish. I finally made it to the very last cue card. I was seeing road names that I recognized and I knew where I was at, thanks to my previous Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra’s. 260th, to Valleyview, to St. Charles Rd, to the Winery. DONE!
I struggle with words to describe this. Thank you to my Wife, Beth for your support and tolerating the time and effort I put into this effort. Thanks to Sarah Steve and Dori for putting this together and allowing people to test their grit, thanks for all the supportive words and encouragement, your words of wisdom were invaluable. Thanks to all the volunteers(Rose Deanne Greg Tyler Kelsi Michelle Brewer and anyone else I’ve missed) you have no idea how much seeing a familiar face helped. I almost feel like I was cheating because I knew everyone, where as most of the people from out of town were all strangers. Sure, I didn’t get treated any different but seeing a friend is for sure more helpful than seeing some stranger volunteer! Thanks to all the other racers that toed the line, no matter your race’s outcome, it takes a massive amount of grit to just attempt this. You are all awesome and the most supportive group there is! And last, thanks to all the support that all my friends in the cycling community have given me over this time! All of you are just as responsible for this performance as I am. I couldn’t have done it without any of you!
26,959 ft of elevation
32 Hours and 13 Minutes
4 times across I-80
2 times through the Rippy Dumps
16,000 Calories burned
1 Single Speed
TSS of 1,235
IF of .63
NP of 178w
Avg Power of 139w
For more info on the race visit iowawindandrock.com or find them on Facebook.