If you have read my blog article from the race last year, you will know I went too hard at the start of the Almanzo 100 race and paid for it dearly from mile 50 to the finish. I vowed to actually rely on the sophisticated electronics and my analytical brain to select a sustainable pace in 2015.
I knew from previous long hard-surface rides that I could maintain around 200 watts average power for over 5 hours. I was also able to determine from prior Almanzo 100 races I should be able to average between 15 and 16 MPH. Plus, there was a significant bike difference in 2015 from 2014. In 2014 I was riding a CX bike with an AL PowerTap hub-based power meter equipped wheel. 2015 saw me riding my mountain bike and recording power via the PowerCal. I had been riding and racing with the PowerCal for about 9 months and knew it seemed accurate, but I was still skeptical. I was also not sure how the average power numbers from my prior hard-surface road rides would translate to a gravel race.
The race started on blacktop, but within a mile we turned onto the first gravel. There was a bit of moisture on the road surface from the rain in the morning, which did not cause a problem when riding under 20 MPH - but on the first fast descent I learned bike tires will turn this moisture into a fine limestone mist which is launched directly in front of the rider. I was able to keep my glasses clean enough to see, and hold the prescribed pace to the first aid station at mile 39 in Preston, MN. I quickly found my support crew and cheering section (wife), replaced the bottle I had drained and took on three new bottles and additional energy bars. I lubed the chain, switched out my eyewear and grabbed ½ my PB and honey sandwich to eat while riding the next couple miles. I have learned, even if you are moving slower than normal, it is still better than being stopped, so short stops for aid are sufficient. I checked the numbers on my Joule GPS cycling computer again while stopped and I was on plan with average power and average speed.
It was at this point last year where I began to have a not-so-funny fatigue feeling in my legs. This year my legs were feeling tired, but nothing like last year.
I tried to conserve as much energy as possible by drafting riders (especially when riding into the wind) and not sprinting up hills. This course contains several milestones: the Forestville State Park at mile 70, a river crossing at mile 80 and a long steep climb at mile 90. I found my legs were starting to have less snap at mile 70 and by mile 90 I was in full conserve mode flirting with cramps if I pushed above the new ceiling my body had developed. I was still on my pace plan, and was sure I could nurse my tired legs to the finish without the dreaded lock-up, if I rode wisely.
The last few miles of the course were straight into the 10+ MPH wind. Luckily I was able to find a fellow cyclist who was riding about my pace and we traded pulls to the finish. I finished the race exhausted, but without cramping up. I had paced myself well and was out of gas by the end, but not to the point of where you can't even dismount. I had taken 25 minutes off of my finish time from 2014 and felt much better from mile 40 to the finish. Below I have included a table of key metrics measured each hour to show how I was able to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. I am also happy to report, the PowerCal is very accurate compared to the PowerTap hub.
I felt much better about the race in 2015 because I had developed a sound pace strategy, had the electronics to measure my pace and (this is the hard part) was able to control myself to maintain the pace. Now I need to devise a plan to get fitter so I can set the pace slightly faster for 2016!
Brad Patty is an Information Technology Project Manager who has a passion for cycling. You can find him training on hard surface roads and racing in the dirt. He races with Wrecked'em Racing, based in Newton, Iowa. You can find Brad on Twitter and CycleOps Virtual Training at b_radbiker, he's also on Strava.