It's finally starting to feel like cyclocross season: days are shorter, I'm nearly recovered from RAGBRAI, and we're counting down with just weeks to go. But before you mothball your road bikes, remember that this coming weekend are Iowa's state championships for both road racing and time trialing. Both of these races are worth the trip just south of Iowa City.
Iowa State Road Race Championship
Saturday is the State Road Race Championship starting and finishing in Riverside. Racers compete over one, two, or three 32 mile laps -- up to 96 miles -- of an exposed and sometimes hilly course.
Each lap offers 600 feet of climbing, with much of that in three 100+foot hills lumped from miles 3 to 13. A few shorter pitches of 3 or 4% pop up in the last few miles before a mile-long descent toward Riverside sets up a flat, then a rise to the sprint finish.
It's easy to imagine an attack breaking away on those early hills, but it'll take a very strong climber to hold off the pack and avoid a sprint finish in Riverside.
The route seems flat, with just two noticeable pitches of about 15 feet -- a rise at about 3 miles in and a drop down to the river just before the turnaround. This could fool you, though, as the entire course is gradually downhill, dropping about 45 feet by the turnaround as the route nears the confluence of the Iowa and Cedar rivers. Mess up that negative split and you'll feel that 45 feet of climbing getting home.
Hope for light winds and pace yourself. Can you go under an hour?
As always, thanks to the Iowa City Cycling Club for these two great events!
"We are excited to be there this Tuesday and this time I will race too. See ya Tuesday!"
Kat Porter, Twisted Spokes
"Love the Oval - I have been going for years. The different race formats are fun and make you think and get your strategy going.
"My favorites are the 'C Race' and points races. NatO gives folks an opportunity to ‘road race’ at a lowered risk level and practice drafting and lead out skills."
Mario Czarnomski, ICCC
"The Night at the Oval is a fantastic race-like workout that preps you for crits and sprints. Get a good warm up because the intensity is high from the GO!"
The races mainly take place on the 1/2 mile oval, so the terrain is flat and predictable, allowing you to just focus on staying with the pack, and timing your sprint.
"At NatO there are multiple races in a night, which gives you the chance to try out different strategies. If you mess up your first race, just wait 10 minutes and go at it again with a new strategy.
"The best part is the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. While it is competitive, everyone is there to have a good time on their bikes on a Tuesday night."
Victor, Youth Off Road Riders & Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"It's a great opportunity for kids to get to know their community and to meet new people and share new experiences with them. Especially those that mountain bike often but are trying to get into road racing.
My favorite race is the "Miss and Out," because it's very tense at times and relaxed at other times. I enjoy having to sprint often."
Wayne Fett, Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"The Oval races help everyone with their race skills no matter how long they've been racing. It also provides an excellent interval or sprint workout."
Rob McKillip, CRANDIC Racing Club
"NatO is the Cliff Notes of bike racing ... just the important bits, none of the long, boring miles. It's a unique chance to try out the strategies you normally only ready about, or see on TV.
"Just try out different strategies, be bold ... if it didn't work, who cares, try something different in the next race, ten minutes later. It's an awesome workout. You will get to hear rates you'll just never see in your basement ... and have way more fun doing it!
'There's an A and B group, so don't have to worry about being slow. Besides, everybody is nice. Also, it's fan friendly -- you can see the entire race, so bring your family. There is no better way to learn to race.
"Come challenge the Snoops in the Granny Gear Race, or Rob in the Big Gear Race ..."
I tried several years to make it to the Fat Tire Frenzy at Beverly Park in Cedar Rapids. I'm not much of a mountain bike racer – I only started riding MTB a few years ago – but Beverly's trails are local favorites so racing there would be almost as familiar as Sugar Bottom. (From Iowa City Beverly Park is only five minutes further away, and its sandy soils often dry out days before Sugar Bottom's.) Having been foiled previously by nagging injuries or conflicting events, this year I was really looking forward to racing at Beverly...when the Fat Tire Frenzy suddenly disappeared.
The schedule for the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series (IMBCS) appeared in March without a race listed for Beverly Park. Weeks later a new race was added, the Beverly Boondoggle, with the ominous tag "Marathon MTB Only." What? Again, I'm not much on a mountain bike, so working up the nerve to race trails at all can be a challenge, but a marathon? What was going on?
I decided to ask around. It turns out several factors led to the new Beverly Boondoggle, mostly very positive developments, and in hearing about them I learned about the growing trend toward MTB Marathon as well.
Marathon MTB may seem more popular recently, but endurance MTB is hardly new. According to Bruce Brown, Co-Director of the Iowa Mountain Bike Championship Series, there is a long history of endurance events in mountain biking.
"For years the big trend was 12 and 24 hour events. At some point events started being measured more in miles – 50, 75, or 100 mile measuring sticks for endurance mountain bike races that were point to point or one large loop and became what is known as destination events. Chequamegon 40 in Wisconsin, Dakota Five-0 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and Leadville 100 in Colorado are examples."
Skills for a fast time trial take practice, but will serve you well in most bike races: any time you're riding alone, of course, and in ways even riding in a pack
"My worst time trials were not been my slowest, but the ones where I knew I caved and didn’t push as hard as I could for the entire distance. The pain of discipline is always less than that of regret."
"Seeing your times get faster as your fitness improves is rewarding, but for me learning to stick with a hard effort and not give up has translated to success at every distance."
Sarah Cooper, race director of the Elkhart TT Series near Des Moines, ultra-distance cyclist, and all around badass, has inspired and informed our efforts since we first dreamt up the CRANDIC TT Series. Imagine how pleased we were when she told us she would race the first CRANDIC TT in May . . . maybe.
This weekend, just days before our race, Sarah will return to Trans Iowa. "A time trial after 340 miles of gravel is profoundly stupid, and I hate saying I’m going to be somewhere and then not making it. But most of my season is stupid. The State Time Trial Championship is the week after a 700 mile brevet. I’ve waved good bye to common sense for 2018. Unless I can’t walk, I should be there."
We look forward to it, Sarah. And good luck this weekend!
How's your sprint? Do you even know? How many chances do you get to try different finishes when win or lose you're done until next weekend? Imagine instead sprinting every few minutes for 5 or 6 laps in a race, then resting a few minutes and going at it again. Welcome to Night at the Oval.
Long a staple of the Hawkeye Bicycle Association in Cedar Rapids, Night at the Oval has been sorely missed the last few years. Fortunately this year Goosetown Racing Club has brought the series back to life. "We need more beginner-friendly race opportunities, and this is a very safe and easy venue to set up," said GRC's Larry Howe.
Riding in a group means drafting, riding close to others to save energy. It takes practice, balancing safety, comfort, and speed. But it really isn't difficult: ride smoothly and predictably, anticipate others, guard your front wheel, and relax.
Fortunately Night at the Oval offers a perfect chance to practice pack riding skills. Racers are staged in appropriate skill levels, and as CRANDIC Racing Club's Rob McKillip explains: "The track is huge. There is a ton of space. Get in the pack if you're comfortable. If not, sit at the back, or even attack and try to time trial away. Either way, it's a safe way to have fun and get a killer workout."
Before I ever raced a bike, a criterium-racer buddy thoughtfully explained to me that "time trials are for fat old guys who still want to race." As a 30-something-year-old wannabe who outweighed him by 30 pounds, his assessment made me wonder. Years passed, I came to love time trialing, and I often remembered his comment with a smile. But I also realized just how wrong he was: time trials are for everyone, and pretty much any racer can learn and grow from the "race of truth."
Maybe if you cross country ski, and you have the time and money to travel in search of snow, this time of year is pretty straight forward: you train for the Birkie in late February. Or if you've gone over to the dark side, subscribed to Zwift or Sufferfest or some other program, maybe you plan to tough it out on the bike indoor-trainer style. For the rest of us, though, if we're not rocking fatbikes winter often means more running and swimming and looking for ways to stay motivated and get in shape. Lucky for us we have a couple of great events nearby that truly fit the bill.
Register now for the Hawkeye 50k/25k
Like a challenge? Want to take running to a new level? Or just want a big goal to motivate your training? The Hawkeye 50K/25K traverses roads, crushed gravel paths, and some gnarly hiking trails to circle Lake McBride in Solon. On Saturday, April 14, choose one or two trips around the lake and across the spillway for either a 15.5 mile run or a full up 31 mile ultra-marathon -- the only one in the area.
Organized by We Run in North Liberty, the Hawkeye 50k/25k offers beautiful scenery, a supportive and friendly atmosphere, and a unique challenge that could inspire a lot of winter training runs. The race is capped at 250 and often sells out, so register today. Then lace up your shoes and get out there. Top off your preparations with a St. Patrick's Day run (maybe in North Liberty or Des Moines) and a short local trail run the week before (Red Shamrock) and you'll be flying before biking season really even gets going.
Register soon for the Pigman Sprint Triathlon
Registration will open any day now for the 2018 Pigman Sprint Triathlon in Palo. Yes, June 3 does seem a ways away, but it's not unusual for this popular event to sell out fast. Besides, signing up early might help motivate the winter-only swimmers among us.
Pigman is one of the biggest and best triathlons in the Midwest. And as a sprint it's perfect for those of us who only pretend to swim. The swim, run, and transition are all in Pleasant Creek State Park, parking is close and easy, and the race organization is excellent. With a stellar reputation and a field of 750, the level of competition at Pigman is quite high. At the same time it is about as friendly and inviting to beginners as a race could possibly be.
Whether you're out to win your age group or you're just racing to finish, Pigman is a great time. A beautiful park, a well supported event, a big feed afterward, and some of the cutest and most useful trophies you'll ever see. Check out the Big Pig Gig!
Originally published by Goosetown Racing Club