Lessons Learned from the Almanzo's 100 Miles of Gravel

Lessons Learned from the Almanzo's 100 Miles of Gravel

Guest post by Brad Patty, grassroots athlete

I live in the Midwest, Central Iowa to be exact. Iowa is not blessed with mountains or ample public land.We are known for pigs, corn and miles of gravel roads. A few years back I discovered a gravel race in SE Minnesota known as the Almanzo 100. You guessed it, it is a hundie. I have competed in this race for several years. Last year I recorded my best time yet, 6 hours and 25 minutes, on a light, full suspension mountain bike—including about 10 minutes of non-moving time to wade through a couple streams (one due to bridge construction).

This year I set out to best my time with a different rig. I borrowed a cyclocross bike, installed my aluminum PowerTap wheels with 32C tires, making this year's race bike about a pound lighter. With the weather forecast almost perfect, the bridge repair compete and a lighter bike, I set a reasonable goal of finishing in 6:15 (16.7 mph average). I was even entertaining thoughts of a 6 hour finish. Plus, my good friend and training partner would also be racing, so I'd be facing a little bit of friendly competition. In other words, I had all the motivational aspects in place for a PR. It was game on!

The Almanzo is a self-supported race, with the exception of one opportunity to receive aid about 40 miles in. I was able to start in the first 100 racers and the start was uneventful. As I pedaled down the course, I knew I could hold an average power of about 200 watts for a 5 to 6 hour effort based on the road centuries I've completed. For the first two hours I kept my friend in sight, but soon began to feel the pace was a bit high for a 6 hour effort. We arrived at the support location and found my crew and cheering section (my wife). I quickly examined the numbers on my Joule and learned my average speed was 17.7 mph with an average power of 223 watts. I knew these numbers were above my goal pace and effort.

Brad Patty (wearing green) in the pack near the start of the Almanzo 100. Photo Credit: Craig Linder

I quickly grabbed two full bottles and headed out. Within a few miles I experienced an unfamiliar cramp in an odd muscle in my thigh. I was able to work through this incident, and used it as a wake-up call to adjust my pace. I mentally said good-bye to my friend and settled into the business of finishing the race. Over the next few hours, the snap in my leg muscles rapidly deteriorated and the cramps dramatically increased. I found myself having thoughts of not being able to finish the race. The cramps in my legs were so bad I felt like crying like a little girl! The 6:15 goal was in serious trouble, as was any possibility of challenging my friend. I went into survival mode and began to think of why I was cramping. While I had been eating and drinking enough, according to my plan, I stepped up my consumption on the odd possibility I was deficient in either. It was about this point I passed my friend at the bottom of a descent while he was crawling out of the ditch. I didn't have time to say anything or make any detailed observations regarding his situation. I could tell he had not crashed, so I pushed on with a renewed spirit. I could feel the devil horns poking through my helmet as I pedaled on to take advantage of his unfortunate situation.

Brad Patty on a long gravel descent in the Almanzo 100. Photo Credit: Craig Linder

I watched the mileage and continued pep-talks to maintain my spirit (or maybe my pep-talks were proof I was a bit delirious). I kept expecting to see my friend blow past with each passing cyclist, so I pushed my tired legs as hard as they would go. In the last hour I began to reap the benefits of pumping in additional hydration and nutrition. I was able to finish in 6:56 and ahead of my friend. It turned out he was fighting a tire which required re-inflation four times. As a true friend I pointed out he had sub-par equipment—that’s what friends are for, after all.

When the dust settled, I walked away from the race with some lessons learned. I was reminded of the importance of sticking to my plan. I knew what average power I could maintain for the race duration, and what average speed I needed. I got caught in the moment in the first two hours and expended too much energy and paid dearly in the next five hours.

The new lesson I learned is to not trust average heart rate as a measure of exertion. The table below shows how my average power dropped dramatically (40.0% from the first hour to the last hour) while average heart rate dropped only slightly (11.5% from the first hour to the last hour).

HourAvg. SpeedAvg. HRAvg. Power

These are lessons I’ll take to heart as I prepare to take on the Almanzo once again next summer.

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 Rouvy at b_radbiker, he’s also on Strava.

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