High Level Overview of my Trans Am Preparations
It is early February 2017, just under 17 weeks to the Trans Am. Just writing those words excites me and panics the crap out of me at the same time. There are just so many areas of preparation I feel I am not yet in control of, particular when I read through the comments of some of the 2017 racers on the Facebook Group Page. They seem so much better organised than I am currently. So for my own sanitys sake here’s a high level overview of the areas of preparation I need to focus on and action.
Actually getting on my bike and training is an area that I absolutely feel in control of, thanks in no small part to my cycling coach Lee Rodgers, aka the Crankpunk I’ve been with him since March 2016 and we’ve been working specifically the training for the Trans Am since September, 2016. He uploads 2 week chunks of the plan to Training Peaks and then we Skype every 2 weeks to review performance and generally chat about cycling related stuff. He is an ex pro cyclist and I trust his knowledge and experience inherently.
The plan to date as been very much on building up long endurance miles, just getting the mind and body used to long days in the saddle. Currently we’re up to 300 kilometer and 12 hour days which will only increase over the forthcoming months with a particular focus on going long day after day after day. He also mixes in some short sharp weeks where the priority is sprint and power work.
Keep following the plan.
Eating and drinking the right stuff before, during and after my training rides is an area that is most definitely something I am not in control of at this point in time.
I would like to shed around 7kg (15.4 lb) of excess body weight that I don’t particularly want to lug across the States, but at the same time I need excess calories to fuel my training efforts. Its an arm wrestle that I’m currently losing. I am losing body weight but too slowly to reach my pre race weight and I am not bonking on my training rides but I don’t feel I am fueling myself enough or via the right foods.
Research nutrition and come up with an eating plan to fuel my training efforts and assist in my weight loss goals. While nutrition is pretty much going to by a free for all during the Trans Am I would also like to pick up some good habits and get an idea of the food and drink that should be available “out there” that works well for me.
The Trans Am is a once in a lifetime type event. It is going to require huge time, effort and monetary resources to prepare for and complete. Thus it would be utterly ridiculous, not to mention heart breaking should a preventable injury curtail my dream of successfully completing it.
Knowing my middle aged body as it currently is I need to address the following areas in order to stave off possible injury:
- “Hot Foot”: I currently suffer from “Hot Foot” aka Metatarsalgia which is a burning pain in the ball my feet that radiates out from the base of my 3rd and 4th toe after a few hours of hard pedalling, particularly in hot weather. From what I have researched it is caused by the buildup of heat and pressure which affects the nerves in the foot. The pain becomes excruciating to the point where I simply have to get off the bike and take off my shoes, something I certainly do not want to be doing day in day out on the Trans Am whilst possibly risking permanent nerve damage.
- Lack of flexibility: I am extremely tight through the hamstrings, quads, hips, lower back and shoulders. Something that I have just put up with to date and just dealt with the associated post ride stiffness. However, now that my training rides are consistently in the 5 hours to 12 hour range I am starting to feel some pain in the wrists, shoulders, back and hips during the ride. A month of 14 hour plus days on the bike are either going to hurt a lot or prevent me from finishing. Not an option, so I need to sort it out!
- Shermer’s Neck: is not a common but possible ailment that affects long distance cyclists whereby the neck muscles fail from fatigue and can no longer support the head. A rider from the 2016 race had to pull out of the race because of it and another racer from 2015, Felix Wong copped it half way into the race in Kansas but somehow just dealt with it and amazingly finished the race. He blogs about it extensively in FelixWong.com.
- Research further the ways to alleviate “Hot Foot”. I have read that moving the cleat position back on the shoe and wearing inserts works well so I need to experiment with both. All else failing I might need to go visit my friendly local Podiatrist.
- I recently went to a local gymn and went through a Functional Movement Screening. It confirmed what I already new, that is that I am one tight son of a gun. Anyway, I need to progress and get a list of corrective stretches and then do them consistently!
- Research into Sherman’s Neck and do everything possible to avoid it. (it frankly scares the crap out of me)
Get my head right (Mind Prep)
As I mentioned in another post I’ve been reading the blogs of past Trans Am racers. What I have found particularly interesting is how they mentally prepared for such a massive undertaking.
Brian McEntire in his blog McEntire.me writes about a daily regiment of mental strengthening exercises (affirmations) as part of his preparation. Everyday he typed out a specific mantra of how he wanted to finish the race. However he set such lofty goals in these affirmations and believed them to be absolutely true when he hit the starting line, that when during the race he couldn’t meet these expectations he felt quite despondent, like he was failing.
In a post race blog post he writes that his affirmations should have been moreso along the lines of; “I will finish TABR to the best of my ability and deal with adversity as it comes. Each decision made in the moment will be left fully in the past and I will move forward, swiftly and intentionally. I can only control things that are in my control. All other things are irrelevant. Stay moving no matter what.”
Janie Hayes in her blog JimmyandJanie.com reinforces this idea of simply accepting adversity and moving on. Easier said than done, particularly when utterly fatigued but it is something I am now aware of and a mind skill I will work on
- Come up with an affirmation similar to Brian’s above that I can use daily to reinforce a realistic goal for the Trans Am and motivate my training efforts.
- Keep up my daily meditation practice (I use headspace.com – a great tool) to strengthen my ability to focus in the moment and thus be accepting of the numerous curve balls that will likely be thrown my way during the race.
- Prepare for the race thoroughly to minimise any pre race anxiety.
Generally speaking I am crap at fixing stuff and that goes doubly for fixing stuff that breaks on my bike. Even fixing a flat is not as simple a process as it once was given that I have now gone tubeless. I did a week long bike maintenance course in Colorado last year but as that was targeted moreso at wannabe bike shop mechanics I was way out of my depth and most of the stuff covered went straight over the top of my head.
I need heeeelp! Similar to silly preventable injuries ruining my Trans Am I don’t want silly, very fixable bike problems wasting valuable time. It is a race after all.
Rather than spending endless hours getting bogged down in bike maintenance books and online articles I ideally need an expert to teach me the basics, 121. Stuff relevant to my actual bike and the types of problems likely to pop up during the Trans Am. Even temporary type fixes that will just get me to the next town that has a bike shop.
There are a couple of lads in Philly whom I have become mates with who are both extremely proficient in matters mechanical. I’m going to ask one of them to assist me in fast tracking my bike mechanical skills.
Vinnie, a mate from my local bike shop has helped greatly in bike and kit selection.
My 2013 Cannondale Supersix was not suitable for this type of ultra endurance race over rough roads and so I was looking for a new bike. He persuaded me to get a Specialized Diverge, an endurance bike that is at home on gravel as it is on the roads. I’ve had it for almost 5 months now and could not be more happy with it. With its tubeless 30mm tires and more upright frame it is incredibly comfortable. To steal Vinnie’s words; “it just feels like a bike should”.
Vinnie has also been instrumental in my choice of bike bags (also Specialized – maybe a sponsorship deal on the cards if i smash the Trans Am? ;-)) and he rebuilt my front wheel to include a Schmidt Dynamo front hub and associated lighting system.
I hereby digress to make a general point. Get to know and support your local bike shop. They know their shit and deserve your business!
Anyway, my bike is pretty much built, I probably have more bags than I need and I have sourced the Adventure Cycling Association Maps of the route, but there are plenty of other pieces of equipment that I need to source, such as:
- GPS and bike computer: The Garmin Edge 820 is in the frame but I’m holding out for the new version of the Garmin Edge 1000 which hopefully gets released before the race if indeed there is going to be a new version.
- Lighting: a powerful light to mount to my helmet and a rear taillight
- Aerobars: very popular in ultra endurance cycling races, not necessarily for aerodynamic efficiency but just to alleviate pressure build up in the wrists and shoulders.
- A sleeping system: I have read extensively on the subject and the word seems to be that a bivvy is the best compromise of comfort and weight. There are just so many different brands and I need to decide whether I will include a sleeping roll and sleeping bag.
- Bear Spray 😉 (no shit apparently, particularly in Yellowstone National Park)
- Tools and fiddly stuff for repairs.
Make a more detailed list of the stuff I still need and then research best possible solutions for each, with size and weight being of utmost importance. Ensure that I test everything on a long ride before they become part of the final kit list.
Simulate Race Conditions
As I am completely out of my depth in regards experience of ultra endurance cycling races and indeed bikepacking in general I am going to need to schedule into my training some periods that simulate race conditions. I want to hit that starting line in Astoria on June 3 not necessarily knowing that I can finish the race but confident that I can physically do my goal distance per day over a 3 to 4 day stretch, able to handle the logistics of sleeping rough and sourcing food and drink. I also want to be confident in all my gear, that it works and is fit for my purposes.
It’s currently mid winter so I’m using this time to build up to some long days in the saddle and generally hardening up in the cold weather. Too bloody cold to even think about sleeping rough etc but that will come in the Spring. As far as actually simulating long distance race conditions I aim to do a 600+ kilometer (380 miles) race from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in late April called the Crush The Commonwealth. It will only be a month out from the Trans Am so everything going according to plan I should be in pretty decent condition and able to have a real crack at this race. Really push myself and the sleep deprivation. It’ll be my dress rehearsal for the Big One!
I need to sit down with the family to really schedule a few training blocks of say 3 to 4 days when I can essentially “go bush” and ride long kilometers per day and stay wherever, whether it be a cheap hotel or stealth camping in my bivvy. To minimize family disruption (there’ll be enough of that over the 4 weeks or so it will take me to finish), these sessions could well be combined with family weekends away. The point here is that with only 3 and a half months till the Trans Am I need to get these bigger training commitments in the diary.
Protocol for Recording the Event
I’d love to keep a daily record of this once in a lifetime event. Whether it be via journal, via video, via photograph or a combination of these methods. Sounds great in practice but the reality of putting in 14 hours on the bike per day plus associated logistics and then stuffing around at the end of each day writing, uploading, editing and re-charging equipment when all one wants to do is sleep, may well quash the practicality of this idea. Besides it is a race and in the words of the great ultra endurance racer Mike Hall; “if you aren’t riding, eating or sleeping during a race, there better be a damn good reason why you aren’t.”
I hear ya Mike you hard bastard! But, I have a strong desire to make this work. I really want to upload in whatever form a small package of the “days play” so that the people that are following me get a small, regular taste of my race. I watched last year’s race play out online and the photos and videos some of the riders uploaded during the race were fascinating viewing. I also intend on writing a book on my Trans Am experiences and as my memory is rather crap I’ll need to record my race in real time via journal, photos and videos.
Research equipment and test a protocol that I can easily implement on a daily basis during the race to record my experiences of the day. My longer training rides will be perfect to test the equipment and the process.
Plan my Race
My goal finishing time for the Trans Am is 25 days. As my form sheet in ultra-endurance bikepacking races is a blank page this goal is very much finger in air stuff. Bugger all science to it, just an educated guess based on my training to date and my planned training before the race.
A finishing time of 25 days averages out to be about 270 kilometers (168 miles) per day…….should be a piece of piss ;-).
Now the terrain, the weather and my physical/mental condition will vary dramatically over the 6,730 kilometer route as well as access to food, drink and accommodation services so this average distance per day will definitely vary. Thus the requirement of a detailed plan of the route that outlines a daily schedule of goal distance per day in order to keep me on track for the 25 days. Any longer than 25 days and I run the risk of missing a flight to a planned family summer holiday which definitely ain’t an option.
Get to know the route in detail by researching the Adventure Cycling Association maps which detail terrain and available services. Previous racers race reports are also an extremely useful source of route information. I’ll use these resources to sketch out a daily schedule to meet my overall goal of 25 days which I will include as part of this blog.
And so there you have it, plenty to get done over the next 17 weeks…..Giddyup!