My first organized event of the season was the MN Ironman Bike Ride last Sunday, April 26th. This event is an annual early season ride in Stillwater, MN and offers a good opportunity to test the legs and endurance. It is a causal event with different loops that offer 100+ miles of riding.
This was the ride’s 49th anniversary. One interesting fact about this event is that it was around before the Ironman Triathlon name became trademarked and, from my understanding, is the only event that is allowed to be called an “Ironman” outside of the branded Ironman Triathlon races.
My dad and I planned to ride together and we wanted to get started on the course as soon as it opened up. Since I still needed to register and the start was a 30 min drive from our house, I was up at 5am. It was a disorganized early morning due to some poor car logistical planning on my part which, unfortunately, resulted in waking up my sick wife who was not happy with me and understandably so.
I also planned to use the ride to test out a new nutrition strategy. My breakfast was just a Bulletproof coffee with 2 tablespoons of Kerrygold butter, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, a few pinches of cinnamon, and a half packet of stevia. In lieu of the usual Gatorade in my water bottles I made two bottles of my own sports drink that each consisted of 3 tablespoons of chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of raw honey, a pinch of salt, and 16-24 oz. of coconut water.
The weather was expected to be the best this ride has seen in years. Typically the weather for this event is cold, rainy, and/or windy. The morning temp was in the mid-30s and was expected to get to 60 by mid-morning. Therefore, my clothing choice was a typical bike jersey and shorts along with arm warmers, leg warmers, wool socks, and a light pair of full finger cycling gloves. I didn’t want to start with too many clothes because I didn’t want to have to deal with what to do with them when it warmed up.
We arrived at the Washington County Fairgrounds just before 7am and started on the 60 mile loop that went north to Scandia, MN around 7:30am. My legs felt great but I quickly realized that I wore too few clothes because I wasn’t warming up like I was expecting to. We rode along the beautiful Gateway Bike Trail average 16-17 mph for most of the way up to Scandia. By the time we got to the Scandia rest stop after about 30 miles I was absolutely freezing. My hands were so cold that I couldn’t unbuckle my helmet or work my phone. Luckily the rest stop was inside and was serving hot coffee. I ate a banana, drank some of my sports drinks, and had two cups of coffee. Finally, after about 10 minutes of warming up we started riding again and the temperature was already about 10 degrees warmer.
From that point on I was finally able to warm up and I didn’t get cold again. The next stretch of the ride was rolling hills, which is my favorite terrain for biking. My dad and I picked up a couple of guys for a pace-line which was all the motivation I needed being at the front to really let it go. We were average 22+ mph and I felt great! By the time we got to the next turn I had completely dropped my dad so I sat up and waited for him. The guys behind me said thanks for the pull and one guy said it was like riding behind a bread truck. That comment made my day.
The weather was absolutely perfect as we rode back towards Stillwater at a comfortable pace switching between bike trails and roads. We made a quick stop at another rest stop where I finished the rest of my first bottle of sports drink, which I actually really liked despite it looking quite questionable (my dad was repulsed by the contents).
There were a lot of other riders on the road with us at that point which wasn’t a surprise given the weather was so good. However, when we made the turn off of the 60 mile loop to head south to Afton for a another 25 mile loop, there was next to no one on the course. It was to the point where it was reassuring to see signs for the ride because it felt like we were off the course at times. We essentially had the road to ourselves so my dad and I had a good chance to chat as we continued to ride at a comfortable pace of 16-17 mph. After about 60 miles, my legs were definitely starting to feel the distance.
The Afton loop was quite a bit hillier than the morning loop so it was great training and the scenery was classic Minnesota. We got to our final rest stop in Afton around mile 68 and I downed my last water bottle and ate a banana before we headed back out. The rest stop volunteers were also commenting about the lack of people they were seeing on the route given the weather was so nice. Some theorized it was due to the Minnesota Wild NHL playoff game that was at 2pm. Personally, I would prefer to bike on such a beautiful spring day than watch any sporting event on TV.
The steep rolling hills continued and we started to see more riders on the road after the rest stop. Our average pace dropped quite a bit in the hills. I was much stronger on the hills than my dad so I ended up dropping him with about 7 miles left. At that point we were both getting tired so it was time to just bring it home. My back and shoulders were also getting sore because I haven’t ridden aero bars in a while.
We ended the day at 84 miles and I actually felt pretty good afterwards. I’ll probably continue with the homemade sports drink because it seemed to burn cleaner than Gatorade for me and I wasn’t starving at the end of the ride like I usually would be.
Overall, we had a great time! The event was really well-organized and the volunteers were phenomenal. This was a perfect start to my 2015 season!