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Monday, November 26, 2018

Keeping It Real - The C.O.G. 100

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Mark Twain

There's much angst in the virtual air about the commercialization of gravel races and the inevitable burst of the gravel bubble. The gravel darling of the mainstream cycling media, Dirty Kanza, continues to get more expensive, more exclusive and even more corporate with its recent sale to a big event production company. Many other gravel events also are morphing into conventional bicycle races, with professional riders, team tactics, expanding levels of support, little to no self-navigation, substantial entry fees and prizing, national media coverage and more enforcement of more rules due to racers cheating. Sound familiar?

Not to worry. What sparked and nurtured the gravel scene was not marketing and selling big production events. When all the big hype gravel stuff withers, folks will still get together to ride gravel for fun, challenge and competition at local rides and grass roots races.

New gravel races still pop up all over, many of which are small, low-key events operating on a shoestring budget by a dreamer and some volunteers. The grandfather of gravel, Guitar Ted, notes that such "under the radar" events continue to fill the calendar. The Message. Out here in the sticks of western South Dakota, engineer/beermeister Lucas Haan exemplifies the can-do gravel attitude by starting a spring gravel series that doubled in size twice in its first year, then doubled again to over 100 riders in its second. A Gravel Community Builds. That's where it's at.

Now, from the birthplace of today's gravel scene, none other than Guitar Ted recently announced a new gravel race out of Iowa that should warm the hearts of grass roots gravelleurs everywhere:  The C.O.G. 100 Iowa Gravel Single Speed Championship.  C.O.G. 100.

Drawing deeply from its Trans Iowa roots, the C.O.G. 100 squarely plunks ownership of the experience on the individual rider. Guitar Ted clearly and repeatedly pronounces that YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU and re-inforces that philosophy into the very structure of the event:
  • Self-navigated with cue sheets delivered at the start (no course markings, no GPS for navigation). 
  • Self-supported (no aid stations, no crew, no stores on the route). 
  • No outside support of any kind (specifically noting no outside "encouragement/cheering"). 
  • No race organizer retrieval (arrange transportation if quitting). 
  • No sanctioning, no prizing, no schwag (the experience is the reward).
That crusty curmudgeon Guitar Ted refuses to allow anyone to simply buy an experience served up on a silver platter. Instead, he provides written directions and you ride. It's just you, your fellow riders and whatever you discover out there on an unknown course. Oh, and single speed only. All in all, it's a genuine Guitar Ted Production.

The C.O.G. 100 reads like a Christmas wish list of everything I'd love in a gravel race. I wish I could be there.

Registration opens January 2, 2019 and is limited to 75. Expect it to fill fast.

On the volunteers ride at Trans Iowa v14, a flat stretch of rideable B-road somewhere around Grinnell, Iowa.
On the C.O.G. 100, I'd expect very few flat stretches. Very, very few. Maybe none. Likely none. OK, none.

Monday, November 12, 2018


"Doc, ya oughta be in bed. What the hell are ya doin' this for anyway?" (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson)
"Wyatt Earp is my friend."  (Doc Holliday)
"Hell, I got lots of friends."  (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson)
"I don't."  (Doc Holliday)
Tombstone (1993). Video Link.

Twenty-some years ago, a thoughtful person in my Bible study group asked a challenging question. Outside your family, do you have a friend who you know would immediately come to help if you called at 3:00 o'clock in the morning? Many responded affirmatively, some by experience but most by trust in their friendships. Others, however, were not so sure.

After wrestling with that for a bit, the follow-up question was more penetrating. Under similar circumstances, would anyone call you? That is, are you the friend that another would call, knowing that you would answer and come help? The group grew more pensive.

Every so often, I remember that discussion and the resulting conversations with friends. It always reminds me to appreciate my friends, of all kinds, and prompts me to work to build stronger friendships. Admittedly, those intentional efforts over the years have been infrequent and haphazard, at best.

That leads me to a few friends who have been on my mind lately. I'm especially blessed to have some special friends who helped me finally achieve a multi-year goal of riding the entire length of the 310 mile Black Hills BackBone. Each of them answered my call and ventured far outside their comfort zone to join me. College roommate Rob Sorge rearranged his schedule to drive across the country to share our latest adventure together, totally trusting my route planning and bike selection for him. College classmate Dave Litzen doesn't ride much long distance, but bought a new bike just to join this crazy cross-state weekend ride, and then had the moxie and ability to finish it. Former colleague Shaun Arritola simply quipped, "I'm in!" in response to my vague suggestion of a ride, instantly transforming a nutty idea into reality. To top it off, all three enlisted family to crew, who made it work. Together, we created a special weekend that I cherish.

Yes, that ride was a year and a half ago. But whenever I think of the Black Hills BackBone, I think of those friends who recognized what it meant to me and did what it took to make it happen. Thank you Robbie and Corinne, Dave and Lori, Shaun and Jonis!

Here's a link to a post summarizing our 2017 Black Hills BackBone ride. Three Days of BackBone. And here's our finish line photo.

When you're riding so fast that it's hard to hear each other.   😎
Approaching the South Dakota - Nebraska border at the end of the 2017 Black Hills BackBone.
Rob Sorge, Dave Litzen, Shaun Arritola and Craig Groseth (photo by Corinne Sorge)

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Challenge, Not Compete

Competition is the American way. In every way. In everything.

Competition is you against someone else.

Compete to make the team against everyone else trying out. Then compete against your teammates for playing time and roles.

Compete to get accepted in the school against everyone else applying. Then compete against your classmates for grades and class rank.

Compete to get the job against everyone else qualified. Then compete against your co-workers for bonuses and promotions.

Competition always measures your performance against the performance of others. It can drive one to achieve beyond actual and perceived limitations. At its best, it can draw out the best from within.

However, if comparative performance is the sole matrix for measuring success, personal growth of a competitor is inherently limited.

As every adult amateur endurance athlete knows, the size and quality of a competitive field varies widely by event and directly impacts relative placing. That is, unless the field is very large and consistently representative of your category, your relative placing within the field often depends less on your achievement and more on merely the number and quality of others showing up.

But your friends and family, and practically everyone else, just want to know how you placed relative to the field, which is easy to quantify and express. With a simple number, everyone believes they know how you did and how accomplished you are. You may even believe it yourself. Sometimes, it may even be true.

Dead No-Fooling Last Place at the inaugural Gold Rush Mother Lode gravel race in 2015.
19 hours 58 minutes to cover 210 miles of Black Hills gravel with over 12,000 feet of elevation gain.
I left it all on the course. That was my best on that day. I was ecstatic, even though no one finished after me.

Of course, a far better measure of your result is how you placed relative to your potential for that event on that day, based on your preparation, training and effort. Such a result is completely independent of the size and quality of the competitive field. It's also harder to quantify and much harder to express to others. But it's more real.

Years ago, I committed to refrain from patting myself on the back for finishing high in a small, relatively slow field or from beating myself up for finishing low in a large, relatively fast field. That is, I committed to set my goals and expectations based on my potential for that event on that day, without regard to relative placing. That's easy to say and not so easy to do.

I still love to compete and still love to train to be able to compete. I still check everyone's race results, not just mine. But I must remind myself that I compete for my goals and expectations, not relative placing. Then I know that another's great performance or deep disappointment does not change whatever I did.

So, if competition always measures your performance against the performance of another, then maybe I no longer compete, after all. But if not competing, what am I doing?

Challenging, not competing.

Challenging myself to strive, to improve, to achieve. That's it.

Challenge, not compete.

Greg Gleason and Walter Zitz crossing the finish line at Trans Iowa v.12.
Competition pushed them to perform their best and nearly break the 24 hour barrier at the 340-ish mile gravel race.
The challenge brought the two together for a memorable experience and example of pushing each other to the limit.
(photo by Wally Kilburg)