Four finishers from the inaugural Coast To Coast gravel grinder share tips on how to find success in this one-day, 210-mile bike ride across Michigan.
- While I didn’t get to ride the event, I did get to meet and/or cheer on the vast majority of racers as they approached The Chaise at mile marker 174.5 of the 210-mile course. I was incredibly impressed by how upbeat the riders were. Sure, there were a few that were down deep in that dark hole right about then, but honestly not very many.
That made me wonder if a point-to-point event across a state inherently changes the viewpoint/mindset of many of the riders from “race” to “riding across the state”. And yes, I do realize that there were some fast folks out there that were truly racing.
But all said, my encouragement would be for most folks to take the “riding across the state” approach, and to concentrate on forward progress that eventually gets them to the finish, as opposed to dwelling on how fast (or slow) they might be moving.
With that, I turn over the remaining 20 Thoughts to four Salsa folks that successfully completed the inaugural 210-mile Coast To Coast gravel grinder; Jill Martindale, Laura Haraldson, Mark Seaburg, and Pete Hall.
- Read all the blogs, riders’ materials, forums, etc.: The organizers do an incredible job of telling you everything you need to know, but you do need to read and listen. Somewhere in there Matt Acker specifically says, “2.2 tires are not too much tire for this course,” and he is right. -Laura Haraldson
Laura, with husband, Scott...who also plays the role of the Chase The Chaise photographer...
- Practice using your GPS system. This race required a GPS tracking device, and one thing I noticed while pedaling out on the course was a few folks getting turned around or getting confused because their GPS system's battery had died or because they weren't 100% sure how to use the device. It's one thing to have the gear, but it's another thing to have the gear figured out. I like to use a hiking Garmin eTrex because the batteries last a loooong time! I don't typically have to worry about a battery dying, and if it does I pack spare batteries with me to quickly replace them. I've practiced loading courses on it, following the courses, and I've practiced pressing buttons on it. I can navigate my way through its features without losing the course on my Garmin and without it taking up too much time. I saw some folks try recharging their GPS devices while stashed in a pack, and I don't think it worked as well as they had hoped! If you do have limited juice on your device, try keeping it off until the second half of the race or something like that to prolong its power - it should be fairly easy to follow other riders in the first 100 miles rather than in the second 100 when folks get more spread out - and it'll be nice to have your GPS system when it gets darker or when you're by yourself. -Jill Martindale
4. Layer up. It's going to be cold at the start and finish. Bring an extra windproof later in a frame/toptube bag. i stashed my rain jacket in the morning, and switched to my vest for the day. -Pete Hall
- The first quarter is very fast. Flat and hard packed. Ride like the wind. Don’t let this fool you. The second section is hillier but not bad. The third section is all up and down with technical doubletrack and sandy sections. Slow going. The last section is better but has quite a few short sections of sandy road which I had to walk. -Mark Seaburg
- It's Michigan - wear layers! With the race beginning just after sunrise and sending you off to chase the sunset, there's going to be varying temperatures throughout the day. I started off chilly at Coast to Coast this year. I warmed up in the sunshine and rode in just a short sleeve jersey, and then the race ended in 40 degrees Fahrenheit with some rain. I was very cold by time I finished! I wore a Windstopper baselayer, a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, a vest, a buff, Windstopper leg warmers, and my bib shorts. I was able to mix and match and peel and re-dress with my layers to where I was comfortable the entire day... until it rained! Having a lightweight wind shell or wearing more wool might have made the end of my race a little more pleasurable. I was able to save the evening by having a warm change of clothes at the finish line and I changed immediately upon rolling across that finish line. Once I warmed up I felt a lot more sociable! -Jill Martindale
- I’ll say it again: 2.2” tires are not too much tire for this course, specifically the second half. I’ll admit that in the first half I was really questioning the decision to roll so big, but had such a blast in the third leg, with forested sandy doubletrack and punchy climbs through already loose sand (even with the rain), only because I WAS able to ride it all (maybe I tipped over in the deep sand once: It felt soft and good to rest). This is one of THE MOST ENJOYABLE gravel rides I’ve done, purely because of the surprising stretch of mountain biking (yes, Midwest mountain biking) smack dab in the middle of it, but I know others with skinnier tires had a much different experience, which IMHO is a shame. -Laura Haraldson
- I rode my Warbird Ti with 38mm Teravail Cannonball tires. For 90% of the route they were great. The rest, not so much. If I do it again I’ll ride 29 x 2.2”, on a different bike. -Mark Seaburg
- Ride a Cutthroat. The sand and doubletrack were no big deal at all on 2.1” tires and the more upright position the Cutty affords. It also lets you look around during the beautiful Pine River Bluffs doubletrack. Seriously, that doubletrack made me miss living in Michigan. -Pete Hall
- Don’t go out too fast! The tail wind coming off Lake Huron, the adrenaline of fresh legs and the ultra-flat first 50 miles (also where the majority of pavement for this course is found) tempts you but be aware of your pace. Prior to the ride, set a maximum speed limit for yourself that you know you can sustain for 100+, then day-of be vigilant about reining yourself in. (I say 100+ miles because I believe in training only to about 75% of the distance in advance, and that your body will be able to pull you the rest of the way if you fuel it right, so long as your mind is also healthy.) -Laura Haraldson
- Eat early, eat often. Eat some real food that you know won’t mess your stomach up. Red beans and rice with andouille sausage at CP 3 was fantastic. -Pete Hall
- Don't get down on yourself. There are a lot of miles in a race like this and there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. Once you start telling yourself that you can't, or you get in your head that it's hard and you're not having fun, then you're going to send yourself on a downward spiral and it'll be really hard to come back from that. While riding, I came across some folks that weren't looking so great and they had some negative attitudes about how they were doing. Folks set expectations about beating the sun (Hey! I wanted to beat the sun, too!) or about keeping a certain pace, and then they got out on the course and realized the ride might be longer than they had wanted. Shrug that stuff off and just keep moving forward. I keep a bell on my bike and I hoot and holler the most when I'm hurting - it mentally tricks me into laughing again! What it comes down to is remembering that I paid for an event, I set time aside in a crazy life for the event, and that I'm doing it out of my own free will - If I can shake the negativity then I come back around and realize that I love this stuff! Endurance events bring me a joy that I can't replicate any other way and knowing how to handle the demons and stay positive helps bring back the smiles! -Jill Martindale
- Bring extra water leaving CP 2 on your way to CP 3. It’s a long hilly section that takes longer than I thought it would. I had 3 bottles and ran out. My day was saved by a family giving out water at mile 145ish. Next year I’ll have an extra bottle cage on my fork just for that leg. -Pete Hall
- Have a solid crew to support you. Laura and I did. It made checkpoint stops efficient and quick. He actually enjoyed all the hoopla despite not riding it himself. -Mark Seaburg
That's Jill in the middle...
- Get a tune up on your bike and practice good maintenance. I always get my bike in to my handsome mechanic husband before a race or a long ride to make sure everything is in working order. (It's hard to stay in a positive mindset when something is squeaking or rubbing!) I remind him a week or two ahead of time or make an appointment so that we're not rushing through repairs or being hasty - on a long ride your chain might start to get dry or your shifting might start to get a little loose. Heading into an event with a spare rag and chain lube is a great start, wipe down your bike and re-lube at checkpoints as needed. It doesn't take a whole lot of time while you're stopped and if you're really lucky and your SAG support rules they might even wipe it down and lube for you while you go to the bathroom and eat all of the snacks. (Thanks again Dave and Maria!) A little bike care will go a long way. -Jill Martindale
- These long rides can put your mind in a dark place, and oddly the lowest I was during the day was in the arguably easiest (first) part of the ride. I think there’s something almost more exhausting about uber-flat gravel: It’s monotonous, mentally challenging and, I’ll just say it, kinda boring. Be intentional about pulling your mind out of those dark thoughts. Look up, literally. Smell the glorious coniferous trees. Be in touch with your other senses. Watch the fog lifting out of the valleys, revealing periwinkle-blue skies. Looking up has the mental effect of lifting your spirits, so roll those eyeballs around. -Laura Haraldson
- Don’t run out of fluids. I nearly did on section 3. It was only 60 miles, but it was slow going because of the sand and doubletrack. -Mark Seaburg
Pete, on the right...
- Make sure to appreciate your support crew and shower them with thanks and some beverages. Follow it up with working hard during the race because they’re working hard for you. Thanks Dad! -Pete Hall
- Spend time on the bike that you're going to race on. I'm definitely guilty of riding my favorite bike (aka my fat bike) a majority of the time when I train. What I noticed was that if I spent all my training hours on one bike, then when I switched to the other bike I might not feel as comfortable or as confident on it. I knew there were going to be some sandy sections at Coast To Coast and I knew some of the doubletracks might be a little more technical for folks on skinnier-tired gravel bikes. I've got 700c x 42mm Teravail Cannonball tires on my Salsa Warbird and they are AWESOME on sketchy stuff! I already alluded to the fact that I love my fat bike, and truthfully, I love my full-suspension mountain bike too. I love traction! I wanted to make sure I felt confident on tires smaller than what I'm used to, so I spent a lot of time dialing in the fit and my trust in the tires. A year ago, I would have felt nervous taking my Warbird on a singletrack ride with my friends on a mountain bike, I wouldn't have believed I could keep up; but the week before Coast To Coast I was out on the Warbird exploring fresh singletrack with a friend on her mountain bike. I could keep up. She was terrified for me. I trusted in those wide tires and felt confident on sand and maneuvering around obstacles and I could tell it benefited me in some of the sections of Coast To Coast. I'm glad I tested the limits because it didn't hold me back on the course. -Jill Martindale
- At times during section 3 I was pretty sure I was having Type 3 fun (not fun while doing it and not fun in recollection), but in retrospect it was actually Type 2 (not fun while doing it but fun later telling the story). The most difficult sections are well into the race when you’re tired. Suck it up! -Mark Seaburg
- Go in with the mindset that you want to have fun! This course is diverse and gorgeous—farm fields, rolling valleys, quaint small towns, national forests, river gorges, two great lakes, lots of sand—and also has the possibility of throwing some gnarly weather bombs (38 and rainy at 5 a.m., 70 and bright sun at 3 p.m., 50 and breezy at 11 p.m.), so just embrace the day so that you can see upper Michigan in all its glory. Also, to that end, make you’re your crew has all the possible gear you might want or require for very divergent spring weather. Remember: All you have to do this day is ride your bike. Yes, likely, literally, all day. It’s amazing. Enjoy. -Laura Haraldson
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