Back in April I participated in what was labeled The Most Unique Cycling Event in The U.S. aka the SPY Belgian Waffle Ride. A 217KM long ride/race with over 3450 meters of climbing, dirt sections, water crossing, jerseys, waffles and beer. What more does a bike nerd need?!
I had absolutely no idea what to expect and wish I was a bit more informed about this race. So below are a couple of tips on how to do fairly well in this crazy event. Note: most these tips may sound very obvious to my fellow bike racers, but it never hurts to get some reaffirmation.
This things fills up quick! By the time I found out about the event, online registration had already closed. I put myself on the waiting list and somehow made it in. There is no race day registration, so as soon as reg opens (on BikeReg), get a spot!
Train Hard Retard!
This is not your typical 4 hour road race. This year’s winner (Neil Shirley) did it in 6:39 hrs. I finished in 7:30 hrs. So train hard, put in some good miles and solid efforts. PRO tip: get a good bike coach. Also make sure to eat plenty of legit carbs in the week leading up to the race. Loading up on carbs the day before the race is somewhat useless.
Install Granny Gears
You will be going up some insane steep hills. A couple of these hills are straight gravel and sand, so it will be impossible to get out the saddle or your rear wheel will spin out. Install a 27T or 28T cog. Hell, you might even want to install a compact.
Get Strong Rims and Fat Tires
The bigger/stronger the better. Some of the rocks you will ride on are ridiculously sharp and big. Remember: you will be racing on “roads” that mountain bikers like to do their thing on. I stuck to my trusty HED Ardennes Plus wheels with some beefy 28s inflated to 4.5 bar. The tire barely fit my Specialized Tarmac frame, when I got out the saddle, my rear tire was rubbing the chain stay due to flexing. But the rest of my ride was smooth.
Stick to Road Pedals + Shoes
For a minute I thought about riding with MTB pedals and shoes. In fact, the week before the race I trained with some, but decided to stick to my road shoes. Glad I did, the only time I had to walk was when we took a wrong turn and had to walk up a little hill.
Skip the Expo
The day before the race you have the opportunity to pick up your number and other race goodies. SPY puts on a great expo with all kinds of food, beer, and pony rides. Unless you live close to the event (Carlsbad), I suggest you skip the expo and do some leg openers instead. Pick up your number the morning of the race. You have plenty of time to prep.
Skip the Waffles
When you arrive at the start of the race, you will be present by the smell of fresh baked waffles. Just like any other typical race, go through your regular pre-race routine and resist the waffles.
Stay Near the Front
The first hour of this years race was a neutral roll out with full police escort. You will have plenty of time to warm up the legs, socialize or even go for a pee. Just get ready to stay near the front when the real race starts because mayhem will ensue. I had no idea when or where it officially started and was positioned in the middle. Right away a crash happened right and it took a while to get around a pile of bikes including a grown man screaming on the ground (no joke).
Before this race I had never ridden on a single track so had no idea what to expect. Basically it’s a super narrow dirt path which makes it impossible to pass or get passed on. Someone passed me, hit me and apologized, I told him “don’t worry about it, it’s a race!”. If you get stuck behind a slower person just call out where you’re gonna pass and blast by them. Most likely you will hit the person, but whatever, it’s a race!
Speed Up For Sand
At times you will hit some really deep sand. Your bike will decelerate and might get squirrely if you don’t keep your speed up. Lean back a bit and keep pedaling.
Bring Extra Tubes
“Holy shit, Thanks to my 28s I’m able to finish without any flats!”, is what I thought in the last couple kilometers. Until… I kid you not… 1KM before the finish, I got a flat! I’ve bounced over sharp rocks the size of baby heads and I get nailed [pun!] by a tiny staple right before the finish. I thought about riding on my rims, but it was too sketchy, and I quickly replaced my tube. So, bring tubes, because most likely you will flat.
Someone in the SPYBWR Strava group broke down the entire race: every turn, stop sign, climb, feed zone etc. I used this to produce a cheat sheet, which I taped to my stem. I wrote down the top of the major climbs (that way I knew how much longer I had to go in the red) and the feed zones (so I knew how much liquids I had to conserve). And since the race is really long, it helps to set little goals to check off as you go.
Bring all the food for the entire race with you. Yes, there are plenty of feed zones, but you don’t want to stop for food. Stuff your pockets. Eat your solid foods earlier in the race and keep the blocks and gels for last part of the race. It gets harder and harder to eat the longer the race lasts.
Fill up your bottles with your favorite mix at the start of the race. They have plenty of feed zones where you can throw away your empty bottles and grab fresh ones. But get ready to taste some of the craziest mix flavors.
Pay Attention to the Directions
There are signs and arrows on the road to point you to the right direction. Always pay attention to them. At one point the group I was with took a wrong turn and we were off course for a few minutes until someone set us straight. So even when you’re in a big pack keep looking for the directions.
People will get dropped, people will drop you. You will pick people up. People will crash in front of you, next to you or even into you. Bikini girls will convince you to stop for a refreshing beverage (I failed to resist). Whatever you do, do NOT stop!
At the finish you will be rewarded with tons of food and beer. Eat as much as you can to recover, and drink all the beers (if you still have to drive, bring the beer home as a trophy).
That’s it! By far the most brutal but fun race I’ve ever done and can’t wait to it again next year (April 26, 2015)!