The Silver State 508 was my first ultracycling event. It was a lofty (and crazy) goal to go from riding casually to and from work to completing a 508-mile race within a year. I knew that I was biting off more than I could reasonably chew, so I did everything I could to mitigate the chance of a DNF.
The first thing that I did was get into structured training. I realized that without structure, I wasn’t going to make the progress required in the timeframe I had while balancing a demanding job and family life. I initially bounced between a few computer based training programs but realized I was out of my depth. I didn’t know enough about ultracycling to manage my own plan or what it takes to finish a race of that distance. After thinking through what I needed to get across finish line, I found Coach Shane Trotter. Shane set me up with a personalized plan to get me ready for the race, provided insight into how I needed to prepare mentally, and answered questions on crew structure and van setup. Some of the key takeaways and lessons learned are distilled below.
Train like you race. Race day isn’t the time to try out new gear. I made an effort to train with everything I was going to utilize during the race as early as I could. This was a good thing, because I found out that a lot of the stuff that I thought would work for me wasn’t as useful as I had hoped. For example, my initial light setup didn’t allow for easy swapping of lights, my saddle wasn’t great for longer rides, and I found out that the shoes I had been using were fine for 2-3 hours, but were downright uncomfortable at the 6-hour mark.
Practice your nutrition. It took trying a few different brands and products before I settled on what my stomach and palette could handle after 12 hours on the bike.
Have intermediate goals. I had progressively longer distance rides scattered throughout the season to keep me focused in the short term. I felt that this really helped me stick to the training plan, and by having increasingly difficult goals that I accomplished, I could see the benefits of the hours I was putting in. It was extremely rewarding to complete an Everest and the Heartbreak Double Century, and that increased my confidence for The 508.
Train your mind. One thing that I could have done better was ride my bike outside when conditions were suboptimal. The 2021 Silver State 508 had some brutal 25mph headwinds during the day on the return leg, and they really savaged my motivation. Upon reflecting after the race, I realized that I was a “fair weather cyclist” and chose to ride inside when the weather wasn’t ideal. That was absolutely the wrong attitude, and I did not set myself up for success. For the future, there is no such thing as too cold, too windy, too hot, too dark, or too rainy, get out on the bike and ride! If you can’t suffer in training, how can you expect to do it 30 hours into a race? By preparing like this, you’ll be able to reach back to the times you rode through adversity and realize that it’s possible. Remember, there are no such things as headwinds, it’s just a tailwind and you’re going the wrong way.
Practice with your crew. If at all possible, run a few 4-6 hour practice runs with your crew. Ensure that crew roles are well defined (ambiguity can breed conflict), that personalities mesh, and get the minor hiccups out of the way. Bonus points if you are local and can ride on the actual course. For my race preparation, I ran my crew out to a deserted section of the course (HWY 722) and we practiced handoffs, bike swaps, direct follow, and what to do in the case of a mechanical. While not required, it definitely made the whole experience smoother on race day.
Be organized. Set up your crew vehicle and practice with it. During practice, my crew suggested some changes to the vehicle setup that increased organization and efficiency, and removed a lot of stress during the race. Additionally, by keeping the crew vehicle clean and organized during the race, it was easier to deal with the unexpected and adapt to gear swaps and weather changes in a timely manner.
Have a contract. Inexperienced crew members often forget that while things may look bleak, a lot can be fixed with rest, nutrition and hydration. I didn’t want my crew to pull me for what they thought was a medical issue when it could be fixed with a little time off of the bike. To this end, we came up with a contract which is listed below, and it would need to be a unanimous decision to pull me from the race.
If you’re reading this then you are considering pulling me from the race for health reasons. Please remember that a lot can be fixed with time off of the bike, water, food and air conditioning. Before the team makes the decision to pull me from the race, call all members of the crew, explain the situation, and gather their input. If I am bleeding out, feel free to skip this step.
We, the undersigned, believe that if we do not remove Daniel Sedberry from the race, that he is risking serious health issues, death, or jeopardizing his ability to maintain a medical up-chit. We believe his issues cannot be resolved by hydration, nutrition, and rest, and he requires immediate hospitalization and medical care. All parties consent, and this decision is unanimous.
Reasons to discontinue the race:
· Broken bones
· Suspected TBI / concussion
· Heat Stroke
Write a letter to yourself. I wrote a letter to myself that was only to be opened in the event I told my crew that I was done with the race. While I won’t share the letter, the general theme was setting the right example for my children, living up to who I say I am, and what I wanted to say about the race after. I didn’t have to open it, but I’m hoping that if I did, it would have compelled me to get back on the bike and keep pedaling.
Stay on the bike! This is another thing that I could have done better. In total, I spent about 7 hours off of the bike, with a majority of that time during the last 60 miles! As mentioned before, the wind really ate into my motivation, and I spent a significant amount of time hiding in the crew van hoping that it would ease up. It didn’t. The end result was me having to ride through the same wind, for the same amount of time, and finishing later in the evening. If I had stayed on the bike and continued to turn the pedals, I would have cut off a significant amount of time and finished in the daylight. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it reinforced what Coach Shane had told me. If only I was a better listener!
Set realistic goals. Since this was my first real ultra, I was only concerned with finishing. Instead of measuring my performance based on other athletes, I set goals that were time based, and were realistic for my ability. I calculated a pace plan using Best Bike Split, and set my goals from there. “Gold” was finishing in 36 hours, “silver” was finishing before midnight, and “bronze” was finishing within the time limit. By setting goals like this, I was racing my own race, and didn’t feel compelled to chase other (faster) athletes and burn myself out prematurely.
Pick a charity. One of the best things I did to help ensure I finished the race was to pick a charity to raise money for. Not only does it benefit the charity, but it adds some accountability to the race. Now, if I thought about quitting, I wasn’t only quitting on myself, I was quitting on a charity as well. It pushed any thought of giving up out of my head.
Be a man or woman of your word. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. I told friends, family and coworkers that I was going to finish the Silver State 508, so I did. When I felt weak or tired or cold, all I had to do was think about how many people believed in me. And for those that didn’t, the thought of finishing and proving them wrong was also a significant motivator.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is something a close friend of mine and accomplished ultrarunner said to me the night before the race:
“You put in the work, now it’s a 508-mile celebration of all that effort. Remember, when times get dark, it's ‘I get to be here’ not ‘f***, why am I here.’”
He was right. I was fortunate that I had the time and ability to train, a fantastic coach, the means to pay for the race and equipment, an amazing crew that believed in me, and a spouse that was behind me 100% of the way. I was lucky to have the opportunity to be out suffering on the bike. Why not celebrate it?