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Silver State 508: Finishing a 500+ mile ultra on the first try

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.