Wednesday, August 29, 2018

It's Dead

These gizmos and more have pretty much changed the face of "self-supported" racing forever.
Self-supported racing, for the most part, is dead. It has been for many years now. You may not have noticed it, but things are not what they used to be.

I've been keenly aware of this since I started Trans Iowa event production with Jeff Kerkove back in 2004-2005. Every year since, self-supported endurance efforts became easier and easier, at least in terms of the little corner of that which I have observed along the way. When the genre' made a final turn into a form of supported event participation on a grand scale is something I cannot pinpoint exactly, I just know it happened.

First off, let me say that the physical part remains a challenge like to that which men and women took on earlier in my time around this stuff.  I don't belittle that part at all. What I am saying is that the other major hurdle competitors face, the mental part, has changed vastly since those days when I became part of Trans Iowa. The differences are huge. Mental, emotional, and even spiritual support is so much a part of the events now that no one takes thought as to how impactful that part of riding these events is today compared to the lack of those support mechanisms ten, fifteen years ago. 

The evidence abounds, and it is right there in front of us if we pay attention. Read race reports, for example, and you will see how it works. I read one the other day for Gravel Worlds that mentioned how a rider was about to quit when a call to this person's significant other was made and this person changed the mind of the rider, offering what was called out by the author of the report as "support". You've no doubt read or heard about things like this before.

Or how about checkpoint appearances by family members eager to support a rider, or even in my report about Gravel Worlds, when I mentioned the "Trail Angels" in that small village I passed through? Then there are the "likes" and texts, and other social media connections. It all adds up. Imagine riding a long event without any possibility of any of those things I mentioned. 

That's how it used to be, at one time. Early Trans Iowa events featured zero social media. Heck, you couldn't even get a cell phone to work 80% of the time. That quickly changed though. By Trans Iowa v5, I noted that riders were using cell phones to talk to loved ones, getting encouraged, coached, and "supported" by those voices on the other end. Then it went to social media being used, texts, GPS tracking, and occasionally we were aware that there was a possibility of a support person for certain riders. This meant I had to get more eyes out on course after v8, and we were pretty vigilant about looking for odd cars and signs of support.

But it was the electronic technology that really changed the face of self-supported racing. As far as I can tell, there is no going back either. Too bad, because anyone that says their event is "self-supported" isn't really considering what that means in 2018 and beyond versus what they maybe think it means in a romanticized, nostalgic sense. To my mind, "self-supported" isn't happening anymore. It's dead.


CrossTrail said...

I have seen and experienced the same thing, Mark, and think it's rider demands and expectations. And as race directors seek growth, accommodations increase. That is, hit the Easy Button to get bigger.

But there are events out there closer to "self-supported" and I seek those out. Regardless of what the event provides and allows, I choose to ride "self-supported." I know I'm not alone, but I am an outlier.

CrossTrail said...

Maybe there's demand from fellow curmudgeons, however small in number, for a cue sheet only, unsupported gravel event in an area where one can ride most all day without any cell phone coverage. Say, for example, the Central and Southern Black Hills of South Dakota. All my rides out there are with hard copy maps and a compass, with the useless cell phone turned off. Maybe just join me for a ride.

Ben said...

Actually, you can navigate with your cell phone even if no cell service. Just need to download the map prior when you are connected, and then use Google offline maps. Pings off GPS satellites instead of cell phone towers, so works pretty much anywhere. It's how we navigated around Costa Rica with no "cell service". Definitely a new world...good, bad, or otherwise!

CrossTrail said...

Mark, I concede your point. Self-supported gravel events are dead. At least to the extent a race director can enforce rules to make it truly self-supported. I know you saw at Trans Iowa that folks would seek technological work-arounds, as you can read above. I like riding unplugged, off-the-grid, often solo, unsupported and will continue to do so, regardless of what an event allows.

If I ever host an event, expect to be on your own. Unless we're riding together. Then we're on our own.