It started with a suggestion from my friend Anatoly – gravel worlds? In his hometown of Lincoln, NE? After some success at cedar cross, and with diego (my beautiful singlespeed bianchi san jose) getting plenty of action, I figured I might as well try another race on gravel. Gravel worlds is pretty grassroots – put on by a group called the pirate cycling league, they appear to be (and, I can now say, definitely are) some awesome people who ride bikes. They also happen to put on fantastic races.
The other key component pushing me over the edge – this race was FREE! So I sent in a postcard, made my way through the waiting list (I was a little slow, but made it to an official spot with plenty of time). Soon enough, Peat and I were making the 6.5 hour drive to Lincoln. Unfortunately, Anatoly got his PhD and a fancy job down in New Mexico, so he was enjoying his last days of freedom and wouldn’t be joining us. Also, Peat has much bigger things on the horizon in terms of 100 mile NUE series races, meaning he wasn’t going to ride. My planned contingent of people to ride with was very quickly down to a lone girl on a bike. Luckily, Peat relented to making the drive with me anyways and spending the day as support crew – what a guy 🙂 This also means, lucky for you, I had a dedicated photographer for the race.
The race route was posted Friday morning, consisting of a 153.3 mile loop around Lincoln, running clockwise. Along the way there were stops – powerball stops (gas stations where you had to buy a powerball ticket), checkpoints (where you signed your name and sometimes got a lil’ prairie trinket), and oases (where there was cold drink, food, and plenty of volunteers. And likely pickles!).
We started right at 6:15, on a stretch of pavement that very quickly turned to gravel. The race was on! Peat and I managed a few start photos, and he found his friend Rafal (and apparently is really good at taking selfies).
The first section was 34 miles to a powerball stop – the longest leg of the day, it turned out. My plan was to be conservative, hoping for a roughly 12 hour finish and average pace of 13-14 mph. There were some big hills in the first few miles that I cranked up, then I started to relax and try to recognize my pace (aka, slow down to avoid the blow-up later in the day). Luckily, it was overcast but humid, meaning the morning was fairly pleasant (not to blast-furnace yet). Once I started slowing down a bit, I was passed by quite a few people, including 3 geared ladies and 1 singlespeeder – not really encouraging. I decided I’d probably survive even if I picked up the pace just a little bit, and tried to stay consistent. I’ve been experimenting with using the heart-rate monitor, mostly for checking after a race, but I tried to keep my heart rate around 140 for this section, considering I’m typically around 140 average on my chill rides. As peat reminded me the night before – start conservative, then decide how many matches you want to burn in the last 50 miles. I also tried to channel Anatoly, whose philosophy for endurance races is that the first half is a warmup, then you start racing. So, I had a 77 mile warmup.
Checkpoint 1 brought pickles and a huge bag of sour gummy worms!!! My favorite!!! Rolling into checkpoint one, I had started to ride with Warren, a ss dude, and Mark, a geared dude. They were awesome! Warran took a pit stop, and I decided to roll out after just a short break, knowing they’d catch back up quickly. Only a few miles out of town my suspicions were confirmed as Warran gave me the heads’ up that the boys were back! We worked together a bit, just chatting and hanging out. It was so nice to have company, although there were times that one of us would fall off or pull ahead.
We hit powerball stop 2 at the Malcolm general store, and I started asking peat to keep track of the ladies in front of me. Due to a fast stop at gas station 1, I had jumped ahead of the singlespeed lady (Liz) and one of the geared riders, meaning I had two ladies in front of me. They seemed to have a 5-10 minute lead, so I figured I would just stay consistent and make sure I could finish the full 150 strong.
Between PB 2 and CP2, I started cramping a bit. Ironically, it was right about the halfway point of the race. I saw my garmin hit the 77 mile mark, then my legs quit. I took some time to get off the bike, attempt to unlock both of my hamstrings (I had a really hard time getting off the bike… I very nearly just tipped over into a ditch). I thought I had learned something about that from cedar cross – turns out, I just managed to push them back to a little later in the race. I drank as much water as I could and slowly started turning the cranks again to get to checkpoint 3, where I stuffed my face with strawberries, blueberries, and homemade beef jerky. They also had a rolling water station, so I filled up on everything, and put a coke in one bottle.
I rolled out of CP2 feeling better, although I actually missed Peat at this stop. Since he’d be running support, I’d been trying to think of things for him to do at every stop. So far, this pretty much just consisted of swapping out water bottles… every stop on the course was super well-stocked and well-staffed, there was definitely no crew necessary. How freakin’ awesome. Still, I was glad to have him there after my rear wheel came loose a few times on some climbs, and i could have him double-check my chain tension and alignment (since, you know, I’m not always the best at checking my stuff after fixing it mid-race. damn marion and jones ripping my rear wheel out of place). Not having peat at CP2 meant… I didn’t have enduralytes. I’d never used them, but just about everyone I know swears by them – basically, little capsules of salt and electrolytes that stop cramping in its tracks. In hindsight, I should have taken them from the beginning. Learning new things all the time.
After feeling good and rolling out from CP 2 just behind the first guy on a fatbike, I hit a hill. And started cramping again. Seriously?! Right after refueling? I pounded the coke in my front bottle, and downed as much water as physically possible, to the point where I thought I was going to puke energy-gel laced water everywhere. Feeling totally bloated like a pregnant kangroo was way better than cramping… because anything is better than cramping. Eventually cramps subsided enough for me to get back on the bike and start riding. Someday, I will work it out.
About 15 miles out from CP3/Oasis1, my garmin died, so the awesomely detailed cue sheets were no longer supported by my overall mileage count. I was a little bummed, but figured I’d just continue to roll it consistent. Luckily, there were enough people around that I never really had any issues. The cue sheets were fantastic, and all but 1 road I saw all day was labeled well and correctly, making following directions easy. Thank goodness!
At Oasis 1 I finally took a bathroom break and chatted a bit more with Warran and Mark. With full bottles, a tube of enduralytes, and a hotdog in my pocket, I was ready to roll! I was also optimistic after watching the two geared ladies ahead of me roll out of the oasis as I was rolling in – I was but a long pit stop away! The day had warmed up by this point, and I tried to be more aware of my incredible ability to sweat (and hence, lose water, and start cramping…). I ate, I drank. Fatty recently dropped the nugget that leadville is ‘an eating contest disguised as a bike race’. This, my friends, is the most insightful thing I’ve heard in a while. And applies to any bike race. And, I was losing that eating contest. I continued to just grind out the hills, enjoy the downhills, and run my pace.
When Mark, Warran, and I were back together, they started joking that I was a drone – until oasis 1, I’d made no real pit stops and kept my time at checkpoints to a minimum. Ha! If only they knew, that’s gotta be the biggest advantage in a long race – to just keep moving (even if it’s slow). We kept hammering it, and finally made our way to the winery where…. the top ladies were still hanging out! I took a luxurious stop, pounded half a beer peat was drinking (seriously, he even lets me drink his beer… he’s pretty great) and putzed around for a bit. This didn’t really jive with my short stops theory, but whatever. Peat also asked if I would need support for the rest of the race and, after I said no, told me he’d be giving his friend Dave a ride back to the finish. Dave was toasted by the heat and done (after a respectable 115 miles).
The rest of the day was a grind through the heat. We had one last powerball stop (where, again, I saw the lead ladies as I pulled up, then they realized I was close and took off while I waited in line to buy my ticket and a gatorade) and then a quick optional oasis at a schoolhouse, where I grabbed an extra water for the final few miles and stuffed some ice down my shirt. Man, that felt nice.
By the schoolhouse, I figured I wasn’t going to catch the lead girls – they’d be working together all day, and by now were probably getting a little anxious that I was close. I just maintained my effort (who knows about pace) and motivated myself with the guess (which wasn’t too far off) that the second singlespeed lady was likely as far behind me as I was to the top women, meaning I just had to stay consistent. I was feeling pretty decent, so I just pounded out the last section and picked off a few extra riders while I could.
Finally – I finished, and learned that I was officially the first singlespeed lady, earning myself a jersey! I was only 7 minutes behind the lead ladies, which I was super stoked with. I promptly sat down to enjoy a beer, more ice cold water, and a burrito. For a free race, or any race for that matter, gravel worlds was awesome. So much support, the weather held out (luckily!), and incredibly well organized. Maybe next year I’ll have worked out my cramping issues and will be better prepared to crush all the gravels around Lincoln!
Totally random parting thought – this song has popped up on my pandora a lot as of lately, and I can’t get enough. Enjoy.