Sunday, January 5, 2020

Snake Creek Gap TT Race Report

Driving down to the start early in the morning, watching the rain beat down on the windshield, I could only laugh.  Heading into my 16th year of doing this race, I have seen all conditions, but mostly miserably cold and wet ones.  At least today the temperature was starting in the low 50's and supposed to stay that way.  I was racing the 34 miler, what I call the meat and potatoes of the 3 distances offered.

My shuttle arrived at the start later than I anticipated.  After checking in and getting ready, the start had begun.  I let most people go ahead of me, as I needed somewhat of a warm up so my body wouldn't implode in the first 10 minutes. A few minutes of squats, jumping jacks, and kick backs, I rolled off the line and down the fire road skirting around the edges of multiple mud holes.

I was behind a group of juniors and unfortunately one of them bobbled at the short steep V climb.  I  ended up dismounting and running up that climb.  Oye!  That got the heart rate up quickly!  I made my way around multiple racers, biding my time and trying not to burn any matches, as I knew my book was not full.

The bridge across the Dry Creek was submerged about one foot at the other end.  I unclipped and threw my feet up high as my front wheel hit the water.  I was only about 50% successful at keeping my feet dry.  The climb up to the first section of single track was in good shape considering the amount of rain it had gotten over the last 48 hours.  I continued to make my way around riders in an attempt to have a bubble around me once I entered the single track. 

The trail conditions were pretty sloppy and it felt like my wheels were being grabbed by a mud boggin' monster.  And then a noise began emanating from my front end.  I couldn't tell if it was my headset or fork, but it was annoying.  I ate and drank on the gravel road, hit Pine Hill with a vengeance, and then rode a dude's wheel off the backside.  I was a little grumbly about not going as fast as I wanted to, but it was my bad for not getting around him sooner.

I veered left at the next creek crossing, not knowing how deep the straight shot was and how much leaf and mud build up was on the far side of it.  This next section leading to the Horn Mountain climb, was obnoxiously muddy.  I felt like I was skiing more than riding. Aside from the mandatory mud wall climb, I was able to stay on the bike for the remainder, including the left handed switchback to begin the single track climb.

This section of the race has one big 1 mile climb, followed by 3 smaller, but steeper and more technical climbs.  Towards the top of the first climb, I heard a female voice behind me as I passed another racer.  Once I got around the guy in front of me, I asked her is she wanted around me.  "No ma'am," she replied.  I just got "ma'am 'ed!"  I took it as a sign of respect, rather than it being related to my age.  I got a chuckle out of how my first thought was, "Damn, do I look that old?"

She (I later found out her name ... Nicole) stuck to me like glue over the remaining miles.  I would pull away from her on the steeper, technical pitches and descents, but where the trail smoothed out a bit, she had the strength and fitness to reel me right back in.

At the SAG stop at Snake Creek Gap, I swapped bottles and downed a caffeinated gel.  I only drank 1/2 of a bottle that first 17 miles, a fail on my part.  While I was stopped, I saw Nicole go by.  That would be the last I would see of her until the finish.

I struggled up the Hurricane Mountain climb.  My fork was now beginning to feel AWFUL; stiff and like a pogo stick.  Once on top through some of the faster sections, I felt better and was able to stay on top of my gear.  The sun was beginning to shine and I could feel its warmth.  But as I began my descent down to the creek crossings, I was having a hard time seeing the trail for the sunshine.  I had a few "Oh, shit!" moments as I encountered a downed tree and some slippery turns, but managed to stay upright.  The multiple creek crossings all became just one big creek ride, as the water was flowing down the trail.

On the slip n slide climb up to the final single track, I came upon my team mate, Eric Henderson.  Off his bike with a broken derailleur and a rear flat, I asked him why he even had a derailleur.  His reply was that I had one.  To which I responded that I am old and earned one.  This light hearted joking conversation helped me to fend off the grumpies during the final stretch.  Because, at least I had a functioning bike.

By now, I had lost feeling in my water soaked feet.  This hindered me a bit through the rock gardens as it made proprioception difficult.  This, combined with a sick fork, functioning at only 25% capacity, had me doing a couple Yosemite Sam dances in my head.  Then I went into "adapt and overcome" mode and managed to surprise myself cleaning a couple sections I usually struggle with. 

The descent off Tower Road was heinous!  Huge ruts and exposed culverts probably made this the most tricky section of the course, as normally this was almost a brake-free section with lots of speed.  But today I had to baby it down.  Cruising down the road, I was happy with how my day went, given the conditions.

I finished in 4:10:20, by far not my fastest time, but right where I want to be this early in the season. I knew that my Big Dumb ride from earlier in the week might hinder my performance, but it was a risk I was willing to take.  I must be patient; fast will come later. 

One mistake I did make was not drinking enough.  Over the course of 4 hours, I had only taken in 32 ounces, along with 700 calories.  Although I did not feel "bonky,"  I am sure this under-fueling played a small part in my performance.  Rookie mistake.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Conasauga Crusher Race Report

Getting stoked to ride in rain/mud all day!

So how many of you racers checked your inbox when you awoke, praying for an email that said the course would be shortened due to inclement weather?  I searched but found nothing.  Had it not been for wanting to support Lisa, I probably would have bailed.  It had already rained at least an inch during the night and it was not projected to stop until 3pm.


At least I had made preparations the day before to try to waterproof myself.  Shower cap (a not so pro tip I learned at the 2007 La Ruta), latex gloves, Gore Tex shorts, and a Gore Tex jacket.  At least the temps were not too terrible, 50-55 degrees.  If I could keep my core, fingers, and toesies warm, I had a chance of having a semi-fun day.  The shower cap works well for me in that it keeps the rain from running down into my eyes and is not hot like a cycling cap can be.

We rolled out of the Ocoee Retreat Center at Lisa's "neutral-ish" pace, which had my HR pegged at the first little hill.  After turning right onto the main paved road, I tucked in behind Amy.  Now she is a beast!  Had it not been for her bouncing on her head down the backside of Addis Gap during the Georgia Gravel Grinduro, she would have schooled all of us ladies on gravel racing.  I was hoping to just hang onto her wheel as long as I could.  Well, that lasted about 10 minutes.  She slowly rolled away from me on the first climb after we hit gravel.  I knew my limits and did not want to completely implode within the first hour, so I just had to settle into my own rhythm and hope for the best.

Just add fog, rain, and leaf cover.

FS 302 was still fast despite the rain and the leaves.  Traction was good and the road bed was firm, making for quick work of this section.  But then FS 1333 ... oh, how I loathe you!  This was a 4 mile section of double track with lots of sharp turns and loose chunky rock.  It was also a little bit sloppy.  And complicating matters were my glasses fogging up. I did not want to take them off because at least they were keeping the mud out of my eyes. My lower back was beginning to hurt and whenever I would try to get out of the saddle to give it some relief, my rear wheel would spin out over a loose rock. Finally I saw the intersection of FS 55 and was able to escape this "gravel purgatory."

The next two miles were downhill to flat, so I was able to stretch out my back and eat/drink.  I whipped out my gel flask and sucked down some needed calories.  I kept the flask tucked in my bra so as to make for easy extraction:  try to fight a rain jacket to get to your flask in a jersey pocket and you will know why I chose this option.  It also kept the gel warm and fluid.

Not needing anything at Aid #1, I threw a friendly wave to Paul, and began the 1.5 mile slog up to the start of the Big Frog section.  At least the ground was firm. I stopped at Zeke's truck at the intersection and cleaned my glasses.  Then I began the 10 mile loop of pain.  This is the hardest section, as it is chunky and has a 3 mile climb, followed by a treacherous, rutted and rocky descent ... now covered in leaves. Despite my back becoming cranky again, I turned off all emotions and just gutted it out.  I told myself that once I got through this part, it would be easy-peasy to the finish. Yeah, I lied, but sometimes necessary in order to get into the right mindset.

Halfway through, I heard a rattling on my bike.  Looking down, I saw that one of my bottle cages was just about to launch itself down the mountain.  Fortunately, I was able to stop, grab my multi-tool, and tighten the screws that had loosened.  The last few miles of this loop were mostly downhill and I was able to find some flow and punch some power coming out of the corners. Despite the weather, course conditions, and achy back, I was actually having fun!

A beautiful course with 6500 feet gain in 52 miles

I made a hard right onto FS 221 and although the road was flat, there was plenty of energy sapping mud to knock the wind out of my sails.  My drive train was making all sorts of death wails.  I saw a rider ahead of me, so that became my carrot, allowing me to focus on him and not the road.  It took FOREVER for me to catch him, but I did, as the climbing began on Sheed's Creek Road.  He asked how far Aid #2 was and I think I popped his balloon when I answered 5 miles.

I welcomed the short bits of pavement.  The gravel section of this road had been recently graded and what with the heavy rainfall and hunter traffic, it was like pedaling through a milkshake (perfect wording, Chris!). I tried to find the firmest ground to pedal, but the descents were super sketchy.  I would be riding on hardpack only to suddenly find myself hitting a section (always in a turn) where it would turn to soup.  I learned quickly to let go of the brakes and trust my front wheel to find the way.

I stopped at Aid #2.  Jayden kindly refilled my bottle while Kathleen helped me clean my glasses.  I kept the stop short, so as not to give my legs any indication that the day was over.  I managed to keep pace with another racer on a MTB.  He had a strong steady pace, a little more painful than what I really wanted to endure, but endure I did.  My back pain had eased up some, and I was able to apply more power to the pedals.  With firm ground beneath me again, I was able to stand and pedal when the grade dictated.  This switching between seated and standing afforded me a little more oomph to get over the climbs.  We then caught up to Chris (whom I had met at Pine Log a few weeks back).  Together the three of us pushed each other to the finish (misery loves company!). 

I rolled through the finish line with a time of 4:37:57, 2nd woman and 18th overall. This was a great way to end the season, knowing that I still have the grit, gristle and gumption to persevere in less than ideal conditions.

Hmmm ... maybe this was why I had squealing brakes and less than stellar stopping power.

All in all, this is a nice addition to the Chainbuster Gravel Series.  Lisa pulled out another great race despite the horrid conditions.  I do hope that this one will continue, although perhaps moving it up a month or two might attract more racers and better weather.  The venue is awesome (bike wash, hot showers, beer, and food), the course is beautiful and punchy, and schwag and prizing are abundant.

Kudos to all those who toed the line and to the volunteers who also had to endure yucky conditions!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Georgia Gravel Grinduro

I try to have an off season in November and December.  But then I got an email from Topview Sports Tim. This 70 mile gravel race had 3 timed segments, ranging from 8-14 miles, and included both a climb and a descent.  Results would be based only on the segments.  I liked the idea, especially this late in the year, of crushing the segments and then party pacing in between.  Sign me up!

I did the 100+ mile version of this last year.  Only a handful of poor bastards had signed up for this distance, so this year Tim cut that one out.  This year there was a 23 and 33 mile distance as well.  Having done 2 of the 3 segments last year, but in reverse order, I knew that I would be faster and have more fun on my mountain bike.

Rescue Racing represents!

Race day temps were going to be exactly the same as when I did UnPAved a couple weeks ago so at least I did not have to think about what to wear or how to layer.  The start was neutral on a greenway and brrr ... cold!  For the first 5 minutes I was shivering so much my bike was shaking.  But after we departed from the greenway onto the road, the course began to climb as well as my core temperature.

9 miles in was the first timed segment.  It was 8 miles long and on a tame dirt road.  I thought I was warmed up, but when I throttled it, my legs were like ... whaaaat?  The air was cold and it hurt to breathe that intensely.  I had to back it off a bit less I implode.  About halfway through, I started feeling good and brought the intensity back up.  0:34:14 later I crossed the timing mat and rolled up to the aid station.  Rather than my usual NASCAR style pit stops, I took a few minutes to refuel and wait for my HR to come back down from hummingbird mode.

I then took a fairly chill pace over the next 13 miles.  Most of it was pavement but on quiet country roads.  I was not liking how my legs felt; extremely full of burn anytime the pavement went up.  Guess they were objecting to this "off-season" race.

The second time second I was familiar with as I had done it in reverse last year and had also ridden it this way during my TNGA days.  The Wildcat Road climb was brutally beautiful ... up, up, up for almost 9 miles and 1500 feet elevation gain.  It had deteriorated over the years and although it started out smooth, it soon became lumpy.  And that last mile is a doozy!

Wildcat Road

With this segment being 12 miles long, I started off slow, as I had stopped at the aid station prior, to refuel and shed some clothing.  Once the dirt started to get chunky, I attempted to pick up the pace and the legs responded better this time.  I knew this would be at least a 1 hour effort, so I set a comfortably hard tempo; I wanted to not be completely gassed as I knew the descent off of Addis Gap was gonna require some focus and skill.

Towards the top, I was passed by another woman.  I made an effort to keep her in sight, but once the road turned to more of an ATV trail, I lost contact.  I knew the top was just right around the corner, or maybe two or three, so I dug a little deeper.  Crossing the AT, I felt that I could catch her on the descent, as she was on a gravel bike.  It was a tough haul downhill.  The fresh leaf fall covered up large loose rocks and tree limbs.  That combined with the shadows made it extra sketchy.  I was glad for my front fork and 2.0 tires.  I soon caught and passed many a gravel bike, as well as the woman who had passed me and two others. 

After about a mile the trail turned morphed back into a lumpy gravel road and I was able to pick up the pace.  A guy on a mountain bike caught me and together we had fun ripping down this road at speed.  Towards the end of the segment it got pedaly and I forced my legs to turn over the cranks with some power; I did NOT want to be caught by anyone.  I hit the timing mat at 1:11:58.  A little over an hour of climbing combined with a hard fast descent put a hurtin' on me, but in a good way.

At the aid station, I took off another layer and refueled.  I knew I had a slog up Hogpen Gap and it was warm in the direct sun.  It was a slow go up the pavement, with cars whizzing by at high speeds.  I was a little more than nervous and wanted to get this next 5 miles out of the way quickly. 

Colors were poppin' today!

The third and final segment began off of Hogpen Gap.  It was 14 miles long, with a short climb followed by a sh!t ton of descending with a few rollers thrown in the mix just to let your legs know the show was not over yet.  The initial climb was short, followed by some sa-weet extended downhill on a lightly graveled fairly smooth road.  But the turns were tight and I was glad to have a little extra rubber in the corners.  The extra climby bits I just suffered through, knowing that the timing mat was just a few miles ahead.  It was a shame I could not take any photos here because it was just so gosh darn beautiful.  The last 2-4 miles was flat turning into pavement the last two.  By now I was on the struggle bus to keep my steed moving quickly.  I thought I saw the traffic cone just ahead and I gunned it only to realize in the final yards that it was not the timing mat but just a caution cone for a bump in the road.  Arghhh!  Onward, legs, onward!  Finally I saw the mat and crossed it in 1:00:35.

My kinda way to finish up a gravel race!

Grabbing a banana and some water at the final aid station, I soft-pedaled the last few miles over to Unicoi State Park.  The final miles were some rewarding single track through the park.  I made one wrong turn and got some bonus descending/climbing in before getting back on the proper trail.  I managed to eek out a bit of energy to zip along this dirt ribbon back into Helen.  I crossed the finish line in 6:19:36, but it was only the timed sections that mattered.  I was happily surprised to have met my goals: 1) have fun  2) not crash  and 3) podium (1st).

That ... was ... really ... fun.  I hope to see more of this format in the future, because sometimes I don't wanna go hard the whole time, but have an oxygen-rich opportunity to take in the beauty of the land surrounding me during these events.

Mark it for next year:  Georgia Gravel Grinduro 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

UnPAved 120 Race Report


In its second year, UnPAved is a gravel race in central Pennsylvania.  It has 4 distances: 30, 54, 90, and the 120.  Dave Pryor ( SSCXWC13Philly) and Mike Kuhn (TSE, Iron Cross) are the mad alchemists behind this event. The 120, which I raced, is actually 117 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing.  This year, the race was held in conjuntion with Lewisburg's Fall Festival.

I headed up on Thursday and met up with Curt Shelman to help man the Chamois Butt'r tent.  On Friday, we rode a section of the race, including the first big climb.  I had a difficult time keeping up with Curt, but my legs always feel like crap the day after a long drive and today was all about blowing the crud out of the carburetor.

Saturday morning, I did the social ride put on by Walk It Bike It Lewisburg.  David Jolin was in the area and joined me in this two hour shakedown ride cruising the farmlands around the town.

Add caption

In the afternoon, I worked at the Chamois Butt'r tent.  I do believe we stole the show with our "Spin To Win" wheel.  Curt and I also educated not only cyclists but the general population about the products.  Talking to the locals about the exact nature of Chamois Butt'r was a riot.  The facial expressions were priceless.  Most just wanted candy and I wonder how many of them went home with the single serve packets of Chamois Butt'r with the intention of spreading it on their morning toast or squeezing it into their bullet proof coffee! Especially the coconut oil version. 😂😂😂

Big money, big money!

Race morning was COLD!  34 degrees!  I must have went through 10 different clothing variations, but finally settled on a wind breaker base layer, jersey, bibs, arm/knee warmers, vest, chemical warmers in shoes as well as layered between 2 sets of gloves, and ear warmers.  Fortunately, the race start was at the Miller Center, so I stayed inside right up til they called for us at the start. I was able to get in the third row.

We rolled out on a neutral 5 mile rail-trail start at first light ... 7:15am.  I love these slow starts, as it gives my body ample time to get warmed up.  The average speed was 15 mph and even though I was not directly in the wind, my fingers still froze.  In my opinion, this was the most dangerous portion of the course.  Visibility was low due to the fog, the trail was narrow, I had to be watchful for the ballards, and then contend with the jackasses ... err, jackrabbits, who were making a somewhat safe two-wide situation, into a three-wide free for all.  I erred on the side of caution and gave them their space.  I was NOT contending for a top 10 or even top 20 overall.

I was rolling alongside Gordon, who was his usual giddy self, talking up the Appalachian Journey taking place in April 2020.  I have signed up in this duo format gravel race with fellow team mate David Jolin. Once we turned onto the first paved road, the intensity rose, but not too high, as I was still able to hang with the front runners.  The next few miles I encountered some rollers and a little bit of gravel.  Once I entered Bald Eagle State Forest, the gravel got lumpy, and the pack broke up.  I rode alongside Mary for a while.  When I hit the first climb, I was feeling a lot better than when I had pre ridden this, and motored up the embedded rock road, finding the smoothest lines.  I slowly pulled away from Mary, but then was immediately passed by another woman, who might have weighed 80 pounds soaking wet.  She blew by so fast, I got caught up in her wake for a moment.  She either had the fitness of a 4.5 watt/kg racer, or there was going to be a fireworks show on one of the subsequent climbs, when she blew up.

Topping out on the climb, I had finally thawed out.  The subsequent descent had me in a permagrin, not only because it was so stinking smooth and fast, but I got cold again.  My eyes were watering due to the icy cold wind as I was blasting down the mountain, and I was having a hard time seeing ahead of me.  Fortunately, the 2 hairpin turns were preceded by caution signs, so I knew when to feather the brakes.  The next 20 miles was ALL downhill. I had plenty of nutrition/hydration so I blew past the first aid station at mile 27.  The road began to level out around mile 30 and a small group formed.  We worked together over the next 10 miles, making those pass by quickly. The scenery was amazing, what with all the farms and small townships we passed through.  After rolling through the town of Coburn, the next climb began, and our group splintered, as we each tackled this at our own speed.   The Bike Flights van passed me on this climb as they were taking the drop bags to aid 2/4. After 2 1/2 miles up, I enjoyed a sa-weet 5 mile descent into the second aid station (mile 50).

Baby butt smooth!

Upon arriving, the volunteers let us know that our drop bags had not arrived yet.  Wait!  What?  I could only laugh, wondering where the Bike Flights van had gotten off course.  No worries, as the aid station had plenty of GU products.  I refilled with GU Roctane and took two S'mores gels.  I also shed my vest. There was still a chill in the air, so I opted to keep my chemical warmers in place as well as my arm/leg warmers on.

Then I pushed on to "The Difference," a 30 mile loop that would circle back to this aid station at mile 80.  This was the hardest portion of the course, what with a 6 mile climb, with the last 2 miles being chunky, followed by a 5 mile chunky descent down Longwell Draft.  Chunky is defined as ledges of rock slabs with baby heads strewn about in the thousands. The climb up wasn't too bad as I was going slow enough to pick the "smoothest" line.  The descent was sketchy, but employing all my MTB skills, I managed to clean it in a respectable time, passing quite a number of racers, who were either fixing flats or trying to prevent them. That descent was so rough, I thought my eyeballs were going to rattle out of my head! Towards the end, my triceps and wrists were ready to be done and I threw caution to the wind ... flats be damned!  What a way to soften us up for the subsequent gut punches (3 remaining climbs) back to the aid station!  At the bottom of this descent was an aid station for broken bikes, manned by the Dutch Wheelman Bike shop.  I heard the mechanic stayed busy.

Chunky 2-Track

I actually enjoyed the remainder of the loop.  Amazingly my legs still felt good. The gravel roads were baby butt smooth, more hard packed dirt than gravel really.  I could stand and mash without the rear tire slipping.  The other cool part to these climbs was that just before you topped out, you had a brief reprieve with a short descent and then you finished the remainder of the climb (usually about 0.5 miles) with slightly rested legs.  It was on this section that I made contact with a fellow racer from Philly.  I yoyo'd with Doug through here, catching him on the climbs and he dropping me on the descents.

Rolling back into aid 2/4 (mile 80), I made a beeline for the restroom.  After a 60 second pee 😮! I refilled my bottles and grabbed two caffeinated GU's for the remaining 40 miles. I also shed my arm and ear warmers and removed my chemical warmers.

The next 6 miles was on a rail-trail.  For me, riding the flats is much harder than climbing, because I have to forcibly push myself to maintain intensity on the flats, whereas when I am climbing, I have no other choice.  I started catching a lot of the 90 mile riders here.

Then I hit the Cherry Run, another 3+ mile, 1000 foot climb.  But these Pennsylvania grades are so nice, I was in my happy place all day on the climbs.  I passed many a struggling rider and just gave them words of encouragement.  Bear Run was another hoot of a descent.  Straight, smooth, and fast, I averaged 27 mph on this 3 mile section.

On the final climb, at around mile 95, the Salsa Chaise was there.  Since I was a 120 contender, they put me ahead of a few others, so that I could get in and out quickly.  One of the Salsa guys thought that I was in 4th place.  Whoo wee!  That was a surprise, as I did not know where I was in the mix, but thinking that I might be in the top 5.  I threw a pose, and then quickly remounted.  Only 25 to go and all downhill, right?

Well ... there were some rollers before the final descent, and after laying on the chaise for a brief moment, my legs thought they were done.  I was struggling here, when Doug passed by me.  I dug deep to catch his wheel, thought I was gonna puke, but was finally able to recover a little being out of the wind.  We hit that next descent like screaming banshees!  Holy smokes, were were killing it!  Being in his draft allowed me to go even faster ... 35 mph at one point.  Huge kudos to the organizers for clearly placing caution signs before tight turns so that I could scrub some speed.

Back down into farm country, we hit the pavement to pedal some roller miles back to the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail.  Doug was my gravel angel, dragging my arse back to the finish.  My legs were cooked!  But I must say, I did my part in pulling a bit, so that he could stretch out his back.  I don't know how much help I was, as it was akin to Chewbacca trying to hide behind Princess Leia.  Those last 8 miles on the rail-trail were the hardest of the day.  Legs thrashed and with my gas tank on empty, that flat bit went ... on ... forever!  But finally, there she was, the finishing line banner.  Hot diggity damn!  I crossed under her with a time of 8:15:47; that's an average speed of 13.9 mph.  Holy cow, that was a fast race!

I managed to take 3rd!  Two youngsters had managed to have a gravel battle royale, as 1st and 2nd were just a few minutes apart.  I was happy with a no drama 3rd. Despite having no women around me since mile 10, I still managed to push myself all day. And I did not know who might have been just behind me.

About 10 minutes after I finished, when my body finally realized the game was over, I became a lump of hurt.  I had tunnel vision for a minute and had to sit down on my tailgate before I passed out.  The mind and body are a pretty amazing thing.  How I can push it to the brink and hold it there for however long I need to, only for it to fall completely apart, when I tell her she is done.  It took about an hour of chilling, along with some nutrition, before she came back around.

Finisher's Prize

The post race meal was a homemade "hot pocket" which looked pretty dang good.  Not being glulten-free, I opted for the turkey chili, which was equally good!  Oh, and there was an endless beer garden.

Glad this "advanced" woman can still hold her own in a gravel battle.

The organization was impeccable.  The venue was perfect, as in perfectly warm and inviting while hanging around for the start.  The schwag and finisher's products were spot on.  This is definitely a family friendly race, as there were plenty of things to do for the non-racers.  They even had daycare.  And with 4 distances, this is definitely a beginner friendly event.  I give it 5 stars!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Marji Gesick 100 Race Report

📷:  Rob Meendering

I came into this race with a pretty lofty goal:  sub 12 hours.  I planned my season around this one.  I tried to dial everything in:  training, nutrition, recovery, sleep, equipment.  I needed to be able to eek out every ounce of fitness I could.  I knew that a buckle was not probable, but I kept a healthy attitude of anything is possible.  The week leading up to the race, the weather was getting dialed in nicely: dry and mid-70's which was perfect for me.  I pre rode Gurly and Doctors on Friday and was feeling fantastic on the techy bits.  With optimal conditions and a body that was ready to rock, I had no excuses to "find my limits and destroy them."

This greeted us at the start.

It was a LeMans start:  0.5 mile run.  I placed my bike close to the start of where the bike course began.  It would be a lot easier to run a little more, making my way through 350+ bikes on foot, and not have to worry about someone trampling my bike as they ran to theirs.  I also started off in running shoes, opting to keep my feet as happy as possible, and taking a wee bit longer to transition to the bike.

The race began sharply at 7:30 am after the traditional electric guitar National Anthem.  We were led out by a unicorn. It was chaos.  I kept my feet light, hoping not to be trampled by the masses.  After the first 1/4 mile, the crowd thinned out.  I came back around on this running loop, feeling great!  Once I found my bike, I changed into my cycling shoes, put my CamelBak on, and headed out.

I was running a Garmin 830, with the screen on the map mode.  I did not want to spend my ride looking at numbers and fretting all day, so I opted to be a "free spirit" and go by PE (perceived exertion).  I have been racing long enough to know how my PE relates to heart rate and wattage.  Although the course was well signed, the trail systems were like spiderwebs.  It is easy to blast by a turn, and I did not want any "bonus" miles.

I had a great start and although I was in a conga line, it was moving at a comfortably hard pace.  Around the 4 mile mark, I felt a catch in my pedaling and then my chain completely locked up.  I could not move the pedals at all.  WTF!  I pulled off the trail and looked at my drive train.  It took me a minute to figure it out, but something had caused my chain to get jammed down between the lower pulley and the derailleur cage.  Meanwhile it felt like at least 50 racers passed me.  As I was struggling to unjam my chain, I heard someone ask, "Are you ok?"  I angrily mumbled to myself "Well if I was, I would be on my damn bike."  After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably only 60-90 seconds), I got rolling again.

But now I was in a new wave of racers, going slower than what I wanted.  "Patience, grasshopper."  From years of racing, I knew that it was gonna be a long day.  "Matchless" opportunities would arise for me to get around the slower racers.  As I was approaching the sharp left hand turn onto Jedi, which is the trail that leads to Top O' The World, a bunch of racers had overshot the turn.  Score for me!  At the Top, there were too many off their bikes walking the descent to get a clean shot (I had cleaned it at Marji Camp), so I made the wise decision to run it.  I passed 12 guys by doing this.  Another score!

The remainder of the trail around the Harlow Lake area I was a good girl.  Staying happy when sooo many people were off their bikes and hiking the rocky sections I would have preferred to ride.  Focusing on the positive:  the perfect weather, dry trail, effortless pedaling that would pay off later.  On the 1.3 mile climb back up to Forestville, I caught up to Megan Doerr.  We chatted, me momentarily, but she continued to be a babbling brook of happiness.  I was thinking about all the watts she was losing through her mouth 😁.

Once I hit the ski trail, I started catching women.  I found Lisa, who was looking strong.  She told me that there were a couple more ahead.  I slowly passed by her to reel them in.  I finally caught up to the leader (Hannah).  She gave some good words of encouragement as I went by.  On a fast two track descent I missed the right hand turn back onto single track.  Ugghh!  Lost a few places and Hannah managed to get back in front of me.

I rolled through the campground and hit Ramblin Man at full speed.  At the road crossing, a yellow jacket smacked my temple, stung me, and then crawled into my helmet.  How I managed to dislodge that little bastard before he tagged me again (and remain upright) I don't know.  At least the pain kept me on point.  I felt frisky on Wildcat, one of my faves.  It continued onto Pine Knob.  I was glad I had pre ridden this at Marji Camp.  I found my flow here and aside from the mandatory HAB sections, I cleaned ALL the descents.  (A big thank you to the frustrated racer walking down one of the descents who was making room for us riders, but voicing his opinion about the difficulty of getting off the trail for us. I saw your struggle and appreciated your sacrifice.  You have a free place to stay in Tennessee should you ever want to shred some Brappalachia trails).  

I rode up on a small train on racers on Blue Heron.  I settled in on their wheels and used this opportunity to refuel and feel the flow.  I managed to pass Hannah again, as she was taking a nature break. By the time I hit Collinsville, I was ready to get after it again, feeling the pressure to put some distance (if I could) between Hannah and I.  I made multiple easy passes and embraced the upward flow trail leading to Lowe's.  Thanks Dustin for the encouraging words out on the trail!

The Lowe's trail was a freaking blast.  In years past, it has always been a slip n slide, but today it was dry and only one short walky section.  But the ride into and through Lowe's made up for that with the super sandy double track and the nice soft grass ride into a headwind.  A Marji theme is to route you on some nasty energy sapping "trail" when a perfectly good paved road is right next to said trail. For "safety" reasons, they say ( insert eye roll).

Chris was waiting for me just after the highway culvert crossing (mile 29) near Best Buy.  I refilled my CamelBak and grabbed a Honey Stinger Waffle to go.  I rolled through the timing mat and made my way to the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT).  Here I met Timo, who introduced me as a friend of fellow Rescue Racing team mate Alan.  My, how small of a community we are!  I had a brief reprieve as I followed his wheel along the IOHT.

Along the Black Trail, I made a courteous pass around Timo, to re enter my flow state.  Time seemed to pass by effortlessly along Black, Greywalls, and Sandman, and Smiley.  The trails were hero dirt and my energy levels were good.   Eh line was meh.  I am a natural feature kind of gal and don't particularly care for these types of BMX'ish trail.  It works my quads more than I want, which probably means my form is subpar.

I rolled through the South Trails trailhead, saw Chris and grabbed another waffle and topped off my water bottle.  I proceeded on to Gurly with people shouting out my name and "go get that buckle!"  I was most appreciative and humbled that people actually knew who I was. The support along the trail so far was unbelievable!  There were pop up aid stations at least every 5 miles.  People who gave up their day and dollars to lend a helping hand.

Gurly gnar

After Gurly and Doctors, the infamous climb up to Scary began.  0.7 miles with an average grade of 11% had several off their bikes and more weaving back and forth across the road.  With my 28T chainring and pie plate in the back, it was easy peasy for me.  The one thing I hate is to be so gassed at the top of a climb that it makes the upcoming descent sketchy and dangerous.  There were a few spectators at the root-strewn off-camber rock slab, warning that it was slick.  I got a chuckle out of this because I have seen it in way worse conditions.  Today Scary was all sh!ts and giggles for me.  When I rolled by the area that had a token check point back in 2016 and 2017, I did get a little nervous not seeing anything, but figured that they had just chosen new spots for this year.

New to me New Yellow Trail rocked!  Oh the flow!  And the icing on the cake was Zueg's Trail.  OMG!  This rock lover enjoyed working her bike on this section.  My half-assed track standing skills paid off here.  Lots of work and love went into this 0.9 mile section, what with all the ramped rock features.  I got gassed on this trail as it was all climbing.

Zueg's Trail.  📷:  Jeff Carlson

Back on the New Yellow Trail over to Ezy Rider I had time to recover.  Ezy Rider was chunkier than I remembered.  I had to work hard on this descent to keep the rubber side down.  Rolling into Marquette Mountain Ski Area, I was once again greeted by Chris.  This guy ... always on point!  He had me refueled and back on course lickety split.  I was going through the fluids quicker than I expected.  Chris told me that first place was just a couple minutes ahead.  Hmmm ... I thought I was in first.  Was there someone else up ahead or had Hannah snuck on by at the last aid stop? So many people were cheering me on to catch her.  Totally amazed by all the support.

Going up Down Dogger was technically challenging.  Big boulders littered the trail and there was lots of ratcheting to avoid pedal strikes.  I must say that my instant engagement Industry 9 wheels were da bomb for this section. Once I hit Off Grade I felt the first bit of fatigue begin to sit in.  I tried to settle in and ease off the power a little now that the trail smoothed out a little.  Pipe Dreams was a hoot.  Imagine riding on top of a metal pipe with a diameter of 4 feet at 15 mph.  The trail footprint was about 18" wide and although most of the pipe was buried, it was still sketchy in a few parts.

From there Ezy Street led to about 5 miles of ORV trail.  Sandy, loose, and slightly uphill, it was a "I should be going faster than this" section.  Then on into the township of Eagle Mills where there was a mile section of slogging through sand with a perfectly good county road just 5 yards to my left.  Seriously?!?  I just kept telling myself, "not as bad as it was in 2017."

I caught the mystery woman just as I hit the IOHT.  It was Hannah.  She had stopped and got a Coke from a pop up aid station.  We formally introduced ourselves and rode together for a bit.  I took the lead on this cinder rail-trail.  From here it was a 5 mile false flat push into a headwind (of course).  I was hoping we could find some big burly powerhouses to tuck in behind, but not today.  Soon after this thought Hannah popped off my wheel and I was alone to duke it out with the winds.  Thunderstorms were in the forecast and the winds were not playing nicely.

Up until this point, I had not looked at the clock, my elapsed time, nor the distance.  I had calculated that I needed to arrive at Jackson Park by 2:15 pm in order to have a chance at a buckle.  As I approached the only official aid station, I swiped my screen and saw 3:13.  I wasn't really disappointed and quickly readjusted my goal to going for my third win.  I was still pushing a comfortably hard pace and having an absolute blast doing it.

I rolled over to where Chris was patiently waiting.  While he helped me refill my CamelBak and swap out gel flasks, I ate 2 gluten free fig bars. (For the first 65 I had consumed 100 ounces of Infinit Nutrition electrolyte/calorie mix, 30 ounces of water, 6 Hammer gels, and 2 Honey Stinger gluten free waffles.)  Another notable note is that I had not urinated since 7 am and had no urge to go.  One of my secrets to gaining some time on my competition is to turn off the plumbing.  I was back on the course in less than 2 minutes.  As I was pulling away from the tent I happened to see that Hannah had just hit the timing mat.  Good deal, I had a tiny buffer.

It was nice to hit some "flattish" trail in the beginning of this 25 mile loop as it gave my body a chance to process the 250 calories I had just wolfed down.  It was eery riding through a ghost town now swallowed up by nature.  I hit the stair case going up, which the first year I did it I thought it to be a very odd feature.  I rode on broken up sidewalks, near an old retaining wall on Humpty Dumpty, and down a 3 flight staircase.  Despite the fatigue, I was still pleased with my uphill efforts on the fence line climb and the subsequent grunty rocky and rooty sections.

Somewhere in this 25 mile loop, I came upon the first token check point.  I love the way Todd and Danny f*ck with us, labeling this as #3 on the bucket of tokens, making the rookies think twice about missing 2 check points.  My heart didn't even skip a beat.  I grabbed a second token further on in this loop as well.

The Last Bluff climb was a bugger, but I still managed to clean it all, save for one switchback, where fatigue got the better of me, and just did not have the "umph" to lift my wheel over a root and not enough forward momentum to roll it.  Past this portion of the first loop out of Jackson Park, my memory starts to get fuzzy.  After 80 miles of racing, no amount of nutrition was keeping the legs out of the "weighted blanket" fatigue zone.  I remember the subsequent climbs of BrokeBack, New York, Partridge Knob, the Hampton's, as being much harder than when I rode at Marji Camp. 

As I passed by the finish line at mile 85, I waved and shouted to those in the beer tent, "See you in a few!"  Even though I was beginning the struggle to race at any amount of speed, mentally I was as happy as a head louse in a barber shop.  I was yo-yo'ing with a young lad, who was in the same struggle as I.  However, as I hit Sissy Pants, which I thought was the last climb before Jackson Park, he was off his bike and told me he didn't think he could finish.  I slow pedaled and tried to give him all the encouragement I could, but I could see the defeat in his eyes.  I sure do hope he was able to pull it together and finish.

Knowing a short break was just around the corner, what did I see around the corner but The Hampton's Climb.  "FUCK!"  immediately flew out my pie hole.  Head down, I ground out yet another frickin' uphill slog of death. 

Back into Jackson Park, dusk would soon be upon me.  I took a few minutes to chow on some more Fig N Jammies, chug a Coke, swap out CamelBaks, and put a light on my helmet.  ( In this 25 miles I had drank 50 ounces of Skratch, 20 ounces of water, and 2 gels). Still no urge to urinate, so I was in and out within 5 minutes.  As I was preparing for the final push, I paused to look around me.  Bodies and equipment were scattered across the grass like a Civil War post battle scene. Most faces displayed "the stare."  Although I did see several smiling ones ... or were they grimaces?

I drew my sword and charged directly into the line of battle. But be it for a bike mechanical, I knew I would finish this journey.  I had begun to encounter some 60 milers and runners around mile 75,  and during this section, they became more numerous.  I made sure I gave each and every one of them a shout out.  Knowing how difficult it was for me, I couldn't imagine being in their shoes.  They had more grit, gristle, and gumption than I, to be where they were in their journey, at this hour, and knowing they had many more miles to go.  They gave me inspiration to try and pick my pace up a bit.

Whose idea was it to ride that small but steep loose rocky, sandy section just upon leaving Jackson Park the second time, only to turn left at the top and go RIGHT BACK DOWN to the IOHT I just left?  I was Yosemite Sam'ing it up this climb!

I was grateful the afternoon thunderstorms had held off.  People were complaining of the hot temperatures, but after living/riding in 90+ degrees and 70+ humidity most of my summer, a breezy overcast 75 degrees was right up my alley!  The off camber Dirty Mary was enjoyable in the dry. I turned my light on as I hit Flannel Shirt.  Dusk is the hardest time of the day to read the trail and avoid obstacles.  More than once, due to lighting and fatigue, I smacked a tree.  I laughed out loud at myself more than once making these silly mistakes.

As darkness enveloped me, I became a little more cautious in my line choice.  However, there were times that before I knew it I was bombing down a slick rock slab and just had to trust in my abilities to stay upright and hope my front wheel did not find a huge rock to catapult me over. I did have a few "Oh, shit!" moments but Marji Camp body memory saved me.  As well as turning off my monkey brain.

The third token was in this final 15; once again, my memory of exactly where fails me, but what I do remember is that the sign was facing away from direction of flow and I had to stop and turn around to read the sign to see that it was indeed my third token, albeit labeled #1 on the bucket.

On Suicide Hill I came across some young high school age ladies.  When asked if I was doing the hundred, they said I was awesome!  To which I immediately responded, "And you are, too! Keep it up and you will be kicking my tail soon!"  When I was their age, I thought a 5K run was hard. 

The rock slab HAB was unusually hard this time for me.  Bike on the left, feet up on the dirt, I used Blaze for a crutch to make my way up that steep section of hell.

I heard the lapping waters of Lake Sally at mile 99.  My mind began wandering and I began recalling the movie Lake Placid.  Imagining a giant crocodile chomping down on me was enough to squeeze my adrenals and pick up my pace a little.

When I saw white flags on a freshly cut trail, I knew that Cry Baby had begun.  Danny may put on this sweet old man persona, but his true evilness shows in his trail work.  Off-camber, with so many twists and turns and ups and downs, if I was any older, my vertigo would have kicked in.  And what about those 29'r sized holes in the midst of some of those turns.  Good Gawd!  And those 2 or 3 steep ass HAB's almost made me cry for my Mommie.  The only saving grace was that I was beginning to smell the barn.

Only Jasper Knob was left.  I was so tired, I couldn't even make the initial climb up onto the trail.  I pushed to a point where I could hop back on and finish the climb.  Upon getting there, the last check point bucket had no tokens, only acorns and pine cones, with a Ha Ha! message from Todd and Danny.  I enjoyed listening to the rookies remarks upon seeing this.  More than one "FU!" was said!

The descent back into town was pure joy!  I had finished my 3rd Marji, with each one earning me a dollar bill.  Yeah, the buckle was out of reach, but that wasn't my only goal.  As I have often said, my #1 goal for every race is to have fun.  #2 is to not get hurt.  #3 is to finish, leaving it all out on the trail.  Usually, when I accomplish my core goals, I have a great day on the bike and a good placing. 

I rolled through the finish line at 14:26.  1st woman and 39th overall.  Not too shabby, considering this Marji had eaten many of its young, with a 63% DNF rate. 

Too tired to stand.

This was my slowest time of the 3.  But every year I have done it, the course has gotten harder, with more technical trail added.  But, this was probably the funnest one, as the course was in the best shape I have ever ridden, allowing me to find more zen moments of pure bliss on the technical ascents as well as the descents.

I want to give props for everyone who toed the line, no matter the distance.  To sign up for this event took guts.  To finish took an unbelievable amount of mental fortitude and strength.  And to those who found their limits, next year you will destroy them. 

To all the ladies out there, you guys are amazing.  I don't remember one woman who did not have a smile on her face as I passed by.  You are my heroes! Your strength gave me smiles for miles ... and I think I found some free trail out there this year because of you!

Thank you Todd and Danny for all your hard work to push us beyond what we thought was possible.  What an amazing soul searching journey!

Thank you to all those who shouted out my name and yelled at me to go get that buckle.  I cannot believe so many knew who I was.  It gave me little boosts of speed and happiness all day!

The volunteer support was utterly amazing.  There must have been at least 20 unofficial aid stations.  When I first raced this in 2016, I was on my own on the 25 mile loop and 15 mile push to the finish.  This year, there were people at almost every road intersection! The communities of Marquette, Negaunee, and Ishpeming, as well as all the Marji folks are incredible. 

Rescue Racing was well represented! Congrats to team mates Lisa Randall on getting that damn buckle (100 mile duathlon), Scott Morman (9th overall, 100 mile bike), and David Jolin (4th Master's, 60 mile bike).  Shout out to Kathleen Tokuda, who got 11th in the 60 mile women's Open.

Hardest dollar every earned!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Black Bear Rampage Race Report

My faithfully fast and furious steed

This was my 7th year racing (2007, 2008, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2019) the BBR.  The BBR is put on by my LBS, Scott's Bicycle Centre, and is in its 13th year. The course consists of all of the trails at the Ocoee Whitewater Center and is 95% single track.  This would be my last high intensity effort before the big one ... the Marji Gesick 100. Having not done much racing this year, especially on trail, I was a wee bit nervous about how the legs would respond and the skills at speed would fair.  It is one thing to race a gravel grinder which is akin to a time trial, but to have to put out constant intense power surges is quite a bit different and something I have just not done much of this year.

It was 65 degrees at the start and conditions had been dry all week, so it was gonna be fast.  I started out hard, making the legs burn going up the pavement climb.  Hard enough that I could not even talk to Loretta as I passed her.  My breathing was ragged and my heart rate above threshold, but at least the legs felt good.  I latched onto a dude (Marty) just as we crested the climb and was able to recover while maintaining speed down the paved road until we hit Brush Creek. Marty turned out to be a great pacer through this first fast slot car like section of trail.

As we approached the Boyd Gap descent, I jumped ahead of him and an older fella.  Not knowing them nor their downhill skills, I wanted both a clear field of vision and and a chance to go at my own speed.  This trail has several sections of loose baby heads and the chances of a catastrophic failure is quite high if you hit them the wrong way.  Within the first minute, I was afraid I had made a mistake, as the guys I passed were right on my heels.  I asked twice if they wanted around, which I would have humbly pulled aside, but both seemed to be cool to follow me.  As we hit the short paved descent to Old Copper Road, I did apologize to the older fella if I hindered his race.  He seemed to be just fine ... so I was hopeful I just made him faster by showing him the line.

My teammate Robbie Burger passed me just before we hit Old Copper Road.  He was looking really strong and took off like a bat out of hell.  I hopped in behind the guys I led down the descent.  The root section on OCR felt like an 8 second bull ride ... not that I know anything about that, but those roots had grown!  I biffed a couple of lines and was glad to not have gotten launched off to the left.
As I was climbing up Bear Paw, making good time and feeling strong, I had a twinge in my inner thigh.  It felt like someone had pinched the crap out of me.  Uh oh, that was my body warning me of a full on cramp if I didn't settle down.  I was completely surprised by the twinge as I am not a cramper and I cannot even remember the last time I felt "the pinch."  But boy did I back it off quickly.  Way too many miles left and not wanting to be one of those poor souls laying off in the woods screaming uncontrollably, I settled.

As tradition would have it Henry was in full Hawaiian luau mode at the intersection of FS1333 and West Fork.  Those coconuts!  Love ya Henry.  You are a wonderful trail angel, be it in full on trail work mode or morale booster mode.  West Fork and Thunder Rock seemed to fly by; a good sign of my fitness.  Even the gravel climb up to Poplar Hollow felt effortless.  I caught back up to Robbie, but he passed me back as I stopped to swap CamelBak's.  The last time I did the race there was a n aid station at the top of the gravel climb but not today.  But my other trail angel, THE Zekester, was there, having hiked all the way up the gravel with cooler in hand, so that I did not have to lug a full hydration bladder up that mile climb.  What a man! What a man!

I passed Robbie back as he stopped at the aid station before the Quartz Loop.  As I entered the loop, I was curious as to where my competition was.  Zeke had told me that I was about 5 minutes behind the top 2 ladies, but how close behind me were the ladies in my age group (>35).  I roared down Bypass and hit Riverview starting to feel tired  Tired, really?  I had only been racing for 2 hours!  Suck it up buttercup, I told myself.

I like riding it in this direction as it feels mostly downhill with the bulk of the climbing at the end.  Knowing that I had a long descent back to the Whitewater Center after that, I was able to dig deep.  Robbie caught back up to my wheel and we finished out this section together.  Nothing like having a teammate behind you to give you a little more motivation to ride fast and smooth.

Once I crossed the bridge over the Ocoee River, the last 10 miles was the first 13 in reverse minus the 3 mile initial paved climb.  I began to smell the barn.  I conserved a little on Old Copper and the paved climb up to Boyd Gap.  Climbing Boyd Gap is a bugbear.  Every year, it gets a little more washed out, the baby heads multiply and the roots get taller.  Keeping my head down with just enough field of vision to see a few yards ahead, I grannied the hell outta that climb! 

Back on Brush Creek, I went into TT mode and made the final push to the finish.  With legs burning and eyeballs bulging, I imagined myself on the final miles of MG100, trying to make the 12 hour belt buckle cut-off. It worked, as I ended up not far off my best time for this section.

I won the 35 and over division with a time of 3:37:29.  Not anywhere near my fastest time, but right where I needed to be given the type of training I have been doing this year leading up to my A race, the Marji Gesick 100, which is coming up in 2 weeks.

Some mighty fine "advanced" women!

Thanks goes out to Scott's Bicycle Centre for putting on yet another wonderful BBR.  The watermelon and the ice old Cokes at the finish line is a welcome oasis, before pedaling the pavement back down to the WWC.  The Dam Deli catering was spot on!  And I have one more podium glass to add to my collection!

Ahhh, the good ole days of  race promoter DIY number plates.  Not bad, Doug!



Thursday, August 15, 2019

Kentucky Gravel Championship Race Report

I finished up my racing in Kentucky this past weekend with the Gravel Championship.  As I was midway into this race, I thought that this, along with the War Daddy and the Forty 5, would be a great Triple Crown series.  All races had a hefty portion of "enhanced" gravel, including mud bogs that you could hit, sink, and never be found again.  The fun part was a sort of choose your own adventure, around these "holes."  I chose my Niner Air 9 RDO for all of these races, as it made my adventure faster and way more funner!

The venue for this race was Flatlick Falls Recreation area.  A great place for the family to swim and cool off in the river while we poor bastards were fighting it out in the Kentucky woods.  I chose to camp the night before and got a wee bit drenched from a pop up down pour that lasted about an hour.

A week before the event, I was the only one in the open category.  Comfortable Carey was ready for a day of play in the forest.  But then Mary Penta just had to sign up and Comfortable Carey got really bitchy.  But the "uncivilized doin' hard things" Carey got really excited for a most uncomfortable race and silenced the Carey who thought it was going to be a cake walk.  Fortunately "CC" makes up less than 5% of my nature.

A gel shot and lubrication 10 minutes prior to the start

The morning was super foggy but a coolish 72 degrees.  The race went off 2 minutes shy of 8 am.  We were led out the initial 4 miles of pavement for safety reasons.  The pace was pleasant and allowed the engine to warm up without sputtering. Once we turned onto the first gravel descent, it was game on.  With gravels flying and bottles launching out of their cages, I was kept my mouth closed to save my teeth and eyes open to not become part of any potential carnage.

On the first major pavement climb, I lost contact of the lead group and Mary.  I knew better than to burn any matches now.  Keeping my heart rate below the red line, I slowly watched her pull away and could only hope that I might see her again.  At mile 10 came was the Indian Ridge descent.  It was steep, slick, and chunky.  I saw two flats on gravel bikes.  I settled so I wouldn't get to squirrely; there were plenty of miles left to make up time.

Popping out of the pavement, I rolled the next few miles just under threshold.  Those that I had passed on the last descent caught back up to me just before the next gravel climb.  Had I known that, I could have saved some watts by tucking in behind them.  It would be like this for most of my race, in no man's land, on my own, under my own power, with no one to tuck in behind and conserve energy.

📷: Ralonda Nicholson

The gravel up to Aid 1/3 was smooth as a baby's butt.  It was hard not to go fast, as the legs were feeling sparkly and Mary was somewhere up ahead.  But the OG Carey kept repeating, "Patience, grasshopper."  Not needing anything at the first aid station (mile 17), I pedaled on. Tussey was full of deep baby fist sized gravel.  I was happy to be rolling 2.0's with front suspension.  Once again, I passed several gravel bikes, only to be subsequently caught on the flat paved road to Horse Lick.

The beauty ... just before Horse Lick!

I did stop at the second aid station (mile 28) to swap bottles.  In and out in less than 20 seconds, I once again got ahead of those who had passed me before.  The gravel began to get lumpy and chunky and soon puddles began to appear.  Fortunately, there were ride arounds, as it had been dry in the couple weeks leading up to the race.

Needed a crash test dummy to determine the depth of this one.

Horse Lick is a 3.5 mile stretch of mudholes that the ATV's come to play in.  I only had to dismount and hike around 2 puddles; the rest I was able to negotiate alternate lines and make my way around the worst of it.  Halfway through, I did manage to catch a gravel racer who became my crash test dummy for the remainder of the holes.  Most were faster to ride through than around.  BTW, this fella had most excellent skills on skinnies, as I chased his ass all the way down Tussey!

This is a county road ... by Kentucky's standards.

Daugherty Wall was the next SOB climb.  Short, but with pitches approaching 17%, it would have many racers off their bikes and pushing.  Once again, I was happy as a tornado in a trailer park, with my Eagle drivetrain.  Hammering out these little beasty climbs is usually not my forte, but today, for whatever reason, the legs were responding when I asked them to.

Rolling along the ridgeline of Daugherty Road, I saw a familiar kit ahead of me.  As I got closer, I realized it was Mary.  Hot diggity dawg!  I caught up to her and together we pounded out the next few miles.  We talked about all things gravel, including DK and The Crusher.  We whoo hoo'd down the crazy steep paved descent of Dry Fork School Road. And then we came up on Jordan, which I thought was unusual.  But then I saw why, for before us were at least 5 cars driving on this gravel road.  They would not ... let ... us ... around! Soon our group of 3 became 5, as we were losing a lot of time.  We must have been behind them for 15 minutes, before they finally got the memo.  One by one, they stopped to let us by.  I called out a "Thank You" to each and every one of them.

After the creek crossing, where there was a water only aid station, I began to contemplate where I would try to make a move.  The initial climb out had my legs a little angry and Mary seemed to be still going strong.  I doubted my ability to open a gap, but just kept pushing the pedals, hoping for something, anything.  Towards the top, the legs came back to life.  We took a right onto rougher gravel and I knew the Carpenter Ridge Wall was approaching.  This 0.6 mile rugged double track climb was an average of 11% but had two pitches of at least 20%.  I started up just behind Mary.  The first steep pitch had us both off our bikes, but I could sense her struggle.  As soon as I was able, I remounted, and pressed down on the accelerator.  I came up to Jordan and told him I was coming around as I thought I had a gap on Mary by now.  I never looked around to see, but just turned myself inside out on this climb.

Carpenter Ridge ... pure evil!

Once I topped out on the climb, I challenged myself to ride this last 20 miles like a TT.  I said, "This is how the last 20 at MG100 is gonna feel. Pain is your friend: embrace it, absorb it, and relish it.  Find enjoyment in discomfort.  Establish new limits."  I was pulling out all of my mantras for this push!  And it worked.  The first 8 miles flew by, as the gravel was smooth and I could hit the rollers with momentum.

As I passed by the third and final aid station, I was told I had 14 miles left.  Ooof, my legs said, as I was thinking only 12.  Having no idea how far Mary was behind, I just continued to pin it!  Lear Road was another technical double track with some muddy sections.  I took it conservatively, as now was not the time for a crash or flat.

A short section of pavement allowed me to refuel and empty my gel flask in preparation for the final 10 miles, 1 of which was that booger of a climb on Indian Ridge.  And it seemed a bit more slippery on the way up.  My rear wheel spun out a couple times forcing me off the bike.  I was probably faster HAB'ing it anyway.

Indian Ridge climb

Despite my ragged breathing and the intense burn in the legs, I kept the hammer down on the rollers of Indian Ridge.  I knew I would get a breather on the long paved descent soon.  I rested while descending Hwy 290, pedaling an easy cadence to keep the blood flowing to the legs.  Atkinstown Road was the final gravel section before the last 4 paved miles to the finish. Just crush this last mile and gravel climb and you can ease up a bit, I told myself.  So I crushed it ... well, as much as anyone can in granny!

Once on the pavement, I could smell the barn.  With slightly renewed energy, I knocked out those last few miles with a vengeance.  Rolling through the finish line, 62 miles later, with a time of 4:46, I was first woman and 10th overall.

Keith Cottongim put on one helluva grassroots race.  Kentucky is brutally beautiful, technical, and even old school.  I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of this Appalachian enhanced gravel.  This ain't your typical gravel race.  Yes, it can be done on a gravel bike, but with less enjoyment and a higher risk of flats.  Out of the 8 divisions in this race, only one was won on a gravel bike.  It really ought to be called the Kentucky Mountain Bike Gravel Championships.