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.

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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!