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