Saturday, March 27, 2021

Fried Clay 200K Race Report

Both the Red Clay Ramble and Fried Green Tomato 50 events had piqued my interest in the past.  The opportunity just never presented itself.  So when John Switow posted on FB that he wanted to have a run at the Fried Clay, I decided that this would be a great way to kick off my first BDR (Big Dumb Ride) of the year. This was an OYO (On Your Own) race, meaning you could ride the course anytime during March and upload your start/finish time as well as a GPX file for verification. I watched the weather like a hawk in the week leading up to it because I had heard of the muddy horror stories of both the clay roads and horse trails.  Fortunately while my town got a thorough soaking, the conditions in middle Georgia remained dry.

Love beginning rides before dawn because this is the reward.

John and I started our ride at 7:15 am, after a 40 minute drive from our hotel and fumbling around a bit in the dark, readying our steeds.  I had stuffed about 2500 calories of food in my feed bag and top tube bag:  waffles, shot blocks, gels, 3 peanut butter filled dates, and a king-size PayDay.  I had 2 bottles full of Skratch and 1 empty bottle I planned on filling with water when there was a larger stretch between water refills.  We were doing this "self-sufficient," in order to get the 30 minute time bonus, so essentially we could not resupply at any stores, but churches were fair game for water refills.  I also had purification tablets, just in case.

With a 40 degree start, I had chemical warmers in my gloves and shoes.  The only saving grace was that the sun was supposed to come out and warm things up around 10 am.  The first few miles were chilly, as my core slowly warmed up with the effort.  After that, only my fingers were cold, and I slowly began to enjoy the undulations in the roads.  I mentioned to John that it felt like a chainless day so far and hope that it would continue.

Glad I started out in my cold weather HandUp Gloves

About 10 miles in we stopped in Hillsboro and checked out a very old school house, built in 1915.  This was just the beginning of our ride back through time, as the buildings and homes along the route were dated early 1900's.  Even though I was racing for the fastest time, I still wanted to take time to enjoy the beauty and history.

Ben Hill Schoolhouse

The first 20 miles or so of rollers were gradual and long, easy on the legs.  The clay sections were asphalt fast. We made fast time on them and even our skinny gravel tires roared along them. 

Redneck Interstate

Heading into the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, the rollers got grunty and the gravel got a little thicker.  Not enough to be soul-sucking, but made the cornering on the descents a little more exciting.  This is also where we began to encounter some creek crossings.  Being that it was still chilly, I slowed down and picked my way slowly through them.  But still managed to get one of my feet wet and kill that chemical warmer.  This was also the first time I encountered gravel roads with real street names and stop signs.  Very weird!  I suppose this was what it was like in many of the southern states not too long ago, as I remember a lot of my county roads were gravel back when I was in grade school.

John pushing the Jakroo pocket volume to its limits

Some controlled burns had recently taken place in the refuge and the ashy odor was still very pungent.  A few places were still smoldering.  Contrasting this were areas where small rivers flowed over flat rocks that would be great opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking.  

We passed by New Hope Church (mile 30) as we both had adequate amount of water to get us to Juliette (mile 50).  At mile 33.5 we turned onto the Wise Creek single track, part of the Ocmulgee Bike and Horse Trails. This was a 4 mile section of tame and dry trail with a few short climbs.  It was hard pack with just a few roots, very gravel bike friendly.  

Wise Creek

Pine Ridge

I finally began to feel the warming rays of the sun and my fingers again.  Around mile 39, the trail began to show some wear from all the posting the horses do.  However, there was only one 100 yard section that we had to get off and walk around, plus a few short hike a bikes up washed out trail.

We watched our GPS breadcrumbs closely during this single track section, as there were a lot of trails and easy to get off course.  We ended up getting a bonus mile midway through.  At mile 44, we hit some pavement for a brief respite before more gravel that took us to Juliette.

At mile 51, we stopped at East Juliette Baptist Church to refill our bottles.  While refueling and refilling, thoughts of  "I am not even halfway done" began to fill my mind. While my legs were still feeling fresh, I knew that the mental game was going to be starting soon.  

A couple more miles of pavement and then we were back to the steep rollers of the refuge.  After 10 miles of this, my legs were beginning to bark a little.  John still seemed really fresh and would pull away on the climbs.  Our conversation, or at least my end of it, began to dwindle, as the first feelings of fatigue started setting in.  

I had been drinking quite a bit, and soon found myself looking for a water refill.  At mile 72, I saw a church, and pulled in looking for a spigot.  Score!  Sunrise Church had some great history to it.  After I shed my leg and arm warmers, I read a placard while John was doing his thing.  Apparently, this was where a great Civil War battle was fought.  Union Major General George Stoneman and his 2100 men got their asses kicked by Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Iverson and his 1300 men.

This church was rebuilt after Sherman's troops burnt it to the ground in retaliation.

Getting a history lesson eased my mind on what ordeal remained for me.  Next up was the lollipop section which was a little flatter and gave me time to digest what I had consumed at the church.  John also decided to try to make friends with some chasing dogs rather than doing an interval.  While he was sweet talking, I soft-pedaled on.  I was now at the point that if I stopped for any length of time, my legs thought they were finished for the day.  

Hwy 11 and Otis Redding gravel road were a bit of recovery as they were slightly descending for 5 miles.  Bliss!  But miles 90-115 were my pain cave.  The only blessing was that I was back on the east side where the rollers were not as steep.  This course was advertised with only 7500-8000 feet of climbing, but my Garmin had registered 8000 feet back when I hit mile 100. John was a great, in that he kept the conversation light and positive.  And when I needed to sit in on his wheel for a bit, he was gracious.  I had only hoped that I could repay his draft, and I tried, but I believe he was the stronger one today.

John riding like a boss!

John kept telling me that you always have 25 more miles in you.  Well, I was for sure looking for mile 112 because then, although I would probably be a suffering buckaroo, at least I might be able to catch a whiff of the barn then. We stopped at Ellis Chapel (mile 111), found the well house, but could not find a spigot.  I think our brains were both so compromised from fatigue that we didn't even think to open the door and look inside for the spigot (which we were told later that's where it was ... doh!).  Fortunately I still had almost a full bottle left.

There are three things I remember in the last 25 miles.  One was a 2 mile stretch of double track that was fairly flat, but by this time, all I wanted was a paved finish.  Two was a good stretch of buttery smooth pavement that felt so uplifting even though it was up/down/up/down/up/down ...  I was so OVER all the energy sapping chatter of the small loose gravel.  And THREE, the final 4 mile gravel climb to the finish.  John got a chuckle, when I yelled at the top of my voice, half way up the climb, "This ... is ... awful!" It was, at the most, a 3 1/2 to 4% grade 😆😆😆.

11 hours 20 minutes later and I still like this guy!

My 135 mile (which is not 200k, but 217k), 9400 feet of gain day was done.  My knees felt like the Tin Man's.  So much pedaling!  But I could not have done it with a finer team mate than John.  Well, maybe David, Scott, Lisa, Twan, etc., etc., because all my Rescue Racing team mates have great souls and a love to push themselves to their limits.

Done and done!

So glad I met John at the 2019 Boondoggle event, the Forty 5 MTB race.  Where, despite the fact that he was on his gravel bike 😉, I thought to myself that I probably ought to get to know this person more.  He is one heckuva rider, team mate, and friend.  And I forgive him for that little gravel bike ride, aka peanut butter mud-fest, up near Caryville back in February. 

One of the most important things I have learned in life while doing these BDR's is that you cannot know true happiness until you have survived the "bowels of hell."  I think that is why I like doing them.  I know it is going to be fun in the beginning, hard as hell in the middle, and a "smell the barn" moment at the end, where I can push myself just a little bit more, no matter how tired I am.  A rollercoaster of emotion, I suppose, is necessary to make life worth living.

And while this hasn't been one of my harder rides, the older I get, the harder these easier rides are getting.  Fortunately, I have gained enough wisdom that the mental game is not as challenging as it was in my youth.  

Already planning my next BDR ... 😈

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Battle of Fort Sumter Gravel Race

How I wished I had my 46 year old legs today!

This is the first race in a series put on by Southeast Gravel.  I chose the long course which is 72 miles and 3700 feet of climbing, which, in my book, is flat.  Not possum road-kill flat, but lumpy gravy flat.  I figured that the first thing I needed to do coming out of hibernation was a good ass-kickin' to get me fired up for the season. So when I signed up, I entered the Pro Women's class.  Not because I thought I stood a hell's chance of stepping on the box (well, maybe 5th), but to help fill the roster and ensure that there were enough entrants for the $1000 pay out.  I shoulda waited 30 minutes.  Because right after I signed up, Southeast Gravel made a FB post about how stacked the women's field was.  I guess I could have emailed the promoter asking to be moved to my age category, but WTH, now my focus was not to be DFL! It is always good for the ego to be humbled now and again.

I would call this more of a "groad" race, since it was half pavement.  I also don't excel on the flats (my sustained power sucks), but I kept telling myself this was going to be great training for the mind as well as for the lungs and legs.  And it was going to be a short sleeve and bib short kind of day ... and I was all up for that!

After Covid crashed the party on many a race in 2020, cyclists came out in force for one of the first gravel races of the season.  Over 200 racers toed the line, everyone inching to be in the front rows and itching to throw down on some speed.  My warm up was necessary, but also put me towards the back, as most cyclists were on the line 20 minutes prior to the start.  Once the gun went off, there was no neutral roll out.  My average speed for the first 10 miles was 21mph.  Racers took up the whole width of the road and there were lots of jockeying for position and elbows rubbing.  It had been a long time since I had been in a mass start and I ... did ... not ... like ... it.  I was not ready to entrust my body to the abilities of 100+ others to hold their line.  There was a lot of squirrely riding in those opening miles.  And when we hit the gravel, dust and rocks were flying!

So I settled towards the back, knowing that I would eventually be yo yo'd off the back.  But not expecting to win nor podium, I did not want to risk a crash in order to "race" for 6-25th place.  Too early in the season to be Humpty Dumptied.

I got dropped somewhere around mile 12.  I was on my own for awhile, which was o.k. because the dust became non-existent: my lungs appreciated the clean air.  Legs were still feeling great so I was able to slowly reel in a small group of 4-5.  We hung together to the first aid station at mile 20.  It was there that I latched on to another group, which contained 3 Milligan College women. The first tunnel under I-26 I clearly remember as I was able to follow some riders through fairly quickly, even when it was dark and sketchy.  The group I was in slowly began to break up at mile 30 and soon I was just left with the 3 women and a couple of men.  Funny but I cannot even remember the second tunnel under the interstate, which happened around mile 33.  I think this was because the fun was ending and the grind was beginning.

When the rollers began to feel like mountains.

About the 2:30 mark, which was around mile 45, the wheels began falling off the bus.  After having sustained what felt like L4 training (7 x 20 minute efforts), my legs were fried!  Now it became an effort just to hang in the draft.  Our little group did some busting up and melding with others over the last 30 miles.  I don't recall much of mile 45-60; my eyeballs were bleeding and my mind was numb.  I was just totally focused on turning the pedals over with as much wattage as I could muster.  I was even beginning to feel some twinges in my quads and hamstrings, so I knew I was on the rivot.  It was even hard to keep a poker face and talk to the other women without them knowing just how fatigued I was.

With about 12 to go, our group had dwindled to 2 Milligan College woman, one CWA Racing woman and myself.  We had a great paceline and everyone taking equal turns.  With about 5 miles to go, 3 men come blowing by us.  One says hi, hop on ... and I instantly recognized him ... George Hincapie.  We hopped on their wheels and immediately the pace intensified. I fortunately found another gear (the Goggins affect) and was able to hang on along with 2 other woman.  One of the Milligan ladies blew a head gasket and fell off pretty quickly.  It seems that George had issues with keeping air in his tires, hence the reason he was behind me, until now.

He lead us into the final stretch.  I lost contact as we hit the final pavement uphill to get to the back entrance of the Clinton House property.  Riding through the field, I was slowly able to reel in the Milligan College woman.  As we hit the final 22% grade to the finish line, I was not gonna race her to the line, but I did encourage her with a little yelling to not let me catch her.  That was all she needed to sprint the final 10 yards.

I ended up with a time of 4 hours, 56 seconds.  I achieved my goal of not coming in DFL in the Pro category.  I did well against my age category.  This has given me the motivation to begin work on my limiters.  It was a glorious day on the bike!

If you want a good hard fast day on the gravel bike, this is the race for you.  The gravel roads were hard packed, with not much gravel, and little to no technicality except for 2 sketchy steep washed out descents.  No cornering skills necessary as the roads were pretty straight.  The organizers did a great job of marking the course (I never needed my GPS) and the post race meal was really really good!

I will do more of these events, but will definitely stick with my age category.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Southern Cross Race Report -- 3rd Person POV


I was honored to be asked by Lisa Randall of Mountain Goat Adventures to chaperone her daughter during the Junior Race.   Their race was 30 miles long and excluded the Noontootla loop.  Chaperones were allowed to provide mechanical assistance, but we could not be their mule or provide drafting. I had been watching Jayden's progress as a pretty darn good racer and was anxious to see it first hand.  Lisa asked that I provide a little coaching during the race as she thought Jayden would listen to me better than her.  

The race was started in waves, and our go time was 10:30.  There were 17 juniors and 5 in Jayden's class (14 and under).  Thinking the start would be neutral and not wanting to interfere, I stayed way behind the kids.  Nope!  It  was "balls to the wall," a race right from the beginning.  I was immediately dropped and over the next couple minutes slowly made my way back up to where I could get a visual on Jayden.

During the opening paved miles, I settled in next to Hailey's Dad and we chatted, all the while watching the race play out in front of us.  The whole pack had busted up, but the top three in Jayden's class were within sight of each other.  

Opening rollers

There were so many pieces of advice that I wanted to tell Jayden, but I stayed patient and allowed her to find her own way in the first miles.  Besides that, her competition was too close and I didn't want to interfere with any attacks.  So I hung back, watching, waiting, and reading her competitors' body language.

The first two juniors, Reagan and Hailey, were bigger than Jayden and would pull away on the descents and flats on the the first section of rollers. Jayden would make the time back up on the short climbs.  As we approached Winding Stair, Reagan got a gap and slowly pulled away.  Then, on the final short descent before the sustained climbing began, Hailey got away.  Now was my time to throw in a few words of wisdom along with a helluva lot of positive criticism.  It was super hard to read Jayden; she was a machine.  

The beginning of Winding Stair

I will not reveal any of my secrets, but let's just say Jayden listened and put them into play.  About halfway up Winding Stair we caught sight of Hailey.  Pedal stroke by pedal stroke Jayden reeled her in. She then attacked with 1/2 mile to go, on the steepest section of the climb.  Hailey popped quickly and I just kept giving Jayden reports of how far behind she was.  Jayden decided not to stop at the aid station.  I gave Loretta a high five as we motored on by.

Next we worked the rollers over to Cooper Gap.  Jayden would eat and drink on the flats, stand and hammer to crest the climbs, and pedal like a banshee on the descents.  She got her second wind when she caught sight of Reagan on the final climb to Cooper's.  But together we also noticed that Hailey had rallied and was no more than 20 seconds behind us.  Oh, man, this race was on!

Jayden couldn't catch Reagan and we lost sight of her as she crested the last climb and began to descent Cooper's.  But, we also had pulled away from Hailey a little bit. I encouraged Jayden to pedal as hard as she could on the descent, but also be mindful of oncoming traffic.  Good Lord, I shouldn't have said pedal.  She released her inner Tracey Hannah!  I was hard pressed to keep up with her on my gravel bike, what with my eyes tearing up so bad from the cool wind and trying to avoid all the embedded rock on my skinnies.  The Mom in me wanted to tell her to slow down, but the racer in me could see her skills and knew she would be just fine.  She even rode smart and stayed on her side of the road, so at least I didn't have to worry about her becoming a hood ornament.

Jayden only got squirrely once and that was on the final corner that led us to the 4-H camp.  It was there that Hailey caught her and passed her with fervor.  But on the next short rise, I could tell that she was riding on fumes.  Jayden caught back up to her and they rode together for a bit.  Then Jayden caught sight of Reagan, stopped at the crest of one of the many small rollers that would make up the final 5 miles of the course.  That was all Jayden needed to unleash the beast!

Jayden immediately dropped Hailey on this climb, and then proceeded to pass Reagan too. I knew that if she could just crush the hills, she would win!  Those final miles were nerve wracking for me, encouraging her to push through the pain and fatigue.  Jayden listened to my words and absolutely turned herself inside out.  She ... was ... on ... fire!  As she hit the Monteluce property, I told her to smell the barn and go for it.  

Holy smokes, she had another gear.  Hit that creek crossing and sprinted up the hill.  I was gasping trying to keep up with her and then, with an audience at the crossing, had to invoke all my skills not to keep from biffing it on the rooty ledgy climb out of the creek.  

Creek Crossing to Finish Line

Jayden crossed the line in 2:30:56.  Lisa was totally caught off guard, as she was not expecting her in until about 15 minutes later.  She lost her burrito trying to pull her camera out.  And missed the photo opp!

I am still awestruck by Jayden's fitness and skills.  I got to witness them firsthand and it was so so so cool to see this 11 year old just absolutely crush it ... with the face of the Terminator!  This will go down as one of my two most memorable Southern Crosses, the first of which was the inaugural one where I was on my 26" Specialized Era, racing in the most muddy of conditions, and catching the first place woman on the second to last climb, passing her, and then gunning it up Mulberry Gap's infamous hill to win.  Sorry, I just had to reminisce. 

Huge congrats to Jayden on her first gravel race win, of which I am sure there will be many more!  You owned that course today, lassie!  And just think, when I was 11, it was all about those Saturday morning cartoons.

The Terminator