Monday, September 30, 2013

Heck of the North – My toughest gravel race this year

First, thanks to Jeremy and the volunteers for putting on such a great race! 

This race has once again shown to me that gravel racing is a team sport and the competition is me. 
Other racers make this personal endeavor easier by sharing the burden against wind, weather and terrain.

Heck of the North would become the toughest challenge I have faced this year so far.

The first 15 miles was the usual race development for me.
Got dropped. Chased back on. And got dropped again.
But this time I wasn’t able to chase back on.

I got into TT mode for the next 40 miles with Kristin in tow. All headwind. All flat.
I didn’t want to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to catch up to the group. It was one against ten.

My energy was slowly draining. The usual spike from an energy gel wasn’t working.

Something was off.

It started raining. Then pouring. Another ten miles to the drop-off spot. Maybe I could catch the group then? I wanted to ride with my friends.
A group of ten came up behind us. The group I was chasing for the last 40 miles.
They got lost. Lucky me!

We all stopped at the drop-off spot. I put my rain jacket on to stay warm but where was my food? I must have forgotten it. Mark and Jon gave me a burrito, gummy bears and a granola bar. I cant thank them enough for that!
That would hold me off for the last 40 miles.

But man, was I wrong!

We got back on the road. Six of us. It was still pouring. Everything was wet and muddy. Glasses fogged up and became useless. Dirt was dripping off our helmets. My cue sheets turned out not be waterproof.
Our group dissolved slowly.  It became harder to grind through the wet gravel.  Drafting became a muddy insult to the eyes.

Corey and I rode together for a while and we took turns fighting the rain. No energy to talk. Words spoken only if necessary.
The last 90 miles took its toll. Despite a gel I wasn’t able to recover at all anymore. I was crawling up rises that wouldn’t make it onto an elevation chart. Corey had to leave me behind.

Only I and two seemingly insurmountable miles to go.

I fell into a delirious state of complete exhaustion, tiredness. Thoughts started creeping up what would happen if I would stop right here and just not keep going. 
I was in my drops. Staying in my hoods became cumbersome. I was hungry. Starving. And sick to my stomach.

Food was in the pockets of my rain jacket. I wanted those gummy bears Mark gave me.
Do I have the energy to take my hand from the drops to reach into the pocket while sustaining my weight with my other hand?
That sounded awfully exhausting.

I decided to wait.

But I needed food! I had to do it! Sunglasses, trash, and a granola bar, I didn’t want in the pocket would make it difficult to get the gummy bears.

In a moment of energy I reached into my pocket.
Granola bar.
Where the heck are the gummy bears?

My surge of energy vanished. I had to put my hands back in the drops. No gummy bears.

I opened my eyes as wide as possible so I would know they are open. The yellow of the leaves became really bright. The baby heads in the middle of the roads popped up too fast to avoid at 8 mph.

Would I feel the pain when I crash? Maybe that’s the easy way out.

Okay, another try to get those damn gummy bears. Okay, Monika, don’t be so picky. Whatever I get, I will take! I was reaching into the pocket.

Granola bar.

After devouring half of the bar while losing the other half, I realized I had the rest of the burrito in the other pocket. Where was my mind?

I used the bit of energy I got from the granola bar to fetch the burrito. Too tired to unwrap, I just took a huge bite from the tin-foil wrapped burrito. It was crunchy.

I was staring a few feet ahead of my front tire looking out for rocks. I didn’t want to see the seemingly endless trail ahead of me. What would happen if I’d stop and took a nap right here? I slowed down. Was I even able to slow down? I was crawling.

If I stop here, someone would surely pick me up 2 miles from the finish? Maybe it’s easier and faster just to ride there? But that requires I actually to move my legs. 
An eternity later I looked up and saw people at the road. The finish! How the heck did that happen?!

Looking back, I know what caused my full energy depletion. I hadnt had my traditional apple pie the day before the race. Clearly, that was it! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Inspiration 100 gravel race – an accidental dehydration experiment

The stay in a cabin with ten fellow racers the day before the race (thanks to Charlie and his family) set the perfect atmosphere for a successful gravel race weekend – preparing race food, discussing bike gear and talking race tactics.

Every gravel race is different. With gravel worlds still in mind I was lining up at the start line with two water bottles. With refueling stops at mile 40 and mile 70, two bottles would last – so I thought at least. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that everyone else seemed to have a camel bak, which would mean the chance that someone would refuel at mile 40 would be low. 

Deek giving instructions at the start line

Roll out.

So I treated this as a physiological experiment how far two bottles would get me.

Within the first ten miles, the three leaders were already ahead of the group.
The leaders.

At around mile 40 we were still a big group

Our chase group of about 15 dabbled along for a while; no one with a strong incline to burn matches. 

I was sitting on my chosen wheel while we were passing mile 40 – a gas station and first opportunity to stop for water. 

My group chose to continue so did I. 

A lot of rollers.

Some "technical" double track


I was already running low on bottle number 2 but I knew mile 70 would be the next stop. Until then, so I hoped, the group would be smaller, which would make it easier to convince everyone to stop for water.

But for now, another 30 miles to go. Half a bottle had to be enough. 

It became hotter. Dust stuck to sweat running from face, arms and legs. The gravel was deep asking for a lot of effort for little forward-motion. The sudden change of gravel depth required continuous concentration. Slowly but surely, the energy level of the group started draining. 

I kept riding my own pace and at mile 50 I was by myself.

Twenty miles to go. Nothing left in the bottles. I started feeling the effects of dehydration: overheating, headache and hot feet.

Finally at mile 70 I made it to the liquor store to stop for water. Equipped with two bottles, a Gatorade and a snickers bar I was back on the road. That should be enough for the last 30 miles.

I entertained myself with old racing stories and started singing the first line of all five songs I remembered. I tried to solve my biochemistry homework, which gave me headache and caused a drastic slowdown of my riding pace.  

So I focused on the race and the potential whereabouts of all other racers. I had no clue but it gave me enough to think about until mile 93.

I realized all of a sudden that I was VERY tired. “Monika, you are riding a bike, stay focused!” It became harder to hold the grip of the handlebars. My body told me to stop and sleep. I slowed down to seemingly walking pace. The only songs that came into mind were the German and American anthems which kept me upright for the last seven miles. That was a tough race!

Yep, I was thirsty.

We were all exhausted. 

Deek handed creative awards out.
Results are here.
Thanks to Deek Surly and the volunteers for a great event and for taking pictures!