After yesterday I no longer have to say that my fastest times for the Gravel Grovel were done on a SS. After trying for the last few years to finish in less than 5 hours, I finally succeeded this year finishing in 4:53. I know that last week I figured out that I actually did finish under the 5 hour mark in 2010, but I am still no sure how that could have happened. I was on my SS and I didn’t think I was very fast back then, but one thing with a SS is that you are forced to be consistent with your speed so hard telling.
I worked pretty hard this year to be in the best condition I have been in awhile to improve my chances for a good finish time. I was feeling pretty good about it a few months ago, but as the time was getting closer I was not so sure anymore. The two scouting trips I made up there did not help me feel better about the condition of my legs. I rode well both times, but I just was not climbing very fast either time and there are plenty climbing sections that can make a big difference. Even the Wednesday night ride this week the legs were feeling heavy and I was struggling climbing. Maybe I was just expecting too much, but I still felt like I was not climbing very fast and the legs were hurting.
The weather leading up to the race was not very favorable. It rained most of the day Friday and as far as I could tell, most of the day Saturday too. It was supposed to be a high of 47 degrees, so I figured it would be cold too. I knew the trail sections would be interesting to say the least. There were probably going to be some road sections that could be just as bad.
Getting ready that morning it felt warmer than I expected. This made it very hard to decide what to wear. It was going to be muddy and wet for sure, but not sure how cold it really will be. The parking lot was pretty soft and the rain was pretty steady. The conditions were not very good for me to put in a good time, but I was in for the ride no matter what happened.
Soon enough I found myself at the starting line and after a few announcements we were off. It didn’t take long before the water was spraying all over the place. The pace did not seem too fast, but I know I tend to go a little faster than I should at the start. I kept moving around trying to find wheels to follow with out putting in too much effort. I found myself being surrounded by some people that I should not be trying to keep up with. I found some other wheels to ride with and took a little off of the pace. It was going to be a long day and no need to blow up before the first climb.
The paved climb in the middle of no where came up soon enough. I actually didn’t do to bad on it and Strava says it was a PR for that section. The next several miles I found myself riding around the same few riders. They would get me on the climbs and I would bomb past them on the down hills. Soon we were heading in to Combs road. After the last ride there, I knew this section would be tough. There were several riders with bike issues in this section.
I was not riding too bad in this section. I was riding a lot of parts that people were having issues with. The creek crossings were deep and plenty of mud to go around. I had a few gears that started to grind pretty good when I was using them. I just tried to pick one that was not making noise and went that speed because I didn’t need to rip the rear derailleur off that early in the race. I was very thankful that the easiest gear in the back was one of the few that were working. I felt like I could have gone faster in a few spots, but I didn’t want to risk using those gears in that kind of situation. I made it up to the last little pitch on the climb and the chain was really making some noise. I didn’t want to, but I decided that I should walk the last section and save my bike. The down hill section was quite interesting as my brakes were not working all that well. Just enough to slow me down if I really needed it.
In all I actually thought that Combs road would have been even worse. Don’t get me wrong, it was not that great, but I am pretty sure I have seen it in worse conditions. The next section of road started off pretty good, but right after the bridge crossing it got a lot softer and more standing water. I just tried to pick good lines and keep the pace moving with out crashing or breaking the bike. I was not doing too bad on the climb right up to a spot that the back wheel spun out on a rock or something. I walked a little bit and then hopped back on. I did not climb it anywhere close to the speed that I could have, but I just had to do what I could. The next section to the road was spend crossing back and forth on the trail just trying to take the best lines.
The road section moved along pretty good. It was nice to have one of the People’s Brewing guys to ride with. We chatted a little and took some turns drafting off each other. It was nice riding on the road, but it would not last long. I started up the Nebo Ridge climb just trying to pick a line that I could keep traction. I didn’t do too bad, but did spin out on one part. Other than that I rode everything and made pretty good time considering everything. I even cruised down the down hills better than before. Maybe because the brakes were not really working anymore. I did have a few times that I thought I might go down, but thankfully I never did
The next road section I just tried to put it in a big gear and cruise with out using too much energy to hold that speed. The legs tend to feel a little better after I can spin them out for a little bit. I knew what was coming up ahead and needed all the hills I could find. I tried to take in some food and water so I had all the energy needed to climb the next few hills. Mt. Baldy hurt pretty bad. I kept moving, but no where near my fastest time. I passed the rest stop at the top and prepared to bomb down the hill. I knew this was a place I could let it all hang out and gain some time.
The next hill didn’t hurt as bad as Mt. Baldy, but I was still moving way to slow. Somewhere in this section I looked at how many miles I had in and how much time I had left to be able to finish in under 5 hours. Apparently my math was not the best, but I figured that there would be no way to be able to meet my goal. I just figured I would keep riding and get back as soon as I could.
I was hurting pretty good for the next several miles. I think the self realization that I was not going to reach my goal and the fact that it had been a while since I could feel my feet started some bad thoughts. At one point I even thought of a short cut to get me back to the car. After trail 21 I just kept moving. Charles was there and cheered me on. That was very uplifting and helped me get past this next loop. Near the top of the hill I thought that I could take the left and the car would be not too far away. Then I figured if I took the energy to climb this silly hill, I better not quit and head back. I did lose traction and had to walk the last few feet of the climb. After I started going again I glanced back and thought I saw the green jacket of my team mate Alex.
I figured he would soon catch me on this next section. He has been a lot stronger than me and I figured he would have caught me long before now. I didn’t see anyone for a while and figured maybe I was just seeing things. I went a little too fast on the down hill section back to where trail 21 comes out, but thankfully I could keep the bike upright and rolling good. I didn’t waste any time at the intersection and rolled on by. At this point not only could I not feel my feet, I could not feel my hands. Those fast down hill sections were good for getting back sooner, but they were also a heck of a lot colder than the climbs.
I struggled on the trail 12 section. There are a lot of dips and things that were hard for me to ride. I had to walk a few more sections and the other sections that I was riding was pretty sketchy. I thought I heard a few people behind me so I just kept trying to move the best I could. Toward the end of this section Alex did catch me. He yelled at me to give me a hard time. I was pretty out of it at that point and was just going to move over for him and almost wrecked. I know that is not what he was trying to do, but that is what almost happened.
I followed him to the end of the trail section. I was feeling pretty bad at that point and before I got out of the woods I figured I might as well go ahead and answer natures call. I needed to go for quite a while at that point and figured why not stop since I was not going to hit the 5 hour mark. I have never gone in my kit as I rode, but with the amount of rain and mud this was the day that I really thought about it. Alex was eating some Doritos when I came up and then he proceeded to feed me a few hand fulls so he would not eat them all and I emptied the bag.
We took off both hurting pretty bad. That next climb really hurt. I was so ready for the next turn and then the one after that. The church could not have came too soon. I tried to ride with Alex for his section, but we would yo-yo back and forth depending if we were climbing or descending. We hit a big hill and I pulled away from him. I tried to wait on him a few times, but I was just really ready to be done and the pedals were just turning what ever pace they wanted to go. Shortly after that I noticed a rider up ahead. That helped me find a little more motivation to reel him in. I did just that and promptly dropped him. I just kept moving as fast and smooth as I could. I was starting to feel a little better. It must have been those Doritos that gave me that extra little power.
I was in my big ring and rolling pretty good. I was very happy when I saw the church and took that corner. I guess I could really smell the finish line there and the legs were working really good. I have no idea how fast I was moving since my computer had been covered by mud since mile 6. There was another two more riders that I reeled in and passed in this section. Near the end the legs were screaming, but I knew the end was near and kept pushing. I thought I could hear one of those riders coming up behind me, but it turns out that it was probably just my imagination.
I was so relieved when I could see the horse camp through the trees. Then I remembered that I still needed to cross one more creek. I tried to pick a good line and just went for it. I knew it was deep and was not good for my bike, but after what I just put it through it could not be that much worse for it. It felt like the water was up to my knees as I rolled in the middle. I almost messed up on the other side as I saw a big rock under the water and barely negotiated around it and climbed the last hill to cross the finish.
I was drained and just leaned on my bars resting. I figured Alex should have been right behind me. After waiting a minute I asked one of the photographers what time it was. He said 5 till 3. It took a minute for that to sink in and then I was like wait…umm…what?? If we started right at 10, then 3 o’clock would be the 5 hour mark. This means that I finished in under 5 hours. I was not sure what to think at that point. I could not have been happier at that moment. I could not wait any longer as I could not feel most of my body and headed back to the cabin. It was so awesome to have the whole People’s brewing group hanging out there waiting for me and cheering as I rolled up. I never expected that and was one of the best moments of the weekend. Even when other people were staying in the cabin with me, no one hung out waiting for me.
I cleaned myself up and changed clothes. They headed over to the dining hall to eat and pick up there first and second place awards for the single speed class. Then I made it in to the hall and picked up my plate of food and did not even sit down and my name was called out for a door prize.
I ended up finishing with 4:53 and in 41st place overall. 12th place in the masters class. Not too bad with there being 120 finishers and over 150 people signed up. This is by far the highest finish that I have ever had. Most years I didn’t finish under the top 100 overall. Granted the turn out was down some because of the weather, but I am still pretty happy with it. It is pretty hard to believe that I could actually finish under my goal with the conditions that we had to ride in. It makes me wonder just how fast I could have finished it if was on the dry side. It leads me to believe that with a little more work I could finish somewhere near that 4:30 range. Now I guess I have something to shoot for next year. I will have to decide what bike I plan on riding. I know there are sections that I can ride faster on my mtb, but not sure if I can maintain the speed on the sections that my cross bike excels. I do know that my hands hurt really bad today from trying to hold on to those bars. I am sure my hands would not hurt as bad if I was holding on to a flat bar. I guess I have 363 days to figure that out.
I would like to thank Brian and the team at Dino for putting this event on. I think they did a great job this year and if Sub 9 was not going to be there, I am very glad that they decided to keep this thing moving. I also want to thank Phil @ Adventures Recreation, with out them I would not have had the gear to keep me as warm and comfortable as I was and a bike that was not flawless, but held on in some crazy conditions to get me to the finish line. I need to thank Honey Stinger and Tailwind Nutrition for helping me keep my body fueled up and hydrated. I also need to thank Stan’s No Tubes for some awesome wheels and tubeless fluid. There were several sections out there that I thought I destroyed a wheel or would have at least had a flat. Neither of those things happened and I had no reason to stop.