This is basically how my Gravel Grovel went.
So, what was lining up as having the most potential to my best Gravel Grovel to date ended up a little less than optimal. It sounded like it should have been awesome, then it caught fire and crashed to the ground. That maybe a little excessive in the description, but that is completely how I feel. Lets go back a few weeks. I was riding as strong as I ever had and the first two scouting rides I was riding strong. I still was trying to figure out how to be faster on race day, but I was putting in some of my quickest Strava segments to date. I was not really going for segments, but it does make me feel better when my times end up being better than previous trips. Little did I know that in a few weeks I would have been happy to just be able to ride like that.
Somewhere after the second scouting ride my legs became weak at climbing. We did a full loop ride and I didn’t do that bad, but did not climb very fast at all. Even with climbing slow, not eating enough, taking it easy in some sections and wearing down badly toward the end, I still did the ride in just over 5 hours and that included the trip to and from the Story Inn. If I could just get my climbing legs to come back a little, I would be set up for a 4.5 hour ride if the weather cooperates. The did cooperate! It always could have been better, but even with the rain that came in the week before it was one of the driest conditions that I have done and ready to be fast. There were only a few deeper water sections and combs was not what I would call muddy.
The cabin was booked full and friends were in the next cabin over. Everyone trickled in Friday night at different times. It was fun hanging out and catching up. This part is what makes racing so much more than just riding a bike. Friday night had a lot of potential to go bad, but didn’t. I really was not hungry most of the night and never ate what I took for dinner. I did have a couple little things, but not a lot. I was not sure why, but I was just not very hungry. I actually got to bed fairly early compared some some years.
I woke up at 3 am with some terrible stomach cramps and cold sweats. Awesome!! I continued this on and off for the rest of the night. I did not want to get up when everyone started moving. Eventually I did start moving around. There was plenty of time before the race started and I hoped I would start to feel better. Either way my legs felt like I just ran a 5k and I was beat up from all the cramping. I made several trips to the bathroom hoping to remidy some of the issues, but no luck. I made an awesome breakfast, but could only get a few bites down, lots of dissapoints to be had. I was doing everything I could to get ready for a good race, but was not succeeding.
Eventually I made my way over to the start line. I didn’t really warm up like I would have wanted too, but the way the morning was going I figured it really didn’t matter. Soon enough we were given some instructions and off we went. I was surrounded by some good company and doing what I could. The first section was going better than I figured and hung out with several people that I wanted to be around. I was trying to just go the best I could with out digging too deep until I got going. The first big climb, the paved road in the middle of nowhere hurt, but I felt like I had climbed it slower in the past.
The next section had some good parts and bad parts. At times my stomach was cramping badly and I could not ride very hard. Other times I felt like I was not too far off the pace. I did still see some of the people I wanted to ride with not too far away, but some were gone already. I felt like I did well on Combs road and climbed the hill. At the top was several people there to offer me a beer hand up. Originally I was not planning on taking this one as it was pretty early. I was not feeling too good and the climb did a number on me. I just rolled over the top and kept going.
The down hill on Combs almost got me once or twice, but I managed to keep it up right. The Blue Creek road section was not that great for me. I was wearing down and still not feeling very good. I climbed the road climb, but I am positive it was not at record pace. Once I got out of that section and hit the gravel road I was really starting to hurt. I remember taking my time and almost stopping to eat something. I wanted to get it in me before I hit Nebo, but I don’t think it was early enough to really matter.
Most of Nebo is a blur. I normally remember a lot about my race, but just can’t picture most of this section. I know I had the only place I needed to walk in this section. It was one of the steep/technical climbs and the guy in front of me didn’t make it and I had no place to go. I also remember the up and over log was not the same on the back side. I thought I going down, but really glad I didn’t. The rest of this section was uneventful or at least nothing big enough for me to remember. I was still not climbing well, but I was riding fast enough to keep people from catching me.
From here on out I was in another world. I was just turning pedals over and trying to keep moving. I was trying to eat and drink as often as I could, but my stomach was still cramping on and off and I was having trouble keeping down everything I ate. I figured I was finally going to actually have my first puke on the bike. I have had several that have been very close, but I am not one for puking so I always manage to keep it down. Today was not so easy.
Before I started up Baldy I saw my riding buddy Brian coming down the other side. He waved and went on. I was really wishing I was over there and not getting ready to climb this hill. I just kept moving and hoping the top was just around the next corner. Eventually it was, but there were a lot more corners than I wanted. I pulled up to the rest stop to top off my water bottle. This was my planned stop for water. I tried to eat a little more while I was there. I did see several people roll up that I know. They wanted me to jump on their train, but I knew I would not be able to hang on. I took off before they did because I knew they would catch me. Shortly after hitting the bottom and making the left they went by and I never saw them again.
That next big hill is just horrible. I don’t know if it is because it is so close after climbing Baldy or if it really would not matter when you do it, I am sure it will always hurt no matter what. Pedals kept turning and miles kept rolling on. I would see some people then I wouldn’t. I was a little shocked that I was holding off a lot of the people I did see. They would come up on me and the next thing I know I was pulling away or they would stop to re-group. This made me feel a little better, but I still knew I was not moving as fast I would like.
More trail and gravel climbs. One after another followed by some screaming descents that I was no way near strong enough mentally to be going as fast as I was, but I just kept going. I had a few sections that I felt a little better and others that really sucked. When I left trail 20 I just blew past the last rest stop. I was very ready to get back home. After the big climb after the last rest stop is normally a good section to put in some better speeds. This year was not the case. I found myself going pretty slow at times and had to ask myself why? I really didn’t know. I was just kind of day dreaming and would almost stop pedaling. As soon as I woke up, I would get back in to turning pedals over.
Eventually I did making it down the long down hill section and could see where the bridge was to the right. I could not have been happier to be this close. I crossed the bridge as smooth as I could. I kept looking back hoping I didn’t see anyone gaining on me. I knew that I had nothing to hold them off and really didn’t want to get passed this late in the race. When I hit the last creek crossing I was caught a little off guard on how deep the creek was. I guess I should have checked that out in the morning. I had to dismount and work my way around the left side a little to find a good place to get back on. I rode the rest of the way across and up the hill to the finish line.
Even though I was very happy to be finally finished, this was a little different than a lot of big races. Normally the emotions rush in and I am on a race high or sometimes at the verge of breaking down in tears. This was completely uneventful. I rolled across the finish line, not even sure if someone took note. I rolled back toward the cabin completely shelled and in another world. I tried to gather myself well enough to changed and head over to eat. I was late enough that by the time I got over there just about everyone else that I figured I would eat with were already done and some gone. The awards were over and the place was pretty empty. I ate my plate of food and headed back toward the cabin.
There were people hanging out there and I started to feel a little better by then. I at least knew what I was doing. Had a couple beers and hung out for the rest of the night. We had a fire and lot of laughs. It would have only been better if the occasional cramping would have stopped and I could have had a few more beers. Maybe even ate a little more because I know I didn’t have near enough for the day’s activity.
All things considering I really should not be too upset with myself. I finished in a time of 5:20 and I ended up 136th overall out of over 200 riders and 47th in the MTB class. The impressive thing I did, even with all of my issues, I only stopped for 6 minutes during the whole race. Those numbers are really not that bad as to all the other years that I have done this. The biggest disappointment is that I am coming off of a great finish time last year in some really tough conditions. I have worked really hard this year to be in even better condition and it ended up not really making a difference. I was basically an hour longer than my goal time. So, when you look at that number, it does not sound very good.
When the legs fell apart the weeks leading up to the race I figured the 4:30 time would be hard to get, but I figured 5 hours should not be an issue. The ride I did Friday to loosen up the legs felt good and I had a little hope that the legs were going to show up and treat me well. That really didn’t happen. I know I said earlier that barring any major issues I should be able to do 5 hours and I guess I did have a major issue. I had several people tell me they would not have even raced. I guess I still had hope that I would come around. In hindsight if I would have stopped for that beer on the top of Combs I probably would have been happier. I am sure I would have just decided to call it quits and ride with the heckle crew, but I am not one that likes to DNF. I had too many of them in the past when I shouldn’t have and now I go above and beyond to not quit. The one thing that I do know for sure is that when times are hard I seem to be able to ride in complete misery for way longer than I should be able to. I guess I have that going for me if that really makes a difference at the end of the day.
I want to thank everyone who helped me get to the point that I thought I was going to have a great race. All the guys who put in miles and miles on the bike even when I was holding them up. To Brian and his staff at DINO for keeping this race going. All the volunteers that helped out. I may not have used much of the sag stops, but it was really good that you were there for those that needed it. I need to especially thank Brian, Eric, Jeff and Jason. With out them I would have been no better off than any other year. I just really hate to have wasted it on having bad stomach issues. At least the time hanging out together and riding together are not lost. Those are the reasons I have the urge to get on the bike to begin with. With out all of you I would talk myself out of doing so many rides. I can only hope that I will show up even stronger next year. Maybe I will do it SS again….