Damnit. Another year at the Gravel Grovel where I crossed the line running on empty. With sub-par training and a trip to Hawaii two weeks before the race (and no riding in those two weeks), I didn’t expect this year to be a great performance. But with decent weather and a cross bike, I had slightly higher hopes than I should have.
The first year I did this race, I got the flu the day before the start. I did it anyway and shivered the whole day. It was 19 degrees at the start. The second year I didn’t fare too well either. I wasn’t sick this time, but I dressed for a 45 degree dry day. It rained the whole day, and I froze. I was shaking badly by the end and layed in my vehicle unable to use my hands to get out of my wet clothes. Thanks to a thermal camera at work, I now understand that I did permanent damage to my fingers. Oops. This year, my third year, well it was a little different and not that different at all.
After putting in more miles in the first 6 months of 2016 than I have before in a full year, I was burned out. Training for the Almanzo 100 and Lumberjack 100 left me strong in body and weak in mind. After a short break and quickly ramping up running miles for several weeks, my left foot starting screaming (again); same story as last year – plantar fasciitis. I came back too soon. I didn’t take enough time off. I didn’t respect my body after a solid 6 months of long rides.
I started lifting weights, running less, and cycling less. After a few months of this, and two weeks before Gravel Grovel, I shipped off to Hawaii with my wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. We hiked and ate and drank merrily. It was a glorious trip. I knew coming home from warm Hawaii jetlagged, less trained, and tired wouldn’t bode well for a cold, usually sloppy wet bike race on trails and gravel roads. Especially not a 60 mile race. I had been on a ride over 30 miles only twice since the Lumberjack in June! Ouch.
I didn’t think about any of this in the first 30 miles. I felt pretty good on the bike. I didn’t feel strong on the sloppy trail sections of Combs Road and Nebo, but I thought I was riding smart. I was trying not to jack my heart rate up on the climbs. I would hike up hills that I would otherwise power through. But by about 35 miles, I knew that any kind of ‘fast’ or ‘healthy’ spin in my legs was fleeting. Mount Baldy and Buffalo Pike Hill destroyed my legs. I wasn’t in great cycling shape to begin with, and because my cross bike is a 1X with a 42-tooth chainring. I should have thought about my gearing choice before now. I was hurting. Wiz Khalifa can’t push big gears with those skinny legs and neither can I.
I struggled and sweated and pushed myself through the next 15 miles. At 48 miles, there was a small crowd of hunters that had set up chairs by the gravel road near their camp. They were cheering and screaming and drinking and having a good time. It was an awesome sight as hunters and cyclists (especially mountain bikers) aren’t always the best of friends. I smiled at that. Two miles later, I bonked hard… the kind of bonk that you feel coming on slowly and are pretty sure you can avoid but then suddenly feel like you could barf at any moment. My legs were tight and weak, and my feet were bricks. I felt like I was fighting my bike. I stopped at Hickory Ridge church to pray. Just kidding. I stopped there to get off of my bike for a minute and eat a half of a Pro Bar. I think my head was slouching and my body probably looked slumped over my bike, because a rider passed me and sincerely asked, “you doing okay?” I mumbled yeahhhh and got back on my bike. Only a few miles to go. I’ll make it. I should have trained harder.
I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 56 minutes. This race beat me down again. I have finished three times, every single one of them felt like defeat. Gravel Grovel 3; me 0. I keep coming back for retribution but get knocked down. It makes me want a great race that much more. I love this course, I love this race. I’ll be back again for another shot. I am aiming for a sub-4:30. It might take a few years to get there. But there’s a good chance I’ll keep coming back.