Monday, June 2, 2014
Lets see...another year has rolled by and again I went to Emporia to get me 111 miles of Flint Hills gravel. For 2014 the weather was a LOT more cooperative than in 2013...with the exception of the humidity...which I think was 90% all day!! Good thing it was overcast for the majority of my ride and the wind, unlike last year which was howling all day, was 10mph or less all day!! Much praise to the gods of gravel for making this melee a little easier!!
On to the race. Like last year I got up at 4:30am...to eat breakfast and get CAFFEINATED!!! Like most riders in this event, I had everything laid out and ready to go to reduce stress on race day. At 5:30, a long time riding buddy, Matt, and I headed out to the start line. As we rounded the corner to Commercial Street pretty much everyone who was doing this race was lined up and ready to go. I decided to make my way through the 200 mile starters and wish good luck to those I knew. Eventually we get to where the half was staging and I decide that I want to be in the front row...I think this was met with a few mean looks but oh well...I didn't want to be at the back of or even in the middle of this group when we turned onto the gravel. When the police pulled off and we hit the gravel I was at the front...SUCCESS!!
Courtesy of Roger Harrison
I sat on the front for a mile or two until Andrew Vontz from San Francisco decided it was time to thin the heard...he came by with a good bit of speed and I wasn't ready to go really fast so I waited. I waited until the voice in my head said go! That was all of about 4 seconds. Shortly after this jump a group of about 12 or so formed and we started a decent rotation, we were rolling along and slowly but surely our group grew to about 20. At this point Andrew suggested that we rotate to the back an let the new blood drive for a bit...which we did.
Not long after we rolled to the back, our group was closing on the back of the 200. I thought to myself this is going to be interesting...but for the most part we picked our way through several good sized groups of the 200 milers and our pace was pretty fast the entire time. At about 30 minutes in I started to think I need a break from this pace...well the gravel gods must've heard me because as we rounded a left, about a half mile or so in the distance was the first real climb and it was covered with 200 milers which meant we were gonna have to pick our way through and consequently slow our roll if only for a minute...HOORAY!!
Once over the top it was a pretty long gradual downhill to the first course split, so I got a good bit of rest from the fast pace. Now at the split a handful of 100 milers apparently can't read and went left instead of right. I didn't say a word, I thought it was funny!!! Anyway...we roll on and once again I'm at the front and climbing...there was one guy up the road about 100 feet, I think he was sort of trying to stay away but it wasn't going to happen. I settled into a rhythm on this climb and fairly close to the top the group started to come by and once again we were all together.
A short time later, at about an hour, I decided it was time to start eating. I had hit the gel flask a few times but I figured it was time for some solid food. So I pull out a homemade protein bar, which are the BOMB, and proceed to try and open the small Ziploc bag its in...we were going pretty fast so riding no hands wasn't an option...well...this Ziploc bag was the fort knox variety because I could NOT get it open!!! So I bite the top and pull, ripping it open...or so I thought...the stretching of the bag before it ripped pretty much sealed it AGAIN!!! WTF!!!!!! At tis point I said screw it and rode no hands on gravel, at speed, for the first time.
SUCCESS!!! I finally pop a chunk of a natural peanut butter based protein bar in my mouth. It was then I realized we were still hauling the mail and I hadn't been breathing enough because my focus was elsewhere and the chunk of bar was too big for me to eat and keep pace...I spit into my hand and ate half and tried to get back to breathing normal...which wasn't really that easy because in the bout with the Ziploc we had reached the bottom of the first long climb. Once I reached the top I regained my composure and life was good again. The fast guys in my group had gapped me but I was slowly gaining on time back on the descents.
When I got to within 10 seconds or so we reached the second long climb which was greasy and muddy!! It was at this point they rolled away again. I settled into a good rhythm and got up it without too much time being lost...they were no more than 1/4 mile up the road. So I pick up the pace again and the gap starts to shrink. About this time a 200 rider who was riding strong with aero bars goes blowing by me. I think that's a good wheel to be on...well about a minute later I reeled him in on a descent and sat on his wheel until I was with my group again.
Now together again and rolling toward the water stop, we have a discussion about stopping for water and that was voted down...I didn't need water but would've liked to fill my bottle. Not a minute later we all stopped for a nature break...hmmm...didn't stop for water but stopped within site of said water to pee...I'm thinkin we could've done both!!!
Moving on...now at the bottom of the longest climb, I remount and settle into my pace ahead of the group. If they catch me, right on, if they go blowing by, they did, then right on. It was here that Josh, a friend of Andrew, and I started the rest of the leg to the checkpoint together because the fast guys were gone!!! A short time later Rusty from Dallas joined us and the 3 of rolled along at a good clip for the next hour and change. About 10 miles from the checkpoint Rusty had a puncture and away we went, down to 2 again. At some point before we got to the pavement that lead to Cottonwood Falls Josh ask how long I was gonna be at the checkpoint. I said 10 minutes and my girlie has a timer to keep me honest!! Josh said he was going to do 10 minutes or less also.
We roll into the checkpoint at about 3:25:00ish, get our maps, and head to our refueling stations. His support crew was parked about 10 spaces away from where mine was so life was good and we soon rolled out together.
As we rolled out of town we picked up another rider, Gary Irick from Lawrence Kansas who turned out to be a good rider to have with. I'm pretty sure he didn't have a map or any gps but that's okay, I had it covered.
Anyway, the next 25 miles went by pretty uneventfully. At about Mile 80ish my legs started to cramp...I was thinking this is not good!!!! I keep drinking and eating mostly gels at this point and for time being, the cramps didn't get worse. A handful of miles later I decided I needed to stand a bit because my ass said to!! As soon as I did and made one pedal stroke my right leg locked up like it was in a cast!! This really got to me for a minute...I've been riding for a pretty long time and have never had my entire leg cramp all at once and we had at least 20 miles to go. Right about this time, Josh who had been dangling off the back of Gary and I had a puncture and disappeared. I found this out after he finished and we talked about the last 7 hours of our lives.
Anyway...Before I left the hotel I mostly jokingly but a hint of serious told Matt and my girlie that I'm taking a 5 dollar bill incase I get to Americus and need some liquid...it's a good thing I had this 5 because both of my legs locked up like the first time and I was reduced seated riding. At this point I told Gary I was gonna stop in Americus and get a Gatorade and he was good with it. I told him after that if he wanted to roll on he could, he said no and enjoyed the company. I'm glad he stayed with because he did a lot of work into the wind as we headed south. I would come around every now and again to give him a break. I would rather fall over dead or get shot out the back than not do any work...it's who I am.
The miles slowly but surely went by, my computer was still showing a 17 mph average and the terrain was getting flatter and my pulls were getting a little longer. We hit the pavement into Americus and Gary said he needed water so we were going to stop...HOORAY!!!! I had enough water to get to Emporia and we hadn't really discussed it since I mentioned it the first time so I figured we were going to keep on keepin on...but NO!! So as we roll into the Caseys parking lot I'm wondering if I can even get off my bike without cramping...I did a successful CX dismount without a hint of cramps...this made me happy. We run in and grab water and Gatorade. I slam down as much Gatorade as I can stand and we roll out...about a 3 minute stop.
About 13 miles to go now and I'm still not in a good way but I was taking pulls. About 20 minutes after the pit stop, out of habit I stood and pedaled and didn't cramp, the Gatorade finally kicked in!!! This was EFFING AWESOME!! From that point on I was taking good pulls and we passed at least 4 riders that were on the road ahead of us in the last 10 miles to break into the top 10!!!
As we finally rolled onto Commercial street and the finish line was in site, I told Gary thanks for doing so much work and he could finish ahead of me, he said it was no big deal and I should go ahead. As we rolled down the finish chute, the crowd that had gathered was cheering and for an instant all the suffering of the last few hours was gone...WHAT A GREAT FEELING!!! In the end we crossed the line at the same time. The results show Gary and I with the exact same time 6:50:00 for 7th and 8th.
My goal for this race, like last year was a top 10 with an average speed of 16 mph or faster. I achieved both this year.
In doing so I realized that racing the sun doing the 200 will never happen and I'm 100% good with that!! I asked Matt if he wanted to come back, he said "YES, I didn't know riding gravel could be so much fun"!! I responded to that with I will ride it again with you and follow your wheel all day!! His goal by the way was to reach Cottonwood falls without falling over dead...he made it in a little over 4 hours!! Good ride Matt!!!
As I sat and pondered this morning, the day after, I was a little bummed that it was over and again came to the realization that you can train like "pro", everyone is a pro when they dream, for an event and be "prepared" as one can be only to have the unforeseen take you to the limits of your mental and physical abilities...it's dark that deep in the cave of pain!!!!
I said this last year and I will say it again...If you want a definite challenge and think 200 is out of your reach, try the Half...I'm 99% sure it will test you to your limits!!!!
So now what? I had spent the last 4+ months working toward this race and now there is no real goal to work towards in the short term. That being said, starting in July, the work for a successful CX campaign will begin. So the month of June will be relatively "lazy"...well...at least a week! :)
I love riding my bike!!!!