Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Third Time's the Dirtiest! ...Adventures in Gravel Racing

This past weekend, I tackled the Westside Dirty Benjamin for my third time after missing last year when I threw out my lower back.  I hadn't done a century in 2 years... not since I won it for the second time back in 2011... and somehow Jay had faith in me for a strong finish.  Me and my fistful of ibuprofren weren't so sure, but you know I had to saddle up anyways... 107.5 miles of gravel roads... what's the problem?

At the start of the race, the nerves were firing on all circuits as my stomach couldn't decide how to act.  Jay was trying to pump me full of encouragement and the drive to win and some barrier within myself was trying not to buckle under the pressure.  But, as tactically-minded as I am, I still strolled to the front of the pack to prep for the start of the race.

It was an awesome roll-out with Stukel driving the pack on his bike on a route I'd not yet seen.  I was sitting top 5 through the bulk of the rollout, but quickly found me in the midst of chaos as we entered a squishy single-track, saturated with the frequent spring rainfall we've had.  We popped back out onto the road and I moved quickly back into the top 20 to try to keep with the lead pack as we were released from the lead-out.  The pace maintained a strong but steady speed, and I settled into the pack and allowed my heart rate to come back down.

We hit the gravel roads with pure drive and loads of passion, ignoring our bikes as the rear wheels swayed this way and that, spit gravel from our lips as we gasped for air, and made split-decision bee lines when the gravel got soft and control dwindled.  Rocks pinged of our faces, chest, wheels, and frames and made a meal out of my shins... I felt them tear into my flesh and watched as the dust melded with the blood to make a fun paste out of my flesh.

But the dust and blood were the farthest thing from my mind as various teams and riders kept upping the pace.  I was able to see the "Tell" of the Revolution team and kept myself out of harms way pretty well.... all of a sudden, there we were, 40 miles into the race and I was still with the breakaway group of some 30-40+ riders.. WTF?!  As the pace kept increasing, I found myself shelled off the back twice - once I was able to bridge myself back on solo, and the second time I was able to jump back on with Megan B. & a teammate from BB's.

I road out of my mind and my comfort zone for longer than I'd ever done before, hanging on to the breakaway group til mile 60.  Unfortunately, just before the check-point, we took a turn into the cross-wind and I found myself as the caboose.. but as they came out of the turn, the attack happened and I was sling-shotted off the back.  I tried to bridge my way back on w/ my teammate Ron Ron, but I couldn't even hold his wheel as I watched the field (which now cradled the 1st place woman) ride away from me.

Panic set in - I'd ridden 60 miles with no cue sheets, having them safely tucked in my jersey.  I was quick to take them out, but found the heat and sweat had stuck them together and the ink was starting to run.  I tried desperately to pry them apart with one hand and my mouth to try to find the next turn before I got to it.  I found Ron Ron at the next intersection just as I'd found the right page and we took the left turn to the check point where we refueled, fed the mosquitos, and remounted our bikes as soon as we could.

We spent the next few miles getting ourselves back into the action, fighting off increasing back pain on my side, and Ron Ron's leg cramp that stopped us for 5 min. until the mosquitos got too unbearable.  We pedaled easy for a few miles and set into a steady pace until mile 80 or so when a group of 7 came up on us and let us jump on.  Megan B. was in the pack and looking strong, forcing me to spend the next 15 miles in my head, fighting the urge to throw in the towel as my right side continued to cramp and the pedal strokes got more uneven.  I tried pedaling only with my left leg to relieve the pain, but little relief was found.  At mile 100, we ascended our final and brutal gravel climb.  At the top, rather than throwing in the towel, the adrenaline kicked in and I was suddenly unaware of the pain and focused only on strategy to get myself a second place finish.

Megan pulled to the front with 7 miles to go to "help take a pull" and I jumped on her wheel as the Angel and the Devil on my shoulders battled it out as to whether or not to inform her of her tactical error.   The Devil won... I sat on as we flew across the paved road at 22 mph, never letting more than a few inches separate our wheels, watching as the miles ticked off.  With less than a mile to the final turn, she called over her shoulder "Where do we turn?"... "Danger, Will Robins" is what I replied... first mistake about cue-sheet races:  not having your cue sheets.  Lucky for her, one of the men in our pack came to the front with a 1/2 mile to go, calling "I'll do some work - you ladies just yell at me when you want me to get the hell outta your way!"

We took the final turn into the descent to the finish.  Though the day had been warm and cloud-covered, the rain finally decided to make an appearance for our final 2 miles.  The pace was fast and I was quickly running out of gears w/ my 1x10, noticing that Megan had 3 more to go.  A couple men attacked and I went with, trying to get a gap, but Megan and the rest closed the gap instantly.  Another attack went, but I marked her instead, making sure I knew where she was at all times, knowing she wasn't sure where the finish was.

Once the bridge was in my sights, I grabbed my shifters and gave it hell, ramping it up and taking the finish line by storm.  We came into the parking lot as they registered our finish, wet, grimmy, and covered in dust, dirt, and gravel... we were tired, but yet so energized by such an awesome race!  Although it was my slowest times of the 3 (at 6hrs 14min), I still finished in 2nd place and more proud of myself than ever!  Typically, I have Jay by my side, pushing me to go hard and helping me through emotional bouts of doubt... but this year he was at the front, battling it out all the way to the finish and took 2nd himself in a seriously tough battle!  So proud of my hubby, and so happy for all that he has taught me!
Better yet, when we threw our FILTHY kits into the wash, seeing as how all the white areas had turned an ishy brown... we honestly didn't know if they'd ever come clean.  But, our super kits by Podiumwear look brand new after a lil soap and water!  Not to mention the comfort - I've never done a century ride w/o some "monkey butt" (aka skin issues)... but NOTHING!   Even my teammate Janna, who's hubby/wife team won the Tandem race said it was the best chamios yet!  Thank you Podiumwear!

Wasted tired, sore, and completely elated, we enjoyed some great food and brews post-race and watched as the riders came in as well as a pretty tough thunderstorm.  Turns out we'd finished just in time, as the storm that welcomed us to the finished turned all the gravel roads behind us into peanut butter, freezing up chains and drive trains for many riders.

All in all, it was an amazing day!  We happily followed it up with some well-needed time with the puppy, horizontal, on the couch. :)  Now, if only my appetite would subside.... ever since my 5200 calorie burn, I can't seem to stop eating!

Happy & Hungry,
Kristy Kreme