First Gravel Race

Yesterday I raced my first gravel race. And, really, my first bike race of any sort. It was a lot of fun and I learned things.

The race was called the Grit Nine-O and I happened to stumble over it just a couple weeks ago, so this was very much a last minute thing. My coach was a good sport about it, but I definitely was not in “fighting shape” to be going out racing. And, to be frank, it kicked my ass — I can’t wait to do it again next year!

The race start off a bit rough for me. We were warned we would want to rely on our bike computers and I had the route all setup and ready to go. However, as I rolled through the starting gate my Wahoo decided that we finished the route and turned off navigation. Oh Shit! The first mile and half or so of the route was a neutral zone (no racing) so I was fumbling around with computer and phone trying to get the route loaded. Pretty soon I was all alone and still didn’t have it working. Had to pull over and sort it out. So… once I started racing I was a good two minutes behind my wave. Not good.

The first 9 miles I ran way too hard to work back into the tail end of the pack. Many matches were burned but hey, I was back in the hunt — well, not really, but at least I wasn’t riding alone

Then we turned the corner and met the wind. 20+ mph winds out the west all day. Gusts up over 40. It was brutal. Many more matches burned, but I hung in there.

Somewhere in there I also realized that my problems descending hills are even worse on loose gravel. Made some progress as the day went on, but dang. I have work to do there.

Hit a hill with a 20% grade and lots of rocks. I humbled myself and walked up the final 20 yards of that one. So that happened.

Hit another similar hill. Got to do some more walking.

Key realization made: the 1×11 drive train may be the new hotness and all the rage in the cyclocross world, but if I’m going to do more gravel races (and I will!) then I’m going to be adding a front derailler and enjoying the gearing with a 2×11 setup.

Finally we got to the final & biggest climb. 7.5 miles at a steady grade straight into that wind up through a meadow. No cover. No break. Relentless. It was, to put it mildly, soul crushing. It was only a 3 – 3.5% grade but the perspective was such that it looked flat. You just felt like you were really struggling for no reason. I was in my low gear for most of that and I gotta tell you my legs and glutes are still feeling that this afternoon. Low ain’t always low enough.

Second Key realization made: Don’t burn all the matches at the beginning of the race and…

Third Key realization made: Spend a little more time looking over the course and have a plan for the climbs.

Look at that final climb profile!

Big thanks to Coach! A year ago this race would have absolutely destroyed me. Running 4 hours in those heart rate zones? Never would have happened… and probably would have got some health issues afterwards.

More of this next year.

[Update] I forgot to mention how I finished (not that the original readers missed anything…).

When I got home I told my wife that I figured I was somewhere in the bottom third of all finishers on the 47 mile course. Turns out I was wrong. I was in the middle third of all finishers [but at the very bottom of it]. 43rd out of 69. There were 9 DNFs and I’m guessing those were split between getting lost and crashing.

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