I can't remember how many years ago that the Gravel Grovel was started, but I sure am happy that I found it. A lot has changed over the years. Where the race starts and finishes, how bad the weather conditions are, what bikes I have used and how bad the pain was. I have had a few years that would make a lot of people not want to come back, but for some reason I find myself lined up on the starting line every year just hoping to do better than some previous years.
This year seemed a little different for me. Last year I was coming off of my fastest year ever and feeling strong. The pre-rides had me really happy with how I was riding, but race weekend had me not feeling very good. Bad enough that I really can't believe that I even started the race. It was a struggle the whole way, but I had put so much work in to the year that I didn't want to not race. Somehow I pushed thru the pain and finished with a respectable 5:20. Most years the goal was to finish in under the 5 hour mark and I only did that a couple times.
2018 I have committed to racing some big races on the SS. So, this year I figured why not race SS again. Before the last couple years, I had done this race a lot more times on one gear than I did with gears. I figured this might not be the fastest option, but more for the training benefits. I plan on doing a lot of stuff with one gear for the next year and no better time to start than now.
Friday we got there a little earlier than I had in past years. Checked in to our cabin and got moved in. The weather was great so we planned on doing a little ride to get the legs moving. We went out like the start does and just finished the ending loop back to the horse camp. This was about a 15 mile loop and was exactly what I wanted.
We then took a little trip in to town for some food and settled down for the night. We had a nice fire and a few of us hung out awhile. I didn't drink too much and went to bed early enough to get a good night sleep. Conditions were going to be great, so no need to mess things up by being hung over or dead tired. I had high hopes that I could put in a good time or at least a lot better than last year.
I woke up a little earlier than I thought I should, but this gave me plenty time to get ready. I got some coffee and oatmeal going and headed over to check in before there was a big line. I finished breakfast and got my bike ready. I made my drinks and gathered what I was packing. I felt like I was done too early. I know it was a lot earlier than other years, but not sure this is bad. I took it easy and just waited til I thought I needed to go. I changed my mind a couple times about what to wear and rode around the area to loosen up the legs.
After saying hi to people I saw and riding a little bit, I had to go back and change a couple things I planned on wearing. I thought I was ready except for a jacket I had on that I didn't plan on racing in. I went back to riding around a little bit, but really more talking to friends. It seemed like it was getting close, so I went and took the jacket off and made a last minute natural break to hopefully keep from having to stop later. Next thing I knew, I heard the pre-race announcements and hurried my way over to the start. I found E2 and made my way up near him. I was not as far up as I wanted to be, but it was going to have to do.
Time started to count down to closer and then it was go time. I have learned to not go too crazy at this point. There is always a bottle neck at the bridge and brakes get locked up. I did good at keeping moving and not getting caught up too bad there. Once on the road, I tried to pick up the pace. I saw E2s wheel and jumped on. He was making his way up the pack and moving good. The pace was pretty fast and I was doing my spin/coast as best than I could. I could see the Team People's jersey leading the pack right before we hit the first gravel section. This is by far the farthest forward I have been at this point. But, the pace was moving faster than my legs were ready to spin and I had to let him pull away.
I found another good wheel, Jeremy, to jump on for a little bit. This let me get to the paved hill in no mans land. I tried to not kill myself on the climb, but keep moving. I seemed to be passing people and I was not breathing that much harder than I already was, so it seemed to be the right pace. From here I just kept on going moving and jumping on wheels when I could. Somewhere along here Jeremy caught back up and let me tuck in behind him. We stayed like this until a little after Maumee bridge. As we got on to Combs I went to the front. I was moving forward and passing some riders. As I got close to the Combs climb I could hear all the heckler's on top. I was going to do everything I could to not walk this section. But it might get tricky since I had 3 people in front of me.
As I approached the top and saw some good friends, I could not help to smile. I was feeling good and just climbed a tough hill. Lots of people hanging out cheering or what ever. How could not not be happy at this point? It was pretty tempting to grab a beer or even a shot of fireball, but I was riding well and didn't have time to mess around. I bombed down the back side and headed over toward Blue Creek as fast as I could go. Up and over the bridge and on the gas.
I set another PR on the Blue Creek climb. I just kept moving at what ever pace I felt was good. I tried to not get stuck behind someone and stay there. I made some more passes on the down hill and kept hammering. This whole section was a lot dryer than I typically see it and that is a good thing. As I came out on to the road, I could see E2 just taking off. I guess he didn't get too far just yet. I also had Brian pass me on this road section. This is where the singlespeed is limited. I can only go so fast. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe these sections allow me to rest just enough to climb the harder stuff better.
I didn't take any time at the Nebo parking lot and jumped right in to the climb. It didn't take me too long before I caught up to a rider on a cross bike. I didn't get excited and just kept moving. By the time we hit the left turn there was 3 bikes in front of me. 2 cross bikes and Brian again. There was a spot that Brian was going over a log and his chain came off. He pulled over and the rest of us went around. There was a little hesitation by the one cross bike and the two of us left went by him. A little bit down the trail I made a little more effort to get by and shortly after I was all alone again.
I felt like I was riding really well on the trail sections and making some good time. Nebo didn't seem to take very long where as previous years it felt like it took forever. As I finished this section up and climbed up to the road, I passed E2. This didn't last long. As I started down the road I was working on eating some food. I looked over my shoulder and there was E2 getting ready to fly by me. I was in no place to try and jump on. I just had to finish eating and go at a pace that felt good. At this point another nice rider came by me and said to jump on. We rolled pretty good thru this next section. This was a huge help as it kept me moving faster than I would have done on my own.
As we started up Mt. Baldy I pulled away from the friendly cross bike rider. I did see another single speeder just up ahead of me. I paced my way up the hill trying to not go too slow or blow up. As I was rolling up to the rest stop I could see E2 pulling away. I said hey and went to work getting my next helping of CarboRocket 333 out of my pocket and in to my bottle. I tried to do this as quickly as possible. I didn't really take any time to see what was on the table, but I did take some trash out of my pocket so I would not loose it on the road. Right as I was getting on my bike to pull away, Brian came rolling up. I said that he would probably see me in just a little bit, and off I went.
I turned on to the paved section, downed another Honey Stinger gel and tucked and went as fast as I could roll. I didn't get up to 50 like I thought I might, but I was still going in the upper 40's. I took it a little easy on the tricky left hand corner as I watched another rider not make the turn. I knew this section was not going to be easy. This next climb always seems to take it out of me. Some how I kept moving fairly good and was at the top before I knew it. I cruised down the other side and let gravity do what I could for me. After I made the next couple corners here came the friendly cross rider again. He was nice enough to tell be to come on again and mumbled something about one FG with a little bit of bewildered tone as he shook his head.
Together we went along fairly well for a little while. I am not sure when he lost me or even if I lost him, but after Cornett Cemetery, I found myself alone again. But, along came Brian. We rode together right up until the climb before the next single track section. I pulled away just a little before I went in to the woods. I rode this section well and popped out the other side fairly quickly. I took the left and settled in for the climb that I knew was coming. As I neared the top the loose gravel got the best of me and I had to walk the last little bit. As I got to the top I figured I should take this time to take another much needed break. As I was there Brian caught up to me and passed me.
Somewhere in this loop I caught back up with Brian and we rode together for a while. As we took the right hand turn I let him know about the loose down hill that can be sketchy. We went along for some time. I really do not know when I got away from him. I was in my zone and just moving the bike at what ever pace it wanted to go. I flew past the intersection where the single track comes out and headed toward the next trail. At some point on this road I caught up to the single speed rider that I saw on Baldy. This time I didn't get caught up in his pace and tried to pull away from him. He was right behind me as I hit the trail. There was a cross bike in front of me and he messed up on one of the first little dips. I made my way around him and took off. I heard him ask if the other guy wanted around, but I didn't stay there long enough to hear his answer. A little bit down the trail when it turns back on itself a little, I didn't see anyone behind me.
I came out of the woods as E2 was getting a bottle topped off. I said hey and proceeded to get one of mine filled up. I kind of glanced for a coke, but it didn't sound like he had one. I quickly took off and tried to catch up to E2. We did get back together somewhere along this section. We rode together for a lot of this section. Some of the time he was behind me and some times he was next to me. I was in a little panic worried that SS rider would catch back up. I was wearing out at this point, but not cramping. This section really seemed to run on. I kept wishing the church was just around the next corner. Then I saw a corner and thought we were home free!! That was until it was the turn to the Maumee Boy Scout camp. Dammit!! We didn't even make it to that point yet. So, back to turning the pedals over as smooth as I could. When we finally made the turn at the Hickory Grove church and the grade pointed down, E2 pulled to the front and his pace picked up. I jumped on his wheel and away we went.
We made good time all the way down to the turn toward the bridge. We made are way over the bridge and kept moving. I really wanted to stop and pee again, but there was no time now. We were too close to the finish. So, we kept moving forward. I am sure we were both just happy to be almost done. As we hit the creek crossing I made sure and back off a little. I let E2 take the lead in to the water. After the huge pull I took off of him down the road, this was no time to try and race it out. If it would have been almost anyone else it would have been a different story. Thru the creek and up to the finish. I could not have been any happier with myself at that point. I rolled across the line at 4:14:23, just 2 seconds behind E2. This put me in 5th place for the SS class and 63rd place overall. I want to give a shout out to all the other SS racers. The top guys are just crazy fast!!
This was by far my best Gravel Grovel!! I beat my best finishing time by almost 45 min. and last years time by 1hr and 6 min. It was really unbelievable. I was on cloud 9 for the rest of the evening. It was great hanging out around the fire with everyone that stuck around. Even after they left we stayed up until the wood and beer was basically gone, well most of us :-). No matter how I ride or finish, the test that this race can put you thru and all the good friends that I get to see and hang out with make this the best race of the year! Finally having a finishing time that makes me feel more like I competed and not just attended makes it even better. I can only hope to continue riding this well, no matter what bike I am on or how many gears I have.
This race was the second endurance race this year where I felt like I was on the gas the whole race. Fools Gold was the other one. I did both on a SS and for some reason I just perform better when I don't have to think about shifting. But, I do not think that the bike what the only thing that played a part in that. The major difference that I changed late in the season that I feel has made a huge improvement is switching to CarboRocket. The Half Evil 333 has been my go to drink for the longer races. I have used just the hydration mix some of the time depending on race lengths, but the added calories I get from the Half Evil just makes the difference for me. I always have a hard time eating enough and when I dig too big of a hole it is hard to come back. The other change is also taking in some Rocket Lytes. I have been on the gas and have not had an issue with cramping yet. I can not thank Brad @ CarboRocket enough for helping me out!! Give them a try!!