I went into this race weekend with low expectations. My A race for the year (IM Michigan 70.3) was behind me, and it sadly wasn’t a great day. So, I was just ready for some fun. Dirty Mitten certainly fits the fun bill!
I had originally signed up for the 50-mile gravel race. Though I had not been riding gravel regularly, I had good bike fitness since it was just a few weeks off of my 70.3. However, about 10 days before the race I accidentally kicked a rock while walking barefoot and was dealing with a nasty painful bruised toe, and a foot that hardly fit in my shoe! So, I dropped down to the 28-mile race and hoped for the best.
I did a quick test ride on Thursday, and felt decent. The swelling eventually dropped enough for me to squeeze my foot into my bike shoe so it was on!
I arrived at the venue about 45 minutes before my race. I wanted to say hi to friends that were riding the 50 plus I needed to get my packet. I was able to park close and had plenty of time to get my bike ready. The mechanics at Biked checked my tire pressure and added some air. I had been planning to ride at 35 psi, but they put me closer 50 psi, which was a good call in the long run.
Ben was riding to the venue. It was his last big weekend before Kona so he was shooting for 5 hours of saddle time between the ride there and the 50-miler. He didn’t anticipate the headwind on the ride south and arrived about 30 seconds before the starting gun went off at 10. A quick smooch and he was gone.
My race would begin 30 minutes later. I knew that the short stretch leading to the start/finish line was very sandy so I made sure to line up to the side about midway back of the pack. I was feeling chilly while waiting, but I knew was a good sign. It was in the high 50s, cloudy with a chance of rain and of course the wind. I wore my short sleeve kit with knee socks. I had a buff over my ears but pulled it off at the last minute because I just knew I’d warm up – which I did quickly!
In a draft legal race like this, my strategy was to find a good wheel to hang onto early on and maybe even jump into a group. I have experience riding in a pace line so I felt comfortable with that idea.
I am someone who needs a good warm-up on the bike. My heart rate always spikes the first 10 minutes as I ride. But, my social nature didn’t allow me time to warm up properly – plus I kept telling myself I was just there for fun. So, I missed a few opportunities to jump in with a group early on because my chest was pounding!
I finally settled in and started riding strategically. The few wheels I jumped on didn’t feel quite right. I’m used to riding with Ben who’s a skilled cyclist and keeps a solid steady cadence and pace. It’s dangerous to ride close behind an erratic cyclist so I was solo for most of the first 5 miles.
I was passing quite a few bikes and that felt great. But, I started noticing the headwind and wished I had someone to block it for me!
Then came my chance. I was passed by a small pack. They were riding much faster than me so I’m not sure why they were still behind me at that point. But, no time for questions. I needed to act fast and jump on.
I cranked the pedals as hard as I could to catch the group. It felt impossible but I did it, and I was so relieved! But, the group didn’t stay together long as we hit one of the few hills on the route and the front pack broke away from the rider in front of me.
Since I was in the back, and still recovering from my sprint to catch them, there was not much hope for me to pass the guy in front of me to stay with the leaders.
So I just hung on to the wheel ahead of me and quickly realized that I was in a good spot. He was clipping along at a great pace, and had a steady cadence that I could match. I let him know I was back there and couldn’t resist making some small talk.
Scott and I chatted off and on for a good 15 miles. He is a paramedic and knows one of my athletes. I offered to take a pull but he said he’d prefer to stay up front and was a solo rider in general. My heart rate was comfortable but I knew that if I left my cozy wind-free zone, I’d never be able to keep that pace.
At one point we tried to jump in with another group that we had caught, but that was short lived as it the road was congested at that point and we got pimped by a rogue erratic biker that could not ride a straight line. So off they went. Booo.
The route was scenic and mostly flat. The gravel was in nice shape. The rain the night prior had helped tame some of the sandy spots. I can only think of one nasty bumpy stretch. The farmland of Barry County was enjoyable. Baby sheep, cows and horses said hello as we passed.
I began to notice our pace drop. “Hey Scott, need a gel or something?” I figured I’d do my part. Haha. He said he was good but the speedometer said otherwise.
The guy behind me finally spoke up and offered to take a pull. Scott obliged. The third biker shot around me like a pistol and hammered furiously probably 10 mph faster than we were currently going. His “pull” was 100% solo and both Scott and I had to laugh. He waited for us at the next corner huffing and puffing and admitting he went too hard. He jumped back behind me. SMH.
I knew I needed to act or I’d be mad at myself for being a wimp. I passed Scott and said “my turn!” I didn’t want to be that guy, so kept a pace that I thought he could keep. Though my legs did want to go fast at that point. I steadily increased the pace and I’m not sure how long he hung on but when I turned a corner with about 2 miles to go I realized that I had dropped him.
I was not about to wait at the corner.
So I kept on at my best effort, really feeling the wind at that point. The gravel turned to pavement and I knew I was so close. I finished with a smile on my face, knowing that I had a really great race. I chatted with more friends and watched Gabriele, Courtney, Ben and Di finish their races.
I was so excited to learn I took 3rd in my age group! Heck yes! I’ll admit I don’t find myself on the podium often so it was super sweet to stand there and truly feel like I earned it.