153 miles. 97% gravel and 3% paved. Yeah…I probably don’t need to say anything else.
You train for these things hoping to be prepared but boy did this one challenge me not only physically but mentally. This was also my first fully self-supported ride, meaning I could not receive help from anyone at any time (except race volunteers). So, I had to pack everything and then some plus money for gas station stops. Here is my summary from preparing everything to carry on my ride to getting to the finish line.
My hydration pack: I used an Orange Mud hydration system which allowed me to carry 60 extra fluid oz. on my back. I filled that in the morning with water and NUUN Endurance. I also took two water bottles, one with Nuun Sport and the other plain water and ice. I hoped this would last for at least the first 50 miles. It was going to be a warm and very humid day. In the zipper pockets of my pack, I stuffed extra Nuun, 3 SIS gels, Advil (ya never know when you might need that) and 2 Lara bars. I really had no room left!
My frame bags: I bought two extra frame bags from Orange Mud that are waterproof, a top frame bag and saddle bag. These worked out well for anything I did not want to get wet such as my phone, sodium pills etc. I also put a dry cloth inside. The saddle bag had a spare tube, CO2 cartridge and bike tools.
What I wore: A fellow gravel rider and friend clued me into a great idea for extra carry possibilities on the bike. She referred me to Adventure bibs which not only provide fantastic saddle comfort but also had two deep pockets on each leg. So I had even more to stuff!
My team and I custom-designed special jerseys just for the day, which I loved and got a ton of compliments on.
The course was unforgiving. 10,500 feet of climbing. Mostly great fast gravel, but some not so great. It was dark when we began which I joked with a friend “I am kind of glad it’s dark, I can’t see the hills coming up then.”
I started off averaging 14.5 mph with a beautiful sunrise. I was hydrated and my legs felt strong.
We hit almost half of our total elevation in the first 50 miles. It became a roller coaster of up, down, up down, turn uphill, up down, up down, turn uphill…..you get the idea. Nebraska gravel is much different than what I am used to in Michigan. It is very packed down limestone with very deep piles off to the side. If you did not pick a good line to follow, you would have been in trouble. So I had to be on my game and pay attention closely.
I rode with a friend for the first two hours, but she left me eventually as she was a faster rider than me.
Before I knew it I was at the first major aid station! Almost all my hydration was gone so I filled everything and bought a banana. The next checkpoint would be mile 60. Things were starting to feel a little rough, so I took an Alt Red and an extra sodium pill (I was taking one every 45 mins). The first major checkpoint had lots of food options. I wasn’t hungry but I knew I had to eat, so I had a Larabar and another banana. The heat was taking a toll but I rolled out of the checkpoint feeling a little rested but sore.
I began to drift to an 11 mph avg around mile 100. The hills seemed like they were NEVER GOING TO STOP. Then, my least favorite thing happened, I turned into the wind. So down to a 10 mph average we go, and now my thoughts were playing tricks on me. I was at mile 114 and I began thinking:
Who does this?
Why am I doing this?
I don’t have to be here
Maybe Tony can come to pick me up.
I stopped at an aid station, and I didn’t even know why I was there. I was starting to get unfocused and confused, not because I was dehydrated but because I was getting that exhausted. I had been riding for almost 12 hours at this point and constantly climbing over and over. I got to the last checkpoint at mile 128 and decided to text Tony. He gave me his usual words of encouragement which helped a lot.
I told the volunteer I wanted to finish in the daylight. She patted me on the back and told me I could do this and to get going. So, I did. The sun was beginning to set and If I had to climb one more stinking hill I was going to scream.
I had a laundry list of things that continued to fail. But the main one was still my head. For the first time in my racing life, I really wanted to quit. My whole body hurt, I was alone a lot at this point and my watch and bike computer were warning me they were dying too. My map was gone.
But you know what, I didn’t come all the way out here, ride all this way to just give up now. Not today! I dug down and found the little courage I had left and pedaled towards the finish. I waited for someone to come up behind me who had a working map and rode the rest of the way with him. I caught the sunset on my phone, I had 2 miles left at this point. I was going to make it.
I had two goals. Ride it in under 12 hours and end up top 10 ten in my age group. I got one of those. And quite frankly I’m amazed I got one. I really should say, I am thankful I finished.
Much respect to the Gravel Worlds crew and this relentless course. I have done 3 Ironmans, and I can honestly say this was harder. But I am very glad I did it. The experience was a lesson in self-discovery. I learned things don’t get easier, but we can become more comfortable when it does get hard. We can do hard things. We can do what we set our mind out to do. There is something that keeps us going and I hope I never lose that something.