Written by Sarah Brown Thursday, 13 June 2019 00:00
After racing cross country mountain biking for 9 years, I decided to do something different this year. I signed up for the 100 mile Gravel Grinder Nationals in Lawrence, KS. My only experience with gravel grinders was racing two short courses on a full suspension mountain bike. I really didn’t think my mountain bike would be a good choice for 100 miles on dirt roads, so I had some gravel tires put on my road bike (which I had never even ridden in the road!).
The open farmland around Lawrence was beautiful. Believe it or not, there are plenty of hills in Kansas! After checking in to the race Friday night, I felt well prepared, except for my GPS. Downloading a GPS map of the course was required because the course was not well marked. For whatever reason, I was having technical difficulties and couldn’t download the map. Time was running out and I had to give up. I figured that the race was big enough that I would be able to keep all the riders in my sight and go by what markings they did have on the course.
The morning of the race was very cold with temperatures in the high 30s. We started in downtown Lawrence Kansas with a nice flat 5 mile section on rail trail and flat gravel roads. After this the climbing started. Climbs were frequent and steep but we did not have the long climbs that I’m used to in East Coast mountain bike races.
Almost the entire course was gravel roads with only a few miles on pavement. Many of the roads had recently been graded and we’re not firm and hard packed. There was a lot of loose rock which made it difficult to climb and even more difficult to descend. It was difficult to get traction and on the descents and my bike slid around a lot. At mile 36 on one steep descent I lost control and took a pretty hard fall. After that I was a little more cautious on the loose descents.
My goal was eight hours or less, which meant keeping a 12.5 mile an hour pace. I was having no problem with this. However, after about the halfway mark the pack really started to thin. At a few unmarked intersections I stopped and waited for another rider to catch up so that I would know where to go. I wasn’t happy about losing that time, but at mile 73 I was still right on track for my time goal and I was feeling like I had plenty of gas left in the tank. Unfortunately this is where things went wrong. There were no other riders in sight and I went straight at an intersection where I should’ve turned right. It was about 20 minutes before I figured out my mistake and went back. Fortunately I met a rider who got me back on course. After this I got lost several more times. I estimated that I was on course for an extra 40 minutes due to being lost.
At the end of the race we repeated the same flat 5 miles that we started with. I was thrilled to cross the finish line knowing that I had written well over 100 miles. I felt pretty good physically. My time was a little over 8 1/2 hours. I know that if I hadn’t gotten lost I would’ve exceeded my goal. While it was disappointing to not finish where I was capable of finishing, I felt good to know that my training had paid off and I was in excellent shape. Hopefully my hard training will pay off in the rest of my races this season.
I did get to stand on the podium for third place in my age division. Second place was only a few minutes before me, so clearly if I hadn’t gotten lost I would’ve been second. It still felt good to be on the podium and receive a prize.
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