Monday, August 29, 2022

Gravel WorldSS 300

Why race 300 miles of gravel on a singlespeed? I dunno. I don't ride bikes because I want to beat everyone. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Doing these kind of ultra-races is what allows me to feel satisfied at the end no matter the result.  In fact, I think you could argue that the last place person in these ultra-events is more of a badass than the winner, because riding for 30 hours straight is a hell of a lot harder than riding for 20 hours. The way I see it, we all go out and go as deep as we can for however long it takes, and in the end, who wins the event is sort of just a footnote.

For this race, Will and I left extremely early [like 4am early] from his house, with the destination being Lincoln, Nebraska. In a strange and unlikely occurrence, we took his Subaru Crosstrek instead of my car, a welcome change considering my car has over 40,000 miles in the past year. The drive was pretty easy - even Chicago was smooth sailing - and we got into Lincoln a little earlier than expected around 6:15pm. We grabbed some dinner at Applebees then checked into the [somewhat sketchy] motel. 

The next morning we slept in, got some IHOP, then did a little 25 mile pre-ride on part of the course. My Salsa Stormchaser was geared 38x18 with 700x40 Maxxis Rambler tires on some carbon wheels, TRP Hylex brakes, and an Exposure Six Pack headlight. In addition, I had my Garmin Inreach on aero bars and a backup mini-headlight as well. 

My first thought after riding the start of the course was "oh boy, this will be a lot spinning". 

After a few more miles, I said to Will, "this is going to be so much suffering".

Then slightly after, "this is way stupider than doing 24 hour mountain bike races on a singlespeed".

The course was pretty loose, but also fast, and the occasional steeper [albeit short] climb scared me enough into sticking with 38x18 gearing. I knew from experience that was seems like an easy gear to start can become an impossibly hard gear 20 hours in.

That night, we got our traditional Olive Garden dinner and went to bed pretty early to maximize sleep. The following morning's goal was to maximize calories and minimize exertion. IHOP, race check-in, Subway, try to sleep [I couldn't] and eat some more [I could].

Around two hours before the race, we left the hotel room and drove to the venue. It was set up in a little business park on the north side of Lincoln, and there was a huge crowd of people gathered around. It's always a pretty surreal feeling before these races start, and I love it. I talked to a couple people also doing the 300 miler, and I made sure to find a couple other singlespeeders to say hello.

There were about about 140 people registered [including 15 singlespeeders], but I heard only about 125 people showed up [but 14 singlespeeders, so we had a great turnout percentage]. 

I pulled the 'Dahn Pahrs' move and got to the start line extra early to secure a spot in the front of the pack. Because, you know, started a few feet ahead of the others with 300 miles left to race is critically important. The race director hyped up the start with the help of some AC/DC, and as the clock counted down to zero, he was practically screaming. Finally, the race started and we were off.

A singlespeeder got the hole-shot, but even though the race didn't start off fast, he got swallowed up within 100 yards or so. For the first couple miles, I was in full-focus mode. I was trying to spin as efficiently as possible and draft as much as possible in order to stay with the lead group without shelling myself. It actually worked out well, and for the first 10 miles or so, I had no trouble staying up there.

Eventually, a gap formed and I found myself slightly behind the leaders. After a mile or so, I caught back up with the help of some geared guys and another singlespeeder, who eventually got second, JR Volcko. It definitely hurt spinning so much, though, and I knew that before long I'd lose the lead group for good.

Sure enough, around mile 30, Will and the lead group left me and a few others. I was happy to finally settle in to a little more sustainable pace, and being able to draft some geared guys in the group was good.

I talked to the other singlespeeder and he said he was running 42x17 gearing. Dang. Much, much, much harder than my gearing. We talked about it, and clearly he was going to have an advantage on the flats and downhills, while I had an advantage on the climbs with my easier gear. I think in the end, it would even out.

The first gas station was 50 miles in, but I had more than enough water and food to keep going. As it turns out, the only other person in our group of 7 or 8 who did not need to stop was JR the singlespeeder. So, we rode past the store and rode together for the next few hours. As the sun was setting, we could see a lightning storm off in the distance. We were hoping it wasn't going to hit us, but we knew it was definitely going to be making parts of the course a little wet.

As we had predicted, our different gearing made riding together slightly un-ideal. On the flat sections, JR was going pretty fast and I was spinning more than I would've liked to keep up. On the climbs, I was pulling ahead slightly, only to be caught immediately on the downhills. We rode together until about mile 75 just after dark, where I pulled ahead just a little bit. It certainly wasn't an attack, more of a gradual increase in speed on some climbs.

At mile 81, there was a van on the side of the road with some volunteers who had water, cokes, and some snacks. I stopped quickly to fill up my bottles, chug a couple cokes, and grab some mini candy bars. As I was filling up, JR rolled up. 

I left just before JR, and almost immediately, I was met with soul-sucking mud. I tried to keep riding, which was a mistake, and my wheels completely locked up. I tried to ride in the grass on the side of the road, but overhanging bushes pushed me into the road occasionally which stopped up my bike. After a combination of riding and walking, I made it through the mud section. There was another rider at the end of the mud trying to scrape his bike clean, and he looked miserable. As I was cleaning my bike, JR made it through and we chatted for a second as we both removed mud.

I got my bike clean first, so I started rolling again. I could see headlights in the distance behind me, so I knew JR had started riding again as well. I tried to maintain a steady pace, and my goal was to stay in the aero bars as much as possible. It worked well; I would try to hit the climbs pretty hard then coast the downhills in the aero bars. 

Eventually, I saw a group of three riders ahead of me on a climb. I passed them pretty quickly and kept chugging along. Before long, I looked back and saw a light quickly approaching me. The rider caught up to me, and it was Paige Redman, the women's leader of the race. Clearly she was stuck in no-man's land before, riding with the other two people too slow for her pace, but playing the smart move and deciding not to try solo'ing away from them. When I passed, she saw the opportunity to go a little faster.

It was somewhat tough to work together, because on every downhill I was spun out and had to work hard to stay with her. Nonetheless, we rode together for a while and talked a little bit. At almost exactly midnight, I took my first 200mg caffeine pill, courtesy of Will.

We crossed into Kansas around mile 135, and at mile 153, we got to a gas station in Marysville, Kansas. I ran in, grabbed water, a Fanta, a Pedialyte, some packaged waffles, and two slices of pizza. The cash register was not working, and there was a person ahead of me, so I just took $30 cash out of wallet and asked the cashier if I could just leave the cash and go. They said it was fine, so I put the cash down and walked out with my stuff.

I filled up my bottles, threw away some trash from my pockets, devoured a slice of pizza, and then set off riding again with the second slice of pizza in my mouth. It was maybe around 1am now, and riding through Marysville on a cobbled street in the dark was pretty cool. The route then turned onto a rail trail, and before long, Paige caught back up with me. We rode together for a few more miles, and I was feeling pretty good still.

By the end of the rail trail (about eight miles), I wasn't feeling as great. I didn't want to keep spinning, so I told Paige to go on ahead. I rode solo for a few miles until the course got hilly again. 

For the first time, I brought an earbud, and I was jamming to Van Halen as I blasted down a rocky doubletrack road near the Kansas/Nebraska border around 3am. I saw Paige ahead of me, and we met back up on this rocky road.

We rode together for a while longer, and just before the sun came up, I took a second caffeine pill. That may have been a mistake. Around the same time as that, I told Paige I was going to slow down my spinning a little bit, so she rode away from me again. I didn't see her again, but she won the women's race quite handily!

As the sun was starting to illuminate the sky, I started to feel progressively worse and worse. Making it to mile 223 for the next gas station felt like forever. I think I had too much caffeine, and my stomach was sort of upset.

After what seemed like ages, I made it to the gas station. I grabbed a couple Powerades, a couple big breakfast burritos, and a soda. I ate as fast as I could and then got rolling again. That was probably a low point for me; I felt absolutely awful and wasn't sure how I was going to finish.

Only 15 miles later, I rode right past another gas station. I wasn't planning on stopping, but I felt so bad that I had to. I chugged another Pedialyte hoping it would help, and started riding again. The miles went by slowly, and I watched the Garmin navigation count down each turn.

In my head, I was thinking, "two miles to a turn is easy, three miles is sort of long, and over four isn't great".

Sure enough, out of town, the next turn wasn't for 9 miles. Ugh. I put my head down and just pedaled, knowing it would be over half an hour of dead-straight gravel road pedaling. 

I started to feel a little bit better, and the miles seemed to go by a little faster. Finally, I made it to a general store at mile 266. I also wasn't planning on stopping there, but I was afraid I wouldn't make it if I didn't get something. Plus, I had to use their bathroom.

I grabbed an ice cream sandwich, a soda, and some Powerades, filled up my bottles, and rode away with the ice cream sandwich still sticking out of my mouth. I knew I only had 35 miles to go, so that gave me an energy boost.

Pretty soon, I started seeing riders doing other distances of the race, and seeing those people out on the roads was also a motivation boost. Around mile 278 I rolled through the last checkpoint and aid station, but I didn't stop because I had everything I needed.

The last 20 miles were spectacular, and the feeling of coming to the end of something so hard is unlike anything else. I was honestly almost in tears toward the end just thinking about finishing, because finishing seemed so impossible and so far away just a couple hours ago.

I kept a good pace toward the end - which was filled with short, steep punches - and was all smiles when I got to the final stretch. I remember flying around the roundabout near the finish and seeing the finish line; there was a huge crowd of people.

I crossed the line and immediately someone came over to give me a coke and a cold towel to put on my neck. Much appreciated. I walked over to a guy holding the results to ask how I did. I wasn't sure if I had won, because I thought maybe JR passed me while I was in a gas station. 

The guy said, "looks like you finished 2nd place singlespeed behind some guy named John Vorberger".

Hot dang, "I am John Vorberger", I said.

I rode back over to the car where I saw Will's legs just sticking out of the back of the car. He told me had a crazy story to share, so I got to hear all about his trials and tribulations. I won't go into any details, except to say Giardia isn't fun (I know from experience) and it was beyond impressive that he still got 7th overall in the race (and beat me still by quite a bit).

We drove back to the hotel, got some showers, and laid on the beds in a state of semi-consciousness. I went and picked us up some McDonalds, and the eating only briefly interrupted the resting.

Will wasn't feeling too well, and after a while, I took him to the hospital. I then drove to the awards ceremony [yes, I did ask Will if he wanted me to stay, and he didn't], where JR the 2nd place singlespeeder bought me a beer, and we talked for a while. 

The podium was a cool experience; there were a lot of people watching. I got a pretty cool metal trophy, plus a couple GravelKing tires. After that, I went to downtown Lincoln to get some Chipotle for me and Will. He was ready to be picked up from the hospital, so I grabbed him and we went back to the hotel.

We got all our stuff packed up and ready to go. We wanted to leave by 5am, so I set the alarm for 4:45am. In the morning, I woke up in a half-daze and saw it was already 5:45am. Damn. Overslept.

We raced out and still left by 6am. The drive home was pretty easy until the end, where we got some storms, but still, not bad. We made it back to Will's house, I got a good night's sleep, and then I drove up to State College the next morning [Monday] in time for my first class at 11:15am.

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