But first, COVID:
After UnboundXL June and July were a bit of a whirlwind. Putting on the 10th and final World Domination Summit (which was supposed to happen in 2020) took Paul and I to Portland in late June. Paul raced the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder while I worked on the week-long event. Despite taking excessively careful COVID measures Paul came down with COVID the day we were headed back to Boulder (via car). And after 20 hours in the car together I tested positive a couple days later. Boo. We weren’t hit as hard as some but we were knocked out for a while. I had a constant low grade fever for 3-4 days and we were pretty beat. We missed Ned Gravel and the Mount Evans Hill Climb, and generally spent 3-4 weeks watching our fitness tank. Thankfully we seem to have made it through COVID without lasting effects (other than some sadness about missing July racing and a general hit to our top end power on the bike).
So this brings us to August where I’m signed up to race Steamboat (SBT) Gravel (get it? ♨️+🚤). Despite my longest ride post COVID being only ~50miles (with multiple stops, including at a lemonade stand!) I remain signed up for the 140 mile, 10,000ft of elevation Black course. This is mostly because I hemmed and hawed about switching to a shorter course for so long that I missed the cutoff date to officially change. I’m not entirely convinced I can finish given that my training rides leading up to it have been very up and down. One included my heart rate going up to 175bpm while riding endurance in the heat and involved Paul biking out to bring me ice water so I could finish the ride… However, I’m mildly comforted by the fact that at least it’s 210 miles shorter than my last race 😀
Paul didn’t get into the lottery to be able to race so, while he’s coming out to support me and will be doing rides, he won’t be racing. We’ve never been to Steamboat and it’s quite pretty. We’ve got a nice sized rental house which we are supposed to be sharing with our friend Harris and her husband, but Harris was hit by a car on her bike a few months ago and isn’t yet back to bike racing shape (soon!). So we’ve instead invited our friend Eric (he’ll be volunteering) and our friend Kim (who we met at RPI last year!) and her boyfriend Parker to stay with us. We also know a number of other folks who are in town for the race including friends from Boulder, Ride or Die teammates, folks from BaseCamp, and others. Fun!
We arrive on Friday and swing by a happy hour to meet up with some Ride or Die folks.
I also swing by the expo to get my number and also my continuous glucose monitor. Yes, I now have a tiny little device stuck into my arm that measures my glucose 24/7.
Supersapiens, the company that I get this device from, is doing a US trial and they invited SBT competitors to get a free monitor. I’m not usually one to rush at sharing data but (1) it’s only my glucose numbers (no other personal info) and (2) there are NEVER enough women in these sorts of things so I’d like to bump that up. In fact it’s three free monitors which equates to 6 weeks of continuous tracking. So now I’m immediately fascinated by watching my numbers go up and down, though it’s a bit too close to race day for me to do much with that info.
The next day we hit the Chamois Butt’r // All Bodies on Bikes shakeout ride.
We get to see Kara and Steve from Chamois Butt’r (YAY!) and ride with RDC teammate Airika on the shakeout ride which previews the end of the course.
Paul continued onward to complete a longer ride, and I went back to our house. A great start to the day.
Later, at the expo, we meet up with a bunch of friendly faces including Paul with Hylands (who I met through Belgian Waffle Ride), Austin (who I raced with at UnboundXL), our friends Luke and Becky from Boulder, and several Basecampers from around the country! Really fun to see so many folks we knew, and a highlight of the weekend!
That evening Paul, Eric, Kim, Parker, and I all sit around chatting. Slowly everyone convinces me that I’m probably carrying way too much for such a well supported race. I’m still in UnboundXL mindset and I’m basically ready to self-support the whole thing. After a time I ultimately decide to race without my very loved Chase vest and use the aid stations for water refills (they have 5 aid stops PLUS 2 water stops), and I ditch a little food and mechanical gear too. I’m not one to make big changes the night before a race, but their logic is sound and I’m excited to try a race without 3+ pounds of water on my back.
The morning of the race we’re at the start line by 6AM to get a decent spot. Kim has gone ahead so Eric and Paul join me to watch me start.
I still don’t know how the day will go, but I’m ready to try hard (without going totally into the red) and have some fun.
At 6:30AM it’s finally GO TIME!
We kick off with 2 miles of neutral racing and it’s already super fast. I’m determined to stay on wheels chasing free watts for as long as possible, so I go comfortably hard to stick with a group near (but definitely not at) the front.
I take the early climbs at a good effort but without pushing too much. I find my RDC teammate Rebecca in a big group on the road and ride with her for a bit. We hit the grassy field section and I kinda hate it – it feels like it’s sapping my watts and I wonder whether I’m going to hate the fact that I’ve committed to trying cyclocross for this autumn…
But then we’re at aid station one, 25 miles in, and I ride right straight through as planned. However, I note that the sun is already full blast and it’s starting to get just a bit warm.
After that we go through a nice section of flowing single track with some mud, ruts, rocks, and a small stream crossing – all of which feels SUPER comfortable which is nice! As I turn onto the pavement I see a large group up ahead. I know I’ll go so much faster if I catch them so I (hesitantly) burn a couple matches to catch. Still not sure how I managed to get them, but I think it was the right choice as I get into the pack just before a downhill. I then sit in this group of ~20+ folks and we absolutely tear through the next 7ish miles of pavement hitting 50mph on the downhills all the way to aid 2. It’s SO FUN. I keep thinking that even if the rest of the day goes south that this bit was such a blast and totally worth it.
At aid 2 I hesitate whether to stay with the group or keep riding. It’s chaos and I can’t really tell what’s happening. I’m down a bottle and so I make a quick decision to stop. I have SuperFuel powder in my pocket and figure I’ll prep it for later (temps are still okay but rising). However, I forget how hard it is to get that stuff dissolved on the fly. In my haste I overfill the bottle a bit but don’t realize it until I’ve already gotten a bunch of the powder in (and it’s not dissolving). I then have to spend extra time mixing and pouring to get the rest added. It costs me almost three minutes stoppage time and I didn’t need that long of a rest this early. Lesson learned.
Annoyed at the long break I go flying out of the aid station as there’s a group just up the rode. Found a small group on the way and we sort of work together to catch but we’re inconsistent with pulls. We do eventually catch the larger group but I’ve burned too many matches. I had the lesson learned from BWR not to keep hanging on when it’s that hard (especially not for this race) so when I realize that it’s too much work to stay with the bigger group I back off and let them go. Those aren’t free watts anymore, I’m spending way too much for that little bit of extra speed!
I ride on my own for a bit including through an absolute mess of grasshoppers. They’re everywhere – pinging off bike wheels and flying into sunglasses. I have to shut my mouth for fear of accidentally choking on one. And they hurt when they smash into you at speed!
Eventually I make it to aid station three at mile 75 where I dump some cool water on my head and continue on my way. Shortly after that things get less great for me for a bit. I roll out with three folks but the dude in front was pushing too hard. I back off and find my own pace again, but I’m getting HOT. Thankfully my SuperFuel really comes into play here as it’s the only thing I can really think about getting down. Having that with me, I’m convinced, saved me and my race.
At mile 84 there is a course split — Black course riders can opt to cut their day short and veer onto the Blue course (which has just 16 more miles to the finish). I’m hurting a bit but not ready to give in. However, if the turn off for the Blue course had been 5miles later I might have taken it. By mile 90 I’m crawling up a very long (~20 mile) hill. It’s gently graded but feels like it’s never ending. A large group passes and I hold on for a bit before again dropping off the back. A few others pass as well but, even though I feel like I’m barely moving, I’m surprised more people don’t go by. I learned later a bunch of folks cramped in this section and had to walk, and two acquaintances likely suffered minor heat exhaustion with chills and bad nausea here.
Finally I get to aid station 4 at mile 96. I find some ice and put in my pockets, down my jersey, and on my head. I dump a half bottle of water on my head, neck, and back too. I only take a couple minutes here, but I feel way better after.
I get going again and 10min later the temps start dropping. Looking at the sky I suspect we’re headed for storms and I welcome the cool weather. At mile 100 the thunder and lightening start in earnest – big booming claps that are right over head. Soon after the rain comes (and with it my appetite again)! I briefly wonder whether they’ll pause or redirect the course for safety reasons, but we get to keep riding. My glasses are fogging and the course now has some light mud but I’m thrilled for the cool down (and soon after a long descent).
I hit the last major aid station at mile ~116 and the rain slows. The caffeine + carbs + almost done feeling all hit and I start picking up speed and passing folks in a push to the finish.
It gets super humid but with the temps so much cooler it’s okay. The final dirt climb feels pretty good and the somewhat technical (for this course) descent down Cow Creek was fast(ish) given the mud, ruts, and dodging of other people. The final 7 miles to town are on pavement and I push through with most of what I have left to finish feeling good!
I cross the line to find Paul, some of my RDC teammates, and Eric all there to welcome me. Soon after I’ve got snacks, drinks, a souvenir hat, and a (much needed) bike wash thanks to the fine folks at Muc-Off!
Overall I came in 269th out of 645 total riders who finished the Black course, and 30th out of 86 women. This does not include about 75 riders who started the Black course but diverted onto the Blue part way through. I was also fourth in my age group for the ‘non pro’ category, missing that third place finish by 5min. I absolutely could have found five more minutes on the course but that’s okay. I finished feeling tired and like I tried very hard but not totally spent or ill – exactly what I was hoping for!
Steamboat itself seems like a great town, and I’d love to get back and explore some more in both the warm weather and in the snow. I’d definitely recommend SBT as an excellent gravel race – top notch support and aid stations, a clear committment to inclusivity, and a beautiful course!