Whoops. Apparently this racing things has me a little behind on some posts I wanted to make 🤷♀️ I’ve got three I want to share, but I suppose I should rewind a bit to Ned Gravel and my first ever bike race.
Paul and I were up early to get ready for the big day. Our plan was to eat breakfast, get dressed, and get some caffeine in us before meeting our friend Eric to carpool to the start. Nederland is about 40min away, and we knew parking would be tight. Overnight thunderstorms and rain had kept us awake, but this morning it was simply chilly and damp. We crossed our fingers for that weather to hold, and added an extra layer to our kit to account for the unseasonably low temps.
At 5AM we were off, and by 5:45AM we were nearing the Eldora Ski Resort where we’d park. The start was planned to be early to help with heat, which suddenly didn’t seem very necessary in these conditions.
Unfortunately, about 5mi from the top the rain started up, and it was steadily coming down by the time we parked. In no hurry to get moving, we slowly gathered gear, used the bathroom, and stalled while the rain eased back to a trickle. Then it was a quick 5 mile bike downhill to the start line which would have been very pleasant but the wet road resulted in wet feet and chamois (in ~50 weather). Brr! At the last moment the rain abated, and I quickly shoved my rain jacket into my new bike vest hoping I’d warm up on the climb.
Since we’d never done a race, Paul and I started near the back. The first two miles were a ‘neutral roll out’ where we did pass some folks trying to find our place. And then we were off onto the meat of the course!
We’d pre-ridden the course, and ride some of the trails somewhat regularly, so the terrain was familiar. I knew it was a hard course with a lot of climbing, so I kept it nice and steady through the first few miles. With almost constant up and down, there wasn’t much opportunity to draft anyway.
While the roads were muddy, the skies stayed thankfully dry. The cool weather was incredibly refreshing after a very hot summer. No complaints at all.
Paul and I stuck together for the first few miles, but after he stopped to double check a valve I ended up just a smidge ahead. I didn’t see too much of him for the rest of the race, but he was very close behind. After some up and down on both pavement and gravel, we soon hit Switzerland Trail. I was very happy to find myself mostly alone on the downhill, bouncing along on my sweet rental Diverge and going quite a bit faster than I thought I would. The rain had really helped to pack down the dirt and make the trails much more stable. I blew through the first aid station (cool weather meant I still had plenty of water), and started up the other side. I got caught behind some people here, and burned some matches trying to pass on uneven ground. I finally just settled in, probably going a smidge slower than I would have otherwise but using it as a chance to recover and eat.
By the time I hit the descent at Sawmill (which was in excellent shape!) I was feeling a bit tired and ready for the road. On Lefthand I caught a small group and we picked up a ton of speed before hitting the infamous Lickskillet Road and the 1 mile climb up to Gold Hill. Prior to this, I’d only ever climbed Lickskillet on my road bike (mostly walking) and my mountain bike (twice, successfully). I wasn’t sure how the gravel bike would do. It was a solid grind, but I was able to hold my own and stay in position with a couple other ladies. I knew the top was about half way, and I made a quick pause at the aid station to refill one of my bottles to ensure I’d stay hydrated. It had some caffeinated Tailwind in it, and I knew I’d need the boost.
I was able to rip down Gold Run Road, and soon found myself started to pass people heading up the steady dirt climb on Four Mile. Realizing I was 2/3 of the way through and still feeling good I turned on the gas. Part way up I saw Eric again, and the two of us quickly started cruising up, flying through the aid station (where I got a needed Spring Energy gel without even stopping), and chugging up Switzerland. We were steadily passing people who were definitely feeling the elevation of the course and the altitude, and the extra oomph of some company helped keep me going. I started to flag a bit on the final section of Switzerland (sort of accidentally and briefly dropping Eric) but thankfully he was able to give me some encouragement to the end of the bumpy stuff before we opened it up on the downhill.
The final dirt section was only a few miles, but included a couple little steep sections. They weren’t hard, but my legs were TIRED. I hung on through that section, fighting the urge to take a wee break, and flew into town for the finish. I was SO happy to cross the finish line, and in great spirits. A quick look at the tracker showed Paul just behind, and I managed to get a couple photos as he finished.
While the rain essentially held off all ride, we could see the dark clouds quickly approaching. We decided to take a few finish line photos, eat some snacks, and then head out.
There were shuttles back up to Eldora to get the cars, but Eric offered to bike (!!) back up. We figured it would take him about 40min to get up there and drive back, so we decided to hang out and check out the mini expo.
As we wandered around, we caught the award ceremony. We knew we hadn’t won, but we didn’t realize they were doing podiums for age groups. As it turns out, I had taken second in my age group (with the first place woman having come in second overall). There was a bit of confusion about actually getting on the podium and getting prizes, but it was still a pretty exciting moment.
I had come from the back of the pack and passed a ton of folks along the way. Ultimately I ended up in 10th overall in a small but mighty women’s field. For a “B” race and my first race, I was SUPER proud of this! Plus I’d had a great and fun day.
Shortly after the podium picture, the skies opened back up. We met back up with Eric for a wet drive back down to Boulder and the chance to put our feet up.
Both Paul and I definitely learned a lot during that race. Next time I’d start further up in the pack and try to stick with some of the faster folks from the start. I was pleased by how much I ate and drank, but I got a little behind on my nutrition near the end, and knew I’d need to do a better job at RPI (a longer event, and a stage race).
Overall, I finished feeling a little tired (probably with lack of food contributing) but quite strong and with some energy leftover. It was an awesome first race, and definitely made me excited for what else I have planned for the season!