As the 2021 race season was wrapping up I kept hearing about all the great races coming in 2022. It seemed like there was an endless number of gravel races I could sign up for, many of them within a day’s drive of Boulder. And even though the season was just ending, registration (or a lottery!) for many of these races would open before the year closed. In fact, so overwhelmed by my options, I ended up making a spreadsheet just to keep track.
Seeing it all laid out with timing, distances, costs, etc. helped me figure out what I was most interested in doing and not miss registration for races that quickly sell out.
However, one race loomed extra large. Over the years Unbound Gravel (based out of Emporia, Kansas) has become one of the premier gravel races in the US. It hosts several distances including 25, 50, and 100 mile courses but the 200 miler is the big one that gets a lot of coverage. There’s also a 350 mile “XL” course that starts the day before. To enter the 100, 200, or XL you need to go through a lottery system because there’s now so much interest in the race. As I was thinking about which races I wanted to do this year, Unbound kept coming up.
The 200 mile course sounded interesting, but something about the 350 mile option kept pulling at me. There is a 36hr time cut off for the race, so sleeping isn’t really an option. You start mid-afternoon on Friday (about 18hrs before the 200 mile option starts) and finish Saturday sometime between late afternoon and the wee hours of night. The finish rate for the 2021 race was pretty terrible – about 40% overall with just 20% of the women finishing. While the 200 miler attracts thousands, the XL usually hosts just ~150 or so. And it’s self-supported, meaning you carry everything you need and utilize gas stations for food and water refills. I was intrigued, but unsure about committing to something so massive. The question changed from “how fast?” to “is this possible?!”.
Finally, on the last day of the lottery, I threw my name in the hat. Paul agreed not to race and to be my ‘bail person’ — essentially the person I’d call if things went south and I needed to leave the course for any reason.
And then, just five days after the lottery closed, the email arrived:
And so began the countdown – 6 months to go before diving into the longest bike ride I’ve ever done (by time or distance)! Along with Unbound I signed up for a few other events. Last year I was a newbie racer and didn’t start the ‘season’ until July. This year there were a number of earlier events I wanted to join. So the 2022 race calendar shaped up like this:
- Old Man Winter: Feb. 6th in Boulder, CO – 60 miles (2 timed segments)
- Boulder Roubaix: April 16th in Boulder, CO – 18.7 miles (Cat 5, first USAC race)
- CO2UT: April 23rd in Fruita, CO – 125 miles
- Unbound XL: June 3rd and 4th in Emporia, KS – 350 miles (self support)
- Ned Gravel: July 9th in Nederland, CO – 60 miles
- SBT Gravel: August 14th in Steamboat Springs, CO – 144 miles
- Rebecca’s Private Idaho: Aug. 31 – Sept. 4th in Ketchum, ID – 196 mile 3-day race
Paul and I have 5 races together (I got into the Steamboat lottery, he did not). But ultimately Unbound will be my A race – much may go wrong ahead of or during the race (heat/humidity [because KS in June 🥵], mechanicals, illness, etc.) but I’ll be focusing my training on that! Here’s to a full season of racing!