02 October 2016

Redemption: Gravel Pursuit 2016

People kept on asking if I was going back to the Gravel Pursuit to "defend my 90 mile title" and I kept on sheepishly saying no. There was a high school MTB race in Twin Falls that weekend. But the longing to race it again wormed into my psyche and finally (after...coincidentally?...buying a new gravel whip) I opted to race instead of watching kids race. And then the kids' race was canceled because of torrential rain, which assuaged my guilt.
This is not a picture of my new toy, but you get the idea...Salsa Warbird...she's a sweet ride.
I rode up early Saturday morning with the Smithhammers and Don. We watched the rain beat against the windshield in the dark. It subsided in Island Park, leaving only the cold and the damp.

After the controlled chaos of the first miles, sprinting and braking and dodging deep rocky puddles that spanned the width of the road, I caught the leader, Ami, who was on a full suspension mountain bike. I'm always envious of people on mountain bikes when I'm riding drop bars, regardless of utility.

The road turned up for my favorite part of the course, the long mellow climb. My pack of riders melted away, leaving just Nate and a Jackson guy. Nate organized us into a little uphill peloton, which I didn't have any strong opinions about either way. As usual, I was under the mistaken belief that the race had been decided...twelve miles into a sixty mile race. I laughed at myself for my perpetual chicken-counting.

Of course Ami and Shae caught me on the descent, blasting by with a string of fellas in pursuit. I grabbed on and we blazed through the aid station. The group disintegrated and I latched onto Ami's wheel for the second long climb, but quickly imploded. Fingers stiff from cold, I wrestled with energy food packaging, hyper-aware of not dropping trash on the course.

I pedaled ever forward in no-man's land. I glimpsed Shae's jersey behind me and knew she'd close the gap any second. It motivated me to keep a steady pace, even as cramps perched atop my quads, waiting to attack. I fended them off with a hasty banana and a handful of pretzels at the aid station, still feeling the panic of pursuit. My fellow coach Kris caught me and let me know that Shae was in the throes of vicious cramps.

Relieved, I pushed onward, just wanting to get off my bike and drink beer with my friends. I thought about how predictable and inevitable my three-hour bonk is, regardless of the activity. I always feel invincible, fast, and strong for the first two hours and without fail I fall apart. It's a result of my inability to eat and drink adequately during races and my lack of intense endurance training, but I still soldier on, hoping I'll somehow outgrow this nonsense.

So I got second, smoked by Ami and with Shae hot on my heels. I didn't flat, I didn't take a wrong turn. I was more stoked on my friends' victories than my own, which is perhaps the reason why this race is so delightful; I'm not in love with the course but the feeling of community is unparalleled.
If there's not a podium shot, did it really happen?
Pic courtesy of JayP
The Petervarys put on another stellar event. Eric showed a ton of goodwill and patience by doing the timing again. Gary won the 120 mile, surprising himself more than the rest of us, and his narrative of the tough race proved he really did deserve the win. Nate put thirty minutes on me after we climbed together and got a top ten finish, despite having dedicated his summer to the kids' team. The rest of my friends and teammates all had strong finishes and spirits were high at the Pond's Lodge on Saturday night. 
The sun came out and we had a solid tailgate session while awaiting Gary's finish.
Pic courtesy of Nate

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