Many of us have a favorite ride of the year, the one we look forward to most. For some, it may be Trail Trek. Others count the days until Jingle Cross, or the Tour de Nebraska. We all have our favorites. For me it’s Gravel Worlds, and it was this last weekend. Why we should look forward to this sufferfest is hard to explain, but since this was my fourth, there must be some reason I keep going back.
It was a beautiful day for a bike ride. Gravel Worlds is a mix of all-out effort; a test, but also silliness and camaraderie. We have suffered together and prevailed, or suffered too much, and did not. It was a good day, or not your day this time. There is always next year. The race has gotten bigger and more competitive, which knocked me off the podium again, but that means it’s getting more attention nationally and internationally, which it deserves.
In watching and listening to other riders, I noticed a few trends. Here’s one; if some part of your body is giving you trouble, for example knees or shoulders, it’s probably going to get worse over the course of the ride, but hey, you do what you can because it’s a beautiful day for a ride and you don’t want to miss it.
Another observation; there are many who have ridden centuries, but 150 is different. If you’ve burnt all your matches getting to 100, you’ll have nothing left for the last third. People were beginning to look cooked in Roca, just after mile 100. I’ve ridden a 200 miler in the past, and for that the next point is crucial.
Your stomach. It gets progressively difficult to please, at least for many of us. For me, the higher the mileage, the less appealing food seems, especially anything sweet. It may even be hard to get water down, but I didn’t have that problem this year. Pepe’s wraps at checkpoint 2 (Schmitty’s aunt and uncle’s), worked magic but I couldn’t eat more than a bite every few miles. At about mile 135 three cyclists bonked in front of me. They just didn’t have enough left to keep up the pace. One said it was the heat that was getting to her, and she had a fairly heavy bike at 35 lbs. Another rider yo-yoed with me, passing then stopping for rest and food, then passing again (the hare). I have a very steady pace (the tortoise?) I happened to see three taking ditch naps in the heat of the day, a good strategy if the alternative is not to finish. I tend to over pack food and water, probably the effect of riding in races where I didn’t have enough water or enough to eat that appealed to me, so I bring a variety of snacks. All that means I haul too much weight as cargo. Also this past year I’d had no hills or gravel to ride on in China, if I’m looking for excuses, but my finish time was little-changed.
This all brings home these essential facts to me that separates those who finish strong from those who don’t:
How your body is feeling on the bike- do you have weak points?
How you pace yourself. You may have crushed it and feel great up to 100, but what have you saved for the last third?
Do you have the fuel and can you keep eating and drinking enough to prevail?
Have you put in the miles and the long rides in training, or are you going in under-prepared?
All efforts are valid and non-finishers shouldn’t beat themselves up, but this is the time everyone tries to figure out what worked for them and what they could do better. So, good luck next time around!