The congratulations for a job well done were flying thick Sunday morning, both to the race directors and the riders of Gravel Worlds 2019. Monday morning quarter-backing is now in full swing. Also, some who once said “never again!” in the past are now making tentative plans for next year.
The finishers of the Privateer and Buccaneer routes had great rides, hitting many of the course highlights without so much of the punishment that can start setting in for some around mile 90 of the full race. The Buccaneer, at 50 km, was a great intro to gravel for those new to it, and a fine morning for those who didn’t have the time or hadn’t been able to get the training miles in on the gravel that are needed for the longer rides. The Privateer is a great length, at 75 miles, for those who want to test their endurance, but would rather not commit to doubling it.
The full-course riders had just that, a full course of delights such as Loma, with it’s Kolaches and polka music, and a stellar oasis, though all the oases were much appreciated and needed. Checkpoint one, at 59 miles, had the best PB and J sandwiches I’ve ever had, and Checkpoint two, at about mile 131 had the most enthusiastic cheering squad and always the famous pickles.
The most common refrain I heard, as usual, from those who experienced problems on the long course was “cramps!!!” For the “regular” leg cramps that many riders suffer from, there is no definitive answer from the scientific community, except to stay hydrated. Apart from that, about all we have to go on is trial and error. Some say magnesium helps. Others say salt, and potassium. Some have success with strength training of the affected parts. If you want to know a little more, try www.bicycling.com, and search for How to Stop Leg Cramps. One thing I suspect is that pre-loading might help, starting with electrolytes before and then during the ride, not waiting for the cramps to hit. I was dismayed to find that my favorite electrolyte drops are no longer available locally, but I used some dissolving tablets and powders I had in my water and was fine, though I’ve never suffered from cramps during a ride (don’t hate me).
This time around I was able to stay on top of my nutrition, and had foods with me and from checkpoints and oases that I could manage to eat, and it paid off. Exercise suppresses the appetite and I, like many, tend not to eat enough during a ride such as Gravel Worlds. I felt I was eating constantly (though I really wasn’t) but that’s what I have to do. Since I’ve started using a Camelback I don’t have hydration problems anymore. I drink more often from it than I do from bottles. Some of those who didn’t finish need to dial in their nutritional needs, I suspect, and find what works best for them.
Much of the challenge of this race though, is mental. It’s easy to engage in negative self-talk. It’s very important to keep a positive attitude in the dark times, which are usually going into a headwind up yet another hill in increasing heat. Set small goals. After a time, I find myself thinking of comparable distances I ride often, knowing it’s only that much further. I try to remember to look at the beauty of the scenery, and to make an effort to talk to those around me, which I don’t do enough. Entering Denton with me was a fellow rider from Manitoba and another from Miami. Another one I talked to was from Maryland who lamented the lack of gravel in those parts. Then there was the group from Kansas in matching white shirts that said “Clean Kitty Race Team.” which I finally figured out was the nemesis of the Dirty Dog race team.
If your body hasn’t trained for the miles or isn’t healthy, all the positive distractions have their limits. An experienced friend riding the Buccaneer just for fun found himself next to a very inexperienced young man who needed coaching. He’d never ridden far enough to understand the importance of padded bike shorts(!), was untrained in the intricacies of his gear shifter, and needed to walk hills. We all have to start somewhere. He was lucky my friend was there to help him out. He finished and was talking about doing it again next year, but better.
It’s good to have a goal to train for. Maybe next year one of these races will be yours.