Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gravel Grovel

You know, I don't have that much to say about the Grovel, but I'm sure I'll ramble for a bit. Suffice it to say it was a full-up Pain Garbage Can and not just a bucket. I've been battling a head and chest cold for most of the week (still am), so my preparation and enthusiasm left wanting. Then Patrick came down ill *and* Michael was a no-go due to mechanical disaster, so going in I was I guess we can say, "meh". The morning was enlivened with a beautiful sunrise and Dave and I arrived in plenty of time to get registered and get the bikes prepped. One of the most enjoyable things of the day was seeing the different rigs being used, ones which belonged in three camps: 'cross, mountain, and other'. I would say that that 'cross rigs ruled the day, with mountain bikes second. In third we had a varied menagerie of bikes like Dave's LHT, a Vaya, a Fargo, Timothy's Monstercross 29er, some frankenbike-looking 80s semi-mtbike things and perhaps a hipster frankensteel or two. It was, by in large, a conservative affair.

 The tone of the day was set by our "2-mile neutral lead out", which became a 4m lead out with three extra short hills thrown in. The lead car missed a turn and gave us a great opportunity to red-line just a few miles into the race. I thought I was going to die. After a brief gravel downhill we faced another 10%+ gravel climb to really get things going, and from there things descended into, well, I'm not sure what they descended into. We were in the back, but certainly not all the way in back and from then on really it was a personal ride. Barturtle, Dave and I sometimes rode together, most of the time not, and we would come across other racers, such as a younger guy on a baby-egg blue Crosscheck at the 'bridge', with whom we would ride with a bit but then separate.  Going in to the first checkpoint at the end of Tower Ridge Rd. it was fun to see the front-markers going in the opposite direction. I'll give props here to Timothy for a strong effort up Tower Ridge. He dropped several riders on the long false flat up TRRd.. In that Tower Ridge Rd. section, too, folks were still a bit more together so I had a chance to ride amid some different racers, at least up to the Fire Tower sag, where the pretzels were much appreciated. Some racers were availing themselves of the cold Modelo beer at that sag, but I couldn't imagine pulling that off; I was in no shape to play around as I was already on the brink and only halfway through.

The big downhill off the fire tower was appreciated and led us to the craziest section of the day, and one that probably kept me mentally in the race. Combs Rd. is marked as a "road" on maps, but the 2m section amounts to a mixture of double-track, single-track and goat-track. I was quite surprised at how rough this section was, but this video from '10 shows exactly what the Combs section offered. The outbound portion was a little obnoxious because of the number of returning racers, but my choice of the C'dale 29er felt like genius here. I treated the trails as a mountain bike stretch and used whatever skills I have to barrel through. At some point I caught and dropped Timothy here and left poor Dave to take a pee and deal with his own fate. After clearing Combs the Story sag was expected, but in between were four tough miles, not in terrain save the very steep Elkinsville climb, but mentally. Timothy caught and passed me and I just put my head down and slowly made my way to the checkpoint. Dave arrived not too long afterward and we enjoyed apple cider, animal crackers and I a chair. There were still racers at the checkpoint as well, including an All-City rider on a nice All-City cross bike, a guy I would see a few other times before the finish.

 We left the far end of the course and made the return leg, me riding behind Timothy and Dave because I was strugg-a-ling (says Sir Charles). Once we made the return Elkinsville climb I again made full use of my granny- a 22x28 perhaps- and slowly chugged, passing Dave and Timothy who had to walk. Shortly thereafter I reentered Combs. This time the path was clearer so I treated it as a full-on mtbike section and barreled and bombed what I could. I caught Vaya rider, who then did an awesome job clearing the climb while I walked the last portion. I caught All-City man, who was smartly riding conservatively on this 'cross rig. I caught Vaya right at the end of Combs and passed him, thinking he would follow but he drifted off the back. All-City man caught me at Maumee and made much easier work up the short climb there. At this point I thought of Timothy and Dave, but after 50 miles you end up riding your own race, as I saw all over the course. There were many fewer groups riding, even the front markers, and many, many more solo riders, a la the old Tour riders from the 1920s. Solitary soldiers.

 I was within the last 10 and suffered every minute of those. I almost caught All-City who was walking a hill while I in my 22, but couldn't make contact, and didn't really try. I also passed Mellow Johnny, a tall, strapping dude on a cross bike who was draped over his bars while crawling up the hill, on his feet mind you. The stretch along Horse Camp Rd. is a brutal, long 2m step climb and I cleared all but one portion on the bike, passing another 'cross rider fixing a flat along the side. By this point my arms were tired too, and I spent the last miles riding sitting up, and shaking my arms like a kind of bird mating dance. I finally saw the line of parked cars indicating the entrance to the campground and finished in 6.03, according to the computer. I told Dave that a Victory at day's start would be finishing within the 6.30 for the awards banquet (in lieu of the 8hr "course closed" time at dark) and I had achieved that goal even while snot-congested and hacking. After the finish I had time to fiddle with gear and clothing and wait for Timothy and Dave, who both finished within 10min of me. We recessed to the dining hall for Awards- of which we won none-, Schwag- of which Timothy scored a nice pair of Castelli leg warmers, and Dave a SRAM hat, which he gave to me-, and Food, which meant rice dishes and pie. A few further observations:

  • I'm pleased with my 29er choice. It certainly made the Combs section easier to deal with. And the gearing was spot-on. A future goal might be to do the ride on a 'cross bike just to see if I could be strong enough to ride the gearing, but maybe not. It wasn't the most comfy after 40 or so miles, but it got the job done.
  • The WTB Vulpines were excellent. They provided good roll on the road portions and gave me just enough grip on the dirt/mud portions. Recommended. Next time I'll roll 30psi instead of 35+.
  • The weather gods looked on us very favorably. It was in the 60s all day and the rain held off. I *cannot* imagine the suffering involved with a rainy version of this race.
  • I ate and drank and ate and drank and I still think I ended hungry and dehydrated.
  • Cliffbar jello non-food are much easier to eat than Powerbar jello non-food.
  • Most of my pics are out-of-focus. Deal.
Will I race again? Don't know. I've ridden some of those same roads in the past with Apertome, Dave G, Dave C, Asher and such and I think back more fondly of those rides. I wasn't at my limit however difficult they were unlike yesterday. That said, it is an interesting and instructive enterprise to test yourself. To do the race again, I need to think of better ways of approaching it, whether that be weight loss, gear, or training volume. Or maybe just be comfortable enough to accept one of those Modelos.

Start. Notice All-City checkerboard man. I ran across him a couple more times.

Approaching warm-up hillette, the one that wasn't supposed to be on the course.

Dave and Timothy somewhere around mile 10.

Hoosier Forest

I have other pictures of the same area from the snow ride. Those might be more in focus.

Dave along same bottom run.

The 'bridge' along Hunter Creek Rd. It's closed, but we hop the rails.
??Ghost Wheel??

Combs climb. Timothy at top.

Kirks Ford bridge

Horsies at Story checkpoint.

Timothy at finish.

Dave at finish.


Barturtle said...

I also ended underfed and under hydrated. Next time I'll bump the gels to every :30 instead of :45, and make sure I eat a bar at each stop instead of the chips and shit.

Glad you were happy with your tire choice. I am thrilled with how mine performed as well. I bit more rear traction in the mud may have been nice, but I wouldn't trade the way the Kozmiks rolled on the rest of the course for anything. The 30fr/38rr worked perfect. After watching some of the guys wince when sitting on the benches, I truly knew the sprung Brooks was the best decision ever. My butt is the best part of me this morning. My shoulder is all kinds of sore, as when I went down I fell hard on it.

Pondero said...

Whew! Sounds like a lot of effort. I'm uncertain about how fun it was, but it certainly sounds like an accomplishment.

John said...

I was the All City guy you mentioned in your article. This was my first race of any kind and I learned a lot from it. I was riding very conservatively from the Story SAG because I had crashed several times on Combs road heading out to Story. One of those crashes involved me flipping over the handlebars and pinching the upper part of my right leg. Fortunately, I didn't break it. I could've quit there, but after getting a much needed break at the Story SAG, I soldiered on and completed the ride. I didn't finish any where near the podium, but I finished my 1st race and to me, that was a victory.

Anonymous said...

Good write up! Great job on the ride. If I would have seen the beers at the Fire Tower stop, I might not have been able to finish.

Kokorozashi said...

Great race report, and also great pix (I actually love the ones of Dave and Timothy at the finish -- they look like they're just whooshing by at a zillion miles per hour).

Kinda makes me want to give it a try next year :D

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