Sunday was the 2013 Gravel Metric. It was presented by Axletree and Robots❤ Love, and sponsored by a host of organizations including (most importantly) North Central Cyclery, along with Salsa Cycles, Gore Bike Wear, Half Acre Cycling, Surly Bikes, Twin 6 and Clement Tires. This was my third Gravel Metric, having previously ridden the 2011 and 2012 events.
Since this is my blog, I’ll talk about my ride.
In 2011, the Gravel Metric was my first “real” ride. The Vaya, my first “real” bike, had just been built up. I went out and did some long-ish rides, but hadn’t yet ridden 60 miles in one day. There’s a stretch of gravel road near my house that’s about 2 miles long, and I’d go out and ride that back and forth, back and forth, and put in about 20 miles on that–thinking I was getting ready to ride on gravel. I showed up without a clue as to who I’d be riding with, or how I’d do. I remember seeing a guy I vaguely knew–his name was Paul–at the start. I remember seeing Tobie, as well.
Mid-ride, it started to hail, rain profusely, blow like the dickens, and drop lightning bolts perilously close. The roads turned to rivers.
At that point, I was riding near a guy I didn’t really know–Mattias. He was on a carbon fiber Roubaix, and I remember telling him that he didn’t have to worry about the lightning…it would hit me on my Ti bike long before it hit him on his plastic fantastic. At the time, I thought Mattias worked at the bike shop. I was wrong. In any event, I finished the race, exhausted but satisfied, and was hooked on gravel. Everyone I knew that didn’t ride bikes thought I was crazy for riding in those conditions.
Fast forward 2 years. I’m still on the Vaya. I’m still hooked on gravel. Non-cycling friends still think I’m crazy. Paul, of course, is BPaul–whom I now count among my closest friends. Tobie is Tobie, and similarly is among my closest friends. There were a ton of people that I only vaguely knew at that point who are now some of the most important people in my life. And Mattias–who I erroneously thought worked for the bike shop–now manages the Freeport Bicycle Company–a sister to North Central Cyclery. The world has gotten smaller.
In 2012, I came into the Metric prepared. I had been riding a ton…gravel and limestone throughout the winter, with a serious training regimen. I was only a few months into my existence with Celiac’s disease, and was still figuring out how that affected me. On May 1, I had started my own company. The night before the race, I received a very disquieting email related to my professional life. That threw my stomach into a shambles. All of my prep, all of my work, gone. I’d use a ‘down the toilet’ metaphor, but that would not really be a metaphor. The race was hot and dusty. I had no food in me at the start–as I couldn’t keep anything in me. I started too hard, and held onto the lead group for 5 miles, and due to a fortuitous start, I have a pic of me riding in front of Ben Berden.
I fell off the back of that group, and tried to latch onto Paul. He tried to pull me for quite a ways, but I couldn’t hold his wheel, and didn’t want to hold him back. I rode terribly. Miserably. I drowned in my own self-contempt. Rolling out of the final checkpoint, I was drained. Burned up. I had over 25 miles to go, the temp was over 95, the wind was atrocious. My good friend Chad G. managed to snap a picture of me rolling out of that checkpoint. This is what despair looks like:
I was looking down, praying that the pedals would keep turning over. I was hating life.
Fast forward another year.
This year, the Gravel Metric was something I looked forward to with relief. Last weekend was Almanzo–over 100 miles with about 7,000 feet of climbing. Coming off of that, 70 local miles with 2,000 feet of climbing sounded comforting. I am in far better shape, and have dialed the Vaya in to gravel perfection. I rode the Almanzo strong, and wanted to ride the Metric strong as well.
My usual photo disclaimer: I’ve found that I have to either ride a ride, or photograph a ride. I cannot ride hard and take pictures. Given that I’m a cyclist first and a blogger second, photos take a backseat to riding…so my only pics are at the start.
There was a healthy crowd at the start. More than 220, less than 10,000.
Chad Ament did an amazing job on the course, and Chris Jensen and Josh Arends gave pre-race instructions.
The neutral rollout was great.
We had wonderful support from DeKalb Police Department’s finest.
Here’s Tobie, leading the way.
And here’s a devastatingly handsome rider.
The neutral rollout continued down Route 23, left turn on Gurler. Wind was ESE, so we hit headwind immediately. 1 mile into Gurler, the ride went from neutral to on. I had ridden up to the front to make sure our escort saw the turn, and was at the front right corner of the group. It was not a good place to be. When the shark was jumped, the lead pack blew around me in one fell swoop, and I didn’t have a gap to get into. My hopes of riding the very front lead group blew up right there. (No worries. This turned out to be a good thing). I got into a group of strong riders, and held on.
We turned south on Lynch, and were rolling with a front cornering crosswind, at ~22mph. I knew that I had to hold on to this group to have any hope of a good finish. I rode within my limits, but pushed their boundaries. I took pulls, and rode clean. I rode well. We turned left on Harter, and back into the headwind. I was in a small cluster of 5-8 rides, including Caroline Mani–a pro rider from Clement/Raleigh. I was working hard. She was enjoying a pleasant ride in the country. I’d take a pull, she’d blow around me. She was a very, very strong rider. Her teammate, Ben Berden, was off the front somewhere.
Sidenote: on the course, Caroline came across someone who had a crankarm fall off their bike. Caroline stopped, grabbed a multitool, and fixed the bike, on the course. She was a true model rider–someone to model your riding after–and a true sportswoman. Her sponsors should be proud to have riders demonstrate that kind of character and kindness on the course. It was great to ride with her a bit, and I hope she eventually found some good chocolate.
On Harter, the gravel turns to dirt–and this year, the dirt had been partially plowed under. There was a crash somewhere in the lead group, and seeing that everyone was up, ok, and had a crowd of support around, I pressed on. (Don’t worry…there were still a lot of riders in front of me). We turned south again, with the head/crosswind. At this point, it seemed like no one wanted to pull…and we were only a little bit into the race. I found myself near Paul Carpenter–one of the strongest pace riders I know–and rode with him for a little bit, taking pulls (albeit not as long as his) at the front of a group of 7-10 riders. When we turned west and picked up a tailwind, I grabbed the front and dropped the hammer, first kicking it up to 25mph, and then dropping to a sustained 22.5-23mph. (Again, with a good tailwind). After 5 miles up front, we turned south again, and a little echelon formed for the 2 miles down Howison. We turned west, I pulled for a mile, and we turned south again onto Preserve. Somewhere around Howison, the group I was with imploded. I don’t know what happened. I remember Carpenter going off the front, and I remember thinking that it would be unwise to push that hard, this early.
From there to the park, there were a number of riders that I was around, but never for long. Particularly with the tailwind, I felt good and was pushing…and gobbling up riders at a good clip. Of note, I thought I knew the course, but I was wrong, and found I was wrong when I saw riders making a turn I wasn’t expecting. So like everyone else on the course, I found myself following the cue sheet. Fortunately, I had started my mileage where we were told to at the start, and the cue sheet was perfect. Ok–almost perfect. Notes on that below.
I came into the Shabbona State Park with a tail of riders, had my wristband punched, and lit out. The route in the park wasn’t what I was expecting, either…so I followed tire tracks and the trail markings. There was a group of people that blew around me early in the park, and I think they must have thought this would be a short jaunt, because I caught up to them and passed them after about a mile. The section in the park turned out to be nearly 4 miles, and was supremely fun. I lit out of the park onto Houghtby, with a tailwind again, and dropped the hammer.
There were other riders around, but again, no one going the speed I wanted to go, and no one giving any indication of wanting to work together. I wasn’t by any NCC guys, and as such I rode as hard as I thought I could ride, while holding things together for the remaining 33 miles. On Woodlawn (the out and back), I ran into the lead group going back, as I was going out, and I realized I wasn’t too far behind them. I also realized that there were not too many in front of me. At that point, I didn’t know why. I rolled Woodlawn, hammered Hermann, and then blazed up Locust.
If you did the GM training rides, you saw Locust and were ready for it.
When I was riding Woodlawn, it started to drip just a little bit. By the start of Locust, it was lightly raining. Just before Elva, it started to rain in earnest. The temp at the start of the race was about 50. By the time I hit Shabbona, it was about 60. By the time I hit Elva, it was 47 and raining hard. I had seen a few riders ahead, and buried myself in turning over the pedals…to the point that I blew past Elva. I realized my error within about 1/4 mile, hung a quick U, and headed east on Elva. The wind that had been pushing me all day was now my enemy. When first I hit Elva, I had the wind and the rain in my face. I thought about taking a break–stopping for a snack, getting some time off the saddle, cutting myself some slack. I decided against it. I heard my wife’s voice in my ears, urging me to get the lead out. I pushed as hard as I could push down Elva, tracking down and passing a nice gent on another Ti Vaya. The rain slackened as we turned left on Haumesser, and I had 2 miles of blissful corner/tailwind. He must have stopped for a breather, as when I hit Gurler, I couldn’t see anyone in either direction.
I pointed east on Gurler, and back into the headwind. On the last GM training ride, we had a tailwind on Gurler. A glorious, 15mph tailwind for 12 miles. I knew we would pay for it, and pay for it we did. On the day of the GM, it was steady headwind the whole way back into town. I looked down at my average pace for the day thus far…16.9mph…and vowed that I’d do whatever it took to hold that back into town. It may not sound like much of a goal, but after 60 miles, much of it solo, and into the wind on my old nemesis Gurler, it was a lot.
I did it.
When I hit 23, I thought about riding it in easy, as we would do on a group ride. But as hard as I had been pushing, someone else had been pushing harder, and to my rear I saw another gent. After my day, I was not going to be passed at this point. No one had completed a pass that stuck in the past 30+ miles…and it wasn’t going to happen now. I clenched my teeth and spun up to 22mph. As I neared the shop, I saw Tobie shout encouragement, and I redoubled my efforts. I blew into the parking lot and bore down on the finish line, nearly crashing into the results table.
The Gravel Metric isn’t a race. There are riders who are faster and stronger than me, who finished behind me. The Gravel Metric is an adventure ride. People who ride it slow and drink beer along the way win just as much as Ben Berden did at the front of the lead group. For me, the Gravel Metric is a milepost…a measuring stick. I rode it, and I rode it well. I pushed harder and dug deeper than I’ve ever done before, riding solo. I resisted the temptation to slack the pace and grab a group–even into the headwind. I resisted the siren’s call of taking a break for even a minute. According to the Garmin, I averaged right at 17mph on the day, with a rolling time of just barely over 4 hours. Since I didn’t stop for breaks, the only difference between rolling time and actual time was the time it took to get my wristband punched. I had originally thought (and FB’d) that my time was about 4:10…but seeing the actual start time and the Garmin data…just over 4 hours.
In 2011, I rode 63 miles in 5 hours and 23 minutes (rolling time) at an average speed of 11.6mph.
In 2012, things didn’t get much better (but I lost my Garmin data in the annals of time).
In 2013, I rode 68.4 miles in just over 4 hours at 17mph.
I’ll say it again–it’s not a race. But being able to compare against my own results from years past, and being able to see objective, undeniable, tangible growth–that’s rewarding. My Gravel Metric was my ride this year. I didn’t have any crutches, or anyone to fall back on. Regardless of how anyone else did, my ride was incredibly rewarding. Hard, but rewarding. What “position” you finished in is irrelevant–it’s how you rode. I rode well. Many others rode well, too. But I rode well.
Chad G. can stop reading now, because I’m going to go into hydration and nutrition. I’m going into these things for a few reasons. First, I recount them for historical purposes, so I can look back and see what does and doesn’t work for me. Second, I go into them because food and drink are the difference between a good and bad ride for me. I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 148 pounds. I have no reserves. What I take in during a ride determines how well I ride. It is what it is, and it’s the nature of my disease. I’ve come to accept it. (I’ve also come to accept that my wife, with her incredible nutritional support, has as much of a role in my ride performance as does all of my time training. If I don’t eat, I ride like crap, no matter how much I train. She is an amazing woman in all regards).
For fluids, in the 2 hours before the race, I drank two 16 ounce water bottles. During the race, I came prepared with a Camelbak with 80 ounces of fluid, and 2 water bottles. That would have been enough for just about any conditions. I was running Envigr8 in my Camelbak, and electrolytes in my water bottles. The Camelbak ended up being more than enough, and I ended the ride with about 10 ounces in my pack, having never touched the water bottles.
For food, I had my normal protein shake for breakfast (same one I have every day), along with a banana and a turkey sandwich for breakfast. About 30 minutes before the ride, I ate a second sandwich. 15 miles in, I had a gel. 25 miles in, I had a bar. 40 miles in, I had a second gel. That’s it.
I know some did the ride and got lost. If you got lost in the state park, I suppose that’s understandable. I didn’t know the route through the park, but found my way. I did know roughly where Houghtby was, so I had a clue of what direction I should be ultimately headed. I think we can do better with course markings in the future (although we had the course marked and apparently, some of the markings were stolen).
If you got lost on the roads, dude…that’s your own fault. The cue sheet for the roads was perfection. Every mileage increment as dead-on. Every road was marked. Some were hard to see, sure…but if the cue sheet says that a road is 1 mile away, and you ride a mile and come across an intersection of some sort, stop and see what it is. Any road that didn’t have a permanent road sign had a temporary (and highly visible) sign installed. The route was amazing–the best ever for a Gravel Metric, and an incredibly diverse ride for Northern Illinois.
My Gravel Metric 2013 was uniquely awesome, and uniquely mine. I will now go back to sucking for the rest of the year. If you missed it, there’s always the Gravel Metric 2014. There’s also the Night Bison 2013, and a host of other rides to come. Come and see us.