As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend’s race was about the furthest thing from Wednesday’s criterium that you can possibly get. I entered the OGRE (short for Ozark Gravel Road Expedition) 150 as a shorter, presumably “easier” rehearsal for the Dirty Kanza 200- a chance to test my legs as well as my strategy and bike setup for the bigger, longer race. This bike wasn’t quite finished yet…
So, the Air 9 RDO got the long distance gravel machine conversion- XX1 drivetrain parts (36t chainring), Matt’s Specialized rigid fork, some skinny/fast mountain tires, frame pump (Topeak Mountain Morph), and extra storage space for food, extra bottle, two tubes, and the race required mandatory first aid kit/emergency blanket (the seat pack is a Jandd Mountain Wedge Expandable and the large top tube and handlebar bags are from J.Paks).
Friday morning, I loaded up and headed to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. My lack of nervousness was actually making me nervous. For whatever reason, the only thing I worried a little bit about was the course navigation. However, once I saw the layout of the cue sheet and heard during the pre-race meeting that the corners would be subtly flagged, I was somewhat relieved. Lots of riders at the pre-race meeting were chattering about the size/steepness of a few specific climbs on course… I told them not to name them, otherwise, that’d give the climbs more power.
A few course notes that came with the cue sheets:
Bonus 4.7 miles!
My hotel room was 1990s fancy as hell…
(note the lack of a proper shower)
I had a nice Friday afternoon spin from the Oz Cycles shop where racer check-in was. I also got a chance to meet Barry (who’d heard on JRA that I needed a crewperson) as well as his sister, who’d be my (excellent) crewperson for the race.
Saturday morning reminded me of one of the reasons I grew tired of 100 mile mountain bike races. A 6am race start is soooooo eaaaaarly… even though I’m generally a “morning” person, I’m somewhat of a “wake up at 6 and drink coffee for 2 hours” type of morning person. I did, however, hear one of the best pre-endurance race songs ever recorded:
The starting line grid was set up for predicted finish times. I wasn’t sure how long it’d take me, but I was hoping for less than 13 hours, so I lined up somewhere around the 12 hour marker. Once we got the “go,” we had a police escort out of the parking lot and to the first gravel road of the race course. I immediately put my pacing plan into effect- easy. I’ve done hours of sub-threshold riding, and I know the intensity well enough to do it without even looking at my powermeter. I have also, through a healthy amount of singlespeeding and tons of practice on a hardtail, developed what seems to be a somewhat unique skill of standing while climbing without raising my heart rate. On a straightforward gravel hill, I feel like it’s much easier to stand than to sit. It also means that I’m shifting my position around more, which is great for super long rides.
So, that’s how I rolled it- a zone 2 effort all around with my “comfortable” standing pace on climbs. The hills would turn out to be relentless- you essentially climb and descend the same 30-180 feet of elevation repeatedly throughout the race (various websites and electronic devices estimate between 12 and 14k feet of gain). Many of the hills were pretty steep, too- well into the teens on grade percentage.
Somewhere in the first hour, my tail light fell off of my seat pack (a first for me with that style light- they’re normally very secure).
I arrived at the 37.7 mile checkpoint (a spot with water and a couple of people recording numbers) in a nicely paced group of friendly guys that included a guy named Brian who was 6’7″ and had a draft like a vacuum cleaner. I refilled my bottles, used the bathroom, and took off with the same group towards the first pit stop (a spot where you met your crewperson and received a slap bracelet to prove your progress). There were a couple of bigger hills in that section, and the group kinda started to split apart. The last hill to the pit stop was one of the “scary” ones that people were talking about beforehand, though I didn’t realize it until I spotted people from the pit stop standing at the top and cheering. It was the one spot on the course where I found the 36×42 gear to be just right, and one of the few times I sat instead of standing.
At the pit stop, I picked up some food (I’d been eating a pack of Gu Chomps per hour and drinking Roctane in my bottles), and forced down a rice bar (the famous Alan Lim recipe) and some cheetos. I say “forced down” because I’d eaten and drank enough at that point that I was pretty full feeling already. That’s how you gotta roll, though. I did start alternating half packs of Chomps with shots of Roctane and Salted Caramel gel once I was further along and solid food became less appealing.
When I left the stop, it just worked out that I rolled out with tall-guy Brian. The next part of the course was down a big hill then around a 15-ish mile loop and back up the same hill to the same pit stop. Brian and I rode together for the loop and shared life stories. I’ve always found it fascinating how briefly riding with someone you’ve never met can be bonding enough to facilitate somewhat deep conversations that you’d likely not have if you’d only known them for 3-4 hours in any other situation. It makes this sort of racing very special compared to your run-of-the-mill hammer-time event.
As we were approaching the spot in the course where the loop ended and the two-way climb back to the pit stop started, we rounded a corner and came upon a concrete-bottom creek crossing with about 8 inches of flowing water over it. Not wanting to get my feet wet, I carried enough speed to unclip my feet from the pedals and lift them up in front of me to avoid the splash. Simultaneously, Brian yelled at me that the crossing was probably slick, and, simultaneously, my bike teleported out from under me as soon as both wheels were in the water. I went in up to my neck and slid almost all the way across on my knees. I was generally fine (just soaked with some bloody knees), and my bike was mostly unscathed. However, the head of the lower bolt on my seat tube bottle cage had pulled through the cage, and my handlebar light had broken off the mount, leaving part of the light body in the mount.
I needed that bottle cage. Luckily, the Arundel sideloader has two sets of bolt holes. I told Brian to go on while I got out the multi-tool and moved the bolts to the undamaged cage holes. Bonus- it gave me better clearance between the top of my bottle and my frame pump. Looking back, that was the absolute best place on course to wreck. It wasn’t sharp, and I was very close to the pit stop, where I was able to change socks and gloves so that I wouldn’t have saturated contact points for very long (I could have changed kit, but I was dry enough to be comfortable by the time I was up the hill).
Brian was at the pit stop when I arrived, and left after me. However, about halfway to the next checkpoint, I had my next minor mishap- a flat tire. It seemed to be a slow leak, and I couldn’t find a leaky sealant spot in the tire, so I was hoping that I could shoot it with CO2 and go on (side note- if you find an active leak, it’s a guarantee that you should just go ahead and tube it… your sealant hasn’t worked so far, and it’s going to continue to not work when you add more air). Within a mile, it was obvious that CO2 wouldn’t work, and I thought I heard air coming out from around the valve, so I went ahead and found a good spot to install a tube. As I was doing so, Brian came up the road and stopped to help. Once I was back in action, we rode together the last few miles before the 77 mile checkpoint. At that spot, though, I had plenty of water and didn’t really need to stop other than to make sure my number was recorded. Brian wanted a break and told me he wasn’t going to be able to keep up with my pace much longer, so I should go on alone.
From then on, aside from a few brief passes/chats with other riders, I was flying solo.
At 87 miles (more than halfway through!), I reached pit stop #2, still feeling great. I took another bathroom break (indoor plumbing FTW!), ate another rice bar, RedBull, and handful of cheetos, picked up fresh bottles, and got my second slap bracelet & cue sheet. I also got an update on the weather- there was a black cloud hanging over the next part of the course, and it seemed as if I might run in to a little rain. I didn’t mind too much- I was more appreciative of the fact that the lingering clouds & spotty rain were keeping the temperature down for much of the day. Soon after I left the pit stop was the one spot where I decided to stop and take a few photos:
The next section of the course was definitely my favorite. It was largely through a state park, and was a gorgeous, rolling tunnel of dogwoods and redbuds that concluded at a unique, old swinging bridge. It was somewhere in there that I passed the 100 mile mark, too, still feeling pretty good. I soon reached the 107 mile checkpoint.
It was soon after that I had my next minor mishap. At 109 miles, there was a left turn off of a road that rolled somewhat quickly across the top of a ridge. I wasn’t paying enough attention and rode right past it. When I arrived at a paved road intersection with no flagging, I knew something was wrong. Once I looked at my cue sheet, I realized I’d gone about 2 miles too far and started back. Along the way, I caught another rider doing the same thing as I had. Elapsed time off course- about 15 minutes.
Soon after going off course, at around 113 miles, I hit my “low point” of the day. Every long day has one, and you can’t let it break you. The sun had come out, the wind was in my face, and everything seemed uphill. My legs hurt, my garmin randomly shut off (I caught it pretty quickly and think I lost less than half a mile), and I kept thinking, “damnit, I’m just tired of being on a bike right now.” The third pit stop wasn’t until mile 127.9 (otherwise known as mile 131 with my added detour).
At around 9.5 hours and 123 miles, I took a “get your head out of your ass” break. I found a good place for a “nature stop,” then sat on my top tube a minute to eat a highly caffeinated gel, drink half a bottle of water, and put a headphone in my ear. That’s the first time I’ve ever used music during a race. In anything USA Cycling, it’s illegal, and in many other races, the promoter will ask racers not to use even just one headphone. However, at this race, it went unmentioned. So, I was immediately greeted by the sound of Rick Ross telling me to “Push it to the Limit.”
The break was just what I needed to get my isht together and get to the next Pit Stop in a timely manner. I picked up some cold bottles (definitely makes a difference when it’s getting hot out), drank one more RedBull, and ate another rice bar and handful of cheetos. The next few miles from there were great- there was a nice tailwind, and the road was mostly small rollers. Of course, that was over quickly, and it was back to steep climbs with not much help from the wind. I did realize, though, that I’d likely finish very close to the 12 hour mark. I ended up walking up a couple of short, steep kicker hills on the last gravel sections before the finish- I could feel my left toes trying to hurt (somewhere around 10-11 hours for that pain is an improvement over the 4-hour mark where I was feeling it before all of the injections and whatnot), and the walking breaks were successful in holding off the full-on pain.
Those final few miles were somewhat of a blur. I remember passing a farmer spreading what smelled like chicken manure in a pasture and almost gagging, being cheered on by some kids in a trailer park driveway, and being very happy to see the last checkpoint (3 miles from the finish). Those last 3 miles are mostly uphill on a sidewalk. They were probably the easiest hills on course, though. I finished in 12 hours, 1 minute. First woman, and 14th overall.
I was pretty wrecked and just sat around in a chair for a while, absorbing everything that had happened.
At some point, Barry’s sister showed up, and I shuffled around to change and eat a little before she drove me back to get my car from the start area. I was super lucky to have her help… driving around and dealing with sweaty, needy bike racers allll day long is probably more demanding than actually racing.
After a shower, I went back to the shop/finish area to have a beer and watch more people finish. There’s always that one person who has had many beers…
You people who did Trans-Sylvania last year know who I’m talking about. You people who do Mohican know who I’m talking about, too.
The amount of caffeine that I consumed meant that I wasn’t even close to going to sleep until sometime after 11. I eventually fell out while watching COPS reruns. The next morning, I finally had my appetite back.
I made a pit-stop in Jonesboro on the way home as well.
…and, as I write this, my stomach is growling, so I’ll probably go to Brother Juniper’s and get a ridiculously large breakfast of some sort to polish off my post-race days of hunger before returning to my normally-sized diet.