Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 48: Surviving the Gravel Grovel

And I know it's long gone,
And that magic's not here no more,
And I might be okay,
But I'm not [fast] at all.

Last week was a weird combination of jam-packed and utterly lazy at the same time. Frank got to spend the whole week with me, and we went to his parents' house in Illinois for a couple days for Thanksgiving. I somehow survived 36 hours in that state without getting lost or bleeding, and I think that my first meeting with his family went well. (If they hate me, I haven't found out about it yet.)

So we did a lot of things, but with a lot of sitting around on the couch between things. That all ended on Saturday, though, when took on the new and improved (if you consider way harder improved) Sub-9 Gravel Grovel. 

This year was much different for me than last year. Last year I only signed up to ride with a friend and didn't have any intention of even trying to finish until the morning of the race when she got sick and I saw that I'd be riding alone. Then I set out with no intention other than to just pedal as long as I could. I barely knew the course at all, so I really never knew how much distance I'd covered or how much I had left to go, and I wouldn't allow myself to look at the time until I was sure I was several hours in.

I won't say I wasn't intimidated by the harder course or the fact that I hadn't ridden longer than 40 miles since May, but I knew that making it to the end wouldn't be a problem. Leading up to the race, I made up the motto "Survive at the Gravel Grovel, succeed at the Death March", since that strategy seem to work for me last year. However, I secretly hoped/wished/planned that a little of last spring's Death March success still lay dormant in my muscle memory and would show itself on race day.

We admittedly were a little slow off the starting line, considering that my long recurring dream of still putting on my shoes as the gun goes off finally came true, but really we probably only lost 30-60 seconds from the people that were lined up at the back of the start. We cruised along and made up some places, only to lose most of them during our first food stop on Combs Road. When I saw how near the back we really were during the two-way section to and from Story, I started to feel discouraged. Although I was theoretically just out to finish the race, I hadn't truly expected to be among the slowest of the slow crowd. I also felt like a liability on Nebo Ridge where Frank was so far ahead of me that it became an obvious "I'm just waiting on my girlfriend" situation.   

Since we were too busy just trying to finish to get any scenic vista selfies, so instead I present you with the first Death March meme of the new season.
We finally made past Nebo, Baldy, and The Bitch, and started thinking that it couldn't be too bad from that point on, because all of the hard parts were done. Of course, there was all of the lingering fatigue from the "hard parts", and still 30 miles of mostly chunky gravel to go. We missed the entrance to the final singletrack section that I'd failed to ride on the previous weekend's recon, and that added a couple of extra miles. When we finally hit Tower Ridge road for the final 12 miles or so, we were both pretty cooked and just kind of peddled along staring into space. However, when I saw the sign for Hickory Grove Church my "old lady strength" kicked in because I knew I only had to tolerate a little over a mile of chunky before the smooth, mostly downhill of McPike Branch Rd carried us to the finish.

In the end, we finished about the same as I did last year if you account for our little detour. Most people were slower, so it does show some improvement. Janelle also beat me by four minutes less than the (admittedly huge) gap she had on me last year, so that's a good sign.

So I suppose I am done with racing until Death March, as I've let my anxiety regarding race entry fees win for the time being, but I've pledged to myself not to let fear stand in the way of potentially awesome experiences for very long. Now is the time to rebuild my stores financially and fitness-wise. Survive in December, succeed in March.

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