Monday, September 19, 2016

Keystone Gravel: So I Ate a Taco and Took the Short Course Route

"Nonetheless, this combination of efficiency and precision can be an effective one, and their bluntly assertive style helps them to achieve difficult tasks by sheer force of character."

This was part of the description of my C/D result on a DISC personality type test earlier in the week. I took the test at the suggestion of a business analysis article on the importance of understanding yourself and those with whom you work. I like to think of my work self as more of the “efficiency and precision” part of the sentence, but I’ve also not been a stranger to achieving difficult tasks by sheer force of character in my personal life the last few months.

On Saturday, Frank and I participated in Keystone Gravel, an interesting new type of event planned and produced by our buddy Donnie Breon, near Jersey Shore, PA. It was a 56-mile gravel ride with timed segments throughout the course, including climbs, descents, a mountain-bikey section, and a paved time trial section. The winners were determined by best cumulative times on the segments and the riding in between was supposed to be fun-paced with a waffle stop, taco stop, and bar stop mixed in. Of course, the average participant’s “fun pace” is about the same about my race pace, so I aimed to just ride steady the whole way, although I did try to push it a bit on the descents.

This was far from an “A race” for me, but we wanted to show up and support the event. For the week or so prior, I’d been mentally struggling with work stress and the impending transition to ‘cross season and physically struggling with headaches, digestive distress, and unexplained bad sleep. I've also been so mountain bike focused that I hadn’t been on my ‘cross bike for longer than an hour and a half at a a time since Iron Cross last year. All that being said, I thought that 56 miles of climby gravel still wouldn’t be *that* hard having finished the Wilderness 101 a few weeks before. It was that hard.

We're here for the waffles.

It’s not that I couldn’t have suffered through and finished, but suffering seemed counter intuitive to the nature of the event. I had been doing my best to set decent “get through it” pace, but when we had an extended stop while Frank fixed a flat right before the taco stop and accompanying mechanical support (doh!), I guess he could tell just from the look on my face that I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the long course, but the split between the two came right around the bend once we were rolling again.

I ate my taco at the rest stop and tried to decide which direction to take. Frank wanted to complete the long course, so we started rolling in that direction, but when I noticeably fell off the pace on the first little rise out of the aid station, he stopped and said we should turn around. I convinced him to give me the car keys and finish the long course alone. I headed back to the aid station to rejoin the short course route.

It was actually pretty nice. I rolled along the famous Pine Creek Trail all alone for most of the 10 miles to where the short and long courses came back together. I’d never ridden there before, and I enjoyed riding fast for a while, riding slow for a while, attempting to ride wheelies for a while, and taking in the lovely overcast fall day on flat gravel with a mountain on one side and a river the other.

I felt mildly guilty for taking the easy way out, but it was supposed to be a fun ride, and for how I was feeling that day, I kept it to the length that was still mostly fun. I had spent my summer gutting it out through other days when I wasn’t feeling great, but still finished because that was what I came to do. I proved to myself, or teammates, or ex-husband, or my dad, or whatever other voices were in my head saying that I had to suffer to end to not be a failure. Saturday was a day to ignore those voices that make me hate “death before DNF” almost as much as I hate “HTFU”. While both of those things are good advice in certain situations, they are harmful when they start to feel like judgements of character. At the TrailMix I repeated the slogan “so I didn’t DNF” to get myself to get through the day, but for Keystone Gravel I changed it to “so I ate a taco and took the short course route”, and both are perfectly valid responses to the circumstances of each given day.

The coming week will mark the transition to something completely different, as my cyclocross season will finally begin with a double weekend beginning on one the most painful starting grids of the PACX series, Town Hall. While Town Hall is actually one of my favorite courses of the series, I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how the first start of the year pain combined with the long uphill drag to switchback climb punch of the Town Hall course will feel. I’ll do my best, but I’m also at peace with the fact that my brain may crawl into fetal position two minutes into the race and spend the rest of the weekend trying to crawl out. I’m almost looking at it more as a scientific experiment than a race.

I did achieve my goal of getting a photo with this giant floof dog right before leaving.

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