The Gravel Metric is a gravel race in Dekalb, IL in May. To get us started thinking about race season, (Barry-Roubaix, another gravel race in Michigan is just around the corner on March 23) here is Chicago PWP's (and my Spidermonkey Teammate) Kelly Clarke's race report from last year's Gravel Metric race:
In the midst of indoor training season and ice cold commutes, I am caught thinking back to warmer times. Much warmer times. The Gravel Metric was one of the hottest days this past summer. The Fahrenheit’s tapped out at about 105, but Garmins gave readings of up to 112 when the sun was beating off the pavement sections. The Gravel Metric is a 62 mile race put on by Axeltree in Dekalb, IL, out of the North Central Cyclery shop. There are three checkpoints, with water and support. The race starts and ends at the shop. Then there's a fun after party at Fatty's, a local bar with raffles and prizes.
2012 was my first go at this storied race. I remember wanting to do it in 2011, but I was busy with a friend's wedding activities and watched the horrific storm roll in from a hotel in St. Charles. While I knew another torrential downpour was unlikely, I hoped for a similar epicness. It was given in the record heat.
Photo by Chad Gregory
Going into this race, I did not have a competitive mindset. I wanted to finish. I wanted to stay hydrated and not bonk in the heat. Seriously, group rides were a success if I drank from my water bottle twice. I hadn't gotten used to such maneuvers when riding so close to others. I tried to drink a lot of water on the way to the race, and decided 2 water bottles and one bottle of Gatorade in my jersey pocket could suffice, along with some shot blocks. The Gatorade bottle could be discarded at one of the three check points/rest stops. With the heat, I wanted to be hydrated, but I also didn't want anything extra to make the ride more difficult.
There was a mass start with a neutral roll out. I rolled out with Annette Stahlin, Jen Groen and Mike Abene. We tried to start at a decent spot without going all out to get there. I didn't feel good at the start. I was nervous. Cat 4 Women don't often get the opportunity to participate in a 62 mile race, let alone with gravel and questionable terrain. Our races are generally half that distance, if that. And there were heat advisories to boot!
I don't really remember what happened between then and the first checkpoint, but I arrived by myself. The wind and the gravel had broken our group apart. Just before the checkpoint, I had eaten some shot blocks. When I arrived, Erica Jeanne nicely told me I had some still left in my teeth. I wasn't not used to keeping up on nutrition during rides. But I promptly drank a bunch of water and made sure my teeth were not gross. She also told me I was in third place for the women at this point. I did not believe her at all. I saw five ladies pass me who I did not pass back, so this could not be true. I guess some might have been on tandems? Well, after a season of lusting after 20th place, I decided I should try to hold this fictitious third place. Maybe I could have my best finish ever in this race? Funny how a goal so close to reality could be so motivating. I could see Annette not far behind, but instead of waiting I picked up my cadence and tried to catch the women ahead of me. One I caught not one mile after. She was on the side of the road talking with a group of guys, resting.
I found myself riding near a pair of Pegasus guys and a Half Acre guy on some rolling hills. One said, 'Come with us.' I got on their wheels, tried to take my share of pulls. This was amazing. I had never working with a group of people in a race before, and here I was working with a group of guys. I told the Half Acre guy, " I owe you a beer after this," and I was serious. John Casey, I still owe you a beer. Then a loose gravel section came up. We were riding on the edge of the road, because the middle seemed to uncertain, and just beyond was tall grass and plants. I felt like I was riding at my max. It was scary. I wasn't used to riding this fast on gravel. I wasn't really used to riding on gravel at all. Maybe my fear was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I crashed. My group of guys kept going. The guys hesitated, I yelled at them to keep going.
A long gravel road. Photo by John Castro
I really wasn't hurt. I regrouped and kept going, albeit much slower, and now alone. When I got out of the gravel I stopped to assess. My saddle was turned almost 90 degrees. My shifter was also knocked out of balance. As I stood there defeated and fighting with my bike, PJ and Dave Loring came out of nowhere. They helped me get my shit back together and we were off again. More crazy terrain was in store for us. Once muddy roads were cooked with deep, hard tire tracks. There was no way to tell which line was best. High or low? Middle or edge? Pick and pray. PJ took some nasty falls. We all did.
PJ and Dave had passed me by the time I reached the second check point. I saw them there, and Jen Groen. Instead of taking my time to get water, I got my stamp and kept going. I didn't really think I needed rest, and I wanted to get as far ahead as possible. I figured I could make up some time not stopping and PJ and Dave would certainly catch up to me. I was able to pass another woman in the single track section. And PJ and Dave caught back up, so we started to ride together again. There was a water section that wasn't too deep but who really knew? I was really cautious upon approaching, but the three of us made it through. (We weren't all so lucky)
Robert Higgins taking a spill. (Photo credit Chad Gregory)
I was keeping up with my water and nutrition. My knee ached slightly from the fall earlier, but it wasn't bad. I thought it was probably going to be sore the next day, and I should remember to stretch after this race. Some people were having definite issues with the heat and needing to stop. I kept thinking about Icarus. I wanted to do as well as I could, but not push myself to the brink like some people were. It's hard to gauge your body's limitations in excessive weather conditions. Shortly before the worst/best part of the race, I lost the dynamic duo again. So I faced the pin needle by myself.
I will call the worst/best part of the race the pin needle. The course turned right and headed for a couple miles on a steady incline. The checkpoint was at the top of this incline, then you headed right back down the same road. So as you're dying, trying to make it to the last checkpoint, all these people are flying down the hill in the other direction, having stopped and rested, on their way to the finish. It was so taunting! I dug in, caught up with a large group and hung on. I saw the first place lady headed downhill. At the check point, I saw PJ, Dave, and the second place girl. I got my stamp and kept on.
On the awesome downhill I caught up to an Iron Cycles guy, and we started exchanging pulls. It was difficult and fun trying to keep at his pace. We chatted a little about cyclocross, but not a lot, as the gravel roads warrented a lot of concentration. We passed the first place girl pretty quickly and were keeping a good pace. I was still trying to drink a lot of water. About 8 miles from the finish, one mile from the end of the gravel, I got a flat.
My new Iron Cycles friend, Dominick Casey, stopped with me. I was impatient, exhausted and slightly delirious. I thought maybe I could use a CO2 cartridge to see if it was just a pinch flat and the tube might hold air. The tire went flat right away. We grabbed our stuff and moved 100 feet down the road where Chris Jensen and some other people were hanging out in the shade. I slowly started to change my tire. It was one thing to keep a competitive mindset while pace lining, but a whole different story with the defeat of a flat. A woman rode by and Chris Jensen said, "There goes your first place finish." I agreed. Dominick was surprised. He had no idea. He said if he know he would have made me change my tire faster or do something more to help. I was so tired; I really just wanted to finish at this point. PJ and Dave stopped when they saw me, and the second place girl passed shortly after. We regrouped and headed towards the finish.
The last seven miles were terrible. It was on pavement, so it was easier to pedal (even though I am pretty everyone's legs felt like they were about to fall off at that point). But riding on the black asphalt was about 10-15 degrees warmer than riding on the white gravel. I finished the race with PJ, Dave, and Dominick. Third place - which didn't really matter in this race, but it meant a lot to me, because it was technically the best finish I had ever had. It helped me gain confidence for the rest of the season. And the race itself taught me a lot about keeping a positive mindset, staying hydrated and working with people. While the race was grueling, it was crazy amounts of fun, and will definitely be on the top of my To Do list.
PJ and I going through the water. Photo by Chad Gregory