The weekend started out with a lot of this smiles as we casually cruised 20+ miles on Saturday morning’s Wake Up/ Shake Down Ride, courtesy of Walk It! Bike It! Lewisburg.
Then things heated up as we began the main even on Sunday morning. Foggy skies delayed the start 15 minutes, but once we rolled out of town on the Rail Trail the skies cleared and a beautiful blue sky day was to be had. Jackets were shed and the opening punches were thrown at the 15 mile mark when a group including myself and Ted King, pictured below in our HYPE photo separated on the first (and longest) climb of the day. The Brandon/Jonestown climb left seven of us out front as we crested the top and bombed down, with a slight detour in which one rider road into the woods and another (me) took a quick slide on the gravel. No worries though as it only left a flesh wound and the bike was OK.
We cruised along, seven strong and chatted a bit too much while pedaling not enough as a chase pack of maybe 12-15 riders caught us just before the second major climb of the day. With our hard work negated, and riders that had just road very hard to catch back on I took it upon myself to make this ascent a stiff one to see who really wanted to be there. Mission accomplished as we topped out with the same seven riders back out front. This ended up being the separation that would stick for the remainder of the day.
With the front group firmly established, we hit the 50 mile aid station only to find our drop bags not there as we simply rode too fast. A gentlemen’s accord between 6 of the 7 riders was reached and we all re-filled our bottles and set out together. The lone exemption was a rogue rider who took it upon himself to not stop and continued on solo. In my opinion, a bit of a faux pas in the realm of all things Gravel.
None the less as we climbed away from the aid station we all readied ourselves for the most decisive section of the course. The climb to the top of Longwell draft and the accompanying descent down. This section is comprised of a rocky, nasty off road vehicle style road. It set the scene for Ted, myself and Gordon to shake free a bit as we climbed the rocky terrain. Feeling the thrill of racing for the win, I have to say things were going great. Then as I followed Ted down the rocky descent, in the same path as he. I punctured. The air both going out of my tire and my hopes of winning at the same time. After unsuccessfully holding a plug I decided to put a tube in the tire. Once fully covered in tire sealant and the tube installed and tried my best to make up some time only to flat once again. It was at this time I discovered my wheel to actually have been cracked at some point and without much else to do I began walking down the mountain in hopes of not completely taco’ing my wheel. Around 90 minutes later my day was salvaged thanks to the amazing mechanical skills of Pete Hall of Dutch Wheelman Cycles in Bloomsburg, PA. Thank you!! (Note – this is the second time he has saved me at this location, last year having repaired my derailleur that had taken quite the beating. Third time’s the charm next year?)
Around an hour and 45 minutes after the mechanical began I was back on the gas and surprisingly still feeling decent after all that walking. I rode as quickly as I could to the finish so I could secure my Chase the Chaise patch, whoopie pie and finishers only mug & bison. Gotta collect them all! Hey, there is always something to chase, right!
Thanks to all the promoters, volunteers, riders and spectators for a great weekend in Central PA. It’s a special thing you’ve got going on, lets keep making it awesome every year.
Note: I began writing this post with the intention of it being my perspective on racing the 2019 unPAved gravel race. However, a couple simple yet beautiful images (along with two nifty patches) from Salsa later and I instead wrote this. I hope that you all can take something away from this as it illustrates the larger picture about why we do things (like unPAved or DK), who we do them for and what really matters.
The header picture that you see; that one taken by the lovely people from Salsa who honor certain events with their special Chaise, means a lot to me. Not because of the view or the stature of the events (both amazing) but because I have been able to twice express a little special shout out to my daughter Claire. I’ve been able to honor her with a subtle “C” over my heart each time….and let me say both times I “Chased the Chaise” in 2019, thinking of Claire got me through races which honestly didn’t go my way. So let’s go back to June at Dirty Kanza where this started.
The day before Dirty Kanza 2019 my wife and I received maybe the worst news two new parents could get. At what was supposed to be a routine eye exam at 4 months in our minds turned out to be an appointment that ended with a Cancer diagnosis. Completely out of left field we were both floored. It’s the kind of thing that takes the wind/life/energy right out of you. Something that honestly I couldn’t even express after that race. It was still too raw and frankly we didn’t even know what the plan would be. Here I was a thousand or so miles away in Kansas, sitting in a dorm room alone talking on the phone to my wife who had just personally received that news (thankfully her Mom was with her at the appointment…so grateful for that, as this is not news you want to receive when alone). What do you do in that situation? It’s crazy. Do I jump on a flight home…are there even any flights left on a Friday afternoon back to Boston? It’s a situation that frankly I’m not sure how Kait and I were able to hold it together. After the call from Kait, we decided that as there was nothing that could be done until the next Doctors visit on Tuesday and that I might as well ride my bike and maybe just maybe it would take my mind of things for a little bit.
Well, I guess life dishes out the tough stuff to people that it thinks can handle it. Kanza this year was rough. A puncture from a flying rock kicked up by a rider in front of me left my tire unable to hold air or a tube with air. After a few attempts to revive it including putting on a whole new tire, I limped into the first check point over 45 minutes down on the lead group. It was at this point that things pretty much all hit me. I’d be lying if I said I held it together. Thank God I had a friend that was crewing for me who was able to give me the support (emotional and literally new wheels) that I needed to take on the remaining 140 miles, because at that point riding my bike just didn’t seem that appealing anymore.
So, I moved along. I got riding and promptly had to reset my brake pads so they would stop rubbing. Another hurdle on a day full of them. However, after that even with brakes rubbing and time ticking away the only thing that really mattered to me was finishing the damn thing and honoring that little girl that I was so far away from. I wasn’t going to win or get a top 10 for her so I damn well better get to the finish line….so I did. I rode the better part of 170 miles on my own. I of course rode past people and some rode past me towards the end, but either way I was alone with my thoughts. Time and distance went by as fast as I made it go by. Honestly, yeah it sucked in a lot of ways. All the training you put in sabotaged by a rogue rock…it’s brutal. You get one shot in a race like this and to have it all wiped away 26 miles into a 200 mile race, woof! But you know, I was able to keep moving forward. I pedaled my bike because its something I really love to do. Something that helps wash away the stresses of life and fulfill the competitive fire.
To bring this story that I hadn’t planned on writing or sharing but just kind of flowed out my fingers on the keyboard to an end; here is the Kanza Chaise picture. I asked the photographer to confirm that I was making the “C” the correct way so it wasn’t backwards 🙂 This was my way of saying I love you to Claire and Kait and that they were the reason I was able to keep going and get through it even when things weren’t going my way. Truly a lesson for what we were beginning with Claire’s diagnosis of Retinoblastoma. So there you go, that is my 2019 Chase the Chaise story. It’s funny how something like a Chaise can end up being so meaningful to so many people in so many ways. I will always stop for the Chaise, you can count on that! (What’s your Chaise story?)
Next time (probably later this week) I will share with you everything about unPAved 2019 and how a great weekend prevails even when you get knocked down a few times and things don’t go 100%.
9th place is not sexy. It is not a wide-angle podium shot for the sponsors and it won’t appear in any of the articles that you see while flipping through your phones news feed. Likely, other than your buddies on the team slack channel, your parents are the only ones who are going to call and fawn over your aptitude for prolonged exercise outdoors. However, 9th place to me is but only 2 minutes from sneaking into the far-right hand side of that podium shot (or left depending on how you look at it). It’s coming within a whisker of something that superficially feels like MORE. It really doesn’t define anything as there is one winner and that man quite literally was born with a crown on his head…which was replaced with a pretty kick-ass cowboy hat courtesy of SBT GRVL….along with a giant check the size of his bicycle. Ricky-Bobby said it best, “If you’re not first, you’re last”…and yes that is very true, but its not the whole story.
Each one of us that did this race whether it was the the 38, 100 or 141 has an awesome story of how we got to the race, how we covered the distance and who we are going home to. I’d be remiss if I didn’t have that racer’s 5% regret about what if, because I think that’s what fuels the fire to keep training and focusing on the next thing…so that is my look back. The rest below is the other 95% percent that was positively right!
Leading up to the race some of my key training consisted of lapping different Finger Lakes as part of the FLX Challenge. Between a family weekend and friends wedding during the first two weeks of August, it lined up nicely for the finishing touches of preparation. Without even knowing it, THIS ride that I did which circled the entirety of both Canandaigua and Keuka Lake ended up being a fantastic prep ride as it was 140 miles and just over 9k of climbing…extremely similar to what I’d see at SBT GRVL. Completely unintentional and completely perfect.
Once out in Denver, my good friends (and athletes of mine) the Bockard’s gave me royal treatment by letting me crash at their place and hitch a ride out to Steamboat. With an easy ride and breakfast at Winona’s on Saturday everything dialed in.
Starting at 6:30AM the race began in the mid 40’s. It was chilly and getting the apparel choices just right was a special task in of itself. I opted to wear a base layer with the Velocio Radiator jersey, Velocio arm warmers and a lightweight jacket that went over top my camelbak that I chose to wear. I opted for the camelbak as it would allow me to carry an extra 50oz of fluid in addition to my 2 bottles which would let me roll through the first 2 aid stations without stopping and thus avoiding the mass chaos that was occurring at those stops since so many people were still at the front of the race. This strategy worked just about perfectly with the exception that one of my water bottles was launched about 10 miles into the race when we hit gravel. This has literally only happened to me one time in my life and although it didn’t matter that much in terms of a hydration issue, it would come to bite me in the ass a little bit later in the day.
At the front of the race nothing really materialized over the first almost 100 miles. There were some steeper sections along with windy flats and rocky pave sectors, but after each acceleration over those most of the contenders would regroup. Attrition would prove to be the main factor as the simple fact of covering 100 miles brought the group to maybe 20 riders as we headed into an aid station that was a little under half-way up the longest climb of the day (see profile with notes above). This aid station proved to be the determining factor of the race. Had I known exactly where this aid station was and what immediately followed it, yeah, I would have done things a different. However, that’s in the past. As I said earlier I had launched a bottle and although it didn’t impact my hydration it did call for a stop at this mid climb aid station as I had no more fluid left in my camelbak nor in my bottle. Thus, I needed to get my bottle filled for the remaining 40 miles. Had this been with 20 miles to go I would have risked it and just went. But I didn’t and because of that Ted and about 8 others ripped through the aid station lightning fast, smashed the quick downhill and proceeded to motor up the remaining 8.5 miles of climbing. Due to the extra maybe 30 seconds it took me to load my bottle up I ended up in a chase group consisting of about 5 people.
Here is where I made the biggest choice of the day for better or worse. Instead of chasing up to a rogue rider that went solo from us, I chose to stick with 3 other riders including Matt Lieto and Jeremiah Bishop as we went up the climb at a bit more of a tempo pace instead of an eye-popping assault. Retrospectively I think to myself, did the more sustained tempo we rode allow me to stay strong through the finish and place where I did, OR did it prevent me from potentially getting 5th place? The rider who went solo from us managed to make contact with 4 others who been dropped by Ted, Payson, Jacob and Colin. Do I think I would have been with Ted? Nah, most likely not. But I do regret not letting it rip more on the climb as I really believe I had enough in the tank to make it that pack of 4 that was created. Alas, that’s not the choice I made. In taking the climb at a more sustained pace it did allow me to recover somewhat and leave me with reserves over the final ~30 miles once we reached the top.
After reaching the summit of the highest point on course we began descending all the way to the finish. The caveat here is that although the general theme was DOWN we still had 3-4 MAJORclimbs. These relatively “short” climbs made up for their lack of distance in the steepness they packed. It is here where I think my decision to maintain a steady pace up the long climb paid off in droves. As we hit each of these shorter climbs I was able to pick up the intensity each time. Taking the group, I was with down to just one other rider, (Matt Lieto) who was able to go with me up one of the steep pitches. Once we had separation we made sure to hit one final aid station before taking on the final two climbs of the day. Matt and I had a little bro time where we chatted briefly and then got back to work when we hit the SmartWool Corkscrew climb, the third and final timed KOM. On this climb Matt gave me his blessing to go and chase the group of 4 riders that we caught sight of. It was just under 20 miles to go at this point. I ended up climbing that KOM with the 5th fastest time of the day and I closed maybe a minute on that group over those final miles. However, I simply ran out of terrain and finished in 9th place. At the end of the day I was 2 minutes in arrears from 5th place and about 13 minutes from Ted who finally went clear of his two companions and won by a little over a minute with a finishing time of 6:34:50.
Am I happy? Heck yeah, I executed a 141 mile race at the highest elevation I have ever ridden a bike at. This being a race too, I am pleased that I was able to handle the elevation without it materially impacting my performance. With all that my family and I have going on right now I am damn proud of being able to achieve a top 10 result in such a contested race. SBT GRVL, although a first-year race drew almost every top rider in the gravel racing category. This was even with the unsanctioned Gravel Worlds race held the day before and its defending champion Colin Strickland opting for SBT GRVL instead. It just goes to show you when you put some real $$$ up for grabs, the hitters come to ride!
At the end of the day as I wasn’t on the top step I will always have that small % of regret. That is simply the racers mentality and one that you probably have to have as it makes you get right back on the bike and train hard for the next opportunity. Yet, just about everything else about this race was the success I had been looking for over the past year. I take great pride in being able to compete with the best riders in the country, some of who make their living riding and racing bikes. This new dad of 7-month-old Claire, with a full-time job is damn proud and hungry for more chances like this. You can bet that I will be back at SBT GRVL next year!
Special THANK YOU to my friends Cliff and Susie Bockard for taking me in for a wonderful Colorado trip in Denver and Steamboat. The generosity from you and your parents made this trip super easy and let me really focus on having the best race possible. I can’t thank you guys enough. They also happen to be racers who let me coach them and they both had great races with Susie ripping around the BLUE 100-mile course and Cliff taking on the BLACK 141-mile course with me. Can’t wait to be back with you guys next year!
Last but CERTAINLY not least, thank you to my amazing wife Kaitlin who was home with our beautiful Claire, for allowing me to take something like this on. It might not make sense to a ton of people, but it means the world to me that you guys can understand why I like to ride my bike over long distances against other people who have the same mental condition. Racing my bike isn’t who I am and not my total identity, but it is a piece of me and I am privileged to have the chance to keep striving for that MORE that is out there.
The unPAvedas the name implies is a bike race/adventure/journey that takes place in the heart of the Susquehanna River Valley in Central Pennsylvania. As you might guess, it takes place off the beaten path. Covering some of the most scenic areas that the Northeast has to offer. As director, Dave Pryor so eloquently said, “If the climbs don’t take your breath away, the fall foliage will.” (Well I think he said it, because it was on his website…)
As most of you reading this already know, Gravel racing is on the rise. Those bunch of weirdo’s ten years ago who you thought were being lame are now the coolest and hippest around. No longer are they looked at as shirking the road racing scene because it was too “intense”, but instead looked at as innovators. Look no further for this legitimization than World Tour cycling teams planning seasons around having their riders attend such races as Dirty Kanza, Leadville, and The Belgian Waffle Ride to name a few. Gravel is the here and know, and it’s a great time to jump aboard this pirate ship.
Let’s get down to business.
Did the inaugural edition of unPAved Pennsylvania deliver?
You bet it did. With route options ranging from the 30, 54, 90 and the Full 120 there was something for everybody. I have to take a moment here and mention why something like this is so appealing to future-Matt. Future-Matt is expecting his first child, a baby girl at the end of January 2019. Once this little bundle enters the world there is going to be a lot more planning and scheduling involved when I race bikes. With an event like this that is so family friendly (and within 2 hours of my hometown, where my parents still live – shout out to the Finger Lakes of NY) I have a good chance at convincing my wife that a 54 mile off-road gravel ride would be an awesome way for her to break into the bike racing/gravel riding scene. It’s long enough to be a worthy adventure, technical enough to feel proud that she could handle it, but yet not so much that I’d be scared that I am sending her off to impending doom…and the best part is that she can nail down the 54 mile loop and be back in a few hours to our little girl. All the while I will be out hammering away at my pedals, doing my best to defend my title…and hopefully getting back only a couple hours after my wife does. At the end of the day we both get to race our bikes, our child is loved by family all day and we do it all in the awesome community of like minded cyclists. Soooo, how about it honey? 🙂 Sounds perfect, eh?
Getting back on track, my choice at the 2018 unPAved was the 120 “FULL” route. I’m a glutton for miles and hours on the bike and was super excited to mash away through terrain that is very similar to the kind that I grew up around in the Finger Lakes of NY. I had this race circled on my calendar for almost all of 2018, however since I procrastinated the dang thing sold out for the Full edition. Thankfully my good buddy Chris (more on him later) alerted me to this and I was able to find my way into the race via the generous offer of someone who could no longer make the trip. Thank you to Tatsuo and Dave for giving me the chance to take part in the first edition.
Making the trip down on Saturday from Boston was a pretty non-eventful 6.5 hours capped off with a lovely lunch at Friendly’s, the only restaurant I could find within 10 minutes of my hotel. It turns out that at 32 years old, the Friendly’s menu just isn’t as appealing as it was to my 14 year old, American Legion playing self. In any case, my buddy Chris showed up shortly after at our luxurious Hampton Inn and we went out for a spin before heading to registration. One of the most telling signs of being in a truly fantastic places to ride bikes is that without any pre-mapping or anything we stumbled out of the parking lot, took a right hand turn, rode about 1-2 miles on some “busy” road and then immediately found ourselves on a secluded paved climb of a mile or so that ended up dumping us on yet another road that turned into unPAved glory for a solid 45 minutes. That’s what it is like out there in Central PA. Throw a dart out and you’ll hit some epic gravel road that will keep you smiling for miles and miles.
Fast forward to race morning and its 40’ish degrees with the sun just barely starting to creep out. It’s going to be a fantastic day, but admittedly its freezing for a cyclist clad in spandex. The weather will be in the mid 50’s all day, so at a solid effort that will be fine, especially with the 10k or so of vertical gain we would be accumulating over the 120 miles, but for now I’m cold. The mellow vibe that the start of a 120 mile race offers is something that was very welcome when compared to the craziness of the road/crit scene.
Smartly, nicely and thoughtfully, Dave and his crew had us start the race from the beautiful The Miller Center for Recreation and Wellness that was situated right smack dab on a rail trail. The local Bucknell cycling team led out the caravan of riders over the initial 5 miles. Riding 2 wide on the gravel/cinder path, fellow riders chatted, got warmed up and debated the biggest question of them all. Were the big things at the road intersections bollards or barriers. I said barriers, because WTF are bollards? I mean seriously, who screams that out on a bike ride without laughing to themselves. (OK, after reading Wikipedia, it appears these aren’t that strange and its pretty normal and accepted to call them bollards..I guess it had just passed me by in my youth) So yeah, the race had the kind of chill roll-out that a 120 mile race should, and I applaud that.
Although the first five miles were mellow, you’d be dead wrong if it was setting the tone for the day. Just a few miles later the world would get tipped UP, quickly! At 14 miles in we hit the first climb. My light research on the course told me that it was both one of the steepest and longest of the day. Yup, the first hill we saw was the longest. That sounds about right. Playing off the countless Overlands, Rasputitsa’s and Vermont 50’s I’ve done over the past three years I knew that a similar recipe of success that the leaders always use might have a chance to break things wide open here as well…even if it was only 14 miles into a 120 day. So as the grade increased I looked to make the pace a high tempo effort and a gap opened pretty quickly. Why wouldn’t it though, it was only 14 miles in. What kind of crazy person would try to go clear that early? This guy would! However, I was thankfully and luckily joined by my roomate for the weekend Chris Ganter, who quickly got on my wheel. We rolled together for the next couple of minutes hoping to entice a couple others to join us. Two is nice, but three, four or even five people at this juncture would give us a nice rotation to separate ourselves. In the end only Michael (in the Panaracer kit – see podium pic below) made the bridge, and with that we three amigos were off!
After what for all intents and purposes was a 20 minute power test (see Strava Segment – Brandon to Jonestown) we had a bit of a gap, and hit the downhill pretty hard. As you can see in my beautifully mocked up course profile, the downhill after the initial climb launched us from the rest of the chasers. Rolling that downhill and flat strongly we hit the next set of hills and maintained our gap. Taking turns pulling, the three of us worked really well. Every time Chris started to chat I made sure to up the pace a bit….i mean this is serious business! Ha…i’m kidding. Well kind of 🙂
As we made our way over the course we moved along on the flats and took the hills at a steady tempo. With only three of us, everyone wanted the company of other riders to help move things along and no one made any crazy attacks up the hills. It was as enjoyable as a hard race effort can be….but that’s also because the dream scenario for me in any race is a small break consisting of just a few people who like to do work. (Shrug/sigh)
I don’t precisely remember when we hit it, but somewhere around the 48-50 mile mark we hit some of the gnarliest terrain out there. Full on jeep road/Vermont Pave style stuff. Complete with giant rocks, huge ruts and washed out sections from the rain. Not only was it like this as we nuked it UP but the downhill was just as crazy. Meandering through the minefield of boulders and standing water at light-speed, I was left crossing my fingers and praying that my wheels would not explode. Thankfully the bombproof NEXT wheels Jerry made for me held up like champs. However, even though my wheels made it through, my chain was sucked up into my crank when we exited this treacherous sector. Through amazing foresight by the director, a mechanic was placed at the bottom of the descent. (AKA – the middle of nowhere) God bless them as they were quickly able to fix my mechanical which allowed me to chase back to Chris and Michael within 5 minutes or so. Crisis adverted.
Once I was back on and attached to the other two we hit the meat of the race, miles 60-100 where things would naturally shake themselves out. The climbs now began to be more of a “can you keep up pace” as opposed to “lets keep this together pace”. This went on for a couple climbs and eventually Michael and I shed Chris at around mile 70-75. I’ve got to say that Chris’s effort was massive. Having started a new job this summer and on minimal training he not only made it 70+ miles into a 120 miles race at the pointy end but was able to rally from getting dropped to hold onto third place. He was solo for like 40-45 miles I think. That’s one hell of an effort dude!
Michael and I ran into the next climb together and stuck close. We flew down the descent together at ludicrous speed and finally approached the last climb of the day. Although not as long as the first climb, it was pretty steep and included pitches that were pretty devastating to tired legs. As things go in a 120 mile race, my “break-away” uphill was more or less the equivalent to a turtle speeding away from another turtle who got sidetracked by eating some grass….But really, two tired dudes going up a hill and one of them was able to inch away. Then the inch grew and with that separation comes that little boost of adrenaline that lets you fires on all cylinders to the top of the climb, 95 miles in.
Riding solo over the highest point of the race, I completely blew by the masses of riders from the shorter fields who were grouped together enjoying food and drink while gazing at the beautiful vista. (I should really stop at this next year…maybe…) Still riding on the high of getting free I kept the pedal down as much as possible while covering the final 20 miles. I was flying high and feeling great until about 7-8 miles to go. I had this vision in my brain that once I hit the rail trail it would basically be like I was done. It was good bait for me to chase, however the fact was that once I hit the rail trail I was NOT done. I had those 7-8 miles of flat land riding where I had to produce all the power. I didn’t know what kind of gap I had so as I always say (to myself mostly) “when in doubt, pedal harder”….and so I did.
I crossed the line in just under 7 hours and officially became the first ever champion of unPAved Pennsylvania. I’d like to say I was ceremoniously doused in champagne and put on the shoulders of the adoring fans. Alas, that was not the case this year….but maybe in 2019? What do you say Dave?
The Superbowl of gravel cycling. The Ironman of cycling. Whatever you want to call it, The Dirty Kanza200 which covers 206 miles of Flint Rock Hills gravel, has now firmly staked its claim as the premier gravel event in the US. Dare I say the world? After having spent the weekend in Emporia and raced the DK 200, I find myself wondering “Was this what Ironman was like in the late 80s, early 90’s?” I just don’t know, I got into triathlon when it had already been well established, had a peak and valley and was rising to its highest high (2009-2012) which since has not been matched. I make this statement due to the pulsating vibe that resounded throughout the small Midwest town stuck in between Kansas City and Wichita, KS. This race is not new, it’s been around for more than a decade. Yet in just the past 3 years if you look at the results you can see the race taking on a completely different look. Riders with backgrounds in professional road cycling, cyclocross and even triathlon can be seen integrating into the lead pack and drastically changing the dynamic. With that said, I just wonder…is this the big wave that will truly move the needle of cycling in America? Will we, in the near future see a true race series that is all raced on dusty, rock laden roads where traffic does not exist and racers are directed via Garmins and Wahoos as opposed to lead vehicles and arrow signs?
I came into the Dirty Kanza not quite knowing what I was getting myself into. I signed up on a relative whim with my buddies from The Cycling Formula. Lucky for me I got in via the lottery and figured I’d give it a shot. Looking at the race, the distance or potential time on the bike didn’t faze me. Having raced countless Ironman distance races I’ve had the experience of doing a physical activity for 10 or 11 hours straight. I know the nutritional requirements…I know pacing. That seemed like the easy part. The stuff you could plan for. The scary part was the potential for mechanical issues. I’m talking about ripping the sidewall of your tire when you’re 30 miles away from the nearest checkpoint and having no way to repair it or having your rear derailleur be torn off while riding through a knee deep river crossing with branches floating around like land mines. The potential for disaster is everywhere out there in the Flint Rock Hills. But what the hell, this kind of thing is right up my alley. I was going to go out there and SEND IT!
I probably should have done some more research…and maybe not raced a 3 day stage race the weekend before…and maybe not raced 1 or 2 times each weekend for the 2 months leading into this race. A lot of things I “could have” done differently for sure, but the fact is. I went into this thing thinking of it as more of a fun challenge than anything else. Sure I wanted to be competitive but that wasn’t really my main goal when I had signed up. That slowly changed as I saw the people who were at the event and the vibe that was being generated. Don’t get me wrong this is still a mass start event where people are just there for the adventure, the experience and the glory of just doing something that is just a little bit on the crazy spectrum….and frankly, that’s the beauty of it. One event to rule them all.
Anyway, race morning rolls along and after a 30 minute delay due to a crazy thunderstorm rolling through we were off. All 1,000+ of us DK200 participants ripping down Main Street, Emporia all fighting to be at the front. It starts out as a neutral roll on pavement, but is more or less a moderately paced CX race where unless you’re a known quantity whom people are too scared to touch…you’re getting bumped and jostled for position. No joke, elbows being thrown and moderate chops being employed. One woman did this no less than 3 times to be in the neutral roll. Once you make the turn onto the first gravel road things thin out as there are really only two lanes two ride. Those are the worn in tire tracks and you basically slot in behind someone and hope it’s a good spot. Minimal passing is done over the first 10-15 miles. After an hour or so the group of 1000+ naturally slims down to a couple hundred or so with that being whittled down yet again at about the 60-90 minute mark. There is a place called the pens where the cattle roam free (literally right across the road you’re riding on) and wild horses run along side of you. It was at this point where the race had its first real efforts being made. Treating this as any other bike race where I was at without teammates I tried to stay as close to the front as possible to be sure I wasn’t gapped by any other group. Becoming detached that early in a 200 mile race would be VERY BAD. Luckily my tires stayed inflated and I rolled through this section unscathed. Using Ted King as a measuring stick, I made sure to keep within a safe distance of any effort he made and also held back when I could see he was. It was a long day ahead and he’s done this thing a couple times already. I had not. Once our pack was down to 20-30 riders there was an easing of the pace, people peed and I even had a nice chat with Jens Voigt….yup that Jens from pro cycling fame. Super nice guy, very friendly to everyone…and I am sure was compensated accordingly by Trek.
Heading into checkpoint 1 in Madison is where my naivety came to light. I rolled over the timing mat in 3rd right behind Ted. I knew that I needed to find my drop bag and get my fuel for the next 65 miles to Eureka. However, the crew-for-hire option where I leave them a bag and they bring it out to the checkpoint was nowhere to be found. I had no idea where they were. Riders were stopping at their own tents, with their own crews and getting everything they needed. All while I was wandering around trying to find my bag. Long story short, I had no luck. I was at the end of the checkpoint and no one knew anything. I begged a lady for some water and she filled one bottle for me. One bottle and half a 50oz camelbak plus 3-4 gels was all I had. This was not good. Then the leaders went by me, they had made their stop and were heading out and my options were either to make sure I stayed in the front pack or waste more time looking for my drop bag. I made the decision to risk my low fuel and just ensure I maintained contact with the front pack. The speed and placement was just too valuable. In the long run it was indeed a dumb move, as we started the leg that goes from miles 48-103 we immediately hit a mug bog and I took on so much mud between my rear wheel and bike frame that I had to completely remove my thru axle wheel, scoop all the clay-like mud out and then reassemble everything and make a 15 minute chase back onto the group. So in the end I didn’t get the fuel I needed and ended up wasting a bullet having to chase back onto the main group. BUMMER! In any case I was still in the lead pack and just knew that I needed to ration my hydration and gels. If I could just make it to checkpoint 2 in contact I’d be alright.
As we went from miles 48 to about 95 the group was down to about 15-18 of us. Whether due to intensity, mechanical or otherwise, that was where we were at. This race, other than the odd very bad mechanical has a funny way of just kind of putting people into the groups they belong within the first 100 miles. Unlike a road race where if you get dropped early on your day is over, here its not that big of a deal you just find another group to ride with that is more your pace….no biggy. In any case back to the race. A long stretch of crosswind strung things out a bit as we neared Eureka and checkpoint #2. Ted King put in a little dig and distanced himself from the group. At this point I had already begged him for a gel, and by god the dude was so nice he gave me one of his Untapped Gels. He didn’t have to, but he did. I owe him for that. However, having been out of hydration since about mile 80 I was running on fumes and decided to hang back just a bit. I knew that I’d probably get into checkpoint 2 about a minute behind but I wasn’t too worried. I knew that I’d be able to fuel up, grab the second camelbak I had stored along with a nice snickers bar and a full pocket of Untapped gels and waffles. I was going to be alright. Then the realization of my mistakes happened. I did not research the race enough, I did not know that having a support crew or even a single helper would be such a big deal. After finding my bag I had to fill each bottle I had with water into the mix I had put in there the day before (no water allowed in bags beforehand), sort through and get the food I needed, lube my chain and all that other stuff. It might have only been 5 or 6 minutes…but in that time my seat at the front of the class was gone. I left checkpoint 2 and the race was up the road. I was solo and had 103 miles to go. NOT GOOD!
Being alone with 100 miles to go quite frankly sucked. I was starting to hit the beginnings of the headwind that would be plaguing us for the remainder of the ride back north to Emporia so I just dug in and focused on keeping my heart rate and cadence up. Through the next 30 miles I caught one other rider who had blown sky high. He latched on for a bit, but when he asked me “How much farther the next stop was”, my reply of “about 30 miles” was not what he wanted to hear. Shortly after informing him of the bad news we hit a pretty sizable water crossing. I road straight through it and he stopped before getting wet. He was never seen again. Well I mean he didn’t disappear into the abyss, he just probably stopped for a break or something.
A little while after the water crossing a lone rider past me, kind of out of nowhere. This was music to my ears because shortly after he went by I saw that a group of 5-6 riders were approaching. I decided to take a quick nature break and wait for the group to come by so I could ride with some friends for a while. We all banded together at what must have been between mile 130-135. The group was rolling along nicely along and with Matt Lieto, Paul Shirley and Cory Wallace we had some diesel power to barrel through the headwinds. Somewhere along the way the group was down to about 4 of us as we hit the third and last checkpoint in Madison at about mile 161. I made sure to restock my supplies as best as possible and got back on the road. In the shuffle Paul got out in front of the group and ended up latching on to another pack that ended up finishing about 10 minutes ahead of us. Kudos to him for being prepared and making quick work of the stop. That left Cory, Jesse and myself together for the final push to the finish. Honestly, at that point I was super thankful to have some companions as the headwinds were in full force. Cory was definitely the strongest of us, which after I learned of his background made sense as he is the current 24 hour MTB World Champion…so basically at hour 8-9 he was just coming alive, and also had flatted earlier…so it all kinda made sense. None the less I had these guys to keep me company and we all traded turns at the front to be a wind block. We even took the opportunity to commemorate our little crew with a nice picture at Salsa’s “chasethechaise” photo op. A very cool idea by the company that only took a matter of seconds and an awesome photo came from it, along with a nice little patch. Thanks Salsa!
The final miles were pretty uneventful. Cory, the strongest put up manly surge up the final 100m long hill into town with Jesse chasing shortly behind. My legs however were just fine with keeping it steady to the finish. A small bummer as both were in my age group and I went from a podium 5th place to 7th due to this, but the reality was that Cory deserved it anyways. He did the most work on the way home, so kudos to him!
Looking back at how the race went I definitely am happy and proud of my result. Of course I had ambitions of a better finish but it is what it is. I did a few things wrong and those few things ended up making a big difference.
Lesson learned and I will certainly not let that happen again. God willing I will be at DK200 2019 and with one of these things under my belt and a large amount of LUCK, I hope to be right up there sprinting for the win down Main Street, Emporia.
A HUGE thank you to Adam at Gravel City Adventure & Supply Co. I needed some help with my bike and Adam took care of me big time. Not only did he fix the issue (and fast) he also made the recommendation of putting some different tires on. More suitable for the terrain. I told him “you’re the local, I trust you. If you’ve got time to do it, go for it.” He simply told me “I’ll get it done”…and he did. And I am very thankful for the advice!!
Thanks for the hospitality Emporia! See you next year.
In its travel case its a carry on approved size, which is awesome.
Thursday – 75 minutes in the evening.
Friday – (Day Before the race) Used two times for 60 minutes each. While watching SAFE on Netflix, good show.
Saturday – (Race day)
Used for 30 minutes prior to the race. 4:45-5:15 am. Serves as a warm-up before the actual warm-up on the bike. As the blood is moved in the legs without actually moving my body it’s a nice way to get the body awake without having to do too much effort and I was able to finish my pre-race breakfast while doing so.
Used again for 60 minutes after returning from the race before bed. I really like having the ability to do this after an effort like DK, just to head off any inflammation and swelling that is beginning.
Sunday – Used 90 minutes before heading to the airport. Again, nice to get ahead of the swelling that can be induced by sitting in a plane for 2+ hours.
I am officially back on the blog circuit. A lot has gone on since I last regularly posted stuff here but the short of it is that I am now a full on cyclist who can’t get enough of it. I race with my buddies on the Velocio Northeast Cycling squad most every weekend. I’m spending my days as an Accountant with NormaTec (makers of those magical boots that give you “fresh legs faster”) and filling in all the other hours on the bike or with my beautiful wife Kaitlin.
The plan is to get things rolling on here again and let you all now how the cycling scene here in the US is going. It is an interesting time with road racing seeming to have a lull in participation while the enthusiasm for off road gravel/adventure style racing is off the charts. No matter the industry feelings, I am 100% committed to racing on two wheels and plan to share it all with you. (Whether you like it or not)
Then I pretty much stopped. Life got busy, got engaged, bought a house and finished that up with a Wedding last September (yes, there is a new Mrs. Curbeau). There was also the fact that I went back to being a full-time number cruncher.
Lately though, I’ve been riding my bike….a lot. Well, as much as I can fit in and still get a little sleep here and there. This past fall brought Cyclocross into my life, which was awesome and this spring brings Road Racing. So until I destroy my bike or body (or both) I’ll be putting the pedals down on the open road.
If nothing else, Cycling has a lot of race options at cheap prices and you usually get a ton of free photos taken of you….which is sweet.
I’ll try to be a little more current with the website and get this rolling right proper again.
See you out on the roads!
ps. Vermont Beer Is Pretty Awesome (And Trillium in Boston too!)
Bright Beginnings, Rising Stars and Mountain Tops reached are all the feel good stories that get fed to the media. There just isn’t general interest in the Grinder; the one who is climbing the ladder but still only toiling in the middle rungs. Progress is progress and climbing that first rung is just as important as the last one.
The paradox created is that the middle rungs are the weakest as the most pressure and stress are placed upon them. The lack of support in the middle creates the deterrent to press on and instead seek the safety of remaining static or worse regressing.
These middle rungs are tough. There are a lot of them, they are largely unseen and quite often you will push so hard that they break and you are forced to repair them in order to continue your progress. It has been in these middle rungs where my 2015 season has been. The safety and stability of being new to the sport without expectations, the excitement of becoming the best in your circle and the fresh and exhilirating start of lining up with the best of the best disappears below you. No longer does the excuse “I’m cutting my teeth” work. All that matters is what you produce when it counts. I would wager to bet that I am among the majority, and that it is the exception when someone goes from the bottom to the top without getting hung up in the middle. It’s just that you don’t hear about it and the people who are in those middle stages frankly don’t talk about it because it is unexciting, doesn’t draw to much interest and still comes back to the hard line that it really only matters what you can produce.
2015 has been a Grind. A most necessary step, yet one that is largely unrewarding if you solely look at it from the outside. As illustrated by my lack of activity on this blog I have both been very busy in all facets of life as well as I just plain and simple did not have much that I felt was worthy of sharing with the public. There were no wins, no trophies, no personal bests. It was a year of unsensational mediocrity. Yet I probably made the most progress I have ever made in a 12 month period. Too much focus on the singular can lead to not seeing the whole picture.
2015 Wrapped Up With a Bow On Top:
As I sit in the Muffin House (a fantastic coffee shop that obviously makes a delicious baked good) I can reflect on 2015 and how it all went. All in all it was another great chapter in my life. Dodging the cold I spent most of February and March in both Florida and California. May was largely spent in Texas training for and racing both the Texas 70.3 and Ironman. The summer included lots of training, the annual pilgrimage to Lake Placid to spectate and ended with a great experience at Ironman Chattanooga.
That left Ironman Cozumel to tackle as the season ender. It is this race that got my juices flowing to actually shake of the rust and share my stories with the public. This since I actually feel like I have something somewhat interesting to share. Unlike the rest of the season which largely went without many bumps in the road, my second trip to Mexico certainly added to the Mexico es no bueno por Matteo files. For those who either missed or want to catch up on the last time I went to Mexico you can read HERE how it went down. (For more graphic pictures, leave a comment and I’ll pass it along to you).
Cozumel 2015 setup to be a great season ending race for me. With a quicker than normal swim, a tough bike due to wind and heat and a run that was sure to be a sufferfest in the conditions I was really looking forward to the battle. It was a race that suited me and a race that I was physically and mentally prepared for. Race morning although filled with a couple shuttles went really smoothly and led to having plenty of time to warmup and get prepared to start Ironman #12. With no real in-water warmup, we were cut loose. With 30+ starting, there was a good deal of chaos at the beginning. This also means plenty of bodies to get drafts off of. After several hundred meters we formed into a group of about 10 or so strong which stuck for the rest of the swim. Getting onto the bike after being in the water for :49 minutes, things were in a good place. I was moving into the back of some strong cyclists and it was setting up to be a good day.
Unfortunately for me I had a flat at about 14 miles into the bike (if you have raced Cozumel, it happened right after you bear left and go into the exposed section of the course to the ocean that is the windiest). That change essentially knocked me out of contention to ride with the strongest cyclists. Continuing on I had the misfortune of flatting again about 15 minutes later and then again at about the 40 mile mark. Alas, after one loop of a three loop course I had been on the side of the road for about 40 minutes. With each flat my resources to fix them were diminished and I was forced to rely on Mexican Bike Mechanics on mopeds to come along and assist. I’ve got to say they were all great and helped me out immensely…it just takes more and more time for them to get there the further back from the main groups you are, that’s just the cold hard facts.
Luckily for my attitude my third flat happened to fall exactly where a fellow english speaking, and Quintana Roo tweeting friend was watching from. Sonja (goSonja.com) who was down to watch the race came over and hung out with me as I waited for help. With the 1st flat being devastating to the race and the 2nd and 3rd just being insulting, I certainly enjoyed a friendly face and encouraging words.
So the race went on, devoting myself to finishing what I started I made the most of the day on the island. The bike course really is pretty beautiful, it’s almost like a kick in the pants that the most scenic views happen when the wind is the worst and all you want to do is get beyond it. But with the pressure lessened I can say I was able to soak it up a little more than I would have. It really was pretty.
Getting to the run course with Matt Russell (Ultimate 2nd place) already beginning his second of three ~8.5 mile loops was pretty discouraging. I resigned to give it a steady loop and see where things were at. With one loop down it was really apparent where things stood. After the second loop I stopped to give my trooper of a Mom a hug and tell her I’d be a little longer on the final loop but I’d be back soon. Finishing off a tough day with another medal around my neck was to be my glory.
Unfortunately, the above recap of my time in Mexico really was only a piece of what I was referencing when I said this trip to Mexico added to the list of WTF Mexico Moments I’ve had. Getting back to the Hotel about 45 minutes after finishing I went to take a #1 and out came what appeared to be Beet Performer, however I had not been able to bring the cans down with me on the plane…so with that ruled out and the fact that no red gatorade was on course I took a walk back to the Med Tent to see if I could get an IV.
Now I know some athletes might stretch their condition at times to get a line in their arm…however I have never played that card feeling that when I really needed it I didn’t want to be the boy who cried wolf. Well, who would have though Mexico would have sticklers for medical personnel. (If anything I would have thought in Mexico they would have been the first to be like, an IV? Sure! Let’s plug it right in.) Well about 5 hours later I walked out of the Hospital (2 for 2 in that department when being in Mexico now), 3 hours worth of IV drip in me. It was another crazy experience and I was super glad that my Mom was there to be a reasoning voice as at one point the Mexican doctor was talking about putting in a catheter and keeping me for up to two days!
Things have “cleared” up and I think everything is A ok now, so that is that.
Mexico certainly did not disappoint….and you know the twisted part to all of this is that even though I have raced two times in Mexico with both trips yielding visits to the hospital, I am still thinking about how I am going to win that race next year.
Thrown in all of this was the fact that I am now engaged and a home owner…so yeah, I guess 2015 was actually pretty damn successful!
Greetings from Texas. The Lonestar state is where I’ve called home for the past couple of week. Kaitlin and I ventured down here for the Texas 70.3 down in Galveston (You know, the place where Robert Durst killed that dude) on April 28th and since then have been hunkered in putting the final touches on our preparation for the 2015 edition of Ironman Texas. Courtesy of some very gracious Texans, we’ve managed to have a good roof over our heads, fine pools to swim at and all sorts of other help as we navigate the maze that is “The Woodlands, TX”. When I say maze, I mean it. This place is just one big confusing maze, known only by those that call this place their home. Almost everything is hidden behind the trees that give this place it’s namesake. Literally just this morning, about my 11th day here I navigated myself to the pool without the aid of google maps.
So how did we get here? Last time you heard from Kait and I we were living large out in California. Since our return to the East coast we have been working hard towards our first Monument race of the year, The 2015 Ironman We both put in some big hours and covered many miles. Luckily for us the April weather in Boston turned out to be pretty great (save for Marathon Monday). Thankfully I was very warm in my Barnana Banana Suit!
After wrapping up a few big weeks of training up north, we headed south the Friday before the Texas 70.3. Galveston was a pretty solid race for all intents and purposes. After a couple really heavy training weeks, (including 6 and 7 hours bike rides and a long run that followed the Boston marathon course from about mile 7.5 to the finish line) I did my best to rest up during the week leading into the race. Coming out of the water leading a decent size chase group I was psyched to see my hard work in the pool translate once again to improvement on race day.
Once out of the water and onto the bike the pace kicked up very high. Behind me out of the water were guys like Lionel Sanders, Matt Russell and Chris Baird. All fella’s who can lay it down on the bike. After about 5 miles of keeping in touch with their group I slipped up and got caught in a bad spot with a few slower cyclists and an official on a motorcycle. Blocking my advancement I hesitated instead of plowing on by them and maintaining contact with the faster group. In retrospect I needed to be on the ball and make the move. After that I was in no-mans land by myself for a while. At the turn-around I was pleasantly surprised to see I wasn’t that far behind from the group that had dropped me. Giving it literally all my legs had in me that day I scrambled back to T2 figuring that the run was just gonna hurt no matter what…so pedal to the metal. Feeling somewhat flat from the weeks before and the tough 56 miles, my run was less than spectacular and was the missing link to a sub 4 hour day. Finishing in 4:03 (:28, 2:08, 1:24) I was the 14th professional and earned myself nice finishers medal, free water and another solid white running cap that looked strangely similar to the one I received at Oceanside.
A couple days after Galveston while out on a bike ride here in the Woodlands my legs decided to regain their form, making me think that the sub 4 hour day I was looking for was missed by only a couple days. But that’s how it goes. The bigger goal is Ironman Texas and everything has been setup for May 16th.
Since then the days have been rolling along. Along with Kait, there are a few other QT2 Pro athletes making The Woodlands their home in the lead up to the race. This optimal setup has allowed for us to nail the hard sessions with others and really ensure that we’re all getting the most out of ourselves. We’ve also had some great opportunities to train in the heat and humidity of Texas, with the goal to acclimate our bodies as much as possible. So bring on the Nasty Conditions Texas!
With just about a week to go until race day, we all our putting the final touches on our preparation with a solid ride and run. After that we’ll lounge around a lot, eat good food and catch up on all the tv and movies we’ve missed over the last 5 months due to the 7:30 or 8pm bed times.
One thing I know about the race here in Texas this year is that I am definitely ready to roll. Having the ability to ride and run on the course has been a tremendous opportunity. When that gun goes off at 6:25am on May 16th I promise you all I will be going out gun’s blazing.