2017 Gravel Worlds

Executive Summary:

Race Priority: B
Race Execution: A-

  • About the race: Gravel Worlds is a both a fun and challenging gravel race centered around Lincoln, NE.  It is approximately 150 miles in length, with the start and end on the northwestern part of the city.  The course circles the city going through several small towns, a few minimum maintenance roads (B roads) and a lot of rolling terrain.
  • What went well:
    • I didn’t fall down (more later).
    • I held my intensity reasonably well during the day, in spite of high temperatures.
  • What I could have done better:
    • I only made it through around 46 miles working with a group, and ended up on my own most of the race.
    • I did have one portion late in the race where my intensity dropped a bit, which probably cost me the 10th spot in my A.G.
  • What I learned:  First, that Gravel Worlds is a fantastic race venue and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys gravel racing.  The racers, race support and community are all great.  Secondly, that even though I increased my calories over my 24HOC race (and racing in warmer weather), I was still able to avoid any serious GI issues, such as I had in SHGU last year.
  • Results:  11 place finisher in the Masters Division (50+) and 41st overall, with an official time of 8:52:45, at an average race speed of around 16.9 mph, moving speed of 17.6 mph.  227 NP/ 197 AP / 148 Ave HR / 78.4 IF.  Garmin activity located here.

Nutrition:

  • Breakfast: One Honey Stinger Waffles (160 cals), one beet juice drink (30 cals), and Endurox R4 (270 cals).
  • Race: Just over three bottles of Carbo Pro (around 650 cals total), 7 GU’s (630 cals total), and 4 Honey Stinger Waffles (640 cals total).  Total calories 1920 or around 223 calories per hour of ride time.  I carried a Camelbak with around 60 oz of water, drank as needed, and refilling it around half way in the race.  I also refilled one of my water bottles with water at Checkpoint 2.

Weather conditions:   The temperature at the start was around 60 degrees and peaked around 87 degrees.  Winds started around 5 mph and peaked a little over 12 mph.  They skies were sunny, and the dew point (and RH) increased during the day, making for warm riding conditions in the afternoon.

Race Report Commentary:

GW before the start

Pre-race, ready to go.  Photo by Sarah Cooper.

I became interested in Gravel Worlds last year, when I saw postings from friends that had completed the race.  It looked like a challenging course and I felt it would be a good opportunity to see how I could compete on a larger scale race.  Plus… it’s always fun and interesting to see some new country roads… part of the fundamental appeal of gravel riding.  The added bonus was that several of my friends were racing as well.

Going into the race, I wanted to experiment with both pacing and fueling.  From a pacing standpoint, I wanted to try to hold on to the lead pack as long as possible, and was willing to ride at slightly higher power output to hang in there.  Based on my 24HOC race, I also felt I needed to increase my calorie intake as well, to sustain a longer and potentially harder ride at Gravel Worlds.

GW start line

Sarah and I just back from the front, getting ready to start.  Photo from the race FB page.

The race starts in a small town center in a residential community. You follow a pace vehicle for about a mile and half, and then start racing when you hit the first gravel road. I expected this to be a slow start, but it was surprisingly quick. I had intended to follow who I thought would be my age group winner (who did win it), but lost him in the crowd in the first few hundred feet… there were just too many cyclists packed together jockeying for position.

 

 

GW spikes

Example of the hammer / recover riding in the pack.  My scrawny quads have a limited number of 500w matches to burn…

When we hit the gravel, there was a pretty large lead pack.  I thought there were probably around 60 people, and I heard others estimate 80.  The gravel was deep and loose, and it was still dark outside.  In talking to locals after the race, the county had dumped fresh gravel on much of the course during the prior week.  As a cost cutting measure, they decided not to grade it at all, making roads very challenging. It was pretty intense (and a bit scary) riding in a tight group in those conditions. There were a lot of close calls, and I ended up hopping a water bottle as there was no where to go to avoid it. I gradually drifted toward the back of the pack. I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails to maintain the pace… not so much by the overall intensity, but rather the surging and recovering (or lack thereof) that was occurring riding in that large of a pack. The bigger concern was simply of getting tangled up in a wreck.  We were averaging 21.2 mph on deep gravel, and so many people were moving around and jockeying for position.

GW horizon pic

A great sunrise.  Too bad my eyes were locked on the rear wheel of someone 6″ in front of me… Photo from the race FB page.

Gravel_Worlds_2017-48-(ZF-4558-60236-1-001)

I had to buy this picture… it almost looks like I have quads…

For me, the main pack riding ended around 18 miles into the race.  There was road construction on the course (which we had been warned about), where every rider needed to dismount and then carry their bikes around two barriers.  This created a pretty big bottleneck and I ended up waiting to even get to the barriers.  By the time I got back on my bike, the leaders were way ahead and the big pack seemed to fragment into smaller groups.  I settled in with a group of around 10 people.  The pace (for me) became a bit more sustainable and closer to my plan.  I was riding with two Rasmussen guys from the Des Moines area, as well as three guys wearing matching kits who worked really well together.  After a bit of recovery, I settled into the rotation to take turns pulling.  We made pretty good time together, but gradually lost members until there were around 6 of us.  My group riding came to an end at Valparaiso, around 46 miles into the race.  The rest of the group stopped at a convenience store to refuel, while I had enough nutrition to get Malcom at around 75 into the race (making it a one stop race for me, besides the checkpoints).

GW fog pic

It was a pretty morning for a race.  From the race FB page.

After this point I rode the first of the B roads (minimum maintenance roads), and they were really a non-events.  No big hills, no deep ruts, just packed dirt.  Matter-of-fact, the packed dirt was a nice break from the deeper gravel we’d been riding.  Just before the first B road, I shifted into my small chainring for the first time.  Although the course has quite a bit of hills, they are generally not as steep as the hills south of Des Moines… I’d almost call them fun… almost.  As I rode toward my refueling point at Malcom, I simply tried to focus on keeping my power up, and staying aero-efficient.

At Malcom I stopped to refuel.  For me, this simply meant getting bottles of water, as I carry my own nutrition.  I mixed up my CarboPro bottles and put my GU and waffles in my top tube bento bag.  It sounds quick… but wasn’t.  I felt like I wasted a lot of time there and saw a lot of riders pass me when I was stopped, including the three guys in the matching kits I had been riding with earlier.  Compounding this, I then stopped at the porta-potty at the end of town for a bathroom break.  I should have simply ridden to checkpoint 1, which was just a few miles further.  They had bathrooms and water, and I had to stop there anyway.

GW bikes 2

From earlier in the day.  Gives some idea of pack riding, although this is much less than occurred before the sun was up.   From the race FB site.

After getting back on the road, I got to checkpoint 1 and was in and out pretty quickly.  I started passing riders ahead of me and gradually caught two of the three matching kit guys.  I was happy to find some drafting help and settled in to ride together.  About a mile after that, one of the guys wiped out right in front of me in the deep gravel and I narrowly missed hitting him.  After seeing if he was okay, I was on my own again.  I had one guy pass me during this time and I just didn’t have the legs to hang with him.

The temps were rising and I was consuming a lot of water to stay hydrated.  I realized that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the race without refilling water, but decided to refill at checkpoint 2.  I had a brief period where I re-caught the guy who had passed me after checkpoint 1 and he drafted me into checkpoint 2.  He was feeling pretty rough, so after refilling with water, I got back on the road alone.  The temp was high and my energy was waning a bit.  I was choking down the waffles at that point… the dry waffles in hot conditions were hard to consume.  I had zero desire to eat, but knew I needed to keep my calories up.  I passed some people, one or two people passed me, and I was having trouble staying on the gas at this point.  Once I got to around 135 miles I rallied a bit, and got into a more steady rhythm until the finish.

I was really thrilled to finish sub 9:00 in the race, as I had expected to be closer to 9:30. Once I was done, I laid around for about an hour, trying to recover.  I saw quite a few people who had gravel / dirt on them from wipeouts on the course.  I was happy to have finished with no falls (in spite of several close calls). After a trip to DQ for a Blizzard, I perked up and joined my friends at the finish line.  Overall, it was a fun and enjoyable atmosphere.

In retrospect…

  • I was satisfied with my intensity, other than a lag around 130 miles into the race.  Because I’m a geeky guy… I plotted my HR intensity  (relative to threshold HR reserve) versus my friend & athlete Sarah Cooper to see how we compared.  Sarah is a very experienced gravel (and ultra cycling racer), and I know she is extremely good at pacing… and suffering… all the way until the end of the race.  Her data is shown in red bellow, and mine in blue.  I was happy to have my intensity be in the same zip code, other than my dip around 130 miles.  My guess is that this loss of intensity (and power) probably cost me the 10th spot in my age group (10th finished 38 seconds ahead of me)… ouch.

HR GW

  • Although I increased my calorie intake over my previous race, I think I was still a little bit short on calories overall, which may have contributed to the energy dip around 130 miles into the race.  Or maybe it was just a self-pity party.  This race did cause me to consider a more analytical approach to fueling for future races, which I put together in the following blog post.  Given the choice of temporarily running low on fuel / energy versus a complete gut shutdown of overfeeding, it still makes sense (for me) to error on being a little light rather than heavy on calorie intake.
  • This race also reemphasized the benefits of being able to hang in the draft of the lead pack.  After looking at my data and the winner of my age group, he averaged 7 more watts (a little more than 3% difference) than I did overall, but was over 30 minutes ahead of me. So… if there was ever question about the benefits of drafting in “slower” gravel racing (relative to road racing)… it’s still a legitimate benefit.

 

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