I am a simple lady. Riding bikes keeps me happy. Rain or shine, snow or burning sun, you cannot keep me off of these things. Factor in a burgeoning gravel scene and I have found my passion. 2015 will by my fourth year competing in endurance gravel events. I was instantly drawn to the format and ease of entry, mostly free! Within these four years of graveling the races have grown immensely. The TransIowas and Gravel Worlds have set the scene for a calender of races that happen nearly every weekend year round. My first choice of 2015 would be the Land Run 100. This would be the third year that District Bicycles in Stillwater, OK would be running the race. I had attended the race in 2014 and knew I would be back this year. Picking and choosing gravel races is hard because they are all impassioned, exhilarating events. I like that Land Run 100 is an easily accessible event, but it is challenging. It really embodies the spirit of true gravel racing. Unpredictable and sometimes mind-bending. That is what I was searching for and boy did I find it!
I arrived in Stillwater early so I had all day Friday to relax and scope out the town. After settling in I decided to go on the group ride. When I headed out it was raining lightly so I didn’t think much of it. I chatted with some great people all the way from Grand Rapids and realized after maybe 30 minutes of riding that the rain wasn’t going to stop and our route was cut short. Thoroughly soaked we returned to District Bikes where I picked up my registration info and a quick beer! The local breweries there aren’t joking around either!
Arriving back at the hotel I dialed in the set up on my Warbird. I decided to run fairly light, focusing on the 100 miles for the weekend. My jersey pockets were separated into nutrition, phone/ID/money, and music/gum/electrolyte supplements. On the bike I only used one Revelate feedbag for extra snacks and keeping garbage out of the way. I rode with two bottles of water, instead of three, which later proved to be a silly mistake. Beyond extras on the bike, the Warbird itself would be dressed up with 38c tires to keep me floating above the rocks. I used a Garmin 510 to keep track of mileage. That was my complete set-up. I didn’t need a cue sheet holder (although the cue sheets were tucked safely in my jersey pockets) or lights because the race course was completely marked and I was confident I would finish before dark! Onward to sleep and dream some motivational dreams!
The next morning as I toed that starting line I didn’t think much about the rains the previous day, all I could think of was how excited I was to get going. Also whatever roads we had to go down we had to figure it out somehow! There was chatter about a “dismount” section and some other interesting challenges. Before I could think anymore about how to ride said sections we were off! The roll out was controlled until the gravel section. Luckily it was the same route as the group ride the day before so I was a little more comfortable in the fast group of cross and mountain bikes. I settled into a nice pace next to Corey “Cornbread” Godfrey. We noticed some wet spots and I shrugged them off expecting the dry roads of yesterday to have soaked up all the rain. Boy was I wrong. Somewhere around mile 10 we turned a corner and lo and behold it was a mud fest, or I should say clay. I do not like riding through impossible mud, especially when you cannot see the end of the road, so I hopped off my bike, picked it up, and started walking. Little did I know how much of this I would be doing. About a half mile into my walk I stubbornly thought about trying to ride some sections. On the Warbird I could basically coast down ruts and hop back off when the clay was nearly stopping my wheels as they tried to roll. I was laughing about the clay at this point. It also gave me a chance to chat with fellow riders who I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with on the bike! Everyone I was around was still in good spirits and reveling in the challenge that lay before us!
After around probably 4 miles of walking and attempting to ride the clay roads I was getting sick of it. I was constantly rotating my bike from shoulder to shoulder to try and find the perfect spot for it to rest. As we rounded another corner into another mud tunnel I was wondering if this was going to stop. My shoes were completely covered and my arms were screaming from hoisting that bike. The physical pain of walking was trying, but I knew it the whole 100 miles would not all be this bad. In any case if the 100 miles was all easy-peasy it wouldn’t be as fun either! After some more half riding/half trudging I finally found the dismount section and it was wonderfully short. I slid down a creek embankment and crossed a dry creek all while hearing the shouts of Bobby Wintle, “ANDREA ANDREA! YOU ARE THE FIRST LADY!” Hooray I thought, that was a goal of mine and I was feeling pretty good. I walked a little more of the awesome dismount and found a new riding friend, Jeff. I typically ride alone at these events until I can find one or two people to hang with for small sections, Jeff fit the bill and we marched on to the halfway point. There was a pretty gnarly headwind so we worked together through the last bit of paved section all the way to mile 50. That was a life saver, thank you Jeff!
At the halfway point I was still in the lead. After gathering my new cue sheets, eating a banana/pringles, and refilling my bottles I headed out quickly. I knew that the other women were strong and I didn’t want to lose any time. I also noticed that we would have a tailwind after leaving the checkpoint, another boost of confidence! I was rolling quickly now, trying to make up for the first half being slower than I had wanted. I was riding mega fast now. Too fast. I made a wrong turn somewhere around mile 60 and headed out of my way for a total of 6 miles. I rode all the way back to the paved road that had taken my into the checkpoint. I rolled up to a volunteer at the corner and he couldn’t tell me if I was lost. I shouted some expletives at the sky and turned back as fast as possible. I also had a friend with me. I shouted that I didn’t care what he did and continued on at top speed. I felt like a jerk, but I have never actually turned around when I had gotten this lost. Back on the course I found a couple of other friends and asked if there were any ladies in front of me. They mentioned some older ladies and I knew I had been passed at least twice. I shut off my brain and started hunting them down. First lady I passed was the other Andrea, at one point early in the race I told her we were Andrea Squared. I think she like it. Onward to the next lady, slowly passing her and after a couple more miles and huge pushes for me I passed one more. Happily in the top three I noticed that I was around 25 miles left in the race. There was no way I could hold this blistering pace. I had pushed so hard to catch up with these fast ladies that I didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish with them. Over the next 5 miles I watched as two women crept up on me and passed me like I was standing still. Slaps in the face each time. Gravel racing is humbling and teaches me a lesson every time I ride, and this was a big one.
After those demoralizing 5 miles of being passed I realized I was very near to being about of water. Another new challenge. This had never happened either. If only I had utilized the third bottle cage on my Warbird, another slap in the face, but from myself. “Good job Andrea”, I thought. Sitting somewhere in third or fourth place, completely blown up, and out of water. I wanted to quit. I put my head down on my handlebars, but then would quickly remember that there were still fierce competitors behind me. I had to push on. I downed some of my secret Snickers stash for times when I needed the emotional candy boost, and was so lucky to see a small support post at my next corner! Four dudes were sitting with coolers of Coke and bananas. I would have hugged each of them individually if I hadn’t been covered in mud and boogers. I downed a whole entire Coke, also new for me, shoved a banana in my pocket and took off. The last 10 miles were a blur, my Garmin had died and I shut off my music. I just wanted to be done. The last 10 miles of most of my races are very hard for me. The comfortable cruising I began with, went from frantic backtracking, to a demoralized trudge towards the finish line, but I always, ALWAYS, try my best to finish strong. I ignored the burn of my lungs and crying in my legs. I wanted that finish line more than anything else in the world at that moment. With maybe 4 miles left I found the lady who had been in front of me. She was stopped examining her cue sheets and wondering if we were moving in the right direction. After some collaboration we headed onward together. If only I hadn’t pushed so hard to catch her maybe I would have been able to control my pace to have finished strong, but I needed to disregard those thoughts and at least keep up with her this time! Riding along with her I realized I could barely keep up, following her wheel was just enough motivation to finish strong. I rode into the finish in fourth place. Gracefully accepting my place and getting one of the best hugs from Bobby.
The Land Run 100 was perfect. It pulls in the best kind of people, powerhouses like Greg Gleason and Corey Godfrey, and exited gravel crushers like Jeff Young and Jesse Ramsey. The fact that there were ladies to compete with is a testament to this growing scene. Possibly my favorite finisher of the day was, first time century rider and Brother from another Mother, Ben Castaneda. He crushed an extremely challenging event and had no clue how hard it was compared to other gravel events. Those were just a couple of the friendly faces who I rode with throughout the day. I always meet the best of the best, which seems to be every single person at these events, and that is no exaggeration. The man I was lost with for 6 miles was trying to accept the responsibility of us both being lost, and this was even after I yelled at him! It was in no way his fault, but the gesture was a happy feeling during a bad time within the 100 miles. I got countless offers for assistance and encouragement. Did I mention that Bobby and District Bicycles built us all a staircase to walk about of the dismount section?! Seriously amazing. Not only is it one of the best run gravel events, but you can tell they care. At the finish line I watched live music, ate divine food truck meals, and quietly reveled in the feelings of accomplishment and love that can only come after punishing yourself for 9 hours on the bike.