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 Trans Iowas and Gravel Worlds have set the scene for a calendar of races that happen nearly every weekend year round. My first gravel event of 2015 would be the Land Run 100.
This would be the third year that District Bicycles in Stillwater, Oklahoma 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, Michigan 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 Bicycles 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 setup 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 Designs 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 38mm tires to keep me floating above the rocks. I used a Garmin 510 to keep track of mileage. That was my complete setup. I didn't need a cue sheet holder (although the cue sheets were tucked safely in my jersey pockets) or lights because the racecourse was completely marked and I was confident I would finish before dark! Onward to sleep and dreaming some motivational dreams!
The next morning as I toed that starting line I didn't think much about the rain that fell the previous day, all I could think of was how excited I was to get going. 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 rollout 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 gravel, ‘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 ten we turned a corner and lo and behold it was a mud fest, or I should say clay fest. 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 that day. 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!
Photo courtesy of 241 Photography
After around probably four 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 that the whole 100 miles would not all be this bad. In any case if the 100 miles were all easy peasy it wouldn't be as fun either! After some more half-riding/half-trudging I finally found the originally planned 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!" ‘Hurray,’ 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 teamwork was a life saver. Thank you Jeff!
Photo courtesy of Mary Pantier Photography
At the halfway point I was still in the lead. After gathering my new cue sheets, eating a banana and some 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, which provided a nice boost of confidence!
I was rolling quickly now, trying to make up for the first half being slower than I had wanted. I bumped up the pace either further! 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 six miles.
I rode all the way back to the paved road that had taken me into the checkpoint. I shouted some expletives at the sky and turned back on track 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’ve 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 liked it.
Onward to the next lady, slowly passing her and after a couple more miles and huge pushes 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 five miles I watched as two women crept up on me and passed me like I was standing still. It was a slap 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 five miles I realized I was nearly out of water; another new challenge. This had never happened to me before either. If only I had utilized the third bottle cage on my Warbird; another slap in the face, but this time 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 the 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 ten miles are a blur; my Garmin had died and I shut off my music. I just wanted to be done. The last ten miles of most of my races are very hard for me. The comfortable cruising I began the day with had become 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 the crying in my legs. I wanted that finish line more than anything else in the world at that moment.
With maybe four 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 just stick 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 many ladies to compete with is a testament to this growing scene, and the Land Run’s place within it.
Possibly my favorite finisher of the day was, first-time century rider and my 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 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 six 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 kind one during a bad time within the 100 miles.
And what can I say about the event itself. The Land Run is one of the best run gravel events I’ve ever raced, and 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 nine hours on the bike. If you enjoy gravel racing or riding, like to challenge yourself in ultra-races, be sure to put the Land Run on your calendar. You won’t be disappointed.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Wintle
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I live, work, and play in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa may not have epic mountains or vast skylines, but it boasts hundreds of miles of gravel. That is where I found my true calling. In 2012 I attempted my first Trans-Iowa, got lost, and was instantly hooked. I have been there every year since. I am constantly looking for that next adventure to keep me teetering on the line between insanity and clarity. Bring it on! andreafromiowa.wordpress.com.