Small Victories

My Garmin read 108 degrees Fahrenheit in the baking Kansas sun. My body read at least that, and I was nearly out of water. A “ditch rest” sounded good at this point. If I could just relax, rest my core and gather my thoughts, I’d make it to the finish line at Dirty Kanza. But first things first—let’s start back in Oklahoma.

A Land Run Flashback

“Danger dead ahead,” I thought. Yeah baby, the Oklahoma red dirt had transformed into the infamous bike-sucking mud and I was headed straight into it. “Did you get it?” were the first words out of my mouth to the photographer after I emerged from a huge puddle at Land Run. I had biffed it in an epic kind of way, with mud literally everywhere and in everything. A destroyed shifter and smoked brakes were the end of my Land Run 100 race but it had been a day full of small victories for me.

We arrived in Stillwater with three people in our family signed up to race. It’s not every day you get to ride (OK, walk) up Brethren Hill with your family. It’s not every day that you get to enjoy your teenage son while on course. We all came in with different expectations of ourselves and all left knowing where the holes were and what training needed changing, but we were also full of smiles and pride. I rode to the #ChaseTheChaise on what had become a single-speed bike, grinning from ear to ear. Despite my broken bike, I had achieved being in a great place both mentally and physically and on track to make my goal finish time. It was a win amongst the tears and I knew I could have finished.

A smiling Crystal sitting on the Salsa chaise after riding the 2019 Land Run 100. Crystal and her Cutthroat bike are covered in red dirt from the race. The chaise is on a red gravel road with fields in the background.

Making it to The Chaise at the 2019 Land Run 100 brought mixed emotions; pride in the accomplishment, but disappointment in a DNF...

Not everyone is blessed enough to have a family that supports them in what they do and watches them make progress, encouraging them every step of the way. I know I could not be who I am today without that support. Land Run was certainly no exception.

New Friends, New Achievements

Barry-Roubaix was different. I rode with friends this time, as my family stayed home. On Friday night at the Great Gravel Get-Together I was able to further widen my friendship circle. I met Karen, who was about to ride her first gravel event, and she was nervous. Scared might even be a better word for the emotions she was feeling. I felt much the same way at my first event, and I knew that the no-drop group ride was exactly what she needed to boost her confidence.

Karen and I laughed, talked and rode our way through ten miles of Michigan gravel. When we left town she apologized 100 times in two miles, but as we returned we were flying down hills and laughing, her husband cheering and beaming with pride behind us. Even if I somehow didn’t make the start line the next day I knew that Barry Roubaix had been a win for me already! Karen’s husband wrote to me later:

“For riders like Karen, brand new to gravel riding, a ride like Barry-Roubaix can be imposing. Some might question the wisdom of this event being the right way to introduce someone to gravel riding but the group ride was a great introduction and the support you and others provided in the no drop ride helped her better understand the challenge ahead. Without the introduction, the relaxed nature of the group ride, and the support you provided, this first-time rider likely would not have finished. Instead she not only finished but learned she could push herself to achieve something she thought she couldn't. “ -Jeff

My goal for 62 miles of hills, wind and sand was five hours. Yikes. For me, a 10-mph average is a great goal, but I knew my friends were ahead of me. It felt like every corner was a hill and every turn was into the wind but I just kept pedaling. Then we came to Sager Road. I smiled from ear to ear the entire time! I left with a PR and a time of 4:57. Holy socks, I had beat my goal! My training and determination not to be left behind had paid off!

Dirty Kanza Revisited

Back to Kansas and my unfinished business. I failed to finish Dirty Kanza 100 in 2018—I pulled out at mile 67 with cramps and mental fatigue—but it was the best lesson I’ve ever learned on a bike. I vowed to come back in 2019, ride my own race, rest when I needed to, and finish.

At mile 84 of Dirty Kanza 2019, I knew I had to be close to that elusive prize patch that riders earn at the Chaise. Although I had ridden far enough earn one in Stillwater, I had not finished the race. This time was going to be different. As I rode down a hill and my body began to say “enough,” I saw the Chaise. I was there and the finish was close. There were a mere 20 miles left and it was all downhill—or that was the rumor! It took me almost 15 hours but I finished!

Crystal sitting on the Salsa chaise with her Cutthroat at the 2019 Dirty Kanza 100. The chaise sits on a gravel road amongst green farm fields.

Crystal, on her way to a victory at the 2019 Dirty Kanza 100...

Victories come in all sizes and shapes. Sometimes they come in defeat that will only show itself as victory later on. But on that day I embraced being comfortable with the uncomfortable. I tried pushing myself beyond what I had ever done before and I had FUN. Hmmmm...isn’t that what small steps forward and cycling are really all about?

This post filed under topics: Crystal Kovacs Cutthroat Gravel Sponsored Riders Ultra Racing Warbird

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