With the 2022 race season wrapping up with only RPI remaining, I have started pondering what I want to focus on for the autumn and what races might be tempting for 2023. And I keep on coming back to wondering if I want to race at all in 2023.
A fair amount of that uncertainity is stemming from me having a less than stellar race season. My first two races–Old Man Winter (Feb 6th) and Boulder Roubaix (Apr 16th)–were fun, early season races that were not meant to be full effort races. Heck, for the Roubaix, I still ended up doing a 2 hour training ride immediately after. I did reasonably well during both races, even getting a 5th place finish in the Boulder Roubaix Cat 5 category, but they were never intended to be full, pedal to the metal race efforts.
My first real A Race was meant to be CO2UT (Colorado to Utah) on April 23rd. We showed up to Fruita and I felt ready. My energy levels were high, my legs felt strong, and I thought the race was going to be exceptionally fast and fun. Sadly, the weather gods were unkind and rain fell the afternoon and night before the race, which turned parts of the course into a muddy, sloppy, peanut butter mess that made the conditions too dangerous for a large group of racers. The race got canceled and I missed my chance to see how fast I was after a winter of training. Boo! The consolation prize of doing the beautiful Colorado Monument instead of racing relieved the sting a bit.
Tina then did Unbound XL at the beginning of June and I am kicking myself a bit for not doing it too. Unbound takes place in Kansas and typically has some fairly warm weather, bordering on abusively hot some years. This year was a bit of a switch with hard rains in the days preceding the race and then some fairly mild, cloudy conditions during the race. This made the course fast and I think I would have reasonably enjoyed the experience. Or at least as much as you can when biking 350 miles on gravel without sleeping. Oh well, maybe next year.
My next race was the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder (OTGG) in Central Oregon. Now, it took a long while for me to convince myself to sign up for this race. My body does not respond well to hot weather, especially when there is also direct sun at elevation; central Oregon in late June on volcanic rock is not exactly known for its cool, refreshing weather. Further, in 2021 this race took place during the PNW heat dome weather event, which had temperatures well above 100 degress Fahrenheit. 🥵
Still, Tina was going to be in Portland, Oregon for a conference that week and the race had the potential to be a fun experience with overnight camping and provided meals, so I signed up and hoped for the best.
Prior to driving down to Bend with my friend Eric, the weather in the PNW was wet, wet, wet. We had traveled and visited family in Washington the week prior and by the time we finally arrived in Portland, I was feeling a bit worn down from the travel and doing about half my training rides in the rain. My energy levels were a bit low and I was not feeling very energetic about racing. Still, we drove down and I tried to get my head in the mental game.
The first three days of the race went fine. I put out solid power numbers and I kept on top of my hydration and nutrition. It was definitely warm though. The third day involved an uphill time trial with the last third in direct sun and I felt COOKED when I got to the top of the climb. While there were challenges with aid stations running low on drinks and snacks, the shorter distances of the first three days made it manageable.
Day 4 though, I blew up and blew up pretty bad. The first part of the race had two climbs totalling nearly 7000' in 40 miles. My Garmin registered a temperature of 93 during the exposed top of the second climb and while I recovered a bit during the muddy, wet part afterwards...I was not feeling too great. And then when I arrived at the second aid station, miles after that last climb, I discovered they were completely out of ice. Ugh. Still, the aid station had water and I was pushing fluids down as quickly as I could. Onwards!
Unfortunately, the next section was just miles and miles of sand with a gravel road of dark lava rock afterwards. It was punishing and I found myself getting passed by a number of riders. By the time I reached the third aid station, I was overheated, very dehydrated, and desperate for shade and something cool to drink.
Well, the third aid station was off the side of a hot road with absolutely no cool drinks left. I have never seen a more disappointed group of riders than at that aid station. I found some ice at the bottom of a cooler and put that against my face and neck while a friend poured water over my head. Even though I felt like shit, I only spent about 10 minutes at that aid station because the temperature was easily 95° or hotter with no wind. I headed off and then had to pull off to the side of the road minutes later to have a bit of puking. Always a good sign, right?
That last bit to the finish was on more volcanic rock and then miles and miles of sand before arriving on blessed pavement. I reached the finish and THANK THE GODS there were two coolers full of cold drinks. It was off the side of the road and exposed again, but it was enough to give me the energy to reach the campground 5 more miles away (with more sand on the way too).
I reached camp and was a complete mess. I was suffering from bad heat exhaustion borderline heat stroke. The "medical" tent was useless and I was tempted to find a way to a medical facility for an IV. In retrospect, that would have been the smart choice as I spent the rest of the day and night drinking liters of fluids and trying to get my body back to feeling normal. Even with a concerted effort to rehydrate and recover, I still woke up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break and had to sit down on the way back to my tent as my body felt like passing out. Suffice to say, I skipped Day 5 of OTGG and got a ride to the finish. My first DNF (Did Not Finish) of 2022.
Here's the kicker. Two days after getting back to Portland, I woke up with a deep cough in my chest and tested positive for COVID-19 the following day. Seems in my weakened state at OTGG, I had caught COVID from someone despite spending 99% of my time outside or inside with a mask. Tina learned via Facebook gossip that there were riders who had knowingly gone to Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder after testing positive for COVID. Naturally, there was no COVID precautions in place during the race and not even a box of masks for when dinner was indoors during the last night.
Thanks to COVID kicking our asses for three weeks, we missed the NedGravel race up in the mountains above Boulder. A pretty big disappointment as it was supposed to my second A Race of the season. Given CO2UT was my early season A Race and it got canceled by rain, I have now missed 2 of my 3 top races for the season.
The last race I have planned for the season is the Queen's Stage Race of Rebecca's Private Idaho at the beginning of September. We did this 3-day stage race last year and it seemed worth doing it again. We will know a slew of people there and it is a good opportunity to see how our skills and fitness have developed over the last year of dedicated training. The downside is that COVID took us off the bike for weeks and then we spent weeks recovering from the lingering effects while building our strength back up. Only in the past week have I finally start feeling as strong as I felt at the end of May.
So. Yeah. That's been my summer race season so far: 1 canceled race, 1 DNF'd thanks to heat exhaustion, 1 skipped for COVID; with only 1 race remaining to see the results of nearly 9 months of fairly focused training.
Right now my plan is to spend most of September just having joy rides up in the mountains with a couple days of focused training per week. Get out, stretch the legs, explore, get a little lost, and not think about things like intervals. I would also like to spend 2-3 days a week doing exercises to get my knees and ankles prepared for a little running and serious hiking too. After that, I can start planning my goals for winter and next year.