Ok, so I had been off the bike for a while (a while being since mid August and the Leadville Mountain Bike Race in Colorado) and needed an excuse to get out again. I had noticed on Facebook that some friends were doing Lockhart Breaker Gravel race put on by The Spinistry on Sept 23rd. The proceeds were to go to the Special Olympics and, well, why not get out and do a race/course I had never done before? First, I needed to check the calendar. Guess what? Surprise, surprise, Sarah had another tennis tournament, but wait this was only a member/guest (for fun and bragging rights) tourney with a friend, so I could skip it. I did go out and support the Friday night game. The only requirement was to be back in time for the spouses’ dinner, which meant I had to show up on time, clean and with no blood showing.
So, I signed up for the 100K ride, and downloaded the GPS route into my Garmin Edge 25. Most gravel races are self-supported and routes aren’t normally marked so they recommend you download the GPS route and their clue sheet. The Garmin Edge 25 is the base GPS cycling model, with just the basics and when you download the course, it just shows up as black line to follow on a gray screen. There are no fancy maps as on the more expensive models, and for me, that’s all I need. (Review to come shortly)
I got up early that morning, grabbed and gear loaded the truck and set out for the hour drive out to Lockhart. Boy, was it foggy. There was barely 20 feet of visibility in some spots. Luckily, I left early.
When I arrived and signed in, I ran into some people I knew and several were doing the 100k, but most had signed up for the 50k. So, I was thinking there was a group I could ride with. The race swag was surprisingly decent. It was different than your normal obligatory t-shirt. The organizers had custom race stem caps from StemCaps created and branded for the race. (For the non-cyclists, the stem is where the handle bars and fork join.) They were so cool that at end of the race, I picked up a Texas one for Sarah’s bike. After all, on our travels she will have to show where she hails from.
And so it begins…
As the race started the fog was burning off, which was a bummer as I wouldn’t have minded some riding in the fog. There was neutral start, which means we were to follow the Jeep out of town to the start of the first gravel section, which is where the race would begin. For me, I had always assumed that a neutral start was slow and easy, but hell no.. this one was close to race pace. It was crazy. I lost most of the ones I had planned to ride with in the “neutral” section.
We hit the first gravel section and I stayed with a smaller group of folks I knew. Then after about 5 miles, the legs where feeling good and I jumped into a passing group and drafted off them for a bit only to realize my friends had not made the jump and they were gone. Feeling good, I stayed with this new group. As it began to break up I kept up with the main splintering group until there was only 5 of us left. The first gravel section was fun, with large rocks, deep gravel/dust section that kept you on your toes having to pick lines, jump from one side of the road to the other. But then, disaster struck, at the split for the 50K, we hit road.
Now normally this would be nice, no crazy gravel and a smooth ride for a bit, but I was on my mountain bike and the folks I was with were on their special gravel bikes (similar to a road bike, with slightly wider tires) so I was left in the their wake. I watched them slowly disappear off into the distance. Then, other members of the group we had dislodged passed me. I could have chased, but since this was only about 15 miles into the ride, I decided to save the energy. So I settled in to a comfortable pace.
The next gravel section a few miles later, was not as bad as the first section, with more refined gravel and not the bigger rocks. But then suddenly, it changed to sand and mud. Now this is where the wide mountain bike tires came into their own. I caught up to some individuals on this section who had passed me on the road, and as I passed I would hear the odd cry from the ones who tried to ride through it with not enough pace and ended up on the ground. I also watched as some in front of me bit it hard in the sand section. This section felt as if it went for miles.
Coming out of it, I was able to see some of the folks who had dropped me on the road section. I slowly caught up with them, and drafted/stayed with them for several miles, but then they began to slow. I kept my pace and rode away from them.
Feeling Good, Pedal On
There was one main water stop on the 100k route and a few riders had chosen to stop here. I still had a couple bottles of water and the bladder in the Salomon pack was still good. I was feeling fine, and thinking, “why didn’t I sign up for the 200k?” I continued on heading back toward the start/finish.
From the water stop to the next gravel section was couple of miles of road, again I settled into a conformable pace following the GPS track, until I saw a lone rider coming toward me. Damn, did I miss a turn or is the GPS messed up? After talking to the rider it appeared his GPS was going a bit crazy so he joined me and off we continued together until his GPS started to pick up the route again.
Texas weather is always crazy. We started the race in the morning with fog and a drizzle and now temperatures were up in the high 80s with humidity really kicking in. My companion was having some issues, so he stopped for a while in the shade, waiting for the group I passed at the water stop to catch up. Knowing he was okay, had plenty of water and the other group was coming along shortly, I went off again on my own. This gravel section wasn’t that much fun, just more fine gravel, but onward I peddled.
At about the 80k mark is where I started having issues. The saddle was getting uncomfortable due to the fact that I hadn’t been on the bike for awhile. I didn’t realize that being off the bike for several weeks hurt that much, not to mention the humidity and sweating. Let’s just say I was glad I had worn the good bike shorts this time, because at the last gravel ride, I had the wrong shorts (mountain bike baggies) and had to bail at the half way point due to saddle sores… not fun at all. The pace slowed and suddenly I was glad I hadn’t signed up for the 200k. My food and re-hydration was good and my legs were fine, it was just the mental aspect and my sore butt was kicking in so the last few miles became a grind. Suddenly the boring, smaller gravel and having more paved road sections was great.
I hit the 100K finish line in approximately 4 hours. I ended up finishing mid pack overall and felt fine, but was a wee bit dusty (and sore)
One of the nicest things about this whole race was that the start/finish was in the city park, right by the splash park. So, imagine all the dirty, dusty riders heading to the splash park for a rinse off and for some, a bike wash. The food and beer wasn’t too bad either.
I didn’t stay too long because I had to jump back into the truck to race home for a real shower. Then it was off to the tennis tourney spouses’ dinner where Sarah and her partner picked up 3rd place in their bracket despite her partner’s knee injury.
Overall it was a fun day, and maybe I will hit more of the Spinstry events in the future.