Gold Rush Gravel Grinder

Last time I said that forgetting your legs was the worst thing to do when it comes to a race, actually I take that back–forgetting to register for the race might take the cake. Fortunately when I emailed the race director for the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder her response was, no problem-we could always use more females.

The start- before I really knew what was before me. Photo: Les Hesierman

I didn’t think having to pedal for 110 miles was going to be that bad until I learned of the 100 degree heat for that day but even then I could not imagine what I was in store for. At 6:00 race morning it was already hot out and my stomach did not like it, I was able to get about 1/4 of what I normally eat for breakfast down before the race started which I knew wasn’t the best plan but it was better than nothing. The neutral roll out started and I cruised along thinking they would regroup us before sending us out on the gravel, they didn’t so by the time we officially started racing we were already strung out-I had to quickly assess and get on someone’s wheel. Having done one gravel race before I knew that I should hang on to someone’s wheel as much as possible. And that’s what I did for the first 40 miles. It helped that we were in a canyon by a creek so the heat wasn’t terrible at this point. I spent the first two hours only taking in liquids, which I knew could potentially set me up for failure later but my stomach was not having any of it. I made it to the first aid station at mile 33 and refilled my bottles, thinking I had kept pretty good pace. I got food out to eat on the next section because I knew I needed to force something down or I would be done.  The next aid station was at mile 68, which made me a little nervous but I knew if I conserved my water, I could make it if I kept on pace.

Getting pulled around is my go-to move. Photo: Les Heiserman

I didn’t keep on pace though and from mile 40 to 68 is a long, steady, gradual climb up. It was never steep enough that it warranted getting out of the saddle but steady enough that I was just continuously mashing my pedals and remaining in a static position. At around mile 43 I was starting to get worried about my water situation, there is no way I would be able to make it to mile 68 with what I had. But there was no other option either, I was closer to 68 than I was the beginning so only option was to keep going–and there wasn’t a lot of cell phone service out there to call anyone.

I was saved by the grace of God– and this is really the only way I was able to keep going. The race director was around mile 50 and had a barrel of water. It seemed like he was picking someone up on the course (I’m not sure the reason he was out there- maybe he took pity on our poor souls who were slogging away) but I reloaded my bottles there and it saved me. One of the guys I was riding with said he was calling it. We were at a split and he said if you go left it loops you back to town on the 70 mile course and if you go right you’ll stay on course. I asked if they would take our times over for the 70 mile- he didn’t think so. I decided to keep going but immediately questioned my decision as I rode off.   

The next 18 miles didn’t go by any faster. It was miserable, somewhere in that time span I questioned everything, riding bikes, racing bikes, doing Leadville- they all seemed like awful ideas and yet the only thing I could do was to keep riding my bike. I simultaneously hated my bike and desperately needed it. I was in a low for about 35 minutes, and began eating by the clock and trying to work out of it. I began taking breaks; every 20 minutes or so I would find some shade, get off my bike and just stand there letting the breeze cool me off, eat something, stretch and then get back on to continue. One guy made the comment that we were no longer racing, we were just surviving. It changed my perspective a bit. I started saying I can survive this, I will outlast-as long as I don’t get heat exhaustion. 

I struggled into mile 68 planning to drop out, have my dad come pick me up and go eat a hamburger. I rolled up to the check point and then asked how many women were in front of me, “you’re the first one” I responded, “Well… I suppose I will keep going then.” I took a break inside the lodge and refilled my bottles, pulled some food out of my drop bag, and then got back on the bike. I didn’t make it very far as the course wasn’t marked and my cue sheets were some what confusing at this point, or I was becoming delirious (just kidding mom!). I turned around and went back to the check point and asked which way to go. One guy was about to leave and told me he’d take me back the way we needed to go. Thank goodness! I was not in the mood for getting lost. I hung on with him for a while and then told him, “I’m probably going to drop off so don’t feel like you need to wait for me.” I did and he kept going, but at this point the directions were more clear. 

We finally reached a sustainable downhill section, which I thought would be a nice reprieve but it was mostly a two-track with enough rocks that I felt like a Raggedy-Ann Doll and every muscle in my body remained braced for impact. My chest became so ridged that I was forcing air out just so I would breath in, no need to go all vaso vagal out here. There is one last good climb going into mile 85, I actually misread the cue sheet so when I started it was only a mile, I then realized that it was closer to three. A lot of people were off their bike walking up it. I’m not sure if was the heat, the fact that sometimes I ride a single speed or the fact that I hate hike-a-biking but I kept mashing up in my lowest gear to avoid getting off the bike and walking. It wasn’t terribly steep but at this point in the race everything seem to expend more energy than necessary. 

Last climb- but still 25 miles to go. Photo: Les Heiserman

I made it to the last check-in point around mile 86, got some water and then turned around. The next 25 miles or so are mostly downhill, not steep enough that you can coast but at least it wasn’t uphill. I watched the miles tick by (not fast enough) and couldn’t wait to finally get off my bike. With 10 miles to go one of the guy who was walking up the hill earlier blew by me like I was standing still, sure I was still cruising at 22/23mph but there was nothing left. I started singing, “Everything hurts sometimes” my own rendition. I’ve never had so many simultaneous aches at the end of a race, down to my bones hurt and I think if someone had offered me a ride at that point I would have taken it, that’s how far gone I was. Fortunately nobody did so I kept riding down Spearfish Canyon. I was so happy when I was done, I got off my bike and laid under a tree for a good 30 minutes–which rendered some very weird stares but my response was, “just say no to gravel”. 

Sharing our tales of misery

I spent a good portion of the race thinking I was never going to do a gravel race again. I later found out that I won my age group and the women’s overall walking away with $200—I realized shortly there after that I’ll probably do gravel again. For our podium picture, they said 3rd place was still out on course…

Having second thoughts about my retirement

I’m grateful to the race directors, as I saw both of them on course making sure that people had enough water and seeing if riders needed anything. And also to my best friend Heidi, who let me stay at her house and take over her kitchen to make all the food I thought I was going to eat during the ride. 

Here is the break down: 
Miles: 110.8
Time: 9:06:07 (Time I was actually riding: 8:37- I said I took a lot of breaks in the shade…)
Avg. Speed: 12.1
Elevation: 6,401
Avg. Heart Rate: 155
5(!!!) Snake sightings

10 Bottles of Water
5 Servings of Skratch
4 Rice cakes with blueberries and chocolate (I was carrying 6 total along with 5 sweet potato cakes, 2 gushers and 1 sharing size Peanut M&Ms bag but never consumed them..oops). 

2 thoughts on “Gold Rush Gravel Grinder

  1. Congrats on the finish, especially the conditions. And great write up. Having bailed at me 57 on the 110 route, your post about the pre-trails head lodge section, where you could go either 70 or 110 really echoed my experience. Heck, I am still scared of hot weather now.


  2. Spot. On. Except instead of hearings “you're the first one” I saw you and thought, wow ok I'm in second, maybe I should finish haha. Way to go! I've got to share this post. So good!


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