Before I talk about 2016, I need to talk about 2015.
2015 was our intro to the Land Run. We’d heard good things, bought a couple bikes worthy of gravel from CityCycles
and prepared…sort of. We had no idea what was in store for us. We retreated 12 miles in with our tails tucked between our legs, ending a 50 mile entry with a big, fat DNF. But, a 24 mile workout that definitely was no walk in the park (maybe a walk in the mud, but I’ll get to that).
This time around, we knew what we were getting into, and we found a few other people who were doing the event, too. A gravel group formed in Tulsa. We decided to make every Saturday a gravel ride. But then, of course, things happened. Things like gall bladder surgery and a two-week trip out of state for work. Kid things, weather things and road races. Before we knew it, March had arrived and we hadn’t been on gravel in a month. I secretly hoped that all the training I had been doing on the road would get me through, but I was still worried about my comfort on a completely different bike.
The “before” picture
Like I am prior to most events like this, I was nervous practically to the point of sick, but the minute I clip into my pedals, I am calm and excited about what lies before me. I was even more relaxed for this race because I knew I wasn’t really trying to race, but to finish. To do what I’d been unable (unwilling?) to do the year before.
All 800ish of us rolled out at the firing of the cannon, and headed out of Stillwater on nice paved roads until we finally hit gravel. At 40+ years young, it takes me a good 30 minutes to warm up, and as is the case in most group rides, I went out harder than I should have and found myself thinking, “Oh hell, this is going to be a long day” at the first sign of hills.
Not long after, we passed the intersection where we had abandoned all hope last year; Cory and I smiled, already feeling victorious because what was impassable in 2015 was a piece of cake this year. Ha! Had we only known what was coming.
My Garmin elevation file through mile 35.
After we passed the familiar part of the route, we started seeing people riding the opposite direction. And a few people hanging around on the side of the road. It hadn’t been raining as much as the previous year, so I really didn’t know why, and then…
Here we go. There’s the mud. Time to hike-a-bike.
Before we started playing carry, push, scrape!
My bike is an awesome machine – A steel All-City Macho Man Disc. While it’s awesome at handling most any terrain, it’s not a bike I really want to carry. Like, at all. Ever. I tried hoisting it onto my shoulder, I tried pushing it on the left, pushing it on the right, standing it up and rolling it on the rear wheel only. Stronger women than me carried their bikes on their heads, resting the frame against their pricey helmets. Why were we doing this, again?
Kari’s bike did not have disc brakes, so every few minutes, she would have to stop, use a stick to unclog the brakes, scrape off the tires, and try again. It was a game of carry, push, scrape. Carry, push, scrape, ride? Nope. Carry, push, scrape.
Still all smiles at this point! 🙂
At around the 20 mile mark, she called it. There was no way her bike could handle anything like what was coming. As we stood around while she made the reluctant decision, one of the guys said, “Why do we think this is fun??”
We all laughed, at having shared the thought several times already.
Cory and I proceeded onward (and upward – I couldn’t get started on the hill and had to go backwards to get some momentum!) without her.
The gravel didn’t last long. Before we knew it, we were back to the mud, only worse mud. The kind of mud where your feet weigh an extra ten pounds just walking through it, picking up sticky, sloshy, goopy mud with every step. My back hurt so bad from pushing the bike, but by this time, it was so heavy with mud, there really was no carrying it. I tried a couple times, but pushing continued to be my only option.
We finally made it through the trees, and a Land Run volunteer was there to tell us what lie ahead. “You’ve made it through the worst part, y’all are doing great! Go down the ravine into the creek, wash off some of that mud, then climb the stairs, and it should be rideable.”
I’ve never been so happy to see red, muddy water in my life. I stepped right in, the cold water felt so good on my feet. We used an empty water bottle from my jersey pocket as a sprayer, and got the drivetrain as clean as we could get it. Then made our way up the stairs. Cory lifted his bike and went up quickly, while I grabbed onto the hand rails like an 80 year old and tried to push/pull/drag the bike up each step. It worked until it didn’t anymore, and he came to lift it the last couple steps.
I don’t really remember much between that obstacle and the “construction route” as we referred to it (maybe it was the shot of Fireball?). I felt fairly certain this was NOT a real road, just something the District crew came up with for fun. I wanted so desperately to take a picture but my phone had long since died. It was surreal, wide and open and muddy and non-stop climbing. I was getting so tired at this point… there was a dude walking up each hill because he just couldn’t do it anymore. I understood. I got off and walked up with him.
He sounded defeated. “Are we EVER going to see anything flat? Or pavement? Again? If guys doing the 100 beat me doing the 50, I’m really going to be pissed.”
“OH, there are guys who are already done with the 100. I assure you.”
“No, I don’t mean the fast guys. I mean the normal people. Do you think the normal people doing the 100 will beat us??”
“I don’t know. Probably. Just keep going.”
As we finally made our way back to gravel, Cory and I were mostly quiet. I kept thinking about the guy’s “fun”
comment from earlier. Why do
we do this? Is this fun? We aren’t paid to suffer – we pay someone else to allow us entry to suffer. And through the next 30 miles, the only answer I could come up with is, “Why don’t you
I do all these crazy things because feeling like you’re going to puke at the start line of a race beats the hell out of feeling sick because you’ve slept your life away.
One of these days, I might not be able to slog my bike through mud, or speed around a corner where I once wrecked and broke bones, or come in DFL in a race with 30 mph wind gusts.
I can’t keep waiting to start because before I know it, I’ll be finished. I hope that’s not for another 40 years, but it will happen eventually, and it could happen tomorrow, and then what? How will I be remembered?
I want my daughter to know me as a woman who went after what she wanted, no matter how silly or crazy it might seem. A woman who was strong enough to ride 50 miles of mud and gravel and hills that went on for days and didn’t give up.
No, the Land Run did not disappoint. And even though I went through periods of wanting to sell my damn bike and never leave pavement again, to not wanting a hug from Bobby but to kick him in the nuts, of wanting to do anything except be on that bike at that moment climbing that hill… by the end I always want to do it all over again. Because it’s those moments that I remember. The hard parts where I had a decision to make: quit, or just keep going? I remarked that I would never do that race again, and for sure never do the full 100, but never say never. We’ll see what Bobby has up his sleeve next year.
I’ve never been so happy to drink an IPA.
Stephanie began cycling when all the roadies in her spin classes talked her into buying a road bike. She’s been hooked for more than 10 years, but only recently began trying to go fast. She’s done three century rides, numerous 70+ rides and a couple road races. She enjoys the challenge of cycling but most of all loves the cycling community and the feeling of going downhill really, really fast!