MidSouth Gravel took me through every emotion in the book as I mashed pedals through nearly 8 hours of the muddiest riding I’ve ever seen. When I stood at the finish line with people cheering, celebrating, and congratulating my victory, I kept waiting for the adrenaline and excitement to take over, but it didn’t. It would be hours before my body and mind would come back around. I left my heart and soul somewhere out on those gravel roads in Oklahoma.
The day begin at 7 am as I sat on my bike in the team van and warmed up for the miles of racing ahead. I could hear the pouring rain and clapping thunder outside the van and I pushed away all feelings of dread and doubt. It was 40 degrees and the moment I stepped out of the van to head to the start line, I would be soaking wet. I would remain wet until I crossed the finish line who knows how many hours later. It was hard to stand on that line, dripping with water and shivering, but as I stood there I was reminded once again that truly there is nothing I would rather do than race my bike.
As we paraded down the street and onto the muddy gravel roads we were immediately caked in mud from head to toe. I couldn’t see through the mud splattered across my glasses. Everyone’s bikes moaned as we all sprinted to get into the front pack, slipping and sliding along the way. I found myself in the 2nd group and helping to lead the charge. There were a few other females in my group, and then there wasn’t. It was less than an hour into the race, I was in the lead, but I knew there would be many trials still to come. I didn’t know to what extent.
At mile 50, we hit the one and only feedzone. It was 3 hours and 15 minutes into the race. I couldn’t believe that I could possibly have double that to go. I told myself the first lie of the day, “Surely, the 2nd half will be faster.” I’m glad I had no idea what still laid ahead.
At the feedzone, my amazing team took my bike, sprayed it off and cleaned it. I needed to take a quick bathroom break, but I couldn’t unzip my jacket. I turned to my team and asked for help. The zipper was stuck from the mud. We yanked the jacket over my head, I ripped my Osprey pack off, and unzipped my skinsuit. Less than 30 seconds later we tried to zip my skinsuit back up, but the mud was too thick and the zipper wouldn’t budge. We left my skinsuit wide open, I put a new jacket on overtop to cover up, I throw my hydration pack onto my back and did a flying mount to restart the second half of the race. The stop was probably only 2 minutes long. It was all a blur. I declined more food. How much longer could this race be after all???
After the feedzone, I was alone for quite some time. The stop had separated our group and I was riding solo, listening to my thoughts, and praying for strength.
Somewhere around hour six I reached back into my pocket for more food and nothing was there. I had packed enough food for normal conditions, but given the cold, my body had ripped through the calories and was demanding more food than usual…Not to mention the fact that the race was lasting much longer than I anticipated.
This was the moment it all changed. It went from racing to survival. I knew what was about to happen. I remember thinking, “Hannah, you are going to bonk. This is going to hurt. You are going to suffer. But you will survive.”
As the hours went on from there my body went deeper and deeper into deprivation. I was lying to myself just to make it through. Just one more one, just one more mile…for over 13 miles.
At mile 91 the mud was so thick it built up on my tires and my wheels wouldn’t spin. I couldn’t ride, and I couldn’t even push it through the thick mud. I tried to lift my bike. It was too heavy. I felt defeated. Was this it? No. I squatted down to the ground, put my bike on my back and staggered up the hill. Just to the top…just get to the top.
When I hit the pavement, 3 miles to go. I wanted to cry tears of joy. I had made it. I knew I could get to the finish. I finished on empty. I was depleted. I ate a burger right there in the finish chute…but energy didn’t flood my body.
A lack of nutrition and many cold hours in the saddle had left me mildly hypothermic. I was given medical attention in order to warm up quickly.
As warm entered my body so did warm feelings toward the event. While many of us reached dark moments out on the course, I think it only illuminated the lights that we have in our life. Each prayer I sent up during the race was like a flare in the night that was answered with thoughts of positivity and strength.
My lights out there were my support- an incredible village that I knew was cheering me on even when no one was in sight. This type of event would have been impossible without them. The Orange Seal Off Road Team is truly World Class.