I’ve been trying to write this blog all morning. After yesterday’s 135 mile gravel race, with 11,000 feet of climbing, and an early morning travel home, it has taken some serious energy to move from a horizontal to vertical position again and find something my body was happy to eat. Simply put, I’m totally exhausted. I’m guessing almost anyone who finished the Belgian Waffle Ride yesterday can relate. It’s not just physical, it’s all encompassing. It’s the mental, emotional, and physical combined that creates this type of full body fatigue…and it’s great.
When I stood on the start line yesterday at the Belgian Waffle Ride, I will admit, I looked around and I felt intimidated. With so many big names from different disciplines of cycling, everyone would have a different strength and weakness and it felt like it was just about anyone’s game.
As we rolled off of the line, I had to keep reminding myself it’s a long race, be patient, but also not too patient. I had heard stories that the start of this race can be pretty gnarly with a high speed road descent leading into a 180 degree turn and finally bottlenecking in single track. I maintained my position close to the front very carefully and when we hit the final climb before the “hole shot” I put in a big effort leading up the climb, thinning out the group. I took a huge sigh of relief as I safely executed the 180 degree turn and entered the singletrack on none other than Katerina Nash’s wheel.
As to be expected, the first singletrack section was fast. A few different riders took turns leading the way, but it seemed that there was a general consensus that we needed to put in a big effort to make the selection. As we dumped out onto the road there was a group of 5 of us leading into a significant climb. I led much of the climbing deciding that at this point in the race feeling good was important to take advantage of. By the top of the climb we had whittled it down to just Katerina, Savilia, and me.
At this point it became a little more of a game of tactics as we tried to rally the group to work together (we also had men with us). Eventually another train caught us with other women in tow. We were setting a blistering pace along the flat and finally came up on the Black Canyon climb, a 10 mile dirt road climb.
At the bottom of the climb there was an aid station where we were allowed to grab whatever we needed. With so many aids on the course, it seemed like each rider had a different plan as to what aid he or she would stop at. I stopped at this one and grabbed my next 3 bottles of the day. Then I took off again, immediately reeled a couple of the women in, and after a few minutes caught up to Katerina. As Katerina and I rode together and I looked up the dirt road I could see the stars and stripes of the Pro Road Race National Champ kit. It was a special moment to think about the fact that I was riding with one of the best mountain bikers in the World, while chasing down the current road national champion…and we are all in the same race.
Eventually we reeled in the final few women and we were back in the lead group. The pace on the climb felt mellow and I kept debating whether or not I should make a push. We were only at mile 55 after all. Then a man passed us with a hot pace and without thinking I just jumped on and next thing I knew I had some separation. I think the largest my gap ever got was about 30 seconds. I knew it wouldn’t last, but I thought that maybe I could make the other women work a little harder to try to catch up.
By the time we crested the top of the climb and were once again back on some flat roads, Katerina, Mo Wilson, and I had come together to form a group of three. It became a game of tactics and survival as the hours and miles ticked on. I knew that Katerina would set a blazing pace as we hit the singletrack on the way back.
In the singletrack we took some risks and got a little loose, but it paid off when Katerina and I exited the singletrack somewhere around mile 111 and it would just be to two of us for the rest of the race.
Somewhere during the race it felt like a game of poker and I was bluffing. I wasn’t just bluffing to the other racers, though. I was bluffing to myself. I realized that if I was going to fight for the win I had to convince myself it didn’t hurt as much as it did. Sentences like, “The pace will slow down soon,” “I’ll get a second wind in a couple of miles,” “Everyone hurts just as much as I do,” continually rang in my head.
As Katerina and I entered the final 5 miles I knew I didn’t have much left, but what I kept reminding myself was that I didn’t know what she had left either. The climb was hot and we were over 120 miles, 6 hours, and 16 bottles of water/electrolytes deep. I led much of the climb, but Katerina was right on my wheel, not giving an inch. I was watching my bike computer tick down the time to the top of the climb. Every muscle fiber in my body was aching and pulling. I was begging for it to just keep pushing. Half mile to the top, .4 to the top, .3 to the top, and then Katerina put in a huge attack. She had made the move before my brain even had a moment to respond. I fought my way to the top of the climb and descended down less than a minute behind. There was still some dirt left and I knew that there is always a chance. Never give up.
I didn’t accept 2nd until I came back into the venue and once again saw everyone cheering over 7 hours later. It’s emotional to finish a race like this. It’s such a huge toll. Your brain and body finally feel the relief of letting go and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the emotions flow with it. What a day. What a race. Congrats to everyone who attempted BWR!