"Racing this gravel race was a great learning experience and a great personal challenge."
by Alison Powers, ALP Cycles Coaching
In February ALP Coach, Alison Powers, announced that she had signed up for Steamboat Gravel (SBT GRVL), a 141-mile race with 100 miles on dirt/gravel roads. With race day approaching, she’s been blogging every day leading up to the race. She blogs about the specifics of her training, her preparation, headspace, etc. All the things that lead up to race day that not everyone gets to see or understand.
0 days to go-Sunday August 18th
Since I didn’t post about Friday or Saturday, I’ll start there. Friday was a day off the bike. I packed, I worked, and I got ready to leave early Saturday morning. I do remember rolling and stretching in the evening.
Saturday - was drive to Steamboat and pre-ride 2 sections of the course. This was very valuable. It required a little extra effort and logistics with driving and routes, but it was worth it to see some of the harder gravel sections. I was then lucky enough to be part of the “Pro Panel” question and answer forum. My good friend Daphne came with me and we enjoyed a very relaxing late afternoon of bike cleaning, cheese/cracker, and wine happy hour fun, dinner, and finally #vanlife bedtime.
Sunday - race day. It went well! The only thing I would change or do differently is plan my morning a bit better. I woke up at 4:30 excited to have plenty of time to relax and get ready. I must have done a seriously good job of faffing around because all of a sudden it was 5:45 and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet or finished my poo routine (race started at 6:30). That was less than ideal as I suddenly became very rushed. By the time we got to the start, we were lined up way in the back (which was fine because, thanks to good pack handling skills, we were at the front before the neutral was even over).
Some blog-worthy highlights from the race:
Race plan - I had a race plan, hydration plan, and nutrition plan and I stuck to them. I raced my own race. Because my breakfast was compromised due to poor timing, I knew I had to eat early and often so I didn’t get hungry. It can be easy, in a race like this, to forgo your own race plan on favor of doing what the group is doing. If you needed more water or food or a bathroom, you had to stop. This meant you could lose the group you were riding with. This race had so much drafting that if you weren’t with a group, you were at a big disadvantage. I have never liked racing other people’s race, so I stuck to my plan and was confident with it.
The Poo Stop - It happened. Despite all the planning, and fiber forgo-ing, I had to stop to poo. Perhaps if I had waken up earlier, it would have come out before the race… Around 3 hrs into the race, I was starting to get cramps from having to go to the bathroom so badly. But, I was in a group that was rolling along nicely that also had 2 women in it (my competition). I finally cracked and at the next porta-potty, I had to stop. It was like euphoria and after, I felt like a whole new rider and energy and good vibes. 2 other women also stopped with me, so we were even.
Race forward - After the bathroom stop, I did have to chase back on for a while and that was annoying. Once I caught the group, which was now about 50+ people and with several women, they seemed to be soft-pedaling around. At the end of the day, this group finished ~5min behind me so I could have stayed with them and finished in the same place, but I like to race my bike forward (and not be complacent), so I rode right through them.
Basic Group Riding Skills - I remembered from my experiences at Leadville, that basic pack riding skills and how to ride in a rotating paceline are not common skills. As a coach who thrives on teaching skills, I find this very unfortunate and a bit annoying. This was the case again today. So many times, I would be with a group and try to encourage “working together”, paceline, etc, and it just wouldn’t work out. If we all worked together to get to the finish, not only would we finish faster, we would save energy while doing so. 90 miles into the race, I gave up any hope of riding nicely with someone and rode solo for the next 45 miles.
My body - did great! One thing I didn’t post on the blog because I was embarrassed by it, is the fact that I lowered my saddle on Tuesday. With the encouragement of a friend, he suggested I lower it 3mm to help ease the stress on my back. Lowering ones saddle 5 days before a race is not ideal. I thought this will either be extreme self-sabotage or just the ticket I need to limit my back pain. Turns out, it’s just what I needed. My back did great! I started getting pretty uncomfortable at mile 120, but I have not had 1 ride in the past several years with that small amount of pain.
My equipment - also did great! Not one problem with my bike, kit, bibs, etc. One thing I didn’t expect was how dirty and dusty my glasses got, so I had to clean them off a few times.
Overall, I finished 5th. 4th Pro woman.
One age group rider was very fast. I stayed strong both physically and mentally (my mental mantra when I was alone for so long was “I am better, I am faster, I am stronger”). I stayed cool thanks to dumping water on my head and over my body. I never felt in the hole with hydration or nutrition. My time was 7:24 hours. My Garmin had 7:17, so I had 7min of faffing around at the aid stations and in the porta-potty (2:18min).
While I am a bit disappointed with the result, I could not have done anything better and I have to be happy with that. The women who beat me are very strong and raced their bikes well.
Racing this gravel race was a great learning experience, and a great personal challenge. Thanks for reading!