Race Report: Gunnison Half Growler

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Photo by Dave Kozlowski

It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to blog or write a race report.  Florida Cup was a comically horrible, humbling experience in racing in my first pro USAC field in a “foreign” environment (Florida is really nothing like Wyoming… they have gators!).  Gowdy Grinder had potential until I launched myself airborne off my bike just shy of 3 miles in, banging myself up pretty bad physically and mentally.  2016 was quickly turning into the race season of crashes and lowered expectations.

And then it was time for the Gunnison Half Growler!  I was nervous about how this race would go since I have stopped formally training (I suppose that’s another topic for another time I should write about).  I knew I was looking at a 4+ hour day, which was way more than I had been riding in a long long long time.  I got to Gunnison about 2:30 on Friday, and was early enough to packet pick up that I was able to get a growler from last year (no growler finisher prizes this year 😦 ), and then checked into my little cabin at the KOA (which is the best KOA everrrrr).  Since it looked stormy, I quickly changed and jumped on my bike to head up to Hartman Rocks to get in a few “opener” miles.  Luckily I got in my miles before the monsoon set in!

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My “tent cabin!”

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Some pre-race miles before the rain

Race morning I was up at 7am and prepared my 2L of Tailwind and debated clothing.  Last year I was oh so thankful to have my thermal jersey when the rain set in, so I had a bit of paranoia going into this year.  I remember in 2015 the start was sunny, and less than an hour in there was freezing hail.  I tend not to trust weather forecasts, so choosing my clothing was just about the hardest thing!  Just a bit before 8 I set out into town, picked up breakfast, and relaxed in my car in the county parking lot.  I ended up going with my thermal jersey, and stashed a wind jacket and vest in my Camelback. for good measure.  I would end up regretting the warm jersey since the day stayed sunny until the last 20 minutes!

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I’m one of the pink dots in there (Photo by Dave Kozlowski)

Ugh, the start.  The start of the Growler is the scariest thing to me since a lot of the competitors do not have experience in pack riding, and we have a good 4.5 miles of “neutral,” high speed pack riding to survive through.  When the gun went off I was expecting the guy in front of me to move faster than he did, so I hit his back tire and came off my bike.  A frustrated girl behind me started in with the “SERIOUSLY, REALLY?” nonsense which frustrated me more as I tried to hop back on my bike in a timely fashion.  Finally I was up and rolling and tried to get to the front.  There were still a few scary moments, but I managed to not be part of the crash that occurred turning onto the dirt at Hartman’s parking lot.  Since it was dry and dusty I took to picking off people up Kill Hill, which I felt surprisingly good on (turns out I would end up 11th on the Strava leaderboard on Kill Hill… just seconds out of the top 10!)… I can still climb?!

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My face is one of… non-amusement?  (Photo by Matt Burt)

I feel like the first hour or so is all just about settling in.  I focused on smooth descending, remembering my form, and found myself confidently riding a lot of stuff!  My only goal for this race was to beat my 2015 time, though the course direction was reversed (and this year was supposedly the “harder” direction which I don’t doubt!).  After about that initial hour or so I settled in with roughly the same 10 people that I would ride around the rest of the day.  I remembered to try to just pace myself, spinning a lot of the climbs and reminding myself it was about the long haul and to not blow myself up since I was in uncharted territory in regards to lack of training and bike time this year.

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Up and over some rocky feature (Photo by Matt Burt)

The dry, dusty conditions made the race seem to fly by compared to last year where it was a slip and slide on a lot of the stuff in the first half or so.  Skull Pass (rough half point) came faster than I was expecting.  Unfortunately Skull Pass SUCKS in this direction (counterclockwise), and it was a long hike a bike over many sections.  Bright sun + no wind + hiking = sucky time.  I was remaining pretty positive and happy the whole race, but Skull Pass soured my mood.  I was never so happy to grind up that road to the aid station!  I had found myself not really desiring to drink my Tailwind, and was craving plain water, so I downed my one bottled, and stopped and had it refilled at Skull Pass.  I turned down the bacon as I didn’t know what it would do to my stomach 😦  I then set out to climb up to the high point of the course, and then enjoy a long double track descent.

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Train of racers (Photo by Matt Burt)

The road up to the power line area was another long, steep hike a bike as the road was very sandy and loose and after awhile the tires would just start spinning.  I really really really hate walking my bike, it brings back horrible memories of the Columbine Climb during the Leadville 100.  Luckily this wasn’t that long!  The race still seemed to be going by super fast, and I got excited at what my finish time would be… then would  come the death by a million small technical climbs.  Why all the technical stuff comes 30 miles in is beyond me… but Rattlesnake is just brutal when you’ve never ridden it before and your arms are noodles!  I had remained crash-free, so I walked a lot of stuff… a lot.

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Don’t mind me, I’m just taking my bike for a walk on Rattlesnake (Photo by Dave Kozlowski)

I had a fun moment when my teammate Michelle caught me at 3 hours 59 minutes.  She had told me at the start “see you at 3 hours!”  She has amazing endurance and badass descending skills, so I knew she would catch me… but I joked “what took you so long?” and we had a chuckle when she said “it’s 3 hours!” and I told her it was really 4.  We were now very close to the finish so I tried to let loose on the final descents, and shifted down on the double track to lay down the power and not lose any more positions in the final little bits.

4 hours 3 minutes 58 seconds…

31 minutes faster than 2015!

Woohoo!

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Woohoo! Half Growler 2016 done and done!

I was so happy with my result and how awesome I felt throughout the race that I immediately thought “wow, I need to come back next year and aim for sub-4 hours!”  That is a first.  I have never finished an endurance XC race (let alone any XC race really), and immediately wanted to do it again!  I ended up 6th in pro women… which was last place.  But that was alright as I knew I wasn’t aiming for a podium (ok, I would’ve been 3rd had I raced my age group.  Ahem.  Yes, I checked that.  Damn this pro license haha).  I was 24th overall for women, compared to 39th in 2015, so I’m happy to be solidly in the top half!  It was just so awesome to do a race since Fat Bike Nationals where I haven’t crashed or had what seemed to be the whole world working against me!

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Some of us Naked girls post-race! (Photo: Michelle Hoffer)

So the theory has been posed… maybe it’s good that I stopped “training” in a formal, regimented manner?  That remains to be seen, probably.  But I have noticed my newly descending and technical skills, which I think has helped me make up those little seconds here and there that I might be losing by not having my full climbing fitness.  Who knows… I had fun, and that’s all I care about!

Oh, and I did oh so bad with my nutrition… thinking I had polished off my Camelback of Tailwind, I pulled  out the bladder once I got back to the car and was shocked to see I drank only a “few inches” out of it 😦  But I never felt bonked… only outside nutrition was one Clif banana-mango pouch, 1.5 bottles of plain water, and two pickle slices.  Something to work on leading up to some of the bigger races I have planned!

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Don’t worry, my post race nutrition was on point! Great dinner at Garlic Mike’s with teammates Brittany and Berta, and Berta’s husband Paul

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