Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hungryland Back 60k Gravel Grinder- Off-Road MTB Race

Hungryland Back 60k Gravel Grinder Off-Road MTB Race in Jupiter, FL

1st Overall Woman

It was a beautiful, steaming hot, muddy day for all of us who raced today. The scenery however was amazing and the race extremely tough. If anyone thought that those 60k were going to be a piece of cake, with a nice levee ride they definitely would be wrong.

All the miles of bumpy, ungroomed and overgrown grass, deep water crossing where sometimes half of my bike would be submerged, the moist and hot air lifting up off the grasses throughout the course and of course the grind of the gravel under the tires. It was a challenge from the start. Everyone worked so hard and united today and I’m happy I was able to be part of it. Congrats to all who participated and finished! Congrats to the amazing ladies today who weren’t afraid to get dirty and all the guys that I had a chance to race with!

Even though I didn’t see a Wild Boar on the trails, especially on those final grassy 6 miles, I got one to take with me home and we named him Walden…

Video of Race filmed by Air Drone...

The Whole Story...

It was an early morning start and very quiet ride up north. We were heading somewhere in the middle of nowhere and had no idea what was waiting for us. Everything around was dark blue since day didn’t wake up yet and a beautiful fog added to the magic. The less around us meant the closer we got. Finally we ended up on a wet dirt road with swamps on both sides. It was peaceful and beautiful there. But just seconds into the ride two long and slimy looking creatures just jetted in the middle of the path and started chasing each other around in a playful way. Those were two just the most adorable river otters (we call them Shish Kabobs and don’t ask me why!) which after a quick while galloped in funny hops back into the swampy water and we still could see them swimming away. It was a great sight and good start of the day. 

Getting ready for Race Start

When we arrived at the race site we seemed to be one of the first ones and a little concrete slab that was used as a parking space was located just in the middle of no one’s land…

I think I liked it there. 

Beautiful scenery of race site
With time more people arrived and gathered around the site. A full hour went by and we were ready to be set off. But before that we all biked back to the beginning of the same path were the Shish Kabobs were playing. We were all situated just behind a giant pool of water that spilled out way beyond the dirt road and to the field to the side. And we were off, dividing quickly into those who went far wide left around the water and those on the narrow right. I stayed on the right and after waiting for my turn we were at full speed quickly. The fast group of guys formed far ahead and I happened to be in the group following it. When we reached the parking lot gathering area we were sent off to the left on the path that would lead us into the HUNGRYLAND…

Pre-race gathering

It was not what I expected to be honest. In an instant we ended up in a passage with very long and overgrown grass that was uneven, bumpy, and clumpy. This terrain simply was not meant to be biked on. I didn’t know how long this was going to last and suffering did set in pretty quickly. Things got much worse before they started getting any better. Miles were going by and the burn in the legs and the whole body was fully on. Than we approached the first water crossing, one of many, it was like a big indent in the path maybe two full bike lengths and all filled with water. The depth varied from half of the wheel to half of your bike with legs being totally underwater. We just plumed in it and hoped for the best. The resistance of suddenly hitting deep water while on the bike is so strong that it almost stops you still, I was not sure if I was going to make it through but I stood up and powered with this loud sound as one would wade through the deep water. This would go on for a while with a total of six water crossings which thankfully ended, but still we were in the deep grass and I had no clue how much longer of this we had I would say some kind of frustration did kick in maybe from the unknown and from the pain that I was in. I was pushing and not willing to slow down. I even said out loud that if I knew it was going to be that bad I would have signed up for the shorter distance and I remember one of the riders telling me that probably I should considering the pace I am riding at.

And the race began

But for me as we know there is nothing in between, it is fully Off or On mode, nothing else. At that moment all systems were ON and I was not willing to slow down. I did catch up and pass quite a few riders while huffing and puffing from the heat and exhaustion, I was dreaming about seeing some flat land.

And after a full six miles I finally did, the grass spilled us out onto the gravel levy and we were directed to the right. Suddenly the scenery opened up and no longer were we in the overgrown swampy tunnel surrounded by trees but rather this vast open space in the Florida flatland with what seemed like a never ending gravel path. This is when the real work and race began. It was easier at first because of the terrain but became more uncomfortable and difficult when the speed increased.

Everyone is working hard

Now we were cruising some 17-19 mph most of the time. Thankfully I was not completely alone and had another rider by my side. We rode together until we reached sadly another grassy passage with a few more water crossings. I wondered if we will see any gravel path again. But very soon we were spilled back onto the levee and were heading now down the flat gravel track full speed and with the wind with us. It felt good to finally be able to settle now and find my pace and the zone I was comfortable with. It is kind of like disappearing in my own tolerable suffering space. We all had them and they all did vary and because of it, it was tough to stay by the side of any rider in particular for long. I joined some groups and left some groups. I was rider hoping in order to ride my own race and not someone else’s race. It required more work and pain but this was the only way to do it right. The levy loop was huge taking us in this giant circle making numerous turns on the canals to finally reach spots which would bring us to the beginning of the loop. Thankfully we didn’t have to go back to the painful grassy passage until the last 6 miles of the race.

Powering on mushy grass
Is the grass tall enough?
For every nice stretch of dirt with better padded surface and wind behind the backs we had just the opposite; the soft path with big and loose gravel and against strong wind. This is when you hurt the most and you feel like you are hardly moving. It’s easy to slip away in the scenario like this and I was watching this exact thing happening to us on the first lap. The group I was in for most of the race was great. We worked really well and Rudolfo was in it and was also working hard. We tried to stay strong but with each passing mile the pace was slipping, we went from 17 to 16 to 15… At some point I looked down and saw 12 mph on my bike computer and knew I had to do something. This is when tiny me left all the big boys and hammered my way to the front of the convoy and sped us up back to 19 mph. Thankfully guys woke up by this move and followed. 
Water stop in the Grind Zone

It was definitely the best part of this whole experience to see people unite and work together and encourage each other on this tough quest. I really enjoyed those interactions no matter for how long they lasted. I am grateful to the person that I rode with initially since seemed like I was hinted to lead against the wind in the loose gravel on the first lap and I just didn’t have anything more in me at that time. Thankfully later on when I regained my strength and got back to the zone and I was able to put some work in for others. The more miles and more time went by the more I didn’t mind it and actually felt better. Also I was happy and surprised at the same time to see my husband Pax right there on the side of gravel taking pictures. Thankfully next time he saw me he handed me fresh water in clear water bottle which pretty much exploded under my grip right into the air like a geyser when I grabbed it while riding still at full speed. Half of it seemed like it spilled all over Pax and I but I still got what I needed from it and made sure nothing more was wasted. Also it was nice to have this sweet drone camera which was following us at the race site and even on the gravel path. Love the images it captured, they are truly amazing.

Scott and I after the race

We were in this never ending spin cycle repeating the monster gravel loops for a big chunk of our almost 37 mile journey. Interestingly enough with all the miles initially being so painful I can’t even tell how quickly miles moved from 9th to 16th to 20th. And on the contrary I felt actually the best exactly on mile 26th, don’t know why. I was shocked in a way that we did so much of the distance already and by the time I hit the 30 mile mark and I was directed back to the miserable grass I was sad in a way because I felt I could kept on going.

Before that however I remember the rider Joel on the LG cyclocross bike;  he was simply fast and looked completely unbothered by the wind and the gravel. He was jetting through it like it was nothing. Toward the end of the second lap I had no one else in sight but once again the rider on this cross bike far ahead and it took me a hell amount of work to finally reach him. While I did it seemed like he just stopped fighting and did slow down greatly. This is when I told him how much effort I put to catch up and encouraged him to keep on going. We ended up riding together for a big chunk of the second lap and beginning of third.

On the last bumpy stretch with two water crossings, it was a third time now, we had a guy that suddenly stopped and started screaming in pain; he was just some 150 feet from finishing this section but he cramped up so badly that he jumped off this bike and was just holding on to his leg. It was tough, really it was and I was glad to see him feeling perfectly fine later on the finish line and we just laughed about it. When I got sent off by the volunteers for the final tough grassy section I was told there was a guy some 0.5 mile ahead and that I should try to get him. He was so far out that I could not see anyone for a very long time. I felt very alone suddenly and in the middle of nowhere. Now my mind started drifting and realizing how tired I was, how the evaporating moisture from the wet grass was getting to me. It was steamy, dirty, hot, humid, muddy, and bumpy; I got definitely my share today. But I still had the guy in front that I could not see, not that this actually mattered but it took my mind away from the fatigue and rather directed it to my next goal. I kept on going and other thoughts that were sneaking on me now were of the wild boars roaming around me somewhere and me being alone. This was not the coolest feeling really. But at the same time I did carry with me a Pocketfinder GPS tracker and knew that even though I am here at that moment alone I should not feel as such since my husband while monitoring knows my exact location at any time. That way even though no one was near me physically but grass I felt like I was not completely alone and I was showing my Pax that I am almost there.

Fortunately enough when my mind wondered through all those weird streams of thoughts I spotted a guy far away in the red shirt. It was a tiny dot in the distance but gave me something to work on and surely enough after some time of pushing those cranks I was able to catch up. It took so long however that by the time I caught him and some other guys we were all spilled to the road where it all started some two hours ago. All I had to do now was to turn to the left and cross the finish. Final sprint for fun with some other rider and we were done. 

Final sprint to the Finish

I didn’t expect that for sure but I got today many many times on the podium for this one performance. I had all the ladies podium, age group podium, overall ladies podium, fastest male and female podium. Yes it was more than plenty. The burritos and drinks were served  to all the riders. The medals were given to all the finishers, the trophies we got were quite special since they were hand made from the pieces of rocks and old chain rings. And I got a cute and fluffy Wild Boar which I named Walden to take home...

Overall Female Podium

Today however was not about podiums, medals, winning…
Feeling sleepy and needed a hug...

This day was about being happy, getting up early and getting out there, to challenge myself, to reach new limits, to don’t give up when I wanted the most.

Age Group Podium

Also it was about support for biking community, the lifestyle that I love, the nature, the environment…

Girls after the race All Smiles

And about meeting new people and spend a day alongside ones I know. To share a moment with my husband and others through this adventure…

Power of the Ladies

When I think about it however, every day is exactly about that and nothing more and whatever comes out of it is a victory in itself either way…
Walden getting much needed belly rub

No-one told us who we were.
No-one told us we should do this.
No-one told us it would be easy.
Someone said we are our dreams, that if we don’t dream, we are no longer alive.
Our steps follow our instinct and take us into the unknown.
We no longer see the obstacles behind us, but look forward the ones ahead.
It’s not about being the fastest, the strongest or the biggest…It’s about being ourselves.
We are not just runners, mountaineers or skiers…or even athletes…we are people.
We don’t know if we’ll find it, but we’re going in search of happiness.
What is it we’re looking for? To be alive?
Kilian Jornet – Summits of my life

Fastest Male and Female Podium
Like always huge thanks to all my amazing support:

Bike Tech Miami, Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Pro Gold Lubricants, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT tape, Cycleops and New for 2014 - Specialized, Louis Garneau, Selle Italia, KMC Chains, Huub and Rotor Bike Components!

Huge thanks to my husband Pax, who charged on his bike with all camera gear on his back around this rugged and muddy terrain… He had to go as we did through the bumpy 12 miles with numerous water crossings to photograph all of us in action. Hundreds of pictures had been taken for all of us to enjoy. Thx Mucha you are the best!