R is for Riotgrrravel Reflections

Four women gravel bikers biking together

Two weeks ago, on June 20th, I rode Riotgrrravel, a gravel race/ride for women and am happy to say that I completed the 30 mile ride. Riotgrrravel is very well organized ride meant to introduce women to gravel racing. The ride is organized and put on by an awesome woman named Ellie and her family. Ellie started the ride just last year (I rode Riotgrrravel last year and wrote about my experience on my Idyllwild blog) and I’m so glad she did it again this year.

Last year the weather was stellar but the route had to be changed practically moments before race start because of flooding in the days previous to the race. This year, the roads weren’t flooded but the morning of the race thunderstorms moved in. We woke up that morning thinking the ride would be cancelled due to the thunderstorms but the rain cleared out before start time and the roads ended up just a bit tacky instead of sloppy for the race and the ride was a GO!

About 200 people were registered to ride the race but because of the uncertainty about the weather and road conditions, only 6o some people actually showed up to ride the 50 mile and 30 mile routes (20 rode the 50 miler & 40 rode the 30 miler).  Given how many people didn’t even show, it’s a great accomplishment to have shown up and finished. I rode with my “gravel gal” friends Lisa, Katy & Joy and we crossed the finish line together in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 39 seconds (a solid 10.6 mph – I believe we were in 23rd place). My Box of Frogs biking friends, Kate and Victoria, were also on the ride and finished 17 minutes before we did. After the ride my gravel gal pals and I ate pastries and lunch at a bakery. And then we got shakes at the Dairy Store. And we laughed and talked and had a good time as we ate and as we drove home.

The self supported ride was full of good gravel, gorgeous scenery and awesome women (and some awesome men). I’m really glad I rode the ride this year. But, I’ve got to say, I found the ride really frustrating simply because I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives here – but it might be helpful for someone to read this anyway (or maybe simply because it’s therapeutic for me to write about it).

I had figured the 30 mile Riotgrrravel would be relatively easy compared to the 60 mile Box of Frogs ride I completed two weeks previous. That ride was a grand gravel/mud/tar/slippery sludge adventure that was terribly difficult. I rode most of Box of Frogs with Kate and Victoria, however, and somehow we chatted and pedaled our way through it all. I had also figured that since two of our group were new to gravel racing and I had oh so much “experience” because I’d ridden two gravel rides already (Box of Frogs and Riotgrrravel) and have been riding for several years, that I would maybe even be sort of a leader in our little group of gravel gals.

Well, those were nice thoughts, anyway. Turns out the ride was not easy and I was not at all a leader as the rest of my group had to wait for me several times so I could catch up.

We started out the ride and got rolling right away. We had headwinds right off and and I quickly fell behind our group of four. We’ve ridden together on training rides and I thought I would have no trouble keeping up with the group. Maybe they are more charged with race adrenaline, I thought (whereas I wasn’t thinking race as much as ride and set off at my normal pace). Maybe they are simply stronger than I am. Whatever the case, I was behind, not far – but far enough that I got discouraged a bit. So I told myself, “that’s okay. This is your pace. You know you can finish the ride at this pace. It’s okay if they go on ahead” and I kept on pedaling.

But the headwinds were hard to pedal against and I felt tired from the get go. Mentally I just didn’t feel with it. I felt tired (I really didn’t sleep much the night before so I know that didn’t help). And, within the first few miles, I noticed my (ahem) “lady parts” were getting sore. It is not normal for me to be sore so I was puzzled then realized I was way heavier on my hands and front of my seat than I usually am, probably because I was tired and kinda collapsing forward. I did my best to shift my weight back and kept on pedaling.

About then, oh, we were just five miles into the race, I suppose, the helpful little voice that told myself I was riding at my own pace and it was okay that people were ahead of me started saying not so nice things to myself like, “you’re too slow” and “it sucks to ride alone” but then I’d try to offset those thoughts with nicer things and remind myself that I was riding my own ride and I just was having one of those off days and I knew that if I just kept pedaling I’d finish.

Lisa dropped back and rode with me for awhile. Then I decided I needed to stop and rest. That was a smart move. I sat in the shade and ate a Clif Bar. Then I cried rather ridiculously for awhile and told Lisa I was so disappointed in myself and that I was pretty sure I was the last person on the course (the brain is a liar – I was far from last. And what does it matter, anyway?) and that she and the gals should just go on ahead and I’d finish on my own. I haven’t cried on a ride in years. I thought I was over that. I guess not.

Lisa said all sorts of nice things and we rode on. Then we caught up with Katy and Joy at an intersection where they, and several other people who were resting there, got to see me fall as I came to a stop because I was so tired I couldn’t manage to clip out of my pedals. I have never done that. It’s rather embarrassing. At least I didn’t cry! Oh, I didn’t really get hurt, either, just a bit of a scrape on my knee.

We rode on. Looking back, I estimate we had nasty headwinds or quartering headwinds at least 75% of the time. I am not a fan of headwinds. Sometimes I rode with my friends, sometimes I fell behind. I kept pedaling. And tried to say nice things to myself. But the ride was really, really, hard for me.

That said. I kept pedaling and I had some fun with my gravel gal pals. We took some pictures. We crossed the finish line together. And, I cried again because I was just so glad to have finished.

After the ride, after scarfing down some candy bars nicely provided by volunteers from Hope Lutheran Church (they opened their church and parking lot to us as a ride start location – thank you!), I talked to Kate and Victoria about how hard the ride was for me. We talked about nutrition both pre-ride and during the ride to see if that might have been a factor (not a whole lot different but I did lack in energy chews which I found to be helpful on Box of Frogs). We talked about the F-ING headwinds and decided they were a huge factor. I felt better after talking to Kate and Victoria. Ultimately we chalked up my not so great of a ride because I was tired and lacked mental and physical energy and ran out of happy thoughts to something pretty simply – I was having one of those days. They happen.

But here’s the thing – even when you’re having one of those days you keep on pedaling and finish the ride anyway. Partially because no one is there to pick you up but mostly because you set out to finish a ride so you finish it. And that’s what I did. I set out to ride Riotgrrravel and I finished the ride. Yay!

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