|Photo credit: Mike Langille|
I've never finished the whole thing, so with no long race on my schedule until October's Spotted Horse, a full ToH became my spring gravel goal. I've ridden 200 miles in a day twice and many gravel centuries but never two 100 miles days in a row. That, combined with the proximity and low cost, made it fit perfectly into my plans for this year. As an ironic bonus, since Jacob was sick I didn't even have to miss his last soccer game.
Despite being off with my sick kid on Friday, I did all my packing late and yawned my way to Hermann on race day. The forecast, which had been ominous all week, miraculously cleared Saturday morning. Other than a soggy drive and a few sprinkles while prepping at the park, the day was dry. Though undeterred by the rainy forecast I'd felt more than a twinge of "this again?" weather weariness and was happy to leave my mental toughness untested in that regard.
|Pre-race socializing while I put off trading my warm clothes for riding gear.|
Photo credit: Mike Langille
Mickey had offered to ride with me, likely assuming that I'd be less likely to quit if I had company. I had mild reservations -- not sure that my intention of riding a conservative, sustainable pace would survive his speedy influence -- but we've trained together for long enough that we have pretty good communication (that is, I'm pretty good at ignoring him when necessary).
Loop 1: 29 miles ~ "Are these legs even on?"
|Just after the turn onto the Katy Trail|
Photo credit: Mike Langille
|The easy loop|
Strava shows that the sluggishness wasn't just in my head. Even with the possibility that I forgot to stop the Garmin until I was back at my car, my elapsed time was 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest time on the loop despite working harder than last year.
2014: 2:03 moving, 2:13 elapsed
2015: 2:11 moving; 2:12 elapsed
2016: 2:08 moving, 2:09 elapsed; ahr 108, max 167
2017: 2:23 moving, 2:26 elapsed; ahr 134, max 165
Loop 2: 33 miles ~ More of the same
I'd loaded up with enough water and nutrition to ride the first two loops without stopping, but I stopped at the car to switch my waterproof jacket for a lighter windbreaker and remove the knee warmers I hoped were causing the weird numbness I'd felt in my left foot for most of loop 1. Not quite ready to accept the shift in the forecast, I tucked my jacket into a jersey pocket and rolled out just ahead of Mickey and Eric, who'd made a wrong turn on course and tacked on a few bonus miles.
In previous years this has always seemed like the worst loop of day 1, but this year it was absent much of the loose gravel that makes it more challenging. On this day it seemed lovely and scenic and...still really hard.
|Photo credit: Mickey, who had lots of time to compose shots while waiting for me.|
The only other woman riding three loops Saturday passed me at some point on this loop, and I couldn't muster any concern about it. Just keep moving forward. My foot was no longer numb, but my left hip was bothering me in the same way it used to on long rides. Overall I felt lousy, and the longer I rode the more I started to think I had whatever it was that had kept Jacob home from school. After I mentioned this to the guys, Mickey asked if I wanted to stop after leg 2.
I wanted so much to stop, but then I'd have no chance of riding all five loops. I decided to get through loop 3, then if I woke up actually sick the next day I could just go home. The worst would be to quit and then wake up feeling fine.
|So much fun.|
|Me looking straight down so the hatred in my eyes didn't set the man on fire. ;-)|
2014: 3:14 moving, 3:31 elapsed
2015: 3:00 moving, 3:12 elapsed
2016: 3:02 moving, 3:05 elapsed; ahr 108, max hr 161
2017: 3:11 moving, 3:14 elapsed; ahr 90, max hr 159
Loop 3: What we have here is a failure of motivation ~33 miles
The first five miles of loop 3 are paved, which makes the uphill trend much more bearable. I told the guys how the first time I rode it I'd made a deal with myself that I could walk any hill I wanted. Mickey was not in favor of this plan. "I'll make a deal with you like I do with my son," he offered, "I'll give you $1 for every hill you ride, and you give me $5 for every hill you walk."
"How about I walk whatever the hell I want to," I countered, "And you can go..." I trailed off, but he got the idea.
|That smile was just for the camera.|
I steadfastly refused to be motivated. "I don't care. This is Tour of Hermann...all you have to do is finish. I'm doing everything I can just to move forward."
Like loop 2, this also ended with a good stretch of pavement, albeit with more hills, and finally we rolled back into town. In its last year, the race was operating with a shoestring staff and had a distinctly DIY vibe. The race director had already left by the time we got back to the park, but the "crushed it" stickers for our number plates were still there. We affixed ours, changed into clean clothes, and went in search of Mexican food.
2014: Didn't ride loop 3
2015: 2:52 moving, 3:08 elapsed
2016: 2:50 moving, 3:10 elapsed; ahr 97, max hr 150
2017: 3:12 moving, 3:18 elapsed; ahr 90, max hr 158
After dinner, I set up my tent near Jim and Chuck, who'd both bikepacked to the race and ridden part of it before their planned ride home on Sunday. We hung out for a while and then I headed to bed, lulled to sleep by self-doubt. If you're struggling at Tour of Hermann, how are you going to ride Tour Divide?
My sleeping bag was cozy until the sun touched my tent, and then it was like being in a furnace. I quickly packed up, enjoying the luxury of being able to throw everything into my car, moved the car back to a spot near the start/finish pavilion -- though not nearly as close as on the previous day when the bad forecast kept so many away -- and then met the guys at Hardees.
|Breakfast of champions...where's everybody else?|
Loop 4: Teamwork makes the dream work! ~52 miles
Momentum had a pretty good crowd on day two, so I said my hellos, passed out a few more hugs, and got myself to the start in plenty of time. The Sunday crowd stayed neutral until the turn onto the main road, at which point they shot off. I resisted the urge to follow suit...and by that I mean my legs were tired. By the time I reached the Missouri River bridge I was firmly in last place.
Except, of course, I wasn't. Relatively few of the people ahead of me had been there the previous day, and even fewer had ridden all three loops.
|Pro tip: when you're the only one around you don't have to share the shot with anyone else.|
Photo credit: Mike Langille
|This picture makes me laugh . Shades of the picture from Pere Marquette that caught my face as the guy in front of me wiped out, here I'm wincing as a truck flies through an intersection right in front of Mickey.|
Photo credit: Mike Langille
By the time we turned off the Katy at Portland, my back and left hip were bothering me and my foot was experiencing the same weird numbness as before. I actually looked forward to hills I'd have to walk as an opportunity to ease the discomfort from being on my bike, but overall I felt worlds better that at any point from the previous day.
|Laughing because the photographer had just watched up blow by a turn. Incidentally, that bulge by the words on my outer thigh right by the words is swelling from a mountain biking fall that Monday.|
Photo credit: Mike Langille
I've ridden this loop every year I've done ToH, so it was a ride down memory lane as I crossed familiar spots. Of course, that familiarity didn't prevent my typical race amnesia where I've blocked out large portions of the course. Ok, we get to the top of this hill and then we're basically back on the Katy, for example, was not accurate. After "the top of this hill" was another hill. And then another. And then another. Some hill walking ensued.
2014: 4:43 moving, 5:41 elapsed
2015: 4:25 moving, 5:25 elapsed
2016: 4:08 moving, 4:51 elasped; ahr 111, max hr 171
2017: 4:21 moving, 4:32 elapsed; ahr 109, max hr 154
Loop 5: Motivational math ~52 miles
I stopped by the car long enough to lose my base layer, switch bottles, and guesstimate how much water I needed to bring without carrying an extra ounce, then after a quick bathroom stop and hug from a Momentum teammate who was done for the day we set off again. The other five-loop woman had come into the park slightly after us, and Mickey suggested, "I think you need to try to keep her behind you."
Once again I steadfastly refused to be motivated. "I'm doing all I can. If she passes me, she passes me."
Most of loop 5 was uncharted territory for me, but it shared its first (mostly paved, largely uphill) 7 miles with Saturday's loop 3 and returned to town (mostly paved, largely downhill) on the same stretch. So, basically, I only have to ride 44 miles before pretty much coasting back to town. Some Springfield friends had ridden the loop for the past two years and described it to me. "It's the prettiest loop of the whole race. It's got some hills, but it also meanders through a valley."
Meanders. That sounds pretty flat. And I like to meander.
17 miles in, Mickey announced, "35 miles to go! You know what that means?" I looked at him blankly. "It's like a medium Trailnet ride!" he continued, citing one of my favorite comparisons.
"This is no Trailent ride," Brandon replied.
|Photo credit: Mickey|
|"Hey...G for Geisen! You should take my picture here!" The sad thing is that I really thought I was smiling.|
I was basically living for mile 44, where Mickey had told me we should rejoin the part of the loop (lollipop in this case) we'd already ridden and start going back downhill. It was a terrible betrayal when this point didn't arrive until mile 45 and then (thanks a lot, race amnesia) we found there was still one more gravel hill to climb. And by climb, I mean walk. As Brandon said, "I was promised no more hills. I'm not riding any more hills."
Our group been leapfrogging and riding with another man out on the course for most of the second half, but by the time we'd reached the stick of the lollipop he'd disappeared. "I guess they're done waiting on us," Brandon said.
"No, Mickey will be there," I told him, and indeed, he was waiting at the turn back onto the highway. Five more miles to go. He was doing something on his phone, so we rolled past him, knowing he'd catch up. Brandon and I worked in a nice little group, and before long we could see the other guy ahead of us. We didn't say much about it, but we had a new goal of passing him before the finish line.
Brandon pulled for a while, then I took my turn. Mickey took a surprisingly long time to catch us, and when he caught up he asked, "Trying to hold me off?"
"No," I replied, "We're trying to catch that guy."
He immediately jumped on the front and pushed the pace. "Wait!" I called, "I can't draft you if I can't catch you!"
Brandon got back in front of me and brought us back up, and with less than a mile to the finish we caught and passed our rabbit, rolling into the park again triumphantly. It was a very quiet finish line, with only Joe and Eric still there waiting. They'd both finished way before we did, so it meant a lot to me that they stuck around. The race director had left bottles of wine, t-shirts, and the traditional jars of gravel for everyone who'd left on loop 5, so I happily collected mine and dug that final "crushed it" sticker out of the trash for my number plate.
|Finally a full jar of gravel!|
2014: Didn't ride loop 5 - broken shifter
2015: Made the cutoff but decided 52 miles was plenty for the day.
2016: Missed the cutoff to ride loop 5.
2017: 4:57 moving, 5:12 elapsed; ahr 116, max hr 146
Thanks to Jeff Yielding and his volunteers for putting on a quality event and kicking my butt for the last 4 years. Thanks to Eric and Joe for waiting around to see our finish. And major thanks to Mickey for sticking with me for all 5 loops and helping make it possible for me to finally reach my goal.