That’s a wrap on my first MidSouth experience and my 2022 season opener! For me, I had very little expectations headed into this race and I wanted to use the day to test new team equipment and to see where my fitness was at coming off a winter on the indoor trainer (thank you lovely michigan snow tundra…).
Like typical fashion, the start of a gravel race is often hectic and position in the pack continues to be critical for success. I didn’t place myself high enough in the pack. There were 2 crashes that were right in front of me and that made me a little skittish overall, but thankfully I was giving room and allowed myself to avoid going down as well. Shortly after mile 20, there was a muddy 2 track that was not bikeable. I entered this section of mud carnage on the 8th, and after running through the mud for a bit, I started to ride in a section that I thought was rideable. I chose a bad line and had a little tumble that caused me to lose contact with my group and then had to solo chase 2 guys and together we worked to catch back up to Holly and Emily’s group. We had a small group headed into the feed zone at mile 40. Then there was an attack by Holly right at the feed zone which caused me to play catch up again for 10 miles. I looked at training peaks data to confirm this, but I stopped for 3 seconds to get bottles. THREE SECONDS is all it takes to miss your chance. Emily was also chasing, but was further up since she took a musette bag, but eventually she had to stop and scrape mud from her frame and lost contact with. I continued to tell myself “never give up” and eventually I did close on Holly and caught her headed into the rutty section with the creek. Part of the reason I caught her as soon as I did was because she had crashed on a loose corner. Another example of how precise you must execute a plan on race day.
For me at this point in the race, I had no idea what position we were in. I could have been 10th place or 3rd place - I had no clue. I did, however, know that gravel is EXTREMELY unpredictable. You just never know what is going to happen so you have to have a certain mentality throughout the entire day. It’s not an “all or nothing” mentality in this sport - you just keep plugging along and most of the time the consistency pays off.
After the creek crossing where I finally caught Holly, we ended up working together with basically one other guy. He had to stop for water headed into the brutal headwind section. Holly and I then traded pulls, but our pace was slowing with just 2 of us. Eventually, Emily got pulled back to us by a strong guy who had flatted earlier and she hopped on his wheel. The last 30 minutes of the race into town was TENSE. All three of us knew it would be a tactical finish and the tension during that stretch is only something you can experience. As we made the final turn, I saw two guys hauling into the finish from another group and I knew it was too early to make a move. But their speed was so much higher, I made the decision to hop on. I thought I had 4th in the bag, but I made 2 critical mistakes at the finish line by leaving room on my left where there was wind protection and then not having a good snap sprint finish. Holly edged me at the line for 4th and Emily was right behind in 6th (we had passed Ruth at mile 75ish to bump up one position).
Overall, I was pretty happy with this result. Especially since I wasn’t even sure I would be racing and I had been on the road for nearly 2 weeks with my team camp the week prior. With my race calendar this year, not every race can be an “A” race and that is something you have to accept gracefully. As competitive athletes we want to show up to every race in peak shape, but that’s just not physiologically possible. I also took time to celebrate that this race is less than one year from my very first ever bike race I did last March 2021. CRAZY!!!!!!! I still can’t believe I have only been racing for a year and when I think about the people I am competing against it makes me hungry to keep learning and growing in this sport.
For those new to following my progress, I have a running background. I basically fit the whole “injured runner turned cyclist” mold. I hopped on a bike to cross train in the summer of 2020 and did some Zwift racing in the winter of 2020/2021, which was the first time I saw power. I was then recruited to a premiere league/pro level team for Zwift racing, but after doing a season of this I wanted to take on the challenge of racing IRL. Road racing had less opportunity for me to race in the midwest so that’s why I chose gravel so I could partake in mass start races and have an opportunity to prove myself and compete at a higher level right away. I think the key to my success was to always keep learning. I had a lot of painful experiences last year, some things that are lessons I will never forget. But they are valuable ones and I have learned from them all. There is progress in the imperfections!
So cheers to the lessons I learned at MidSouth Gravel and to many more than will come my way in 2022!
MidSouth Race Stats:
Distance: 100 miles
Location: Stillwater, OK
Starting Temp: 20 degrees
Bike: Ventum GS1
Tire: Gravel King SS 38’s
Nutrition: Awesome Sauce Spring Gels + Cliff Bars
Support: ABUS Pro Gravel Team