Chequamegon is done and wowza; that was a fun one! By now, you’ve probably already seen most people’s recaps and posts describing the race as: physical, intense, bar rubbing, wheel chopping and HARD. I would agree on all of those descriptors. This race is just so unique because nothing else is like it on most of our calendars. It does remind me a lot of Iceman, back home in Michigan. The difference is, Iceman comes later in the year after I’ve had some time to train that top end punchy fitness. For me, I was not prepared for the short efforts of Chequamegon. I knew that would be the case entering this event, but it’s still hard as an athlete not to “have it all.” Given the lack of short efforts, I think I did really well considering this was a race that would not necessarily play into my strengths. Yes, it is flat at sea level and mostly untechnical terrain, but the race itself is very tactical. The biggest take away for me was the fighting for positioning the ENTIRE race. Usually, you can throw some elbows and rub wheels briefly while entering a technical section, but this race was like that the entire day. At times it was fun, but mostly I found it frustrating mentally. You’d put in a huge effort to get near the front then immediately someone would cut you off or execute the same effort to be in front of you. This race required a lot of mental energy and also tactical skill to execute and fight for that position. This is a different way of racing for me - much more like MTB short course racing from what others were saying. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy that, but I need work in that area for sure.
For me, I entered Firetower with very poor positioning and honestly couldn't even see Ruth or Alexis make their move since I was so far back. I was with that main chase group after catching back on with Crystal and Deanna (Deanna took a massive pull to get us back btw which was impressive). After that, this main group continued to be spicy to the finish and with about 2 miles to go my legs just didn’t have anything left. At this point, I had been dangling off the back of the group not having the energy or effort to fight for positioning near the front. I didn’t exactly feel “in it” but more so surviving. There were times when I would tell myself, you could technically get third out of this group. But I also had the awareness to know how my legs were feeling at that point as well. Racing while in survival mode isn’t necessarily something that I enjoy, but it’s where I was at for this one at the end.
In the theme of my season, this race provided very valuable learning for me. A different style of racing, but more importantly how to prepare both physically and mentally for this type of race in the future. I think for me, I was over raced for the long endurance events for the month of August. Leadville, SBT and Garmin Gravel Worlds was too much in one block, particularly since Garmin Gravel Worlds was very similar to an Unbound effort in terms of fatigue and length. Then I added in another slog of a day at USAC Gravel Nationals between that as well. So, you can see, the priority over the last 2 months was multiple 7-9hr races then recovering between those. I certainly will build my schedule a bit differently next year, but I can’t say I regret decisions this year as I feel I have had 2-3 seasons of learning in 1 season. Painful at times, but I know this was necessary to meet my long-term goals over the next couple of years. There is only one way to get certain experiences - and that is through racing a lot of events. Thankfully as I head into my final 4 races of the year, most of them suit me quite well and 3 of them have been targeted races for me from the beginning. So, I feel eager to line up for those.
For me, one of the highlights was in the evening when I was sitting with my sister at a random table of older guys. They were at the race as well and since they were local guys, we enjoyed talking to them about the history of the event and heritage of the region. One of the guys, his name was Rob, was 75 years old and had won his age group at MTB nationals this year. In talking with his friends, they could sense I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my 13th place result and offered encouragement that if I look at Rob, then I can see I have another 40 years to get this racing thing figured out. I smiled, as the thought of that brought me much needed perspective. Seeing them as a group with their playful banter and teasing with deep rooted comradery brought me a lot of joy. In a sport that is ruthless at times, this experience with “the old guys” really gave me hope. Hope that I will figure this racing thing out and hope that I will find my people in the process, regardless of the results or my “status.” What a wonderful experience and reminder this was for me.
Photo credit: Snowy Mountain Photography for ABUS