This past weekend I toed the start line at the Woolly Gravel Classic in St. Croix Falls, WI. I was coming off of a strong week of riding and my legs were feeling great so I was excited to finally get a good gravel century in.
I’m pretty sure I was the only woman doing the 100-mile course, but I’m not 100% positive because the start was fairly chaotic. The lead group took off and we averaged about 20mph for the first 10 or so miles on pavement. Once we hit the gravel, everyone splintered off and continued at their own pace. The next 15 miles were a mixture of super rutted out muddy roads and loose sand. I had to walk my bike up some of the sandy hills, but was able to ride the rest of it. The riders on mountain bikes definitely had an advantage for this portion. At mile 25, we encountered the bacon stand, where I topped off my water bottles, dumped the sand out of my shoes, and scarfed down a cookie. A couple minutes later, I was off again and still feeling great.
Unfortunately, this is where things started heading south. I’ve been experiencing some form of anterior knee pain since March, but it was manageable until recently. It used to take at least 40 miles until they started hurting (and even then, it was pretty minor), but this past weekend the pain started much earlier and got bad fast. After adding on several miles due to an unforeseen re-route (there was a prescribed burn), I had to make the tough call at mile 60 to either do 40 more miles and finish the course or ride 20 miles back into town. I chose the latter while sitting in a ditch, wincing from the pain and googling, “Can I sell my Dirty Kanza entry?” The answer is no, FYI.
I tearfully rode back into town, ate some food while zoning out, and drove back home where I sent my coach a million texts (I really don’t pay him enough, you guys) and pulled a classic Renee move — researching every possible solution to the point of exhaustion. A couple friends recommended I go visit “the bike fit guru” so I’m getting a bike fit done with him tomorrow and continuing to RICE, foam roll, and stretch. At this point, with DK only a month away, I’m obviously pretty worried about not being able to finish one century, let alone two. Thanks to my coach, my fitness is there so hopefully if my knee gets fixed, I’ll be able to still at least try for 200, but I’m kind of just having to play it by ear at this point.
As for my impressions of the course, the beginning was somewhat technical, but after mile 25, the gravel was much tamer and the scenery was beautiful, with the route winding us around several lakes. Due to the crazy amounts of snow we got 2 weeks ago, much of the 100-mile route was actually on pavement, so I don’t feel like I really got an accurate representation of what this course is normally like. I can say, if the course has less pavement next year (which it probably will), I’d run wider tires (wider than 40’s for sure) so that the sandy section is easier.
Those are all my updates for now! Send healing vibes plz!