Location: East Finley Township, Pennsylvania Distance: Pint (109 Km, 68 miles, 6800ft) 1st Open Women, 12th overall.
“It’s an adventurous race through the historic landscapes of Washington & Greene Counties in Southwestern PA. The race covers many of the original winding roads and covered bridges traveled by the farmers who started the 1790s Whiskey Rebellion.”
Course description: The course was 4 different loops that all fed into the central start/finish location. Depending on race length, riders followed different combinations of loops, passing the start/finish area each loop. This was a brilliant course design because it meant there was central location food and water for pick up (and restrooms). You could even give volunteers your own labeled food and drink before the race to hold at the station. In addition, each loop also had a well stocked aid station at a half-loop point. The course was well-marked (my navigation errors were my own doing). The course was updated from previous years to include more gravel, and safer roads. I had pre-ridden the 2021 course a few weeks before and the improvements in safety in the 2022 course, particularly on the descents and the number of cars on the roads were notable. My best estimate is that 70% of the course was gravel. The gravel was in really good condition (chunky but not too chunky).
Tire choice: I road pretty comfortably on 40 mm Maxxis Rambler 700c Gravel Tires with tubes (45 PSI). I wanted a more aggressive tire for the descents. But I found these helped limit slipping out on the steep climbs too. My Race: The Pint was 2 loops. The first loop was 43 miles with 5100ft in 10 Climbs, and the second was 25 miles with 2800ft in 6 climbs. That’s 16 climbs total. Yes, I counted down the climbs. The climbs were significant. The shortest was 0.4 mile but reached 19% grade, the majority were 1-3 miles long with deceptive average grades of 2.5-5% that hid the 10-17% kickers that topped nearly every climb. All but 2 climbs were gravel. Even shallow climbs on gravel are a major power suck. I love climbing, but descending, especially on gravel is another story. I was dropped by the leading woman on the first descent. I worked crazy hard to catch the pack she was drafting between hills 1 and 2. After the second hill and found myself in the lead, and alone, with my Garmin screaming that I took a wrong turn. ARGH! I turned around and found myself in second again at the start of the third hill. I regained the lead of women’s race at the top of the third hill. At that point, I decided I was going to put all my efforts into the climbs and take the descents on my own terms (cautious and in control). I spent the rest of the race mostly alone with only my Garmin and my squealing front disc brake to keep me company. I finished the first loop feeling really strong (a pleasant surprise given how I felt in two previous training rides). A record number of people quit the race after the first loop. As I started the second loop I started encountering guys dropping off the lead groups. Many commented on my noisy brake (as if I didn’t hear it). Nearly all of them suffering from cramping and exhaustion. I didn’t realize I was so close to the front of the race until the final results came in a day later. By mile 60 I was cramping too, thankful for the emergency pickle juice in my back pocket (which surprisingly worked). I also had shooting pains through the balls of my feet with 2 miles and 400ft of climbing to go. Climb 16 felt like my slowest longest climb (it wasn’t, that was lucky #13). At last there was the descent into the finish followed by a blissful collapse into the grass, kicking off my shoes and an ice-cold Coke hand up from the race organizer. The podium was on Whiskey barrels. The haul was a Sweetwater Trophy and enough prize money to pay for the entry fee and gas. A big THANK YOU to Sweetwater Bikes who organized and ran the even and all the volunteers and sponsors.
Nutrition: I started with 2 liters of water/electrolyte/Skratch fuel mix (in xXx bottles of course). I consumed all of that in the first loop. Picked up another 2 liters of this mix at the break between loops. Then I slammed a shot of organic pickle juice, stuffed a fig bar in my mouth, poured a bottle of water down my back and headed back out for the second loop. At both aid stations I grabbed fruit (apple slices and banana). I also ate 2 packs of Clif bloks, and 2 more fig bars. I finished with 2/3 of bottle after picking up a little more water at the last aid station. Overall, I felt well fueled and hydrated throughout the race.
Race preparation: All of the event races had a large number of DNFs. Many of them incredibly strong road and gravel riders. I think the main factor was that for many, this was the first long race of the season. It was HOT, 75-82F for most of the race, in a spring that has been anything but warm. After the icebox that was Barry Roubaix 2022, I was expecting/hoping for heat. My preparations for this race started 6 weeks out. I did long rides (50+ miles) every weekend, on gravel if possible, and a few 3-4 hour rides on the trainer. Three weeks out I did a pre-ride of the 2021 course IRL. One week before I used RGT to ride the first Loop (2022 version) on the trainer, no fan, with the heat on (it was a sweat fest). I practiced my fluid intake and my nutrition. Then I tapered. This all worked for me, at least this time.