Garmin Unbound 100mi 2023 Race Report
Weather was all but perfect, aside from the occasional rain which was torrential when it showed up. Fortunately, gravel roads drain well. Unfortunately, not all roads on course were gravel :melting-face-apple:
We left Emporia screaming. 23-28mph. Little did I know it was an 11 mile run to the hole shot of “Road D” which is where the mud hit us. https://www.instagram.com/p/CtBwGu0s_Cr/
The mud was so bad you couldn’t even roll your bike through it. I had 42mm tires on a bike that can clear 50mm with fenders, and the peanut butter just jammed everything up. Wheels wouldn’t roll. It seemed like every 50 feet another rider was on the side of the road fixing something broken on their bike. Emporia might turn out to be Shimano/SRAM’s salesperson of the quarter for component sales.
After three miles and about 90 minutes of scraping, carrying the bike, trying to ride, stopping and scraping more off, the course turned back onto mostly-gravel and was able to ride again, save for some short sections. I had to clean several pounds of mud and grass off my shoes several times. It was gross, and having a paint stick in your pocket for mud scraping was critical. For 5 or miles after the worst of it, we’d hit patches of mud - but also creeks/puddles you could ride through to help clean the bike and drivetrain off.
The next 85 miles were a treat by comparison, and the race was truly on. With solid dry ground beneath, it was a matter of finding groups to work with and keeping yourself motivated.
Texaco Hill was the first water stop around mile 40 - it was indeed an oasis as I ran out of water right asI rounded a bend and saw it at the top of a gradual climb. This whole section was verdant and stunning, where the course wound through open grazing land. Roads were rough and there were many flats and there continued to be riders on the roadside with equipment failures, likely due to the mud. Our bovine spectators were curious what exactly was going on, offering zero mechanical support to anyone.
From Texaco hill onward we descended into the remainder of the course. Grupettos would form then disperse as climbs, technical sections, mechanicals, or fitness limitations revealed themselves.
The second and final rest stop was around mile 65 in Hamilton, KS where support crews were present. I was able to change shoes (it was a big brain move to pack them!) hose off the bike and re-lube the drive train, eat, and get moving again.
From Hamilton until the finish in Emporia there were several minimum maintenance roads with technical and rough sections, but all paled in comparison to what had come before. This final section was a mental battle as much as physical. Those who had nutrition/hydration dialed in the early race were able to smash, those who didn’t found themselves broken.
Coming into Emporia I was with a group of about 12 as we hit the final climb into town. The group broke up a bit and I found myself with one other rider. My velodrome racing brain kicked in and I treated it like a match sprint. With 1k to go, he started shoulder checking me and ramping the pace. Knowing I had one attack only, I waited on his wheel until there was about 200m to go, shifted into a gear where I could sprint and was confident the chain would stay, then attacked him, swinging wide to force him to cover as much ground as possible should he respond. I wasn’t going to look back and figured he was right on my wheel, so I put in a huge effort and bike throw at the finish line.
My goal for the race was top 50 in my age group and I surpassed that with a 19th place result, which I’m extremely happy with - 108th overall in the 100 mile distance.
I’m definitely planning to go back to Emporia next year, likely for the 200mi event.
Photos/video here on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/9196685602