October 27, 2019 - 41 miles, +3.5k ft. elevation gain Oracle, Arizona 2:29:28 - 1/31, 6/164
A friend pitched this race to me. My calendar was empty that weekend and the venue only about 3 hours away. Naturally, I pulled up the website and registered for the longest distance offered. The race offered 3 distances-- 40/50/60. The course was compromised of a 40 mile loop (40 Grind) with a 5 mile (50 Grind) or 10 mile (60 Grind) out-and-back section. The 40 mile loop took you up to the base of Mt. Lemmon and back around to the host venue, 3T Ranch. The out-and-back section took you up the backside of Mt. Lemmon on a semi-maintained service road. The 50 mile course option went 5 miles up and back down. The 60 mile course went 10 miles to the top (+8kft) and back down.
As the race neared, I started rethinking the distance I registered for. For one, I found out that previous 60 mile course winners were all on full suspension mountain bikes. Then a friend posted photos and video from a pre-ride which prompted me to look at the Strava profile a little more closely. Anyone I talked to about the race recommended a mountain bike. I ride a Canyon Grail with 38’s on 650b’s. Unable to pre-ride the course myself, days before the event I officially changed my registration to the 40 mile. I wanted to race this event and felt the 40 mile course afforded me the best opportunity for my equipment and skill.
The race was hosted on the 3T Ranch in Oracle, AZ. Beautiful venue in the high Sonoran Desert. We arrived Friday and set up camp. The area is remote and lodging sparse. Our only option was to tent camp. The wind blew like a mother Friday but was forecasted to calm down by race day the next day. Was a cold night’s sleep as overnight temps dipped to the low 40’s. But come Saturday, the wind had settled. The morning air was brisk. I had never raced as short a distance as 40 miles on gravel. I decided to go with roughly 40 ounces of water in my USWE pack and GU energy chews. Ditched the bottle cages and even my saddle bag with tools etc. (don’t recommend). I dressed warm with full fingered gloves, neck collar, merino wool base layer and tights over my shorts. Gun went off at approximately 7:35am.
As we set off no real ‘pack’ formed but there were 6 or 7 of us yo-yoing as we winded our way to the base. If felt good but the cool air burned my lungs. I was thankful for my Stages power meter. I kept a close eye on my power to keep me from slacking but also from going over my limits. The first aid station was where the 50/60 mile riders split off to go up the mountain. Once beyond the first aid there was less traffic as the 40 milers were first to hit that section. It also made it easier to tell who you were riding with. The portion of gravel that was beyond the first aid was extremely rough and freaking mind blowing rough at times. At one point I thought I broke my rear derailleur and another I thought I cracked my carbon rims. The last 15 miles were pavement and I was hanging on to get there.
The second aid was where the gravel ended, and pavement began. It was also here where I started to feel overdressed. I did not want to stop and so I tried to forget how hot and smothered I was feeling. The start of the paved section was straight and on low consistent grade. I was able to pick off a few riders on mountain bikes here.
Next section of pavement was rolling hills on a constant climb. It was here that I realized I was out of water and still had about 10 miles to go. Now I was hot, overdressed and thirsty. I heavily relied on my Stages dash to tell me how much further I had to go. I pushed on and was able to pick off a couple more riders. Miraculously, a water hand up station appeared out of nowhere. But I wasn’t thinking clearly. I took the bottle, had a few quick sips and ditched it because I had no bottle cage to store it. I immediately regretted that realizing I could have stowed it in a back pocket.
As the road continued to climb and wind, I figured out where I was and realized we would be finishing on a section of the road that took us into the ranch. This would be the only part of the course I was familiar with having had driven in on it the day prior. It was pavement, with the last half mile turning back into hard packed dirt. I passed one last rider before we hit the dirt. The dirt was one last climb that winded up a hill. The last rider I passed didn’t try and hold my wheel, so I never checked over my shoulder as I started winding up the hill. Once over the top, I entered the gates of the ranch and made my way to the finish. The path to the finish was sketchy with loose gravel and narrow sharp turns. I typically speed across the line but this time I went easy and soft pedaled as I passed under the finish banner.
I regret the finish. I should have looked over my shoulder and never let up. I almost got caught by another female rider. My margin of victory was a few seconds. Came as a shock to me as at no point, in any of the long stretches of sight, did I see another rider coming. Good lesson to look more and never let up. No matter how damn thirsty you are.
I was super stoked to finish 1st female and 6th overall. I also snagged the QOM for the 40 Grind, bringing home 2 jerseys for the weekend. This was my last race of the year and went out on top! While I initially felt the 40 mile course was taking the ‘easy’ route, upon finishing I realized there was nothing easy about this course. And if it was the gravel ‘friendly’ option, I had no business on the not gravel ‘friendly’ course. This course was consistently rougher than anything I had been on. It pushed me and my equipment to the limits. All in all, another great learning opportunity and experience. The venue was beautiful and provided a fun atmosphere, (live bands, food trucks, beer garden, dirt crit, REI demo, etc.) and awesome expo with lots of vendors. The sponsors were generous, and I felt the riders got lots of recognition. Gravel or mountain biking; it’s a good time!