Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra: Short Course
150 Mile Gravel Bike Race
St. Charles, Iowa
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Sarah Cooper is certainly making a name for herself as a race director. 2018 is the third year for the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra, and it ended up being the toughest year yet. The standard race is 200 miles, while you can opt to do the 150 mile “sprint” course.
I am relatively new to gravel cycling and ultra cycling. In 2017, I rode the 150-mile sprint course on my Specialized Fatboy. For 2018, I decided to go for the 200-mile race on my BMC CrossMachine in ultra gravel trim.
Unfortunately, a couple of mistakes and some bad luck ended my day early.
The morning called for light rain and cool temps, and then warming up later in the morning. The rain didn’t stop, and the temperature didn’t rise. I have a fair amount of experience with different levels of clothing needed, and I decided to go lighter with the forecast high being in the 50s. Mistake #1.
At the start line, it was raining and 42 degrees. I decided to forgo my full finger gloves for my standard open finger gloves. With the PogieLites, they prove to be quite good down to the 40s. However, the rain soaked them and diminished their capabilities. My fingers starting getting cold and my fingers were turning blue a couple of hours into the race. My feet were the other extremity in distress as well due to dressing lighter. Mistake #2.
In ultra riding trim, I use a CamelBak 2-liter bladder in a Revelate Designs Tangler half-frame bag. What I didn’t notice until Checkpoint 1, was that the sipping tube was not connected all the way to the bladder and all of the water leaked out. I’ve had this happen one other time. However, this time I couldn’t tell it was leaking, because the bike and everything else was already soaked. Mistake #3 and the cause of my DNF.
Start to Checkpoint 1
Near mile 38, my derailleur was acting up and not taking up the slack when running in the highest gears. The chain would droop down, and I was concerned it would hit the spokes. I kept an eye on it, and it eventually started working better.
At mile 54, I heard my tire make a funny sound going over a rock. I soon heard the sound of sealant trying to seal the puncture. It took about 10 revolutions of the tire, and it sealed. I never even slowed down as the tubeless sealant did its job. A big win for tubeless tires.
I was making really good time in the less than stellar wet and muddy conditions, and in less than 5 hours met up with the Grim Reaper. How apropos for the day. [Editor's Note: We believe this was a volunteer in costume, not the actual Grim Reaper.]
Checkpoint 1, at mile 60, in Orient, Iowa was just down the road. I stopped and fixed my CamelBak, and I grabbed a cheeseburger and some Mountain Dew. I threw some hand warmers into the pogies and slapped a pair of toe warmers onto my feet.
Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2
The roads outside of Checkpoint 1 were significantly worse than the roads coming into Orient. The softer composition of the gravel and several hours of morning rain made the roads incredibly mushy and slow rolling.
Then there were the B roads. Euphemistically called Hike-a-Bike sections, these roads consist of mud in a peanut butter consistency. There are only a few options to pass these roads: 1) carry your bike, 2) roll your bike along the road, 3) roll your bike along the shoulder in the grass. You’ll notice that riding your bike is not an option. I had a sling with me, so I alternated between rolling my bike along the shoulder or carrying it. There were approximately four miles of these roads that had to be walked, significantly adding time to the race course.
By now the cramping from lack of hydration was impeding my forward progress. Without any water on me, I knew I was on borrowed time.
I made it to Checkpoint 2 with significant cramping. I decided to pull the plug and accept a ride back to the start, thus ending my soggy day on the bike.
For full results and more race photos visit the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra website.
"Aero on the Flats" by Katherine Roccasecca
"Bike Setup" by Kyle Platts
"Climbing a Hill" by Eric Roccasecca
"Climbing into Checkpoint 2" by Carolyn Spiess Marsh
"Muddy and Hilly" by Katherine Roccasecca
Used with permission.