On Sunday, August 18th, I lined up with the 1,500 inaugural cyclists of SBT GRVL — a new gravel race in Steamboat, featuring a 37-mile “green” course, a 100-mile “blue” course, and a 140-mile “black” course. I’m not a black-diamond skier, but I opted for the toughest course this time because, why work toward something you know you can do? Even after quite a bit of training, Sunday morning at 6am, I still wasn’t sure I could do this.
I’m the kind of person who has to practice something over and over. I’ve always envied folks who show up at a marathon having never run longer than 10 miles, and pull it off out of sheer willpower. I consider myself fairly head-strong, but I cannot pull impressive physical feats out of thin air. I started doing 100+ mile rides a solid 7-months in advance of this race.
After my last long training ride through Rocky Mountain National Park — 103 miles with about as much elevation gain as the race itself — I told my husband, “No part of me was interested in going 37 more miles.” He said, “then don’t.” And that changed my perspective. This was supposed to be fun — a privilege. A week out, race organizers sent out an email letting black-course riders know that if they reached mile 85 and weren’t having the time of their lives, they could make the turn and call it a day and join the folks riding 100-miles. So that was my goal: get to mile 85 and make the call.
It turns out, by mile-85, I was having the time of my life. I planned my nutrition right, drank plenty of water, and was ready to keep going. And maybe I was heat-delirious, or just happy that I was feeling so good, but the second-half seemed even better than the first. The loop around Oak Creek that started at mile 93, took riders up perfectly packed dirt roads. Views of ranches, the creek, impossibly green hillsides, and mountains in the distance, were just serene. The descent from mile 105 to 109 was probably my favorite section of the entire race.
Two months before the race I made the life-changing decision to upgrade my gravel bike to a Moots Routt RSL. It was like picking out a diamond, and I would much rather have a diamond I can ride than one I can wear. I ran Zipp 202 wheels and Donnelly X’Plor MSO 700 x 36 tubeless tires. I probably rode 800-miles on my new setup before the race, but in the 140-miles around Steamboat is where I felt like I truly got to know my bike. There’s nothing like a day-long ride up and down more than 9,000 feet of elevation, to make you super comfortable on dirt and gravel. I can finally say, gravel downhills in the drops is where it’s at.
I can’t say enough about the aid stations. The sponsors were awesome, the volunteers were awesome, the food/drink selection was awesome. I stopped at each of 5 aid stations to fill up with Roctane and water. I also consumed my own Clif gels (vanilla) and 2 Clif bars. Everything went exactly as planned.
We stayed at an Airbnb outside of Steamboat, in Oak Creek. It was actually really nice to be just 15 minutes from town. I’d do this again.
No matter how fabulous a bike is, after 9.5 hours in the saddle on a hot day and I was ready for that finish line. We were met with cold soaked towels and race-specific trucker hats. After a much needed shower, I was thrilled to sit down to some street tacos and a cold drink that didn’t involve electrolyte powder. As far as I’m concerned, SBT GRVL can rightfully claim their tagline: the greatest gravel roads on earth.