Hey, congrats again on being one of the 110-ish riders invited to take part in Gravel Worlds’ first running of the Long Voyage 300. It’s the hardest course in Nebraska’s biggest gravel race. For a few of us (myself included), this’ll be our first adventure well north of the 200-mile marker. So just getting in there to give it hell is kind of a big deal.
We’ve been watching you train from afar. And, after careful scientific analysis, the folks at Dirt Tan Bike Club Corporate Headquarters have a happy prediction: You’re going to gut this thing out. Despite the hills and the heat and the wind and the sun and the dark and the dogs and the dust and/or mud, that Fallbrook finish line is yours.
How can we be so sure? Shoot. We’ll tell you.
#1. Your strengths fit this course. Nebraska may not be flat, but this ain’t the French Alps either. Instead of monster climbs, Gravel Worlds has a reputation for “killing with a thousand cuts.” And the Long Voyage promises to double the damage. But if you approach southeast Nebraska’s rolling hills one at a time and deal with them each in their beautiful turn, there’s not a single rise out here you cannot climb well.
#2. You have friends on the road. With a field this small and a course this vast, you’re almost certainly going to be solo for significant stretches. That doesn’t mean you’re alone. In shorter races, maybe you do compete against the field. But in something like this, you’re all competing against the course. And all your fellow racers, whether they’re miles ahead, way back behind, or right at your side, are friends who want you to do well. Don’t undervalue that uplift. Even when we’re out of earshot, we’re rooting for you.
#3. Your body is amazing. We don’t mean that in a creepy way. It’s just that our bodies do these incredible things all the time. And we rarely give them credit for it. How does your stomach know not to digest itself? How can your heart flex constantly and never get sore? How can your body take one or two shots in the arm and suddenly make itself virtually impervious to a global disease that’s killing millions? When you’re honest about every amazing thing your body does on an ordinary Tuesday, a 300-mile hilly gravel bike ride in high summer is sorta NBD.
#4. Your bike was made for this. Almost as much as your body is a biological wonder, your bicycle is a marvel of engineering. And if you’re into gravel to the point where you want to watch the sun set, then see it rise, then maybe set again on a single bike ride, chances are good you’re sporting some of the latest tech. Or if your stuff’s older, that’s because it’s so proven and rugged and comfortable and true to you that you wouldn’t think of changing. The reliability of gravel bikes and tires and sealant and drive trains and gear has increased in a short span. And while you should always be ready for stuff to go pear-shaped, the odds of mechanical catastrophe trend down with each magical innovation. Today, the race-day scenario you’re most likely to face is one where pretty much everything works pretty much like it’s supposed to pretty much the whole way.
#5. You have a secret weapon. Maybe this is just me projecting. (OK, I’m definitely projecting.) But I believe the biggest thing we have going for us as riders is the vast array of mistakes we’ve already made. I was an art major in college, and I remember my painting professor showing us how to build canvas stretchers. (Teaching artsy 19-year-olds to think like carpenters is uphill work.) He calmly reassured us: “Every mistake you can possibly make building these things, I’ve already made a dozen times.”
By now, we can say the same thing about our racing. Who among us hasn’t mucked up our pacing, our nutrition, our navigation, our climbing, our tactics? As we grow, these mistakes become assets by helping us from two directions.
First, being so familiar with foul-ups helps us avoid a ton of them. That group that wants to gun the hills in this heat? Been there; done that. How about we let them go this time. That gel that doesn’t sound so appetizing anymore? How about you buck up and eat it anyway.
That same familiarity also helps us with all the mistakes we don’t avoid. OK, so we didn’t eat enough on that leg, and here we are again in Bonk City. We’re all right. Dial it back. Choke down that last gel and limp these six miles to Syracuse. Then here’s what you’re going to eat once we get to the next Casey’s…
Our history of mistakes is what proves that we can withstand them. We know how to navigate all sorts of setbacks and withstand even our biggest weaknesses. Instead of breaking down in dismay, we learn to just deal the best we can.
That’s all resilience is. And friend, resilience is all it takes.
Enjoy your finish.