Last Saturday I took part in the Westside Dirty Benjamin, a gravel race held in Chaska, MN. I like the WDB because it’s practically in the metro but doesn’t feel like it – most of the course’s 107 miles have a distinctly rural feel, which is a welcome change of pace from what I usually ride. I went into the race feeling good about a ‘short’ day on smooth, flat roads, and my main goal was to end the day feeling like I had really raced the event in stead of just riding to finish. I was also starting the day in pretty high style, which probably contributed to my optimism:
Friday night I went to bed at a reasonable hour, and then drove by myself to the start and arrived early (-10 Hubster points). I at least partially redeemed myself by starting the race on a 6 year old cross check with at least one H20 cage held on by zip ties (+5 Hubster points). I snapped my one obligatory photo at the start of the race, then retired my camera to a jersey pocket for the rest of the day. The start looked pretty typical, except that the sun was out. Don’t worry, it rained later.
The race started with a controlled roll through Chaska, and we were then turned loose on some rail trail and grassy two track through the woods. I made a point to stay close enough to the front to stay out of trouble, then got spit out onto roads with a large lead group of what felt like 30 – 40 folks. I stuck with them for the first 62 miles of the race, which is an eternity for a slowpoke like me. Lots of full-blown racer types in the group, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the pace to be pretty mellow for several hours. Things picked up as we neared the checkpoint, and I burned a few too matches yo-yo-ing off the back.
I rolled into the checkpoint with the lead group, grabbed some water, and made it through the subsequent trail section without incident. By the time I made it through the the woods there was no group in sight, and I felt like shit. I basically limped along for the remaining 45 miles, eventually feeling better as my stomach calmed down and I was able to resume cramming calories into my mouth. Crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 13 minutes — still about ten minutes better than last year despite feeling awful for a big chunk of the race.
I was greeted by this at the finish line – definitely the first brand that pops into my head when I think ‘gravel racing’. I hustled to the swag table to hopefully scoop up some canvas slip on sneakers, but I guess they had already been snatched up. Then it started pouring rain. Big ups to everyone who spent hours finishing the ride in the storm – they definitely had a harder day than I did!