The Gravel Grovel is a grueling bike race in Hoosier National Forest. This year's event went down on November 28th, and it was a particularly rough race for participants. We asked Nate Cornelius and Clay Green – members of the Think Green / Sword team – about their experience.
For those who are unfamiliar, what is the format of a gravel race?
Nate: It's a mix of road, cross, and mountain biking. Because of the mixed terrain, racers are competitive on both mountain and cross bikes.
Clay: It's a super fun event. There's a lot of climbing and fast descending.
Nate: The best part of the discipline is that it merges some of the best aspects of other types of bike racing.
How were the conditions?
Clay: It covered 60 miles of tough Indiana terrain. When our team members met outside Louisville, Kentucky, around 7 am, temperatures were in the upper 60s. Things didn't look that bad. But by the time we had driven the 90 minutes to the race, temperatures had dropped to the lower 40s and the rainy skies were ominous.
Nate: Conditions were brutal! I have never done a more challenging race weather-wise.
Clay: People were pulling out winter gear.
What was the worst moment for you?
Nate: It's hard to narrow the worst part of the race down to a single moment. Was it when I lost all braking after the first hour and still had over three hours to go? Was it when I could no longer feel my hands? Maybe it was when I realized I could not quit the race because I had no idea where I was and no choice but to follow the course.
Clay: There is nothing worse than going through a two foot-deep creek in chilly temperatures knowing that you still have over 50 miles to go. The first creek crossing was stupid deep and silly cold.
Nate: Now that I think about it, the worst part was after the finish when I found out that what I thought was agonizing pain in my hands was surprisingly mild compared to the pain from the lukewarm water of a post-race shower.
How do you alter your training to focus on an event like this?
Nate: I did a couple cross races this fall just to keep me motivated enough to keep riding and fit enough that the race wouldn't be a death march for me.
Clay: The great thing about gravel racing is there are lots of ways to train to tackle the event. I am a big fan of cross-training the different bikes. I'm a firm believer in strength training as well. Total body fitness. But for this race, physical fitness was not as challenging as the mental fitness – this tested my mind.
Describe your hydration/nutrition strategy.
Clay: Hydration and nutrition are so important to having a good race. Especially this one. It was so cold and wet that things just did not work properly. Eating and drinking were almost impossible on the bike. Luckily, before the race I drank Sword to prepare.
Nate: For the most part, I race with nothing but Sword and an emergency gel in case I get behind on calories or drop a bottle. For this race, I ended up going on only one bottle of Sword. It's pretty amazing that I was able to go that long at race pace with little more than a bottle of Sword and never bonked or cramped.
Clay: I raced the entire 60 miles on one large bottle of Sword – heavy-dosed – and one GU Gel. With more mix in the bottle, I was able to add extra calories without affecting the quick absorption properties. Oh, and I had plenty of water and nutrients from all the rain and creek water I was drinking.
Why put yourself through this?
Nate: I asked myself that many, many times during the race.
Clay: I don't know why I put myself through this craziness, but I sure know I love doing it.
Nate: There are always dark patches of doubt that creep in at some point in long events, but pushing through and reaching the end is very satisfying.
Clay: The thrill of finishing is hard to describe. Fulfillment, satisfaction, excitement, exhaustion. All kinds of emotion.
What was the best moment?
Nate: After the race, when I stopped shivering uncontrollably and I could enjoy my hot chocolate.
Clay: Knowing my teammate Andrew "Dizzle" Dillman hammered out the win. People tend to underrate the team aspect of cycling, but having a teammate win is a great feeling. We all train so hard and give so much effort that it's great to see the payoff.
What are your goals for the upcoming season?
Nate: I want to help my teammate Brian Schworm win the NUE series overall and still finish solidly in the top 10 overall for the series myself. I would also like to take another crack at Marathon Nationals for my age group.
Clay: I'm looking forward to the NUE series as well. I also hope to hit the Snake Creek Time Trial in Dalton, Georgia starting in January.