Dan Marshall and 240k of Gravel…
Wohoo! This is my second Friend Of Team Colin post (FOTC), and I gotta say…
Okay, full disclosure: Dan Marshall is MY guy.
And I think he’s awesome.
And I love him.
In fact, I am such a fan of Dan Marshall, and I’m so inextricably linked to him, that people sometimes think I work with or for him.
Dan is simply part of a very small handful of people who started Team Colin with/for me. He and his encouragement, and his races (he runs Substance Projects) are as much a part of my cycling persona as I am. True Story. Dan Marshall is actually responsible for the hot mess that is this blog.
Flashback: January 2013
Dan Marshall: You are relatable. You should write a blog.
And the rest is history.
He’s a pal and mentor, and aside from being MY guy, he is also a total weapon on a bike. Like, a singular and focused, strong and technical, fast and aggressive, titan on a bike.
Dude doesn’t just organize some of Southern Ontario’s finest races (shameless plug: XC Marathon, Stuporcross, Ontario Fatbike Race Series, and even anO-Cup and Substanx cross race), he competes in some of the gnarliest MTB and gravel races this side of the Mississippi.
And so, without embarrassing him even more (because he’s kinda shy) here, in it’s entirety, is his recent post about the Hell Hole Gravel Grinder (a 2 day gravel race in South Carolina), along with his apologetic disclaimer, which I’m using as the title.
As always with FOTC posts, this is Dan’s writing, with only minimal formatting changes made by me.
Really long, overly self-indulgent Facebook post about a bike race I did:
So, it has been a tough year. Lots of challenges, bad luck and a bunch of being sick… me and the kids. I may be a little weird but I have learned that when things are hard, do something harder. For whatever reason going and doing a really hard race where everything hurts seems to help.
I was hoping to do a stage race this year but I couldn’t make it happen. Instead I found a reasonably close race. Okay, South Carolina isn’t super close but at least it is driveable…
The Hell Hole Gravel Grinder is a 2 day gravel race just outside Charleston: 75 Miles on Saturday, then 75 miles the other way on Sunday. The course is super flat with 400 feet of climbing each way.
So I haven’t done a long ride in a while…what the heck. Pin it. The race started out with all the 2 day racers and the one day 75 mile riders, as one group. I got a good start and was sitting where I wanted to be (front group, 5 – 8 from the front). Not much wind but fewer surges. The first 15k was lit: Soft gravel two-track with bumps, at about 35-40k/h. Two guys got off the front by 5 seconds and things settled in a little. We all chilled and they got to about 20 seconds ahead, and things got more calm.
The group of 7 worked okay together, and I was able to subtly skip turns. But anytime we came to a corner I got a 3 second gap coming out of it, and I remembered that the 2nd half was ‘more technical’.
Turned out that two of the guys in our group had a rider up front (the rest of us were solo). They were okay about pulling through.. sort of. Stuff was rolling along until about 35k when the front two started to split up a little… then one of the team mates got a sneaky attack in and got across while they were easing off. Son of a…
We managed to get going again and couldn’t get the last team member to work…
And then a couple of the other guys in our group were really struggling and accidentally started making little gaps in our group. There was lots of pace changes, and the other team rider got across. Unfortunately I was at the back and couldn’t get around to join him… ARGH.
Eventually we managed to get a rhythm and shed a rider or two, so we kept them at about 30 seconds. It was at this time I realized I was still in striking distance if things go well. We rolled around the next bits with good speed and worked reasonably well together. Eventually we got towards the Start/Finish area (the course is a figure 8 so there is an easy self feed). Coming in I jumped over to the car and grabbed two bottles and came out 5 seconds off my group with the other group just 20 seconds up at 45 miles. Well I spent the next 10 miles alone and chasing 3 riders into a strong wind… guess how it went?
I had to dial it back a bit as there was a lot left to go. I was hoping to get them on the messed-up soft/mud bits. As we went through I seemed to close things down but the long chase was not helping…along with the not training thing.
At about 65k, things started to hurt all over (again with the not training…) and I couldn’t see anyone in front, or behind.
Until, with about 8k to go. I saw someone! It was the first attacker dude and he was in a world of hurt. Yeah! (bad person, I know)
So I kept it pinned as much as I could and eventually hit the last bit of pavement. And when I hopped off the bike I was surprised to find that my feet were KILLING me. It hurt to walk, or stand. Have I mentioned that the course was flat… so there was NO coasting.
Other important notes: The CAADX was PERFECT. Never worried about the huge holes on the trail, lots of speed and a lot of comfort for an aluminium bike. And if you are going to do long races once in a while, I would strongly recommend the Pearl Izumi Pro bib shorts. That could have been ugly.
After all that fun, I was 5th, 10 minutes out of first, and 5 minutes off the podium.
“Hopefully one of the guys out front will just die tomorrow and I can move up a bit”, I thought.
“…and hopefully I am not the one who blows up!”
So, day 2 was backwards from day 1. The mud and crap was at the start. Same plan: Hang on as long as possible and see if anyone else blows up first. So off the start, Electric Banana (jersey logo.. will now be called Banana…) who was third on day one, decides to attack. So I cover the first one at 200m in.
Then he attacks again and one of the other guys covers.
Then he attacks again and another guy covers it.
After about 8 attacks in the first 5k (Honestly!!!) we all decide to let the Banana go. So we have a happy group with everyone from yesterday. 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, but sadly SS dude couldn’t keep the speed up with all the attacks. A few minutes in, one of the US Military Endurance Sports team guys (1, 2, and 6) inform me that 4 is a good friend, and they are working to help him move up on Banana… great! Me with a 4 man team.
So I skipped a WHOLE BUNCH of turns. After a while we slowly pull back Banana, however, we leave him out there 10 seconds ahead for another few k just because.
Eventually, he notices and sits up to join us. SS is still long gone. And for some weird reason my legs are feeling fine… ish.
We roll along as a happy bunch, and all the sudden (you knew it was coming) there is a slight backing off at the front and a big hole and one of the USMES guys gets bumped over into some vines, crashes and takes out 2 others (luckily I saw it and managed to get around them..); Banana kept going. After about 30 seconds we were up and rolling as well.
The good news is that we had the infamous Hellhole Swamp section coming up. We saw Banana again up the road about 3k before it so all was good. The swamp section is awesome; mud holes and rock gardens and other fun crap. We caught Banana VERY fast in there. Unfortunately he got right in front of me and stopped at the last second forcing me into a HUGE mud hole which had had me stopped and soaked. But I did get around him and got rolling. Then I kept going and moved through the mud bogs well and kept it up on the skinny sections. By the end of the swamp I was off the front of the race clear by a good 10 seconds and to second… oops! So I sat up and waited for the race leader and we went together for a few k. We backed it off so his team was back on and then went tempo. By the time we left the forest we had 2 minutes on Banana. We kept going and I was 4th on the road feeling better than yesterday and 6 had a broken cleat. Well, to cut to the chase, we covered the next bit and I was rolling along with the lead group, until we hit some SUPER soft ‘trail’ and they got away. I just put my head down and time-trialled to the finish, hoping to not lose 4 minutes to 6.
Turns out 6 (who just did a world cup or world champ track race) was okay without a cleat! He sprinted and won the stage and moved ahead of me. But I got ahead of Banana and managed to be consistent AF.
Day one – 5th. Day 2 – 5th. Overall – 5th.
I had hoped to move up, hoped for a medal… But then I realized I was the first one without a team and I managed to ride 240km on gravel and through swamps in 8:15. I guess I will have to take that as a successful weekend.
you know, it was fun. It may not have the elevation but the guys running it are really passionate about it, and have a food truck at the finish line. It is marked well and the route is challenging without being insane. It won’t likely be as big as Kanza, but it really should be a lot bigger. The course being run backwards works well (you have an idea what to expect but it is a different experience from the other direction) and you can run with a group and try to pin it, or you can ride it solo (safer on the bumps!). If you are looking for something fun with a road trip give it a try.
(Oh and a hot tip for y’all: when your wife wants a commuter bike get her the same frame as you have then take it with you so you have spares!)
And a final Woot Woot! Second FOTC post, and it’s from my guy. So awesome.
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