The Allure of the Gravel Century

6:57 PM

Last night at a gathering I asked a cycling friend if she was going to do any of the early spring road races around here, and she mentioned that she had signed up for some of the local gravel centuries this year.  I’m still a newbie to the cycling scene, but the gravel century race/ride has definitely been the hot ticket in Minnesota (which is good, because the number of USA Cycling road racing events has been shrinking…).  I’ve not signed up for (or entered the lottery for) one yet, but I’m definitely thinking I need to try one of these.

My personal favorite postcard...
To begin with, they have an air of underground exclusivity about them.  To enter the Ragnarok 105 or the Almanzo 100 you send off a postcard in the dead of winter with the hopes of getting selected in the lottery.  With the Almanzo, people even take care to send unique postcards (to up the odds?). 

These races are unsupported, so even attempting them carries a level of bad-ass-ness that is pretty cool.  And because they are so early in the season (April and May in Minnesota can be pretty unpredictable), there is always the possibility of rain, sleet, fog, snow, freezing temperatures, blazing heat, poorly maintained roads, exhaustion induced disastrous decisions, and complicated bike repair in less than ideal circumstances.  Every year I hear from teammates who tell tales of desperate abandons involving hypothermia, brain-addled biking, and hopeful knocks on farmhouse doors.  A few have even finished!

The main thing that keeps me from entering…well, is there just one thing?  First, I’ve never ridden a century, much less a century on unstable gravel.  Then there is the time of year – you have to get your plan together early if you want to be ready for a century race in April.  Finally, I’m not quite sure if suffering is worth elevating to the status of the whole point.  I did several marathons when I was younger (and dumber), and it took me nearly 10 of them to realize that since I wasn’t particularly fast, they were really all about the suffering – preparing for it, enduring it, surviving it.  I can’t help but suspect that these races/rides would culminate in the same suffering and lack of satisfying payoff…but still…there is something intriguing about them…

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