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Steamboat Gravel #SBTGRVL

Karen Richardson | Published on 9/13/2021

Karen Richardson at Steamboat Gravel 2021
Last month I raced Steamboat Gravel in…you guessed it, Steamboat Springs, CO. It all started when Kathryn (Girls Gone Gravel) posted something about the race and I inquired if I could do it on my cross country drive to Tahoe. The race was sold out so I was out of luck and quite sad. A few weeks later they decided to open registration back up for a short period of time and she tagged me in the post. Of course I had to do it, so I signed up for the Red Course (approx 64 miles and 4100 feet of climbing). That sounded like a good distance for the limited training I would have before the race. Except after pressing the button I started looking at the Blue Course (approx 105 miles and 6500 feet of climbing) and wondered if I had made the wrong choice. I inquired with Kathryn and she told me I should do the Blue Course. Not to worry about my limited training, I could just “cram for it”. So I went back online and switched to the Blue….. note to self, never inquire with Kathryn on whether you should do a longer course. The answer will always be yes.

This would be my longest gravel race to date. I had done one just under 70 miles but with much less climbing, and a few 60ish milers with lots of climbing and they were hard! This was going to be a challenge. But I was excited to give it a go, and it would also be a good lead into the gravel race I was planning to do at the end of my trip just south of Tahoe in Carson City, NV. (Stetina Paydirt - which has since been postponed due to the fires/smoke and evacuations in California/Nevada.)

My training was very minimal. I had one long training weekend 2 weeks out from race day where I rode Talking Rock on Friday (44 miles & 4600 feet), Maysville on Saturday (40 miles & 2200 feet) and Murder Creek on Sunday (39 miles & 2600 feet). Would the accumulated total over 3 days of 123 miles and 9400 feet of climbing be enough for Steamboat? We would see soon enough!

Steamboat Gravel goodies!
Fast forward to Steamboat Springs….

It was my first time there and I fell in love. I rented what turned out to be a very nice airbnb a short distance away from downtown where the expo and race started. It took about 5 minutes to get there by car. I was able to meet up with Kathryn for a beer on Friday, and met another Sorella member, Beth Walters!

Beth and I did a shake out ride Saturday morning and rode a small portion of the race called Cow Creek. It was fun seeing the loose cows out, which we carefully maneuvered around. But I was surprised by the chunky thick gravel sections. Everything I had read, heard and seen indicted the gavel in Steamboat was pristine. The nice sections were nice, but the chunky stuff was very thick! I was a little concerned. We do encounter thick chunky gravel in ATL so it’s not uncharted territory for me, but it’s not my favorite. I pushed any concerns out of my mind and started to mentally prepare for a long day on the bike. I was having serious doubts the night before if I was going to actually finish the race.

Race morning I did the short drive over and quickly found a parking spot. I got everything ready, then rode the half mile to the start and filtered into the back of the Blue Course group. I had no interest in being in the front and the potential chaos. As it was, there were so many people riding, and even being that far back it took a while of careful rolling to get through the start before people/bikes started to space out.

Steamboat Gravel 2021 start
The Race!

The first part is a road section leading out of town. Smooth and nice, with some gradual climbs early on. People started to space out which was good, I don’t like being in a bunch. We soon hit gravel and it was very nice with some climbing sections. Some climbs were a bit challenging trying to navigate with only 2 lines (basically deep tire tracks worn into the road) to follow on either side of the center. I tend to want to go faster up hills than a lot of people but there was no easy passing on those sections. So I slowed way down when I saw a climb that looked more technical with little room to pass. I tried to allow enough space so as I gained on them there was still room to make it to the top without having to pass (usually).

It was pretty uneventful to the first aid station (approx 26 miles) where I stopped, took a bio break, refilled my bottles and grabbed half a PB&J sandwich. Something about a PB&J on white squishy bread on a long bike ride…it hits the spot!

Steamboat Gravel 2021 rest stop
I carried on and was feeling mostly ok. I say mostly because I wasn’t feeling great. I had woken up with a headache and upset stomach. I figured it was just nerves. It was also heating up. Hydration and nutrition were heavy on my mind. I knew I had to keep getting fluids and food into me, even if my stomach was telling me no.

While I was somewhat efficient with my time at the first aid station I was not as efficient at the second (approx 50 miles). It was HOT and it was here that I started questioning my decision to do the 105 mile Blue Route. Could I turn early and shorten it? Would I kick myself the next day? My headache and upset stomach continued, but I kept trying to eat and drink to keep my energy up.

Somewhere in here was the section through Fletcher Ranch. It included single track, double track, sand, a rutted grassy bumpy section, and a water crossing. I was dreading it, I’m horrible on single track. But it was actually quite fun, despite being very bumpy! I lucked out and was behind a girl who looked like she knew what she was doing, so I just followed her. I got though all the single track and the water crossing, no walking!

At the third aid station (approx 73 miles) I really took my time, lingering around, but eventually decided the miles were not going to happen on their own and I needed to get back on the bike. There was no shortening the course at this point I was in for the full 105 miles.

Each of the bigger climbs had a sign with the name. The climb up to the last aid station (approx 90 miles) had Corkscrew in the name. I don’t remember the whole name, but did not like the sound of Corkscrew! The climb seemed to go on forever and felt quite steep. Here was the only time I stopped on a climb. My breathing was labored, I had to stop to catch my breath. During my short break a group of pro women flew by. They were doing the Black course (142 miles!). Their encouraging words were enough to get me back on the bike and to the top!

Karen at the Steamboat Gravel 2021 ski chair
We had one final climb to do that I had been looking forward to all day. It was being sponsored by Chamois Butt’r and there were rumors of a photo op on the ski lift. AND bourbon or bacon hand ups! I passed on the handups, my stomach was still not feeling well, but I stopped for the photo on the ski lift.

From there we had about 10 miles left, which included Cow Creek. No cows this time through but the chunky sections were still there. It didn’t seem as bad this time, I knew what to expect and I was almost finished! We just had some rollers on the road back to town.

I was so happy to see the finish line, I got a bit teary eyed realizing I had completed my longest gravel race to date. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it!

Steamboat Gravel post ride goodies
Overall this course was absolutely beautiful. Mostly nice gravel roads, wide open prairies, rolling hills, big ranches, good mix of road/gravel (~70 miles of gravel), a few challenging sections (some single track, a muddy creek crossing, steep long climbs), excellent aid stations and volunteers eager to help. It was very dusty. I quickly understood why everyone had buffs or handkerchiefs tied around their necks. I took note of that for next time!

I would highly recommend this race. It’s extremely well organized, Steamboat Springs is a great town, and the gravel out there is really nice.