The Dirty Benjamin is a 100-mile gravel race that takes place on the west side of the Twin Cities metro. It is an unsupported race so you have to be prepared for anything and have an on-call rescue person.
This year was my fourth attempt to finish. The first year this was the second gravel race I had ever done. It was 95F with a dewpoint of close to 90F. There were two known water stops in parks along the route. But by 80 miles I had almost run out of water and I was getting dangerously over heated so I called my rescue ride.
The second year was a different route. It was hot, the roads were sandy, and the winds were gusting at 45 mph across open farm fields. I am a smaller rider and I kept getting blown over. After six hours and only 45 miles I called my rescue ride.
The third year was cool and the roads were pretty good but I got caught in a severe thunderstorm in the early afternoon and called for a rescue.
This year, the route changed to one very much like the first year I tried the race. It was hot, windy, and the roads were very sandy. I got lost once which added an extra 8 miles to the official 101 mile route. But I finished! All of the VO2 and low cadence workouts paid off, that’s for sure. It was not very often that I got to be in the big ring or spinning. Even on downhills I often had to pedal because of the sand and wind.
In terms of nutrition and hydration for the event, three days before I started eating extra carbs and drinking more water. Since I am vegan extra carbs meant whole grains–buckwheat groat porridge and barley porridge with wholewheat toast for breakfasts, and oatmeal for an afternoon snack. I knew it was going to be hot on race day so the night before I had a salty dinner – a tofu and vegetable scramble heavy on the tamari. I find that before events that will be hot, if I have something salty the night before it forces me to drink extra water and I tend to stay better hydrated during the event. This can be a tricky thing to do if you don’t know your body that well because if you overdo the salt you can end up bloated and suffering the next day instead of pleasantly well hydrated. After dinner, in the name of carbo loading, my husband insisted we have some chocolate cookies for dessert.
Before the event I had my favorite pre-race meal: overnight oatmeal with hemp seeds, walnuts, dried dates, a little molasses, peanut butter, soymilk and banana. I had whole wheat toast on the side with sweet potato “butter” and a cup of coffee.
During the event I had a feed bag filled with homemade food: black bean brownie bites (https://thrivemarket.com/blog/black-bean-brownie-bites-recipe) and cinnamon raisin and peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes cut into bite-sized pieces. I ate about every 20 minutes. At the 48 mile mark is a park where we were allowed to get support. My husband met me there with peanut butter and banana wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. He also filled up my feed bag. This got me through the end with some food to spare.
I carried two bottles of electrolytes on my bike and wore a camelbak filled with plain water. Everything got refilled at the park. It had already been windy but after the park the day really started to heat up. By mile 75 my camelbak was empty and by mile 86 or so my electrolyte bottles were empty. I ended up loosely riding with three other people. One of them had no water left at this point either. So we stopped at a farmhouse and asked if we could fill our bottles. I didn’t fill my camelbak, figuring two bottle would be enough. Even with less than 20 miles to go, when I crossed the finish I had only a quarter of a bottle of water left.
There was ice water (and pop and beer) and shade at the finish and my husband brought me a vegan victory donut. I was exhausted and really glad to be done, but it was also a great feeling to have finally conquered this race after four years!