Velorosa's own Deanne Herr had an epic ride with an epic result this last weekend. Deanne rode, survived, and conquered the La Grind Stage Race. She placed first on the podium!
After reading "first on the podium" you might be thinking "Wow, that's cool," but you wouldn't know the half of it. Read Deanne's account to realize what an absolutely impressive achievement her win is and how mentally tough and physically prepared she had to be to finish this race, let alone podium in first place. In Deanne's own words:
La Grind Stage Race – May 6-7, 2023 Race Report
The La Grind Stage race is held in Emporia, Kansas, on many of the same roads as the big Unbound Gravel race in June. I’ve considered riding Unbound at some point, but wanted to see if I even liked riding gravel in Kansas first. They offer several race options including 100 mile/100K 2-day race (which I did), as well as shorter options. There were 70-80 people in each of the stage races as well as another 100+ in the shorter races, so it was a nice-sized event. Big enough to be fun. Small enough to be fun. Registration fees are extremely reasonable and proceeds go to support Handlebars of Hope, an organization that gives away free bicycles to people in need both in the US and Mexico. Pretty neat!
The weather was predicted to be HOT with temperatures in mid-90’s and WINDY (25 mph in town… who knows what it would be out in the wide-open Flint Hills!)
I joined the Friday night shake-out ride, which was an easy no-drop ride for a few miles of the race start because I wanted to see for myself what the gravel was like. On the way back in to town I rode over a rusty nail and put a big hole in my tire. I’m running tubeless, so we quickly plugged it up and it did seal. I was already nervous about flats and didn’t want to risk riding on an already damaged tire. I had a set of spare tires with me, but on the advice of the mechanics on the ride and in the shop, I had a beefier set of tires installed on Friday night. Now I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t really know how to use my tire plug tool before this weekend. So, while it was stressful to have this happen the night before a race… I’m kinda glad it did because I went into the race with more confidence that if I DID have a flat, I’d be able to take care of it.
Saturday’s races started 15 minutes late due to trains. (There are a LOT of trains running through Emporia!)
Police escorted us through town, and racing started when we hit the gravel. I had positioned myself near the front with intentions of trying to hang with the leaders as long as possible. Things started pretty chill, and it was a large lead group until after the first turn when a small group that included pros Paige Onweller, Erin O’Mara, Kristen Legan and Morgan Chaffin took off. I was able to hang on to the second group. Before long, that group sort of broke up and I found myself with 2 men who rode a similar pace to me and we worked together into the headwinds. We caught a few others and at times had 6 or so in our group.
I had planned to roll through the first stop at mile 25, but due to heat and exertion, I had already drunk all of my water (2 Liters), so I stopped momentarily for water. The guys I was with all lingered at the stop and ate. I don’t believe in stopping so I rode off alone.
I ran 200 calories of Tailwind + 100 calories of Fructose in each of my water bottles. By mile 25 I had drunk both of those. I met my husband Joel at the Mile 40 checkpoint and got two more bottles of fuel + my 2L Camelbak. (The race is supported, but we were also allowed to have our own crew at the designated checkpoints if we wanted.) I drank a full bottle of water while he was changing out my bottles. (If you are counting, that’s 5 L in 40 miles…) By this point we were well into the Flint Hills and the winds were insane.
There was one knee-deep water crossing prior to the second checkpoint, but it was ridable and the water felt kinda nice for a moment. Joel warned me that the road ahead had a couple more water crossings and was difficult for his F-150 to climb. There were 5 water crossings total and I was able to ride them all.
There were around 10 of us who left the second stop at the same time. I was pretty darn proud of myself for staying on the gas and had no trouble hanging with this group men on all of the crazy surfaces out there. We had everything from gravel to sand to “flint” rock to 4-inch “boulders” to dirt to cow manure to ride through. I honestly don’t think I could have done it last year, and I’m super happy about making progress in my handling skills!
I’m not quite sure when the ride turned to torture, but it was sometime shortly after this. Temps had soared into the mid-90's and the winds were "carnage" as one of the guys put it. Everyone was suffering from the heat and lots of people started pulling the plug on their races. My heart rate was crazy high – average was at threshold for the first 4.5 hours. (All-time peak heart rate for me!) I knew I'd have to get it down some if I was going to finish. I was also only 50-miles in and seriously questioned if I’d be able to finish (or even wanted to!)
I got blown off the road 5 x in this section. It got to the point that in order to turn into the cross winds I had to unclip lean as far as I could with my leg out for balance. It was insanity! Coming around one curve I had my right foot clipped in, had just unclipped my left and as my toe touched the gravel the wind picked my bike up off the ground. Holy buckets! Several other riders told tales of similar experiences of being blown off the road so it wasn’t just me.
I ran out of water again before the next aid station (mile 70). I nearly stopped at house to try to get water from their hose, but they had the gate to their driveway closed. Thankfully it was only about 2-miles later that I hit the aid station. (If you are counting, that’s 9 L in 70 miles.)
My feet and hands started cramping a little by this point, but my body held up remarkably well for how freaking hot it was. Even though I wasn't having any fun at that point, I frequently re-evaluated my condition and came to the same conclusion that I was fine. I just tried to keep working the problem- keep eating, keep drinking, keep my HR in check, keep pedaling. We did eventually head back north and had some tailwind sections, but it sure wasn't the nice wind-assisted ride home I was promising myself when I was fighting headwinds!
In total, I drank 14 L of fluid, and finished in 7 hours 15 min. Much slower than my hoped for finish time, but happy to have survived.
I did seriously question whether I'd be able to ride again day 2 - and if I even wanted to. But a few hours of cooling off, several slices of pizza and a DQ Blizzard helped my attitude. I also got a big boost when the day’s results were posted and I found myself in 10th place overall, 4th place woman (after 3 pros), and 1st place in my category!
We looked at the Sunday course and it didn't look like it was going to be way out in the open hills like Saturday. While the winds never did die down, they were mostly out of the south and the bulk of the course was North/South so... I decided I could suck up a few miles of cross winds one more time.
Before the race started on Sunday, they told us that 70 people needed Sag on Saturday –half of the field did not finish! (**Quick update, the race directors just posted that it wasn't 70 people, it was 70% of the field that did not finish on Saturday! Holy cow!)
I knew I was at least an hour ahead of the other women in my category so I didn't see the need to kill myself trying to stay with the leaders on day two. Plus, the race started harder and faster (shorter route, lots of fresh legs of people who didn't ride the day before). I briefly worked with a few people, but no one was riding the pace I wanted to ride so I essentially rode this one on my own. I caught several people along the way but was nowhere near the leaders. However, I WAS the first-place women in Cat B overall for the day, finishing in 4 hours 10 minutes. I wound up the women’s Category B 100 mile/ 100 km Stage Race Champion and finished 4th place woman overall (behind 3 pros)! This granny will take it!
I can’t say enough good things about the race directors and volunteers. The courses are well designed, the support was excellent, the swag was great! I need to give a big shout out to High Gear Cyclery for some last-minute bike tweaks, new tires, and lots of cheerleading.
I’d be completely lost and in last place without my amazing coach Greg Grandgeorge. (T2MCoach). It blows my mind how much I’ve grown thanks to your expert coaching the last few years. Thanks to my Velorosa Cycling Team teammates, especially Rose Willey, Heather Poskevich, Erika Egge York for your support, and Cory Rood for heckling me back on my bike for a second day. Motivation comes in many shapes and sizes.
The jury is still out whether I want to try to race Unbound one of these days. But I CAN tell you that if you want to get the Kansas experience at a fun, grassroots event, I highly recommend the LaGrind Stage Race! And then start praying for low winds…