Photo by Rob Meendering Photography
This "Killer" race lived up to its name with cold rainy and road conditions described as "peanut butter" or "oatmeal". Leah Barry and Zach Schneider, both racing for The Chainlink, race Barry-Roubaix for the first time and report back on what it's like to race in some of the worst conditions.
If I had to describe this weekend in a single word, it would be EPIC. On Friday, we were all packed up and ready to trek over to Michigan. Once we arrived in Hastings and picked up our packets, we checked in to the hotel and jumped on our bikes for a quick evening ride. The weather was so beautiful we had to get on our bikes and take advantage of the gorgeous day.
Photo by Zach Schneider
The morning of race day, I was all ready to go in full kit, waterproof boots, gloves, glasses, and pockets full of fuel to get me across the finish line. I pulled out with the first wave, riding my single gear. The weather was working with us for the first 10 miles and then the rain started to come down. This was my first long distance race and one of the hardest things I have done in my lifetime thus far. It was hard not just physically but mentally as well. My race horse that day is my All City Nature Boy Disc with my 18t/38t gearing, which is high but I was hoping to compensate for the hills and be forced to set a pace. As the rain began coming down, I can feel the water coming through my helmet and all the way down my boots. I tried to focus on one thing and one thing only - finishing every mile of this race.
Photo by SnowyMountain Photography
As I continue going up and down each hill and see the miles adding up on my Garmin the more confident I feel that I am going to do this. Suddenly I hear a scratching sound with my brakes and it apparently, I got some gravel stuck rubbing on my brake pads. Once the sound stops I realized my brakes are no longer operational as I am reaching Sager Rd, going 30+ mph on the descent. I am getting closer to fellow cyclist and I can’t get by them on their left so I try to sneak by on the right. That is when I realized I made a huge mistake. The trail disappeared as I flew over my handlebars and into the side of the muddy ditch. I shake it off, get my bearings in order, and jump back on my bike.
Photo by SnowyMountain Photography
I learned something at Barry-Roubaix, something very important and something I don’t want to ever want to experience again and that’s leg cramps. I stopped off at the water station on Mullen Road to refill my bottles and the longer I waited to get back on the road, the faster the cramps began to creep up my legs. The leg cramps were so intense I couldn’t even stand up, let alone pedal. When I arrived at Head Lake Road and Wilkins Road I realized, my legs wouldn’t shut up and I needed to make a decision - I needed to decide if I want to finish or throw in the towel. I had 26 miles completed and if I turn left I will be back at the finish in 10 miles and if I go right I will have to suffer through an additional 46 miles. I hadn’t had to DNF (Did Not Finish) so this would be my first time. I made the left turn and continued while I kept blocking out the pain in my legs. I knew I made the right decision even though I didn’t want to believe it. As the finish line comes into view, I pedal faster. After I crossed the finish line, I found someone to drive me to the hotel so I could change into dry clothes. My friend, Bryan drove me to the hotel and I was uncontrollably shaking the entire time. Changing and stretching out my legs left me feeling so much better so we decided to head back to the race and cheer for everyone else as they were finishing.
The Barry-Roubaix Killer Gravel Road Race is an annual event held in Hastings, MI. The race is divided into 22, 36 and 62 mile courses, and covers the rolling, pastoral scenery of Barry County. Initially, I had signed up for the 62 mile course, but opted to switch to 36 with about two weeks before the race, thinking that I had a better chance at doing well at a lesser distance. Living in Chicago, flattest of flat, I felt relatively untested against hills, and I am super glad I made the decision to switch.
The calm before the storm - a team ride in Hastings before the big day, Photo by Jeremy Bloyd-Pleshkin
Friday afternoon we arrived in Hastings. We picked up our packets at Ace Hardware, the volunteers were very organized and it went quickly, checked into the hotel and got ready for a little ride. The weather was beautiful, 70 and sunny, we donned our shorts and headed out for a spin in the last of the afternoon sun. I felt fairly confident on this ride, my tires were rolling quickly, I attacked the few hills we encountered, and I thought “oh! Maybe tomorrow won’t be SO bad, what was I scared of?”
Turns out, I had the weather to be afraid of! Overnight, an enormous storm system rolled in, temperatures plummeted into the high 30’s, the roads became sandy peanut butter, and there was no sign that this rainy, wet, weather was going to let up any time during the course of my race. I donned my warmest layers: a thermal baselayer, thermal bibs, shoe covers, thermal jersey, plastic gloves inside my full finger gloves and goggles to protect my glasses from the mud. The team rolled into town to get ready for staging, it was exciting to see the variety of cyclists and bikes lining up for the race, mountain bikes, fat bikes, CX bikes, and even a couple of Bullits rolled forward with each passing wave. I was set to roll out with wave 13, so I bunched in with the women in my category and watched the clock, at 10:33 we blasted out; shift, shift, shift, I was flying at 20+ mph on the pavement out of the gate.
Oh, but then the peanut butter, those sandy, rutted, roads. Right off the bat we encountered the “Three Sisters”, I took these first three hills with ease, and continued pedaling furiously. Around mile 9, climbing another unnamed hill (for each named hill in this race, there are about 30 unnamed hills), I felt the familiar knotting feeling of a cramp developing in my calf, and the steady scraping of sand in my brake pads rubbing my rotors. I dismounted my bike, took some big gulps of my Skratch apple cinnamon, chewed a couple sandy Clif blocks and futilely flushed out my brake calipers.
Just keep spinning, just keep spinning, already by mile 15 I am approaching sogginess. My merino socks helped keep my feet warm despite the persistent wetness sneaking past my shoe covers, and a pair of plastic gloves inside my regular gloves helped keep the moisture at bay for a bit, but already by this point my bike sounded like it was weeping at me to take care of it. Each stomp on the pedals lent a horrifying “chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk” noise that I began counting in my head as I stomped in my biggest ring up the hills. I rolled along past several people I recognized from around town, and everyone had words of encouragement for each cyclist powering through the rain and mud. I paused momentarily at the top of a hill to grab a drink and chew more sandy Clif blocks, and pedaled onward.
Ascending the “Three Sisters”, Photo by Karen Brower Photography
At around mile 21, I began an extended descent, flying down the dirt at a healthy pace until I encountered the aid station at mile 23, and this is where the constant throwing-up-in-my-mouth begins. Rolling out of the aid station, I was having a difficult time digesting the Clif blocks and fluids I had been forcing, and began regurgitating about every couple of miles, it was unpleasant to say the least, but if I stopped force feeding myself, I would have developed terrible cramps! Rock, meet hard place, I pushed onward, and then I saw the sign for “THE KILLER”.
I dismounted my bike almost as soon as I reached the incline, by this point in the race, my bike was so full of dirt it was becoming difficult to keep the cranks turning, I’d initially entered the race with ambitious goals, but at this point I wanted to simply finish. I pushed my bike up the incline and chatted with a girl in my category racing out of Cleveland, relishing in our shared misery. The skies opened up and a torrential downpour began as we dragged our bikes over the crest of the long ascent. Ok, 25 miles in, 11 to go, and I’m over the biggest climb of the race.
I was having a difficult time digesting my gels for the last ten miles, and kept throwing up in my mouth; I may have been over-eating in an effort to avoid cramps, and would probably opt for more electrolyte drinks and less things to eat if I did it again. By this point I was counting down the miles, trying to avoid the temptation to see how far I’d gone every 30 seconds, the cold and wet had penetrated through every layer and water sloshed in my shoes. I pulled my soggy self up the crest of a hill around mile 31, and my chain jumped off due to the sheer volume of sand and small rocks caught on my drivetrain; I paused to fix it and standing still realized how truly cold I was. Shivering, I remounted, I’d come this far and there was no way I was going to give up now, the wait for SAG would have been longer than the remainder of the course, and standing around feeling defeated wouldn’t help anything. Chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk, my sad sandy chain and gritty, scraping brake pads provided the requiem for the last five miles of this brutal race.
At about mile 33 we rounded a corner and there was SWEET, SWEET PAVEMENT! I saw a sign that said “3 to go” and tried to pick up the pace, but my bike just wasn’t having it and I struggled to attain any kind of real sprint. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another Chainlink kit, it was Jeremy, already finishing the full 62 mile race! We rolled for a minute or two, and then he took off like a rocket chasing one of the men in his category, the single speed men’s 62.
One to go, my Garmin is alerting me to LOW BATTERY, I pedaled as hard as my bike would carry me, and descended into the final sprint into town. Rounding the corner to the finish line, I heard “GO LEAH!” from my parents and my friend Meredith, who drove two hours, and stood in the cold rain for equally as long just to watch me finish. Shout out to my parents for constantly blowing me away with their capacity to love and support me in whatever I do! I was delirious, began shivering violently, they wrapped me in towels and my friend Meredith gave me a ride back to the hotel. I’ve never been so thankful for a hot shower before in my life, and enjoyed a well earned beer and delicious meal at the Walldorf Brewpub in downtown Hastings after cleaning up.
Am I glad I did it? Yes, I am super proud of simply finishing in a brutal race that 2,989 people registered for, 2,207 started, and only 1,912 finished their registered course lengths. Initially I felt disappointed in my performance, but simply finishing the race, given the conditions was an accomplishment in itself. In the future I would overpack a bit to give myself more warm layers to choose from on race day, and I would definitely pack a waterproof jacket. I felt much more optimistic after deep cleaning and relubricating my bike, I got my chain replaced and am unafraid of any weather condition the day throws at me, anything is possible after that crazy race! In any other conditions, I would definitely do Barry-Roubaix again.
The Aftermath, Photo by Leah Barry
Most of The Chainlink team happy and together in Michigan the night before the race