By: Jeff Nordquist
Gravel racing meets triathlons in The Dirty Mitten in Middleville MI. I decided to race the Long Course on Sunday which is equivalent to the standard Olympic distance triathlon. The race directors shortened the swim distance which measured 1200 m and the bike route was just under 30 miles. Both of these changes didn’t cater to my strengths.
The forecast called for rain all morning, so I was anticipating a messy day of racing. The swim wasn’t much of a challenge, temps were high 60’s and felt great through the two-loop course. I had a 45 second lead out of the water and tried to capitalize on this with the longer trek up to the lodge for transition.
I settled onto my bike saddle and took in some nutrition before hitting the gravel roads. Biking is not my strong suit, so I knew I was going to see a few riders soon. At Mile 4 I was caught by one and we worked off each other for another 10 miles sharing the workload (drafting is legal in gravel triathlons). Just before we reached Sager Rd, I was dropped and then I struggled on Sager. This portion was nearly 2 miles long of sandy two-track and it whopped me, I had to dismount up two slippery climbs. My front wheel found a root just beneath the soft sand and it threw me over the bike, I’m sure it looked graceful but I picked myself up and rode solo all the way back into the transition.
I wasn’t too confident with my run legs, but knew I was in 3rd place leaving transition and felt I could close the gap. I maintained even splits for the first 5 k trail loop passing 2nd place at the same time. I pressed to keep him off my heels and never saw him again. I was in a solid 2nd place for loop 2 and crossed the line to finish 2nd overall. I was really hoping to come away with the victory here, but considering my bike course struggles, I was ultimately happy with a podium finish.
There is much to learn with this new format for triathlons and I’m excited to see more of these races appear in the coming years