The final story from the recent 2023 Gray Duck Grit, Lucas Kuhlmann shares about his race day. Breaking down each of the stages and the mental games, he gives a recap of the day and what was his beacon of light to make it to the finish line.
To learn more, visit the Gray Duck Grit website.
Registration is simple and like pretty much every other race via BikeReg. There are numerous categories to sign up for across the 69M, 111M, 222M, and 333M distance. It straight up come with whatever bike you want - no separate categories for fat, single speed, etc.
Communication leading up to the race was similar to last year, very thorough! You pretty much get all your questions answered as the race day approaches. GPX drop is a week ahead of time and aid station locations are announced. They've got a packet pickup in the Minneapolis suburbs on Friday or day of.
The 111M starts at 8:00AM on Saturday. Picked my packet up at 6:30AM and went back to the hotel to grab the free breakfast. There's a rider's meeting that's probably good for newbies but I skipped that to load up on continental breakfast sausages and waffles. Rode up from my hotel and got in line about 7:53AM and away we went.
After two years of this race, I pretty much break it down into three stages.
Stage 1 (Mile 0-30) : The Calm Before the Storm.
Coming out of Northfield and pretty much a 15 mile radius around the town is pretty much flat. It's a very pleasant ride crisp, morning ride honestly. The gravel always seems well worn and you're just kind of gliding along enjoying the weather and the comradery of those still bunched around you as you find who you're likely going to be riding with that day. Honestly, the first 30 miles are just a nice day out with long views across SE MN farmland. You'll pull into the first aid station with a smile on your face.
Stage 2 (Mile 30-90) :The Battle of Gravel Attrition.
This section will decide if you're going to make it to the finish or not. After leaving the aid station, forget about the flat roads. At this point it's a combination of endless rollers and steep descents (and the inevitable ascents) down into the valleys of the driftless region. The wind that was pushing me turned on me at the next aid station (mile 62) just like it did last year, making the seemingly never ending wide open / no tree straight push west pretty miserable - but I knew I'd get a reprieve once I got back closer to Cannon Falls.
It's actually quite beautiful, especially at this time of year with the leaves turning, but it's tough. This definitely is the make or break section of the race.
My NOT Pro Tip: the aid stations were great, had everything you need for a growing racing kid. However, if you're racing against the 11 hour cut off vs. the field, stop at the Hay Creek Campground Saloon at mile 62 and get yourself a bison burger, fries, and a couple beers. It was key to my finish and will be the beacon of light that gets you there and the calories in your belly to get you to the last stage of the race.
Stage 3 (Mile 90-111) : Just Buck Up and Finish.
The last section is the payoff for making it through the last stage. Returning back to the relatively flat lands around Northfield, the final 20-ish miles is a welcome reprieve. At this point, the sun was heading towards sunsets and it makes for some nice shots as you take pictures as an excuse to not pedal so hard. After a roundabout way back to Northfield, I crossed the finish line where I started in a time of 9:55, meeting my goal of getting sub 10hrs and beating last year's time. Met up with Mark and the crew to grab drink and some food before snapping a few photos an heading to the hotel for a much needed shower.
Overall, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite late fall rides.
You can race it or ride it (you know what I do!) and make it what you want of it. I find it to be a pretty beautiful yet challenging ride that's worth the effort to get up there from Iowa and take a break from all the gravel down here.
The course was more challenging this year than last and I heard a birdie tell me it's going to get even more interesting last year. So yeah, like I said last year - sign up for this ride. It's a great time for a great cause.