Club Member, Matt Hazzard recently went down & did the Dirty Kitten Gravel Race.  We asked him to share his experience…
Since I was asked to share how it went,…I don’t get to race often so when I do it’s pretty special for me and I try to savor the moment. I did the first Dirty Kitten Gravel race they had in Rapidan VA in 2019 and it was one of the hardest rides I ever did, first gravel race too. The beauty of this race is unmatched, I wanted it to be my personal Tour de France every year since. Well things happened and I rolled into 2021 worse than ever, 2022 came and I was determined to do this again.
All year I have trained for this day. Full transparency here, riding a bike is hard for me right now. Due to my current physical condition I have immense pain during and especially after a ride. Trying to do this is perhaps even unsafe, but I don’t listen to anyone. My stubborn iron will gets me into trouble in many areas in life but on the bike it’s my greatest weapon.
This year it was a two day event, a new 80 mile option was added. The 60 mile used to be the main event. All the 60 and 80 milers went on Saturday. I was doing the 40 mile which was Sunday. Since I love this event so much I volunteered on Saturday and since I brought every device known to man with me they added an extra aid station on the course. Each lap is 20 miles, my aid station was at mile 10, the next was on mile 14 on top of the “Kitten Crusher”. On the surface having 2 rest stops 4 miles apart doesn’t make sense but nearly the entire next 4 miles is uphill and the Kitten Crusher reaches a peak of 28% grade that you have to walk. Mile 0 to mile 10 is almost the same amount of time as it takes to go from mile 10 to 14.
It’s a rough course, private farmland with not a single paved surface, many of the “roads” are untouched for many months at a time. As a result crashes and serious injuries do happen. Volunteering Saturday was more of a challenge than the race itself, forecast called for 97 degrees it ended up being 102. I spent from 730am to 3pm in it hiding in the tent to keep from getting burned. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life I must have drank 10 gallons of water. I started to feel chills later in the day and by the end I could barely walk, complete exhaustion. I suffered as much or more than the riders, many did not finish. At one point I had to radio in for cars to come and pick up the groups of people abandoning and just wanting a ride to the finish line. Sunday was supposed to be even hotter so I was pretty worried. I got back to the hotel took the best shower I have ever felt in my life, and got the best burrito I have ever eaten from Chipotle. I went to bed at 9pm after chugging about a gallon of Pedialyte.
Race day, I felt pretty refreshed all things considered. People LOVED the cat jersey. I’m easily the heaviest dude there by 50lbs as well (spectators included), nobody even close to my weight attempting this thing. I made the huge mistake of not riding the bike around for a bit before the start. I was a bit late getting to the start line and figured I’ll have all day to settle in. The gun went off and riding to the start finish line the bike felt super sluggish, I looked down and my rear tire was sagging really bad. I let too much air out because I wanted to have a bit more of a cushy ride cause its so bumpy. Well everyone else turned off to the right and I had to go left back to the parking area which was a huge grass field and quick pop open the trunk and jam some air in. It didn’t take more than a few minutes but the field was out of sight.
Theres a big climb just after the start finish line that I remember was a real pain in 2019. Normally my thing is to stand on steep climbs, cant do that here, the rear tire spins. This bike has a 48/32 with a 11-34T cassette in the back and I was REALLY wishing I had a 46/30 crank. I remember wanting to change the gearing after this event last time but I didn’t. That’s def something I’m fixing over winter. I couldn’t make the climb I had to jump off and walk it, I lost even more time. After the big climb it flattens out to mile 10 and I was cooking now. I passed a few ladies over the next few miles and didn’t stop at the first rest stop, picked up a few more spots. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to run down anyone but I could take advantage of the lollygagging people do at rest stops. the climb from mile 10 to the base of the Kitten Crusher was a slow go and zapped a-lot from me. I spent less than a minute at the rest stop at mile 14 and then the very dangerous steep descent where you have to really work your brakes and be on point with your line otherwise you are flying over the bars crashing.
Having done it in 2019 I knew not to be an idiot and be careful. Lap 1 was out of the way and other than a mild saddle sore I was feeling ok. Lap 2 was mostly solo, I caught everyone I was going to catch for the day but I did a really good job all day of pacing myself and leaving a little in the tank to actually race for spots if I needed to. Wasn’t much point in beating myself up since there was nobody around me so I just cruised to the finish and felt a huge rush of pride knowing that despite all the reasons I shouldn’t have been able to finish I did. Most of the spots I picked up were because of people quitting after 1 lap, that’s part of the game, you have to finish the race to have a place. Looking at the data I was actually faster on the flat sections than 2019 but lost considerable time on the climbs. Makes sense I have more miles this year and feel stronger but I’m more weight than 2019….for now.
I’m already thinking about this race in 2023 and preparing for it, 50 weeks will go by before I know it…
You have to do this race if you love gravel, its special for sure and I think years from now this race will be as big on the east coast as what Unbound Gravel is.
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