Meagan Gehrke broke the Women's Cross Ohio West to East this fall and shared how she prepped for her attempt with no prior ultra experience. We think you will find it inspiring for your own FKT attempts! Thanks for the guest blog post Meagan!
What’s a girl to do when her 2020 dream gravel race season gets canceled?
Break the Women’s Cross Ohio (West to East) Record by 2.5 hours, of course!
Starting in March, week by week, emails would pop up letting me know my race schedule was shrinking. I stayed optimistic as events were pushed from spring into summer. I clung onto this thread of hope that at least my big gravel event of the year, Unbound Gravel (formerly DK200), was still going to happen. Unfortunately that email came too, transferring my registration to 2021. It felt like all the winter base miles and success at the Lady Gnar Shredders’ training camp in North Carolina was a waste.
That spring Joe Lawhorn claimed the Men’s Cross Ohio West to East record. I didn’t know such a thing existed! Without hesitation I went to ultracycling.com to find out more. There was a women’s record in Ohio for West to East held by Maria del Vasquez. It was 232 miles for 16 hours 21 minutes with an average speed of 14.2mph. That didn’t sound too far fetched. I was already mentally prepared to do 200 miles of gravel for 20 hours. So in July during a routine phone call with my Source Endurance Coach Kristen Arnold, I announced my intentions and we got to work making a plan.
Make a List
Immediately we made a list of all the gear and nutrition I needed for this attempt. It listed things as obvious as bikes, socks, water bottles to more specific gear like GPS tracker, battery bank, zip ties and signage required for the car. Since this was a supported attempt with a follow vehicle, we considered every scenario and weather condition, listing all articles of clothing and spare parts that came to mind. This list allowed me to see what I already had (which I promptly put into a large box marked “Record Attempt”) and what I needed to get. If it went into the box, it got checked off the list.
Testing My Gear and Nutrition Early
Immediately I scheduled a bike fit. Aero bars were installed, the crankset was changed to 170mm, and the rest of my position on the bike was scrutinized by Eric from ErgCycling. We needed to get me as aerodynamic as possible on my purple CAAD12 without sacrificing comfort for the long haul. Getting a fit done early allowed me to adapt to my new position and have several sessions after the initial fit to dial it in.
Next I honed in my nutrition, trying new foods every ride. Gels were never my thing, and no matter how hard I tried to make them work my stomach rejected them. I tried everything I could get my hands on, paying close attention to how it tasted during a training ride. I asked myself (was I craving something else? Does this even taste good right now?), how it felt in my mouth (I choked on crumbly foods like Poptarts while breathing), how easy it was to eat while riding (a ham sandwich fell apart while a ham roll up fits very nicely in a jersey pocket), and did it meet my nutrition needs. Flavor fatigue is real so I included sweet, salty, fruity, and bland flavors in my feed bag. My final menu included Skratch Labs Sour Cherry Chews, Skratch Labs Anytime Bars (Pistachio Cherry specifically because chocolate chips melt in jersey pockets *shrug*), Skratch Labs Orange Sports Hydration, juju fish, ham and cheese roll up in a tortilla, rice cakes, dates, and Slim Jims.
Finally I made sure to test my cockpit set up thoroughly, shifting my 6+ hour rides to include at least 3 hours in the dark. I discovered I wanted both a helmet mounted and a bike mounted headlight so I could see into the turn as well. But the aero bars sucked up a lot of real estate on my handlebars leaving me wondering where my lights, bike computer, and battery bank would end up. With help from BarFly Bikes we were able to find a bike mount I could squeeze between the stem and aero bars that would display the computer on top and attach my front light on the underside. A two for one space saving miracle! The battery bank I landed on was rubber coated so it wouldn’t rattle around when zip tied to my stem.
Tailoring my Crew
I knew I wanted to keep my crew as small as possible. I chose to have 2 people on my crew plus the Official putting 3 people in the follow vehicle. If we had chosen a 3rd crew member we would have needed a larger or additional vehicle which didn’t seem necessary for this attempt. My crew chief was my husband Ivan Ruvolo who helped plan, pack, keep me on schedule, and drive. My 2nd crew member was Thomas Bell who managed my nutrition and was prepared to spring into action for any bike mechanicals. For my Official I chose Joe Lawhorn because he had already experienced this a few months earlier.
Pre-Ride the Route
I chose to pre-ride the first half of this route to get a sense for what I was getting into. We made it 110 miles with a freezing headwind the whole way. My numbers weren’t great that day, but Ivan and I were able to get an idea about how the attempt would go. We practiced leapfrogging the vehicle ahead, taking handups from the side of the road, and made notes of how frequent gas stations were available. While it’s not always possible to pre-ride ultra distance routes because of location or time, this was the first time I was doing anything of this caliber and took every opportunity to make sure I was prepared.
On October 3rd we rolled out shortly after 5am on SR114 on the Ohio/Indiana border. It was 32 degrees and pitch black. 13 hours and 43 minutes later I rode across the Ohio/Pennsylvania border on SR224 breaking the record. Proper planning and an amazing crew played a huge role in my success. Everything didn’t go perfectly. My radio wire got tangled in my helmet, I had to undress in freezing weather to take nature breaks, I forgot my salt sticks, I crashed with 50 miles to go, my bike computer died because the charging cable jimmied it’s way out, and we had to create an emergency reroute to get me to SR224. But we were able to pivot and adjust to the needs of the attempt. We learned even more about clothing choices, bike set up, nutrition needs, and route planning that day which will make the next three Cross State attempts in 2021 even better!