New Challenges at Mid South Gravel
By Crystal Kovacs
With the days growing longer and the temperatures starting to rise, you can literally feel the gravel community waking up from a long winter's nap. Pictures of muddy, dirt roads and new bike days start filling social media, and the excitement of upcoming races grows. For many of us, the red dirt roads and unpredictable conditions of Mid South Gravel (formally known as Land Run 100) mark the start of the season. With the goal of getting a “Bobby Hug” after a long day out in those red Oklahoma hills, we zero in and focus on training and tackle the miles ahead.
2020 marks my third trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma for Mid South. Each year, this event has signaled a first for me, has pushed me to new limits, and has helped me reach beyond my expectations. While there are countless special events out there, Mid South is especially important as it’s directed my path and development in gravel. Each year I’ve taken on new challenges in Oklahoma and found something new in myself each time.
2018 – Newbie’s first gravel race
My very first gravel event was Land Run’s 50-mile event in 2018. Standing on the side of Main Street as we lined up to start the race, I remember thinking to myself, “What the heck have I done?! I certainly don’t belong here.” Surrounded by cyclists that looked way beyond my skill level and far more experienced than me, I was scared. Sure, I knew I had the right bike and equipment for the event, but I wasn’t quite sure what I’d gotten myself into.
But once we rolled past the start line, the gravel community swept me up and showed me exactly what events like this are about. The day was epic, to say the least. However, besides the struggles and suffering, I made incredible friends whom I'm still in contact with today. By the end of the ride, I even had people calling me by name. Never in my life have I had this kind of support and community emerge so quickly and so organically mid-race. By the final mile of the ride, I was hooked and now understood what the gravel family was all about.
2019 – Going for 100
In 2019, I returned to Stillwater with all my family members ready to compete as well. This would be my first 100-mile gravel event and my first chance to "Chase the Chaise," and I couldn't be more excited. Any day spent riding bikes is a great day, and I was having the time of my life out on the red dirt hills when I saw a puddle, a photographer, and an opportunity ahead.
Riding toward the puddle, I wanted to get an epic photo and went straight for it. If only I had known then what I know now – if you see a puddle in the red clay dirt at Mid South, and if that puddle has a clear path around it, take the clear path! After going headfirst into the puddle, my first words to the photographer as I popped up, covered in mud, were, “Did you get it?!”
That was the end of my riding for the day. I walked and pushed my bike for the next seven miles until I got to the chaise lounge. Thanks to the clay mud covering my bike, I had no brakes, no shifting, and could only ride in my granny gear. With too many miles ahead, that was the end of the race for me. I had no regrets about this decision; I knew I'd come back next year for revenge!
2020 – Doubling Down
Continuing my theme of trying new things each year at Mid South, I’m attempting something even bigger and more challenging this year. In 2020, I’m doing The Double. This includes a 50-kilometer run on Friday, followed by the 50-mile bike race on Saturday. While the Mid South Double typically consists of the 100-mile bike on Saturday, I knew that was a little out of my reach. Especially because I still want to have fun out there on Saturday. After running and walking 50-kilometers the day before, I know the 50-mile bike will be plenty challenging.
For those of us who live up north, preparing for a mid-March gravel event is tough. It means training outside in the cold, snow, and ice. We move our training schedules around, chasing milder days and warmer temperatures for our long training rides. For me, it means that I’ll have very few long rides in my legs before heading south to Stillwater.
Training for The Double has been exciting and tough at the same time. I ran outside when temperatures were in the teens, I ran with ice on the road, and I ran in the snow. I ran when I didn't want to go outside at all, but I knew that March was coming. With all this run training, I’ve found that I really miss my bike! I promise to never again complain about long bike days.
As we head into the final days before Mid South, I’m reminded of what race organizer, Bobby Wintle tells us every year: Leave it all out there in the red clay. Those words have worked their way into my soul, and every time I see the red dirt photos of Oklahoma, I long to go back. Each year of Mid-South has been my longest event to date, and each year has signaled a new beginning for me. Sure, the challenging course and long miles of Mid South hurt, but the pain quickly fades during the drive home. The friendships, the time to look deep into our souls, and the pride we get from pushing ourselves further than we thought possible, those are the pieces that last all year long and beyond.
Here’s to another year of red dirt roads and leaving it all out there. See you soon, Stillwater!