Written by Ryan Fulton Monday, 09 October 2017 00:00
The Hellhole Gravel Grind Prologue, 2-Day Stage Race, 1-Day Race, and 1-Day Ride will take place on the gravel roads in and around Hellhole Swamp in the Francis Marion National Forest just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The forest is named for the revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, who was known to the British as the Swamp Fox. He used the swamps, creeks, and forest areas to ambush and hide from the British and was depicted in the movie “The Patriot”.
This was my first time racing this event. I was very excited for it, but also a little nervous about what to expect since I have never ridden this distance during a race or in training. They had three different options for the race; two one-day options that consisted of a 45-mile ride or a 75-mile ride. The third option was the stage race, which consisted of two days of 75 miles each day. I ended up choosing the stage race option, but unfortunately only made it the first day.
The start/finish was at one of the ranger stations in the forest. The stage race group and the one day 75-mile race rolled out together. We started out on pavement and the lead group set a quick pace. After five to ten miles, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to continue at this fast pace and I let them continue on, dropping back to the next group.
After dropping back, I paired up with another rider and we worked together for the next 60 miles or so. This worked out perfectly since we were both at the same riding ability. A few times during the ride, we jumped on with a couple other groups that were doing the one-day option and let them block a little wind for us for as long as we could stay with them. We weren’t quite sure how much energy to put out on the first day, being this was the first time we both had ridden in this race. I believe we may have done too much since neither of us started the second day. Lol. To me, I’m always learning something from every race I do.
We both felt good till around the 60-mile mark, then our legs began to hurt and our pace slowed down. We dug down and found some more energy for the last 15 miles and crossed the finish line in 5 hours 27 minutes, just about two hours behind the top finishers from day one. Next year, my goal is to better that time by around an hour.
This was such a fun race. I plan on adding this to my schedule every year it’s possible. There’s no climbing in this race being on the coast, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is an easy race. Most of the gravel roads are not kept up and have lots of pot holes, most being filled with water. Thankfully we didn’t have much rain in the days and week or two leading up to the race or it could’ve been really bad. By the end of the day, my legs and bike were covered in mud from the water holes we came across.
For those that are into gravel races, this is definitely a must try in my opinion!
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