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Susan's story: Unbound Gravel

BaseCamper Susan Gillen shared her experience at the 2023 Unbound Gravel event in Emporia, Kansas.

I'm late to the race update party, but I wanted to share my experience at Unbound.

For the first time ever -- in any swim, run, or bike -- I have DNF after my name. But honestly, I had a great ride. Except for the hour-plus hike-a-bike through miles of greasy peanut-butter mud that clung to my wheels and clogged my derailleur, making riding impossible. And the hour spent sheltering with a dozen riders under a tree at the edge of field during a raging icy thunderstorm with lightning popping all around us (an irrational choice that seemed like a good idea given the circumstances).

With all the delays, I realized I wasn't going to make it to my next SAG bag in Madison before sunset. Unfortunately that bag had my lights. So in the end it was a safety call: I'm not going to ride in the dark on sketchy roads.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, right? My A, B, and C plans did not include delays that would put me at risk of missing time cutoffs. Or not getting to my lights before sunset.

All in all, I felt I'd had the full ride experience: 124 miles rolling across stunningly green Kansas prairies, grinding up monster climbs, persevering through relentless headwinds, and befriending riders along the way. Best part of ending early was coming back to Emporia to celebrate my son's second Beat the Sunset finish.

My only regret is not considering that I might second guess my decision later. In the moment I was perfectly happy to exit the race and hitch a ride back to the after party. But these last two weeks I've been wrestling with the woulda coulda shouldas (the holy trinity of regret). But instead of fussing over what might have been, I'm working on plans for what I'll do differently in future races. Sometimes racing is training. (Actually, Coach Tim would likely say ALL racing is training.)

Big thanks to everyone in BaseCamp. This program, the amazing coaches, and all the dedicated athletes gave me the courage to shoot for an outrageous goal. You are all awesome and inspiring.


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