One Race at a Time

It was a crisp Sunday morning and I intentionally had not pre-registered for the criterium race because of Colorado’s notorious winter-like weather conditions in the Spring.  It had been only 26 degrees and snowing the day before!  I arrived early at the Stazio Baseball Fields for the University of Colorado Stazio Criterium.  I sat and watched some of the collegiate races as the sun continued to burn off the crisp morning air.  I was exchanging text messages with a teammate and soon concluded that if I did register for the race, I’d be the lone representative in the peloton from my team.  I finally decided to end the procrastination and registered for the race.

I headed back to my car and bumped into a former teammate who was also racing.  We agreed to meet after warming up and head to the start line together.  It’s so nice to see a friendly face before a race!  The peloton was quite large with 30-40 cyclists as they had grouped both beginners (Category 4) with more experienced (Category 3) racers.  As we took off on our first lap, there was the usual shuffling for position as we rounded the first corner and started up a slight hill.  Then we crested the hill, headed downhill and around to the start line.  The second lap began much like the first.  As we circled back to the start line again, I noticed that the peloton slowed significantly as we rolled by the announcer and what few spectators were there.  I had moved to the outer left side of the peloton in anticipation of the right turn we would be taking.  Ahead of me, a couple of cyclists began to wobble back and fourth.  Suddenly, the woman to my left was thrown over her handle bars to the pavement.  I thought I was over far enough to avoid her and her bike.  No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when I found myself laying on my back on the pavement.  As bodies and bikes came to rest around me, I found myself still clipped in on both sides, struggling to free myself from the bike so I could get up.  A kind spectator came to my aid and helped me out of my pedals.  I laid on the street for a couple of moments, wiggling all ten toes and all ten fingers, trying to decide if I was going to be able to pick myself up.  Everything seemed to be in working order, nor was there any substantial pain or blood.  I slowly stood up to see a shocked crowd of people staring back at me.

 

I grabbed my bike and quickly inspected it for damage.  I knew the peloton would soon be coming around and I wanted to get back into the race without dwelling for too long on what had just happened.  The race official directed me on where to line up as the peloton approached.  I was off for the second time.   We did two more laps before the race was brought to a stop to allow for the ambulance to  pick up two injured cyclists who had not moved from the road since the crash.  We continued circling the parking lot in an attempt to keep our legs warm.  When it was time to line up and restart the race, I began to notice the aches and pains I had sustained in the crash.  Sharing the story of what had happened with understandably curious racers didn’t help me mentally.  As I started this race for the third time, my body was aching and my mind was no longer competitively engaged.  I had lost my race mojo for the day.  I just wanted to finish it and go home.

 

I had two opportunities to bail out on this race: one when the crash happened and another when the race was stopped for the ambulance.  I’m not exactly sure what it was that initially got me up and going again.  However, getting those two laps in with the peloton before the race was stopped for the ambulance was critical for me.  I was back in the race before I had the opportunity to overthink what I saw, heard, and felt during that crash.  Several people have asked me what’s next in terms of racing.  I don’t necessarily know the answer today… but I’ll figure it out come race day.  Just like I did at Stazio.

Just Do It!

I’ve discovered that I am a bit of a fair weather cyclist.  I just don’t like to be cold.  That being said, sometimes you have to do things that you don’t necessarily like.  Saturday morning I got up at 5:45 AM to have my usual pre-race breakfast the recommended three hours before my start time.  As I was mixing eggs and brewing coffee, I could hear the wind howling outside the kitchen window.  The only thing I dislike more than being cold is the wind.  I kept telling myself that I could always bail out at the last minute; but if the wind did die down, I needed to be prepared to race.

For the next hour and a half after breakfast, I sipped coffee and read more of my book (I am Malala – highly recommend).  All of my warmest cycling clothing had been packed the night before and was ready to go.  The trainer was already loaded in the car.  I just needed to load my bike and hit the road.  I checked 3 different web sites for up to the minute weather forecasts at Lookout Mountain.  I got different numbers from all three – one had a temperature of 21 degrees and snowflake graphics; another had a temperature of 46 degrees and 27 MPH winds.  No matter which one was correct, it was likely going to be a cold, windy race.

As I pulled into a parking space at Lookout Mountain, I saw a few team mates.  This brought me some comfort… if they could brave this cold, windy weather, surely I could, too!  As I pinned on my number and dressed for the warmup, the wind continued to gust.  Today would be the first time that I would warm up while wearing my down coat.  I was pleased that I began to sweat after a few minutes of pedaling and eventually had to remove the coat.  My start time approached and I finished changing into my race clothes and loaded the trainer back in the car.  I pedaled around a bit before getting in the start line to keep my legs and the rest of me from becoming chilled.  The cold actually proved to be a great distraction from my usual pre-race nerves, which I hadn’t even given so much as a thought on this chilly morning.  Normally, as I stand at a start line, I calm my nerves by telling myself that I can vomit at the finish line, if I still feel the need to do so by the time I get there.

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Oredigger Classic Lookout Mountain Hillclimb start – Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

Five, four, three, two, one… and I was off into the wind.  As I pedaled up the 4.6 mile course, I tried to make myself as small as possible when the wind hit my face, and as tall as possible when the wind was to my back.  At one point, the wind was so strong that I thought it would bring me to a complete stand still.  At that point, I knew that today’s race would not result in any personal bests for me.  My only hope was that everyone else would also experience such a gust, slowing the entire field of racers.  After crossing the finish line, I pulled to a stop in a nearby parking lot, and for the first time in a very long time, I actually thought I might vomit… I guess that means I gave it everything I had.

As I drove home from the race, I realized that despite how windy and cold the ride was, I still had fun and I did not regret going.  This is how 99% of my rides/races end.  On only one occasion did I regret going for a ride – but that one ended in a crash and I wasn’t able to ride for several weeks afterward… so it doesn’t really count and maybe one day I’ll write about it, but not today!

Today’s lesson is that you should ALWAYS go out and pedal, even if you don’t want to.  I’m just certain that when you come back home, you’ll be glad you went… 99% of the time!

The Big Finish

Finish line! Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty