(brrr! smiling through the chill.... photo by Justin)
Luckily, it warmed up to a balmy 50 by the time the Cat 4 women were ready to race. The low temps made warming up very important. Unfortunately, my warm-up time was compromised by a number of first-race mistakes. First, I couldn't find my plastic race number for my bicycle. I located it 10 minutes later, under the seat of the car (Lesson 1: affix bike number to bike BEFORE race day). Next, when I went to register, the race officials specified that race numbers be affixed to the left side of rider jerseys. Wait, LEFT? Remember all that time spent the night before sewing on my number (which, I should mention, put me to bed 1.5 hours later than planned)? I had sewed my number onto the right side of my jersey, and of course left my spare fabric number at home. This meant I had to spend a good 15 minutes figuring out another system to number my jersey. Solution: back side of teammate Angela's number from last year, sharpie-handwritten numbers, and safety pins. No big deal, but less warm-up time. (Lesson 2: put race numbers on both sides of jersey, also before you get to the race). Also, thank you Angela for thinking of this solution!
Since I didn't have my trainer with me (lesson 3: bring trainer to races to warm up!), I went out on the road and did some back and forth laps around the finish of the course with my teammate Barb. We got about 25 minutes of warm-up time in before it was time to turn around and clear the course for the men's start.
About 5 minutes before the start time, the race organizers made a last-minute decision to split the Cat 4 women/ Cat 5 men into two races each, due to there being more than 50 riders in each of these fields. Those of us with odd numbers were to race right then; even numbered riders were to wait until we were done to begin their race. For our team, this meant that our two most experienced racers, Jill and Barb, would be riding in the later race, while the three newbies and another teammate Angela, in her second season of racing, would all be together in the first race. I was a little bummed to not have a chance to race with our veterans, Jill and Barb, but even more bummed that they would have to hang out for a few hours, try to eat enough, then get warmed up all over again before their race.
The four of us SCCA gals lined up together, in a row, and I could feel adrenaline pumping through me. I glanced at my HR monitor- 170, and not even pedaling yet! The race officials gave the sign, and we started off on a roll. The race started out slowly. As everyone got comfortable, I focused on breathing, not locking my elbows, and keeping my wheel clear of the wheel in front of me. I felt pretty jittery at first, and it took me a few miles to get used to the sensation of rolling along with all these women in a pack. Others must have felt the same way, as there was a lot of speeding up/ slowing down as riders surged to catch wheels ahead and moved to cover little jabs by other riders.
The entire field, at the beginning of the race. Can you see me? Click here for a bigger pic!
Photo by Jack Sheridan.
Practicing my half-wheeling. Photo by Jack Sheridan.
Hearing this news, the Group Health ladies got vocal about chasing the lead rider. They were pretty aggressive in their banter-" Let's get that HB girl out of there- she's not working at all! Cucina Fresca, come on ladies! Starbucks, where are you? Get up front and work! That's not your rider off the front!" They kept up the urging until we hit the headwind on the back stretch of the lap a few miles later. My teammate Toni responded to their urging, and took off the front; no one followed her though, so she dropped back and waited for the pack to catch her back up. A few minutes later, the Group Health girls finally backed up their talk and made a concerted effort to organize riders at the front of the pack. "What the hell, why not?" I thought, remembering Jill's talk about how you can help build "street cred" by participating in chases and making attacks. "I'll help," I called, and bridged out to help them chase down the bikesale rider. The headwind, by this point, was pretty stiff, but I rotated into the paceline with the chase girls and took my turn making a pull. After 30 or so strokes, I pulled back about 4 riders, and my teammate Kelly was there to help pull, too. Things were looking interesting! We had 2 starbucks gals and 2 group health girls up front, as well as a gal or two from other teams, and we were all working together to chase down the lead. I took another turn pulling, this time doing 50 good hard pedalstrokes into the wind. I was feeling a little tired, but nothing too severe, so I pulled back into the paceline off the front for one more pull. We were making good time on the bikesale girl- I could see her, a few hundred yards in front of us, and the gap was closing. As we came across the flat before the hill on the backside, I took one more pull on the front, which tired me out pretty good. I pulled off to the side to get back on the back of the paceline, and hopped on the wheel ahead of me, but I was way more spent than I realized, and I just couldn't hold my position. "Bridging, 141," I heard racers say behind me, so I moved to the right to let them by. Two of my teammates were at the back of the pack, and I tried to grab their wheels too, but I was out of gas, and off they went.
As the riders got smaller and smaller in front of me, I sat up, took a deep breath, and had a fleeting wish that I could have waited a little longer to learn what it felt like to get spit out of a pack. Frankly, I was surprised at how quickly I had depleted my tank. I've done a lot of long, all-day rides,and I've gotten pretty good at knowing when I need to eat and drink to avoid the dreaded "bonk." However, I'd never done anything that matched the intensity of this race, and was completely taken off guard at the lack of warning before I was out of gas. Lessons 4 and 5 : learn how to pay attention to how much you have in the tanks before you participate in chases.... and also, don't let riders from other teams tell you when you should start chasing. I realized as I pedaled slowly along that I hadn't had anything to eat until now, and hadn't drank much either, as I had been worried that someone would attack while I was fumbling with a Gu packet or something. Lessons 6 and 7: remember to eat and drink!
I cruised along the rest of the second lap, and into the third, solo. A Group Health rider blazed by me- I caught her wheel and held on for a bit, but I still couldn't hang. I sat up, stretched, and just decided to enjoy the rest of the ride and the beautiful weather. Towards the back half of the course, I hit the headwind, and began to curse the fact that I was battling this alone. I cruised along for 3-4 miles, suffering in the headwind, until two other ladies caught up to me- Suzanne from Blue Rooster and Mary from Group Health. I was SO glad to see them! They were both friendly and wonderful, and it was so nice to just have some company and moral support. We got into a paceline and started clipping along- I was thrilled to have a respite from the wind. We rolled along for another mile or so, until Mary threw her chain. At this point, we were about four miles from the finish, so Suzanne and I took turns pulling each other in to the finish. I didn't have much left for the sprint at the end, but I finished strong and felt good. Although I felt a little embarrassed at getting dropped in my first race, I was also really happy to have been involved in the pull effort, even though my effort was relatively small and short-lived.
While I'm being reflective, here are a few other things I learned: Lesson 8: look before you move onto someone's wheel. I think I may have inadvertently cut a rider off here and there, and I want to be sure to avoid the dreaded label of "sketchy rider." Lesson 9: stay out of the wind as much as possible! I think I used up a lot of energy by not staying tight enough on people's wheels. Finally, lesson 10- get a lot of sleep the night before the race. My 5.5 hours didn't really cut it. Clearly, I have a lot to think about for this weekend's race- but I'm REALLY excited to have another go at Sequim. Also, I'm feeling way more motivated to train, as I can see how this racing thing can get pretty addictive! :-)