It was 42 degrees and raining. I was soaking wet and covered in road grime, my feet were blocks of ice, and the sunblock I'd put on my face that morning had been streaming into my eyes for the better part of two hours, adding a nice sting to my already itchy eyes, inflamed from some serious seasonal allergies which had kept me up most of the night. I was running on roughly three hours of sleep, a bowl of oatmeal, a peanut butter clif bar, and enough ibuprofin to keep the menstrual cramps at bay. As I grunted and struggled to turn my pedals over a few more times to get to the top of the hill, the other two ladies I was chasing - Susanne from Blue Rooster and Jackie from Bikesale, both 15 years senior to me- looked over their shoulders at me from the top of the hill.
"Meghan, let's make a pact right now. We will wait for you, but you can't come around us at the finish and sprint to beat us, ok? We don't want to see any front-of-the-pack tactics..."
They were kidding. We'd all been been dropped by the pack approximately an hour earlier, and
frankly, I felt relieved about that given the nasty weather and my sorry
state. I tried to muster up a sentence about my legs being made out of cement, but words just wouldn't form, so I just grunted and smiled.
Ten miles earlier, we had weighed the option of abandoning the race- we were coming around to the start line again to start our second lap, and the idea of a warm barn and a chilly feed seemed much more appealing than doing another lap on a cold, unforgiving race course just to say I finished. This race wasn't in my training plan- I was here for vindication, to make up for a strange race at Volunteer Park the previous day, where I got pulled after exactly 7 minutes of racing, due to a mistake on the part of an official, I'm convinced. I was looking for mental redemption, for personal victory over a tough day- but this day turned out to be even tougher, and I was just about ready to quit. None of us were particularly excited about keeping going, yet somehow, we all just kept pedaling and before we knew it we were a few miles into our second lap.
We dropped our speed to a more comfortable, conversational pace, checking behind us every 10 minutes or so to make sure none of the men's fields were coming through. Somehow they never managed to catch us, which felt like a significant victory. The rain never did let up either, but there were periods when the sky brightened considerably and I thought, just for a moment, I may have seen a patch of blue. We chatted about girl stuff- facial cream, kids (or lack of), pets, careers menopause- definitely not topics that would come up in the men's peleton, we decided. I chatted a little but spent most of the ride listening to Susanne and Jackie, in awe of what bad asses these ladies are. I hope I'm just as tough (and as fast!) as they are fifteen years from now.
We came around the last descent very conservatively, holding our brakes- it was a 180 degree hairpin turn with water and motor oil flowing down the road as if it had turned into a dirty river, but we all managed to stay upright and zip around the quick right hand turn below it onto the final straightaway.
I started leading the other two ladies out, attempting to honor my pact at the top of the hill to set them up for a good sprint. I stood up on the pedals about 300 yards from the finish and pushed, but I couldn't muster anything faster than about 22 miles an hour- the legs were clearly cooked. No matter- Jackie and Suzanne both came around me and sprinted ahead for the finish line. I came across a few seconds back, to the sounds of my teammates cheering and clapping, which really is a lovely sound at the end of that much pain and suffering. I was happy to be done and off my bike, but also glad I had stayed in the race. I found out later that there were a handful of riders behind us, and quite a few DNF's behind them. Only about half of the men's fields finished- they had been victims of the weather and also some nasty crash carnage. I was thankful to have a safe finish.
Huge props to my teammate Sarah who took the Cat 4 victory for the second day in a row. Way to go Sarah! All of the ladies from SCCA/ Starbucks finished safe and strong- it is pretty inspirational to see them do what they do. These ladies rock!
(PS Grit and Gloom is a shout out to Heidi Swift at Grit and Glimmer- I've been reading a lot of her blog lately and her writing about bike racing is incredible).