I’m a big girl now. At least when it comes to the bike.
My road cycling debut at Saturday’s Boulevard Road Race is in the books. There’s my name on the USA Cycling results page —a first for this middle-of-the-pack triathlete. My goal was simple: Stay with the lead group. I’m proud to report I did just that.
I showed up to Booney-land Calif. at 6:10 a.m., hungry to race, despite lingering sinus issues and Friday’s hard swim and bike workouts. I’d asked my coach if I should rest the day before, to ensure fresh legs. His response? “Fresh legs will increase expectations. Expectations are negative and dreams are positive. Do your normal workout, trust on your fitness and hammer tomorrow! Racing fatigue is a confidence booster!”
OK then. (This is becoming a bit of a trend with us. I ask, “If I’m racing/climbing Mt. Palmoar/getting talked into 100 mile ride with friends tomorrow, do I need to do workout X?” He says yes. I guess this is why we hire coaches. To talk us out of our own talking-out-of.
After a rushed registration and warm-up, there I was, straddling my bike and surrounded muscular women in their matchy-matchy kits. I ate a peanut butter GU and let sucrose and anxiety flood me, just like they do on the beach at a triathlon start, smack dab in the middle of a goggle-eyed swarm. This brand of nerves was sharper, though. Newer, pointier.
7:10, the sound of an air horn, and we were off. I’d been warned that I’d be “making pizza at the start,” as my (ridiculously fast) friend Jess had put it. The leisurely pace allowed me to focus on the new skills I had to learn—and quickly. I never ride in a pack of 40, let alone more than five or six. Learning to anticipate and respond to the moves of the riders around me was a tall enough order for lap numero uno. I’m also a bonafide chicken when it comes to descending, so yeah, there was that, too. (Someone even shouted, “it’s a corner, not a shark!” If it hadn’t been so funny, I might’ve gotten mad.)
Then, elevation arrived like an old friend. I was back in my comfort zone. Or at least the zone where I’m actually capable of doing some damage. (“Comfort” doesn’t apply to this course in any way, shape, or form.)
On descent round two I opened the throttle more than I ever have, trading illusions of safety for the sake of staying with the women ahead. The roads were smooth and clean, there was hardly any traffic, and my muscles were warm and loosened up. Why not let go? By the time the climbing arrived to humble us once again, I’d found myself in the lead group of about 10 women.
I learned a lot on Saturday, but perhaps the most salient lesson is that in a bike race, strategy might just trump fitness. Looking back, I know I was smart to stay in the middle of the pack, sheltered by the wind and letting the superstars at the front do their thing. However, when the last 200 meters were suddenly in my face, I wasn’t prepared for the surge. I simply didn’t know the route intimately enough to have that instantaneous mind-body command. If I’d been a little closer to the front of the pack, I might have been able to contend for a higher position, but I played it safe for too long during those last few hundred meters.
I crossed the finish line, dismounted, and wheeze-coughed, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike,” to Mark. An hour and three mini doughnuts later, I discovered I’d placed 5th among the Cat 4 group, and 7th among the Cat 3-4 field. (This cycling thing is confusing. I’ll stick to triathlon, where I’m just a regular old 30-34.) Our friends were racing much later in the day, so we packed up and headed back to San Diego.
Maybe it was the (totally legal) blend of caffeine, taurine, and quercetin I took before the race, or maybe it was just the adrenaline of racing, but I was jacked up for the rest of the day. We stopped at Luna Grill on the way home for gyros and fries to top off the stores, which just so happened to be right next to IKEA. (Brilliantly planned, if I do say so myself.) Venturing into the mayhem that was Saturday afternoon at IKEA, my organizational OCD kicked in and we walked out with a few new toys. While my race support napped, I set out on a tidying tirade until it was time to go to the Master’s swimming year-end party, where I won the somewhat embarrassing “lane bait” award (see photo above, courtesy of Katie.)
At least when it comes to the bike I’m more hunter than hunted.
Now back to my Monday, where things are going rather swimmingly and good things are in store.
Today’s workout: 4200 yard Masters swim with my favorite coach.