On the day of the event what helped control my desire to scream to relieve a little stress was, “The Day has finally arrived. This anxiety will be gone shortly.”
Driving to the event at 6:15a.m., I was pulled over by a cop for speeding. Believing this pace was indicative of how I’d perform on the course, I smiled respectfully and pleaded my case. It worked and he either felt very sorry for me on the day of my first criterium or my squeaky clean driving record yielded the Warning so, I continued on to Prospect to find Coach Gaffney.
Before proceeding, I’ll take a moment to fill you in on why I decided to partake in such a thrilling event: I have a tendency toward personal athletics that are human-powered and can either take me somewhere scenic or increase my adrenalin in a short period of time. The latter is why I signed up for the 2010 Morgul Bismarck 250 Meter Road Sprint as my first competitive cycling event. I loved it and it loved me. This same adoration didn’t exist for the woman seated next to me who tipped over at the start. Bummer for her. One less competitor for me. I missed a medal by one, placing 4th out of 14 women. I felt confident that I could have easily placed 2nd had I remembered Len’s tip about starting in my 2nd cog. But, I didn’t. I was too focused on the latest tip which was “Don’t forget to pull up on your other leg at the start.” I should have shared this tip with the woman on my right.
The Morgul Road Sprint fed my curiosity about doing a criterium so, I set my rather non-committal-sights on the Vic’s Crit. and solicited the help of – Len Pettyjohn and Randy Gaffney. (Please note, I didn’t know at this point that the Vic’s Crit was also the State Championships.) The first five weeks were guided by Len. You’d have to ask him what we did for training because frankly, I just listened and performed 3 x week for 5 weeks. We did numerous efforts anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes at a variety of wattages, uphill and flats and “race winners”. I almost threw up. Apparently, that’s indicative of the actual event.
The week leading up to the event Gaffney took over. He and Len had hooked me up with some sparkling new wheels from Joe Paulson, as loaners. I didn’t realize the importance of “crit wheels” until Brian Todeschini asked me what I was racing on. What? Wheels?
So, back to race day…
I’m on my first warm-up lap trying to ignore the very large quads gliding by me at a rather rapid pace. I’m thinking” Why are they going so fast?” when I hear and feel a familiar thud at corner two. I have a flat. I jump off my bike and try my best not to panic and run down the sidewalk in my cleats yelling like there’s a fire. I don’t believe I succeeded.
Nonetheless, I locate Randy and in a matter of 120 seconds Paul Mack has ridden a cruiser back to his garage, grabbed a loaner and is putting it on my bike. My pit crew illustrated a calm composure to make up for my crazed expression while patting me on the back saying “It’s okay little girl.”
I get back on my bike and find myself riding next to someone and can’t help but judge my competition…How old is she? Is she wearing a Tough Girls kit? How big are her thighs? Does she look fast? Do I need to go to the bathroom again? Then, she introduces herself and she’s really nice. Whew. We chat for a bit and I do my best to avoid telling her this is my first crit because I don’t want to appear weak. (Right. Like I haven’t appeared needy for the past six weeks. Why stop now?) Darcy tells me what she knows about the other riders “We’re riding with the Pro 1’s and 2’s today. I can tell you who the top five finishers will be.” I respond blankly trying to wrap my head around this new piece of information realizing that the 35+/45+ category consisted of Pros. I’m also thinking ‘WHAT?! Why? How dare they? Don’t they know that’s unfair and this is my first race and I want a medal. My needs are way more important than a silly Championship jacket. And, what if I’m in the top five?’
I complete my warm up and stand at the start all by myself in the third row…if you can even call it a row. Is this where the beginners start? My friends are on the sideline smiling and cheering me on while graciously trying not to show their nervousness on my behalf. I feel small. Very small but tenacious.
The race begins. Thankfully, there’s a car leading this pack of jackrabbits. It feels composed. But, as we enter our second lap the pace intensifies significantly. I’ll just hang here. Wait a second! These riders are slipping in from everywhere. I should draft to preserve energy. I tuck in but I’m not feeling a reprieve. A draft, as I know it, doesn’t exist and I’m getting stuck in this xylophone which is a big no-no. So, I zip past what feels like 50 riders but it’s more like six. I slide in behind a Tough Girls kit. This is where I’m supposed to stay. I figure out how to strategically use the orange metal barricades on my left. I’m hyper-aware of everything around me: tires, brakes, jerseys, elbows, corners, cracks. What lap am I on? Four!? What the $#%^!
Every three seconds one of many pointers is recalled: “they’ll slip in at the corners”, “they’re going to jump after turn four”, “try not to break”, “stay at the front”, “if you’re hurting, they’re hurting”, “pass on the inside”, “use the straight-aways for speed”, “go wide and tight”, “ignore the comments”, “lift your inside leg on the corners”….
Where do these riders come from? They are slick. I’m in 4th and before I know it I’m in 15th. I push hard to stay in the peloton. Okay, this is not similar at all to my training. This is twenty-times more effort. Why do they jump every single lap? When are they going to get tired?
Then the peloton slows down. I quiet my breathing less they take advantage again. Wait. This tip doesn’t apply to me. It’s clear I’m not a threat. Do they even know I’m racing? This pace feels perfect. I can do this but I know it will end very soon. And it does. One lap later it’s over and everyone is hammering again. Should I use up all I have and jump to the front five? I decide not to because I want to preserve my energy for the finish….to finish.
I’d give anything for a big drink of water. My lips are parched. I try to take a swig but a couple of drops barely pass my lips because I can’t inhale and I’m about to hit another corner. Len mentioned this would be a problem: drinking. I spit hoping it doesn’t hit anyone. It winds up on my thigh. Nice.
I’m falling off the back. I hear my friends yelling out things like “Dig”, “Lower cadence”, “Jump at the corners”, “Get up there”. I dig and catch up. I do this about seven thousand times. The lower cadence helps but I no longer have the energy to jump at the corners. This monstrous effort ended for me around lap 12. I look for the clock and it reads 17. Oh my gawd. Seriously? 17 more minutes? Is this a typo? How in the hell can I quit without anyone noticing? I can’t quit. I never quit. I can do this. Where is the front? Am I last? Where is everyone? Why are my legs so tired? Come on! Who’s behind me? Anyone? Am I having fun? Yes. I think. Kind of. Maybe.
I read 7 (laps to go). Twenty seconds later I hear someone yell “Seven minutes to go”. Awesome. I can do seven more minutes. Then I hear Randy yell “four more laps”. I’m wiped out. I do my best to keep my eye on the tail. I can see it and it’s waving Bye Bye.
I held on to the front as advised for as long as I possibly could…but today it’s easy to wonder if I really gave it my all. Isn’t it funny the way the mind works? I thought I became friends with pain, but I think pain whipped my ass with a giggle.
I’m not sure what was happening with the women at the front of my race. I didn’t really see them. I was too busy tracking where I was and whether or not to respond to aggressive comments like “On your left!”, “Move over!”, or “What’s your name?!”
I wasn’t scared. I felt exhilarated and extremely challenged. I felt like I was becoming familiar with a part of myself I hadn’t seen in a while. It was fantastic and harder than hell.
I crossed the finish line and the crowd cheered beautifully…but it isn’t because I crossed first…or last from what I understand. It’s because I had the most supportive cheering section at the event. This was just as thrilling as the event itself…seeing all those beautiful faces.
I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of my team. And I hope Vic’s will still give me free coffee on race day.
Thank you Teammates and Friends.