Saturday, April 25, 2009

Climbing, wind and teamwork

Name of Race: Windy Wente Road Race

Date: April 25, 2009

Category Raced: Cat 4 Women

Weather Conditions: Windy. Chilly. Windy. Warmer?

Field Size: 47

Today I finished my first bike race. Last year I attempted a bike race but that didn't work out so well due to having a flat tire 20 minutes into the race. Today was the REAL DEAL!

The day was a big 'IF' - being #15 on the waitlist, it was important for me not to get my hopes up too high, just in case I didn't make the cut. Still, I had to go through all the motions as if I was really going to ride because I would not find out if I had a spot until 15 minutes prior to the race. Oh, the stress!

My team director Laurel, Christine and I arrived with plenty of time to hang around. Getting out of the car, I noted that it was a LOT chillier than expected. Remembering arm and knee warmers was a good call! I knew it would be windy (the race was located at the Altamont Pass - also the location of many wind-powered turbines) but I was skeptical of how cold it would be, given that earlier this week we had temperatures in the 90s.

Going into this race, I had two main goals:

  1. Have FUN!
  2. Work hard and don't wuss out!

Having this mindset really allowed me to relax and not worry too much about the multitude of things Laurel had coached me on prior to the race. The race would unfold as I went through it, and it was important not to have too high of expectations for myself because this is a WHOLE other world from triathlon. Today was about going out and enjoying the experience, learning from it, and racing!

At 11 a.m. (Race time was 12:15 p.m.) Laurel, Christine and I headed out on a warm-up ride. My legs were so stiff at first so I was grateful for the time to spin them out and get my HR up. According to Laurel, the MORE fit you are, the LONGER it takes your body to get warmed up. I also really wanted to check out this 'hill' that was going to be the bane of my existence three times through.

Post warm-up it was almost noon. Women were beginning to gather toward the front of the staging area. Admittedly a small part of me hoped I wouldn't get a spot and I could put this off just a little longer! This was going to be a painful experience and I would be JUST fine if I didn't get to enjoy it today. But actually, most of me really DID want to race. Thankfully, good karma was with me for the second day in a row and Christine and I got the last two available spots. PHEW!

The race started and off we went. Unlike Winters last year, the pace lifted almost immediately. These women were chomping at the bit and it was TIME TO GO! I did the best I could to just stay mid-pack even though I had a very good feeling I would be dropped like a bad habit on that first climb.

Sure enough, as the pitch began, riders began to engulf and pass me and I was sliding back in the field. "DAMN!" I thought. Still, I couldn't do a thing about it. I was going hard as Laurel had told me to, but when your HR is already at 180 and you're only 1/3 up the hill, you have to just accept it and keep moving.

Instead, I opted to be positive with myself and say "just get to the top. Spin it out. Don't let up no matter how hard you're breathing. You'll catch some of them so just keep GOING!"

As I reached the top there were two other women who made it right when I did and we decided to work together. Christine and another woman eventually caught us and I was glad she was in so we could hopefully break away from this group at some point.

What Laurel DIDN'T mention was how the hills KEPT...going...UGGGGGHH. Actually Ron sent me a really great ride report of the whole course along with elevation data so I knew there would still be climbs to come. I guess I didn't realize they'd come so soon after the initial climb.

About halfway through the rolling hills I looked back and realized Christine was no longer with us. Damn! It was me and three other women. We committed to working together and reeling as many women in as we could. On the first lap, it was a good plan.

As we came down out of the hills and back to the SUPER WINDY flat we were taking turns pulling and I began to get agitated that we weren't moving faster. I wanted to GO! We only had two laps to do this and this first one only had about 6 miles left in it. As I took my turn up front, I lifted the pace a bit and made a decision to just keep moving forward.

One by one, we kept reeling women from our field in. It was AWESOME! In my head, I could hear Laurel's wise words echoing "do as little work as possible. Stay OFF THE FRONT." Oops. But I knew I had to do this because these women were not doing what I needed them to do and with only one lap to go it was time to get down to business.

Suddenly, I looked up ahead and saw some familiar red and white colors. Sure enough, it was Stephanie from my Early Bird team. YESSSSSSS! Like a horse getting close to the barn, I picked up the pace a little more, eagerly anticipating the teamwork we could pull off together.

"HEY EARLY BIRD!" I called out. Stephanie looked behind her and saw me and she said "OH MY GOD I am SOOOO glad you are here!" She had been riding alone for awhile and was beginning to consider canning the entire sport and selling her bike for golf clubs. Enter me to the rescue! (You're welcome, Steph)

Catching Stephanie right near the bottom of the climb, my resolve was to keep up with her through the climb and have us work hard on the second lap together. We dropped all but one of the six other women who had been with us on that climb. The hills were just as hard this second time through but I actually felt better staying out of my comfort zone and I just kept pushing, pushing, PUSHING! NO WUSSING OUT!

Before I knew it, we were headed toward the Hill for one last final effort up (the finish line was at the top). It was me, Stephanie, the third woman and a fourth we had picked up. Quick flashback to an XC race from last year - I was coming into the final 1/4 mile of the race and a woman and I were gunning for the finish and I thought "well what's the WORST that can happen if I push harder?" So I did and it hurt like hell and I got my HR up to 193 and I thought I was going to throw up but I BEAT HER!

Back to this moment before the hill. I did NOT want to let woman #3 (who had been with us for much of the 2nd lap but didn't like to do her share of pulling) beat ME. Uh-UH. Figuring, however, Stephanie probably would beat me, I thought if I could just try as hard as I could to stay with her and just go ALLLLL OUT then it might work. And, really, what's the worst that could happen?

Well: the difference between pushing yourself above and beyond anything you've ever done before in running vs. cycling up a HILL is that if your legs are spent, you can push all you want but it may not really translate into moving faster.

BUT I DID BEAT THAT WOMAN! HELL YES I DID! I tried to keep Stephanie close but she managed to maintain some strength through the last part of the climb. I was further back just trying to keep turning the pedals over, find any semblance of power and focus on being done. Hitting the 200 M mark, I tried to stand up and sprint but legs were saying "SIT YOUR BUTT DOWN, GIRL!"

In the end Stephanie and I came in 31st and 32nd, respectively, out of 47 riders. Not exactly in the top 15 as I had sort of maybe hoped I might have SOME chance at. But honestly, it fills me with so much hope. Hope for development, for improvement, for potential.

Honestly - today was one of the best days I have EVER had on my bike. The strategy involved, the teamwork, the way I kept thinking about my next move, the way I kept on pushing myself and made decisions on when to push harder than other times. It was all just totally amazing. I also had FUN and I was SO inspired by all of the amazing cyclists who passed me today.

It also reminded me of those training days on your bike when you ride with people way better than you and you're gasping for air most of the time and you hate it and you think "why did I do this?" and then an hour after the ride you think "wow that was the BEST RIDE EVER!" It was totally like that. Except that even when it was hard, I was still having fun.

Today gave me such a great sense of direction. I want to do more of this. I want to be a better climber. A smarter racer. I want to see how much stronger I can make my body. It's a good feeling and ABOUT TIME I got that appetite back!

So that's that. The next road race is May 10 - the Berkeley Hills Road Race. The route will take place over the infamous "Three Bears" route which I used to ride ad nauseam when I lived in Berkeley. I'll get to relive my first couple years on the bike!

Thanks to everybody for all the support lately. It was really with me today in the confidence I felt and the mindset I went into the race with. Special thanks to Laurel Green of Wenzel Coaching and my Early Bird Women's Developmental Team Director - your pre-race tips were invaluable to me and I am so grateful to have you as a mentor! Also thanks to all of the Early Bird Women who showed up today and rode strong and cheered for me afterward. Having a team is SO FUN!


The 2009 Early Bird Developmental Team


Lee said...

Congratulations Sarah! It sounds like you really rode hard and great time in the process. I can't wait to see how you fitness and "ride smarts" improve as you develop into a racer.

Mel said...

Good job Sarah.....wayyyyy NoT to WUSS out:)...You did what you could do and the important thing is you had FUN and you beat "that girl"..ha ha love it..Glad you had an awesome race!!

Paul D. said...

Great job Sarah! In most of the races I have done over the years it has always been mind over matter. Baby steps, I am hangin on, oh no your not gonna beat me (he is from the evil empire) it's ok if I throw up right? All of these things flow through most of our minds, keep the negative out and you will do great (which I know you do already!).
Keep up the good work!!

Holly said...

You are so awesome and inspiring. Seriously. Way to go out there and work your butt off and re-discover passion in a new way. This year is all about bike racing for you! :)

Soda said...

you kicked my ass... my next goal... to beat you!!! you rocked it out there!!

Ottem16 said...

Wow great job! I know that feeling oh too well, when everyone around you is riding your "ass" off. Good luck with the season to come!

Maggs said...

I'm trying to channel your love for the bike. Nice job on the race.

amy said...

Awesome job! I loved reading your report... too fun! We'll have to ride together sometime again... hopefully you won't kick my ass too bad. :)

rocketpants said...

Sounds like you had a FANTASTIC day!! So glad to hear you are getting your appetite back for doesn't have to be can be whatever you want to make it and it sounds like that will be bike racing. :-) And way to beat the girl who won't take her fair share pulling!

Carolina John said...

nice race, congrats sarah! it's nice to have that much support.

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

Road racing rock star! Go Sarah! Awesome race, rocking report. Love it! I felt I was there. You are an inspiration my friend!

PunkRockRunner said...

I'm not surprised that you kick butt at Wente. You love this stuff and cycling is obviously a passion. You gotta' love a course that puts the finish line on a climb :D

Congratulations on the first of many victories!!


Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Absolutely fantastic - what an inspiration! LOVED the post - way to really WORK it...I'll be cheering for you BIG time for your next race! AWESOME!!!!

Shan said...

Nice work Sarah! Road racing is another world of its own compared to triathlon - most people think RIDE HARD, but there's so much strategy that goes into it that ensures you to ride smart AND hard!

I wish I was going to be up there to cheer you on for the Berkeley Hills race - you gotta show me those three bears hills!!!! :)

See you in a MONTH!!!

Rainmaker said...

That sounds like an awesome race! I love the fact that you slowly realed in folks...very cool!

I'm also enjoying the fact that you're branching out and just enjoying doing different things, instead of worrying about keeping track on one item. Keep it up!