Thursday, July 02, 2009

Staying the Course

After entering the world of bike racing this year, I thought that my race reports would undoubtedly be much shorter. After all, there’s only ONE event to write about, right?

Indeed, there’s only one. But the miraculous thing is that I’m finding myself mulling over so many more things, that even days later, I continue to have little epiphanies and think “oh, I’ll have to include that on my blog, too.”

Here again, my ever-present challenge is brevity; saying more with less. I’ll keep trying.

Race: Cytomax Benicia Criterium
Date: Saturday, June 27, 2009
Field Raced: 3/4 (I’m currently a 4)
Teammates Present: Stephanie and Michal
Teams Present: Early Bird Women, Dolce Vita, Sugar CRM, NorCal, Colavita, MetroMint and a few others
Temp: At my race time (10:00 a.m.), low-mid 80s

Goals for this race:
1) Stay in the pack as long as possible in spite of how badly it hurt
2) Have fun this time
3) Practice cornering
4) Don’t crash

I would also like to say that the fabulous photos below were taken by Warren Lane and all of the Benicia Crit photos can be found at his website: Casadelane Photography. THANK YOU to Warren for sending me these great photos – much appreciated!

Stephanie and I take the line!
(Photo Credit: Warren Lane)
Taking the Line

As we took the line I was relieved to hear them tell us that we’d get a neutral lap to scope the course out and go through the turns. Earlier that morning I’d witnessed a crash on what looked like one of the hairier corners and was a bit anxious about how this would all pan out, especially given that the corners in the 2 Wheel crit were MUCH rounder than these. These were real street blocks with Bots Dots through the center, dips in the road for water drainage and just generally sharper turns.

In spite of the first lap being neutral, my heart rate was through the roof. I knew it would just take time to come down but I was so nervous. As we came up toward the line for the first real lap to begin, all I could think was “here we go. This is it. DON’T back down, Sarah. Just go with it and don’t give up!”

After two laps, my heart rate was even higher in mid 180s. This was not a purely flat course. The street with the starting line (1st street) was a gradual incline and it was about three blocks long. After a left and another right, we went up AGAIN, but this time a little steeper for another block. Then it would go down, down, down into the hairy turn from E. I street onto E. 2nd (which I came to love), another couple of rights and we were back on 1st street going up to do it all again.

See map:

Benicia Crit

The red line is the start line; we went north on 1st street then left and right on W. 2nd street, which is was more up! Basically heading away from the water was up; heading toward the water was down.

As we finished the 2nd lap, the officials were ringing the bell – the 3rd lap would be a Prime Lap. Oh no. Buckle the seatbelts and HANG ON!

I told myself that if I could just hang onto the pack for the 3rd lap, it would all be okay. I just had to stay the course and keep on, no matter what. Halfway through, I glanced at my watch – HR read 185. Wow. “It doesn’t matter, Sarah. Just HANG ON.”

We made the turn onto W. 2nd street to go up the steeper hill and it was there I began to fall behind a bit. Another woman passed and said to me “go on, you’ve GOT to go catch them.” Summoning every ounce of energy and strength I had, I got up out of my saddle, gritted my teeth and pushed, pushed as hard as I could up that hill. Cresting the top and heading right around the turn, I quickly shifted up and dug a little harder as we hit the flat and prepared to round the next corner.

Relieved, I had caught the back of the pack. My shoulders relaxed a little. It was all downhill for a bit. I could hang here, knowing that the next lap should be a little less fierce since it wouldn’t be a Prime Lap.

Except that as we came up to the line to begin the 4th lap – there was that damned bell – they were ringing it again! “Double Prime Lap, ladies! Keep it up!” yelled the race official.

I wanted to punch him. WTF? DOUBLE?

Knowing that I just would not be able to sustain a heart rate that was soaring in the 180s for another 25 minutes, I backed off my charge up the hill. At that point it was only one other woman and myself. Halfway through that fourth lap, I wanted to quit. The desire to just pull over, get off my bike, sit on the curb and relax was so intense it began to fill up all the space in my brain reserved for focus.

Sarah Pain 1

“NO! I am NOT QUITTING,” I told myself. Still, I hated being one of only two women off the back. But it didn’t matter. I came to race no matter what, and I had to stick with it.

After one lap, we managed to catch two other NorCal women who also had fallen off the back. The four of us worked together the rest of the race, and throughout the next 25 minutes, I began to see the entire field was completely strung out. Sure, I was still in the last group, and we did indeed get lapped by the race winners, but so what?

(Photo Credits: Warren Lane)

Interestingly enough, that desire to quit never quite went away. The four of us still raced and my average heart rate for all 40 minutes was 174. Translation: that was HARD and the intensity never went away! But as each lap went on, my focus became better. I started getting more comfortable with each turn and practiced braking less and cornering better. Renee from NorCal and I worked on taking short pulls. I worked on keeping my mind occupied with other tasks and not worrying about how uncomfortable I was.

Sarah Pain 2

Yet with 2 laps to go, it still felt like the race would never end.

Finally, though, we rounded that last right turn. I began to contemplate when to sprint for the line. Sure, I was almost dead last, but why not have some fun with it? Renee had the same thing in mind. I began to pick it up about 25 yards from the line but I think it was too soon.

About 4 yards from the line, Renee flew past me and beat me out for 30th place. I took 31st. Out of 34. ;)

As I previously mentioned, I’ve been thinking a lot about bike racing since last weekend. The biggest thing I’m learning is that it just takes practice. Lots and lots and LOTS of practice. So I’ll keep training. And practicing. And LEARNING! One thing that was absolutely awesome was that I walked away from this race feeling happy with how much I learned.

Additionally, I came to the realization that I’m actually really good at cornering. Corners don’t scare me, and, like going downhill, the more speed I can get and still be comfortable, the better!

What my body is used to is going long. Endurance. What I need to teach it how to do is to SPRINT! So that’s where my training is going to have to be a little more focused.

Ultimately, I walked away from the race feeling positive about crits, feeling positive about my experience and having a glimmer of hope that this could actually start to get really fun.


Taiwan-Teacher said...

Wow. Bike racing is so different from running races or any other kind of race- way to hang in there! I'm really impressed!

rocketpants said...

Hang in there. You will become ridiculously fast in no time. Keep in mind how long these other girls have been *focused* on crits. You'll get there and it sounds like you may actually start to enjoy it. ;-)

Maggs said...

Crits are hard. Good on you for sticking it out. I doubt I'll ever attempt another one.

PunkRockRunner said...

With every race you will learn something new about cycling and yourself. Just keep racing and learning and you will get to the top.

I am going to try a race or two at the end of the summer and plan to spend the winter getting into cycling shape for next year. Even with all that, I am years away from even trying a Crit. Those things are nuts.

This was a great race report and I love the fact that you finished. Just think about how much of a better rider you are for sticking it out and how much you learned in 40-minutes.

Can't wait to read the next report!

All the best,


the Wongstar said...

keep feeding yourself the pain, but my advice would be to ditch the HRM. the extra adrenaline already ups your HR by at least 10bpm so it's no use freaking out over how high it's going when you are going balls out!

Shan said...

Mad props to you for keeping your head down and fighting those urges to give in. You ROCK! I seriously would be on the side-lines whimpering after hearing that bell for the second time...

Nice work!! Every race will get a little bit better...!!

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

These races sound seriously hard. Scary hard. Way to push through it Sarah! You're a rock star.

pedro said...


I am proud of you. Your effort was 100% and that is all anyone can ask. And you are right, it does take lots of practice and skill development. For example, in the 1/2 pro race last weekend, I didn't brake at all on most of the corners. braking is bad bad for the mo-mo.

anyway, great report and keep it up! all you need to do now is some interval, puker-val training to get faster, like a sprinter. ;)

Rainmaker said...

Very cool, it's been awesome following you as you continue to excel in cycling.