Monday. Well I did my first bike “race” this weekend. It went okay. It wasn’t really a race per se, it was a clinic that they ran during the real bike race. Basically there were 4 bike races going on in the park Saturday morning, Men’s categories A, B and C and the women’s race which was really the clinic. Instead of racing, the women from the team Radical Media and some other CRCA (Century Road Club Association) female members rode along side of the noobies (such as moi) and gave us advice and tips on racing. There were about 50 women in the “race.”
If I had to sum up the experience I would say it was very much like my earlier Tuesday morning workouts with Trilife half team when they put me in the B group (before they demoted me to C group). First loop hung on, second loop fought for my life and third loop got dropped like a hot potato.
I guess I should be honest and start with the night before. (I hate it when my guilty conscience forces me to fess up.) I was scared out of my mind. I can’t explain why I get scared before new ventures. It is just the way that I am wired. Once I’ve started I’m okay. It’s the anticipation that kills me.
I was so nervous on Friday night that I drank a couple glasses of wine hoping it would help me sleep. In fact the opposite happened. I didn’t get any sleep. I was wide awake every 45 minutes from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. when I just finally gave up. The other sad truth was I was so nervous on Saturday morning that I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything (which means I am VERY nervous!). Usually I eat a banana before bike practice and have 8 ounces of orange juice with 8 ounces of water in my bike bottle during the workout. That usually gets me through bike practice just fine. I had forgotten to buy bananas and orange juice so I just went with nothing. It was going to be 3 laps, how hard could 3 laps be?
If I had to sum up what I was nervous about it was two fold. First, I was afraid of humiliating myself by being dropped in the first five seconds and having to exit out of embarrassment on the first loop and everyone on the planet would be standing around witnessing it. Second, I was afraid of crashing. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around how I was going to ride a fast speeds with a pack not a paceline. Visions of a noobie pile-up floated through my head.
[I also have to make a small correction here. This was actually NOT my first bike race. Back in 1977 I did two bike races that summer. I barely remember them other them other than knowing there were probably things smoked and drunk on either end of the races. I was sucked into bike racing the same way I was sucked into cross-country ski racing — by trying to keep a romance alive. I had no interest on my own. After that summer I hung up my bike and that winter my skis followed suit.]
When I got to the clinic/race the race gals were really supportive. They showed me how to pin my race number on. (Every race posts “Left” or “Right” which means you either have to post your number on your left side or right side. It goes on your back, sideways on either the Left or Right with the number faced so a bike marshal passing could read it accordingly. It does NOT go on your front or on a race belt twisted around to the back like a triathlon.
Then they went over a couple of tips. Most important was to not let your front wheel overlap in front of someone else’s back wheel. Your front wheel is the least secure part of your bike. If you overlap and they move an inch and touch your front wheel you will go down and take everyone else with you. Okay, okay make sure my front wheel stays behind.
Second, no braking. I knew that from Trilife. Just keep pedalling and do not stop. If you have to feather your brakes that’s fine but do NOT brake. Okay, got it, no braking.
Don’t let your handle bars get too close to someone else’s handle bars. It’s okay to ride close but too close and your handle bars could get tangled and down you go.
If one of the men’s racing group passes we would be “neutralized” (new word). That means the motorcycle guy in front will slow down and pull to the right. We are all to move over in order and slowly soft pedal until they pass. We are NOT to take this as an opportunity to jump ahead ten spots. When we start back up we stay in the same order. Got it, no cheating.
Finally try to stay with the pack. If the pack splits up, try to find anyone to ride with — make a sub pack. The cycling team gals would try to help you get back to the pack. The name of the game was to try to stay with others. Got it, not a chance.
We started at the top of Cat Hill. The motorcycle paced us to the top of Harlem Hill where he would take off and then the group could go at whatever speed they wanted. The beginning was almost too easy, I got dropped a little on Harlem Hill but I had no problem catching them again on the back side. I realized I had made a huge mistake by starting in the back of the pack. I was last going up Harlem Hill so that’s why I got dropped a bit. I knew I had better make it to the front of the pack somehow.
I stayed the pack for most of the first loop. On the Westside roller they would drop me a smidge but then I would just catch right back up. (EXACTLY how Tuesday morning practice with the B group used to be.) By the time we got to the top of Cat Hill again I decided I was going to move to the front of the pack. I HAD to get to the front so they wouldn’t drop me again on Harlem Hill. Now we were on flat ground so this was no problem for me. I just started to move my way up and by the time we were about halfway between Engineer’s gate and 102nd street I was at the front wanting to pass the motorcycle guy.
I was really surprised at my level of confidence to move up to the front of the pack. I am very grateful for all the roadie training I have done with Trilife during my Ironman training. I really felt I had good bike handling skills and I wasn’t afraid to be in the pack. I was okay and I think that was because of all our early morning bike sessions where we learned to pace line. Granted this wasn’t pace lining, this was more bike swarming, but I was okay to ride so close to so many.
We were going about 19/20 mph (if I had to guess — I was too afraid to look down and take my eyes off the road). I wanted to go faster so I could jump ahead and get a head start down the hill. But the moto guy wasn’t budging and the fastest women up front who was the head honcho wasn’t moving and seem slightly bemused at the whole thing so I decided I better follow the rules, be good and just ride next to her.
I was feeling very proud of myself for getting myself all nicely situated at the front. Now we would go down Lasker Hill and even when they passed me on Harlem Hill I wouldn’t be dead last. We started the turn for Lasker and before I even got to say “here we go” SWOOOOOSH. About 20 of them just swarmed past me…. HEY!!!! What’s going on?!?!?! I could have gone faster back there but the moto guy was holding me back. NOW you are all going to pass me? I can go fast down this hill. I didn’t understand what happened, why or how. Now in retrospect I think something may have been going on with the Moto guy that I was not paying attention to or knew to pay attention to…. But now we were going down Lasker and I was smack in the middle of everyone and not happy. My plan had been foiled!!! Arrrgggghhh.
Okay so now I’m fighting my way up Harlem Hill and I’m getting officially dropped. There are others getting dropped too but I don’t want to be with them I want to be with the main pack. So I fight just like I would on a Tuesday morning. Here is the key difference. The main pack is not working as hard as I am. I’m killing myself to catch up over the rolling hills and any downhill I am sprinting with all my might. I catch the pack exactly the same place I catch the Tuesday morning B group right before the 72nd transverse. Now my legs are shot and the gals are saying “congrats on getting back on.” But they are all doing their nails while I am sucking wind. I’m dying but wiggle my way back into the pack and now I’m in.
No sooner am I in then we get “neutralized” by the men’s group. Now we have to pull over and let the men pass. We almost come to a complete stop. We are just soft pedalling. Then we take off and it’s a bit of a muddle and I don’t really keep up. We go up Cat Hill and I’m not with the main pack. We are all kind of split up. I’ve lost them but I figure they can’t be that far ahead. I can see them. They are sprinting for the PRIME (prounced preem which is like a little sub race to see who can sprint fastest). I’m not with the group for the PRIME so I just keep going. I have passed a few women who look like they are giving up. One more loop, one more loop.
I go down Lasker pretty much by myself. To my surprise I catch several people on Harlem Hill. Lots of groaning and moaning. I’m dying. I had nothing to give to get up the hill. Those glasses of red wine are dancing in my head and I’m thinking how hard would it have been to buy some freakin’ bananas. What is WRONG with you!?!? This is most ill-prepared you have EVER been for any race in your entire life. If you were scared you should have prepared harder not worse!!! Okay, okay, get to the top of Harlem Hill and you can just finish this out. Freakin’ slacker.
On the downhills I start picking off some stragglers. Most of them have just given up. One of the race gals is there and jumps in front of me. She wants to help me catch back up to the main pack. I know they are long gone and there is no way. I also know that I could beat this gal going downhill but I can’t keep up with her on the uphill. I thank her and say I’ll just meet you on the downhill, go ahead and help someone else. She took off.
I passed maybe 5 more gals including one that I had been following in the beginning of the race. She seemed like a good rider and I told her to jump on my wheel and we would catch some more people. She hung on for a few seconds and then I didn’t see her again. I couldn’t stop to help anyone, I just needed to finish this stupid thing. Then I saw a group at the bottom of the lower loop I was gaining on them fast. The race gal who had tried to help me was with them. About 4 of them. I said hi as I went past but I didn’t slow down. “Jump on her wheel” the race gal shouted to them. I probably should have slowed down so they could catch on but Cat Hill was just around the corner and I didn’t want to. I just barrelled my way up the Hill to the finish and all the race guys were there congratulating me. Yeah, I sucked big time was all I could think.
For frame of reference, first loop was about 18 minutes (my watch said 17 but I think I started it late). Second loop was 20 minutes but that was because we got neutralized by the men’s group. Third loop was all me and it took me 18:40 sucking wind like you wouldn’t believe. But, I do believe that included me riding -1 mph up Harlem Hill. Each loop is 6 miles.
Afterwards we had a little awards ceremony. One gal was a ringer and she won everything. She won the race, she won the Prime. She had on fancy cycling wear. She was also about 18 with strangely disproportionately large thighs. I think this gal was some kind of powerhouse. Then the other gals that came in 2 and 3rd were wearing old cotton tshirts and athletic shorts. I had to laugh. Reminded me of playing tennis when I was a kid. We used to say never be afraid of the person who walks on the court in the matchy/matchy stuff and the latest racket — be afraid of the gal who walks on the court in the cutoff jeans and old, faded t-shirt she’s going to whip your butt. Needless to say I did not win an award — though for a second I thought they might have one for least-likely-to-show-up-and-finish.
Things I have to work on (according to the bike gals). Riding down Lasker in my drops (lower your center of gravity), sprinting in my drops, standing sprinting in my drops. Staying in my drops. I get the theme here. DROPS!! (Drops are the lower hooks on your handlebars — it means dropping down to put your hands there, not resting them on top or on the brake hoods like I like to do.)
Everyone was really nice and they gave us each a little goodie bag of stuff for showing up (mostly stuff about how to join the CRCA.) Here are the things I learned:
1. In order to race in the club races in central park you have to be a member of CRCA. http://www.crca.net/ There are some races that are open to all but you have to check the calendar.
2. In addition to being a member of CRCA which is the local cycling club you have to be a member of the USA Cycling Federation. http://www.usacycling.org/
3. If you do not belong to a sanctioned sub team (a team within the club) you must purchase and wear a cycling jersey from the CRCA (it’s ugly so motivation to find a sub group with a better uniform). If you are on a subteam (like the Radical Media Gals) you can wear their outfits. But you can’t just show up in your favorite cycling shirt and race. Trilife doesn’t have a sub team though Terrier Tri does. Maybe next year we could start one. I’ll gather up all my ringer biker friends when they are done with Ironman and start my own group. Though there a lot of rules about sub teams.
4. In order to be a member of the CRCA you must also volunteer to marshal at 3 races. (3 races your first year, 2 thereafter). When you sign up for membership they actually make you pick your races. If you miss one of your marshalling session you are put on the suspended list and cannot race until you make it up and then one more for penalty.
5. As a member of CRCA you can go to their cycling clinics for free BUT it is first come first serve and only 15 people at a time. That might be tough.
So knowing all of that and it sounding like quite a bit of effort to get involved in the cycling, I signed up for everything. I got my memberships, ordered my shirt, signed up for my marshaling and started searching for a sub-team. Who’s surprised that I did all that? So far Organic Athlete is the only team returning my calls (they don’t have any women yet so they are happy to get a few.)
My plan for the year is actually not to race — it’s more about stealthily integrating myself into this subculture. The rest of the women’s races are six loops not three. I don’t think I’m quite good enough for that yet but I can work my way up. I figured I will go to as many clinics as I can. I will marshal a few races and see how it all works. I will continue to work my butt off on Tuesday mornings with Trilife and try to get better there and look for more groups to let me ride with them other mornings. Organic Athlete says they ride most mornings before work. I’ll just keep plugging along until I feel ready to try again. And then maybe join in for a few races just to see how long I can hang on…..
I believe in reincarnation (shocker). A lot of people do past life regression to find out they were Catherine the Great or Napolean or someone really famous. I’m pretty sure I was one of these guys.