It's hard to blog about a bad race but I think it's just as important for the process. It's just as hard to take what positives and learning experiences I can and put the rest behind me.
I know bad races happen to everyone. I know they strike for many reasons, and can occur despite your best efforts. I know they do not characterize me as a racer, or more importantly, a person.
Still, it's hard to scrape myself up off the ground, especially when my last race had me literally on the ground.
No, I didn't crash....
I bonked - Lance Armstrong style. Foaming at the mouth with salt, legs cramping with every more style bonking.
It all started on a beautiful Saturday in April....
We gathered at my house, loaded up three vehicles with six people - my Hub teammates (Kate, Alice, Ashley, Katie) and Suzanne, our teammate from another team! Our Caravan was off at 7:40ish. The drive to Hillsboro was without incident. No missed exits or mishaps.
We parked, registered, picked up timing chips, changed, ate, drank water...wait, YES, I actually did both of these things. The Cat 4 women went to warm up, while Alice and I hung around. Our start was 1 1/2 hours later, the LAST race of the day. Ugh!
The pre-race jitters were there and then moved off. We rode around, climbing hills to get heart rates pumping, circling with "the Sharks" - (Teresa and Amy from Big SHark!)Alice commented that I seemed defeated before we even started. I just felt tired.
We grabbed a coke and shared it. That energized me a bit. When it was time to line up, we were near the back. I knew I wanted to be up a little bit but not too far. Chris prompted me to get into my Big chain ring. Sarah re pinned by center line number and confirmed that my beloved Catlike helmet is no longer race legal.
The next thing I know, Todd is calling Alice and I up to the line for being Hub racers (Sponsor team!) Woo Hoo!, I think. Yikes, there are some pro racers in this field.
After some instructions and a few jokes from Todd, we were off. I didn't stay on the front long, but managed to stay near the front. We passed the women's Cat 4 race as they were finishing up the hill. After the neutral section and first turn, I even pulled a little, down the hill and into the first climb. Chris came to the front with me and then instructed me to seek some shelter on the inside.
I did as instructed and tried to relax. The other racers continued to move around me but I stayed in the upper 1/3. We were really flowing like water. The field was so big, it was hard to see the road ahead. Little turns yielded some gravel on the sides. I slid back a bit. Jamie and Suzanne W came around me. I tried to stay on Jamie's wheel but found myself on Suzanne's. She moved left and right a bunch and without really focusing, I was easily overlapping her wheel.
9 miles down, 49 to go. We reached "Ruth's hill", I fell further back, but stayed on enough to catch right at the top of the hill. Amy was on the back too. A few others had dropped off. I couldn't see Alice.
I tried to get back in but the surges were starting to wear on me. It was strange to climb a hill and see the attack at the front, but have to wait for the wave of riders in between to respond.
The next thing I know there is "Danger! XXX" written on the road. The smell of brakes filled the air. As soon as I reached the turn at the bottom of the hill
there was an attack. I couldn't stick with it.
I was dropped. 10 miles in.
I fought to get back on. Another girl bridged to me from who knows where and we tried, in vain, to work together to get back. No dice
I dropped off and she continued her fight.
Several miles go by. Solo riding, trying to keep my speed up but watching it dip from 20's to high teens to 17mph. NO shelter from the wind. No one to hide the fact that we are climbing a hill.
Then Alice and Margie (McDonalds, from Louisville) catch up to me. I soft pedal to let it happen sooner and start to rotate in with them. It's clear Margie's out to catch some carrots. She soon sees Joan in front of us (another from Louisville) and we work to catch her.
We rotate through and work well together. Since none of us have ever done the feed zone thing, we spread out and try our luck. I see the familiar face of Natalie Carroll and toss her my water bottle to clear the way for the one I hope to pick up. She catches it like a pro. (I was hoping she'd give it to my teammates up the hill, but instead she threw it in a big box with other bottles and it was left in Hillsboro! Since i had my name on the bottom (!) it made its way back to me last week :)
A few seconds later, I see our awesome Team Rev support and easily snag a bottle from Kate. My guess is that it's much easier to navigate a feed zone with four people than with 40!
As we climb the second hill, I am feeling strong. We hit the cobbles and I am second wheel. I pull through to the front at the Start/Finish and we begin lap two.
As we descend the feed zone hill, I notice a twinge of cramp in my right calf. I ignore it and it moves to the left. I change my pedal stroke a bit, grab a drink and get some food. I share some pieces of my powerbar smoothie with Alice and Margie. We roll down the road. Several men's groups pass us.
Halfway through the second lap, I noticed that I am starting to fade. My pulls are shorter and less frequent. My head starts to feel full in my helmet. With about 10 miles to go, I get dropped. I catch back on but can't move up to take a turn pulling. I am starting to limp. The cramping increases, but I try to shake it off. My cadence slows. My heart rate increases. My speed takes a sharp dip.
We passed a guy who looks worse off than me. I am only going about 14 mph and seem to fly past him. I start to notice the volunteers are packing up. Hmm... Alice, Margie and Joan are getting smaller and smaller in the distance.
My whole body starts to ache. Cramps move up both legs into my hamstrings and quads. I pray for tailwind but even with it, my speed is slow and pedalling is labored. I realize this is a BONK and focus on just making it to the finish.
I see the last climb with a mix of joy and pain. I have to climb it to finish.
The guy behind me passes me. He takes a long look at me as he passes, swerving into the other lane. I can't figure out what he's staring at. I must've looked pretty bad. He keeps looking back as he climbs, as if he is considering coming back for me. Soon, he's gone and it's just me and the hill.
I reach the second part of the climb and realize they are picking up the cones and opening the course. Fortunately, when I reach the cones, they stop picking them up and let me pass. My vision starts to get fuzzy and I see spots. I reach the top of the climb and realize the police officer stopping traffic at the turn is walking away. There's a car up! I signal and make the turn. Down the hill, I get a little break from pedalling but the pain doesn't stop. I start to cry, but quickly realize it makes things worse. I force myself to stop crying as I reach the cobbles. Fortunately the traffic there waits for me. A guy in car at the corner also waits for me to make the turn. More tunnel vision.
I turn down the finish. The last thing I remember seeing is the 200 meter sign. I cross the line and ride right over to the Team Rev ladies cheering me on. I stop and try to put my left foot down but my leg doesn't want to have any of it. Pain and exhaustion are all I can feel. The spots have turned into fuzzy black and white stars.
I fall left, fortunately into Larry Pirtle. He realizes I am going down and catches me, making me stand. My friends help me unclip my right foot and help me over to the grass where I can sit down. Kube gives me some food and some Gatorade. I am covered in goosebumps and can't breath. Kate tries to put pants on me, both legs at once! After a few minutes, my head starts to clear. My legs feel tired but aren't twisted into knots.
Suzanne graciously offered to drive my car back to St Louis. It'd been a while since she last drove a manual. I was just grateful for her company and support. We headed directly to Llewellyn's for some much needed food. After a Coke and a burger, I was feeling more normal. I even considered trying to do the Tilles Crit, but was shot down by my friends/teammates.
I guess a Sunday of rest and spectating isn't too bad either.
My longest, hardest race ever also became my worst. Despite the painful, frustrating finish, I can glean some positives. The most obvious is the incredible support of my friends. From cheering, to feed zone support, to literally holding me up at the finish. They are the best! Also, I was able to hang on to the wheels of some fierce and strong women, including some Pros, for about 10 miles. Hopefully my endurance will get stronger and I'll be able to hang on longer.
I also learned that I can push myself beyond what I perceive are my limits. I did not give up. I finished the race. And I will line up at the start again soon.