Monday, August 28, 2006

Who's ever heard of Wichita Falls, Texas???

It was finally here - my goal event for the year: the Hotter 'n Hell Road Race and Criterium. The Hotter 'n Hell Hundred is a rally ride and 2-day race all in one. For a lot of people, it's just an awesome place to do a century (if you like the challenge of 100+ temps and LOTS of wind), and for some, it's a great weekend of racing. I went for the competition!

On Friday I left work at noon, and began my drive to Wichita Falls, a small town about 100 miles northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. I drove into the parking lot of the events center where I'd pick up my packet, parked my car *in the shade*, and got out. WHOA. It was HOT! And it was already 7pm! The wind was blowing -- and the WIND was HOT! I was already starting to get psyched out. I had talked to my coach on the drive up, and he said I just needed to remember to hydrate. Man, would I ever! Laughing out loud (alone, mind you), I went to collect my race number and timing chip.

After that I drove to my hosts' house. (Side story: I ended up staying with a couple (Steve and Camille) whom I met on an airplane from Houston to Denver. We sat next to each other, and I inevitably ended up talking about cycling. They mentioned this famous ride that takes place annually in their town, and offered me their place to stay if I ever decided to go. Of course I took them up on the offer, since hotels are impossible to get, and expensive to boot -- there were 12,000 riders this year!) When I arrived, they were making a wonderful spaghetti dinner, "so that I could carb-load," according to them. They were also hosting one of Steve's friends, Scott, who was racing the Masters 35+ category. We had dinner, and I went to bed early because I had to wake up at 5am.

Saturday morning I followed my routine, ate my oatmeal and instant breakfast, got dressed, aired up my tires...the usual. Scott and I had decided to ride from the house to the starting line, and leave our spare wheels behind. (Luckily I never flatted or had any mechanical problems, so that was a good choice.) I filled 4 water bottles - 2 for my cages and 2 for my jersey pockets. There was only going to be 1 neutral feed, about 25 miles into the 62 mile race. That didn't make much sense to me, so I knew to not rely on that at all. As we rolled down to the race, it was still pitch black, but we saw more and more cyclists as we got closer. I was starting to get excited!

Lining up for the 7am start of the 100km race, I looked around and sized everyone up. There were apparently about 50 Women 4 racers, some first-timers and some racing veterans. Soon the head official gave us our pre-race schpiel and we were racing! It was starting to get light out, and definitely not too hot yet. We kept a relatively leisurely pace for quite a while, and then people would start to pick it up a bit as they alternated leading. I tried to at least stay in the front half of the pack. When I found myself drifting back, I'd work my way up again and find a good spot. The wind started to pick up, and it got harder to find a nice place in the draft. All in all, the race wasn't too interesting - a few times a girl or 2 would attempt a breakaway, but the pack chased them down immediately, and no one got away. The wind was the worst part of the whole race -- it felt like we only had a tailwind for about 5-10 miles. The rest of the time it was a stiff headwind or a brutal crosswind. This race was a great lesson in finding a good draft, and figuring out how to save your energy. At a fork in the road, some volunteers told us to go one direction, which turned out to be the wrong one. Luckily we were corrected less than half a mile later. I hear that some other categories weren't as lucky. About 15 miles from the finish, I looked behind me, expecting to see the second half of the pack, and no one was there!! Whoa. Two thoughts went through my head: (1) I need to work my way back to the middle, and (2) Where did everyone go??? I did a quick helmet-count, and came up with about 21. Crazy... Once we got closer to the finish line, the pace picked up more and more. I was at the back, and was having a hard time working my way up to the front, partially because I wasn't sure *when* I should make that move. The sprint seemed to start way too soon, and I came in 13th, inches ahead of someone else whom I caught just as we crossed the line. As I stumbled out of my pedals, a volunteer ran up to me to take off my timing chip from my ankle. I knew I hadn't done spectacularly, but I had stayed with the lead group the whole time - definitely an achievement.

Sunday was the criterium. Now, the race flyer said our race was at 1:45, with the W123 at 2:45. The race "bible" that they handed to us at check-in said that all women were racing at 2:45. When I got to the race around 10:30am, I went straight to the registration area to double-check -- they told me the time was indeed 2:45, according the race book. I have worked out a good timeline that I follow for all my races, so knowing how much time I have before the race (much less just knowing when to be at the start/finish line!) is important. About 2 hours before my race, I noticed other girls in my category already starting to get warmed up - did they know something I didn't?? I went up to an official who was obviously on break, and bothered him for an answer. According to his schedule, we raced at 1:45!!! AAAAHHH!!! Ok, no need to panic, just get changed and warmed up ASAP! Stupid registration people! So anyways, after all that, I went through my warmup routine as best as possible, and rolled over to the starting area. The head official seemed to know there had been a schedule mix-up, but all except for 1 of the registered women were there, so we started on (scheduled) time. There were about 10 of us, and we were dropping people left and right until there were only 5 of us left. We pacelined for the rest of the race, and in keeping with my lessons, I didn't sprint for any primes. The problem was that towards the end, I was starting to get mighty tired trying to catch up to the other 4 after the prime sprints. Luckily, Shelby's mom was there cheering my name, and that gave me a surprising amount of temporary energy to get back up and hang on. They were wearing me out! The final lap, everyone slowed down and we fell apart. Everyone was just looking around, and then one girl just took off. We tried to catch her, but it was too late - she had enough in her to keep her position, and came in first. I ended up in 5th. Afterwards, I was talking to the girl who came in 2nd, and she said that they were purposely trying to wear me out. She had pinpointed me, along with 2 other girls, as ones who could outsprint her, so she did her best to get rid of that possibility. I still feel like I should have beaten the woman who came in 4th, but I think I have some sort of psychological barrier that makes me feel like I can't beat her. I know how long she's been riding, and I know the way she acts and talks...and I guess I just still get psyched out by her.

What I learned:

(1) I can stay with the lead groups now. I've got the fitness. Now I just need to work on pack placement and sprinting. (Hahaha, "just" those things...probably the most difficult ones!)

(2) Apparently I've got the respect of my peers, if they think I can outsprint them. Now I need to work on being on the offensive instead of the defensive.

(3) Get rid of baseless psychological barriers!

What a GREAT race weekend. My host couple was AMAZING, I met a whole bunch of other women races from Texas and Oklahoma, and I learned what I've gotten good at and what I need work in. Definitely a success! (:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One-Year Racing Anniversary!

This past Sunday, I raced in the Bear Creek Criterium for the second year. Last year this race was my very first USCF race ever! I actually met Aimee Cormier at this race last year, and it was the first race for both of us. She was there again, and we greeted each other accordingly.

I got to the race in plenty of time to register, change, and, most importantly, WARM UP SUFFICIENTLY! I really tried hard to warm up better than I have been, by doing my prescribed intervals and all that good stuff. I had made sure to eat a good breakfast, and had a Clif bar 2 hours before the race. Then I just kept drinking water.

As I rode over to the start/finish line, I started to get a litle nervous, but after the normal pre-race lecture, we were off, and I had no time to be nervous anymore. Once again, we raced with the juniors, and they took off right from the gun, as usual. I knew I needed to keep up with the fast women in order to even be in the running, so I took off with them. The course wasn't very technical - just one sharp turn, that took a bit of getting used to. At one point, the wheels of the girl ahead of me seemed to slip out from under her, but she somehow stayed upright, and there wasn't an incident.

As the race continued, I was definitely expending energy trying to keep up with the lead group. By this time there were about 4 of us Women 4's riding together, with the occasional 5th person grabbing a wheel. At some point, we were passing a line of juniors on the inside, and someone wobbled, someone else braked, and 2 girls went crashing into the gravel. I screamed as I heard someone get a flat, but I stayed upright, and we kept going. At this point, I think there were just 3 of us in our paceline: me, Joyce, and Michelle. Joyce and Michelle pulled much more than I, but I saw that as their own fault for not pulling off when they got tired. So I just sat in and enjoyed the draft. As they started putting signs up with 5 laps to go, I started getting pretty excited -- I could actually be a factor in the final sprint! With 1 lap to go, 2 or 3 juniors got between me and the 2 other women (I was in the back). This made me a little nervous, because I didn't want the women to jump away from me, in case they knew I wasn't right behind them. But I hung on, and as we came through the final turn, I crept a bit closer. Then the juniors started to sprint. As the 3rd junior passed me, another W4 came out from behind, and I jumped on it. I just KNEW Joyce would be right behind me, but as I passed her, she showed no signs up picking up her pace. The girl who came from behind me was still ahead, but I thought we'd lapped her, so I just dug in, panting like crazy. I crossed the finish line beside 2 juniors, and behind that other W4. As I rolled around the course to cool down, I was having trouble believing I'd just won my first race! I wasn't sure if the girl in front of me was really lapped, but when I spoke to Joyce and Michelle afterwards, they seemed convinced that I'd won (and they'd taken 2nd and 3rd). I waited around for the results, and my name was listed as 2nd. I didn't argue, and took my silver medal. But Mike, who'd come to watch, was also positive I'd been 1st. So today I checked the race results on the TxBRA website, and, sure enough, I came in FIRST!


There are 4 main reasons this happened:

1) Committment to my training, along with the fact that I have a coach to guide me.
2) Fueling well.
3) A great warm up.
4) Lessons learned from previous crits:
Lesson 1: Don't bother sprinting for primes if I want to be in the final running. This one I learned at the Houston Grand Criterium.
Lesson 2: Staying with the pack is ESSENTIAL. There's no way I'm catching up if I don't hang on in the first place.
Lesson 3: I have to warm up more than I think I do. I won't wear myself out on a warmup!

I'm sure there's a lot more, but that's what I've got for now. It feels really dang good to be a winner. Now I'm gearing up for the Tour of Columbus crit this Saturday...we'll see how it goes!

In other news, I flew on the "Vomit Comet" today and it was AWESOME. I got to feel weightless. : D

I'll hopefully be posting after the TOC crit.