As much as I love riding my bike, I have always told myself (and anyone who would listen) that I would never, ever, never, never, never actually do a road race. So, naturally, on Saturday I participated in my first ever road race. If you would have asked me 6 months ago if I ever saw myself racing on a bike with a group of other women, I would have laughed and served you a big fat “no’ on a golden platter. While I really enjoy spectating at road race events, and watching the various Tours all spring and summer, I have never had any desire to be one of those racers.
When my coach suggested I compete in the Bend Don’t Brake race, I completely shrugged it off. Nope, not me, I thought. I had hoped he would just forget about it and I’d be in the clear. But then my husband, who works with a woman who helps coordinate the race, signed me up to volunteer at registration before the race. This earned me a free entry, so naturally I felt compelled to use it. It’s amazing what people will do when something is “free.”
Even after I signed up I felt torn about actually going through with it. Couldn’t I just show up and start pedaling in the other direction? It is a loop course after all and spectating would probably be just as much fun. At the end of the day I thought, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen? I get dropped and turn it into a good workout.” I decided to suck it up and just do it. Good experience, right? I live for those.
The day started with a 4:15am wake-up cry from Axel’s room. Lately he has been going through an early morning phase. Justin and I are both morning people, but Axel takes it to the next level of EARLY! Justin was able to get him to go back to bed, but by that time my brain was firing a billion neurons a second thinking about the race. Sleep was simply impossible, so I made my way to the coffee maker and sat in silence for a few minutes.
Because my race with the cat 4/5 women and 40+ masters did not start until 1:20pm, I was scheduled to volunteer checking in racers from other categories from 7:30am-noon. It made for a long morning of playing the “waiting game”, but at least I got to meet and connect with other cyclists during that time. It was a good distraction for me as well…. until….
There was a bad crash in the men’s masters race and the directors had to stop (and eventually cancel) the remaining morning races due to the crash taking place right before the finish line. There was a sprint finish and a bunch of riders ended up crashing and going to the hospital in ambulances. When you are a newbie rider getting ready to start your first race, this is the LAST news you want to hear. But, it’s also part of bike racing and accidents happen. My heart went out to those who were injured – I can’t imagine.
The encouragement from my coach, husband, and fellow riders kept me pointed in the direction of the start line. I warmed up with some friends who were racing in the Cat 1/2 women’s group and then made my way to the start. My coach was there to offer me a few pointers and before I knew it we were off.
The race was 2 ½ loops (each 10 miles) on easy rolling hills. This area is notorious for wind, which definitely factors into strategy, as you don’t want to be the one doing all the work and pulling the group into a headwind. I stayed clear of the front when battling against the wind.
The first lap was pretty easy and uneventful. I was definitely nervous and could feel adrenaline surging through me as we rounded each corner and sprinted each hill. Halfway into the first lap I got bored, so I took a turn at the front. My coach told me that it’s okay to be in front at times, so everyone can share some of the work, but you don’t want to spend too much time in the front. Well, guess who spent too much time in the front? Not by choice, I can assure you, but every time I slowed down or looked back at the group and waved someone else on I got no response. My thinking at that point was “fine, I’ll pull, but I’m not going to waste watts.” You can actually see all of the areas of the race where I pulled, just looking at my data. This looks like the data of a triathlete. Haha.
I finally got sucked back into the group as we entered the second lap. This is also where the headwind would rip into us, so I did a good job shielding myself from the wind. My coach can give me an A for effort in the “avoid headwind” category. Again, halfway into the second lap (once we had a tailwind) I pedaled myself to the front of the group and took over. This time I added a few more bursts and hard efforts, just for fun, but found myself spending too much time pulling once again. You would have thought I learned my lesson the first time around. ☺
Once we entered into the final lap, I knew I was going to have to make a move. Why not make the first move in my first race? So I did. With about 1.5 miles to go I gave it all I had and powered up the road. One of the girls who was stronger than me followed, and we ended up working together (kind of) as we made our way to the 200m sprint to the finish. At this point, a couple other girls had bridged up behind us and it was every woman for herself.
Here is where I let myself down – I completely forgot that during the final 200m, the road opens up to both lanes and riders can use the entire width of the road. Because I was settled just to the right of the center line, I was only paying attention to the riders on my right and was oblivious to the woman who sneaked up on my left. Rookie mistake. She ended up taking second while I took third, by literally an inch. It was that close.
Road racing could not be more opposite from riding a bike during a triathlon. The goal in triathlon is to set a steady pace and power, not going out too easy or too hard. There is a steady sweet spot for triathlon determined by the distance.
The goal in road racing is to conserve energy by drafting in the group and to initiate breakaways and bursts when going up a hill or after rounding a corner. The effort was all over the place as you can see with my power distribution.
There is definitely a learning curve with road racing. Once the race was over I was frustrated with how I performed. Looking back, I would have done things a little differently. I would have broke away earlier and turned it into a time trial. But again, it’s hard to know what others are going to do.
I was really surprised with how nice the other girls in the race were. A good handful of them came up and talked to me after the race. As someone who is intimidated by other female cyclists (some are nicer than others), this surprised me and completely debunked the stereotype I had conjured up in my head.
Am I glad I did it? Of course. I survived and was successful doing something that I said I would NEVER do. Am I going to do more? Maybe. If I do, I want to train differently so I can be better prepared. Right now I am training with a triathlete’s focus and mentality. If I did more road races, I would want to do more group rides, practice sprinting and surging, and get more comfortable with having my head on a swivel. Plus, now that I know what to expect, I can hopefully bring a little more confidence to the starting line next time.