KW Classic Road Race – facing fears!

Once again I am late on my blogging.  With a bunch of personal stuff going on there hasn’t been much time for writing. I did, however, fit in three races and I’ll start off with the most recent race since it’s fresh in my mind for many reasons.  Unfortunately, I was negligent in taking pictures for this event so I’ve included a couple of links from photographers that were present and other stuff that will be fun to look at.

I once heard a quote, “some lessons can’t be taught, they have to be lived to be learned!”  I lived and learned some valuable lessons at the Kitchener/Waterloo Classic Road Race this past weekend.  And yes, I did say road race!

When road riding is actually fun.  Original Painting by me!

When road riding is actually fun. Original Painting by me!

In my desire to embrace more events that I’ve never done before, the KW race seemed like a good option.  It’s a fairly local race being only a one hour drive, with a short, rolling hill course, approx 5 km and only 1 1/2 hours of riding. It seemed like it was a good race for more experience and a heck of a workout.

I awoke the morning of the race to wet roads and an immediate desire to go back to bed.  For all those that know me, wet roads on a road bike is a new level of terror.  It’s kinda like taking bald, skinny wheels and trying to ride across a skating rink…it can end badly quickly!  Let’s not forget that the braking capacity of a road bike in wet conditions is also at a minimum…kinda tractor trailer like where stopping is a gradual process and you can only hope there is nothing in front of you.  At 5 a.m. I quickly checked the weather channel and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the weather was suppose to clear up.  The forecast was to be blue skies, albeit windy for the remainder of the day.  I guess I should have remembered by now that the weather man lies but no…I believed him and headed out to the race.

Arriving at the race venue, I was psyched to see the roads had dried up and well perhaps, just this once, the weather man was actually right.  I sought out some of my competitor/friends and they shared important details of the course since they were able to do a pre-ride.  We were going to be facing some tight corners, possible gravel on the turns, narrow roads and some rolling hills that will start to be a little life-sucking after several laps.  We had about 10 laps to do so it was great to know that I had time to figure things out in the first few go-arounds.

Riding in the mud is more fun!  Original Painting for sale.

Riding in the mud is more fun! Original Painting for sale.

We started the race with dry roads and lovely blue skies.  Hanging at the back of the pack, I wanted some time to feel out the course and the opportunity to back off on any scary corners or fast descents without affecting any other riders.  It turned out to be a good strategy although I was using energy from having to continuously catch back up with the pack.  Familiarity with the course was crucial since things could go bad quickly with speed.  Sketchy corners and fast descents are my other weaknesses, at least with speed, so the more time I had the better it would be for me.

Several laps in and it was clear there were some dangerous practices by some other riders.  There were riders not holding their lines on the corners, forcing others over the yellow line, hard braking and skidding on the descents and corners as well as skimming past riders with little room to spare.  I encountered all of these things and there was one specific individual that was incredibly dangerous.  I’m not a pro in road racing but I do know what you shouldn’t be doing.  It was also evident that other racers were trying to provide advice to those that were making errors but it fell on deaf ears.

A glance up to the sky and a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ kinda clouds appeared in the horizon.  Dark blue and ominous looking, they were either about to reveal a bunch of space ships or we were about to get dumped on.  Then the Hollywood wind machines were put on turbo and it was clear from the 50 km gusts that things were about to turn epic.

Photo Another glance to the sky a few minutes later and the sky began to take on an eerie green shade.  I’ve seen this colour before and it never meant good things…it meant hail and tornadoes.  Sure enough within about 5 minutes, we were being sandblasted by hail.  I began thinking….should I be looking for a culvert to dive into if a tornado forms.  This may seem irrational but when you’ve seen a tornado and have had to seek shelter under an underpass, it’s no longer just something that happens in movies. “WTF!  Lies, lies, the weather man tells only lies!”…I mumbled.  The hail persisted and I was getting a free exfoliation package from Mother Nature! The minutes seemed like hours before the daggers of ice chaffing my skin softened to rain.  Well rain is an understatement….it poured and then poured some more.  It was the type of dumping that would make you pull over if you were driving.

Photo I was now facing all the things that I don’t like about road racing, all at the same time.  No matter how many Tour de France’s I have watched or how many group rides I have ever done, the lessons I had to learn could only be achieved by the experience and the experience was being delivered with brute force.

Retreating to the back of the pack, there was comfort with the ability to leave a lot of clearance from riders should there be a crash on a descent. There was a price for this decision as the sprints to catch the group on the flat sections were brutal with the G-force like headwind. Headwinds are best when shared…not when you’re alone!

Better days!  Original painting sold.

Better days! Original painting sold.

As the rain kept dumping and the roads filled with water, I was always excited to see a hill climb.  I felt safe climbing and it was also where it was easiest to remain with the group.  I figured with three laps to go that I could pull it together in that time to get to the front of the pack and be with them for the sprint to the finish.  Funny how a delusion can be cut off as quickly as it starts.  Suddenly, ‘Mrs Sketchy Extraordinaire’ was pulling another ‘I want the whole road for turning’  and just about took me out.  She wasn’t holding her line and as a result, I was in her way.  I was going to pay the price so I backed off.  This was almost my breaking point…I had been nice and tried to be helpful up until then.  My harshness, however, remained constrained, and once I caught back up I kindly suggested for her to hold her line in the corners.  My statement was heard and only met with a sideways glance.  The next corner one of the other racers shouted out, “hold your line!” Once again she did not, nearly taking out another racer.

With a short sprint, I got back into the group and found an opening to work my way up.  Nearing the middle of the pack, it wasn’t more than a minute that Mrs. Sketchy skimmed past me, nicking my handlebars and proceeded to squeeze between two other riders and forced the same action.  I bobbled but managed not to crash.  The ‘Medusa’ in me reared its head  and the moment I caught back up to her I yelled, “Stay away from me!”  I no longer had any interest in being nice and helpful to someone that showed such disregard to mine and others safety.  It was obvious she didn’t care by her snicker.  It was then and there that I decided I was done with the risks and antics in the race so I retreated to the back of the pack.

Suddenly there was a group of men that began passing us.  The rule in road racing is that one group can’t combine with another.  Since we were now being passed we needed to hold our position to the right and ensure it was obvious that we weren’t drafting off the guys.  I pulled back some more and saw that many of the female racers blended in with the men.  The pack suddenly appeared to became a large swarm winding down the road that I could no longer catch up to. I was now alone, in the pouring rain, reminding myself that at the end of the day, I am racing for Cliff Bars and nothing more.  It didn’t matter where I finished, just make sure I stayed safe….I promised Steven that I would and my body isn’t fond of sliding on pavement in lycra.

So the last lap I rode alone, as a time trial! My suffering was purely self-induced but it was pleasurable to have the space of the road.  Riding into the finish, I felt relief beyond words.  It was a ‘hallelujah’ and ‘holy sh*t I’m glad this is over’ mental relief.  Although I wasn’t near my breaking point mentally or physically since I’ve been through way worse, I was relieved that I no longer had to question how much longer I could remain injury free given the conditions and antics of others. The burden of the race was now off my shoulders.  It was also apparent that there were times that I had been clenching my teeth since my jaw was sore.

Back to the car, soaked from head to toe, my first responsibility was to call my wonderful husband and give him the good news that I was alive.  He was beyond happy and thanked me for doing my best to stay safe.

After I purged my frustrations over the phone, I got cleaned up and went to check out the results.  Waiting to see them posted, I discovered that one of my friends/competitors had crashed and sustained an injury nearing the finish.  How did it happen….’Mrs Sketchy’ is how and Sandy was the casualty.  Another bad cornering moment and Sandy was in the trajectory.  Sandy’s  knee, chewed from gravel, was fortunately the only injury she sustained.  It wasn’t long before several racers spoke about this one dangerous person and how many close calls there were throughout the race.  It is the nature of road racing; unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar riding etiquette and well, some just forget that it’s just a race.

Ultimately, I came in 5th place which is incredible!  I forced myself to face more fears and recognized that there were many lessons learned in this 1 1/2 hours because mother nature added some extra elements that I have been trying to avoid.  I have also discovered that I have only touched the surface when it comes to embracing the real risks of road racing.  Will I try another race…probably…just because I try to not let fear rule my life.  I can’t get the time back and I don’t plan on leaving this planet with a bunch of regrets that I didn’t do something because I was scared.

What climbing looks like in Nova Scotia!

What climbing looks like in Nova Scotia!

So to add a little more adventure to my life and release some remaining stress after the race, I drove to Climbers Rock, and indoor climbing gym and went rock climbing.  It’s so much easier than road racing, way less scary and another one of my passions!

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