The wind was gentle but the early morning chill was still in the air. Exhaling, I could see my breath and the forecast showed rain was on its way. Shrugging my shoulders I stumbled back into the house with coffee in hand. It was 6 a.m. and it was time for the Good Friday road race.
If you haven’t read my post from last year’s race, here is a quick summary; it was my first road race (I am a mountain biker) and I was absolutely terrified. It was everything I expected a road race to be: a concrete path leading me to all the things I lack in…stamina, confidence on a road bike and riding in a pack of people pedalling furiously over pavement that cheese-grates skin should you crash. On the other hand, a noteworthy skill I found; I take great comfort in riding at the back of the peleton which is the worst and most dangerous place to be. I think this means I am wearing my helmet too tight!
I was pretty sure road racing would never be in the cards again after a few butt-clenching races last year where I kept constantly questioning my sanity for entering. Close calls with squirrely riders, monsoon level rain, tight windy roads laden with potholes and passing by human carnage from high speed crashes made me shake my head at the insanity of the sport. That being said, that was 2013 and well, a new year means new things and each day means another opportunity to face and challenge what scares me most.
So I signed up two days before and made it a mission to face my fears yet again. Somehow, this time around felt different; I was calm. No pre-race running to the bathroom five times in five minutes, or vibrating like I just chugged 5 Red Bulls. I’m not sure but I may not have been fully awake yet. Popping onto the trainer for a quick warm up, there was no desire to vomit, shake violently or run away as fast as possible.
Times flies by though when prepping for a race and it was time to be in the line up for the start. Hanging at the back in the ‘sketch’ zone it was fantastic to see the number of women in the group.
Various age groups of females go out together and it was inspiring to see so many woman doing what they love; riding their bicycles. The thirty second count down was on and the last few enjoyable deep breaths filled my chest. It would be 64 km and approximately 2 hours before another deep, happy breath filled my lungs.
The horn sounded and the neutral start didn’t feel so neutral. A blistering pace over loose gravel quickly invoked the “oh yeh, this gravel sucks!” It was evident I don’t do gravel well with skinny tires. Feeling a sense of relief once we reached the pavement, the whiplash action of slowing rapidly and speeding up started immediately…the consequence of being at the back. At least this year the accordion sensation wasn’t new to me and I wasn’t questioning what ever happened to cadence!
It was an accordion concert through the first lap. Leading into the second lap over the gravel nightmare, the peleton put the hammer down. Rounding the corner near the fence onto the pavement it suddenly became a Red Bull go time. A few of us dropped off the back (I guess we don’t drink enough Red Bull) and I thought,”hell no! I’m not time trialing this whole race!” With some help from another racer, we put the drive on. I pulled, then she pulled, then I pulled. My chest was heaving and I was seeing stars but we were back with the pack. My brain kept wishing that everyone would just stop being so strong just long enough for me to recover and magically, my wish came true.
Surges are one weakness of mine and another is getting to the front or at least the middle of the pack. I officially suck at it. It requires tactics and aggressive maneuvering…I have neither on a road bike. There was a delusional moment when a gap opened up and I thought, “do it now!” Pushing full throttle along the left side of the pack, I had reached the middle and was going for the front, all the while calling out “on your left!” Suddenly a rider shot to the left and forced me to dodge into the oncoming lane. Crossing the yellow line is against the rules but I think the Commissaire may have understood my reaction and fortunately let me stay in the race. Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I retreated to the back, not feeling comfortable with what felt like more suicidal manoeuvres than the accordion action at the back.
Round and round and round we go. The second lap remained uneventful and we headed into the third. Remaining comfortable in my musical whiplash position even though it requires more work than all those in the middle of the pack, I was accepting of the workhorse factor. The third lap seemed rather chill in pace and it appeared it was priming time. Everyone was recovering to put it all out for the fourth and final lap. Feeling psyched, I began to move forward in the pack. My strategy; perhaps I could get it together enough to be in the middle. Then bam, a rider shoots out right and I’m in the gravel. Not just gravel, cardio-sucking, leg draining soft gravel. Back to the back I went. Another idea crushed!
It was apparent as we hit the gravel for the fourth lap to begin, the ladies meant business. They surged forward like they were shot out of a cannon. Several of us fell behind. The peleton was moving away rapidly and an unrecoverable gap was forming. I became aware that this was now a repeat of last years race; a time trial to the finish. I worked with another racer who was also amped to catch the group and it was everything I could muster. A small group of men passed us and the other female sprinted forward to catch them. I yelled to not draft off of them as I was certain she didn’t know that rule and disqualification was possible, but she didn’t hear me. She then drafted off of them as they grew further and further from me. I didn’t have that sprinting power in my legs and she was riding as fast as a Cheetah hunting down its kill. At that point, catching up was pretty slim and there was no interest in risking being pulled from the race.
My subconscious knew there was little chance of bridging the gap with anyone in front of me but it is also never over until you reach the finish line. Working with another racer, Scully, that had a lot of spunk and came from behind, we switched over repeatedly. She was a fighter and although she was exhausted, she put it all out there until she couldn’t hold the pace any longer. Thankful for her company and effort, I eventually left her behind to ride alone since my pace was more than she could bear. Knowing that I was more than likely riding solo for the duration, extra speed required aerodynamic positioning, so it was time to go into the drops. Oddly, this time my brain went blank when I assumed my workhorse position. There were no good or bad gremlins on my shoulders shouting words of encouragement or discouragement. There was nothing but the sound of my heart pounding and my laboured breathing. There was work to be done and it would happen regardless.
I don’t really remember part of the last lap until the turn onto Trinity Rd. which is the final stretch before the turn to the finish. Mustering up whatever my muscles and lungs had left in reserve, it was raging bull time and I tried to drive ever pedal stroke into the ground. Suddenly, there were riders ahead but they weren’t racing. Two were lying on the ground being assisted and two were standing near them looking rattled. A quick look and I discovered they were some of the ladies from the peleton. Not needing to provide assistance, I revved up the legs for the last punch to the finish.
Rounding the corner to the finish, my legs gave a lame sprint to the end. The best part was seeing Steven nearby and hearing a few voices scream my name. Relief consumed me once I crossed that magical line that determines a racer is finished. I completed with no crashes, some new lessons were learned and another Good Friday race complete. Steven even found me a gift!
The chill was still in the air as many of us stood around chatting up a storm after the race. High on the fact that I was intact and had a hell of a workout didn’t override the chill from damp lycra. A trip to the car, a change to winter woolies and we were back to the start line to support our friends getting started. It crossed my mind to check out the results. With utmost certainty that a podium finish was not in the cards for me, it is always good to know the results.
Glancing over helmet-covered heads with the same purpose of result seeking, it seemed like my name enlarged on the sheet. I looked closer and let out a very clear, “holy sh*t, what the hell, I’m on the podium!” I had to look again and said the same thing out loud again. Then it was an ‘oh no’ moment; my clothing was wrong for the podium! Rules indicate you need to wear your racing kit on the stage and my sweaty lycra was chilling in the van. Realizing I had 5 minutes to get to the car, get changed and get back brought on a outright sprint. A mad scramble to find all the pieces of my racing wear that were launched into the car when changing in the first place, I stripped down in front of a gentleman hanging out in his truck. He never reacted to the visual of my bare-white butt cheeks and I didn’t care but I’m sure had a good story to tell!
A sprint back to the podium area made breathing sporadic. Fortunately, the awards were running in order of start times so it allowed time to consume some oxygen and collect myself. What it didn’t prevent was me vibrating from the excitement of doing something unimaginable; getting on the podium in the Good Friday road race.
Once the three of us stood together, my screams of joy were unmistakable. It’s always important to me to demonstrate how happy and appreciative I feel for the opportunity to stand on one of those wooden blocks. A podium spot is a privilege that will elude many and each and every time I find myself there, I feel compelled to show the respect that this privilege deserves.
I didn’t go into the race with a hope of wearing a medal but I gave my heart and soul into the process of being my best in the moments of racing as I do with all aspects of my life. After all, I have another year of life, I am racing for an incredible team for an amazing cause and it would be wrong to give any less but my best.
Thanks to Sports Zone Photography for capturing this moment. http://www.sportszonephotography.ca/Cycling-2014-1/Good-Friday/830-Races/38592312_J6dxNL#!i=3190007255&k=pXkHGhG&lb=1&s=A
This ‘Good Friday’ was a really good friday!