In 2009 I returned to racing after 2 years off to have a baby. I didn’t do much racing, but would consistently finish mid-pack (15th) in SoCal without any teammates. This was actually way better than before baby. The next season, I had a couple of teammates and my finishes improved to 5th-7th place in the bigger races, and I won a couple of smaller races with the help of my teammates: big fish in a small pond. 2011 was my breakout year with a few more teammates, improved fitness, and more experience. I gathered a few wins in bigger local crits, improving my “consistency”. This year, I’m enjoying a sucessfull season with more teammates, many of them returning from last year, and have made podiums in harder, more popular races. Each year, my training and outlook on cycling changed and improved. Steady progression from guppie to big fish in SoCal.
I had high expectations of being able to “sit in” when I started NRC crits, especially since I’m pretty fit and I’ve completed a 35+ crit in SoCal. Fail. There are probably many reasons why I only stayed with the group at the Downtown Saint Paul Crit for 5 laps (second race in one day, bad warm-up, staging too early, bad staging, slamming of breaks into each corner, sprinting after each corner) regarless it was dissapointing. I had just felt like I was settling in and was actually moving up a few people each corner when a sprint lap exploded the back of the field. I was behind a rider that let a huge gap form and I wasn’t able to close it fast enough and was immediately in No Man’s Land. I sat up to wait for the 5 riders behind me so that we could work together to make the time cut. Once together, the pacelining wasn’t smooth and a bit frustrating, but we made it through 50% of the race, received pro-rated times, and get to start the road race today. Seeing my name at the end of the results is both dissapointing and encouraging. I’m used to seeing it at the top but I am dead last in GC here, but I’m still racing (although it’s a far different race for me at the back). I’m a guppie again, and that’s ok. Full results for every stage can be found here: http://www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com/teams
Today is the midpoint of my 10-day trip to the Twin Cities area for Nature Valley Grand Prix as part of the Nature Valley Pro Chase. The first half of the week was spent at a huge house with all three teams together (women, men, collegiate). We rode through the farms in Western Wisconsin, got to know teammates, ate REALLY good food prepared by the host family, filmed interviews, and received some great information from our team director Michael Engleman. Yesterday, we loaded up the van to move to the host house for the stage race, but first we needed to pick up some food. Seven hungry women were set loose in a strange, small grocery store. Surprisingly, we came home with only 27 bananas. After making dinner together and filling our bellies, we sat around the table talking about camp, mostly laughing at all of the quirks that came out over the course of just 4 days together.
Today we went to pre-ride the TT course and we saw several pro teams doing the same. I thought this would make me more nervous, but it was surprisingly comforting. I even enthusiastically waved at the Cash Call Mortgage Cycling Team car…wait, that’s not Cash Call… After cleaning up, we loaded up in the van again for dinner with our sponsors Nature Valley/General Mills. It was so great to see the ethusiasm each person had for what we are doing and it was our opportunity to put faces with names we have heard and to give them a big thank you.
Tomorrow is Day 1 of Nature Valley Grand Prix and I’m a little anxious. I’ve begun my quiet pre-race mode. I needed moral support to make a sandwich for tomorrow (pb & j or turkey…its so hard to make decisions right now). Not only is tomorrow the beginning of the stage race, but there are two stages. Yup, race, change, eat, van, shower, rest, repeat.
Stage 1: 7.7 mile time trial along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul. The road runs through a residential area with beautiful homes and trees. I’m thankful for an interesting route as I tend to zone out on flat, straight time trials. The first rider is off at 8:30 AM; I go at 8:43:30 AM.
Stage 2: The cool thing is that stage two is a crit! I don’t have to wait three days to get to the fun! Located in downtown Saint Paul, it looks to be an interesting course with 5 corners. We complete 28 laps of a closed course starting at 6:15 PM.
You can check results at http://www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com/Grand-Prix/Results/
Facebook: Nature Valley Grand Prix
I used to quit road races. I’d just give up, “Oh, I’m off already?” and drop it to the little ring - the ultimate quitter move unless on a steep grade. I’d be the last one on the course and the official on the moto would pass me several times sweeping the course before he finally gave me a push once. My last set of road races were back in 2006. I just stopped doing them using the excuse that I’m not a climber. After I had a baby in 2008, I gradually increased my crit racing, mastery of the local hills (not mountains…yet), and mastery of my sprint as my son became a little less dependent on me.
Last season was my first road race since “quitting” them and not to take anything away from the winners, but I think it was an easy one: 2011 SCNCA Masters Road Race. It was one lap and had a climb that wasn’t too hard for me and I wasn’t even doing hill repeats at the time. I think it might have been one of the first few races after an appendectomy, too. I didn’t finish well, but I was with the group as it came down to a pack finish, even after an attempt at a break away.
I chickened out of the 2011 SCNCA Elite Road Race - total CHICKEN. Even though it was the same “easy” course, I was AFRAID to mix it up with the Elite women. (I am admitting this to myself for the first time.)
This year started off with sucesses in a few crits, so I wanted to challenge myself: this season has to be different than last season. I decided to do a local road race at San Luis Rey, but my concussion kept me away. When I was able to train again (and had a new, bigger goal than I ever imagined of attending NVGP on a composite team!), I told my coach I wanted to do the State RR the weekend before leaving for MN. It was a new course with more climbing and it was in Bakersfield, CA where it can get HOT. I had looked at the course profile several times, but the week of the race I began questioning myself. What in the heck was I thinking?!
The weekend of the race, I arrived in Bakersfield on Saturday afternoon to 97 degrees of hot wind. Several Facebook posts about the day’s races in different categories said this course made another road race that I’ve been fearful of going to look like a race for pansies. That race’s name has the word “Devil” in it. I almost threw up and was stressed out about what to put in my bottles, how many bottles would I need, and OH MY GOSH, I HAVE NEVER TAKEN A FEED! Thankfully, I wasn’t alone and the human interaction pulled my head out of my Dark Place. I wasn’t put to ease after driving the course, but at least I’d know what to expect from the road.
Surprisingly I slept well in the hotel and the morning of the race I was feeling a little anxious, but nothing like before Barry Wolfe Grand Prix the weekend before, another new race for me this season. It might have been because I knew there wasn’t any chance I’d win, so the pressure was off, but I’d like to think it was because I was prepared. Sure I could have spent more time in the mountains, given up sweets to loose a couple of pounds, or done some “heat training”, but I had other things I needed to accomplish first, like regaining confidence on the bike after crashing and landing on my head. Most important things first.
I stayed in the group longer than I thought I would, sucessfully took a feed, helped in the paceline to help keep a break in check (gladly taking instruction from those willing to give it), blew up trying to stay with the group after an attack on a steep pitch, and pushed through foot pain and swelling to the finish. I was well behind the winner and the main group, but I finished and I didn’t quit. When I finally stopped and had a Coke in hand, I shed a few tears of joy and relief from my accomplishment and completing the last big milestone before departing for Minnesota.
The goals of going to this road race were:
1) Do a new race and experience all of the anxiousness that comes with doing something for the first time because Nature Valley will be a whole week of this. The more I do something, the “easier” it becomes, as my relative calmness before the race showed.
2) Get in some good, hard racing before NVGP. This is why, when I had no teammates to help me and no chance of winning, I took my turns in the paceline, why I dug so deep while I could still see other riders putting myself into a hole, and why I kept riding hard despite numb toes with every push of the pedals. I left it all out there.
3) Attend state championship events and help grow women’s cycling. Us women have to attend races, encourage and support one another, and show promoters there is a need for women’s racing. I can’t complain about the disparity between men’s and women’s payout if I’m not even participating. (This can be an entire blog entry all on its own, so I’ll stop here.)
I learned a lot in those 2 hours and 45 minutes in the hot hills of Bakersfield, CA and I am proud of my performance. However, I’m more proud of the fact that my pack mates see me as teachable, because it means they see potential in me. So, I quit being a quitter this weekend and that’s the last time I’ll quit anything.
I have never made the 3 hour drive to the Thousand Oaks area of Los Angeles for Barry Wolfe Grand Prix because…well because it’s a total of 6 hours in the car. There are so many crits in SoCal, that I can skip one and still race 3 weekends that month. It was a last minute decision to go and I wasn’t able to find a carpool on such late notice, so I drove by myself, leaving my husband and 4 year-old at home. They were happy to have a boys weekend and I was happy to have a weekend with friends; however as I was packing the car, Ray was riding his little bike. Having just taken the training wheels off the day before, he had the biggest smile and I was suddenly so very sad and weepy. I was feeling like I would miss out on my son’s childhood by driving off to another crit, but I dried my eyes and gave him one last giantic squeeze and off I went on my mini road trip.
Sunday - Barry Wolfe Grand Prix
I was my quiet, nervous self before a new race, but chatting with my 3 teammates calmed/distracted me. We were so calm that we were sitting in the grass in the shade when the men on our team arrived to register. :) As race time approached, my team let me do my thing: take wheels to the pit, study the finish, etc. I became more nervous of the head cross wind and the long flat finish. Usually, I sit in and let them do all the dirty work to set me up for the final sprint. This time, however, the girls knew I was still working on fitness for NVGP and they agreed that I should be active the first half of the race, but knowing we were low on numbers, I would probably need to find my own way to the line if it came to a field sprint. We all took turns responding to attacks and we were in every move. Surprisingly, I would recover quickly and so I went in two attacks back to back. It hurt but I recovered.
Toward the end of the race, I observed the other sprinters and thier teammates and made a decision on who to follow. In the final laps, I was anxious and felt boxed in the entire time. In the end, I got where I wanted to be on the backside, but between the last two corners it shuffled again and I wasn’t on the side I wanted to be on to take advantage of the draft of the field. I was also about 7th wheel which is way too far back for my comfort. So partly out of frustration and partly from fear, I just went for it jumping out right into the wind, but made sure to put some distance between me and the field so no one could draft me (a spectating friend said it was an immediate 2 bike lengths). It seemed like a long haul and I tried to stay little. I couldn’t see anyone out of my peripherals, so I was able to CELEBRATE at the line! I’m excited about delivering another team win and on a personal level, I’m excited that I can participate during the race and still have something left for the sprint. One trick pony, be gone!
Race-ache set in a couple hours after the race. Ibuprophen, a glass of wine, and a bowl of spicy pasta helped relieve the pain. :)
Monday - Memorial Day Crit
Women’s Race - I was without any teammates, so my plan was to watch those known for making a break and do what I can to follow. I did, however it was the wrong one. I missed the break AGAIN. I tried to bridge, but was unsuccessful. I tried to organize the other single riders to chase, but I knew it was too late. It was a good feeling to have thier support, though. When 3 out of the break lapped the field, I saw one was without a teammate, Jenna. I tried to cover attacks to not let either of the other two go, but was clearly pretty dead. I let Jenna know to stay in front of me as I didn’t want to gap her off. In the final lap, I saw she was out front in the wind, so I went to the front and drilled it. The field over took me just out of corner 3, which is fine, because it was a short run-in to the finish after corner 4. I saw everyone stand for the sprint and heard Jenna’s number called for the win! She did all of the hard work of getting in the break that lapped the field, but I was happy to have been of some help in the end. Later she told me it was her first win!
Men’s 35+ Race - It was fast and I spent most of my time at the back, but every now and then, I’d move up to where the other women, like Suzanne Sonye, were riding, because they are experienced NRC level racers and I want to be, too. In the last 5 laps of the race, my mouth was wide open, drool and snot were everywhere, and I was dangling at the back, but I finished my first men’s race! This is important because I remember Suzanne telling me once that she skipped the small women’s race to do the 35+ race because it was similar to the crit at San Dimas Stage Race that she was training for.
Race-ache never set in and I enjoyed a steak when I got home. Ray never left my side that evening, that is until he laid down on the sofa complaining that his legs hurt from riding his bike.
…like I’m hauling around dead wood. It’s even painful to have my son rolly-polly on me when watching TV, so we made up a game where we take turns massaging eachother. It’s pretty cute to see him laydown and ask, “Momma, can you massage my hammies?” I rub his tiny little hamstrings and he uses The Stick on my gigantic quads. He’s going to make an excellent swanie one day.
Sometimes it’s hard for athletes to maintain confidence through injury, poor results, and mediocre training rides. I certainly have been lacking some confidence from all of the above since getting back on my bike after absolutely no activity for almost a month post-concussion. I’m dealing with it by focusing on the process instead of the results.
For instance, I’ve been able to learn new skills. In a recent race, my teammate initiated a break of 4 women that would eventually lap the field. As they approached the field, I instinctively went to the back of the group to take her to the front and keep her there once she made contact. After a few laps of working hard, I was shot because my fitness was still lacking, but I felt great about my contribution and that my mind was sharp, even while in the red, to know that I needed to work for someone else and how to do it.
In addition, I’ve been able to see how a different way of training works on me. I usually avoid hill repeats. I actually used to say, “I don’t do anything longer or steeper than my driveway.” But, my super smart coach, Neil Shirley, has me going up and down Soledad Mountain so many times that the remodeling crews of the older homes cheer me as I pass. (Not really, but imagining this helps get me to the top.) In just a few weeks, I feel stronger and more powerful.
I know I’m not going to achieve any notable results at NVGP. Realistically, I just don’t have the horsepower or the experience (yet) to make the podium at an NRC event. I could focus on this and return home lacking confidence from once again having lack-luster results, but instead I’m going to enjoy the process of getting ready for NVGP. I am going to make my experience with the Pro Chase part of my overall process of becoming a better cyclist…and better cyclist are confident cyclist.
I forgot to comb my hair. It’s not a big deal when I forget because a ponytail is an easy fix. Forgetting to comb my hair is just one of the little signs that I need more rest along with leaving a load of laundry in the washer for a couple of days before I realize what’s making that stench in the hallway, burning the eggs, and zoning out to Thomas the Train with my son. All week I’ve struggled with energy and by Thursday I was completely knackered and didn’t even want to do my prescribed 45 minute recovery spin - so I didn’t.
Since I was off the bike for 3.5 weeks starting mid-March due to a concussion, I’m feeling like I need to “make-up” for missed time but I know my body and my mind. I know if I keep pushing myself I’ll descend into a hole that I won’t be able to crawl out of. On one hand, I have a huge fear of being time cut at NVGP or shot out the back of the peloton like I’ve deployed a parachute, disappointing friends and family in the process; but on the other hand, I have experienced The Hole. While in The Hole, not only am I not able to finish with the main group, my confidence is low, my focus is lacking, and I have even less energy and patience for my son. I can’t go into my first NRC like this and it’s not fair to my family. I need to be sharp to race with the pros and I need to be a good mom. So, I treated myself with kindness and took an extra day off the bike this week.
Today, I had enough energy to take Little Man to the pool in the morning and was back in the saddle in the afternoon. I felt pretty darn good all day, and I definitely had fun!