Yesterday I finally realized my dream of doing a bicycle race. I say it was a dream because ever since I first saw the Tour de France at the age of 12 I longed to try my hand at racing, but for various reasons I was never able to (my mom wouldn’t have let me, and then once I got old enough to decide for myself, I was nervous about the prospect of entering a race). Sometime last week I got an e-mail from Casey Marks, a rider on the Brown Cycing team, asking if anyone wanted a ride to the Central New Hampshire Road Race. I was both excited and scared. It turned out that the race was going to take place on a 10.6 mile course that includes 1 major climb and several rolling hills. Now that seemed perfect for me, as I have always enjoyed the challenge of climbing. So I e-mailed Casey back and committed myself to my first race.
I got up at 4:40 A.M. yesterday morning and immediately began plying myself with food. Unfortunately things didn’t start well. The pasta that I had boiled the night before tasted so bad I had two choices: eat it and puke, or not eat it and go without a good breakfast. I chose the latter. Thus it was that my breakfast consisted of two Go Lean bars (which take about 15 minutes each to chew completely). Casey picked me up at 5:35 and off we went.
I was pretty calm during the two-hour car ride. I enjoyed the conversation with Casey, and felt proud of myself having taken initiative to try my hand at racing. However, once we got to the race itself I felt my legs seize up a bit and my heart race quicken. Registration was pretty easy though, and before long Casey and I were doing a few warm-up laps around the parking lot. We next went to the staging area. My race had about 47 people in it. The first 50 yards or so were the “neutral zone” and then once we got onto the open road the racing began.
Unfortunately for me my heart was pounding and I was breathing heavy before we even got to the first climb. I wanted so very badly to be able to keep up with the main group, to at least feel like I was competitive in the race. Well, the first climb came maybe 3 minutes into the race and, though short, it was quite steep and my legs felt awful: they were heavy and had no spring in them. I started moving backwards in the group very quickly. Before long there were two groups: the fast guys and the rest of us. To my utter amazement, I couldn’t even keep up with the slow group. Not only could I not keep up with them, I got absolutely blown away by them.
To make matters worse my water bottles fell out on the descent off the climb and, seeing as I was going 35 MPH, I didn’t want to stop to retrieve them, so now I was facing the prospect of a 32 mile race on a warm day with no water and completely on my own. Well, It’s not accurate to say that I was on my own. After all, I was already getting passed by the people in the next race that started 5 minutes after me. I couldn’t even keep up with them! Halfway through the first lap not only was I the last placed rider in my race, I was the last placed rider in the race behind me as well! I was out of breath, coughing and my legs were stiff and heavy.
Needless to say I felt very disheartened by all of this. By the time I finished the first lap I was so far behind, so slow, so demoralized, that I gave up and called it a day. Casey, who was racing the cat 4 race (cat 5, the race i did, is the lowest level, and cat 4 is the next level up, with cat 1 being the highest) finished an impressive fourth out of 100 in his race.
The experience was not a very good one for me in several respects. For one thing, I don’t understand why my legs felt so bad. It must have been at least in part due to my nerves, because I know I’m not THAT slow. I mean, I was passed by people on old bikes from the 70s and riders in jean-shorts and cotton t-shirts! Apart from the nerves, my weight has gone up considerably since I got back from the cross-country bike trip two years ago, and that can’t be helping my cause either. The race made me feel lazy for not riding as much as I could have been (also, my ankle problems have made it harder to train). It also made me feel like a quitter for, well, quitting. I should have at least finished the race, even If I was 1 hour behind everyone else. But in all honesty I felt embarassed to be so slow, the descents scared me and I was thirsty without my water bottles. But those are just excuses.
The race at least gave me a sense of my fitness level and some of the things I need to work on, both emotionally and physically. I’m proud of myself for giving it a try and I know I want to train well so that I can actually compete in my next race. Casey told me that the last race of the season takes place in Jamestown sometime in October, so my goal is to train from now until then and see if I can at least keep up with the group. Casey says that it’s hard to start racing late in the season because most of the guys have been racing for several months, and also this was a hard course in general. Next time I’ll warm up more before the race, eat a better breakfast and do easy rides for the two or three days before the day of the race.