Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

I've had several days now to sit and stew think about Battenkill, and what I wanted to write about my race experience. Here are my thoughts:
  • I felt GREAT going into the race. Fit, mentally prepped, and ready to go. Pre-riding the first part of the course with Mike on Friday really helped me to know where I needed to be to meet my race goal, and helped with my confidence as well. Thanks to all of you for your notes and words of encouragement.
  • An issue with my rear wheel on Friday's pre-ride resulted in changing out wheels, tires and cassette in the school parking lot the night before the race. It was a messy, difficult job and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Many thanks though to Mike for making sure everything was ready for me on race day.
  • Pizza Hut pizza is gross. Enough said :)
  • Saturday was a VERY LONG day. Up at 5:30, breakfast at 6:00, at the venue before 8:00. Mike's race started at 9:50 and finished around 12:30. I started racing at 2:20, finished just before 6:00 and then we drove home, ending up back at the house just before 10:00 pm.
Mike and Ben ready to roll
A strong finish for Mike
  • Trying not to let other people's nerves affect you is really difficult. I had to really work to remind myself that I was ready, and not to let my confidence be undermined before the race. This was especially hard as I listened to stories from those who had already finished. The butterflies did eventually win that war :).
Michele and I pre-race - the butterflies are waging war
  • The sketchiest part of our race was on "go". For some reason, the mass of Cat 3 women decided that meant "go in a left or right direction". I quickly found myself at the back of a field of racers I didn't know, and worried about the zig-zagging. Michele had managed to move up the right side of the pack, and I worked quickly to get on her wheel (one I knew would be safe!).
  • For at least the first 10 miles, I remembered that racing wasn't just about riding hard, but also about riding smart. I sat, tucked second wheel for the first five miles (behind Michele - not sure what she was thinking about pulling for that long :)). Just before the turn that took us across the covered bridge and onto the first dirt section, I decided that I wanted to lead - I was nervous about the pack, and wanted to get through those sections safely. Of course, this meant that once I was on the front, no one wanted to come around me! I ended up pulling the entire first dirt section and onto the pavement before Michele, once again, pulled in front.
  • While I had remembered the smart piece initially, the move I made to lead through the first difficult sections probably didn't fall into that category. I did too much work, and slipped back farther than I would have liked heading up Perry Hill Rd. This put me in a non-optimal position leading into Juniper Swamp Rd, and on the steepest part of that climb, I lost contact with the lead group.
  • After losing contact, racing smart went out the window, and it was all about racing harder. Not a good plan.
  • In trying to chase down the lead group, I managed to connect to other racers who had also been dropped. First we were two, then three, four and five, and ultimately, a group of about 10 women. This SHOULD have made bridging the gap attainable (since we could, at times, still see them up the road). Unfortunately, despite my BEST efforts at encouraging, cajoling, and downright bossing the group, organization was lost on them.  We had women who were completely skipping turns or not putting in a fair effort if and when they did get to the front. I laughed at one of the turn-skippers when she said to me "They're only about a minute ahead of us." There was no way an unorganized chase was going to bridge that gap.
  • I remembered hearing about the new dirt road sections from Mike and others who had finished the race long before I started. On the first of these - a long, flat, fast section, I went to the front to ensure my own safety! Three of us towed the group through this section, and handling skills were vitally important. At one turn, I literally managed a two-wheel slide around the corner, and heard the fear and amazement from the riders behind (they were sure I would crash). On the second new dirt section, I managed to get separated from my group - a combination of fatigue (I worked WAY too much trying to organize our chase) and a shifting error. This let me watch two women crash in a deep sandy section, but also left me alone for the remainder of my race.
  • As much as I was hurting on parts of the course (like Meeting House Rd), I felt badly for some of those dropped from earlier fields who were walking up hills. Despite occasionally riding slower than ants can march up the dirt road, I never had to get off the bike, and for that, I am grateful.
  • The guy who stands at the 5 mile to go mark, and tells you this is the final climb, is mean, and clearly doesn't ride or race a bicycle. Yes, I know he is trying to help, but in the two times I have done this race now I have wanted so badly to ride back to him after the climbing and punch him in the nose (but it would mean having to ride back UP - no way I was doing that). You see, from where he stands, you can see a rise. It's small. And he tells you it's the last climb. What he doesn't tell you (and you can't see), is the seemingly never-ending climb that comes AFTER that small rise.
  • Being passed by a pace car from another group on a loose, dusty, fast descent means not being able to see or breathe. I literally had to brake on the descent to give myself distance between myself and the car - I couldn't see through the huge cloud of dust.
  • Having TT skills really helped me in this race, given that the last 20 miles for me was just that. I knew I could dig in just a bit deeper once things flattened out near the finish.
Happy to be finished - 62.4 miles in 3:29
  • Shoulda, woulda, coulda. After Mike's race started, I rode to the finish area to watch the juniors finish their race - I had a couple of good friends finishing up. I was really excited to see Donnie finish with the lead group of juniors in his race, and for Melissa to finish second in her race. Afterwards, Melissa started talking about what she SHOULD have done in the race. I promptly cut her off and said that there is no place in racing for "shoulda, coulda, woulda". Melissa has been on my mind all week, as I failed to take this advice myself. Sometimes, even seasoned racers can learn a thing or two from our up and coming juniors :).
Melissa's podium
  • Excitement to abject disappointment. When I finished my race, and for the rest of the day, I was excited and happy with my performance. I had almost met my pre-race goal, and I had ridden strong, leaving everything out on the roads of NY. Those positive feelings started down a slippery slope the following day when I looked at the race results - I had finished the race 10 minutes slower than my last outing at Battenkill and at least one of the women in my group of 10 had finished inside the top 20 - a full six minutes ahead of me. Suddenly I was disappointed with my finish, and my performance, and wallowing in "shoulda, woulda, coulda".
So, there you have it. I've struggled with the emotions of this race all week, and it hasn't been clear to me how to convey that. I have, however, taken some learnings away from the experience:
  • Patience is a virtue, and I need to practice this more. 
  • I need to race smarter and not harder.
  • As fit as I think I am right now, there are lots of people as fit or even more so. We had an unusual winter here in the Northeast, and I am not the only one who has been riding a lot in the early season.
  • Remaining positive is a key to my success. I need to remember that through the rest of the season.
  • No more "shoulda, woulda, coulda" - right, Melissa?
I have already said and posted that I would never do this race again. I'm pretty sure I said the same thing after I finished it the first time. We'll see how I feel about that next year :).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On the Rivet

I'm ready. I'm calm. I'm trying to keep the nerves at bay. 

This coming Saturday is Battenkill. Since I decided in February that I was actually going to do this race, I got busy with training, completing multiple rides literally on the rivet. I've done two notch rides totaling 214 miles and 13,500 feet of climbing. I've been out with the boys multiple weeks in a row on the Left for Dead rides; last week was the first time I managed to last more than 10 miles - hanging with them until mile 21.5, and putting in my hardest effort of the year.

Yesterday, TGP asked if I was ready. Typically, my lack of confidence would have me jokingly reply that I was as ready as I was going to be. This year, I am working on my confidence - the physical fitness is there; I need the mental fitness to get to the same place.

I'm not making predictions, but I do have a goal - to stay with the lead group up and over Juniper Swamp Road (a steep dirt road climb at mile 11 where many will end up walking). I didn't walk that climb the last time I raced here, and I don't intend to this time either. Up and over with the front group and stay there. That's the goal.

So yes, I am ready. It's time to race!