To her credit, Elise didn’t balk when I told her I wanted to do a race.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” She didn’t say.
“What are you trying to prove?” She did not challenge.
“Don’t you want to meet your second child?” She failed to ask.
No, she’s far more tolerant than that. She simply said “You’d better be back by 1 since we’re having people over for dinner.” Leaving me with little choice but to sign up, show up, and hope I could hang on. I haven’t raced in a dozen years, and as I recall I was pretty miserable. But my training habits have come a long way since then and there’s nothing like a race to hold a yardstick up to your fitness. But, as I soon remembered, road racing is about more than just fitness.
This particular race is just a notch above a club training race, held in a state forest outside of Plymouth. The course was on the short side for a circuit race, and my group (the under-34 Category 5 racers, the bottom rung of the prestige and experience ladder) was scheduled for 8 laps of the 2.5 mile loop. The pavement was standard for New England, meaning plenty of frost heaves and the occasional sinkhole to spice things up. I showed up in time to warm up on the course and find the only really challenging spot: a downhill stretch with particularly lumpy pavement leading into a narrow left-hand turn about half a mile from the start-finish line.
I staged with my group – starting five minutes behind the over-34 Cat 5s – and strained to hear the race marshal’s unamplified voice over the referee’s motorbike idling next to us. The only thing I heard was “if you’re being overtaken by another group, neutralize.” While puzzling over whether that meant “pull to the side and sit up” or “get off your bike,” the over-34s went. We rolled up to the start line and I decided to keep my leg warmers on, even though the sun was rapidly killing the morning chill. At the 30-second warning I took one more look around the field – is that guy wearing panty hose? – then, with a simple “go” from the marshal, we were off.
The group started fast and I immediately slid to the back of the bunch, but I did a decent job of staying with the pack up the first hill. I had a wheel through most of the first lap, but when we came to that bumpy, descending left-hander the pucker factor got too high. I got on the brakes early and lost about 20 yards. I spend most of the second lap chasing, trying to get back on, only to repeat my mistake on the hill. After that, I was permanently off the back and essentially riding a hilly, bumpy time trial. A few other riders came off but some were too fast and others were too slow for me to settle into a group. I got the impression that I wasn’t absolutely dead last, but towards the end of the race things got a little strange.
As I came down Pucker Hill (as I had started to call it) on my sixth lap I heard the pace car honking behind me. I decided that in my case, “neutralize” would mean sit up and pull to the side, rather than stop entirely. Some riders did stop, but since so many people were warming up on the course it was hard to tell who was in competition and who was simply pedaling around. I looked over my shoulder and saw a solo rider churn by, eating up the over-34 field. After he passed I picked up the pace again, but was overtaken by a group as I passed the start-finish line. The “one lap to go” cowbell was clanking, so I assumed I was being passed by the over-34 field that had started five minutes before my group. I let them go by, then put my head down and tried to ignore the twitching in my left calf as I finished out. Getting lapped on a 2.5 mile course would be pretty embarassing.
As I came around on my last lap, I was just about to start my heroic finishing sprint when I noticed that riders were stopped just short of the start-finish line. Another race group was starting (this could have been the Pro/1/2 field or the over-45 masters) and we were held up to let them onto the course. So much for my sprint. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to finish at full speed, though I had apparently avoided the embarrassment of being lapped by my own field. I noodled over the line and then pulled off, found my clubmate (who had DNF’ed the over-34 race due to a mechanical problem) and waited for the results to come up.
Initially, my number came up with the over-34s. I found a race official and got my listing corrected, but even as I write this I’m confused by the results (which, I will admit, are not yet official). I’m shown in 21st place at 49:03.74, 0.02 sec behind #20 and 0.02 sec ahead of #22. Fine, except that I crossed the line solo. The winner finished in 48:36.30, but I have a hard time believing that I was only 30 seconds behind him. Did I make a mistake and do an extra lap? I wasn’t using the lap counter on my computer, but my race distance was around 19.5 miles, so I rate this as unlikely. The time on my computer was about 53:00, not enough for a ninth lap, and I’m sure I zeroed the counter as I waited for the start.
Though I could have done far better, I’m not entirely displeased with my performance. I feel that I was fit enough to stay with the group, though obviously my cornering skills and confidence need some work. The bike performed very well, which is personally gratifying since I built the wheels and installed new components myself just a few weeks ago. I hope to squeeze one more race in before I go on babywatch. Next time:
- Pin the race number more tightly. mine was flapping quite a bit
- Start faster. I lost a bunch of positions right off the line. Pick a wheel and stay on it.
- Use that lap counter!