May 18, 2008


i am sure y'all know exactly what DFL means. for those who don't, it stands for dead fucking last. which refers to my finishing position at my first ever criterium race yesterday. dead last, deader than a doorknob, "is there still someone out on the course?" last. dead fucking last. but! 'dead fucking last' trumps 'did not finish' which trumps 'did not start', yes? i was scared of trying this crit, but i did it. i got out there, faced my fear & stared the beast down. problem was - the beast chewed me up, spit me out & left me for dead. but i did it.

i cannot tell you how much i did not want to finish. it sucked. i hated it. but i finished. i wanted someone to shoot me & put me out of my damn misery. i hated my bike, hated racing. i have never wanted to quit something so badly in my entire life.

after a warm up on the trainer at the marathon-turned-bike-race mobile, i pre-rode the course with my teammate. i was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the turns were not as scary as i anticipated. i liked that i didn't have to white-knuckle brake through them (i was also not pre-riding course at race pace - everything changes at race pace). it was a good course, with lots of great spectators. and then. there was the wind. enormous gusts of wind. my husband raced right before me on the snazzy new flash points i won at the last race & i had been dying to debut them in a race - but he told me i would not be racing them that day - it was just too windy. windy is an understatement. once i started the race, it wasn't the speed or the turns that scared me. it was the wind. the course was in downtown lexington and the wind would whip between buildings at certain spots on the course and you would get hit with a blast that blew you across the road. there were other points where i was riding into such a headwind i would have bet anything i was just pedaling on a trainer. i was going nowhere.

enough about the brutal wind. back to me. i got spit off the back early. actually, i spit myself off the back. i could have kept up a bit longer if the wind didn't freak me out. it jacked with the wheels and almost knocked me over more than once. it sucked any inkling (and there was only an inkling) of confidence away. so now i was riding solo. in a crit. in the wind. so, i did what i usually do in races. ride my ass off all alone.

i looked at my watch at one point and thought i must have about 2 more laps to go.
thank god its almost over.
ha. silly newbie crit racer girl.
your misery has not even begun.

(quick lesson for my runner friends: a crit is a short circuitous bike race with a bunch of turns - you do several laps for a pre-determined amount of time. my race was 30 minutes. so, you pass the start/finish line every time you come around the loop - the race directors are at this point, holding up a sign with the number of laps left till finish.)

just as i think it has got to be over soon, i come up to the start/finish and saw a sign with the number 5 being held up. this meant 5 more laps. now i really wanted someone to shoot me. i felt like i had been racing for an hour. going into the next turn, i get lapped by the national champion. i was waiting for her. knew that would happen. was slightly pleased it took longer than i thought. the feeling of slightly pleased lasted for about a nano-second. another brutal, windy solo lap. my new mantra is:

i want out. i want out.

i fully intended to pull myself. (and by 'pull myself', i mean quit. pull over. i'm out. get off my bike. have a beer, throwup and cry.) i could not put up with the misery any longer. i didn't care that i was last, it just hurt so damn much. but each time i came up to the start finish, i kept going. and then, i got lapped by the second group. that's when i started to wonder - at what point do you pull yourself?

is it when you get lapped by the national champion?
is it when you get lapped by the first group?
is it when you get lapped by the girl who STOPPED to take her asthma medication & then smokes you?
is it when you get lapped by the second group?

my husband and a teammate yelled to me at one point “get in the drops! get in the drops!” (down in the drops on your handlebars to be more aerodynamic and have more control through the turns - in my misery, this never occurred to me). i thought he was yelling at me to drop out. i even slowed down and yelled back - "what? drop out?!" he would never have been so kind. i kept going.

when i realized i was not actually going to pull myself, i started to will the race directors to do the dirty deed for me. (in some races, once you get lapped they will pull you off the course). but each time i came up to the start/finish, nobody ever pulled me. i tried to give them the death-please-put-me-out-of-my-fucking-misery stare each time i came around. but those damn directors never pulled me.

the only thing that kept me going was the people cheering me on. the best and most vocal group was a bunch of people who had moved their couches and barkaloungers out onto the sidewalk, started drinking at 9 am and were the best damn cheering section i have ever heard in my life. i would later go back to this party on the corner with my teammate after we had finished and changed and watched the mens' 3/4 race from their couch with beer in hand.

i did finish the damn race and it hurt like a mother. as always, i try to find some sort of comparison to running, and at one point was thinking it had nothing on the misery of mile 24 of a marathon. but then again, i have forgotten the pain of a marathon. its' like giving birth. you forget about it or you would never have another baby or run another marathon. but i swear, there was a point during the race where i thought i'd rather give birth, or run a marathon and turn around and run back to the start. the pain of my first crit was pure hell. but i loved hearing all the 'my first crit' stories from other racers. apparently, it's hell for almost everyone. and it made me feel so much better to hear from veteran racers that it was some of the worst wind conditions they had ever experienced.

we went to dinner with some teammates afterwards. here's what i love about this whole bike racing/team thing: you sit down to dinner with more experienced racers, who, without any qualms, or worry over your reaction, will say: "you wanna know what you did wrong?" hell yes, i want to know what i did wrong. i know a bunch of stuff that i did wrong, but am sure there's a laundry list of other things that never occurred to me.

here's what i learned (and was told): getting down in the drops was not only going to help me break the brutal wind, it would have helped me corner better. cool. duly noted. no one ever told me this. the other thing? i though that once you got lapped, the pack that lapped you was essentially in another race and you could not get on their wheels. this is wrong. when the second group passed me, i heard someone yell "get on their wheel!". i didn't, because i thought it was not allowed. you can get on their wheel, you just can't help them (i.e; do any pulls at the front of the group) - there was no way i could have helped anyone anyway. i could barely help myself, i was in survival mode; but had i known it was ok to get on their wheel, i may have had a better last few laps.

this was my 4th bike race and the first race that was no fun. no fun whatsoever. it sucked. i hated it. but its' the day after now and i've stopped the hating. i learned so much. i learned a little bit more about cornering. i learned a little bit more about facing that fear. i learned that criteriums are hard as shit and while they may not be my thing, i plan to give it another go this july. i learned don't ever quit, don't ever pull out or give up, because i was overjoyed today to see a finish number next to my name instead of a DNF. i now have 5 race starts under my belt. it feels pretty damn good. i learned that as much as it sucks sometimes, i love racing my bike.

i did another race today. an entirely different race with an entirely different outcome. that report forthcoming.


Megan Hall said...

Congratulations! Somehow there's something more satisfying about a horrible race that you gut out to finish than a great one where everything seems aligned for you. Or maybe that's just what I tell myself when they open the roads in front of me.

Anonymous said...

Aw, bummer that it wasn't fun. But at least you learned stuff and finished it!

Anonymous said...

why do your posts always make me laugh like hell? your misery is SO NOT funny. maybe it's because I see a kindred spirit in imperfection...not that I would EVER run a marathon OR do a bike race!!! HA!

Vickie said...

When do you pull? Only when you can't go any further, when your body totally quits on you. You try to talk yourself out of finishing, finding just one thing to justify quitting, but then the next mile or lap comes around and you keep going, even if just to see if you still can. You might question your sanity a minute later, but it goes on lap after lap after mile after mile until you do get done, miserable, maybe somewhat broken, but more knowledgeable for the experience. And then you go on to the next one. In our "world" there is no other way. Congrats on finishing! From someone who quite often is DFL but still getting out there. Hey, you never know when that turning point will come.

Stuart said...

Like Megan said there is something to be drawn upon from finishing a bad race, even if it's so crap and you really want to pull over. You know when you get to this point you're really only 2/3rds empty!

You must have been channeling Lance; "Pride lasts forever"