Jun 26, 2009

deep in the suffer locker

it was ninety two degrees at the start of saturday’s 50 mile race. and as we turned the first corner after the start, i realized we were in a nice hot headwind. hot + windy = doesn’t bode well for me.

we settled into a single paceline really quickly, which surprised me a bit – a lot of other races i’ve done, we seem to stay in a bit of an organized jumble. this was a long race and the single paceline, and speed at which we were going; made me just feel like it was game on from the get go.

everyone was taking turns at the front. long turns. now, i know me; and i can’t take long turns – especially into that kind of a headwind. so when it was my turn up front i did my best to contribute to the group effort, but in hindsight, my pulls were most likely too long.

it was one of those days where i knew from the first pedal stroke that something was just off. maybe it was the heat, the rollers, the lack of sleep the night before, or anxiety over that “last mother of a hill” at mile forty seven.

the women were the last group of the day to race, and since i was the last girl in the women’s race, the sweeper truck was right behind me -from the point at which i made a rookie mistake coming off of my 4th pull at mile 15, and for the next 35 miles. i was at the same time grateful, annoyed and mortified over this.

the course was nothing but rollers, out in the blazing sun. i’m not sure there was ever any sort of shady section. i had plenty of fluids, bars, gus and chews on me and took more water at the neutral feed zone.

what i had forgotten to bring with me was a psychologist. cause i was cracking, coming unglued, out on the proverbial ledge. i needed some sort of finish-this-damn-race hotline and desperately wanted to call my husband; i needed someone to talk me off the ledge. cause the voice inside my head just kept saying “jump”. put your bike in the truck behind you.

so i’d hang my head. sit up. give up.

but then, i would gather my wits and my collective shit and get back into the rhythm, settle in to the drops and start pedaling with a purpose again.

and then i’d start to unravel.

this back and forth of pedaling with a purpose and completely coming unglued went on for the miles. it’s so hard to get out of that bad place in your head once you’re there. that place of feeling that the heat is sucking every breath of life out of you. being mad you’re last. the desperately wanting to throw your bike and your tired body into the back of that truck right fucking behind you. and the knowing that the worst of the course is yet to come. i was, at times, sobbing. wanting off my bike, wanting the race to be over.

i was totally in the dark as to how long i had been out there, how many miles i had done and what i had ahead of me as my bike computer kept going on the fritz throughout the race. miles would pass by and there would be a big fat zero indicating speed, distance and time. i had no idea how much longer i had or how many miles were behind me.

every time i came upon a hill i wondered if that was the mofo hill that signaled i only had 3 miles left to go. i climbed them all and none seemed as bad as i had been told and i knew once i crested them that they weren’t the mofo hill i was looking for.

i finally did make it to that last hill. it was as bad as everyone had said and then some. once i realized i was at the bottom of it, i knew i had to stop crying – i needed every bit of everything i had. so i got my collective shit together once again and climbed the hill with purpose. slow, grinding, borderline pathetic  purpose. i could hear the drone of the sag wagon behind me. i felt a huge sigh of relief once at the top, which was totally premature – cause i looked up and saw there was more. just one more little fuck you of a climb. i did it. and i think it took every last once of anything i had out of me. but as i went down the descent so steep it was covered in spray painted ‘caution’ signs, i was holding back tears of joy at knowing the hell was nearly over.

and then i wondered if the finish line arch would still be up. i wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t there. i had no idea how long i had been out there. but i turned the corner and saw the 1 kilometer sign and saw the arch still up at the ghost town of a finish line; and willed myself not to cry as i crossed the line. i think two people were there. the announcer – who announced my finish, god love her - and the guy who left the arch up; after pretty much every other racer had packed up and gone home. there’s a special place in heaven for people who stick around this long.

i crossed the line and rolled into an empty parking lot sobbing from utter mental and physical exhaustion and just hoped nobody saw me. even after i thought i had gathered my collective shit and could face others – once i did, the tears started again. it was quite simply - the toughest day i have ever had on the bike.

i still had one more day of racing and was determined to make it a better one. once i finished crying.

Jun 23, 2009

tour of the red river gorge prologue

it’s been two days since i’ve been back from racing the three day stage race otherwise known as the tour of the red river gorge. i’ve been trying to gather my thoughts from the entire weekend and put them into some sort of cohesive report. i did this race last year and it was the race that sealed the deal on my love of bike racing. i vaguely recall kicking back in the airstream on the way home from last years’ race and texting my friend and running coach that i was pretty sure it was going to be a long time before i ever ran another marathon or even thought about boston.

i went back to race the gorge this year. the stages were a bit different – the prologue was shorter and the course way cooler, and they did away with the ridiculous crit. so it was a 6.6 mile prologue on friday, followed by 52 miles on saturday (a “kinder gentler” route) and then a shit harder, hillier 52 miles on sunday.

i was crazy nervous at the prologue. it was only my second time trial ever. the first one was at the same race last year. i hate that ramp start, and the feeling all crooked on my bike and having to hold my feet level when i really want my right leg locked and in the semi- upright position. anyway. its’ nice when you know the guy holding you and your bike up. at the top of that ramp at the top of a hill. cause i could just say i’m super nervous, and you’re holding me crooked. and he could say, suzanne, you’re fine, you’re not crooked, i’ll get you out of here straight. and then the other guy you know is counting down and says 5,4,3,2,1. and you go. and for a nano-second you think about how nice it is to know so many nice people. and then you just forget about all the nice people you know and haul ass and pedal.

i was the last girl to go. the last girl of the entire night. my start time was 7:18. it had been 90+ degrees that day, but by 7:18, i swear there was a whisper of a cool breeze. and i even got to race my flashy fast flashpoints for the first time ever since i won them a year ago. i had to wrestle them off my husbands’ bike, but i got them.

my thirty second girl (the girl who left the start house 30 seconds before me for those of you who have no idea what i’m talking about) was a national champion. i’m all for optimism, but there was no chance in hell i was gonna catch her. but i kept pedaling super hard. just in case.

it was hurting. a lot. i was nervous that maybe i had blown my wad too soon. so i dialed it back just a smidge. and then i saw my minute girl. that’s the girl who left the start house a full minute before me. (i’m here to help) and after the turn around point, i started to reel her in. i was close, and almost had her. but the finish line arch came up before i could get her.

and it was all good. i don’t know jack about time trials, but i know its’ good to start to catch folks in front. it was super fun and after dinner out with a bunch of nice people i know, i was ready for the next day.

so, like the race that was in stages – the bloggy race reports will be in stages as well. stage two is a doozy.

Jun 17, 2009

sometimes i’m stupid

sometimes i think the whole bike racing thing renders me completely stupid. i suppose it could be argued that i was stupid before the whole bike racing thing, but that’s not relevant right now.

the particular stupid to which i am referring is during a race. take last weekends’ race for example: i am feeling all iamwomanhearmeroar and actually get the break. i see it go. and i go too. and as i’m going, girls just seem to be falling backwards on the hill and i’m passing them and i am feeling great. not only about passing people and moving up, but very literally, feeling really good. and i am thrilled beyond belief to be what seems to me at the time, about the 4th girl in line with the break.

and then

the very next thing i know is i am no longer anywhere near a break, or even the pack, the girls i just passed are somehow ahead of me and i’m chasing a girl who has fallen off the pack.

wtf? what happened between A and B? one minute i am feeling like the king of the world and the next, i am clinging to a life raft. how did that happen? the whole fatal flaw of hitting the iceberg was spliced out and left on the cutting room floor and i’m just dumbfounded as to how i ended up on the life raft.

it’s not the first time i’ve experienced complete mental block during a race and whole segments of the race ended up on the cutting room floor. my husband will often ask me questions like, what did you do next? or who’s wheel were you on? or why were you out in the wind? gapping off? was it a bad shift? did i touch those damn brakes? the list of my mistakes is endless, but my response is usually a vapid stare and an i don’t know.

all that debilitating fear that always used to hold me back is gone. now if i can just lose the stupid, i should have this racing thing all figured out.

i might start wearing a helmet cam. that way, we can just replay the footage over and over again and see the precise moment i hit that iceberg. ah yes. see – right there – she went up and to the left. up and to the left.