Questions were bouncing wildly in my head. I have completed many, many sportives/centuries and even an unofficial race (not USA Cycling related) in a town up the road, but this is different. The butterflies were present. If they are not, something is wrong. The drive inside of me to be the best me that I can be is strong. I thoroughly enjoy cycling, but will racing take it to a beyond a level of enjoyment? I am very comfortable with my knowledge of what I have accomplished, training methods, nutrition, etc.; but now, as I sit on the line waiting for the start, this is all new to me. The motorcycle pulled away from the start line, and the race was on. Do I go with a break? Where do I need to be positioned in a sharp turn? Churn and burn at the start or wait until some of the field pops?
Being a rookie racer at 47 years old is no easy feat. I start in the lowest category of 5, which generally ends up in a blended field of Cat 4/5 young bucks. Why not race Masters? Well, that is where I initially registered. As the date of the race grew closer, I looked again at the Masters race and noticed that it was Pro Cat 1-5 open field. Wait a minute. I called USA Cycling, and the guy who answered was very nice and informed me to switch to Category 5. “Get some experience,” the man informed me. “Then you can switch over to Masters. That is a very tough field with very experienced riders.” He did not have to tell me twice. I made the switch, as soon as I hung up the phone. As the day drew even closer, I tugged on the ear of the many my friends for tips and watched videos and even pulled up some of my DVR files on professional races to watch for a few small things. I made mental notes and even wrote a few down, but over thinking something can be a bad move too. I just hate going into something blind and not delivering my absolute best.
I was into the first 8-mile lap of five, and I could already tell something was wrong. I knew exactly what it was almost immediately: my pre-race nutrition. I had miscalculated badly, and here is why I did: I did not want to start the race on a “full” stomach, so I had eaten slowly and methodically for up to thirty minutes prior to the race. What is the problem? I did not take in enough calories. This is a race, not a century or a fast group ride or a training ride. What was I thinking?! The main field was holding at 24-27 mph, and my heart rate was a bit higher than it should be and my legs were burning just a bit. So now, 16 miles into the race, I am chomping on a banana and popping a energy gel. By mile 24, I was feeling a tad better. My breathing was regular, my heart rate had come down, and my pedal strokes were back to circular. Now, there was another problem. It was a problem that had occurred because I was trying too focused on solving the other issue.
The field in this race was somewhere in the neighborhood of 50ish racers. Remember that this a blended pack of Category 4 and 5. Now, imagine placing that pack on country roads where the yellow-line rule is in effect. I am somewhere in the middle. A break away of about 5 riders had taken off, but I chose to stay with the field. I felt like (and still do) that was a good decision; then climbs began taking their toll. The field had become stretched with decent climbers and not so good climbers, and I was boxed in. Yes, boxed in on the inside. The speed and cadence slowed. Then it happened. The field snapped into two pieces with the better climbers moving on up the hill, and my hands are tied. I was able to wiggle my way through, but it was too late. I crested and found myself between the two bunches, trying to bridge. If you have raced, you know what I was facing. For another 9 miles, I got low, head down, and cranked. Nope, no progress. In the middle of the fourth lap, the group that I had left caught up with me, and I fell in. I was tired, finished off a bottle and popped an energy gel and waited. Half way through the final lap with 2k to go, I pulled out from the group again and finished on my own. I finished 22nd in the field. Oh well.
The jury is still out. Will I enjoy this? Should I return to my comfort zone? I really feel that I could have finished much higher. I have four more races on my calendar with a few centuries thrown in for fun. Time will tell. Please feel free to comment and throw some tips my way. I am always grateful for any advice.