Road Race: Lessons in Humility

IMG_4847On June 17th, I competed in the Rockabilly Gran Prix road race: (2) laps around an 11 mile course. How’d I do? Well, I’ll cut to the chase: I got my butt kicked by everyone, including an older rider, and then Mother Nature finished me off. There you have it! Thanks for reading!

I could end it there and avoid to elaborate on the pain and introspection a defeat like this makes me face, but as a writer, I made a promise to myself to discuss ALL aspects of cycling. So here I go…

The Race Plan

The Cat 5 race was at 1 PM when the heat index would be 98°. As discussed in Pre-Race Rant, the heat would be a huge factor for me. Nevertheless, I didn’t shy away from the weather but embraced it, and repeated the encouragement I’ve heard coaches and athletes state when facing bad conditions… “Everyone else has to ride in it, too.”

Prior to the race, I rode when it was hot and even drove around in my work minivan without the AC on, trying to do anything to get acclimatized to the heat. Time would tell if any of this helped.

On race day, I followed my plan to the T:

  • 7:00: Ate a big breakfast (egg/ham/cheese omelet with gluten free toast) and packed lunch (PB & honey sandwich, chips, my homemade workout food) and a wide assortment of drinks.
  • 8:45: Took (2) Hammer Endurolytes and hit the road. I timed my departure to allow for the 2.5 hour drive and time to register & warm up without having too much time standing around in the heat.
  • 10:00- Ate my lunch.
  • 11:15- Arrived at race site. I registered, got my numbers pinned–which took a few attempts to get the way I liked–and proceeded to warm up.
  • 12:00- Warmed up for 40 minutes and drank Advocare Arginine Extreme
  • 12:45-Took (2) Hammer Endurolytes and loaded my (2) water bottles of Advocare ReHydrate.

Race Plan

My plan was a duplicate of my first crit race:

  1. Don’t crash.
  2. Don’t get pulled.
  3. Don’t come in last.

But I was pumped for this ride; the course was perfect for someone like me who excels on small climbs, so I added to my list…finish with the main field.

When I lined up, I recognized a rider from a Tuesday night ride I frequent and was encouraged, especially since I was without teammates. He was older, was very strong for his age, but I knew I could hang with him and hopefully even beat.

I was feeling good. I was going for it.

Off We Go!

The race started, and unlike my crit experience, I immediately got clipped in and matched the pace. Unfortunately, I was in the rear, and since they rode in a double pace line, and you couldn’t cross the yellow line to pass (you get penalized or disqualified) I was stuck. But I kept loose all the while ready to pounce should the peloton surge.

I knew from my experience in my first criterium that attacks would come at the turns and definitely on the climbs. Sure enough, around one corner, the lead riders hammered but I was ready and sprinted to bridge the gap, even passing a rider to move up. I spied the Tuesday night rider and latched onto his wheel.

On the first climb, which was nothing compared to those in my area, the pace dropped which encouraged me.

“If I can hang on, I can gain ground on the longer climb at mile 10.”

Looking back, I don’t remember the heat affecting me at this point. Yes, it was hot and yes, I was grabbing sips whenever possible but my legs felt good as in no cramps and full of energy. But when the field attacked again, I couldn’t match it. Even the Tuesday night rider struggled, but I kept on his wheel, willing myself to not give up.

I huffed and puffed to draw him in, but couldn’t reach him and I watched him pull ahead. This was around the 8 mile mark.

The One-two Punch

No one likes being dropped; it’s extremely discouraging, demoralizing.  I continued to fight to catch up but I wasn’t gaining ground yet they weren’t slipping away, either. Had I been strong enough to mount that comeback and get to the pack with the Tuesday night rider, I could have caught my breath when they slowed and maybe, just maybe, my race would have ended differently. That was punch #1.

The K.O. punch came from Mother Nature. Sunlight rained mercilessly while the tarmac’s furnace-like heat suffocated me. I couldn’t catch my breath, my hands were numb, and my left foot suffered from “hot foot,” which I thought I’d solved prior to the race.

I made the climb to the start/finish line but I wanted to quit; I felt horrible. But I shook it off and willed myself onward.

Catch Me, Please!

I rounded one of the turns, glanced back, and saw a rider further back down the road. So I wasn’t last! Normally this gets me motivated to dig in & fight, but to be honest, I didn’t care. In fact, I accidentally went off the road for a brief moment. Looking back, I think I was in the beginning phase of heat exhaustion: I was disoriented, no energy, bike handling was like that of a drunk, numb hands, foot…

I heard a rider announce they were passing, probably because I was swerving all over the place, and to my dismay, a female racer zipped past. I put two-and-two together: the girl’s race had started and I’d been caught by this breakaway rider. Did this fuel my motivation or pump adrenaline into my heat-drained legs? Nope! I didn’t care; I was in survival mode.

The purr of a motorcycle got my attention and a race official pulled up beside me. I thought he was going to order me to stop and wait for SAG, but instead he said, “Four riders coming up on you hot.”

Normally I’d take a peak back and make them work for the kill. Today wasn’t normal. Instead, I focused on keeping my bike in a straight line so I wouldn’t be “that guy” that caused a wreck, then waited for them to pass. They rolled past, only it wasn’t Cat 5 guys catching up with me but was a quartet of girls chasing the lone breakaway. I watched them drift over the next ridge, admiring their finesse, as if in a dream, or in my case, a nightmare.

Get Me Home

Around the 14 mile mark, another rider caught me. This time it was a Cat 5 racer and I realized I wasn’t last. He passed and I grabbed his wheel, not so much to fight for last place but because I knew I needed help getting to the finish.

The next miles were a blur of pain. I kept my eyes glued on his shiny blue rear hub, noted his Chattanooga VW jersey, wriggled my left foot and hands to alleviate the pain and numbness, and stayed alert so I didn’t clip his wheel and crash. When we got to the last climb, he slowed, and although I was exhausted, I passed.

He hung on, and although I wasn’t trying to hammer it home, I had a surge of energy knowing this hellish ordeal was almost over.

I kept the pace going, hoping he’d succumbed to the climb and temperatures but he was on my wheel. The race was on.

I rounded the corner at a good clip and lined up for the finish some 200 yards away. He made his move, sprinted past, and I attacked. I didn’t catch him, but despite how crappy I felt at this stage of the game, it was nice to “taste” some racing.

I thanked him for the pull as well as riding a good race then rolled to my car where I sat with the AC on and doors open for a long, long time.

If you want a visual recap, here’s the link to Relive link to Rockabilly Road.

Defeat As A Coach

Like I said at the start, here’s why I got beat:

  1. I wasn’t in race-pace shape and was beaten by stronger riders.
  2. The heat finished me.

But there’s more, there always is. That’s the beauty of failure or defeat, if you choose to immerse yourself in its depths. On my long drive home, I processed the (3) options lying before me.

  • Denial. No one likes to admit they got defeated, so the ego tallies up the excuses and rationalizations like a cheesy lawyer going to trial. But in the end, you won’t mature or progress to the next phase of development. It could also lead to resentment or bitterness. Who wants to be that guy or gal with the eternal chip on their shoulder, bemoaning this and that or blasting everyone who is better than he/she is?
  • “Sour grapes.” The old, “Yeah, I really didn’t want to be a racer anyway…” bull crap. This option is devilishly wicked because if you swallow the juices from these grapes, you’ll be more inclined to guzzle them again should you attempt and fail at anything else. It’s a slippery slope littered with cowards. Don’t wander too close to its edge.
  • Acceptance. This is the toughest to swallow. After all, it was a race; a measurement of one’s fitness and skills. Unlike the other options, this one leads to a fork in the road with (2) choices:
    • Quit.
    • Grow & Go.

Driving home, I literally went throw all (3) options before settling on “Acceptance.” It wasn’t until later that night that I decided which fork in the road I’d take, but in the end, I choose “Grow & Go.” I’ll blog about that in a later post.

That night, I checked the race results and learned I wasn’t last after all, which is a good accomplishment, considering how bad off I was in the heat.

In the end, I’ve relearned that defeat can be our greatest coach, even an ally if we have the guts to align ourselves with its razor sharp edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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