Think as a triathlete (maybe even a pretty good one) that you are good at time trialing …
If I were more twitter savvy, I might have posted something like :
and on and on …
The USA Cycling Elite, U23, Juniors and Paralympic Road National Championships were held in Augusta, GA on June 20-24. Obviously, this race wasn’t exactly in my ATP (annual training plan) or anywhere on my radar really since I am (as you probably know) primarily a triathlete. BUT after a long Saturday morning ride … I decided to go kill some time and hang out at my local bike shop here in Birmingham, Bob’s Bikes. This type of behavior really should come with some kind of forewarning … HANG OUT AT YOUR LOCAL BIKE SHOP LONG ENOUGH AND YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF IN A BIKE RACE SOONER OR LATER … for better or worse … and maybe secretly loving it!
One of the guys also hanging out at the shop was getting ready to go down to Augusta for the road race and the criterium on Friday and Saturday. He asked … “HEY! Why aren’t you going down to contest the women’s elite time trial? It’s only 30K ! ANNNNDDD You train for that stuff anyways right?” The only other person around, my trusty bike mechanic, quickly chimed in with his support. I was officially double-teamed.
SOOOOO I feel victim to the consequence of my bike shop loitering habit … and thanks to the the little seed planted in my head, I started to really consider throwing my hat into the ring, but first I wasn’t even sure I was qualified to go …
The conversation (some out loud and some in my head) and ensuing roller coaster went something like this …
Me: Isn’t this the best of the best? … National Championships … like the top tier women from this race last year are going to the Olympics next month to represent the USA?
A little research into the 2011 results … Yep, the defending champ (Evelyn Stevens) averaged over 28 mph last year !!!
Cycling friend: Yea so what … the TT is open to all divisions.
Me: Okay, fair enough. I technically CAN race … BUT let me ask my team coaches (Eric and Alex). I am pretty much in the middle of my season and the start of a big training block.
Hey Alex and Eric … What do you guys think about this crazy idea of driving down to Augusta, GA on Wednesday and contesting the TT National Championships on Thursday?
Alex and Eric: Absolutely … Go for it! It will be a great experience, etc. You get the point.
Me: Wow … Careful what you ask for Blunck!
Okay, so now it is Sunday evening (race is Thursday morning), and I proceed to check the USA Cycling website for registration. It’s closed !!! Just when I had finally started to think I might actually go do this thing … and now it’s too late :/ Oh well … there’s always next year I suppose. But almost as an afterthought, I did send my friend a message something to the effect of … “hey punk, thanks for getting me all worked up about an event that was already closed !”
His calm and cool reply: There is onsite registration at Ft. Gordon the day before. Just drive down there early on Wednesday and register … simple solution.
Okay … soooo … it’s back on.
Me: Oh hey Dad (another person that I consider to be almost perfectly sane and rational) … I’m thinking about going to do this bike race against the big dogs in the world of women’s cycling … whatcha think?
Dad: You should go … you HAVE to go … as a matter of fact I will be disappointed if you don’t go!
I had to make a quick one night trip to Louisiana on Sunday … so driving home from Louisiana Monday morning I decided I needed to call someone at USA Cycling to make sure this was legit. I did, and she verified that I could indeed register onsite on Wednesday. A phone call to Alex to verify the plan, and the plan was back on track.
Tuesday: Drop off my bike at the bike shop first thing in the morning to get my TT bike race ready and UCI – legalized. Just as I’m starting to get pretty nervous and excited that I am actually going to get to do this my bike mechanic tells me to cool my jets because we might not even be able to get my seat position UCI legal (nose of the saddle 5 cm behind the center of the bottom bracket). From my very aggressive triathlon fit, I would need to move the nose of my saddle back 7 centimeters !!!!! So … I go to the shop after hours and we play with my fit for a while and read about this thing called a morphological exemption. You can have the nose of your seat even with the center of the bottom bracket if your knee does not extend past the center of your pedal spindle when your foot is at the 3 o’clock position … Translation: when they tell you to get on the seat because you don’t make the seat position requirement push your ass all the way back, drop your heel, really flatten your back … and hold your breath!
I call Alex again from the bike shop explaining the difficulty, and he encourages me to go ahead with the plan.
I’ve gone back and forth so many times by now that I finally decided in my head I was not going to pull the plug or take any number of the “outs” that seemed to be presenting themselves. If something was going to keep me from racing, it was going to have to be some USA Cycling official down in Augusta telling me my bike fit was not legal.
So basically I’m telling you I’m driving 5 hrs down there solo the day before the race and hoping (and praying) that I am granted a morphological exemption so I can race an open TT (which I have never done before) at a National Championships. Yep … here we go.
Get to Augusta before 1:30 EST Wednesday and get registered … check !
Drive to the course and pre-ride on my “new” fit (feels a little different and stretched out to say the least) … big ring, disc wheel, rolling out and back course … check !
Early dinner and scored a last minute hotel room … check !
Courtesy TT bike check … This was probably the most informative part of the whole trip. I was in line in the host hotel parking lot (with hundreds of other cyclists) for over an hour and a half waiting to have the officials tell me if I was legal or not. You do have time to change your set up if they tell you no, so it’s worth doing the night before and not just the official measurement the morning of the race. One of the things I noticed (and that the other FFT team coach, Eric, told me about) was that a lot of people had the ISM saddles on their TT bikes. This short saddle saves you almost 5 cm.
So they put my bike up to the jig … and quite promptly said I need to see you on the bike (figured that) … And they tell me that I am okay … Phewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww … now I can actually worry about the race.
My start time was 10:31:00 EST, so I didn’t have to get up until 6 and get to the course until around 8 (pretty nice … no wonder cyclists think most triathletes are type-A nut-jobs).
I got to the race venue at Stom Thurmond Dam around 8am to set up my trainer. One of the things I talked about with both Alex and Eric was the need to warm up really well since my race was only 30k. I spent a total of 40 min warming up on the trainer, hydrating really well and getting acclimated to the day’s heat and humidity.
Time to suit up and get ready. I didn’t have a fancy speedsuit or an entourage of coaches and mechanics to help with the prep like many of the women’s teams down there (Read: I was more than a little jealous and feeling left out).
I headed to the start tent around 10:15 for the official bike check, which I passed again thankfully! This time they weigh your bike too, but the female official just picked up my bike, made a facial expression that said “bless your heart” and promptly handed it back to me saying “oh …. Yea, you’re definitely not in danger of being under weight.” Thanks lady for the confidence boost.
Time for the EFS hand grenade (First Endurance Pre-Race and Liquid Shot) about 5-10 minutes before my start time. As far as nutrition, I was only taking one bottle of water with me because it was a hot day.
Then the last thing I had to worry about before just worrying about racing … the start ramp. Certainly had never done that before either, but I managed to make it off the ramp without too much ado (maybe a little stall in momentum, then a bit of a swerve, but finally redirection in the right direction) … a sharp 90 degree right hand turn in the first 10 meters … and then I was off … standing up out of the saddle in my big ring … trying to get my momentum going as I headed out over the flat at least 1 km dam.
The plan was to stay in my big ring the entire race to avoid losing any momentum shifting between big and small rings. I would stand up out of the saddle at the crest of hills to make sure I kept my momentum going over the hills. In a triathlon I try to race with a cadence of 92-95 and keep my HR in the mid-150s to 160 … in other words, I’m pretty comfortable and generally trying to hold back a touch on the bike. The goal here was to shoot for a cadence of 102-103. Additionally, although I have an SRM power meter (and we did lactate threshold and power testing at FFT team training camp), I didn’t go out with a specific power number that I was trying to nail. Race day is different than any other day in my mind, and I wanted to monitor my cadence, heart race, and power in the context of the course and the weather and adjust accordingly to make sure I was hurting myself appropriately.
The honest truth is that I don’t really have 30k of distinct memories to share with you. BUT I do remember the burn in my legs and lungs and instinctively thinking I should back off because I’m going to blow up … then remembering that this was a bike race not a triathlon. I told myself if I wasn’t out of my comfort zone, then I probably wasn’t riding hard enough. My HR crept up from 170s to 179-180s on the way out, and to someone who normally races much lower … this feels like I am hyperventilating and combined with the heat can get a little claustrophobic feeling.
The most humbling moment came as I was over-taken by the rider who started behind me … before the half-way turn around! Did I mention I was the first rider of the elite women to start (logically because no one knew who the hell I was). So if I was assuming that they only got faster, then potentially I was really in way over my head. I cranked up the effort some after she passed, but I also knew I needed to stay within myself until at least 10k to go. The 180-degree turn around made me nervous, but I stayed pretty conservative knowing losing a few seconds was way more palatable than going down and not being able to finish.
After the turn around, I saw that there was a significant gap between myself and the next rider, so that eased my mind about the possibility of getting over-taken again. I also realized there was more of a head wind on the way out than I appreciated until turning around. This was the toughest part mentally … that third quarter of the race … past the half way point, but still with a significant amount of racing left on the road. I found that the farther I got into this bike race the more I paid attention to HR and cadence, and let the notion of any specific power number slide to the back of my mind. It would be something interesting to look at after the fact to compare with my previous testing.
With 10K to go I tried to increase my perceived effort to one that would get me across the finish line with as little left in the tank as possible. This is a humbling consideration because I was already riding hard. With about 5K to go, I started noticing the sensation that my seat was tipping forward. Certainly my mechanic cranked down on my seat hard enough to ensure that it wouldn’t work itself loose … but seriously … I was sliding forward! After a minor mental freak out, I just decided it was now under 5K to go, and I would deal with it (and decide afterwards if I was going to have some nasty words for him). So I come down the last hill, and it’s a straight shot across the dam back to the finish line. It’s one of those finish lines you can see for a while before you ever feel like you are getting close. So it’s both motivation to really give that last hard push, but it seems to stay ever elusive.
Finishing up … the first thing I did was turn around and check out my seat. Yep, it was still securely in place, so the next logical conclusion in my mind was that I had pulled myself so far forward in the finishing effort (my knees are almost touching my elbows in my normal my triathlon fit) … that I had essentially pulled myself off my seat and I was sliding off the nose ! Yea, I’d say I wasn’t a huge fan of my “UCI-legal” position.
Well … that was hard (understatement of the century)! Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike.
I headed out for a short 30 min cool down. When I got back, I probably did the unthinkable at a national cycling race. I secured my bike in the back of my Element and threw on a pair of running shoes and turned my single hardest effort on a bike into a nice little brick workout (don’t worry it was a very short run). I’m sure every cyclist there was shaking their head and thinking damn triathlete.
After the run, I checked results … 28th out of 38 finishers. (Official Results) Ouch … humbling … I was hoping to be in the top 20.
I quickly checked myself though and tried to put everything into appropriate perspective.
1) I actually came down and raced (despite all the barriers and residual fatigue my training block)!
2) I got to race against the best female cyclists in the United States who train specifically for this all year long (not just a third of their training). I am truly in awe and humbled and inspired.
3) I know I am mentally stronger after that experience. (I have raced another TT since this one and definitely felt more mentally prepared)
4) Not only was it a great test of fitness … it gave me new heart rate and power numbers to work with for the rest of my season … very cool!
5) It was a cool environment and experience … bottom line. I would do it again in a heart beat … with maybe a little more preparation and planning.
Since I was not racing the road race or the criteriums later in the week, I headed back to Birmingham.
First stop … the bike shop. I dropped off the TT bike and said … put it back to normal (UCI-illegality) PLEASE !!!!
Next up … the pool for an easy 45 min swim to shake out the legs and ease the stiffness of a long car ride.
In the end, it was just another hard training day.
As a side note: many thanks to Alex and Eric for being so supportive of this crazy adventure, and all my friends who overwhelmingly told me to go for it (even if you were thinking in your head that I was crazy).