In which I get one of the bad races out of the way for the season.
This one didn't go how I wanted.
My training has been going fantastic so far this season. I've felt strong and getting stronger. My FTP is increasing and my weight is decreasing. I felt like I was bringing really good fitness into this race. But I was also using it as a training race, so I didn't even rest the day before; I did about an hour of pre-race openers with an hour of endurance before and another hour after. I had a good dinner last night, a little heavier than normal, and two beers--I hadn't had beer in about a month!
The women's races weren't until 12:30, which meant I got to sleep in a little later than normal. I had toast and peanut butter with honey for breakfast, two cups of coffee, and water in the morning. I did 20 minutes of easy spinning around the course with teammates and then another 20 minutes or so on the trainer to warm up. I had about 20 minutes of sitting around before the race started.
The course was rolling with smooth, flowing turns; it had one long-ish hill and one fast descent, with gentle undulations through the rest of the course. Our team (four of us, today) started together and rolled out near the front of the bunch. We controlled the group up the hill the first time, and the pack held together. The pace was fast but not unbearable. The second time up the hill, my quads started burning, but I figured they were tired from my ride the day before and it would pass. I was falling off the pace a little, but didn't lose touch with the pack. Legs still hurting, I lost contact the third time up the hill. I didn't worry though; I figured I could make up ground on the descents.
I never did. My quads felt tighter, and then my shin muscles started to cramp. I tried to breathe deeply and relax as many muscles as possible. There were 3 or 4 of us off the back, not out of sight of the peloton. I managed to come around one of the other women (a lady from Baltimore Bicycle Club) on the uphill; she said she'd like to work together to try to catch the group, but wasn't sure how. I told her how to trade turns (in between gasps for air), and flicked my elbow for her to come through in the transition from fast descent to long uphill (I figured it would be better for her to try her first turn at an uphill pace, without having to worry so much about getting blown off my wheel on a descent). As we passed my team cheering from the sidelines, they told us we were gaining on the group and could probably catch them!
But close to the top of the hill, the cramps moved from my quads and shins up into my psoas and abdominals. I've had my psoas go into spasm before, and it's nearly the worst pain I can remember feeling (anaphylaxis is slightly worse). In my mind, that's what passing a kidney stone must feel like. I told the woman from BBC to go ahead, because I wasn't going to be able to hold any kind of pace any more (and I felt bummed, because I wanted to help her work on those chasing skills!). Catching the field was out of the question for me; finishing the race was the best I could hope for.
I had the same kind of pain at Rockburn CX last fall. I thought hard about pulling out of that race, but ended up finishing the last lap when I got the bell. The spasm passed, and I was able to start riding hard again towards the end. Ended up coming back from about 20th to finish around 15th. I figured I would try to ride easy for a bit and see if the pain passed. Optimistically, I might still be able to pick off a few riders for better placement.
But at the end of that lap (5 of 10, I think), the writing was on the wall. I pulled myself, rode over to my car, unclipped, and flopped down on the ground. My hips and abs still hurt really bad. Lamaze breathing helped, a little, to make the pain go down, and I did some stretching. After 10 or 15 minutes, the pain had passed. I got my recovery apple and drink mix and went over to finish watching the race with my team.
Even so, Black Hill was a successful day for us! Two of my teammates finished 3rd and 4th (the other had similar problems to me, and pulled herself shortly after I did)! It may have been an inauspicious beginning to the season for me personally, but it was a strong start for the VWS ladies!
In terms of lessons learned from this race, I'm not sure what caused the cramping. It wasn't just muscle fatigue, because the problem was systemic--at one point, even my cheeks were cramping! I'm not sure if it's something I ate (or didn't eat), something I drank (or didn't drink), if I trained too hard the day before, didn't warm up well enough the morning of, or if it was too cold for my body. I'm not sure how to address this problem so that it doesn't happen again. Or maybe it was just a fluke, and I shouldn't worry about it too much. I think I need to do some research on systemic cramping.
The psoas thing is something I've felt before, too. When I was in college (and not in great shape) I seemed to get that consistently when running. I've had it multiple times when running and cycling, including last CX season at Luray and (like I mentioned) Rockburn. I'm not sure what causes it, but I think it's more than just cramping. Maybe it has to do with how far my hips tip forward. I hope that's the last I see of it this season!
Congratulations to my VWS teammates who raced today! Next week is Jeff Cup, and I'm already excited to race again!