Monday, March 28, 2016

Race Report: Morgantown Road Race

First off, the course profile looked like this:
Like shark's teeth!
I don't have body image issues or anything, but for a cyclist, I am fat. Fat cyclists don't do well at races like that. My team captain said, "Given your strengths and the course profile, treat this as a training race." Which I took to mean, "Do your best, fatty!"

Hill climbing isn't my strong suit, so I've been focusing on it in my build this cycling season. I did that last year, too, preparing for the 10k, 600m climb at Ironman Mallorca. I've gotten better at climbing because of the work that I've done, and I expected this race to challenge me and make me stronger. But I did not expect to do particularly well.

The women's cat 4 field (9-10 women, maybe) and men's cat 5 field started together, along with all the juniors and the tandem field (comprised of a single tandem bike). Roll out pace was easy, with a neutral start, but the field was sketchy for the first few miles as people settled in. I surfed to the front of the field by the time the first significant climb began, before mile 5, so that I could drift to the back of the pack instead of getting blown off the back on the climb. I never managed to ride back to the front, and got dropped on the second big climb.

I spent the next few miles trying to chase back to the group with a few cat 5 men. At that point, I knew there were at least 2 women behind me, so at least I wasn't DFL. We had a group of 3 rolling turns when the tandem guys came blowing past us at 600 MILES PER HOUR. It was actually about 28 MPH, but the three of us hopped on and rode the bus back up to the main group.

We caught on to the peloton just as the road started to head up again. I managed to hang for a mile or two, suffering the whole way, then I pulled the plug and let them go. We hadn't even hit mile 20 yet, and I was burying myself. Plus, I knew what was coming from mile 20 to mile 27, thanks to this guy:
Obsessive triathlete preparation FTW!
I knew I needed to leave something in the tank for the next two climbs (not to mention the next 30-some miles).

And those two big climbs in the middle were brutal. I really wanted to get off the bike and walk. But I knew how much I had left to the top, thanks to my notes, and I could see a group of 3 cyclists up ahead around the bend--one of whom I recognized as another cat 4 woman from her bright blue jersey. If I could bridge up to that little group and outlast the blue jersey girl . . . I guess I would just be one more spot up from DFL, but at least it would give me something to think about other than the pain in my whole body.

I was also starting to cramp at that point. My back hurt, my hips were cramping, my calves were cramping, even my stomach was tightening into knots. I think this was a combination of improper fueling, it being the first warm (and sunny and LONG) race of my season, and the intensity from the first 20 miles. My body was telling me to slow down and try to climb out of the hole that I'd dug in the first hour of racing.

I made it over the two big, brutal hills, and enjoyed the descent. My teammates all disagreed with me on this point, but the descents were totally worth the work to get there. I was reeling in the blue jersey woman, too. I was catching up to her more on the climbs, so I knew that she was hurting more than I was.

I think I finally latched onto her around mile 30, and we started working together. We picked up another cat 5 guy (who looked like he was really suffering), and he started rolling through, too. Our little pace group only lasted a few miles, though, because I accidentally blew them both off of my wheel on a pull. By that point I was starting to feel human again, but I think they had already done too much to come back from the dark place. I sat up and waited for them, but the guy we picked up fell off again quickly. Blue jersey girl hung on until the next climb, when I gradually put time into her. Then we came over the hill into a long descent then a rolling (mostly flat) section, and I didn't look back.

I finished the race pretty much solo. I passed a few stragglers on climbs who had blown themselves up. I realized that I'd gained a place in the women's field. I wanted to hang onto it, so I kept looking back over my shoulder, afraid that the woman in the blue jersey would have recovered; I thought for sure I'd see her pursuing me over a hill. But I never saw her again. I was in the clear. It was just a matter of holding on for the last big climb, and then the uphill finish.

I finished alone, glad to be done, fellow competitors laying out on both sides of the road past the finish line. I rolled from the finish line back to the start area and started pounding food and drink. And that was my race.

For some reason, I stuck around to see the women's results posted. I wanted to see how many of my fellow women I had outlasted. By the time they posted the women's top 5, all my male teammates had rolled out. I checked out the top 5, just to see, and--lo and behold!--my name was fifth down! My first reaction, which I blurted out, was, "That can't be right." I was sure that the results were wrong, and someone was going to contest them. There was no way that I got on the podium in this race!

I'm the one all the way on the right. The dorky one.
But I did get on the podium (well, beside the podium)! I got 5th place! What's more, I didn't finish that far behind a few of the other women. If I had known that, I probably would have dug deeper in the last 5-10 miles.

It was really cool, and I'm really proud. That was a tough race. I totally exceeded my expectations and goals. And I feel like I'm a stronger person, mentally and physically, for having done it.

Still, some lessons learned: I need to revise my fueling strategy. What worked for Ironman isn't working for cycling, so far. I definitely need to use more electrolyte mix, probably cut out the water altogether. I bought a bag of Skratch Labs mix to try in my training. Other drink mixes have never agreed with me, which is why I've used Nuun exclusively for the past few years. I think I need to find something with calories, though, and I definitely need more salt--seriously, everything was cramping on Saturday. Also, Pop-tarts are too inconvenient for eating in these races. It was okay during this race, because I had plenty of time at my own pace. But I can't fumble around with wrappers if I have to cover surges up hills or around corners. I'm going to have to figure out something else.

I think I need to be more aggressive about moving to the front at the beginnings of climbs. If I could have started the second climb at the front of the pack, I may have been able to hang in the group instead of having to chase back on. I also need to maintain more awareness of who I'm riding against, and keep track of where I am relative to all the rest of them. The blue jersey woman knew that she was the 5th woman back, so she knew when I passed her that I had ridden onto the podium. She wasn't able to hold my wheel anyway, but I bet she tried much harder knowing that I was taking her podium spot.

That was the longest road race I've ever done. It's definitely the hilliest road race I've ever done. I'm really proud of how I did.

This weekend is Veloworks-Spokes Etc.'s first big target race: Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville. After having such a great race without the support of teammates in Morgantown, I'm excited to show up in force at Jeff Cup and see what the VWS ladies can do!

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