My First Road Race in ~18 years - Deer Trail

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Saturday I entered my first road race in nearly 18 years. My history was not all that big of a deal since when I tried this as a youngster I was not that good at it, and I am not claiming I am good at it now. However, I think I am much better at it than before. Going at this as an adult has been a different experience. For the past couple of years now the bike has become an outlet for frustrations, disappointments, a place to meditate and think, a place to be angry over things that in the big picture are not significant, to wonder how I might be able to make a positive impact for others one day. The bike has become my "church".

So in preparation for my BIG race this summer, the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race (a 100 mile mountain bike race that averages above 10,000 ft in elevation and has 14,000 feet of climbing), I thought getting used to some "race pace" on the road would be good practice. Overall things went fairly smoothly, better than I expected, sort of...

I was in the first heat of the day for the older folks, 35+ Cat 4 racers. It was cold out, 38 degrees, with a ~15mph wind out of the Northeast. For some reason I thought the race started at 8:45 and at 8:20 I thought I had some extra time. So I did a small warm up lap around town and I noticed quite a crowd at the start line. That's when I realized the race started at 8:30, Doh! I wasn't really nervous until then. I lined up sort of near that back since I was nearly tardy, the back is not a good place to start since there are more people to fall down in front. I had about 5 minutes to collect my thoughts when I notice my heart rate was at 150 bpm, that's when I realized I was nervous! The race started, it was a neutral start with a state police car leading the front. They were followed by the race officials on a couple of motorbikes, then the peloton. Neutral lasted less than a mile and the state police car pulled off the road and the race officials put some distance between them and the bikers.

For the first half of the race I felt great. The course was 42 miles and was L shaped, so it was out and back down each leg. At the first turnaround point I managed to move myself up to the front 10 guys. We zipped along doing between 35-38mph. I was still feeling fine. When we got to the first turn, I ended up getting caught off guard at how slowly we went around it, and forgot to change gears. Coming out of the turn everyone stood up and took off, while I was still in my 11. So I wasted time getting into a manageable gear to catch back up, and that took some effort because of the nearly direct headwind. After catching back up I was on the wrong side of the group, completely exposed to the wind, and I started burning matches trying to keep pace. I slowly worked my way to the other side of the peloton, which is really hard to do! Imagine 30 guys on bikes, bumper to bumper, shoulder to shoulder, doing 20+ mph into a gusty headwind. Well I got out of the wind for about 60 seconds. I found myself riding the yellow line (can't cross the yellow line), when the guy in front of me seemed to just give up. I had no place to go but backwards... suddenly I was ejected out the back of the lead group, and once again totally exposed to the wind. I tried for 5 or 6 miles to bridge back, and always remained within about 100 ft. A couple of guys also trying to catch back up hung on my wheel and would not take a turn so I could catch my breath. Finally with my heart rate pegging between 190-195 bpm I finally popped.

So I limped along for several miles trying to recover. Finally I caught a small group that wanted to work together to try to catch back up. It was some relief from being in the wind the whole time, but on the hills I was much stronger than the others and they complained about my pace. So I ended up slowing a little as I knew if I tried to go on my own I would end up popping again. We went along until about 5 miles from the end when I decided to drop the rest. I stood up and launched, and after a minute or two I looked back to see I had torn the group up as they tried to match my pace.

I ended the day feeling way stronger than I expected. On one hand happy at my results, on the other hand disappointed that my mistake at the 20mi mark probably cost me a better result.

Next race is this Saturday, Lookout Mountain Hill climb. It's not much of a race, more of a time trial than anything. 4.8 miles climbing 1800ft. I think the average grade is about 7% with a few little spots going up to 10% or so. It is a 100% threshold effort, which means I'll be keeping my heart rate around 185-190 bpm for hopefully less than 24 minutes. I will wuss out if it is raining though. Not so much because of the rain but more of trying to warm up on a trainer in the rain for an hour or more will be counter productive.

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