May 20, 2014

Posted by Jo W. in , | 5/20/2014
So I did it: I survived my first cycling race and didn't make a fool of myself. I wanted to see what racing was like, and I got my first taste of it on Sunday, May 18th.

Before I start with my race recap, I want make a few disclaimers: 1) I am very new to racing so I'm not the best commentator on how the race played out. I can only give an inexperienced racer's perspective 2) the field split (a bunch of ladies were in the lead group, and I was in the slower one) so I didn't get to see how the "real" race unfolded.

I am coming up on my first cycling anniversary (Memorial Day weekend), so I have been road cycling for less than a year. After picking up the sport relatively quickly, I was thinking about racing early this year. I had no idea how to begin racing and how it all worked. Also, I am still pretty inexperienced in riding with a group and needed to learn some skills. Luckily, I had a friend who races and was willing to give me some pointers. With his encouragement, I jumped the gun and decided to give racing a try this season. I figured that now is as good of a time as any. I've been training hard this season for my duathlon and 10K, as well as cycling more, so the fitness was there. With the cross country trip this summer, I would only have time for one race, so I might as well get my feet a little wet.

I chose to race the Richmond Road Race, which is two 22-mile laps in the countryside (actually ended up being a bit shorter than 44 miles). Although the race site was a 2 hour drive, I decided to do this race because the start time was at 12:20, so I wouldn't have to leave the house ridiculously early. Also, I am not confident enough to race a criterium just yet. Taking fast, tight turns in a large group is something I need to work on.

43.5 miles, 1063 ft of climbing
I must admit that I was really nervous leading up to this race. It's scary to be the newest kid on the block and unsure of what to expect. All the other ladies in my race were on teams, and probably have years more experience with cycling and racing. I felt like a total noob and tried to figure things out by watching and learning. My goal for this race was to hang on and not get dropped, get a feel for what racing is like, and try to have a good time out there.

I'm 525
There were six races with staggered starts. The first three races were in the morning, and the last three started at noon. The women's race was the last to go, at 12:20. We had a small field of 26 women. The pro/1/2/3 and Cat 3/4 men were out on the course with us, with a 20 and 10 minute lead, respectively.

The races had a rolling closure, so there were vehicles in front of us and behind us to direct traffic and give us the full use of the road. That was really great so I didn't have to worry about cars and I could focus on keeping my poise throughout the race.

The start was pretty chill, and we rolled out of the parking area onto the roads. My plan was to stay comfortable at the back of the pack, sit behind someone's wheel, and conserve my energy. The pace was very relaxed for most of the first lap, much to my pleasant surprise. I felt like I was hardly working at all, and the first 20 miles went by so quickly. The strongest girls attacked on the climb coming up to the end of the first lap. Eleven girls rode away, while 15 of us were left behind to chase. I had expected the field to split and wasn't surprised that it happened when it did.

My group tried to work together briefly to chase down the lead pack, but the gap just kept getting bigger and bigger, so we eventually settled down. We rotated through the paceline, and I did some work in the wind, trying to keep up our speed. I did a good job conserving my energy for most of the race, so my legs were ready to work hard. I had also fueled and hydrated pretty well, and was only taking in calories from my sports drink. I had a few gels on me, but didn't use them.

With about five miles to go, I, as well as (I think) 6 other girls, put it into high gear and dropped the rest of them. I was committed to riding the last few miles hard and race with these girls. Having ridden the first lap, I knew exactly when that final climb was and how hard it was going to be. And this time I was getting tired. I was ahead of about three girls on the climb, but I just couldn't keep my speed up and got passed by two girls. With 1km to go, I was hurting but stayed with it. When I saw the 200m sign, I sprinted as hard as I could. Five girls were ahead of me, but I kept my sights on them, rode hard, and passed one before crossing the finish line, coming in 16th.

I seem to have pretty good luck with "first" race experiences: half marathon, full marathon, duathlon, and now my first road race. I really couldn't have asked for a better day. The weather was absolute perfection, the course was beautiful and just challenging enough. I didn't get dropped and held my own throughout the race. I didn't come in dead last (which I was afraid of!) and did pretty well, considering this was my first race. Despite the nerves, I'm really glad I have this experience under my belt. Time and time again, I learn to not let my fear get in the way of doing the things I want to do. Being the most inexperienced one is tough. It's freaking scary and intimidating. But I remind myself that everyone had to start somewhere. It might as well be now, rather than later. 


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