Suns Out, Quads Out: Chris Hinds "Sunshine" Criterium
This past month has been a whirlwind of training, mixed with academic stress, weird colds, stomach bugs, and injury. Originally, I intended to race my local Shamrock Half Marathon this past Saturday, but due to inflamed hip flexors for the past few weeks and not being able to run consistently, I pulled out of the race. Within 48 hours of scratching the half marathon and talking with my coach, I signed up for the Chris Hinds "Sunshine" Criterium, that happened to be on the same day as my original race.
In the past few years, my preparation for triathlon included cycling races. Because of these races, I built confidence and skills on my road bike more quickly and easily than if I opted to forgo these opportunities. I was also incredibly lucky to have been on a team that supported my triathlete antics and assisted in building my skills on the bike. This year is certainly different, in that, I'm in a gap year, and my schedule and budget are certainly tight, leading me to train and race alone. Being a lone wolf has its pros and cons (see my previous blog post ;) ). Since this is the first year that I've raced on my own terms, with no expectations, from either a team or family, I'm able to just race for myself and find out how far I can push myself.
Don't get me wrong, I did look at the highly accurate "Race Predictor" tab on BikeReg a few times more than I should've. I realized how pointless it was to psych myself out with a predictor that doesn't consider all of the variables in everyone's lives and races, so I closed that tab on my browser and continued to listen to TrainerRoad podcasts.
I spent most of my Friday reminding myself of two things:
Have a fun workout tomorrow
Don't crash (because who needs to be even more injured a couple of months before their A-race)
I didn't want to set any other expectations, because you really don't know what could happen during the race. I could get the flu the morning of and not be able to race, or have a bike issue (which almost did happen...). You can never have a perfect race day, or even the perfect lead up. It just doesn't exist simply because we're human and it's life. I'm trying to remember who said this before, but this one quote (at least the paraphrased version) has helped me overcome a lot of my barriers in the past few months:
You can't always be your best. Sometimes, your best on that day is 60%, but you certainly can do the best that you can with that 60% that you've got.*
Doing your best is far off from being your best. We have days where we feel like we can conquer anything in one fell swoop, and then days where we feel like we're drowning with the stress in our lives. It's in those days where we're drowning, where we do the best that we can for that day and then move onto the next day with a different level of "best".
To everyone's pleasant surprise, the New England weather diva graced us sunshine and warmth. (It got up to at least 60 degrees F later that day!) I didn't think about what I did for training in the past few months, surprisingly. However, I did wonder if I practiced riding around corners enough in the two times I rode outside in the past season. As the morning progressed and the first races went off, I started to feel antsy and feeling those early-season race nerves. I started to check off my mental boxes (Stretch, breathe, hydrate, food/fuel?, relax, breathe). Maybe it was a good thing that I didn't consume a copious amount of coffee beforehand, or I would've been jumping off walls like a wanna-be parkour athlete.
Once I was on the start line for my 10:16 race, I can feel my hands jittering slightly. It was the first time our quads saw the sunlight in New England, so it wasn't from the cold. But I just repeated my two goals in my head and I felt the jitters go away. It's race time!
Apart from my inability to clip in the first time, the start went pretty smoothly. I had a lot of energy, but I had to hold back and be patient for a few laps. Then, the prime bell rang, and I just went for it. Novice and foolish move? Yeah, maybe, but I felt really good and I wanted to test out out a few ideas today (maybe earn a few bucks because I am student who's lacking in financial stability). After the prime lap, I stayed off the front for a good chunk of the race (maybe 20 minutes or so). All I could think about is those 20-30 minute hard efforts I had to do on the trainer on my own in the basement. This felt far more enjoyable than those basement workouts (sorry Coach).
Every so often, I glanced back to see if anyone decided to chase me. I can't exactly remember when Tanya broke from the group and tried to bridge up to me, but with the gap and windy stretches, the two of us remained alone in front of the group. Two others Jess and Dori eventually followed her lead and the three of them worked together and bridged up to me. Another rider, Jennifer, also caught up, and we formed a breakaway of five gals.
And we were flying. For the most part, we all took turns pulling the group (I may have stuck in the back longer that I should've, sorry ladies), but I did feel like I had a little bit more to give with each lap, more than when I was alone earlier. We eventually caught up and passed the P/1/2/3 riders as we powered onward.
Finally, the lap countdown started, with 7 laps to go. Knowing that I'm more of a hold-an-effort rider, rather than a finish-line sprinter, my time was ticking away slowly. Our group of 5 started to surge and slow down with every stretch, anticipating the sprint at the end. There was a disagreement within the group about the amount of work a rider in the group wasn't doing. Because of this, the group started to slow down. At this point, we had less than 2 laps to go and it was either risking my feeble sprinting skills in the last stretch or try to get away with over a lap and a half to go. I chose the latter and I dug really deep for the last 3 minutes of the race. My legs were on fire, but I told myself, "It's just 2 minutes of work and you're done." By the time I reached the final stretch, I only saw my front wheel and the pavement whipping by. I finally crossed the finish line and my legs were just about finished with the torture session that I put them through.
This weekend was about pushing past my usually-cautious self, test some things out, dust off the racing cobwebs, and apply the lessons from this weekend to future races (particularly nutrition).I looked at my watch a couple of times, but I didn't pay attention to my heart rate. Overall, I was pleased and surprised with my effort.
The icing on the cake this weekend was starting in a group of 43 ladies in the cat 4/5 race (plus 11 others in W P/1/2/3 who
started a minute ahead). It's an occurrence that's not all that common, simply because some people are afraid of riding in groups or racing, or they're just not comfortable riding with everyone watching. However, with the growing support for women's cycling, introducing more girls and women to the sport, and indoor training apps, we're starting to see more ladies hitting the New England roads and expanding the regional women's cycling community. Kudos to everyone who came out to the crit and hopefully I'll see you out on the pavement once again.
Now, I have to go study and catch up on all of my homework and labs.🙈
Happy Racing, everyone!
Check out more photos from the race by Katie Busick here! (Support your photographers!)
*I want to say that it was Matt Dixon from the Purple Patch Podcast, but I'm not 100%. If you happen to know, feel free to comment or message me.