Saturday, April 27, 2013

Quabbin Reservoir Bike Race: Wits Not Watts.

For my birthday weekend I decided to race the Quabbin Reservoir 65 mile bike race.  The venue was absolutely beautiful and the race was so outrageously fun it got me wondering why I hadn't done this before.

Of course I tried to enter as a PRO with my PRO triathlon license but apparently you can't do that in cycling. So I was forced to race Cat 4.  This was all well and good except now that I was the newbie in the sport (and causing a raucous) it was imperative that I avoid newbie cycling embarrassment. So, I got down to business in the parking lot before the race start. I took out my new Felt F4 and gave it a good look over.  First things first; remove the reflectors.  After that was done I went after the cassette guard (until I realized you needed a knife to take that darn thing off.  A knife, or you needed to remove your entire cassette.)  Hmmm.  The male pro next to me looked handy and I asked if he could help. He hastily threw me some pliers and Dan was able to saw the cassette guard plastic thread at a time.

Felt F4 sans reflectors and cassette guard! That's at least a 20 watt gain!  I was psyched and ready to go. The sun was warm as the race director gave us our last instructions.  The female PRO/Cat 3 went off 5 minutes prior to my Cat 4 wave, which was also the last wave of the day.  I felt relaxed but also had a secret goal of catching that pro wave...

Cycling has this really cool thing called a "Neutral Start."  Meaning, when the gun goes off your wave just casually soft pedals along until the real "start" of the race. So basically you just chat it up with your neighbor, position yourself, and enjoy life. As we all relaxed down the long descent I was thinking: HELLO IRONMAN...can we all agree to have a Neutral Ironman Start?  As much as I love the barbaric water brawl at the start of a 140 mile journey, my heart rate does not.

As the descent plateaued we rounded a corner and...BOOM! Like a cannon we are off. NO more nice girls I guess.  My mantra for the race was something my coach had texted me that morning: BIKE RACES ARE WON ON WITS, NOT WATTS.

I promised myself I would follow his advice and behave.  After all, this was my first bike race and I had no teammates to lean on.  I found myself in the middle of the pack repeating: Bike races are won on wits, not watts.  Bike races are won on wits, not watts. Bike races are won on wits, not watts.  And then after about the third repeat I realized that I was quite bored. I looked down at my Garmin: I was exactly 3 minutes into the race. That's it! I can't take it anymore! I wiggled my way up to the front and didn't look back. I justified this bonehead move by remembering at the last second that I don't necessarily have an excessive amount of watts but I do have even less wits.

So there I was. At the pointy front of my first bike race. Pulling the pack like a little donkey.

I actually played some games and tried really hard not to let people pass. Dumb move.

And then I tried standing on the flats to see if I could break away. Dumber move.

And then I tried sprinting every hill. What a dumb dumb I am!

However, around mile 42 (just when I was about to implode) I got a glance of someone I knew up ahead. It was Dan! That gave me enough energy to surge on and when I looked back again it was just me and three others girls. All 3 of use were able to really work together. It was so much fun to lead and then follow and zip around the corners and fly down the flat stretches with these girls. So many surges and red line efforts but at the same time really feeling like I was working as a team. Around mile 50 the race director drove up along side our little pack and informed us that we were within minutes of catching the Pro girls. That news got the juices flowing. Even more so than the 2 Cherry Lime GU's I had just inhaled. Now this was really turning into a race!  Our little group put our heads down and pushed!  In about 10 minutes we caught and passed and road away from the Pro group. From then on it was head down and no more fun and games. Get me to the finish line.

The race was totally meant for me as it ended with a 3 mile stretch uphill. There were numerous occasions where I tried to stand and sprint but my little ham-hocks had had enough. It ended with a sprint (kind of) to the finish and I ended up getting edged at the line.

Did I tell you that bike racing is awesome!? Well it's about to get more awesome.  When you finish, you walk/crawl to this RV/mobile home and some lady comes out and hands you cold hard cash. And then you go home. No waiting around for awards, no filling out W4 forms. Show up, bike hard, RV, $, home.

The day would have ended if I was a pure cyclist, but I'm not. So I changed into my running shoes and headed out for a nice little jog:

 And then it was off to go play some birthday mini golf which also served as a wonderful way to deal with getting nipped at the line... Happy Gilmore Style:

Next up: US PRO CHAMPIONSHIPS in St. George UTAH. May 4, 2013.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

I love going to Oceanside for the North American season opener for many reasons. First, the weather is absolutely perfect and a little on the chilly side (good for me). I get to see all my sponsors and my west coast family (Jim Johnson and PJ!).  This year my Uncle Larry was also stationed at Camp Pendleton before he was due to leave for Afghanistan.  The one caveat: I had to pack all this craziness into a 2.5 day adventure.  I was excited for the busy weekend and also a wee bit nervous due to the amount of racing/meetings/sponsor obligations I had ahead of me.
West Coast Family!
And did I mention the tremendously STACKED field?  I did a double take in the pro meeting - holy talent!  But I love a good race and the fastest women in the sport are really raising the bar....and slowly gaining on the men :)

I was absolutely ready to race and felt like I had something to prove after running like a little bit of a turd in San Juan.  So game on.

Day 1: (Let the chaos begin) Danny and I arrived the night before the race and just made the pro meeting. Immediately after, Ry helped me put my bike together, we spun out our legs making sure nothing was clicking or clucking and then it was time for dinner with my Uncle Larry and then off to bed. I didn't even have time to get nervous! I slept like a baby and, thanks to the time change, woke before my alarm feeling like I was ready to ROLL!

I got to transition about 2 hours too early which is what I prefer. I set up my area and was excited to rock my new Zoot kit.  Zoot has been the most amazing sponsor- I can't thank them enough.  They make amazing products and are absolutely dedicated to the sport.

And every race after this I will be sporting the PBM coaching addition:

5:30am: Clarification: I was in transition 2 hours before everyone else because I. am. neurotic. However, the time went by quickly. Before I knew it I was lining up for the swim. This time I promised myself to not lose the front pack. Actually I repeated it over and over to deal with my nerves. We were able to enter the water exactly three minutes prior to the start of the race. So considering it takes me about 3 seconds to say "do no lose the front pack" I got in a good 60 repetitions.  Neurotic.

The second after the cannon sounds the world seems to go completely silent and this ONE second seems to take so long, which I guess is good because then the craziness starts; flailing arms, white water, do no lose the front pack!  Just as a disclaimer I apologize for those that may have suffered black eyes/broken noses. It was an ugly swim. Every time I would bump someone I would say "I'm sorry!" underwater and then every time I got punched back I would growl. And that was the cycle for the 24 minute swim. But I did it!  I stayed in the front back and ran through transition with Paterson, Carfrae, Wurtele and a few others.

I had a solid transition, clicked my Garmin 910xt and jumped aboard the Felt DA.  Hands down the two best pieces of equipment I own.  I am stealing this quote from one of my Zoot teammates but in regards to the Felt: "As far as cycling goes, if you have the RIGHT bike you can be even faster. Contrary to what a formerly respected cyclist one claimed, to some degree, it is about the bike." Well, maybe the bike and the coach.  And maybe the quads too. :)

However, as much as I love that bike, sometimes the riding just doesn't come easy. And let me tell you, the first 10 miles the race this dude passed me:
Mr. Turtle 
I was honestly questioning my decision to race again just 2 short weeks after San Juan.  I couldn't get comfortable on the bike, my quads were cramping, my back was seizing.  I tried riding the nose of the saddle, then sliding back, than cinching up on the aero bars and then laying out.  Nothing worked. I was just shy of a screaming a four letter word but instead I did the only other thing I could think of.  This was to repeat over and over: "Amber, if its tough, it's good for you!" So considering it takes me 3 seconds to say, "Amber if it's tough, it's good for you" I got in a good 3000 repetitions on the bike. I'm a special kid.

I also concentrated on cadence and staying aero and thinking fast thoughts. Around repetition number 984 Mel McQuaid caught me. She is such a strong, powerful rider and I knew she would be battling like heck to get back up to the pointy end of the race.  What a fighter she is and with that she inspired me to just go!  I was back in the game! Like magic my quads started to come around and I refused to let her out of my sight.  Before I knew it I caught and passed three more girls.  We were now at the hilly section and this is where I come alive!  I have been on the trainer all winter (my first outdoor ride was in San Juan) so standing up on the pedals and charging uphill felt great!  I could tell now I was riding fast but also killing my run one pedal stroke at a time.

I came off the bike and immediately saw (and heard!) my husband cheering loudly. I know exactly how well I'm doing depending on the pitch of his voice. His cheers were hovering around 'male soprano' status so I knew I was in the game. I also felt amazingly light on my feet and fresh!? Racing is so perplexing at times...I will take feeling good though.

At the first turn around I spotted Rinny behind me running like she stole something. She had served a 4 minute penalty on the bike so she was charging!  She ended up passing me at mile 8 and I tried in vain to stick with her. I threw all cards in and built to a pace that should have killed me.  I kept her in sight until mile 10 but just couldn't hang.


Oceanside run course is great for spectators. I saw and heard my Zoot team and sponsors, Jim Johnson, my Uncle and Danny about 8 times during the run.  I also heard an unidentified spectator yelling from the sidelines: "Kurt says to hurt yourself!"  I focused on form and staying positive and one by one moved up to place 10 overall.

A good feeling to cross that line in 10th.  Solid points for Vegas and more confidence in the durability that is necessary for being a pro triathlete.

Thank you to Zoot, Garmin, GU, PR bar, Fuelbelt, Felt, MC Cycles and, of course this guy:

Next up: US Pro Championships in St. George, Utah.