On April 10th, I received this text from Karl, an athlete that I coach:
I clicked the link. I read through the event description. And, I realized: 1) Karl would do this event, and 2) I should probably hit the “register” button as well.
If I’m going to think of myself as a “real” cyclist, then I need to do “bikey” things. But, the thought of showing up at an event for really real cyclists scared the crap out of me. Mostly, I was certain one or more of the following things would happen: 1) I would greatly humiliate myself, 2) I would get my ass kicked, 3) I would crash.
Luckily, #3 never happened. However, #1 and #2
sorta definitely did.
My nerves weren’t about the pain of riding hard. I can handle that. I was nervous to be around real cyclists because my ego still feels the bruising in the tender spots from the last time I rode around with pure cyclists (at a USA Cycling Coaching Clinic).
For this race, I was thinking I should just wear a scarlet letter of some sort to make clear that I was an imposter. But, you know what they say: Fake it until you make it. After this first time TT experience, looks like I’ll keep on faking it for now.
I arrived hella early because that’s what I do when I’m nervous. I smother the anxiety with additional preparation time. Those nerves can’t find the space to breathe if I get lost in checking things off a list and meticulously preparing (and re-preparing) my gear. The weather was a little chilly, so I had to decide and un-decide and re-decide whether to wear a jacket, or arm warmers, or tights, or gloves, or a cap – and just put that deciding process on repeat for about 15 minutes.
After signing in, I set up my trainer and took note of how others set up their area for the warm up. The car next to me had a mat that they laid to cover the grass and put the bike on top. Hmmm. Good thinking.
Another crew had a tent – also good thinking because the rain was threatening to start at any moment.
In comparison, I had the bare ground, no cover, and a rusty old trainer that I had to fight in order to get my bike set up (the lock bolts don’t move anymore so you have to push the bike in). So, I definitely seemed legit by comparison. I like to think I was old school.
My plan included a 45 minute warm up (on said rusty trainer) and with a 7:35 a.m. race start, it was time to set the wheels in motion. In what seemed like no time, it was 10 minutes to my start. I could delay the inevitable no longer. I was going to do my first ever cycling time trial.
I wrestled the bike out of the trainer, and rode a short ways down the road to the start. It was a ramp start. The night before, I foolishly googled videos for what a cycling ramp start looked like. Here’s what showed up first in the results:
Oh for shit’s sake. This woman looks legit. Why is her bike so wobbly? How on the earth am I doing to make it without going head first?
Naturally, I continued to watch more videos. In one video, a guy broke his arm. There were so many face plants. And, then there was one where even Lance Armstrong had trouble with his shoes staying clipped in.
Oh for double shit’s sake.
It was raining, so the RDs gave us the option to start off the ramp or on the road. My emotional brain screamed: ROAD ROAD ROAD ROAD ROAD. DON’T GO UP THE STAIRS!
But, my body and my rational brain disagreed: Just keep on faking it. Just keep on faking it.
I put on my big girl pants and trudged up the stairs to the top of the ramp, acting like I knew what I was doing. I knew I would feel ashamed of myself if I didn’t at least try the ramp. You can’t conquer fears unless you face them head on!
I sized up the holder. He seemed strong enough.
“How do you want to do this?” he asked.
“Um, I don’t know. It’s my first time,” I replied.
“Well, it’s my first time holding, so you decide.”
Oh for triple shit’s sake.
Commence more faking. I did what I saw the women in front of me do. I’m a very good lab rat in that way. I hopped on top of the bike, as he grabbed the seat. I clipped in.
So far so good.
Wobbly. Wobbly. I could feel the bike leaning to the right. Wobbly…
“I don’t feel like I’m stable…” The last word was barely out of my mouth before the timer said: “Go!”
The holder let go. I pedaled. I somehow made it to the bottom of the ramp with the bike upright and moving.
At that point, I could have gotten off the bike and felt like a winner. I didn’t face plant, I didn’t break an arm or leg, and my feet were still clipped in. It seemed miraculous, really.
But, the time trial was listed as 13 miles, and I had gone about .0000005 miles. So, I was going to have to give the bike some gas now.
The Crono Vino TT course is flat, with the exception of a few overpasses that really don’t offer much of a climb – maybe a 20 second blip of elevation in an otherwise 0% TT wonderland.
So, it was time to tuck in to aero, and push. For the next 16.3 miles, that’s exactly what I did. But, wait, you ask: 16.3 miles? But, you just wrote above that the time trial was listed as 13 miles.
Indeed. The time trial was 13 miles. I (along with a few of the riders just ahead of me) missed the final right turn. I don’t have distance displayed on my bike computer, so I didn’t know exactly where I was. The rain washed away the arrows marking the final turn, and when I rode by, no one was there directing traffic as yet. (That was fixed later.)
As I rode, wondering just where in the heck the finish line was, a car slowed next to me.
“The turn was back there! The marking got washed out!” He yelled out the window.
Oh for quadruple…Nah, at this point, I said: oh for f*ck’s sake!
There was nothing to do but make a u-turn and ride back. I allowed myself 20 seconds of a pity party, but quickly decided that I would continue riding hard to the finish. At that point, I accepted the day for what it was: a solidly hard workout – much harder than I would have likely done on my own. Races have that effect. 🙂
While I was very mad at myself for missing the turn, I learned many valuable lessons on this day.
First: Always know the course! I should have had distance showing on my computer, and I would have realized where the turn was. I was relying on markings – and well, things happen.
Second: I can ride harder than I think I can. There’s nothing like a race situation to get me to push hard.
Third: Real cyclists are hella strong on the bike. Even without the missed turn, I was getting my ass kicked! I thought my legs were strong, but hot diggity dang! These women (and men) are FIERCE!
Fourth: After you check your equipment, go ahead and check it again. When I got home, I noticed that the brake had been rubbing on the back tire. D’oh! I think it might have gotten “re-adjusted” when I was wrangling the bike in the old trainer. Had I looked, I could have done a little maintenance to fix that. Hello extra mph’s!
Fifth: Don’t let your pride keep you from doing something that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. I was WAY out of my comfort zone in almost all of the ways for this event.
But, I’m glad I did it. This event was for me. It’s been a while since I sat on a starting line scared. On the one hand, fear can be a paralyzing emotion. But, on the other hand, that sort of fear – if you let it motivate you rather than stop you – is what living feels like. And, that feeling can’t be faked.