There are many times when free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. And there are other times when free advice is invaluable.
Angela said: Just give it all you have. There’s nothing out there to worry about. You’ll see the turns ahead of you.
Deirdre said: Go out hard, you can’t make it up on the back side of the course, so go off like a rocket. Always pedal the downhills.
Megan said: You’ve got this. Just remember, when you get to the last hill, and you see the turn, that’s the end of it. Just make the turn and you’re done.
Erin said: It’s going to be stair steps, don’t think it’s all downhill. Be ready for it. It’s going to step up. Also, you can do what you want, but I don’t take a water bottle. It’s a half hour effort. (Advice is also awesome in not-so-subtle-hint form.)
Kaitlyn said: Make sure you’re in an easy enough gear when you start, and definitely take the hold.
Tom said: Watch the corners, with the rain it’s going to be slick out there. Mark said: Go hard, you know how hard is too hard. You know yourself, you've been doing this [in cx], so don't blow yourself up. (Advice is particularly helpful from people who know you better than you know yourself on a bike!) Two words: Thank. You.
That morning I was fueled by nerves, more water than I needed (again), and donuts. It was cold, which was great for me, and wet which I certainly don’t mind. I like conditions that are less than optimal. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding in the sunshine, but I embrace the suck when it comes time to pin on a number and race. I also do much better when I don’t have to battle the heat along with the terrain.
My warm up started with a jog up the hill to the port-a-johns, where the officials warned there would be no triathloning today, and we announced we would be winning at exercising. Then, in advance of coffee from Deirdre, Megan, and Angela delivering coffee and bringing more water (I can’t thank you all enough, again), to make sure I was fully awake, Mimi and Nikki give me a shake while I was locked in the middle ‘stall’, while Erin was being awesome and making me laugh so hard I was crying. I was lucky not to give my skinsuit sleeve The Blue Dip while I was in there.
I then hopped on the trainer briefly, but my right knee was barking with my bike in the trainer, so after some high cadence effort, I popped off the trainer, pinned on a number, and rolled up the hill to the start line.
When I got to the line, I remembered Kaitlyn’s advice, took the hold, and shifted into a gear so I could spin up immediately.
And despite being fairly sure I was going to fall over as I tried to get into my pedals, I clipped in, and when I got the signal to go, I went!
I spun up, shifted immediately, and was off downhill. I remembered what Deirdre said: go hard, go fast, and pedal.
And I had only one thought going down that first hill:
And I was off. Tiffany was my 30 second woman. And I could see her ahead of me. I had no idea what I was doing, or how hard I should push. I was going by feel. So I tried to just stay aware of if/when I would blow myself up. I focused on maintaining a high cadence, and not exploding on the hills, while trying to maintain my efforts on the downhills so that I was constantly pushing, constantly pedaling. I was thinking about what Erin said, that I needed to be aware not to have expectations of the course that were too simplistic, and so I stayed aware of my efforts. I didn’t want to blow myself up.
I passed Tiffany about 2/3rds into the lap on my way out.
I also saw cows, and it was gorgeous. And a little chilly, but I was pedaling hard enough that I no longer noticed how desperately uncomfortable my legwarmers were. This was certainly helpful. And my knee was doing alright. I silently thanked Jose.
The turn-around! I braked slightly to slow, remembering what Tom said about slick corners, stood up out of the turn and kept going.
I passed my one-minute woman and another rider shortly after the turn around. My rabbit was ahead of me on a TT bike. I was gaining ground on her on the uphills, and she kept me working through the flats where I would find I wanted to take a rest.
And all the while, it was awesome to shout out to ladies who were on their way out, and to catch a glimpse of several of the 1-2-3 men on their way out, if only to hear for a moment that sound of carbon disc wheels: whoosh whoosh whoosh.
I caught the woman on the TT bike about halfway on my return.
I was passed by two riders, Clio and Amy, who were going for it. But knowing that so much of time-trialing is mental, I didn’t get discouraged, I kept going, and within moments of Amy passing me, I looked up to see a hill that disappeared around a turn. I remembered what Megan said: after that turn I would be done! I tried to catch Amy back on the final hill. The 200 meter sign, after wondering just how long I would be out there when I was about to make the turn-around, I had remembered what Mark said and listened to myself. I had more than survived. I stood up, remembering what Angela said, and gave it everything I had to stand and charge the final hill.
25:44 gun time. Within 30 seconds of 2nd and 3rd place. A 4th place finish, and far enough ahead that even with bonuses, I had moved up in GC.
Race Report by: Shauna Sweet
After The ‘Kill…
Following Battenkill, I had a whole range of emotions. I had set that race on my calendar as a challenge to myself, as a goal, and ultimately, I didn’t have the race I wanted.
Driving away from upstate NY, with two thermoses full of great coffee and looking forward to see my family, I had nearly 7 hours in the car to think. Without much on the radio, my brain was on full volume through western Massachusetts, past Boston, and through New Hampshire across the Maine-NH border. I oscillated between confidence in my fitness, a sense of accomplishment for having truly *raced* the race, even though my legs quit about halfway through, and utter disappointment with myself for my performance on race day.
And I also was struggling to be OK with my own disappointment. Before and after the race, people would say to me that I need to ‘just have fun’ or ‘this is supposed to be fun’ or some version of ‘if you’re not having fun, then why do it,’ and I don’t disagree. Of course it’s supposed to be fun, and I have never said it isn’t. But I also don’t think enjoyment is incompatible with expectations of wanting to do well, and disappointment when on race day, whatever mix of luck, preparation, nutrition, peloton, weather, doesn’t work in your favor. I want to compete, not just ‘complete’ events. And perhaps for the first time in my life, I feel like I have the fitness to be able to step to the edge of that cliff of competition, and jump. It’s terrifying, and awesome. And terrifying. And it makes me want to push harder.
Carl Decker, pro mountain biker and sometimes blog writer and philosopher wrote a piece for Velonews recently that really resonated with me, about racing, fun, and ultimately being on that mental and physical edge of control sharpened by skill, fitness, and speed:
Realistically… how “inspiring” and “fun” a track is usually doesn’t make much difference in the results… And honestly, in the moment, racing isn’t supposed to be fun. If done correctly, it should strike a balance between fear and suffering. Practice is fun. Surprising yourself or your friends with a good result is fun. Later, recounting your prowess or heroism in the race is fun. But in the moment — in the race — if you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
But I love being on that edge where sh*t just hurts. It's terrible. And it's also fun, though maybe only in the telling. Which brings me to the Tour of Page County…
(If you’re interested, you can also read more of Carl’s thoughts on Velonews.)
The Weekend Begins…
Maybe I should start by saying that when not suffering during the races, everything about ToPC was fun. The weekend was a chance for several of us on the team to race hard and rest hard, which would mean lounging upside down with our legs up in a log cabin tucked into the woods in the Shenandoah mountains about 15 minutes outside of Luray. There were 4-dollar hamburgers and towers of breakfast hash. Spending time with the team is always super fun. Seeing ladies that I typically don't see outside of CX season and having a chance to catch up is great. Doing the occasional road race gives me the opportunity to see folks that aren't inclined to play in the mud.
We would also meet some fantastic folks while volunteering, and have a chance to cheer on friends while course marshaling.
It’s awesome to contribute to the community and to the ToPC because so much energy goes into fostering the relationships that make the ToPC possible. We enjoyed some amazing weather, some questionable weather, and some not-so-nice weather, and ultimately finished the weekend cheering folks as they raced through Downtown Luray, pleasantly tired and slightly sunburnt.
Let’s Get This Party Started!
I arrived to the cabin on Friday night around 8 pm, after a 12-hour drive from Sanford, Maine that morning. I was greeted at the Cabin by Erin and Coach Bernie, who supervised my 45-minute roll-out session. Going into Battenkill my right knee was giving me problems, and following an impromptu 60-mile ride on Wednesday through the back woods of Maine, and a full day of driving, my knee was a bit worse for wear. A huge thank-you to Jose (@stretchmoves) for helping me to work through that pain with recommendations on stretching and how to tape my knee for additional support through the weekend. I knew I wasn’t going to get on the trainer to get any sort of openers in that evening. I told myself my knee probably appreciated the extra day of rest. I had been very conscious about hydrating even while driving through, so at least I had that going for me. My in-race nutrition still needs work, but pre-race, especially when recovering from and getting ready for big rides, I’m very conscious about getting enough water. It’s served me well in CX, and so I feel like I’ll just keep a good thing going.
Megan, Angela, and Deirdre arrived at the cabin a bit later in the evening, greeted by Erin, Coach Bernie, and me rolling out on the floor in my pajamas. And with the party officially started, we all went to bed, alarms set for 5 am the next morning.
It’s tough to write a race report several days and two races after the road race. What I remember from the road race is staying to the outside of the pack, being aware of my relatively poor pack position, but being mostly concerned with staying within the front group rather than making any sort of moves, and being aware that there were some shaky wheels in the bunch.
The first two laps of the race were stop-start, and not particularly fast. I imagine there were some negotiations happening at the front between the women on the stronger teams. Beginning on the third lap, though, the pace picked up and the group started to thin. Angela, Erin, and I were all reminding each other in those first laps to drink, and after Battenkill I was aware of needing to eat every 45 minutes, even if I didn’t feel hungry. Having folks looking out for you and wheels that you know is awesome. I stayed hydrated. took the gels on schedule. My legs didn’t take a hike. I still felt good halfway through.
Lap 3. I was still attached to the group, not moving up in the pack, but staying with the pack, having to ride around a few folks when the accelerations would happen up the hills. I remember wondering where my legs came from that day. A day-long car ride isn’t ideal race prep, but I felt steady. Some of the accelerations through the 3rd and 4th lap were intense, but there were attacks without counters and none of the attacks managed to stick. On a few of the harder efforts, the group split apart and I chased back on. There were a few chases when I made a mental note that working smarter and not harder should be a goal for me. I realized after I would chase back to the front and make contact, which I was super happy about, others would also catch back on. But had good legs, and the efforts felt good without being overly taxing, so I went with it. I certainly enjoyed the efforts more than I did riding in the pack. The course with its rolling hills was terrain that I really enjoy. The descents were not overly technical. The hills were enough to force some efforts, and it was overall a course that favored hard-recover-hard-recover, which is a great way for me to ride.
The 200m to go sign seemed to appear out of nowhere, and I suddenly realized I should probably attempt a sprint, or at least climb the hill with gusto. I finished 5th in my category, everyone in that lead pack within seconds of each other.
Stay Tuned for the Next Chapter of...Tour of Page County!
By TSF April Greer
May 3, 2015
Nearly psyched out and stayed home. Failed to pre-register, told self it would be EASY to stay in bed. Already had queasy race stomach. Convinced self to go.
Warm up- with Deirdre and Angela. They're good chatting partners and serious warmer-uppers.
Racing-personal goals included: hang on, learn, be aggressive/defensive.
Course- cornering was ok, some gravelly patches. Many riders hit the brakes initially, most eventually loosened up after a few laps. Rider touched my bars. Got nervous and decided to scoot closer up and ditch the wiggler.
Saw friendly legs, Angela and Erin. So amped it was hard to contain. Felt insecure about my stamina since I'm not endurance rider, focused on 2 good riders in front, they were good wheels with steady pace.
Blinked and it was lap 10.
Parents on the sidelines yelled out to the youngsters to "do something now." They did, but it was half baked. Youngsters didn't get away. Pack surge and reformed. Possibly the only attack of course.
Shuffling of riders and different places, pace comfortable 20-23mph. Heard ladies talking low behind and guessed attack was coming.
Jumped ahead of the pack on lap 3 (for fun) quickly realized it was dumb. Suffering chalky mouth and and tired legs. Tried to abort mission. No one would take it. Sudden mad dash for final lap. Everyone followed. Didn't have the legs. Cruised to finish line out of gas but smiling.
Can't wait to do more crits. Small victory is staying with any pack, for any part of any race. Hooray.
By: TSF Shauna Sweet
I have a tan bordering on sunburn, some ridiculously hilly miles in my legs, I'd be lying if I said my lower back was 100% ... I fell asleep last night as I was about to get off the bed to take a shower.
I'm keeping it classy here in Queensbury.
That was, without a doubt, among the hardest things I've ever done. The terrain was brutal, with climbs that made Morgantown seem like a welcome alternative. The winds across the ridgeline made me wonder if I shouldn't have sparkly red shoes and a dog named Toto. And for the first time ever in an event of this length, I was there to race it.
I raced my heart out and my legs out for 38 miles, and suffered the last 30, pedaling, but slowly drifting backwards. I prepared incredibly well, faced fear in the race and went for it, and made some very costly rookie mistakes that ended my day early.
It's tough to not be disappointed, but at the same time, I really couldn't be happier with how I felt on race day, and how I was riding.... If only the race was 40 miles long ;)
Those first 38 miles were a race, I rode at my limit, had some of the best descents, and most confident riding I've ever had.
Well, I didn't start confidently. The neutral roll-out from the fairgrounds hesitantly rolled, then surged, then stopped, then rolled. Used to fast starts where the goal is to GO and get separation, this was all at once weird, frustrating, and uncomfortable. I stayed toward the middle of the pack, toward the yellow line, as I watched people ride not behind a wheel, but overlapping and in between. Girls at the front were moving across the pack, not drifting back, causing slow-downs, and suddenly, I watched as five girls started to accordion in front of me, collapsing sideways, and at mile 7, a massive crash that split the field.
I jumped around several ladies lying on the pavement and chased back to the front of the group. And at that moment the ladies picked up the pace. Up and over the next hill, up into the next turn, up Meetinghouse Road, and as I expected, the group shattered. The space gave enough room to maneuver down the first dirt sector, and I let it fly. I followed a few ladies who were confident descenders, and it's always nice to have some insights on line choice! No brakes on a descent I only timidly rode on Thursday. It was like flying.
The next several hills and stretches into and through the next dirt sector are a blur. At some point, u was in with a group of ladies, and we were working together, catching riders in front of us, 30 second pulls... And then one woman took a pull up a hill that shattered the group. I stayed on her wheel and said we'd lost everyone, and she said that she was chasing back from a crash and a flat tire. She had no plans to stay with our group, and she rode off, but the group was shattered. I was on my own, briefly rejoined by some ladies, but then up and over a long dirt climb I found myself riding solo, the group again behind me. I came down the dirt sector, onto a long flat stretch into the wind. I was out there solo for a while. Certainly long enough to wonder if being out on my own in the wind was a great idea, and I didn't let up, but consciously decided not to push it. After a bit, I was joined by Tiffany from Artemis, and two other riders from the area who were totally rad chicks. One, a track racer, the other, a mountain biker, and it was beautiful to see their strengths play out as we road together, their power, finesse, and humor about this adventure we were on made the miles fly by.
But then, another series of hills around mile 38, and 2 ladies attacked the group. Not sure why, and the woman who was a track racer asked me what was going on. I didn't know, but I could feel my legs fading (I hadn't been fueling...) and I said id bridge her up to them, but then I was done.
And I did. And I was. The three of them rode together, and while I was on pace with them for a while, eventually they disappeared.
So, the bottom fell out around mile 40, and my day was a tough roll home solo, over hills, and through the wind.... Some post-race analysis thanks to some awesome Masters racers from NCVC and talking with Mark whose audible smile when i told him my "nutrition" over the phone may have revealed the culprit.... I didn't fuel myself properly, meaning, at all. And around mile 40 is where all my pre -race nutrition "wore off", and I found myself still with fitness, but out of gas. Racing cyclocross has taught me a lot about pre-race nutrition and hydration, but fueling on the bike is essential for races like these. The Skratch kept me hydrated, but the one gel at mile 52 was too little, too late.
Thanks to all of you. Thanks to Chris at Kelley Acres who is an awesome coach and has me spread excited about what I can do next. Thanks to Tom, Brooks, and Jim from NCVC who waited for me to return, regaled me with tales of their own race with two world champions at the front, and forced me to try a recovery shake. Thanks to Mark for being my rock through this crazy experience (one among many).
For the first time since crashing last fall, I was riding by feel, and not thinking. And if it took a race situation to do that, so be it. I'll take that feeling with me. I have missed it.
Ride on, ride hard. Face fear.