Monday, September 27, 2010

My first bike race

On the morning of Saturday, May 22, I woke up thinking that on the following morning I would be competing in my first ever cycling race. The event was the first race of the 2010 Colavita Eastern Time Trial Series, a 20 km time trial race. I've been doing running races all my life, and after getting more and more into cycling over the last few years, I wanted to test myself in a different endurance sport. I was really looking forward to seeing how I could do.

As it turned out, on the next morning I awoke after spending my first night in the hospital with a broken hip.

I still have done close to no running since the injury. Racing has always been an important part of my life. I find it tremendously fulfilling to push myself to my physical limits, knowing my achievements are the results of months and years of hard work. In 2009 I competed in 13 running races. This year? Zero. If I end up not doing any running races, it will be the first year since the 1980s in which that is the case.

So, that time trial series? It consisted of five races, one a month from May through September. By September, I had recovered enough that I could ride my bike pretty well again. With one last race in the series, I had an opportunity to get to race, even if not in my most preferred discipline, and I wanted to seize that opportunity.

The race was Sunday, September 19. I watched the forecast all week leading up to it with a sense of anxiety as the percent chance of rain went up and down. After suffering a broken hip caused by a cycling accident on a slippery road, I did not want to ride in the rain, but I really wanted to ride! The morning of the race Cara and I (for she was also doing her first cycling race) awoke at 5:45 with an hour drive ahead of us. The forecast still showed a chance of showers. We set out in the dark and drove through some rain on our way. I felt a certain uneasiness, no doubt. Thankfully, the weather ended up cooperating beautifully. There was not a drop of rain during the race, the roads had dried, the temperature was about 60, and winds were light. Perfect weather for riding fast.

The time trial was a different sort of event from any running race I've participated in. In a time trial, each rider starts at one minute intervals. Drafting is prohibited; it's a test of individual riding ability. Honestly, I would find a normal cycling road race scary, especially after my fall. Some day, perhaps, but for now I was happy to do a time trial.

For the race in May I had been expecting to go over 23 mph average on the rolling, out-and-back 12.68 (to be precise) mile course. Now my expectations were somewhat more modest, of course. I set out hoping to top 22.

Although the course was not extremely hilly, the turnaround point was about 100 feet higher than the start. After the turnaround, my average speed was 21.5, so I was in good shape. I picked up more speed than I expected in the second half, ending up with a 22.74 average for the race. Quite frankly, I was thrilled with this outcome, considering I was less than four months removed from a broken hip!

At the end of the race, my legs were burning. So was my throat - I really needed a drink, in a way I don't recall being the case after running races. I guess the wind from riding fast might have something to do with this. I coasted into the parking lot, stopped at the car to chug some Gatorade, and then headed back to the finish line to see how Cara did.

She came in, clearly giving it her all with a hard surge to the finish, several minutes sooner than I actually expected. She averaged 18.25 mph. When I think back to where she was when she started riding a few years ago, I have to say she really deserves a huge amount of credit for that accomplishment. She said after the race that she had never exerted herself quite like that before, but really wanted to do another. I realized then that she now understood me better than she had before. It was pretty cool!

I'm sure that next year we will both be back out there, and riding even faster. There's just something about racing that nothing else really compares to. I also highly recommend this time trial series to any northeast Ohio cyclists wanting to test their skills. It was a small event, with about 35 entrants, but it was very well organized, with a good course and friendly people.

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