Sorry for being MIA the past few months; between the job search, moving back to NY and a trip to Thailand the opportunity to collect my thoughts have been few and far between. I've had some great blood sugar management learnings over the past few weeks but today's post is about getting back on El Toro.
Living a bi-coastal life has made consistent work outs a challenge. But now that I'm camping out at my parents house as I continue my job search I've had the opportunity to get back into the gym and back onto my bike. My fitness is feeling surprisingly good and the weather has finally ticked up a few degrees in the North East. With that and El Toro (my Cervelo) arriving from California I was itching to stretch the legs and race. Much to my delight I found a crit about 30 minutes away from my parent's hosue, the Bethel Spring Series.
To Katie's worry I signed up for the race without having full health insurance coverage. I've been out of work a bit longer than anticipated (thankfully I stock piled diabetic supplies) but that doesn't limit the chance of a crash during a crit. I spoke with some people who had done the series in year's past and they said it was more like a circuit than a crit. The difference? Crit's are lap races in which riders race in tight quarters on a course that's less than a mile. Normally there are at least 4 75 - 90 degree turns on the course making for some sketchy situations. A circuit is normally on a slightly longer course and the turns are much more gradual so the field can spread out a bit more. The Bethel Spring Series is on a .9 mile course with only one "real" turn so I was less worried about crashing out in a corner than I had been at the Early Birds out in CA.
I signed up for Sunday's race on 3/1 but sadly found out that I was on the waiting list. After e-mailing with the great race organizers a few times they finally informed me at 7:30 pm on Saturday night that I was in fact in the race! My excitement was tempered by the fact that I was at a wine bar with my sister and brother-in-law greatly enjoying a fantastic d'Abruzzo. With some hesitation I cut off the drinking picked up some dinner on the way home and got to bed by 10:30. 6:20 am came far too early and I was out the door by 6:55 am to make my way to Bethel.
My biggest worry was my fitness level. Since Thanksgiving I have ridden my bike outside a grand total of 3 times! Logging about 150 miles over those 3 rides hardly makes a fit rider. But I've been hitting the trainer pretty hard, running 20 - 30 miles a week and recently found out about freaking awesome trainer videos, Sufferfest. But I knew I wasn't logging good base miles on the road like I needed so I really wasn't sure if I could hold a zone 4 heart rate for 30 + minutes; I'd soon find out...
The Cat 5 race started with a basic skills clinic to make sure riders were aware of the proper way to ride a crit. Most crashes are caused by a rider coming off of his line or making an aggressive move; since you ride in such close quarters each mistake is magnified. It seemed like the field was realxed enough for a good race so we were all set to go.
With a stable blood sugar of 150 the gun went off and I was out to race for the first time in nearly 6 months! I finished the first lap feeling great, I probably pushed the pace a bit too much but wanted to stretch the legs and see how hard I could punch it up the finishing hill. By the 3rd of 15 laps I had settled into my rhythm and was drafting off the pack to save energy. The backside of the course had a pretty strong headwind which tempted me to hammer to try and gain some space on the field but I held back. No reason to kill myself in a spring series and only my 4th cycling race. Going into the final laps I was right where I wanted to be. I had kept my heart rate at a low zone 4 for what I thought were laps 13 and 14; sadly they were laps 12 and 13.
Right before the climb to what I thought would be the bell lap (final lap), I punched it hard and opened up a decent split on the field. I came across the line but to my horror did not hear a bell! I kept the pace and maintained my lead through about 3/4 of the 14th lap. Knowing that were some much lighter riders in the field I felt I needed a slight lead heading into the climb for any chance to pull out a win. Had the 14th lap been the 15th I would have executed my plan perfectly; apparently they didn't teach counting or being Pavlov at Darden.
Up the climb when I realized there was another lap left I was gassed and knew I wouldn't be able to hang with the leaders on the final lap. I made my move a lap too early and then just stayed with the pack for the finish. I've gotten progressively better with each of the now 4 crits I've done and I'm really excited about racing on the east coast. Since I know the Northeast so well it's way easier for me to know which races are within driving distance and to find friends to stay with before a race. I'm already signed up for 2 more races in the Bethel Spring Series, for a circuit up in Binghamton and potentially a stage race in the Catskills. Hopefully I keep improving, I simply find cycling races to be a flat out blast!