Friday, April 6, 2012

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
~ Japanese Proverb

So begins another season of Criterium racing. For those among you who are not cyclists, the crit is a a short race held on a closed course, usually with a series of tight turns. It is as much a test of technical ability as it is a measure of fitness and race strategy, and sprinters usually fare well in this brand of competition. Spectators like crits because they are easy to watch, as opposed to a road race where you see a few meters of the peloton as the cyclists fly on by.

I am not a good crit racer.

My strengths are better suited to longer road races, hilly courses with big ascents, and a moderate pace over distances. I don't sprint well, and I am not a particularly aggressive cyclist. Crits are, however, among those most common races in the US because they are easy to organize and short in duration. So, there you go. Add to that the fact that I am doing a Tour de Cure event nearly every two or three weeks, and I am going to have to squeeze in my racing as time permits...which means a lot of laps in the Boulder Sanitas Sports - Whole Foods Crit Series on Wednesday nights. Yippee.

At this early point in the season, every single person is freaking out. You fear the competition has been working out like a group of madmen for the entirety of the Colorado winter while you were trolling about on skis or sucking down Hot Toddys with your slacker bike friends...and now, you can barely fit into your jersey. The good thing about this particular series is that it is a mellow group of Boulder locals, all of whom know each other from previous races or by virtue of having ridden a leg or two on the way up Lookout Road or Flagstaff, so everyone is good natured about their waning fitness and slower pace come April.

That "small-ish group" thing might be good for community and chilling over post-race beers, but it is a disadvantage when it comes to race day. As I took the line, I noted that there were only ten of us. Women's cycling rarely draws big numbers, but ten is a tiny field for an event in Boulder. Worse, six of the women were cycling for Rocky Mounts-IZZE. The other four of us were with USAC teams unrecognized by the ACA, and thus listed as "unattached" for the purposes of the Bicycle Racing Association of CO.  I tried to rally the other women because I knew that IZZE would easily control the race unless the four of us could work together. Again, bad news. One of the "unattached" riders was racing her first ever event. She was more concerned with staying on the wheel in front of her than she was trying to get a good position to win the race.

I checked my blood glucose 30 minutes before the start, and again right before I took off. 220. That's a lot higher than where I like to be when I ride, and I felt a bit sluggish. We took a nice, neutral lap to space out the Men and Juniors also taking to the course. From there, the speed picked up to around 24mph...a pretty comfortable pace for me, especially given that the crit was a timed race as opposed to a lap count, and we would only be riding hard for a mere 25 minutes. As expected, however, the team of six quickly took to the front. From there, they controlled the rest of the race.

I realized that all the women were coasting the corners. In a crit, the ability to pedal fast through a turn is an important skill, and one I have worked hard to develop. I had a few good attacks in the turns as the race progressed but, ultimately, gave up position on a straight sprint as I was surrounded by IZZE. From there, I was really just hanging on the back of the peloton, hoping that I could attack in a final turn to improve my finish. Never happened. In the end, IZZE took the first five places, as one might have expected. Their sixth rider blew up midway through the race, and ended up getting lapped a couple of times. I took sixth, with the other unattached riders behind me.

I was a bit dejected. I rode to my husband and kids. 

Throughout the race, I had glanced over at the two tiny manifestations of myself - my son and daughter. Henry was running around in the shade, shoes off and whirling about in a circle as if he were racing his own event. Midori, who loves nothing more than a cycling race, was jumping and screaming from the side. "Go, mama!! Go!" She knows the teams and the riders...recognized a guy racing for Horizon from their shared time at Boulder Indoor Cycling. She has no real concept of winning or losing - in fact, her coach had to request that the announcers at her CycleTykes races not use her name and identify her only by number because a distracted Midori would stop mid-race upon hearing her name, and turn to the spectators and wave gleefully while yelling, "That's me! I'm Midori!" For this reason, I never lament about a bad race in the presence of my kids. I want them to keep that perspective: that this is all being done for the fun of simply riding a bike, and not about places or finish times.

My husband could tell. "Good job, Honey!" He had that pensive look, knowing that I was disappointed in my performance. "Good race." I nodded, smiled, hugged the kids. I told him I would just ride the 25 miles home to clear my head. "Don't be long." Dennis knows.

It might be easy to blame circumstance.  I was running high...I was racing on my own against a team...I had worked a long day prior to racing. But the truth is that it was just a bad day on the bike. I felt sluggish and weak, I was gasping toward the end, and I just wasn't ever present in the race. I've raced with higher blood sugar against far better cyclists, and had a better day on the bike. I still had tons of reserves, too, which meant that I had not left all my efforts on the course.

I pedaled home in frustration. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and this is the sort of race that leaves me in a foul mood. It was a bad race, and I have the added stress of cycling with the TT1 women in Dallas at the end of the month. Two crits in a weekend. This sort of fail lends itself to the fear that I am not where I should be...that I will end up sucking wind at the back of a pack in two more weeks. I was about ten miles into my ride home before I finally cheered up a bit. I remembered that, on the very same day three years ago, my husband and I were sitting in Children's Hospital awaiting a diagnosis for our son.

'Dead Freaking Last' is better than 'Did Not Finish,' which trumps 'Never Even Started' every time.
A bad race is better than no race at all. At 30, with two kids and a full-time career, a house with diabetes and autism, I wasn't sure I'd be racing at all. I wasn't sure I'd even be riding. I'm still out there, riding hard all these years later. My kids are there watching me, seeing me do what I love to do and modeling it in their own lives. Not every win is on a podium. Sometimes, I have to find the mental space to be glad for having raced at all, even if it wasn't the right race on the right day with the preferred outcome. I get a second go at it next Wednesday.

"Winning gives birth to hostility. Losing, one lies down in pain. The calmed lie down with ease, having set winning and losing aside." ~ Buddha


  1. What a great post, I can see Dori waving to the crowd "That's me!" You are so inspiring!

    1. Some days more than others, right? But yes, they should pay Midori to cheer at races. Cycling is pretty subdued in the states, but she is a one-woman crowd. And it's hard to have a bad race when you see a beaming four year old cherub.