Today I volunteered at a bike race down in Salem. It’s sponsored by a family friend’s bike shop (Susan’s third ex-husband Joe) and it’s our third year helping out with it. Because of this, we get the cushy job of getting people registered and compiling the race start lists for the officials. It’s a great job because we get to sit under a nice awning and watch the race go on when things slow down a bit. Here’s our set-up:
It’s a pretty typical bike race. The course consists of a nearly 2-mile loop that riders in various categories race around for a set amount of time in a big pack while trying not to crash into each other. Cyclists are rated Category 5-1 with 5 being the least-experienced riders and 1 being the best cyclists. (Women’s categories start at Cat. 4, for some unknown reason.)
The day started with the Cat 4/5 men and the juniors (basically riders 13-17) It’s pretty cool to watch pre-teen boys doing something besides PlayStation:
Here are the Cat 4/5 men lining up:
At the start line…
And they’re off and racing…
The most exciting race of the day was the Cat 1/2 men. A local pro from Rock Racing showed up and kicked everyone’s butt. It’s pretty amazing to watch the difference in person, because the “normal” guys are pretty freakin’ fast from my perspective and then you watch someone who’s that next level of faster. It’s pretty crazy. I didn’t have a chance to take too many pictures of this one, but here’s them taking off for the start:
(It’s pretty hard to see him, but the guy who won is in the bright green in the back of the group, to the left of the guy in white… )
Since volunteers get to race for free, I was toying with the idea of riding with the Cat 4 women. I was a little unsure about it because my big race is next weekend and I was worried about going way too hard and totally cooking my legs for the rest of the week or worse crashing. In previous years, the womens races have been very small – like 2-3 people per race small, so I was sort of waiting to see how many ladies showed up. Then I remembered that road racing often doesn’t allow the aero bars I have on my bike, so I asked about it and no, they wouldn’t let me ride with them, I’d have to take them off. With only one week before Lake Stevens, there was no way I was messing with that, so I decided that I’d do my bike workout either after volunteering or when we had some down time.
A few hours before race time and there was a lone woman who was signed up for the Women’s Cat 1-3 race and she was getting nervous about it. We chatted for a little bit and she asked me if I was racing and I explained why I wasn’t. She scoffed at my reasons and asked if she could find a bike for me to ride, would I race. I stammered that I wasn’t in her Category and borrowing a bike for me might not do her any good. “Oh, they’ll combine them. It’ll be fine.” and she was off. A few minutes later, a nice man named Adam came over with a beautiful Orbea road bike and the same pedals as I ride. At just like that, I was racing.
As it turned out, they couldn’t combine the women’s races because the Cat. 4 race was part of a points series. And because of that same series there were approximately 16 women in the race. Holy crap. Luckily, there were eight women riding in the race with Eva (the girl who got me into all of this mess, so she wasn’t alone.) Before her race, I checked with Eva to make sure they didn’t mind hanging out for my race (half-hoping that she wouldn’t be and I wouldn’t have to do this crazy race… ) but she was really nice about it and told me not to worry. Ha!
Before I knew it, it was time for the Cat 1-3 women’s race. I cheered Eva on for a bit and then took the bike out for a warm-up. The bike was a little big for me, but I felt okay on it. I rode around for a bit, getting more and more nervous as I did. For those readers who aren’t familiar with triathlon/road cycling differences and are thinking “you ride your bike all the time, why so nervous?” In a triathlon, you aren’t allowed to ride in a pack or even get close to another rider, so it’s all you. In road cycling, you ride in a pack and use tactics to pass and all that good stuff. Needless to say, there’s a big difference between the two.
Then it was time to line up. I was torn between wanting to barf and wanting to go. T and Susan were so excited for me to race and were cheering me on. The official gave us some instruction and some of the Cat 1/2 girls were riding along so that they could give us feedback at the clinic afterwards. And we were off, I’d lined up at the back, so after clipping in I had to catch up with the pack a bit. The cat 1/2 ladies were behind me giving me advice and I had to let them know that I was going to stay back a bit and get used to the new style of racing. They were really nice about it and gave me a few pointers
I hung with the group for a lap, then their superior cornering skills on the last turn opened up a small gap which quickly became a larger gap. I tried to ride harder and catch up, but there was a headwind and it just wasn’t happening. I was feeling really bummed until I looked down at my bike computer and realized I was going 18 mph, into a headwind which is much faster than I usually ride. I headed onto the second lap and hoped not to get too far behind.
On the second lap, I managed to take a wrong turn and decided to call it when I got back to the start/finish line. I felt fine with my decision. I learned a lot from the one lap I’d ridden with the group and this way I could still ride my own bike and do a little run afterwards. I handed in my bike to Adam’s friend with my sincere thanks and got my own bike ready to go. I had a bike/run (brick) workout on my schedule, which I decided to split into two smaller sets of bike/run, partly because it was easier schedule-wise and partly because of the heat, which was considerable. I headed out for a 20 minute ride followed by a 10 minute run and then rode home from the race, followed by another short run.
I was pretty hot, but felt surprisingly good. T went out for Jamba Juices, which I drank in the shady backyard. Heaven! Then we met up with Husband #2 for dinner (different yummy Mexican food) and headed home. A very busy but very good day. Thanks to all who helped make my first race happen, it was terrifying and awesome all at the same time!