Last year, I posted this about my experience at the Clear Lake Iowa Bicycle, Blues, and BBQ festival.
It's mostly about how much good stuff I learned on that trip.
This year, I have been able to apply much of that when I'm out of town, particularly if I stay overnight. A few weeks back, I did a Saturday/Sunday race weekend in Ames Iowa. With the exception of a breakfast sandwich and coffee at Panera, I didn't buy any food while I was out of town. I had taken enough from home for the overnight stay. I packed sandwiches and beverages and stuff. This is way cheaper than buying it all at restaurants, but that's not why I did it.
When you bring your own food, you have complete control over what you eat and when. You can race better if you eat better. Also, I'm sure the town of Ames and the surrounding area has some really neat stuff. But I went directly to and from the races/motel while I was there. Oh, and Panera. Definitely Panera. Once.
This was not a vacation. It was racing. Both things are fun (except racing - which sucks), but I was only there to do one of them (racing - which sucks). Vacations gets in the way of racing.
I think Rocky's coach (Mick) said it best when he yelled at Rocky "WOMEN WEAKEN LEGS!" He was talking about Adrian. What a dick. But he has a point.
In this case, "Women" are distractions like say, "the world's largest ball of twine", and "legs" are well, literal legs. I guess they were in the movie too. Oh jeez, the whole thing was literal. Mickey was an idiot. But what if you took some of that twine and tied it around your legs? Great for learning balance, according to Mick.
Some valuable lessons I've learned so far this year:
At the Water Works Circuit race this year, I learned that there's no harm in bringing a roll of toilet paper with you. Usually, when I get to a race, my nerves help me purge any excess ... uhh ... baggage. If there's no toilet paper in the restroom, this can be unsettling.
At the Clear Lake races last weekend, I realized it would have been nice to have one of those "sleep mask" things. I can sleep pretty well without a completely dark room, but the light coming in from outside at the dorms all night kept causing me to wake and think it was 6AM instead of the actual time (1:43, then 1:48, then 2:07 and so on).
I also learned after the road race that it wouldn't hurt to sharpie my name onto my water bottles. I got them back, but it would have been easier if my name was on them after tossing them out at the feed zone.
Just little things that make life a tiny bit easier.
But these are just about preparation. Something clicked for me during the crit last Saturday that changed my whole outlook on racing. Most of the fear vanished. There will always be some jitters, but I actually had fun while it was going on. That has literally never happened.
I used to know this auto mechanic back in the day. He was a crusty old man. I think his name was "Mick"
Anyway, one time I was asking Mick if he thought I should get some different gearing on my car so it could jump off the line faster. He yelled at me, "Kid. There's no replacement for displacement!"
Then he took away my locker.
Sorry. That really didn't have anything to do with anything other than - There's no replacement for racing. You have to do several of them, full on, stressed out so you can learn to keep cool in those situations. Well, I do anyway.
The clear lake omnium is like most of the others around here. Time Trial in the morning; Crit in the afternoon; Road Race the following morning.
I did the Time Trial in the morning and was happy with my performance. Time Trialing is kind of the T-Ball of cycling. Some kids have the power to hit the ball really, really far as long as it's not moving.
It takes a lot more skill and coordination to hit a ball thrown to you than if it's just hanging in the air.
Continuing with the analogy then, road racing would be more like slow pitch softball. You need some skills, but your power can still take you a long way. Then crit racing would be kind of like trying to fend off a barrage of hand-grenades with a baseball bat.
All analogies break down at some point.
So for the time trial, I used my knowledge from FTP tests and guestimated an average power I thought I could hold for the distance. I ended up doing exactly what I set out to do, so I have no complaints there.
The Clear Lake Bicycle, Blues, and BBQ criterium race is an excellent course. Scenic, fast and technical. I was nervous, but less so than I've ever been before a race. I'm just kind of getting used to the routine, which is nice.
I used to worry that I'd get dropped immediately or that I'd crash.
Then the race would start and I'd be at my limit right away and get stressed that I was going to get dropped.
I didn't know yet that people tend to go real hard at the start and then ease into a rhythm a bit later on. Knowing that takes away a lot of the panicky feeling.
So we were racing around and around. Since I wasn't thinking, "Oh crap, I'm on my limit," or "Oh crap, I'm going to crash," I was able to pay attention to what was actually going on in the race. What I saw came as quite a surprise.
I realized I suck as a bike rider. I was hitting the brakes all the time. I've never noticed that before because I was freaking out. I was trying to stay behind the people as they would kind of slow to set up for corners, I would also slow rather than keep my speed. Not because I needed to slow, but because I was trying to not cross their wheel in a corner. Then I came up with an even better idea. This is not new to anyone who races, I'm sure. Maybe it's even wrong, but I was comfortable with it. I started making a habit of getting at least slightly in front of whoever I was near in a turn. This way I could actually accelerate and pick my line. Much easier than hitting the brakes.
I also learned that I could shape my line to a certain degree. If I just stayed calm and envisioned the path I wanted to take, the bike would go there. Very little conscious thought on my part. This is not easy to do while thinking "Oh crap, I'm going to die."
After about 15 minutes of the crit, something was going on that has NEVER happened before. As I mentioned above, I was enjoying the race.
In the past, I have always been happy that I had done a race after the fact. A feeling of pride at an accomplishment or some shit.
Now, I was a part of the race. Flowing with the group. Listening to the shouting and swearing, and just generally having a nice ride.
Then I crashed.
The lead group of (Just about everybody in the race) 25 people had just gone under the start/finish line with 7 laps to go. The announcement "No more free laps" was made.
Then there was turn, turn, turn, tu... crash!
Somehow, my rear wheel just slid out on a right hand turn. I don't know how. Nobody got in my way. I just went down. Nobody else did (not on that lap anyway). As I was falling, I still believed I could save it, so my hands stayed on the bars. I believe this minimized the injury to a couple of minor scrapes.
As everybody went safely around me, I was trying to dislodge my cleat from my spokes. I got back on the bike with a new goal. Finish without getting lapped or caught by dropped riders.
The adrenaline was keeping any pain at bay. Other than the exact spot where I crashed, I was not nervous about taking the corners at full speed. I worked pretty hard for those remaining 6 laps and finished 25th place.
I was disappointed that the crash happened, but happy that it wasn't too bad and that I now knew the answer to a question I've been afraid of for a while. Will I quit racing if I crash?
It was good that the crash happened after my revelations from the race.
On every race until this one, I am asking myself, why am I doing this?
During this race, I answered. "This is what I do."
I know it's corny, but it was a huge relief for me.
Another thing I realized in this race is that the category upgrade system is there for an excellent reason.
You can't (or shouldn't) just upgrade a rider because he is strong enough to hang with all the local 2/3s on the group ride. Shit, maybe he can even Time Trial faster than everyone in town. But you wouldn't sign Corky to the majors just because he can smack the shit out of a ball resting on a tee.
You have to actually race to learn how to race. I think for most people these days who take their training seriously, strength is less a limiter than skill. It is the skill I'm lacking. But I'm getting better.
I am not a fast learner. Before last weekend, I had heard many times that I should be racing Cat 3. I understand the reasoning and believed it myself.
Now I realize there's no hurry. I'll get there when I'm ready.
And I will kick ass.
Just kidding. But really. Yeah.