#bikeschool: Every day is a school day
As some of you may be aware I took part in a bike race on Sunday… my first race in 26 years! I’ve been cycling for a few years now and I’m a terribly competitive little so-and-so, which made me realise I was ready to step my cycling up a level. This week’s post is part race summary, part lessons learned. (Unfortunately as this post goes live the photos from the event have not yet been uploaded by the official photographer but I will update it with some as soon as I can).
As a serving officer in Kent Police there are many benefits that are afforded me; unadulterated respect from the public, a sense of being able to change society for the better and being able to compete in sport at a high level whilst being supported by my employer. For those of you that have been keeping up to date with the news in London and the riots, you may realise that only one of the above benefits ACTUALLY exist… and happily for me it’s the last one! Many of the riders that I regularly ride with are also police officers or fire fighters and during a ride a couple of months ago the British Emergency Services National Championships was mentioned and all talk surrounded who was going to compete and what pre-race excuses friends would come up with to preempt their dismal performance. As the weeks went on I thought more about the race and decided that it would be a good way to kick start myself into an end of summer training plan with the intention of moving this good form into the winter for some proper pre-season training… and then 2012 would be my oyster!
I had already planned to be racing a little by this time this year but due to a fairly lazy 2010/2011 winter I’ve spent most of the spring and summer battling with my bizarre work schedule to get the legs I need to compete in local crit races, which can be up to 3 times a week in this area. The literately astute reader may have spotted that I’ve already identified myself as being both ‘competitive’ and ‘lazy’ which is a serious problem when it comes to any sport. If @bikerly had his way I think my personal Venn diagram would look something like this…
Other than the excitement of an actual race, the Emergency Services Nationals also had the added benefit of allowing me to get a paid days leave from work whilst the rest of my team were slogging away on the streets of Kent and it was also possible for me to compete with a ‘day licence’ meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to get a British Cycling race licence in time. Good things all round!
Race (pain) day
So the day of the race arrived and I had everything in place; kit had been checked and double checked, tubes pumped to desired pressure, my chainset degreased and lovingly re-lubed and everything carefully packed into my car ready for the hour long journey to the south of the county to the race HQ. This journey was given some added ‘spice’ when I realised my car had a flat tyre. Not my bike… my freaking car! It had a slight poetic justice to it but I calmly (yeah right!) asked my fiance to drop me off there and I would make my way home with a friend who was also going to the race. On the journey to the race I was preoccupied and kept thinking that the setback with my car would haunt me and keep me from reaching my potential. In reality that was the least of my worries and once I got there and calmed down a little it never crossed my mind again.
Kent Police were hosting the event this year and although we had one of the largest teams, we had been cobbled together within a few weeks and the majority of the 12 strong team were mountain bike riders who had never ridden a road race. (ED: That last sentence sounded derogatory towards mountain bikers and that I may know everything there is to know about cycle racing… sorry… it wasn’t meant to! I have nothing against the more muddy cousins of road racers, but although they clearly had the physicality and strength for the ride, their lack of knowledge of road race tactics negated the advantage we had with our numbers.) The race consisted of around 60 riders in all and there was roughly a 50/50 split between police officers and fire fighters. Strangely there were no Paramedics/Ambulance Technicians on the start sheet but most were Cat 3/4 riders of a decent standard with a few Cat 2’s and some who had cheekily left their classification off of the start sheet (these seemed to be the Cat 1/E riders!). I met up with the rest of the Kent Police team outside the race HQ and shook hands and made pleasantries as I had never met any of them before. This was the first point in the day where I felt like I was an outsider which was rather disconcerting. Up until then I had prided myself on finding my race legs running up to the event and was excited to be able to call myself a ‘racer’… but the handshakes and inane non-cycling chatter from my ‘teammates’ just minutes before the race made me feel like I was the only one who may be taking this seriously which was rather upsetting.
This leads me on to the main lesson I learnt that day… listen to yourself and your own body! I know from training rides that I need roughly 10-15km of steady warm up to really feel comfortable when at a decent race pace. Whilst waiting outside the race HQ doing the namby-pamby meet and greet I kept thinking to myself “I want to go and have a spin round the course and find my legs…” but I didn’t. I stayed there, ignoring my normally individualistic and independent brain in exchange for a feeling of being part of something larger that I knew deep down was no good for me. That was the most disappointing part of my whole day and I’ll make sure I never let others dictate any preparation I want to do in the future.
Getting back to the race, we headed out after the commissaire warned us of the damp, dangerous sections that had claimed no less than 6 crashes during the race earlier in the day and rode a frantic pace through the neutralised zone. As already described I have no personal race experience but the lead car really seemed to gun it out of the HQ and it caused some erratic riding until the flag dropped. We completed the ride along the route towards the start/finish line at just over 40km which was a bit of a shock for the neutralised section but I’d expected that sort of pace so kept my spot near the front to try and keep out of trouble on what was a rolling course with not only some very dangerous pot-holes but also some long descents under dappled tree canopies which were not for the faint-hearted.
Withing metres of lap 1, 3 guys went off the front, two of them managing to stay away for the full race distance and displaying some serious racing pedigree. I lasted another 2 laps with the main group before the seemingly dangerous descent/my level of bike handling/lack of race pace meant I slipped off the back and struggled to keep the pack in sight. I soon began to work well with a rider from another team, riding a two-up for about another lap and a half before he slipped back from me on one of the short, sharp, punchy climbs and I was left on my own. I knew from the riders that had been left in the bunch that there were quite a few of my fellow ‘team’ riders behind me but none were in sight so I plowed on. Riders came and went, some falling off of the pack which was now roughly 4-5km up the road and others finding a little extra to gain on me, work for a bit… and then bugger off into the distance. Very early on after getting dropped from the main bunch I developed a painful cramping in my lower back (an old injury from playing cricket) which hampered me on the climbs but was manageable. I continued on, concentrating on getting round and finishing the ride, all the while thinking about what I was going to say in this post (ED: You can tell from the length of this post I was chasing back on my own for quite a while!). And then something struck me… something which removed all of the pain and suffering (mostly). I’d chosen this race as my first… my test ride… my way into what I hoped would be a minutely successful racing career. But I’d chosen a race populated by some of the most competitive people I know! If you know any police officers, fire fighters or any emergency services personal really, you may notice that there are some personality traits that are very common in our line of business; we strive to be the best at EVERYTHING, we don’t like being beaten by ANYONE especially not our mates, and we have jobs that allow and encourage us to stay at a high level of fitness. As I ran this through my head I began to realise it may not have been the best option for my inaugural competition. Add to that the race was a national event and it became clear I may have bitten off more than I could chew! But I didn’t give up at the thought I might not win… because I’m a fighter (dreamer) and I continued on until I got pulled a lap from the end so that I didn’t get in the way of the break and bunch sprint as they came through to the finish line. I was happy to carry on and finish my race distance but didn’t feel cheated at being pulled out early. I’d done my work and I’d not given up, battled through pain for 50km and learned some important lessons that will serve me well in the future… that for me, made it a successful first race.
One down… ? to go…
I really did enjoy my first race and although I came 39th, 2 laps down I’d cracked my first one and have got the hunger. I plan to keep up my training and compete in the winter series of crit races in the local area in an attempt to get some race experience and points on my new British Cycling race licence. You can check out my modest race numbers using the Garmin Connect link below.
I hope my tail and the lessons learned help you in the future, whether you race a bike or not. Remember, be true to yourself and what your body is telling you.
“Every day is a school day”
ED: I’d like to say a special thank you to Heather Nielsen (@shitcyclistsays) who is a USAC Level 3 coach and a good friend. She helped me throughout my training and I will be using her advice and tips for a long time. Please check out her website at www.heathernielson.com for details of her coaching advice and personal packages.