Fact: Riding dirt scared the bejesus out of me.
Fact: By forcing yourself to do things that scare the shit out of you, you take their power away, you overcome fears, and you excel.
The Rio course was my first road race of the season and I previewed the course twice before race day, but the dirt still scared me.
The first time I rode the dirt section which was seriously a mile – but seriously had loose sand – I was white-knuckling my handlebars.
Death-gripping as if having a stiff upper body would somehow stabilize my awkward ass in the dusty road. My bike swayed every which way through the sand. I couldn’t help but laugh, crying out to Jared, “This is bullshit!”
Surely, people didn’t race on this shit. I didn’t even bother to try the section again to feel comfortable. That was so far out of my comfort zone, I couldn’t even see the line that it crossed. It was past the end zone, outside the stadium kind of zone.
The other preview was with the Spradley Barr Team. All the people were helpful and inviting. The first pointer was not to death-grip the handlebars. It was a false sense of security and actually destabilized me. It was all about relaxing and letting the bike do its thing.
Fact: I have trust issues.
Fact: I have control issues.
The pointers just didn’t register. How do I relax when clearly I’m about to fall to my sandy, pebbly death? How in the hell do I trust this inanimate object who I call “Thunder”?
I rode faster the second course preview but accepted the alternative-fact that there wouldn’t be an podiums in my future.
I registered with a few hours left before the deadline since I wasn’t sure about paying to lose. I also wasn’t a fan that the prize purse wasn’t equal between women and men.
Fact: sickening inequality pervades the cycling sphere.
It’s no wonder why women aren’t motivated to pay the same registration fees yet race for a shorter time period and are “awarded” less money or simply awarded “merchandise.” Also, this was only for pro-level, but I have lofty goals, and if I’m a Cat 1, working as hard – if not harder – than a Cat 1 dude, then surely I should be compensated equally, especially when I pay the same registration fee as these men.
Race day came upon me faster than expected.
So did the weather. It rained the night before into the early soaking the loose, sandy hell into a muddy, sticky pit. It wasn’t rideable. And I was so excited to hear that I wasn’t going to get sucked into the brown abyss.
We lined up.
I totally doubted myself, my abilities, and my desire to win. I was in the back with the other self-conscious noobs.
Fact: BRAC/USAC/course directors like to bunch up a ton of women’s categories because they’re limited on time and they justify clusterfucking the women.
The Master Women 60+ were leading our pack.
And they led it like we were out for a Sunday stroll. The pace was unreasonably slow. I thought to myself, “is this seriously road racing?” This crawl lasted for a few miles until the first Hill when I saw three women sprint for it. I was, as I mistakenly positioned myself, in the back. With the yellow line rule I struggled to pass. I yelled at the chick in front of me, “ON YOUR LEFT!” Thinking I’d scare her over. Nope. She held her position.
I teetered on the yellow line because fuck it.
I sprinted past the clusterfuck of women stuck on the hill. I was the chaser. I heaved. I ho’d. I sprinted to this group of 3 while they looked back at me. I was afraid they’d double their efforts to drop me, but I caught up.
The gap opened and we all took turns pulling.
It was the same positive experience as I had with Katie at the Air Force Road Race. We all worked together to create the gap. Then we caught up to the men. We were told we had to leave a gap but there was nowhere to go.
The peloton was gaining on us.
The men finally stopped dicking around and picked up their pace and we did too.
It was the four of us with 1 kilometer to go.
I was leading the pack and asked them, “how’s everyone feeling?” I heard, “fine. You?” I said, “oh, you know, just a little winded.” All of a sudden, Jennifer picked up the pace, and before I knew it, we were sprinting to the end.
Fact: I had not developed sprint power at this point. This is still a work in progress.
Corey and Anna had their sprint power down. Jennifer and I, not so much. But what did end up happening was my ability to power through the finish just a smidgeon faster than Jennifer – securing the third step on the podium.
And just like that, I was shocked.
I still doubted the results. There was no way I was good enough to get third. This was my first race. I chalked it up to “Beginner’s luck.” It was hard to fathom was had happened even when they called my name for third place. But I sure as shit accepted my medal.