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Finding your tribe

‘Tis the season to find a team either for your first time or your 22nd. Applications are opening and recruiting is in full force.

If this is your first time, it’s intimidating. There’s a ton of information, but no real concise way to use it practically. I remember when I decided to join a team, I didn’t know where to start. I went to Google, as most of us do when we don’t know where to start.

Usually, finding and joining a team isn’t as simple as signing up and now you ride for Team Zissou. There are a lot of aspects to consider:

1. Location

The Google search I conducted when I first started out led me to the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website which listed teams in Colorado. I wanted to find a team near me so I could jump on my bike and ride to meeting spots. Having to drive to team nights, team practices, team-building, etc. could get old fast. Find your city or where you’re willing to drive/bike to meet the team.

2. Clinics

Some teams offer clinics to teach their riders more skills. For example, my team, pedal RACING, has clinics for Road, Mountain, and Cross. They’re all scheduled out so as not to overlap the other disciplines. I’m a Roadie and it was important to me to find a team that offered clinics that covered Time Trials, Race Tactics, Group Riding, Criteriums, and Hill Climbs. Sometimes clinic fees are included in your Membership dues, while other times you have to pay extra. It’s good to find out.

Pedal RACING does both: we have set clinics that are included in your membership fees, but sometimes throughout the season, there is an ask for additional clinics. The group will either ask one of our elite team members to teach us a skill or we’ll all pony up some cash to bring in a professional coach.

3. Cost

Once you’ve picked a team, another important aspect to consider is the cost to join the team as well as finding out where the fees go. Some teams are very expensive and others are super cheap. If you’re interested in a team that has a high membership fee, ask what the fees go toward. For example, my team costs $150 to join. The money goes towards the clinics at the beginning of the racing season, tents, paying team dues, and race support. After 3 races, a team member can request a reimbursement for their races and end up only paying around $30 for their membership fees. Another option is forwarding that reimbursement to dues the following year. Some teams don’t offer this, so ask.

4. Racing Requirements and then some

Every team has a racing requirement – some more strict than others. Most websites will list their racing requirements so give it a looksee. If they don’t have a list of the number (and type) of races you must compete in, just ask them. This may influence your decision depending on your experience. Most people new to racing are intimidated by the race requirement, which is why it’s important to feel comfortable with what team you choose to join.

pedal RACING has a three race minimum. It doesn’t matter in what disciple, but we require our racers to race three times within the year. With the low requirement, I felt comfortable joining pedal back in the day. I knew it was within my ability to race three times.

Teams may also have additional requirements. For instance, pedal RACING also requires our members to volunteer. We believe it’s important to give back to our cycling community – whether that is helping out at our annual Twilight Criterium race, maintaining bike trails, or building bikes for kids. Helping out where and when we can keeps cycling alive and even helps it grow, which, as cyclists, we most certainly want.

5. Do You Fit In?

Go on a ride with the team to see how you jive. The team may look great, but until you ride with them, you won’t know if it makes sense to join them. Some teams take racing much more seriously than other teams. If you’re serious about racing, then those teams more focused on race tactics, strategies, and training will be a better choice. Conversely, if you want to give racing a try because you like a little competition now and then, but you don’t plan on going pro, there are teams that focus on the fun and fitness aspect of racing. And of course, there are teams in between.

There are a lot of other elements to consider when joining a team such as the number of group rides, friendliness and competitiveness of the team, the look of the kit, guidance from other team members, support, and riders at your level.

I took all those factors and made a scale. I looked at the teams in my area and started whittling them down. I rated each team on a scale from 1 (worst) – 10 (best) for each factor I considered important in a team I joined. Then I added up the numbers and chose the team with the highest rank.

I’d love to chat with anyone interested in racing about my team or racing in general. If you have a question, shoot me an email: Women[at]pedalracing[dot]org

Race Anecdotes: Pikes Peak Hill Climb

I thought it was going to be harder than it was…

…to convince Chris to sign-up for the Pikes Peak Gran Fondo while I raced it. I had all my support and reasons why I thought it would benefit him as a mountain biker, but when I casually said, “you should ride the Gran Fondo while I race it,” he replied, “sure.”

I didn’t know what to expect having never done it before. Last year, I was forced to work that weekend and the year before that I was just starting to dip my toes into racing and frankly, did not believe in my ability to race up a 14’er. So this year was it. I was also planning on racing the Senior Road Race State Championship the next day. Go big or go home.

Because both races were based in Colorado Springs, Chris and I found an AirBnB to stay at to shorten our commute time. Even though we were an hour closer to the start line, we still had to wake up before the asscrack of dawn – like 4:00 AM.

As Chris drove us toward the start line, I felt like we were cheating as we were halfway to the top of Pikes Peak when we finally parked the car. The sun still hadn’t risen as we picked up our race tags from the registration tents. Because it was my first year racing, I didn’t know where the actual start line was and I never had time to pre-ride the course so I didn’t know what I was in for.

As I pulled out my trainer, I realized I left my Garmin at the AirBnB. You realize how dependent you are on things when you no longer have access to them. Luckily, I had my watch, but I was still perturbed by not seeing my watts, cadence, and heart rate updating in front of me as I warmed-up.

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The gran fondo participants took off before the racers, so I wished Chris good luck and told him I’d see him later. I joked with him saying, “I’m going to try to catch you.” I didn’t think I actually would since they started nearly an hour before.
The Cat 3’s were called up to the start line. All six of us. I don’t know why I always do this to myself, but I lined up in front. My only strategy was to copy what happened to me at the Guanella Pass Hill Climb: take off at the start line, drop everyone, and you know, hope they don’t catch up.

I’ve learned (the hard way) this season that I’m not the strongest hill climber.

So, I did just that. As soon as the ref whistled  (after what felt like a very long and uncomfortable silence as we waited for him to countdown to 3-2-1..), I shot off, of course, with a couple of other women. Since there were only six of us, I split the group in half. Another thing I seem to do far too frequently is hang out in front of the paceline.

I think it comes down to comfort. I don’t trust riding six inches off the wheel in front of me, unable to see what lies ahead. For some unexplainable reason, I prefer to be in the front, expending more energy than anyone else, but knowing what’s ahead. As soon as I realized I was in the front of the paceline, I tried weaving off the front and slowing down to allow the chicks behind me to go ahead. It wasn’t happening. They slowed down and weaved behind me.

I pulled over even father and slowed even more down. Finally, the two women passed me and I hopped on the back. Well, lucky me, I emptied the tank in the first five minutes believing I could keep a steady pace  while thwarting off the three racers we originally dropped.

I quickly lost the two women who originally broke off with me, so there I was, suffering alone.

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I thought to myself: “if no one else passes me, I’ll get third place.” A recurring thought I had when I was a Cat 4. I wasn’t okay with the thought, but then again, I didn’t feel the urge to try harder either. I knew I had a better chance of doing well in Sunday’s race and also realized I climb at a semi-truck pace.

As I passed the gran fondo participants, I looked at their wincing faces, slowly grinding through their third mile of 12. We hadn’t even passed tree line. If I was suffering, I knew these people were right there with me.

All of a sudden, heavy breathing and shifting gears roared behind me. It was the women’s Cat 1-2 passing me. As they pedaled past me like they were on ebikes, they offered a supportive, “you’re doing great!” “…thanks,” I laughed. I almost felt like they pitied me but as we cycled higher, the more supportive people became. I was inspired myself to breathlessly say, “keep going!” to the cyclists I passed.

So many times during these extra-challenging races (climbs up mountains), I consider quitting, throwing in the towel, and giving up. Too many times these thoughts filter into my conscious, especially when I know I’m in the back, about to be DFL, soloing the shit out of the course. It’s easier to quit to when you’re in the back. Everyone’s already passed you, no one’s going to know. That is, until they see results and next to my name it shows “DNF.”

When I think about seeing those three letters, DNF, next to my name, I look 100 feet ahead of me, and keep pedaling. When I want to quit, like in this race, I focused on the next turn. I look ahead and close the gap between me and the rider up ahead. I don’t let my thoughts pervade my mind. It’s too easy to let them control you when you’re 13,000 feet high, no life, just road and rocks and sky.

Then I saw Chris and instantly felt motivated. Since I joked in the morning about catching up to him, believing it’d never happen, and then actually catching up to him, I figured I wasn’t doing that bad.

In racing, when you find your strengths, you hone in on those races. Which means, this was a climber’s course and if you weren’t already fantastic at it, you were going to struggle against the women who also think they’re climbers. The women I lined up aside (and stupidly in front of) are climbers and I respect the hell outta them to push those watts. Frankly, I respect anyone who takes on any sort of race course, especially if this isn’t your forte.

As my category disappeared into the sky, I wondered what my strength was, because I was struggling this season as a mintly Cat 3. Other than endurance, I didn’t come up with a race-specific strength. So I asked myself, “what do I want to be better at? Where am I losing the race?” (Yes. There was infinite introspective during these 12 miles.) Reflecting back on the season, all the races came down to sucking at climbing and sprint finishes. Right then and there, among the wheezers, gaspers, and moaners, I decided this off-season that’s what I’d focus on.

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As I looked at my watch for mileage, seeing I still had probably a mile left of this horse shit, I looked up and saw a family of unicyclists. Inspired again, I finished the race, un-enthusiastically, assuming and accepting my DFL before the results posted.

I pedaled to the Pikes Peak sign and watched the excitement of cyclists raising their bikes above their heads, in a victory salute, for having pedaled up the second highest paved roads in Colorado. Realizing that some people can’t even handle driving up this with the thin air, gives you more of a sense of accomplishment having ridden it with a bike, powered by two legs and half-a-mind.

An Open Letter to the People Who Want Me Dead

I recently read Phil Gaimon’s post about his near-death experience with a car. It reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago when I rode the Red Rocks Challenge.

———

Dear Deadbeat,

At the Red Rocks Gran Fondo last Saturday, I realized what’s on the inside of you will come out, eventually. Whether that be sadness, happiness, anger, or fear, we all have things in our lives that inevitably makes us who we are.

Some people have poison within them. Let’s be honest, we probably all have a little. This is a term I learned from Don Miguel Ruiz in “The Four Agreements.” It’s that negativity, hatred, and unhealthy thoughts that cloud your mind. The problem with this poison is that people don’t want it inside them and they think the only way to rid themselves of the poison is to pass it on to others.

The poison that came out of you last Saturday was hatred and it was spray-painted throughout our route.

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There are a lot of problems with this message, most notably the misspelling of “you.” That actually bothers me more than the message itself. If you seriously took the time to go to Michaels, to pick your favorite color out of the hundred of spray paint colors (and theirs must be blue), to drive out to this isolated road, in the middle of the night (because cowards don’t do these things in public – for fear of getting caught), hunt down the positive messages the volunteers already spray painted, to have your buddies hold the flashlight over your head so you could see the road as you spray painted, as you laughed and thought you were just the cleverest son of bitch this world has yet to know, and to go find the next positive message to do it all over again – surely, if you spent all this time and your parents’ money to spread your poison, you’d spell “you” right?

Maybe it’s one of those words for you: “Is it u-before-o or o-before-u?” It’s three letters. If you could go out of your way to spread your poison, commit to proper spelling. This isn’t a text message, you’re not restricted to a 140-character limit. You had the entire road and you chose to spray paint, “u.” By this measure, cars should kill “u.” The letter “u” didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just hangs out between “t” and “v.” They’re a happy group of characters. You, you’re not happy.

If I can look past “u” and see the message, you, the degenerate, was conveying, then it is clear that you want cyclists to die, specifically by cars.

If you did your research then you would see a study published by NHTSA that in 2014 726 bicyclists did die and 50,000 bicyclists were injured. If you did the math, which I’m also questioning your math skills, that’s roughly two cyclists that get killed and 142 that are injured every day.

I want you to imagine 144 people in a row and I know it’s probably hard for you to count that high, let alone envision 144 people who have a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, a kid or two, a home, a job, some friends; probably dreams and goals for their future. Do you have that in your thick skull? Do you see them smiling? Do they look happy? What are they wearing? Are they saying anything?

Now I want you to take a truck. Imagine the color, my guess is you’d choose blue. Is it diesel? Does it have a hemi? Does it have 4 tires? 6? What song is playing over the stereo? Imagine it all.

Got all that?

Visualize the 144 people alongside the road and take your blue truck with the music playing in the background and hit every. single. one. of. them. One by one, with your mirror, the front bumper, maybe run over a leg or two. I’m sure you pictured them on their bikes, so make sure you envision destroying their bikes as well. 142 people survived. Blood’s running down their knees, out their noses; squished raspberries clotting around their knees.

2 never stood back up. 2 bodies lay on the pavement motionless while the other 142 people groan and cry. 2 human beings that are no longer considered people, but a ‘body.’ They’ve lost their identity and their life. That’s what you want.

That’s what your misspelled message represents.

You are a sad person. Let go of the poison within you. The human beings, myself included, that rode our bikes on Saturday did nothing to you. I’ve never wished harm upon you or your family. I’ve never tried to hurt you or your family. The only thing I’ve ever done to someone on my bike is inconvenience them because they were forced to slowly and safely pass me on the road. I’m guilty of that.

I’m guilty of riding my bike on the shared roads that my tax dollars also go towards. I’m guilty of flipping off cars that pass me too closely or shout mean things to me as they drive by. But that’s it. I never wished harm upon another person. Even as a driver, I’ve never wished harm upon a cyclist.

And unfortunately for you, dear tagger, not all cyclists are as forgivable. The cyclists may ride out in drones now because you want them off the road.

I hope that your misspelled message isn’t responded to with more violence. Violence begets violence.

My hope is that us cyclists take the higher road, that we keep the rubber side down, and our chins up. You will not deter us.

Race Anecdotes: WMBAcos Purple Pursuit

“I’m not gonna win, but I may as well try,” I thought to myself after reading Good Guy Tubeless’ contest for a free entry into the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs. “I never win contests” I said out loud as I tagged my teammate, Stacey, in the comments.

WTf-specific

While the “free entry” posted across my Facebook feed initially piqued my interest, what actually pulled me more into the post was the fact that this was for a women’s mountain bike race. The Purple Pursuit reminded me a lot of the Beti Bike Bash held earlier in the year, but on a smaller scale and located in the springs.

I love seeing events pop-up for the non-male cycling community, especially because there’s a need and a want. Every race I’ve attended (with the exception of female-specific races) it’s a total sausage fest. And while I have always been more of a “tom-boy” and typically have more male friends than WTf (women/trans/femme) friends, I want to see more WTf-friendly races, events, and gatherings. The WTf community needs to know there is space for them and races like The Purple Pursuit start that dialogue in the racing scene.

Paired with companies like Good Guy Tubeless who become allies in this quest for getting more people, especially WTf racing bikes, the community continues to grow.

I wasn’t planning on signing up

Let me preface this by telling you I primarily race road. Before The Purple Pursuit, I tried two mountain bike races. I’m definitely a beginner mountain bike racer. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have signed up to race The Purple Pursuit. And that’s important to know if we want to get more women racing their bikes.

Why wouldn’t I have signed up for this great, women-specific mountain bike race? One that offered food, prizes, a solid course, and generous support?

I didn’t want to pay to suck and/or lose. I didn’t know anyone else from my team racing. It was a far drive to the Springs from our house. I didn’t have time to preview the course. And I was burnt out from all my prior racing over the season. Mountain biking takes a completely different set of skills from road, plenty of which I am still completely clueless. I assumed I’d be the less-skilled beginner and it intimidated me.

With a free entry, all those worries fell to the wayside. Saving $45 on an entry justified the 55-mile drive and early wake up, and winning was no longer as important as the experience. Granted, I still wanted to win.

When Hannah of Good Guy Tubeless congratulated me on my win through Facebook messenger, I was shocked. Like I said, I never win anything. She asked for a photo and I had to dig deep to find a good mountain biking picture of me. I found one from my first mountain bike race that was also a free entry for me. It was gifted from my teammate Teena, who unfortunately, crashed in another race and couldn’t compete in Battle of the Bear. She offered it to me for free (saving me $70). Then I was given a “friends and family” discount code to Estes Epic that it felt like I was almost getting paid to race.

See a theme yet?

Lower the cost and barriers to entry for women and they’ll show up. Provide a fun atmosphere and unyielding support and they’ll show up. I guarantee you that I will race more mountain next season because of my experiences this year. I’m going from a “roadie for life” to “I’m a cyclist who races road, mountain, and I dabble in cross.”

The course

Since I signed up for the Beginner category, we had a 6-mile out and back, while the Intermediate and Advanced women had a 13-mile loop.

We started in a dirt parking lot near the stadium. There was a small hill I used to warm-up. The lively announcer caught Chris give me a kiss as were staged under the blow-up banner before the start.

My plan was to jet off at the beginning to get enough distance from the group so I could go slower downhill as I’m still getting used to that. The course was perfect for a beginner race. Nothing technical and no hike-a-bikes. There were tree roots to climb over, sandy sections, and calm downhills. I felt confident and I was hauling. Anytime I looked behind me there wasn’t a rider in sight.

As I passed volunteers, I’d hear “pedal!” and their cowbells. At one point, I found myself at 4.5 miles thinking, “when will I be turning back?” I finally ran into a woman who asked, “are you racing?” “Yeah, I’m a beginner.” Shocked, she told me, “you’re on the wrong course. This is the Intermediate course. You have to go back.” So I did. I went to the previous aid station and the guy didn’t know where I had to go so he told me to go back another aid station. So I did. That man didn’t know either. So I continued to backtrack, hearing my number over the walkies, feeling quite foolish.

I finally returned to the aid station where I was supposed to take a hard right (instead, I went straight). When I showed up, there were new flags and ribbon indicating where we had to go. Unfortunately, they weren’t there when I originally passed. The volunteers smiled and apologized for mistaking me for an intermediate racer and pointing me in the wrong direction.

I remembered this was the first time this race was ever put on so I couldn’t expect everything to go off without any hitch. I also realized that I was gifted an entry, for which I was grateful. I told myself as I flew down a steep double-track that this was all for fun.

Racing doesn’t need to only be focused on winning. I thought about the skills I was teaching myself as I navigated downhill through sandy tracks that pulled my front tire back and forth. It reminded me of cross practice in a sandpit. I looked around the forest and again, I was completely alone. I knew I was no longer in first, but at that point, I didn’t care.

The Awards

Inevitably, I came in third receiving a large rock with a purple plaque and a bike chain glued across as an award. It was original which I absolutely loved. They had decorated with purple balloons instead of a car or trash bins in the background.

My favorite part was the DFL AKA “The Perseverance Award” given to the racer who came in last place. Rarely is anyone stoked to come in last. For me, it’s nearly humiliating and demotivates me. But at The Purple Pursuit, it was celebrated. It was awesome seeing the women’s smiles as their names were called; the crowd cheering even louder.

That’s a way to get women to return to a race. Celebrate everyone.

The Schwag & Prizes

Not only did I receive my rock award, but I also got a glass and coozy simply for signing up. I always wonder how these mountain bike races make money with all the free goods they give away with registration.

As we waited for awards, there was a raffle as well. Spirits were high between the free booze and burgers, brauts, and veggie burgers. Again, believing I never win prizes, my name was called. I won! I chose a hat and gave it to Chris as a prize of his own for persevering through the day. I knew he was ready to go home.

This race became more about supporting organizations like the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs and new racers. It was about challenging myself and learning new skills. It was about thanking companies like Good Guy Tubeless for gifting new racers like me an entry into a race they probably wouldn’t have done. And if I didn’t race, I would have missed out on meeting two pedal RACING teammates who I hadn’t met before who are total badasses.

Race Anecdotes: Littleton Twilight Criterium

I’m not a fan of crits with its tight turns, repeated 1-mile lap over and over and over again for forty minutes, and the crashing. Now, crits are no more dangerous than any of the other races. I know because the only time I’ve ever been in a crash was in an organized ride, not even a race. Unfortunately, for crits, they haven’t rid themselves of the stigma and I haven’t rid myself of it either.

Regardless, my team, pedal RACING, held our inaugural Twilight Criterium race in August and I couldn’t not be there.

Lining up to any race has my nerves running haywire, but this being my team’s race I felt an extra sense of pressure to perform better than ever.

And I fucked that up.

I didn’t want to race and at one point I was bored enough of hiding in the pack, dodging wind and women who didn’t hold their lines, I figured I’d take risks I normally wouldn’t.

One woman had sprinted off and no one wanted to chase her. After two laps, still feeling pretty energized, I sprinted off the front in an effort to catch her. As soon as I caught up, she thanked me, and I said, “we gotta go ‘cause they’re coming for us.” I said it as if we had a chance to fend off the rest of the pack for another 20 minutes.

The group caught us and there we were again: going in circles like some kind of merry-go-round. With about three laps to go, I was still feeling pretty fresh and strong. I took to the front of the pack.

Here was my thinking and probably why I’m still an amateur racer and not a pro:

I was going to sprint off the front of the group after the last turn before it became a straightaway. I assumed I’d get away for three laps to hopefully take the win.

I didn’t like crits so I had nothing to lose if this spur-of-the-moment strategy didn’t work.

So there I was, front and center of the pack, darting into the 90 degree turn (maybe at 20 mph), women all around, I’m so ready to dash off that I start pedaling before I had straightened my bike and click.

I strike my pedal against the pavement that jettisons me across the road straight toward the metal fencing, which is conveniently where my grandmother is sitting right behind. My family’s watching me fly directly toward them and the whole time this is happening, I’m thinking to myself: “how can I avoid breaking myself and my bike?”

The metal barriers are coming at me 20 mph, I’m fumbling with my handlebars attempting to gain control and turn before becoming one with metal, and at the absolute last moment before my tire and then my body plows into the fencing, I direct my bike left.

I’m still upright, unscathed, heart’s racing, and the pack of women I naively thought I’d leave in my dust are pedaling away.

I have a hundred voices yelling at me from all directions: “keep pedaling!” “Go go go!!” “C’mon McWhirt! You got this!” “Pedal!!!”

I start to pedal furiously again and nothing’s catching, I’m not moving forward. I look down at my chain and see it’s limp between my frame and crankset.

I pullover to set it back and still, people are screaming at me to “GOOO!” With trembling fingers, I manage to get the chain back on and I’m told to get a free lap because of a mechanical. I walk to the pit and am quickly rejected as we had less than 7 laps left.

The only reaction I could muster was a pathetic laugh: at the situation and at myself.

How did I honestly think I could pull-off what I whimlessly thought I could do? I felt like a joke.

Instead of moping, throwing my bike across the road, blaming someone else, or taking a DNF, I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling to finish the last rounds.

I came around the following corner and was directed by policemen, volunteers, and EMTs to stay to the left. Then I saw several women on the ground. I realized: that could have been me. I could have been in that crash. I saw one of the women who was sketchy during the race on the ground as well. I knew she would be involved in a crash based off the numerous times she cut me off through a turn and who knows who else – and it was clearly not a race tactic.

I pedaled passed the carnage and quickly caught up with the 4’s on my team. As they were soft pedaling at that point, I assumed this was the last lap.

Making my way around the turn that had it out for me, I saw the lap counter and there was still another lap to go. I tried giving it my all, to catch up to as many racers as I could, to smile at the people screaming my name and my team, all while trying to keep my shit together.

I crossed the line solo and somehow ended up in 11th out of 16. I assumed I’d come in DFL.

As my buddy, Anna, told me in my podcast, “race to fail.” To fail is to learn and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I’ve never been okay with failing. But as an avid learner, I constantly seek experiences that teach me about the world and about myself.

Sure, I tried a few different “tactics,” just to see what I could get away with.

Who knows how the race would have turned out if I didn’t drop my chain. But these things happen. But I did race to fail. I pushed myself. I tried breaking away from the group. I took sketchy turns. I raced out of my comfort zones. I recovered from a near-crash (thanks to mountain biking). And I didn’t eat pavement. And the best part was having all the support from my friends and family.

A woman’s place is on two wheels

That is, of course, if that’s where she wants to be.

 

Ever since I donned my first pair of cycling shorts, I noticed how few women there were in bike shops, on trails, and in organized rides. Per usual, women were a minority in the cycling industry. Four years later, we still are – and you can add racing to the list of the women’s shortage.

While I’ve met and ridden with a fair amount of awesome and supportive dudes, it’s always disheartening being one of the few women who race my bike. I know there are women out there, yearning for two-wheeled connection, inspired by competition, and aren’t finding it.

I first noticed the lack of women at bike races last year among the sea of Lycra-clad men nearly bursting at the seams with old-school bike-racing philosophy and sweaty testosterone. “Where are the women?” I wondered.

Surely, there are women on bikes, otherwise, there wouldn’t be brands like Liv, that build women-specific bikes. Then I wondered if there are tons of women already cycling, why weren’t more racing?

I joined the board of directors of Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado to help inspire change for women’s racing. In one of our monthly meetings we brought up the small numbers of women who raced in Colorado. We didn’t know. We couldn’t come up with a reason as to why there were women on bikes but the majority of them didn’t race.

I went to Facebook to find an answer; specifically, a Facebook group called Women Bike Colorado. There are 3,106 members in the group. I posed the question,“For ladies who don’t race their bikes, I’m wondering what your reason is not to.” (Read the blog I wrote about this for Bicycle Colorado here)

It generated 300-something comments, half of which were from some seriously offended women. The resounding attitude toward racing was that it’d take the fun out of cycling. Second and third to that was time and money. Women didn’t have either.

Then the race season started. I got distracted and didn’t follow-up with the data I collected from my one Facebook post. Plus, I wasn’t even sure what to do with it.

Last week, a teammate pointed out that the women’s SW 4/5 and juniors categories were nixed from the race schedule for the Louisville Crit. He pasted the announcement:

Saturday is the day (August 25th). Louisville is the place. Please read the flyer. Things have changed a bit since it was first published. Due to some constrictions placed by the town, the schedule had to be jumbled, shortened, and cut. Make sure you know if and when your group is participating. The race now starts at a leisurely 9 AM. As a special bonus, some of the stars from the Colorado Classic are going to drop by to race and/or hang out for the awards party, so you might get to see those riders you just watched all week. Pre-reg closes at 11:59 PM on Thursday night. Race Day Registration is available.

You didn’t know which categories were axed until you went to the flyer. I asked my teammate where he saw that as I scoured the BRAC website and social media outlets. My teammate pointed to the weekly BRAC newsletter. I asked my fellow BRAC board members about this change and for an explanation. Apparently, there was a wedding scheduled in the area and they complained about the bike race.

With a schedule cut 1.5 hours shorter than originally planned, the only categories that were affected were the Senior Women’s 4-5 and the junior girls categories. As this was a Master’s State Championship race, those categories were safe.

After I sent the group email, Audrey responded offering a revised schedule that stayed within the confines of the new time requirements, didn’t affect the Master’s categories, and still found a way to let Senior women 4-5 and junior girls race.

We couldn’t understand why this wasn’t thought of first before cutting out growing categories. We already know bike racing is waning, especially with Jelly Belly and UHC pulling their sponsorships on pro teams. If we want to keep the sport alive, we need to keep categories racing. We need to inspire more people to race. And we need to keep it fun.

I reached out to Barry, the race director for the Louisville Crit, and offered him the schedule Audrey presented me. Luckily, Barry was open to the idea and gave Shawn the final say in the new schedule. Everyone came together in the matter of eight hours to bring the categories back.

Our next biggest challenge was getting women there to race. I personally reached out to several influential women in my network and asked them to pass on the message: prove that women want to race. Don’t give anyone a reason to cut the category ever again. It reminded me of the poem by Martin Niemöller,

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Granted, this is nothing like the Holocaust, but the point is that when we don’t stand up for vulnerable populations, even if it doesn’t affect us, there will be no one left to speak for us later. I wasn’t a Cat 4 or 5, but I used to be. It reminded me of why I joined BRAC in the first place – to reestablish the Women’s Development Committee and improve bike racing for women through women’s programs and beginner racer programs. The results? 14 Cat 4-5 women showed up to race that day. The biggest women’s group that day. That’s what happens when women work together and look out for each other.

I remember when I started racing – not knowing anything about it. I didn’t even know what category to sign up for, licenses I needed, or what I needed for racing. I want to find a way to make it less intimidating for a woman to try bike racing. I want to make it exciting and fun; to give women confidence to take beyond bike racing.

We had our first Women’s Development Committee roundtable discussion this past Sunday. 12 enthusiastic and passionate women showed up to the Brew on Broadway with their ideas to improve women’s racing:

  • Upgrade points depend on the number of participants
  • State champ jerseys in men sizes
  • Shorter courses/times, unequal payouts
  • Promote BRAC/racing at women’s events
  • Grow racing by making it fun, supportive, and friendly
  • Need good promoters and sponsors
  • Barriers to entry: cost
  • Are there too many races not enough quality races?
  • Need to consider national events when scheduling races
  • Add mentoring program
    • 1-2-3’s ride with beginners
  • Beginner Racer Program
    • 4 races through the year (crit, road, time trial, hill climb)
      • Preview the course, cheer on the sides, and debrief afterward
  • Spring women’s clinics
  • Women’s-only race
  • Combining categories
    • Open Women’s categories
  • Make races more easy to find
  • Start community rides out of shops for recreational riders to ride with amateur racers
    • Give them the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the sport
    • Make it social

I’ve already begun the process of updating the Women’s Program page, working with BRAC Executive Director, Shawn Farrell in reestablishing the Beginner Racing Program/Women’s Program (BRP/WP), brainstorming race directors/races who are open to including the BRP/WP at races, and reaching out to organizations like 303cycling and Bicycling Colorado to see what we can do to grow bike racing, especially women’s bike racing, in Colorado.

As Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

If you’re passionate (or know someone who is) about women’s bike racing and want to be involved, email me: jdmcwhirt@gmail.com

Race Anecdotes: Mt. Evans Hill Climb

The person who wins the race won because they were able to suffer the longest.

I suck at suffering.

It’s probably why I haven’t stepped on the top podium this season so far. Sure, I can handle racing, being uncomfortable, the pain, and aches, but I know when I’m really suffering, I ease off just enough to where I can stand it.

Racing 26 miles up a 14’er was no different.

The 3’s were grouped with the P-1-2’s (because that’s women’s bike racing) and I knew from the get-go the pace was going to hurt. I found myself in the front of the group, setting the pace, as it were. No one wanted to get out front. I figured at my pace, I could do this ride all day long, but I also knew that this pace wouldn’t last long and I was riding myself out for no reason.

I dropped the pace slow enough so that an antsy racer could take the lead. And then I was barely hanging on. There were surges after surges and every time I was able to spring back, my Suffer Meter raised a notch. We lost a few women and I didn’t dare look behind me. I didn’t want to see my future.

Finally, a Cat 2 surged with enough gusto that I lost the group. I tried to throw my weight on to the pedals. I tried pulling up, using any sort of hamstring strength there was, and the group was trailing away.

I thought I could keep them in sight with my current output but the distance slowly grew. And with seven miles, I could no longer see the group and I was completely alone.

Enter Mental Toughness.

You can’t solely rely on physical strength to carry you through the finish line, let alone catch you back up to the group. You need the mental stamina. And it’s even harder to train sometimes than hitting certain watts.

What did I do to earn third place?

I gave myself small goals.

When I was completely alone in the forest I focused on making it to the next mile. Thinking about having to Time Trial another 19 miles alone sounded awful. When I thought about it like that, my legs wanted to give up, and my brain was like, “nuh uh, girl.” I didn’t want to do it. At one point I considered quitting, taking the ol’ DNF. But my penny-pinching ass refused to pay $90 to quit 1/3 of the way through a race. So I continued on.

I focused on mile markers or made them as I went. “Get to the end of the road.” “Push it until you’ve made it 1 mile.” “To that tree.” “Get to that switchback.” I did it over and over again until I made it to the top.

I counted my pedal strokes.

When I couldn’t focus on the next mile marker, I counted to 3 by pedal strokes. 1…2…3…1…2…3 as I pushed down on the pedal. I’d match my breath with the pedal revolutions.

And when that didn’t work…

I sang songs to myself.

Any song I could think of I’d sing in my head. A lot of them were Sia songs, oddly enough. “I’m still breathing. I’m alliiiiiiiiiiiiive.” You get the point. Whatever popped into my head, I sung.

I stayed positive.

This was probably the hardest for me because I have an easy time tearing myself down, which we all do. We’re our biggest critics afterall. When I saw the rest of the women leave me in the dust, the negative thoughts started pouring in. I didn’t think I was good enough to be racing with these women. I know I called myself a poseur more than once. And for what? Because of a single race.

I realized in the grand scheme of things, this race won’t matter. The results won’t matter. What I’ll remember is the hard work I was putting into pedaling. The feeling of accomplishment. And the stories that’d last longer than the beer we were awarded.

I kept telling myself to keep trying hard. I wasn’t going to get stronger if I gave up. “You can do this.” Over and over.

And when I got to the top, I saw all my friends. We shared our stories of pain and fun. Took some photos and rode down the mountain. As I flew back down the mountain, I reflected on the spots where I was done, cooked, and wanted to give up. Flying by those spots, I already forgot what the pain felt like.

When I reached Idaho Springs, I surprisingly ended up in third. The entire time suffering up that 14’er, was for a step on the podium. The thoughts, “I’m not a climber,” quickly silenced as my team clapped for me.

——-

What are ways you motivate yourself when you want to give up?

Race Anecdotes: Sunshine Hill Climb

9 miles. 6 miles on paved road. 3 on dirt. 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

I continually try to to convince myself that I’m a hill climber. Sure, I do them. I sickly enjoy the burn in my quads and hammies when I’ve been turning the pedals for miles on end, unable to see the top of the hill, wishing for it to level off, sweat dripping from my nose, my chin, my hair.

But riding hills and racing hills are two very different animals. During a ride, if you’re fatigued, you lay off the watts and cadence to catch your breath and simmer the fire stoking in your legs and lungs. In a race, the moment you pull back is the perfect time for another rider to attack.

I race my bike because it gives me a sense of control. I control the outcome of my race. I send the signals to my body to back off or push harder. It has always felt the opposite when it comes to my life: events out of my control influencing the direction of my life.

But that’s kind of bullshit.

Just like we can choose to push harder or ease off in a race, we can choose what happens in our lives. So many of us blame the world, the economy, friends, family, “god,” for the good and bad, but in reality, it’s only us.

This is what I think about when I’m racing. It’s what I thought about during the Sunshine Hill Climb. Otherwise, I’m counting my pedal strokes. I’m trying to control my breathing. I’m feeling the drop of sweat slide down my forehead, over the tip of my nose, and settle in the dip above my lip. Or it slides into the corner of my eye; the uncomfortable burn that no amount of blinking rids you of the irritation. And of course, during a race, I have a difficult time moving my giant “Terminator” sunglasses to rub my eye, so I blink and blink and my eyes tear up, and then there’s only a slight burn.

The seven of us lined up where the official pointed. I joked, as I always do before a race, for Cassidy to pull us up the hill. As soon as the official blew the whistle, Cassidy took off. I told myself I’d try to keep up with her as long as I could.

I don’t like being uncomfortable.

I stayed on Cassidy’s wheel for about a half mile before my legs started screaming, “no.” Laura was right behind me and when I dropped off, Laura followed Cassidy. I tried keeping Laura insight while also staying ahead of Andie.

As Laura disappeared from sight, Andie was gaining on me.

You should know how the story goes by now: I let my self-defeating thoughts have the best of me. I called myself a loser because I couldn’t keep up with the stronger 3’s. We hit the dirt and they were gone. With every switchback, my confidence shrunk.

“How do they do it?” I thought. Surely, I wasn’t the only one in pain, losing the breakaway.

It’s times like these where you need to stay positive, to break down the race into manageable pieces, to actually trust your training, and most of all, have fucking fun.

I usually forget the most important aspect which is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, why are you doing the thing you’re doing? Life can be taken away from you at any moment so why spend it doing shit you don’t want to do?

So I smiled and cheered on Darrell as I finished the last 1K up the hill. Anna was there to cheer me on at the finish line. I saw my teammates and we shared our racing stories. We descended together and parted ways at the bottom.

It was when I pulled up to Chris waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, lounging under a tree, that I understood why I do this: because I love the challenge. I love knowing I control the outcome. I love the friends I’ve made through racing. I love how much stronger I’ve become because of it. And mostly, I have someone always cheering me on when I can’t muster the stoke myself.

Race to Fail – An Interview with Anna Dorovskikh

Do you race to fail or race to win? How about both? I had the opportunity to speak with Anna Dorovskikh, a Cat 2 cyclist based in Boulder, Colorado. We raced together as 4’s and Anna quickly moved up the ranks within this past year.

As a self-coached athlete, Anna remains humble as she continues to dominate whatever race she joins. I aspire to have her power and we can all learn something from her youthful wisdom and humbleness.

Give it a listen here.

Race Anecdotes: Boulder Stage Race

If you weren’t a climber there was an ice cube’s chance in hell you’d podium in the three races. Friday was an uphill time trial. Saturday was a time trial in Hygiene, which, flatter than the other two days, still had quite the hill to overcome. And Sunday, glorious Sunday, was a 36-mile road race, which pretty much felt like another hill climb, but longer, with more ugly-face efforts.

 

Friday: Eldora Uphill Time Trial

I wasn’t sure if it’d be more beneficial to bring my time trial bike or my road bike for this course. Half of the 7.5-mile course was relatively flat and I knew the TT bike, Zissou, would be beneficial for aerodynamics, but the other half of the course was a gnarly hill climb, which favored my road bike, Thunder. I opted for Thunder because I didn’t want to haul Zissou up the side of a mountain.

I honestly didn’t expect much from me or Thunder seeing as how I had yet to make the podium so far this season. I was up against some stiff competition in the likes of Anna and Andie, so I figured I was just paying for training and you know, the experience.

As I continued to warm-up on a side road, my bike didn’t want to shift to the little ring. I had a mini panic because that’s the bike’s job. Especially if I’m climbing up a steep ass hill.

I lined up with the other strong women, who you knew, had to be good at climbing because it takes a special kind of crazy to drive deep into the mountains on a work day to pedal uphill.

Ever since my bike fit with Pat last season, I’ve been conscious of holding my handlebars at the top instead of adamantly staying in the drops. I was so strict about following Pat’s orders that I completely spaced the aerodynamics of the drops at the beginning of this race.

More focused on pacing myself and watching my watts, I was quickly reminded by Alison Powers (nbd) who shouted at me from the side to “get in your drops!”

All I could do was laugh because duh.

My goal for the race was to keep Anna in sight. I knew it would be damn near impossible to catch her so I set lower expectations. Any time I couldn’t see her, I tried picking up the pace. At the same time, I kept an eye out for Andie who started after me. I’m surprised I didn’t get motion sickness from swiveling my head around so often.

The Hill wasn’t letting up and neither was Anna. She was quickly out of sight so I focused on my own efforts. My cadence was fast enough to churn butter. I didn’t see the other women behind me but I assumed I wouldn’t make Top Three.

There was no way, I thought. The other women are stronger than me. I haven’t been making the podium. Today’s not going to be any different.

The course winded around the hillside. People lined up along the edge with cowbells and music blaring. There were a couple of people taking pity on us, cheering just to cheer, but didn’t personally care how well we did. No one knew who I was or what pedal RACING was all about. I was just another cyclist who loved the pain of hills.

As I shifted gears, I came over the corner and saw the finish line. The announcer hanging out in a camping chair calmly saying over his mic, “here comes Jessica McWhirt” with pedal RACING. Then I heard Stephen yell out, “GO JESSICA.” I smiled as I pedaled over the white line taped across the road.

I had lost my voice I was breathing so hard. My legs quivered as I dismounted my bike to talk to Stephen and Anna. We watched and cheered for Andie, Jessica, and Sandy, I didn’t want to stay too long after the race and I was convinced I wasn’t making top three.

We knew Anna came in first, in which I called her out for thinking she’d do any less and I made some self-deprecating joke about my race performance. Then Stephen walked up to our group with the race results: “You came in second so now you can’t talk.”

I started cheering, “I’m number two! I’m number two!” like they do in that Ellen Page roller derby movie. Even when I came in second I was still self-deprecating.

I immediately texted Chris, my mom, and sister to tell them I finally placed in a race. I was pretty stoked.

I’m not sure if it’s easier to believe you’re going to win and be disappointed when you don’t or if it’s easier to set low expectations because then you’re pleasantly surprised with your results. I’ve always stuck with the latter. And I think that’s what has made racing so much harder than it needs to be. I focus entirely too much on results rather than this “journey” everyone tells us it’s all about.

I think it’s both. If I didn’t care about my results I wouldn’t train as hard as I do. I wouldn’t look at what I did wrong in a race and try to figure out how to do better the next time. But when I only focus on my placing and not the fact that I’m challenging my mind and body, overcoming fears and setbacks, and having the opportunity to race against badass women then it’s less fun and I get burnt out.

 

Saturday: Hygiene Time Trial

Today’s race line-up was reversed based on times. Jessica was first, followed by Andie, myself, and Anna. My goal was to not only try to pass Andie and Jessica, but to stay ahead of Anna.

Here’s what’s impressive: Jessica, Andie, and I all had TT bikes. Anna had her road bike and passed all of us.

You can have the fanciest bike but unless you have a powerful engine, your bike gadgets don’t mean shit.

Trying to stay at a steady pace while also trying to catch Andie, I was also focused on staying ahead of Anna. I was pedaling into the first hill and I could just feel her. I didn’t have to look behind me to know Anna was closing in. Then I heard shifting that wasn’t mine. Within the first mile, Anna caught me.

I yelled, “nooooo!” And then followed it with, “go get it!”

I was asked recently how are the other women whom I race against. “They’re awesome,” I said.

Sure, we are there to beat one another on the course, but off the course, we chat, we joke, and we congratulate each other. I’ve yet to have a bad experience with another female racer. I also don’t look for it though.

I go to the race with encouragement and humor. I want all of us to do well, to set PR’s, and accomplish goals. I don’t want to see anyone getting hurt or treated badly. I’m there to win but I’m also there to encourage the women next to me.

I watched Anna grow smaller and smaller ahead of me as Andie grew bigger. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d pass her. This is where I lack strategy. Like when do I push it past her? How hard should I push? Am I pacing myself correctly?

We hit a flat section on the course so I turned up my watts. As I closed the gap between us, some random dude (who apparently doesn’t know basic cycling etiquette) cycles past me on my right without announcing himself. I’m lucky I didn’t cut over to the right fast otherwise I’m sure we would have crashed.

I waited for him to pass and then loudly announced my passing to Andie. I tried staying off the dude’s wheel as I hauled past her. I searched ahead for Jessica but couldn’t see her. I wasn’t sure what place I’d get, but I knew every second counted.

I took a slow right-hand turn and booked it to the finish line. Completely spent but energized by the race. Again, I didn’t think I’d place because I’m always quick to disregard my abilities. I rolled up to Anna at the registration area where other cyclists gathered to share their race efforts with each other.

I didn’t really want to know my placement, but at the same time, I was curious to find out where I placed since I passed Andie but never caught up to Jessica.

I was 9 seconds faster than Jessica. Anna blew me out of the water by two minutes. I hung around for the podium because I finally made it to the steps. We joked about flexing our quads as we stood atop the wooden boxes. After a very mediocre season thus far, it was a relief to finally have my name called.

 

Sunday: Lyons to Nederland Road Race

It’s classified as a road race, but let’s be honest, it’s a 36-mile hill climb.

Having two days of racing back-to-back then racing this bastard of a race, I knew would be a challenge. I tried getting extra sleep, dialing in my nutrition, and recovering properly, but if you’re not ready, then you’re just not ready.

I lined up with the women and made a couple of jokes out of nervousness. Knowing full well I was tired and that there were strong women next to me, my goal was to try to stay with the group.

It was a neutral start, which simply means we slowly follow a vehicle to a certain point and then we can go race-pace. I learned from my last road race at Superior Morgul that if I hold the front more often than not, I’m going to be tired at the finish.

I was at the front at the start of the race, I don’t know, hoping to set the pace, next to Anna, and realized I did not want to be at the front, especially next to Anna. I knew my pace was child’s play compared to hers, so I dropped back and held on to her wheel as long as I could.

We were maybe three miles in and just like most of the road races this season, the group maintained speed and I couldn’t. I saw Anna, cool as a cucumber pedal off, as a group of five other women sucked her wheel.

And there I was. Trying to focus on breathing and counting my pedal strokes when Julie, my teammate, came up alongside of me. I jumped on her wheel among the rest of the group. There was probably 8 of us or so. Julie and I pulled for a while.

And seriously, it was just a fucking grind. There is no better way to put it. The road continued at an incline. There was no recovery. Slowly, women dropped off the group. I told myself I couldn’t lose the group. It would have been unbearable to Time Trial that race with the headwind and never-ending hill.

A couple MW 40+ attacked trying to drop as many of us as they could. As I pushed and pulled up on the pedals, my hamstring seized up. I didn’t have experience dealing with major muscle cramps so I didn’t know what to do.

The group was pulling away, my right hamstring was cramping, I was letting off the pedals in hopes that the cramp would pass, and I realized there were still ten miles left before the finish.

I had to make a choice and it had to be fast: suffer for the next minute to catch the group and hope the pain would disappear or pull back, let the cramp dissipate, and time trial alone for ten grueling miles that I knew would feel so much worse.

I shifted gears, stood out of my saddle, and pedaled my ass off until I caught back up to the group. One Cat 3 woman was left behind in the headwind and never-ending hill. And as I caught up to the group, the sigh of relief was both for myself and the would-have-been-miserable Jessica I didn’t leave behind.  

The women attacked again. We countered. I was hanging on by a thread. I wanted to rest. I wanted them to ease up. Hell, I would have been thrilled if someone was like, “Let’s take it easy for the next mile.” It wasn’t happening. We hit a downhill and I found myself stuck behind a nervous Cat 3 descender, much like myself. We lost the group. I told her we could work together until the finish. I hadn’t preview the route because why would I do that? It would have only been just a little beneficial.

I’m being sarcastic.

Because I didn’t know what to expect the last mile or so of the course, I blew out my legs on the last big climb. There were cars parked at the top, people standing around, waiting for their family member or friend, and it looked like the BRAC trailer was there too. I took it up a notch (because I definitely didn’t have the energy to sprint) and saw her drop back. As I pedaled closer to what I thought was the finish, I soon realize I still have 300 km to go. If I didn’t have such big sunglasses, the crowd would have seen my panicky eyes looking for the finish.

Laura caught up to me. I was gassed and regretful that I spent my remaining energy on a false finish. We went back and forth the last 300 km. She’d get ahead, then I would. Neither of us seemed to know where the fuck the finish line was. I even said that out loud as we hauled up the rest of the way: “Jesus, where the fuck is the finish line?” There were more people up ahead. I saw the 100 km sign. I tried to muster by last bit of energy, but I was totally spent. Laura was ahead at the finish line and beat me by a few seconds. I ended up fifth, which wasn’t a surprise.

Anna had been finished for 12 minutes by the time I finished. It’s inspiring to see someone excel so quickly and humbly like Anna.

While I was bummed about my mediocre finish, I was excited to see my husband waiting for me at the end. When you give so much of yourself to a race, you also seem to lose a bit of yourself at the same time. When you’re expecting better results and they don’t come, it’s discouraging. When you see other competitors kicking ass, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. We’re told not to compare ourselves to others; to race our own race, but what is competition if not trying to be the best? You compete to win. How you define “winning” is up to every individual.

I struggle between the notion of competing against myself and against others. I race because I like the competitive aspect of it, even when I hate it. I also race because it makes me stronger and faster than before. And because I’m competitive, I can’t stand losing. It makes me feel like a failure; like a poseur. Like, if I’m not winning, how can I lead a team of women racers? If I’m not winning, what will my family be proud of me for? If I’m not winning, how can I be proud of myself? I see plenty PR’s on Strava, but seeing a PR on a segment is much different than seeing my name next to #1.

It’s important to find that balance between self-improvement and competition. And I think it comes down to self-compassion. We end up being our biggest bullies instead of our biggest fans. You can be competitive AND self-compassionate and I’m trying my best to learn and implement that.