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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.

PHP: voluntarily kicking your own ass before the sun comes up

For at least the past year, I was consistently told, demanded, and jokingly harangued to join the pedal RACING men on this unofficial-yet-has-an-official-name ride Tuesday and Friday mornings near Cherry Creek State Park. And for eleven months, I found excuses to avoid it: “Gotta work,” “maybe next time,” and my favorite: “one of these days, I’ll join you.”

I knew it was a sausage fest and the thought of hammering out the watts elbow-to-elbow with testosterone-pumping broski bros didn’t turn me on like it did my male counterparts.

I didn’t see the benefit of waking up at the asscrack of dawn, trying to find the elusive meeting spot, only to potentially make a fool out of myself or crash or hell, maybe both.

Then one of my female pedal RACING teammates swallowed her pride and dropped all apprehension and joined the dudes. After seeing her activity glittered with kudos and Strava bling, I had immediate FOMO. Kinda what social media does to us, right?

All the encouragement and positive comments convinced me that, sure, I can at least give it a try once to see what it’s all about. Not to mention the fact that this season as a Cat 3 has been exceptionally soul-crushing and challenging watching my competitors leave me in the dust as I suck [wind].

From all the mediocre finishes, I was desperately seeking another type of training that’d increase my speed, skills, and maybe confidence. The pedal RACING guys had been telling me the past year how PHP would make me faster and it wasn’t until I saw my female pedal teammate speak highly of this impervious ride-but-actually-it’s-a-race-for-us-newbies that I realized, “shit, if I try to ride [operative word being “try”] this with faster people, maybe I’ll get faster.” Sure, we all have to figure these things out on our own.

So I hardened the fuck up (Rule #5) and on May 22nd, I joined my first PHP ride. The meet-up was on the bridge at Cherry Creek and Holly. I didn’t see a single person when I drove past looking for a parking spot. Am I in the right spot? I frantically thought.

I parked alongside the road and scanned passing cyclists for any hint of a gathering. I applied my chamois cream, buckled my helmet, slid on my shades, and started my Garmin as I attempted to look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going.

I slowly rolled up to the bridge five minutes ‘til and there were two dudes hanging out. Seriously, five minutes before and no one is here? I’m totally at the wrong spot. I finally mustered up the courage to ask one of the guys if this was the meeting spot for PHP. He smiled, “yep.”

And like clockwork, 60 (that’s a rough estimate) cyclists appeared out of nowhere. Just in time to Hammer. I found my teammates who were both shocked and excited to see me finally own up to my word. Then the game plan was laid out for me: “this is just the warm-up before we get to the park.” “Watch out for the potholes. It’s the worst right here.” “You’ll get dropped up the first hill. It happens to everyone. Just wait at the top for the group to come back.” “Oh, the ‘S’ turn. You want to be toward the front because it’s like an accordion. If you’re on the back at the ‘S’ turn, you’ll get dropped. That’s what happened to me.”

Loads of tips were offered as I tried keeping pace during their “warm-up.” Of course I wouldn’t keep up at the first hill. It was race-pace for me. I could only speak a few words before another giant breath.

“The fuck did I get myself into,” I thought, as we made our way down Colorado Blvd.

We rolled into a parking lot just outside of Cherry Creek State Park to reconvene. I was told sometimes they broke into A and B groups. This time they didn’t. A couple of other teammates showed up and we started rolling out as a giant peloton-ish group.

As soon as wheels touched the perimeter of Cherry Creek, it was full gas. I picked a Jersey in front of me and held on. Luckily, drafting kept me on the pace line.

The group rides the Cherry Creek Time Trial course, which I’m quite familiar with, so I knew where the hills were and sections of the road to avoid. As the first Hill was coming up, I kicked it down a gear (high cadence, lower power) and tried to keep up with the quickening pace.

Men flew by me on my left, they flew by on my right, and the rest of us left on the hill, pushed and pulled on our pedals, trying in vain, to reach the top of the hill before the peloton was completely gone. Our heavy and rapid breathing became a choir of novices and determination.

I was dropped.

The peloton was nearly at the bottom of the hill by the time I recovered. My buddy, Zuzana, and I, collected ourselves, and followed the group down the road.

We watched the giant mob grow smaller and smaller and just like that, it was like the group of 50 men were never there.

Too proud to not do the full route, I zoomed around the lollipop loop with a couple of other stragglers. We formed a small group of three as we pedaled up the second Hill (which, on later rides, I would eventually be dropped) desperately seeking the peloton.

We didn’t even know what direction they went, so we guessed. We didn’t know which road to take to get back to our cars either. As we biked back to the entrance of Cherry Creek, we saw several dropped riders, like discarded litter on the side of the road. One man was headed back to the elusive meeting spot where he was also parked, so we jumped on his wheel.

The meeting spot was as bare after the ride as it was before.

As soon as I was back to my car and uploaded my ride to Strava, the kudos, the bling, and the comments poured in. I PR’d segments on the route I didn’t even realize.

I saw the others with whom I started the ride and kudo’d them. It was like I had been initiated into a secret society that anyone who follows them on Strava knows about. My own friends asked what PHP was and I had to tell them I had no idea what it stood for, but… then I’d detail the crazy ride I experienced.

I’ve since started commuting to PHP with a few men from my team. It’s about ten miles from the Littleton meeting spot to the PHP meeting spot. The guys told me it’s also a warm-up to PHP, but by the time we get to the bridge, I’m drenched in sweat, I’ve QOM’d segments, and my glasses are foggy from my warm face. Then PHP commences. I follow that with a ride on Cherry Creek path to work. I end up clocking in about 54 miles by the end of the day.

I’ve only seen a few other women ride at PHP, notably two Cat 2 women from Palmares who seem to be regulars. I could see why this would intimidate anyone who just started racing: you’ve 60 amateur cyclists trying to be like the pros, riding on public roads, 99% are dudes, testosterone is raging, and you’re privy to crashes.

One time I joined a B group actually formed. Some people think the B group is slower, but I work harder in this group because I actually get a turn to pull. It was both a good and bad experience. It was good because it was bad. It taught me how to handle myself and my bike around people who didn’t.

The men didn’t understand how a paceline worked and once they came to the front, they’d take off. The group would break up, there were no longer two lines, and we had to reel them back in. Halfway through the the route, I was sick of no one calling them out and I was concerned for my safety. I finally asked this one older dude, dressed in his green PHP kit (to prove his seriousness and dedication to an elusive bro’s club), if he was part of the paceline because he kept shooting off the front.

He growled back at me, “I’ve been doing this for ten years. Don’t tell me what to do!” Now, 18-year-old Jessica would have opened a bottle of verbal whoopass. 29-year-old Jessica swallowed her pride and bit her tongue hard enough to draw blood. Instead, I told him, “calm down, it’s just a ride.” Another teammate of mine tried to settle him down as well as a Palmares racer rode next to me and very loudly said, “For what it’s worth, you’re fucking right and he’s wrong.”

I tried to not let the dickhead ruin the rest of the ride. But it also made me realize it’s guys like that who turn women off from joining PHP. To men, it seems like it’s all about comparing not just dick sizes, but bikes. I know women can be combative, catty, and of course, competitive. But for a woman to join PHP, it’s much more than riding with the bros. We want to get faster. Stronger. We want to learn skills. And there aren’t many opportunities for a woman to do that in a big group setting. When there are women’s workshops, we’re lucky to hit double digits.

I think the fear is what I worry about each time I go to PHP: being the only one who can’t keep up. Getting in a crash. Not having anyone I know there.

Luckily, I have teammates who care about my wellbeing and are great examples of how to treat others in the peloton. They hold their line, they call their pass, they tell me where I need to go.

Each time I’ve joined PHP, I’ve been able to stay with the group longer, which says something about where my fitness is going. My good cyclist friend, Anna, tells me all the time to ride with guys because it’ll make me faster. And I think I found the guys who will do just that.

Race Anecdotes: Guanella Pass Hill Climb

The last time I rode Guanella Pass I did it “for fun” and not at race pace. I let myself take breaks. I took my time. I enjoyed the scenery.

And it was three years ago.

Mistakenly, I thought riding Squaw Pass last weekend would prepare me enough for the 10-12% grades and the guns a’blazin’ race that is the Guanella Hill Climb.

I used to pride myself in my Hill-climbing abilities based off of the numerous organized rides I’ve completed like The Double Triple Bypass, The Copper Triangle, and Ride the Rockies. I love to climb. I love challenging rides. I thought that because I rode these rides without quitting and the fact that I seemed to pass quite a large number of people that I was relatively skilled in Hill climbing.

But until you ride these routes during a race with people at or above your ability, you’ve no idea how strong you actually are.

You don’t get participation awards in races. Nor should you.

I falsely assumed I was a strong Hill climber because of my riding history. And that’s the problem: my history. This past season I have done very little climbing. Little compared to how much training I need to do in order to compete at a Cat 3 level.

Desperate to find the answer as to why I performed so mediocre in the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, I searched through podcasts. Of course, VeloNews had an episode about Race Tactics and Training. I downloaded the episode in hopes of a training revelation that I’d soon realize after listening.

“What would these experts instill upon my second-year-racer mind?” I wondered.

Train for your races.

If you want to race up mountains, that’s where you focus your training. You can’t just throw in a couple of mountain passes and call it good, which is what I did.

If you want to perfect your sprint, practice your sprint.

If you want to be able to hold watts for a specific amount of time, then practice that.

It’s so obvious we forget to do the simplest thing. If you want to get better at something, you need to consistently practice it. Duh right?

My problem and realization is that this is my second year of actual racing. Truth be told, I have no idea my strengths or interests. Okay, that’s a lie. I know I have endurance. I can ride all day long, but at a slower speed. This isn’t helpful for racing. Therein lies the problem: find out your strengths and weaknesses within racing so you can train appropriately. Also, figure out what you actually like to race. Hate climbing? Don’t sign up for a hill climb. Hate solo efforts? Don’t sign up for a time trial. Don’t like going around the same 1-mile course for an hour? You probably won’t enjoy crits.

Like I said, I like climbing. It feels like a bigger accomplishment when I’m overlooking mountain ranges as opposed to taking 90 degree turns at full speed.

The race started fast like all the other Cat 3 races have this season. I clipped in just fine which is always my biggest fear during races. As soon as the whistle blew, I was pumping out 300-something watts, which I knew I couldn’t hold for an hour. I hung on for maybe 300 meters and couldn’t hold on. That’s the hardest part mentally for me: knowing I don’t have the strength to keep up with the group for longer than 300 meters. That as hard as I pushed, my screaming legs were louder than my will to push.

And then it was a time trial the rest of the race. 10 solo miles climbing up hill with 10-12% grades, headwind the whole time.. I’m starting to sound like my grandmother. Not that she ever raced a bike but I do remember hearing stories of walking to school uphill both ways, carrying a hot potato to keep warm.

The self-defeating thoughts that poison your mind during an effort like this are never ones you’d say to a friend, let alone, repeat out loud. So why do we do it to ourselves?

Truth be told, I’ve been attempting, in vain, to kick the negative thoughts out and replace with more positive words. Any time the thought, “I’m not strong enough” crept into my mind I tried reminding myself that strength takes time.

When I thought how much my legs hurt I switched to counting pedal strokes.

I constantly tried changing my thoughts during the rides. What we think, we become. Right?

I was mentally and physically exhausted by the end of the ride. My time was so mediocre, the announcer didn’t bother saying my name as I crossed the finish line alone.

As I caught my breath and attempted to stay upright, I realized my training during the off-season focused more on endurance. Rarely was I climbing mountains December through March, mainly because they were covered in snow.

What you train will become stronger. Whatever it is that you want to excel at, you must consistently train.

Race Anecdotes: Rule 9 and Superior Morgul Bismarck Road Race

Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. -Velominati

I wish I could call myself a “badass” and believe it. The conditions for the road race were worse than the Time Trial the day before.

It was a drizzling 40 degrees that soaked your bones. I forgot my low-light sunglasses and my base layer. I was waiting for it to start snowing.

Lucky for us, a teammate brought the team tent, so we at least had shelter as we warmed-up. As my body temperature finally raised, I saw Dustin, a Cat 4 Pedaling back, holding his arm against his body. My immediate thoughts were, “oh god, he fell and hurt his arm.” Actually, he was just too damn cold during the race.

He shook as he told us about the drizzle and puddles of water.

“Oh, fuck me,” I thought, knowing full well I was underdressed for this race. I knew this race wasn’t getting canceled. It said so on the flyer: Rain, snow, or shine.

Dustin said, “just stay on the front. You’ll stay drier that way.” And sure enough, I took to the front, which ended up being detrimental.

I learned that you don’t gain fitness during a race. Instead, you bring your fitness to the race. 

I noticed one team, in particular, didn’t pull at all. They never went up front in the pack. They sucked wheels the whole time. I remember thinking, “how fucking lame. Do some work.” It wasn’t until the final sprint up “The Wall” that I realized bike racing is a game. And to win, you have to be strategic. And that team played the game right. They saved all their energy until the final climb and used it to drop me like I was hot.

My mistake was going to the front. And I did so out of fear. The only strategy behind it was to stay dry and prevent water from splashing in my face. As I learned in the race the day before, I mentally freak out when water hits my face. Where this fear cams from is beyond me.

So, instead of sucking wheel and saving energy, I pulled up front. I even tried changing the pace to see if it’d spark something. No dice. It was an amateur move, but I guess this is only my second year of racing.

The second climb up the hill I felt good and I was in front. I assumed that if this was any indication of how the final lap would go then I’d come in third.

It wasn’t. At all.

The final lap came. I was in the front. I heard the clicking of gears. I pushed harder. Then, like a tidal wave, the group of women swarmed past me. I tried pushing harder. I had nothing more to give. My legs weren’t having it.

I told myself, “push! Come on! Don’t give up now!” I was silently yelling at myself to not let this happen. And my brain convinced my body I wasn’t strong enough. The self-defeating thoughts flooded over me. “I’m not cut out for this. Just make it to the top and call it a day.”

You don’t gain fitness DURING a race. You bring your fitness TO the race. Something I continually forget and have to improve. Work on your weaknesses off the course so you’re strong during the race. We all make mistakes. We’re human. Don’t let fear (of failure or of water) deter you from doing your best.

Race Anecdotes: Superior Morgul Time Trial

Grey clouds stretched across the sky as sweat poured down my face. I wished for dry weather. My interval timer lit up green, signifying a 60-second break before my next effort. Then a couple of drops fell on to the screen.

Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Droplets multiplied with each interval. Halfway through my warm-up, I could no longer decipher between sweat and rain.

I peered across the parking lot full of stationary cyclists. Heads bobbing and faces glistening from sweat and drizzle. Everyone staring at the ground unless a familiar face approached their little five-foot training zone.

I always want to look tough, for whatever egotistical reason. I guess it’s one of those beliefs that if I look the part, maybe I’ll act it. I have this fear of people thinking I’m weak so I assume if I act like I’m not gonna take anyone’s shit, no one will mess with me. I learned that back when I was in elementary school and was constantly ridiculed about the moles on my face. I taught myself that if I confronted the bullies first, they usually backed down. Then I became hard and people left me alone.

I rolled up to the start line, regretting not dressing warmer. They counted down: 5…look at all the fucking rain.

4…god, I hope my legs are ready.

3…just catch the women in front of you.

2…I don’t want to come in last.

1…fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck

Go.

Water attacked my face and my legs were already burning before I reached the woman in front of me.

I always wonder if I’m the only one whose legs burn prematurely, who wants to give up five minutes into the race, who hopes for a mechanical so I can blame something else other than my inabilities.

I pushed each pedal until I caught up with her. Water splashed in my face. I broke my aero position to wipe my glasses. The rain smeared away leaving foggy mildew behind. My breaths were no longer smooth. They were quick, short, like I had no air.

Losing my vision is my biggest fear.

This ride tested my mental fortitude of racing and not seeing in front of me. I imagined hitting a pothole, sending it over my handlebars, and breaking my neck. Every time I couldn’t see through my sunglasses, I thought I’d crash.

Between not wanting to come in last and not becoming a paraplegic, I was a ball of anxiety. Slowing way down at turns out of fear of slipping out and crashing, allowed the woman who started after me to catch up. I heard her shift gears, saw her out of the corner of my eye, and I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. We raced alongside each other up the hill, dodging piles of hail, puddles of rain.

“Don’t let her get ahead of you,” I thought. I’d gone too far to let her pass me at the end. I saw the orange cones ahead. I picked up my pace as she slowly drifted behind. I pedaled faster. I heard Stephen from inside the RV shout “go Jessica!” And I crossed the line.

The lady pulled over to tell me she didn’t realize it was the finish line. I’m not sure how you miss it, but that’s neither here nor there. I thanked her for inspiring me to work harder because I was mentally checking out before she caught up to me. “You pushed me harder at the end because I didn’t want you to pass me, so thanks for that.”

While I missed third place by 11 seconds, I learned that you can let fear control you or you can control fear. I realize too often I let fear imprison me. I slow down out of fear. I ease off wheels out of fear. I can’t clip in at the start of the race out of fear.

But fear is a choice. And every time we face fears, there’s one less thing that controls us.

Be Gracious When You Fail: An Interview with Angela Pizter

Listen to the podcast here:

Jessica: Okay, so it’s been it’s been a week and a half since the Zwift race and not a lot of people know about the series and all the other different events and stuff that you can join. So, tell me about the Zwift Crit Series. How’d you learn about it? What were all the rules? What all did you have to do for it?

Angela: Okay, so I actually spend a lot of time on my trainer, unfortunately, doing workouts just because the most convenient thing for me to do as a mom is just hop on the trainer. I was on Zwift.com one day just kinda looking to see what group workouts there were and I saw this post about this KISS Crit: North American KISS Crit.

I thought, “Well, what is this?” It ran from December 7th through February 28th and they took two weeks off during the holidays. You raced every Thursday night. We mostly did the volcano circuit. There were two time slots: You could sign up for the 6:00 PM or the 9:00 PM and you had to race that same time slot for all 10 races.

The only thing you had to do was have a Zwift power count; you had to wear a heart rate monitor; you had to have your rides/races posted to Strava, and they had to be public. You could use power-ups in these races and you could use any bike you wanted except for the TT bike. You had to have a smart trainer or regular trainer with a power meter on your bike. They weren’t accepting Zwift power results.

I thought, “Okay, well I can do all those things” and then I kept reading. They said the best 7 out of 10 races would count the top finalists and they would win an all-expenses-paid trip to the finals at a date later to be announced. I thought, “Okay, well I’ll try this and see what it’s about.”

You know, the five races I did last year I got dropped somewhere in the beginning of each one of them and I was really frustrated. I wanted to see why was it happening. When you’re on Zwift, whether you’re riding or racing, you can see the watts per kilogram that you can put out versus the people that you’re riding with. I thought this would be a perfect way to see, you know, is this just a thing that I’m not strong enough? I don’t have a high enough FTP? Or am I just really lacking race experience and that’s why I’m frustrated and having trouble? This was a great way to figure that out so that’s the whole reason why I got started in the series. I never realized I’d have a shot at qualifying. That wasn’t why I signed up to do it. I just wanted to figure out what were my struggles.

Jessica: So, did you find them out?

Angela: I think so. I mean, it was kind of interesting because in the first race that I did I had a technical issue. I got put on the wrong course. Me and this other woman did, so we didn’t even really get to ride the race. Then in the second race, I found out that I just wasn’t able to keep up with the front group and I finished 4 minutes behind them. I got really kind of upset because I was looking at the results and looking at the watts I was holding, the watts they were holding, and I was looking at this going, “You know, I ride at the same watts they do. I am just as strong as these other women, why can’t I keep up?”

In the third race I did, I ended up being 1:25 behind the lead group, but I caught up during the middle of the race. I finished with them. From then on, I just made it my priority to make sure I started fast and make sure I was able to keep up with the group at all costs. I was able to do that throughout the whole rest of the series. As I was able to stay with them, I learned that I didn’t have a strong enough sprint as the other women did so sprinting was something I needed to work on.

Each race you learn more and more with what you’re able to do and what your strengths and weaknesses are, and I feel like it gave me this whole new season before the road season started.

Jessica: Yeah, no kidding. Do you think all that training and stuff will transfer over to road?

Angela: I sure hope so, at some point. The first few races have been kind of frustrating. It’s like, “Now I know what I need to do. I just need to get out there and execute it.”

Jessica: Do you know what next race you’re going to sign up for?

Angela: I’m going to try the team time trial this weekend at Hess. I’d like to sign to sign up for Fed Center crit. I think Guanella is my actual first A race of the season. I got to kind of get moving on that.

Jessica: What was going through your mind when you found out you made it to the finals?

Angela: I really couldn’t believe that I had made it to the finals. And there’s kind of a story behind that: technically speaking, I came in 6th place in the series. I came in 6th place by 3/100’s of a second. And in racing we know how crucial those 1/100 of seconds can be sometimes.

One of the women who was in the Top 5 had a prior commitment so she could not make the finals. Then they asked me if I was available. On March 5th I finally got an email from Glen Knight, who is one of the founders for the KISS organization that put on the race series that I had been invited to the finals. I was really excited ’cause the series ended February 28th and in my mind I was kind of done and it was done and it was time to move on, to train for the regular season.

I was really excited. I was like, “I’ve got a month to prepare” and as you know, we prepare for our A races 3-6 months ahead of time. You know, we put a lot of effort and a lot of work into it, so I was like, “Oh my goodness, I only have a month. I gotta get ready. I gotta figure out what I need to do.”

Jessica: So, what did you start doing? How did you train for it?

Angela: I figured that the best thing I could do is to try to do 1-2 Zwift races a week and looking at the schedule for the next month, there weren’t a lot of women’s-only races, so that meant I really needed to just sign up for races. I did a lot of those against men. I thought this would be the best chance to build and keep my fitness. I would just try to hang on with the A group. You know, the A-riders, the ones who ride between 4-5 watts per kilogram.

I’d usually make it the first half of the first lap and then I would settle in with the B group. I was able to hold on when I got dropped from those A’s. I would just try to finish as best as I could in that group. I would do that 1-2 times a week. I would go outside and work on sprinting ’cause it’s not one of my strong suits. And you know, the crazy thing about sprints in these e-crits is that they’re really like one minute to one minute-and-a-half long, so they’re not really like your traditional length of the sprint that you would do in a regular crit. You were in extended lengths of power longer. I tried to focus on my diet and try to be really regimented in what I ate.

Because part of Zwift racing, like when you go do these live events, they weigh you to make sure the race weight you’re putting in is accurate, so the game is actually figuring out your watts per kilo correctly. They call it weight-doping. They want to know that you’re not doing that.

But it was the same kind of things that you would do in real life training for a real race outside. That’s kind of the stuff I tried focusing on.

Jessica: Wow. That’s crazy. How’d you do in all those different little races leading up to it?

Angela: I didn’t do too bad. In the B’s, I would come in like 3rd or 4th, but there may only be 5 or 6 people in that group. I just tried to make sure I was keeping my average watts high and my watts per kilogram as high as I possibly could. I just tried to push myself as hard as I could every race.

Jessica: Have you retested your FTP since doing this race?

Angela: I have. Actually, I use Exert. Exert will figure out your FTP like per training ride you do or per race you do. So, you always have super up-to-date FTP. So, between December and now, I’ve actually raised my FTP by 26 watts. I’m really happy with that improvement.

Jessica: That’s awesome. Wow. So, when you got to California and you met all the other finalists, what were they like?

Angela: You had women from mostly all over the United States. There was one woman from Canada that came and everybody had kind of an interesting story. The first woman I met was Barb and we shared an Uber from the airport to the hotel, where they put us up in. So, talking to her kind of made me feel like, “Oh no, am I in over my head with this?” because she rides with Kristin Armstrong and she was a pro mountain biker in the 1980’s and she is a marathon skier; she does marathon ski races, so she’s in super great shape. Then we got to the hotel and we met some of the other women.

For instance, Brit Mason – the woman who won the race – she’s a firefighter and she focuses on ultra-mountain bike races – 100 miles or more. From meeting her, most people don’t choose to be firefighters. It’s really one of those jobs that I think is kind of above and beyond your average person. You really have to be willing to lay your life down for other people. She just really exudes not only physical strength, but strength other ways, so I really admired her for that.

I met a woman from Hawaii. They only have 5 USA-sanctioned races a year in Hawaii, so she’s on Zwift to be able to race. There was another woman from Alaska where there are no sanctioned races where she lives, but she’s actually on a board that puts on bike races.

I met another woman named Kate, who’s a stroke survivor. There was another girl, her name’s Laura, and she just recently got married three weeks ago. Her husband lives in Scotland, but she works in the US, so she goes back and forth. She rides Cross. I believe she’s a Cat 3. She rides cross for the US and cross in Scotland.

The woman who came in third place, she’s a real estate agent and her and her husband ride tandem bikes. And they actually train with the Produce cycling team ’cause they live in Indiana. And then there was another woman, who is married. Her and her husband both qualified to do this race. And she’s married to a World Champion, Double Master in Road and Time Trials. So, you have these people from all walks of life who have different experiences. Some have never raced outside. Some race indoor and outdoor. Just have very different experiences. It’s just really neat to meet them.

Jessica: I was just going to say, how did you feel coming from Colorado with your own life and like, meeting all these crazy ass racers?

Angela: I really felt like I was in over my head. I don’t ride with famous pro cyclists and I don’t have these amazing jobs. You know, I just felt really – it was really humbling.

Jessica: How amazing is that though? You got to race against them. You’re just as good as those guys.

Angela: But it was really cool because you know how it is. The cycling community is a different community. It’s different than other sports. In other sports, people are constantly bragging about their equipment and the people they meet and how much money they have. The cool thing about cycling is that people are really down to Earth. You know, we really relate to each other on a personal level and we don’t care who has what. The person next to us could have a $20,000 bike and yours could cost $2,000 and it doesn’t matter. You know, we’re all there, pushing ourselves and working toward common goals and we love the sport.

It’s just much more down to earth and real. And so it was really neat to meet these women and the guys too. You know, who were racing in the men’s finals. People inviting me – “Hey, if you’re ever out here, look me up and we’ll get together and go for a ride.”

Barb was like, “You should try skiing. I’m going to get you on cross-country skis. When your kids get a little older, come out to Idaho, and I’ll teach you to ski. You’ll love it.” You know, just neat people.

Jessica: I don’t know if you’ve been able to watch the recording or whatever of you guys racing, but while we were all surrounding Michelle’s TV, they panned to you guys a tiny bit, then it’d be like, the announcer dude for a while. What was going on when you weren’t being recorded? What happened behind the scenes? Anything crazy cool?

Angela: Um, there were some crazy frustrating things that happened behind the scenes.

Jessica: Oh really? Like what?

Angela: So, the hard thing is, we had a lot of drop-outs in our race. And what I mean by “drop-outs” is when you’re on your trainer and you’re pedaling and you’re doing whatever you’re doing for watts, we’d have drop-outs for watts where our power would go to zero. Or it would drop to 1/3 of what we were doing.

In our race, I feel like that kind of changed it for some of us. That was one of those behind-the-scenes that you didn’t see. There were times when people like Katrina, were in the front group and her power dropped. She ended up :50 behind everybody at pretty much the very beginning of the race. And so, they had kind of told us that once we get to these preme laps, “We can’t power anybody up to get them back to the group. You have a drop-outs, you have to get back on your own.” They would move the amp stick to get us going again, but they weren’t going to use the power-ups to get us back.

We all had power-up buttons we could use in the race. They would come over and push the button down and hold it down and you would get a giant boost in your watts. They’d go up to 1500 watts and then they’d catch you back up to the group, but once those preme laps started, they told us they weren’t going to do that anymore.

That was something that was going on kind of behind-the-scenes, behind the camera, that wasn’t necessarily talked about.

Jessica: I know there was one instance where they panned over to you and you were yelling or saying something and none of us knew what you were talking about or what you were trying to say.

Angela: Yeah, I had a drop-out towards the end of the race and I actually had 11 of them during the whole race. My one that really frustrated me was during the 8th lap and my power dropped for fifteen seconds. And at that point, I had already made the break from the group that I had been riding with; I was :20 in front of them, just trying to hold on because that was going to put me in 6th place. I had a drop that lasted for about :15 and one of the women, she caught up to me and she took advantage of it and she went; I mean, you can’t blame her.

Any of us would have done the exact same thing. And so, I feel like I let that psychologically get to me though because when I got back up and going, she was only 7 or 8 seconds ahead of me;

and I kind of wonder, had I been willing to push it, had I been mentally tougher, I kind of wonder, “would I have been able to catch back up to her?” Would I have been able to chase her down or not?

And so, even when we did have those drop-outs and they were frustrating, I kind of feel like that’s one thing I learned, that maybe I’m not as mentally tough in some situations as I need to be and so that was eye-opening for me; that was good for me to see.

Jessica: Well, and that’s something you can take with you to more races too. You’ll remember that moment and you’ll be like, “I let that moment fly and I didn’t push as hard as I could have or whatever, you know I’m not going to let it happen again.” When you find yourself in a break, you won’t let it happen again.

Angela: Right, exactly.

Jessica: I wouldn’t be hard on yourself though because you can’t help that there was a fifteen second power outage. I lose my mind when the power drops for three seconds. I’m like, “What is going on? I’m not at my power right now?”

What deal were they using? Was it CycleOps, Tacx? Who were they using? What was the trainer?

Angela: They were CycleOps. It’s hard to know. I don’t think it was necessarily the trainer because they allowed us to have our cell phones and to have music and you know, nobody was telling people to put their phones in airplane mode when they came in. So, it could have been a million different things.

You know, to Zwift’s credibility, this is only the second or third live competition they’ve ever put on before. You know, all this is kind of in its infancy, and so, between that and the fact that they were actually moving buildings that weekend – they were moving offices – they really did a great job putting the event on.

Jessica: Where was it actually? Was it in their office? Was it in a bar?

Angela: No, it was a nightclub called, “On the Top” and it was kind of a speakeasy, little place, like on the third floor in the building. It was a really fun place. For the live event, they had tickets on Eventbrite and they had catered food. It was an open bar. It was a really party atmosphere. It was really fun.

Jessica: That’s cool. I had absolutely no idea. I saw Nate 1,000 times ringing his cowbell and the rest of the crowd. You could only see the rest of the stage with you guys up there riding, but other than that, I had absolutely no idea where they were at.

Angela: It was a fun little nightclub.

Jessica: What was your favorite moment from this experience or most memorable?

Angela: So, I would have to say there were two general moments. I really feel like meeting the women and the men that I met and the friendships that I made. I’m still racing in an eight-week racing series with four of these women and we chat a couple times a week through Facebook. You know, whether we talk about racing or things that are going on in our lives or whatever. And so, I’ve really enjoyed that.

A favorite moment from the race was in the 7th lap, we had 1/2 a mile to go before the elimination banner and I managed to pull away from the group at this point and put a 5-7 second lead on them because I really wanted to make sure I didn’t get eliminated.

And so, I was able to do that and once I got through the elimination banner and knew I wasn’t going to be eliminated. I hit 8.6 watts per kilogram and just tried to get away further away from them and that’s when I kind of made that break; that ended up being the :20 break I got on them, so that’s the first time I’ve ever made a successful break in a group, either in a virtual race or a real-life race. That was one of my favorite moments.

Jessica: Yeah, we remember watching that too and we were like yelling at the tv; we were like, “OH MY GOD! She’s going for it! Keep going!”

Angela: It was so fun because Brit Mason was on one side of me and Barb was on the other side of me and at that point. Barb was out of the race and Brit was in the lead with Ellen. She looked over and they were both like, “Go Angela, Go!” Liz was like, “Thirty seconds of your life, just do it! Just go!” It was so in the moment and so fun.

Jessica: What was the most difficult moment because I’m sure there were plenty.

Angela: I think the most difficult moment was that power drop and just not being in a place mentally where I needed to be. The whole race was hard. I think a few minutes into this thing and I was kind of done. I was like, “Can I stop now?” Then I kept thinking, “No. There’s people watching. I have to keep going.”

There was no quitting.

That was really one of the difficult moments for me and then realizing too, after, we got through part of the first lap and when Katrina got dropped in the first part of the race and she was :50 behind and they powered her back up to the main group, they overshot her.

Everybody thought she was attacking because I don’t think everybody knew what was happening. They had all us lined up in a long row so the people on one end couldn’t what was happening on the other end. And she was on the other end. I was kind of closer to her so I kind of knew she was having problems. But I don’t think everybody knew that. They thought she was attacking so then everybody kind of tried to take off and I’m not a great sprinter and that’s when the group split into two.

At that point, I was kind of disappointed that, “Aw, now I don’t even have a shot to like, do this. I just have to work really hard to keep from getting completely dropped and eliminated.” I was kind of frustrated with myself at that point too, but that’s racing. I mean, that’s what happens.

Jessica: There’s a lot of women I know – after I asked that question in Women Bike Colorado – who are interested, but intimidated by racing. Intimidated can be like, not just scared of racing, but, “Hey, that’s going to take up too much time” and whatever. If you had met someone who was kind of interested in racing, what advice would you give to them to just get started?

Angela: I would tell them to just try it. I had a really good friend of mine who, as a junior, she raced in Europe for a couple years, and she raced the circuit here in the US. She told me one day during one of our rides: “You talk about this all the time. Just try it. Just try one of every kind of race and see what you like.”

I think fear is something that keeps a lot of us from realizing our potential in all aspects of our lives. I kind of feel like you have to push past that fear and not think about the what-ifs because life is full of those. You have to try things. You have to do things. You have to go live life.

I would just encourage them to just try it and tell them, “You don’t have to start out on the road. You can try virtual racing if the thought of being outdoors with other people makes you nervous, you can try virtual racing because it’s really easy. You just need a bike and a trainer.”

You don’t even have to spend a ton of money on the trainer. You can race inside. You can see what it’s like and what it feels like and see if it’s something you want to dedicate time to. That’s what I would tell people. Just try it, you know, and ask other women questions. We all had to do this for the first time at some point so we’re all more than willing to help you get started. What can I do to help you? That’d be my advice.

Jessica: That’s good advice. I mean, you don’t know until you do it. Every time I read about failure it’s also considered data. So, you know, when you fail, you just received information and if you look at it that way it doesn’t have to be a judgment call about you as a person or anything. It’s honestly just feedback, it’s data. Use that to do whatever you want with it.

Angela: And the most successful people in life fail. A ton. You can’t succeed without failure. It’s part of the equation.

Jessica: I totally agree. Alright, last question: why do you race?

Angela: Oh. There are races that I race in that I ask myself, “Why am I out here suffering?” It’s kind of miserable sometimes. The truth is I love it, you know. I’ve always liked to ride my bike and racing just seemed like the next step, the next thing to try. I think it keeps me motivated to take better care of myself. I eat better, I try to get more sleep. It’s something that my husband and I both enjoy doing together, so in that respect, it’s good for our marriage I think. I think it makes me a better mom. My kids see me making healthy lifestyle choices. They see how much I train. They see what it looks like to work hard. They see that sometimes you work really hard and you can achieve goals and sometimes you don’t. And at the end of day, it’s okay.

I want to teach them that there can be humbleness in success and that they have to be gracious when they fail.

I just feel like all around it makes me a better person. I like to push myself. I am competitive, and I think most women are if they really would just admit it to themselves. I think that’s okay.

Jessica: Yeah, I mean you shouldn’t feel bad about being competitive. I think it’s an awesome quality to have.

I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me tonight.

Angela: Oh no, thank you. I appreciate you taking your time.

And one other quick, quirky thing is that during the 7th race of the series, they had a cycling team, La Grange, out in California, they had an event at one of the bike shops out there. They had about 10 or 12 women from that cycling team, riding that race against us. So that night we had a larger field than we normally had and they did a whole Zwift podcast. We didn’t even know that was happening until after the fact. I was kind of like, “Why is this race so hard?” and I started getting on the internet to see and they had broadcasted it on Facebook. That’s what it was. So, they did some quirky things with us too that made it kind of interesting.

Jessica: Oh wow. Crazy. Keeping you on your toes. I’ll let you get back to your evening.

Angela: Thanks, Jessica.

Race Directors are People too

I met with Rene Macias, race director for the Bill Davis Road Race (formerly known as the Rio Grande Road Race) to gain insight into putting on a road race in Colorado.
After giving him grief for what I considered disadvantages for women’s racing, he invited me to chat in person about my concerns. He could have easily brushed me off and never responded to my email, which would be the easiest option for someone. It says a lot about Rene taking the time to not just to email me back, but to also suggest meeting in person to talk about my issues.
I sent him the following:

Hi Rene,

I hope this message finds you well. My name is Jessica and I’m a Cat 3 racer. I was looking at the registration flyer for the Bill Davis Road Cup Race and noticed that the Cat 3 women only receive merchandise whereas the Cat 3 men receive a cash payout for the top 5 riders. Same goes for Women 40+. At the same time, the Cat 3/40+ women pay the same registration fees and have less race mileage.
I’m wondering if you’ll discount the registration fee by 25% because the Cat 3/40+ women are racing 25% less terrain and don’t receive any cash payout for their placing.
I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day!

 

Cheers,

Jessica McWhirt
**********
Rene’s response:
Hi Jessica:
If you would like to sit down and have coffee to discuss your concerns over entry fees and prize lists, please let me know.  I would be happy to discuss your concerns and previous concerns from last year on rider equality as you mentioned in the survey you completed last year as well as through the emails sent.
Respectfully,
Rene Macias
**********
Yes, I sent him a similar email last year. So I agreed to coffee. I put my money where my mouth was and agreed to meet Rene in Denver. I walked away from our meeting with a new level of respect for race directors. I now want to do what I can to help race directors like Rene, encourage equality in racing, and grow women’s racing.
Like most amateur athletes, race directors have full-time jobs they juggle alongside putting on a race.  Rene is no exception. He has a full-time job and two daughters. I learned he has to front a lot of costs to put on the Bill Davis race and barely breaks even every year. That’s due to all the permits he pays for to use the roads, the cops, and emergency personnel, and other various admin fees, like USAC and officials, to put on the race.
Not to mention the fact that Rene went door-to-door to the citizens of the county to get their buy-in before he put on the Rio Grande/Bill Davis Road Race. He explained the benefits of the race for the neighbors, essentially creating a marketing plan not only for sponsorships but for the locals.
Like most races, there just aren’t enough women participating to encourage race directors to pay out equally among all categories.
We like to think of race directors as short-sighted, but after learning that Rene has been directing races for thirty years, it was hard to argue that he “doesn’t get it.” Economically, it makes sense to pay out the categories that bring in the most revenue. But it begs the question, “will paying more in smaller fields draw more participants or do we need the participation first to encourage equal payouts?” It feels like one of those shit-uations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
We both agreed that it made more sense to payout by percentage of participation, which means more participants, higher payouts. It encourages more women to race without detracting from the current high participation fields, namely the men’s fields.
We spoke further about women’s participation in road bike races in general. We also talked about Venus de Miles and its success in drawing hundreds of women to its annual organized bike ride. It’s one of those never-ending questions that still doesn’t have an answer. When I asked the women in the Facebook group, Women Bike Colorado, the biggest reason was that racing would take the fun out of cycling.
No one’s saying you can’t have fun riding your bike fast. No one is expecting anyone to win. We’re all out here participating for a number of reasons, one of which is to have fun. Others race because they like the competition. People like me find it fun to compete.
If you ride a bike and don’t race, how come? Why do you think there aren’t there more women racing?