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Race Anecdotes: Darkblade Systems Thunderblade Senior Road State Championship

There we were, the four of us, joking about making it a group ride instead of a race. We asked Shawn if there were any cafes on the Air Force Academy base.

I had two thoughts: where the hell were all the Cat 3’s and I only have to beat three women.

The 3’s had notoriously shown up in small numbers over the past season. As a fresh Cat 3, struggling with internal motivation and realizing what other racers coined “the graveyard,” I was both discouraged that our category size was laughable but also motivated to win.

Truly the only goal I made as a new Cat 3 at the beginning of the season was to win one race. After mid-pack finishes after the other, I thought to myself, “I just have to beat three women.” The thing about courses and racing and racers is that people race to their strengths. Non-climbers didn’t sign up for this race. Hell, two of the women who raced against me admitted they weren’t climbers but they signed up to support the category. Like, how admirable is that?

After my sub-par performance in all the hill climbs over the season, I wouldn’t have called myself a hill climber either. Franky, the day before this race I came in DFL. While I held back in that race to perform better in this race, I still came in last, and I’m sure my holding back didn’t make that much of a difference.

So, there we were, lined up in front of Shawn, the Executive Director of BRAC. We had five 9-mile laps for a total of 45 miles. The four of us, Katie, Nicole, Ashley, and myself agreed we’d ride together as long as we could because truly that was more tactical than dropping each other at the get-go.

Ashley fell from the group first. While I wanted to make it a group no-drop ride, I remembered I came to the race to win, and I knew (at least I told myself) she realized it was nothing personal.

At one point, we caught up to the P-1-2 women who were really treating it like a group ride. We didn’t know if it was best to pass them or hold off in case someone attacked. Our group got bored enough soft pedaling that we ended up passing them.

One of Nicole’s teammates on ALPs shouted at her to not lead the pack. I laughed, knowing full well we were all taking turns at the front. I said something back to that effect. Also, I wanted to let her know she should worry about her own race.

A lap later, the Cat 4/5 women passed us. There were about nine of them in that group. I felt silly being passed by the Cat 4’s as a 3 in the sense that typically that doesn’t happen on these longer courses. But alas, there were only three of us taking turns at the front, which inevitably is harder than a group of nine women taking turns at the front.

I had to remind myself that I could not stay in the front the whole time, even if I was more comfortable there. I had to trust that Nicole and Katie would point out obstacles and people. And they did. We were working together, not against each other. There’s a time and place to be ruthless. Like 500 meters from the finish line or if someone is sucking wheel, refusing to take a pull. Sure, maybe that’s tactical, but it’s also kind of an asshole move. It certainly would have been with just the three of us.

With two laps to go, we lost Katie. It was kind of ironic to have been racing against her a year later on the same course. She was the friendly Cat 3 who I rode with in one of my first road races the season prior as a Cat 4. And then there we were: both Cat 3’s, Racing for the State Champ title. I tried to encourage her to keep pushing just as she had done for me the year before. When I looked back the distance between Nicole and I and Katie had doubled. Nicole asked if we should wait for her. I wanted to but I told Nicole, “I mean, this is a race.”

Again, I had to convince myself that Katie knew it wasn’t personal.

I noticed Nicole was taking shorter and shorter pulls. We were no longer chatting; only breathing. A couple of words between deep breaths and sips of water: “almost there,” we said on more than one occasion.

I saw the 1km sign. Hold back.

Then I saw Alison Powers, Nicole’s team coach. She usually bikes on the sidelines and yells out tips or motivation to her team. I kept the pace the same, waiting for Alison to yell to Nicole. I knew it was coming. I also knew Nicole would listen and do as Alison instructed. That’s how her team operates. I think it’s inspiring how dedicated the team is to Alison and vice versa. Alison knows her shit. And how, almost automatic the team operates. Everything is drilled and dialed in. When you race against ALP, you’re racing against a well-oiled machine.

Who knows what people get when they race against me. As the only Cat 3 on pedal, I don’t get that opportunity to train as a team with tactics. I’m learning as I go. And also, racing against the same people over and over again throughout the season, I picked up on some of their tactics.

I knew Alison was going to give Nicole the cue to sprint to the finish. I was exhausted. I always struggled with the sprint finish – which is where all the racing comes down to. The last 250 meters. I could only hope that Nicole had less gas in her tank than me.

I kept my eyes forward, Alison and Nicole in my peripheral, waiting. I could see the white line up ahead, the orange fencing approaching fast, and there it was:

“SPRINT NICOLE!!”

I could hear Chris up ahead yelling at me: “GO! PETER SAGAN!”

Thoughts flying through my head, all telling me to push, as hard as I could; that I wanted this win. Nicole dropped from peripheral. My lungs were burning, as were my legs. I didn’t dare look back or get cocky and raise my arms in the air.

And just like that, I came in first place. I congratulated Nicole for her finish on a tough course. I also thanked Alison for the cue. We waited for Katie and Ashley and cheered for them as they crossed the line.

We were all friends after that hellish race with those struggles in common. We endured head wind, exhaustion, climbing 3,700 feet, and the same awestruck of the “graveyard.”

Typically, winners will earn upgrade points, but there needs to be a minimum of five racers. I was the State Champ but I didn’t get a single upgrade point. At least I had good company in the grave.

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.

cars

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.

Real Body Image Talk

Hi. My name is Jessica and I have a problem.

I cannot look at my body without having some sort of criticism. Today, I found some broken blood vessel on my face. It looks like a freckle but up close, it isn’t. I stretched the skin around, inspected it as if I was a scientist, reviewing cells under a microscope. I found the vein. I leaned away from the mirror to see if it was noticeable as it was up close. All I could imagine were varicose veins plaguing my face, like some kind of connect-the-moles game. I started to relive fifth grade again. When the kids made fun of the moles on my face: “Moley! Moley! Moley!” mimicking Austin Powers.

I used to think I had strong, muscular legs. That was until I had a body fat analysis scan that revealed most of my fat is in my legs. Oh, and arms. Now all I see are sausage legs in my cycling kit. I don’t look fast. I look fat. I look like when you stuff a giant pillow into a tiny pillow case – seams and material stretching, pushing maximum density, as it curves into itself.

I am more self-conscious now in shorts knowing full well that there’s more fat than muscles. And I rub the sides of my thighs a lot as if I could rub away cellulite like you do with scuff marks on the floor. Once I scuffed the floor from my bike tires. I tried all different kinds of solutions believing one of them would finally wash away the black rubber streaked across the laminate wood flooring. Finally, I took a butter knife and etched away at the black.

I can’t etch away cellulite.

When I walk, I can feel my inner thighs rubbing together. I know it isn’t muscle because of how much it jiggles. It’s soft and flimsy like silly putty. Only I can’t mold my thighs like a stone statue. And my thighs smash into each other when I sit – doubling in size. I try not to look down when I’m sitting because I know I’ll see a single thigh. One giant, jiggly, fatty thigh.

And I eat another piece of chocolate.

My shirts lay against my stomach just right where I can see the little bump that no matter the number of crunches, planks, or skipped meals, it stays there. I constantly tug at my shirt to hide it, pulling material loose. Using two hands sometimes to stretch the material if it hugs my belly too tight.

I’ll dig my thumbs into my hips trying to find the bone. Then pinching the excess that peeks over my jeans. If no one’s around, I’ll lift my shirt high enough and stare and scrutinize my midsection. Twisting and turning to view every possible angle in a desperate search to find the most flattering. Tightening my stomach, pushing it out, and sucking it in to find the right amount of contraction it’ll take to make it look flat. But it never gets as flat as I want it to. I look down and see that fucking bump every day.

And my gaze travels up. Up to my back where skin folds along my bra strap. Months and months of back strengthening exercises and there’s still back fat leering. Months of attempting to cut portions, match my carb-to-protein ratio, and staring longingly at cookies. Sometimes, I’ll reach behind with a false sense of optimism believing that I’ll be unable to pinch anything.

I call my breasts “orangutan boobs” and now you’re picturing it. A sign of getting older and the effects of gravity. I joke their small size keeps me aero on the bike. Always self-deprecating. Never self-appreciating. I also joke about my “bingo flab,” also known as triceps.

Again with the months of Tricep exercises believing that one day I’ll defy gravity and there won’t be loose skin hanging below my arms. That when I do the first place stance my arms will look strong and mighty, not droopy.

And while I complain about all the physical limitations and imperfections of my body, I never apologize for taking up space. Rarely do I complain to the general public about the size of my thighs or the numerous moles on my face. And when I get really fucking down about my body, I remind myself that at least I have a working one. It takes a single accident to lose it all. With all the activities I do, my flabby stomach drops when I consider what it’d be like to no longer ride my bike, hike, run, stretch, walk, and take care of myself. At that moment my eyes look at the blue sky instead.

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

Riding the Ford GoBike up Hawk Hill

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to visit Strava’s headquarters in San Francisco. It was a great opportunity to meet my co-workers and visit somewhere I’d never been before.

San Francisco’s Ford GoBikes are much like Denver’s B-Cycles in that you share these bikes across town, park them in designated areas, and try to stay under 30 minutes to avoid paying a rental fee. They also weigh like forty pounds or so I’ve been told by their frequent users.

During a rookie cookie conversation at headquarters with Simon, I learned a group of people joined him in racing Ford Gobikes up Hawk Hill, Lookout Mountain’s equivalent.

My interest piqued.

I had already grown familiar with the Ford GoBikes with my commute to the office from the hotel. I was also told that Hawk Hill had the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It really took no convincing on Simon’s part for me to agree to riding up Hawk Hill on a Ford GoBike.

Simon sent me the video from last year. It looked like a blast. I saw it as a challenge while most saw it as probably stupid.

It was supposed to be a recovery week, but I woke up in my hotel room, pumped to get this ride started. I threw on my exercise gear, filled up my water bottle, zipped my jacket, and walked to the Ford GoBike location.

The plan was to meet at 7:00 AM to give us enough time to be back at the office. 7:05 hit and I figured, “he’s probably just late.” And then it was 7:15 – still no one around.

Once i saw 7:20 AM, I assumed I was stood up. I sent Simon a message on Slack that I was heading out. I secured my backpack in the front hole on top of the bike with a small bungee cord, entered the code to unlock the bike, mapped the route with google, and with a surge of anxiety, I set out on my solo journey to Hawk Hill.

Rarely do I fly by the seat of my pants, or any seat, for that matter. I was worried I’d get lost or end up on a highway or arrive to work super late and get fired.

I listened to google in one ear while commuters zoomed past. If it weren’t for their sunglasses I would have seen the weird looks I’m sure they gave me, like, “why is she taking a Ford GoBike this far out of the city?”

Google directed me all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge with only a few minor I’m-going-to-pull-over-and-double-check-this. By the time I reached the bridge, I knew there wasn’t enough time to climb Hawk Hill and get back in time for work, so I turned around at the other end of the bridge and headed back to the office.

When I parked the bike, I read through my Slack messages. I wasn’t stood up. I had the date wrong. I was a day early.

I’m not totally sure where I thought I read Wednesday, so I felt quite stupid having waited around for Simon and then biking my solo journey to the Golden Gate Bridge on a Ford GoBike.

Thursday rolled around and I didn’t want to stand up Simon so I planned to ride again, but this time up Hawk Hill with a friendly face. Simon showed up at 7:00 AM, just like he said he would.

We both had on our Strava kits. We packed our belongings in the semi-basket on the front of the bike, started our Garmins, and were off on our Hawk Hill adventure. Because I had Simon with me, we took an entirely different, yet more direct route (although with more hills) to Hawk Hill.

We got the same crooked neck response as I did the day prior because who takes a 40-pound bike up a hill, outside of city?

Once we hit the hill of Hawk Hill, it was frankly pretty moderate. I settled into a steady pace and watched the fog hide the Golden Gate Bridge from us. Without my clip shoes, it felt a lot like mountain biking, since I still have flats on my bike. Pushing down on the pedals all the way up to the spot that I was told had the best views of the city.

As cyclists bombed down the hill, they smiled and laughed at Simon and I as we pedaled our 40-pound bikes up to the lookout spot. All I could do was laugh as Simon rang his Ford GoBike bell at the passerby’s.We’d smile and wave at the cyclists, and I couldn’t help but think that this is the cool thing about life: going on adventures, doing things out of our comfort zones, saying ‘yes’ to opportunities, and making friends.

We stopped at the spot I was told had the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was completely hidden by fog. Nothing but a white cloud laid in front of us.

I joked about where I SHOULD be seeing the bridge and that I’d just imagine the sight. We couldn’t relish in our effort for too long so we kicked back the kickstands and commenced our descent.

The 40-pound bikes flew down the hill. I started to second-guess the brakes. Simon, being all-too familiar with this rode and the Ford GoBikes bombed down the hill, while I slightly tapped the brakes every few minutes, to confirm they were there and working as they should. Honestly, I guess I don’t know what I would have done if I tapped the brakes and they didn’t slow me down.

We took a different route back to the office – directly through the city, but also through the Presidio with the tallest trees I’ve ever seen. I ended up riding 20.16 miles that day. Definitely didn’t recover much on the trip.

Moral of the story: say ‘yes’ to new experiences, even if it’s your recovery week.

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?

Give Yourself Grace: An Interview With Stacey Richardson

Mental health is something everyone has either heard about or deals with, but it’s often not talked about. It’s one of those topics where we feel weird discussing with others. It’s especially vulnerable when you’re an athlete.

As athletes, we’re kind of known for toughening it out, grinning and grinding through injuries, exhaustion, and failures. You need to be tough to compete, it’s as simple as that. Even though most of us are physically tough, mentally, a lot of athletes struggle. And we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to be seen by our teammates or our competitors as “weak,” so we stay silent.

I recently read an article about athletes struggling with depression and how they cope. Stacey, my teammate on pedal RACING, and I talk about famous professional athletes in our honest discussion about mental health and what it’s like to excel in cycling while managing mental health issues.

Give it a listen: