Late last year my coach said to me at the end of one of our tough Wednesday morning smashfests something along the lines of “you’re starting to do alright Jen, I reckon you should start racing next year, there is a race up Mt Buller in March I think you should do”.
Before I could even be chuffed about some recognition for improvement, panic immediately set in. Oh noo noo noo. I don’t ‘race’. I just ride for fun. Races are scary. Aren’t they? And as if I’d be good enough to go in a race anyway, I would come last.
The ‘someone has to come last’ mantra has been bumbling around in my head since then. I tried to be logical…’it doesn’t matter if you’re last’… ‘at least you’re getting out there and having a go’, ‘no-one will think any less of you as a rider if you come last’.
My fears were compounded by the fact that while the mens race had grades A through to D, the womens only has A or B..and I am probably a C grade rider. Its a catch 22 situation, they need more women to enter to have more grades, but most women are put off by the fact there are only the two grades. I say most women, because some women have ‘coaches’ who convince them to enter.
This was probably October last year. Its now March. That race has been in the back of my head the whole time. Most training sessions were peppered with the thought of try harder, that race is going to be hard. Don’t give up, you can’t give up in the race. Do more hill climbing!
In December last year I went and watched my two friends race in the Tour of Bright, and I rode around while they raced. While they climbed Tawonga Gap from Mt Beauty, I did it from Bright. After their time trial in the afternoon I chased my other friend Brendan out to Freeburgh from Bright and back. When they climbed (most of) Hotham I gave them a head start and then rode after them when they’d left Bright (tough ride on your own by the way).
All the time with the thought of ‘don’t come last’. So with this driving me, my riding has been steadily improving. Sure I’ve had bad rides, one in particular on a 37 degree day in January up Buller to get our 7 peaks stamp springs to mind, but overall its been on the up and up. As they say though, the riding doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.
With a couple of weeks to go until the race I was home one weekend and asked twitter for some advice about a good ride to do as a lead in to the race, and that’s when Jen’s Great Adventure took place.
After that I was just a bucket of nerves every time I thought about the race. We did our annual paddle trip, which meant a weekend off riding right before the race. So the Friday before we left, I got a cheeky two laps of the boulevard + 3 reps of Yarra St in (to replicate the last bit of Buller of course). Job done! (see a post soon about the trip).
And then, all too soon it was Saturday and Rach was coming to drag me off to Mansfield for the weekend. As luck would have it, we managed to score my in-laws place while they were staying at my place. House swap!
After another great lunch at The Produce Store in Mansfield we did some shopping for our pre-race dinner. Much like the last supper, or a prisoner on death row (as I felt) we had to have something good. Tofu and vegie stir fry with ‘jasmati’ rice. Thats right, some kind of bizarre jasmine and basmati rice hybrid.
After getting settled in we headed back in to town to watch some of the crit. The women had already finished racing and we were just in time to see the presentations. I had a mild panic attack at the size of their legs in comparison to mine, but thankfully Rach appeared equally as awestruck.
I have to say the crit was confusing for us to come in on halfway through, it took us awhile to figure out who was racing, who was next, how it worked etc. We did notice a massive difference in watching the D, C and then B grade men.
But as we were keen for an early night we opted to head back, relax for a bit and then get dinner ready so missed out on the A grade guys.
My pre-dinner nap was interrupted by the noise of Rach starting to cook dinner. Imagine waking up and forgetting your friend has shaved her head…I thought a criminal had broken in and was cooking for me.
Dinner was awesome and in the name of carb loading we ate almost all of it. I wouldn’t be coming last for lack of tofu! Sleep was…not good. Is it time to get up yet? No. Is it time to get up yet? No. Is it time to get up yet? No..but I’ll get up anyway.
After enough breakfast for three people we headed into town and I gave Rach some brilliant advice about where to park. Right in front of The Produce Store! As it turned out this was not a good place to park as it was right where the big inflatable start line was supposed to go. There was some kind of announcement about a green car being in the way and an embarrassed Rach hurried off to move the car while I kept lining up.
And what a line it was! It took forever!!
After a brief ‘warm up’ around some backstreets of Mansfield we hurried back to the start line to see Liam in the B Grade men off and then all too soon it was our turn. I had a chocolate outrage gel for the road and then we were off and racing.
Rach and I had positioned ourselves at the back. Not because we didn’t want to do any work…oh no wait, yes that was exactly why we were at the back. That, and being my first race I didn’t want to be up too close to the action. At first we just cruised, my heart settled somewhere around where it is supposed to be located and I stopped chanting “you’re okay, its okay, you’re okay, its okay, you’re okay” in my head.
Rach and I exchanged a couple of quizzical looks about the pace..or lack of but it was all on soon enough. POW! We’d speed up, then slow down, speed up, slow down. This went on for awhile. There was a couple of BIG pushes, the worst one for me was going downhill, I almost got dropped, my heart jumped back up somewhere near my mouth and I had to push really hard to get back on. I did think that was it, *THIS* is where I get dropped and its all over red rover. But I got a cheeky “good work” from Rach and it was back to the fast/slow riding.
Honestly, for me it was scary and chaotic. Wheels were overlapping (mine too), girls were all over the place, at one point I ended up way too close to the front and had to slowly wriggle back. I even caught sight of the A grade girls up ahead and I said to Rach “holy crap we’re catching up to the A grade girls”, I think Rach muttered something like “that’s because they are probably riding in two straight lines and not like crazy people”.
Around that time the girl in front of her touched the wheel of the bike in front of her and Rach had to do some evasive riding, luckily everyone stayed upright. Maybe all races are like that…but it was a bit crazy! I tried to get a dextro bar in before we started climbing and ended up with a mouthful of energy bar I couldn’t swallow. Good to know for future races, when the going gets tough…stick to liquid! I choked it down and kept the other half for later.
So we’d all managed to hang on until we reached Mirimbah and then once the climbing started proper the group got blown apart. I went into full panic mode (don’tcomelastdontcomelast) and watched wistfully as Rach and her entourage disappeared in front of me. Then I realised I wasn’t coming last (yet). I saw I was gaining on a couple of girls, overtook them and continued on my merry way.
And merry it was. I passed a D grade male rider and then I passed a couple more of my group, who then caught me a few corners later and we alternated pretty much all the way (collecting another D grader) until it was 3km to go. That climb went so quickly, I remember seeing the 12.5km to the summit sign and then 6km-ish and then it was 3km.
By now I’d realised I probably wasn’t going to come last, I was okay and I started to enjoy myself. The girl I’d been riding most of the way with put the hammer down now and took off, I didn’t go with her, and don’t think I could have stayed with her anyway. So I was left with one other rider next to me heading to the finish.
We came around one corner with about 1km to go, and there were some more riders! I managed (with her encouragement) to get around one of them, and then I was totally stuffed, and on the worst part of Buller too.
Finally though I was at the finish, except it wasn’t the finish! Rach, Liam and Ren were cheering me on to keep going! – you had to go around this weird little corner and finish in some back carpark.
Luckily I must have been just close enough in front of the girl I was riding with for her not to come up and overtake me, or maybe she was just really nice but she let me get over the line first.
And that’s it. Just like that. Goal done. First race – don’t come last. Check. I said I would be stoked to come 2nd last so to come 11th was awesome. Rach, Ren and Liam caught up with me and Rach kindly advised me she’d come 3rd!!! 3rd!! What a legend!
I was so full of happy right then, I just felt awesome!! There were no thoughts of riding back to Mansfield as we’d initially thought we might. I was trashed and looking forward to a coffee and a nice lie down. Luckily Ren was able to drive as the three of us were really in no condition to drive. Well, two of us anyway, Rach actually looked quite fresh.
Here is Rach during the presentations (how tough does she look):
and here is the three of us before the race:
All in all, it was a positive experience. I did think I HAD to do this to know. Do I like racing? Can I race? The answer is yes and yes. Which makes doing all this training worthwhile.
I will say though, my legs ACHED so badly that night I had to ice them, take two voltaren and have half a glass of red wine. Slept like a baby though!
My thoughts have now immediately turned to the Tour of Bright in December. Stay tuned…