Remember to shift. You have gears now.
That will be the primary lesson taken home from tonight's short-track race.
Other lessons about training, preparation and such will have to wait until next year. There were, prior to tonight's race, only three races left in the Portland Short Track Series and my goal was simply to survive and finish each one, placement be damned (because my placement would be whatever number of women showed up to race in my category and I accepted that when I decided to race this year).
When signing up for this race, I agonized briefly over whether to register for Cat 3 women or Cat 2 Master 45's. Technically, OBRA rules state that once a racer turns 45 s/he can pretty much self-select a Category and race there, though sometimes officials do ask a rider to "cat up" (or down) depending on their showing at multiple events. (Sandbagging has been known to happen, though that's not a worry in my case.)
I decided that (a) I knew I wouldn't be fast but I could handle a bike and that ought to come back to me quickly enough; and (b) I didn't really want to share the course with all those Juniors who were still learning how handle their bikes safely and politely. Plus, waiting until 6:30 would mean that I'd be on a course that had been reasonably "broken in" by the previous Categories, another bonus in my book. So I gulped hard and signed up to race my age group.
It was ridiculous and I knew it.
My best lap happened on the pre-ride, when I practiced anticipating shifts so that I could take advantage of the lower gears. For someone who has raced singlespeed exclusively, this will be the biggest part of the learning curve and I will definitely have to practice for next year. For tonight it wasn't bad and I only fumbled a couple of shifts. The other part of the pre-ride that made my night was discovering that, after eight months of not riding off-road, I could still handle a bike in the dirt. I was slow as molasses but I didn't crash (good thing, since I have a gig next weekend!).
Meanwhile, I discovered that multiple gears are a revelation -- and they made it possible for me to race without achy knees, because whenever I needed to take it easy on my knees I could shift down. At the end of the race, I was severely winded and exhausted, but my knees didn't hurt. That right there was pretty cool.
Tonight's course was fast by short-track standards; lots of twisty-turny stuff in the trees which turned out to be lots of fun and a fairly straightforward layout in the moto section. If you could get up your speed and lean just the right amount you could carve through the tight turns and on the two occasions I pulled that off it was really enjoyable.
Because I hadn't trained at all -- no gym membership, no interval work, only a few climbs up Overlook since last November and lots of multi-modal trips when wrenching full-time began to take its toll -- well, I was sadly out of shape. I had to walk or run my bike up to the top of the two steepest berms on most passes, pulled over twice to catch my breath (though I did not need my inhaler -- I wasn't wheezing) and managed to eke out three laps while most of the women in my category pulled off five.
On the one hand, it's embarrassing. On the other hand, it's only a little embarrassing because I hadn't originally planned to race at all this summer. Now I'll do the remaining two races, emphasize the fun, and figure out how to renew some semblance of a training regimen without the benefits of a gym membership (because I doubt I can afford that next year). I called Sweetie tonight after my race to let know how it had gone. She asked me if I felt like I wanted to train seriously and race this age group on a geared bike next year. I said yes. So we'll talk about how we can make the training part a little more doable and fit it into my new schedule (when I go to part-time at Citybikes and part-time at temple).
Meanwhile, I have a bike-fitting scheduled for tomorrow morning so I can race the last two weeks of the series on a bike that fits me a little better than the loaner I raced on tonight (thank you Fritz! You rule!).
Cyclocross is already on some folks' minds (the season begins in September); but I know already that I will not race cyclocross anymore. My knees can't handle racing in the cold the way they once did, and now that I will be working nearly every Sunday it will be impossible for me to race at Cyclocross Crusade anyway. There is a smaller race series that takes place on Saturdays but I don't especially want to race on Shabbat, so I doubt I'll do more than just go out to a couple of those races and cheer my teammates on. I'm okay with that.
Feeling pretty mellow after chili and cider at the Red Fox pub.
Also pretty pooped. I imagine I'll sleep pretty well tonight.
(New number plate, post-singlespeed)