Tuesday, July 24, 2012

race report: short-track, 7-23-12

I had doubts about racing this week.

My cycle had begun the day before and I'd hauled a trailer full of music gear across town and abck again for a two-hour show. I was tired and feeling really slow. But I'd already paid my race fee, and I hated wasting the money. Plus, I wanted to go and hang out with my teammates and have a fun evening. And -- another plus -- I would finally get to race on my new [to me] Bridgestone, which was ready to roll. So I loaded my backpack with race gear, filled a water bottle and attached my race plate to the handlebars, and went to work.

It was clear pretty much right away that the cassette cogs selected for the retro-build would be too small for me. I prefer to spin rather than mash my gears, so at work I swapped in a larger set of cogs -- and made sure to set aside an extra set because Shimano is already phasing out 7-speed cassettes and it's always a good diea to buy multiples of something that works against the day the technology is forcibly updated by the bike industry.

(Damn you, Shimano. Damn you to hell.)

After work, I went out to the track. Because I was on my cycle -- if you're a lady you know exactly what I mean and if you're a fella you can either look away nervously or you can admire us for racing when we're on our periods because some of you would never even consider it -- I was feeling slow and a little crampy, but was determined to race. I changed into my race kit and managed to pre-ride about a hundred yards of the course before being shooed off for the kiddie races. I rode around the perimiter of the course during the 6 pm race, cheering on Kristin who was racing the double again (racing Cat III Women at 6, she'd come back and race with the Singlespeed Women at 6:30) and checking out how racers took their lines on an especially twisty-turny course through the cottonwood grove. The cottonwood tufst were thick in the air this evening and I had my inhaler in my pocket in case I needed it.

After warming up with laps in the parking lot, I took my place at the start area, exchanged good-natured banter with the other Masters' women and Singlespeeders, and waited nervously for the call-ups. The fields this year are small enough that even I got called up to the start by name, for earning points after racing only one race this season. I contemplated the huge difference between my overall fitness and racing level last year and this year. Last year I'd been able to utilize a gym membership and had worked out twice a week religiously from January through the end of May, and while my speed hadn't improved, my strength had. I was ablle to climb most of the tallest berms on the course without dismounting -- on a singlespeed bike, mind you -- and felt stronger through the summer and going into the fall. This year, with virtually NO training to speak of and some lapses in bike commuting brought on my the stress of my career transition, I was racing with no real preparation, racing on muscle memory and retained skill alone, with no power to back it up. Last week's two laps were hard-won; a year ago it would've been four. I sighed and told myself that was then, this is now, and all I could do tonight was to give myself some credit for showing up and doing this at all; go out and play in the dirt and have fun -- and don't quit racing until my old, scrawny ass is pulled from the course.

Just then, Ron Strasser passed the back of the ladies start group, slapping high-fives with racers and shouting greetings to racers by name. He called out my name and approached with a huge smile across his face. Ron is in his early 60s, a wiry fellow with a neatly-trimmed light gray beard and a grandfatherly twinkle in his eye. He races in his Masters age group with the delight of a toddler on a scoot-bike in the kiddie race. He hugged me playfully from behind and told me how glad he was to see me racing after all this year. I told him I was going to go out and play in the dirt for thirty minutes, placement be damned. He grinned and nodded and said, "Excellent! Have fun!"

A few minutes later, we were off. The course was very technical tonight; although they'd left the two tallest berms in, the route to each of them was challenging and made momentum difficult. I was able to pedal all the way to the top of each only a couple of times during the race; the other times I was forced to get off and walk or run up, which made it more exhausting. But having gears made a difference. I was remembering to shift more regularly, and the original [ca. 1988!] Deore LX shifters worked like a charm with the new Stylo crankset.

I had tiny bursts of my old form when climbing the off-camber transitions, and that gave me some hope that perhaps, with some training and coaching next year, I might improve my performance in some small way. Other times, my lack of training and strength was clearly evident; I was simply too slow and tired to handle my bike cleanly in some of the turns and swun wide to let faster riders get around me. Most were perfectly polite, letting me know when they were coming up behind me and what side they'd pass on; but one of the men was especially rude and suggested that I "cat down" to Beginners if I couldn't stay out of his way. I said nothing -- I was too out of breath -- but remembered that passing other riders is part of racing, and if he wasn't able to get around me, that was as much his problem as mine. I brushed it off and chalked it up to an overdose of adrenaline. There were times when I did have to pull off the course to use my inhaler, the cottonwood was so thick it was litterally clogging my lungs and I had trouble breathing. I was in such agony at those moments that I didn't care how it looked and huffed on my inhaler without concern for discretion. Let them relegate me, I thought, I don't care. Everyone rides her own race out here and I am riding mine. And my goal was to finish no matter what. As other women passed me on the course they offered encouragement: "You're my hero, Beth hamon!" shouted Shawn, racing in the Womens' Singlespeed category. "Keep it up, girl!" Although my lungs were on fire and I felt awful, her cheers lifted my spirits and helped me to keep going. Others' shouts and cheers worked similar magic.

I stubbornly hung in there, even as the rest of the racers got further and further away from me and I felt more and more pathetic and alone on the course. Friends screamed my name in encouragement as I passed them on sections of the course. The bell lap became the finishing lap, and the officials kindly allowed me to finish my race, sending off the 7:00 racers as I was rounding the corner into the final straightaway towards the finish. I was so exhausted and out of breath from the effort of scraping out a third lap that I pulled off the course, hung my head over my handlebars, and heaved huge gulps of air for two full minutes before I could take a sip of water and go meet my teammates.

First Name
Last Name

Portland Velo                                  Lake Oswego


Oregon Bike Shop Racing Team         Gresham


Team Rose City                              Portland

Guinness Cycling Team                    Portland

Oregon Bike Shop Racing Team         Portland

Team Slow                                     portland


Approaching a berm, which I think I actually rode all the way to the top on this lap. (Thanks to teammate Kelley for shooting pix during the race.)

Tonight I was very glad for having gears on my bike. 

Sandwiches (from our sponsor, The Peoples' Sandwich) tasted delicious. I sat and ate and watched the next race feeling still quite exhausted, but happy that I'd toughed it out. I finished DFL of course, but was allowed to complete three laps, an improvement over last week. Maybe I'll really knock my brains out next week and go for four.

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