For four years I dreamed about one day being fast enough to race in the World Tuesday Night Championship criterium races. For the first year I worked on my aerobic endurance. In year two I worked on speed. In year three I worked on hill climbing. The following year I took as many cycling and race workshops that I could find with the goal to learning all I needed to know about the tactics of crit racing. After four years of “preparing” for the local race, I was frustrated because still didn’t feel confident enough to race.
None of the coaching, workshops, courses, or years of trying to get stronger, taught me anything about racing. Every Tuesday night I would ride out to UBC and stand on the sideline. I watched longingly as the bikes would fly past me – 9 laps and then the sprint to the finish. Finally, I realized that the only way I was ever going to learn how to race – was to RACE! Like most things in life, you can try to prepare yourself as much as possible beforehand but the only way to really learn is to do it.
So, like the strong, confident woman I am, I called my friends and asked- no begged them to come out and ride with me on my first race night. Enthusiastically, two girls agreed to join me. One hour before the race – they both bailed out! But now that I had realized what I needed to do, I refused to let anything stop me from racing that night.
I rode to the race by myself, trying to ride easy for a warm up, but I was so nervous that I arrived before they had even set up the course. I was the first person to sign up that day. I rode around the three minute course over and over in circles, trying to get rid of my nervous stomach. I only had one race plan – to survive. My biggest fear was crashing my bike, so my “race plan” was to ride in the front (where I heard there are fewer accidents). As I pinned my race number on my jersey, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face! After four years I was finally racing in the Tuesday night crits!!!!
Finally after an agonizing half hour, it was time for my race to begin. I rolled out of the parking lot to lead my little group of eight girls up the first hill and on to our first loop of the course. For four laps, I stayed in the front, blocking the wind for everyone behind me.
At the Prime Lap, the girls sprinted for points, passing me easily. As I wondered what had just happened (was the race over already???!!), I quickly resumed my position as “the Leader” (in my mind). At this point the girl behind me asked me the obvious question, “Is this your first race?” I was mortified that it was so obvious but yes, I had to admit the truth. To my amazement, she started to tell me the rules – as we were racing! She told me that we had just finished the Prime lap where you can get extra points or win things if you have a UCI license. She showed me how to “neutralize” when we got passed by the CAT 123 girls. And she pulled me back when I thought drafting off of them would be a good idea.
She continued to chat as I pulled the group for the next five laps. I had no clue where we were at in the race until I heard the bell again which I knew (now) signalled the last lap. Like a dog, I started to salivate and I jumped up on the hoods of my bike, immediately reacting into a sprint. I was excited! This was the final lap and I was leading! I sprinted around the corner, down the hill, around the next corner…. and at this point my sprint was looking more like a Sunday morning casual ride.
The build-up of lactic acid in my legs was screaming for me to STOP! But I still had two more corners, the hill and the sprint finish that I had perfected so well in my mind….. No sprint finish for me. As we rounded the last corner and the finish line was in sight, the other seven racers passed me in a swirl of colours. I finished second to dead last. BUT I HAD RACED THE TUESDAY NIGHT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!!! I was elated!
Yes, I had lost the race but that didn’t matter. I had conquered my fear of racing crits! Four years of workshops, magazines, strength training or watching race after race could never teach me what I had learned in those 30 minutes and continue to learn every time I race. I only wish I had the guts to figure that out four years ago. But now every race is a learning experience and every Tuesday I realize that is there is always so much more to learn, which is what keeps me coming back week after week.
…So when is your first race?