I decided I would try something different and signed up for this race... and what I did not anticipate was the schooling I would get on competitive cycling. It was an incredible indoctrination into their world!
The first racer was off at 0900... the start was at the Columbiana Middle School in the heart of Columbiana, AL... about a 75 mile drive from my house. I hit the road right on schedule at 0630 with a bowl of oatmeal, a cup of coffee and a large water bottle. I made great time and actually arrived earlier than expected... and as I pulled up to the school... (cue school bell)... the lessons began.
So.... I got there at about 0740... and as I pulled into the school parking lot I was met by a huge group of riders already in position in the lot and riding their stationary trainers to get warmed up... did I mention the first rider was off at 0900??? Given I was early I decided to take the opportunity to drive the course.. which was a nice 40K (24.8 mi) out and back on country roads. I had actually mapped the ride out on www.mapmyride.com so I had a good idea of what was in store for me... but here is a snapshot of my post ride elevation graph!
That climb on the way back is a Category 5 climb... not a big deal if you are hard core rider but for me... anything that has a category assigned to it gets my attention!
So I strike out on the drive of the course... it starts with a bunch of rolling hills... but nothing that really catches my attention... until I get about 7 miles out... then the elevation change starts to get my attention.. and then once over the crest I encounter a very technical descent with one hairpin turn where the auto speed limit goes from 40 to 10 mph... then as I head out to the turn around point I pass a cyclist heading back... apparently he came out to ride the route... NOT DRIVE IT like me... LOL!
So I flip around and head back... and at 13.25 miles I hit the Category 5 climb... only a 1.2 mile climb with avg gradient of 2.7% but enough to get your attention.
Once back to the school parking lot I get parked, get checked in, get my number and start to get changed into my cycling gear for the event. At this point I meet what becomes an invaluable asset in my schooling... fortunately for me "DW" who is parked next to me is a DVM and Professor at the Vet School at Auburn University... he is easily 10 years older than me and a CAT 1/2 rider... suffice to say he is a hard core roadie... now... picture this.... a 55 year old 5'10" and 135 pound cowboy from Kentucky with a huge southern draw and a big ole fumanchu mustache wearing a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a terry cloth wrap... pretty sure that was all he had on... he had a F-150 with a cap on the back of it and inside was a complete cycling shop... bikes, wheels, tools, clothes, helmets, boxes of nutrition products, etc... INCREDIBLE... but being an Auburn graduate... we were instant buddies... and smartly I instantly confessed I was out of my league as this was my first real cycling event... and he jumped on the opportunity to help me out... over the course of the next hour he executed Competitive Cycling 101 for me... and for that I am forever grateful!!!
Alright... having completed the academics... it was time to get warmed up and ready to ride... I got dressed, pumped up my tires, checked to make sure I have everything... pounded one more bottle of water... for 0830 it was already hot... when I let the house at 0630 it was already 82 degrees and 80% humidity and now at 0830 it was already approaching 90 degrees.. I decided to ride out the course 10 mins making for a nice 20 min warm-up... certainly nothing close to the 90 min trainer warm-ups that had been going on around me but good enough for me! After my short ride... I drank another bottle of water and then proceeded over to the starting line... I was off at 0906... with the first rider going off at 0900 in 30 second intervals... I worked my way up the line until I was next... a holder grabbed my bike from the back and I clipped in... 5... 4... 3.... 2... 1.... "GO!"... and I was off..
Now would be a good time for me to give you an update on the weather conditions... we were a couple of days into a heat wave and today was to be the peak... 104 degrees with heat index in the 120+ range... and very little wind if any at all... I can honestly say that I wish I had put an extra bottle on my bike for this event... IT WAS HOT... miserable kind of hot as it would turn out!
I quickly got up to speed and could see a couple of riders out in front of me on the rolling hills of the start... but at 2 miles I heard that unmistakable sound of a carbon disc wheel... and at 2.15 miles... whooosh... the guy that started behind me goes by me... and I was going 26 mph... this event would replay itself at least ten times throughout the course of my ride... just for comparison... I averaged 19 mph over the 40K ride and the guy that won it averaged just shy of 30 mph... again... this is competitive cycling and these guys can ride!
The worst part of the ride was on that climb coming back... not so much because of the terrain but more for the fact that it was HOT... zero breeze... and the heat coming off the black asphalt was oppressive... hard to breathe... other than that note... there isn't much to report...
I spent most of the ride trading positions with the guy that started ahead of me... we must have passed each other a dozen times... then with 2 miles to go he went by me... for what I thought was the final time... but when we hit the 1K left... I decided I had just enough in the tank to try and run him down one last time... and so I did.... I managed to get around him and stay there through the finish.. afterwards he would tell me that he really wanted to catch me but just couldn't...
This photo was taken just after passing the finish line.... I can honestly say that at the end of the ride I was spent... legs quivering, soaking wet, upset stomach, light headed kind of spent... the weather was tough and it took its toll on a few.. at least one had a trip to the ER... several others spent some time laying on the sidewalk with bags of ice on their torso trying to cool off...
All in all... it was a great event... I rode a personal best on that distance and this was on a MUCH tougher course than the others... but most important is that I learned a lot... it was awesome to see the caliber of riders that rode this race... very motivating and I am glad I did it!
Attitude Trumps Pain!