Posted by: Travis | May 18, 2009

Race Wrap Up: Modesto Road Race (Modesto, CA 5/18/2009)

Rachel and i woke up today at 4:45 and hit the road for the 90 minute drive out to Modesto at 5:15. The race may start at 8:00am, but back up 10 minutes to roll to the starting line, 10 minutes waiting in line for a final pee, 5 minutes of last minute getting ready, 30-45 minutes for warm up, 15 minutes for getting dressed and set up, 10 minutes to check in / register, 90 minutes of driving, 5 minutes of getting gas, 5 minutes to pack the car, and 30 minutes to eat some breakfast, get dressed, put in contacts, make coffee, brush teeth, and you find yourself with a freakishly early start for a Sunday morning.

The race took place on a 9 mile squared off figure 8 type shape network of closed road through orchards outside of Modesto. My race was to complete seven laps of the nine mile course for a total of 63 miles. It was my first road race and i was excited at the prospect of not having to do a crit where the speed was super high and there was constant braking and then sprinting full gas out of corners every few hundred meters. However, because the roads were in a squared off figure 8 shape that covered only 9 miles, it was more of a crit/road race hybrid. Oh yeah, and the high temp for Modesto just happened to be 108 that day. Ouch.

I lined up close to the front with 6 other teammates. I love doing races where i have a significant number of teammates. It just makes the racing more fun. The gun went off and i was able to work my way up to the front 15 or so riders in the 70 person field. After about a half mile of everyone getting settled we hit the gas and took it right up to 28-29 mph. Though i got a pretty good warm up in, my body struggled with the shock of the high pace. I was in the hurt, but able to hang on and hold position. The corners, however, were a different story. The road surface was very rough, reminiscent of the nasty chip and seal i used to ride on in the Texas Hill Country in college. Fall down on this stuff at these speeds and you’re going to get roughed up pretty bad. The turns also had a fair amount of gravel which increased the sketchy-ness of the whole thing. Combine the rough roads, the high speeds, the gravel, and navigating these turns in a tight back going six across shoulder to shoulder and i lost the mental game, i was spooked. I started cautiously cutting too much speed going into turns, forcing me to sprint our of them to catch back up.

Once i let myself get into this mindset, it was just a  matter of time before my day was done. There was just no way i’d be able to sustain that kind of effort for 63 miles.

The first lap (9 miles) we averaged 28.5mph. About 2 miles into the second lap 2 guys went off the front at the pace settled down to 22-24mph, but was by no means steady. The field would randomly jump from 22 back up to 28mph for no apparent reason. Toward the end of the second lap, the pace had been mellow for a few minutes, so i decided to take a drink because if i was to survive the long day, drinking enough was going to be critical. We took a turn into a headwind and the field jumped up above 30mph. I got caught with a drink in my hand, got gapped, and was never able to catch back on. I got soooo close but was just unable to get myself into the slipstream of the pack and out of the wind.

Going through the feed zone i saw Rachel and a bunch of other volunteers offering neutral support by handing bottles of water to riders as they came by each lap. I pulled out, changed clothes in a cow pasture, and spent the next couple hours with the other volunteers handing water to the other guys racing. The feed zone was full of friends and family members who had come to see a loved one race and volunteered to stand in the heat and do some work, with no recognition, to help the race go smoothly and keep the racers safe by keeping them cool and hydrated. Putting on an amateur bike race is a huge production fueled by volunteers like these folks who give up a Saturday or Sunday so that a bunch of guys (and girls) can ride their bikes really fast in circles. They are truly the unsung heroes of amateur bike racing who don’t get the recognition they deserve. I guess Rachel and i could have packed up and gone home sulking as soon as i pulled out, but we really had a good time helping with the feeds.

Since it was 100 degrees when we got back to Palo Alto, and our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, we spent most of the afternoon laying on floating air mattresses in the pool.

So this makes 4 consecutive bike races that i haven’t been able to finish. What gives?

Well, before it was a lack of fitness. I think right now my fitness is much better than it was. I still lack some of the high end speed, but that will come in the next month or so as i do more high intensity work. I think my main problem right now is the mental aspect. As my Dad said when i was talking to him after the race: getting a little spooked taking a turn littered with gravel at 28mph in a tightly bunched and chaotic group of 70 guys all fighting for position ‘while not good for your competitive advantage during the race, is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to have happen’. It’s not that i suck at cornering or anything. I’ve gotten quite good and going around corners on closed courses by myself (after getting dropped), taking them at speed and picking the right line. The problem is doing it with a group. I begin to question myself and the riders around me instead of just not thinking and doing. The only way to get better is do more races and large group rides at race speed (of which there are 4 per week in the area), treat them as races, and focus on staying up near the front, and getting comfortable taking corners in a big group. I need to get to the point where cornering with a big group becomes second nature.  So i’ll keep racing, keep taking my licks, and keep fighting until i can do this.

Even if i never win a bike race, i’m still having a blast. It sounds like a ton of work getting up before the sun comes up on the weekend to go out and ‘waste’ a whole day on some competitive event that i seem destined to fail at. But the truth is, i’m having a blast. I’m in better shape than i’ve ever been in, training gives me something to do and goals to work toward outside of work (not to mention that it keeps me focused on maintaining good health), and even when i fail, pushing myself to my limit is something that is painful at the time, but in a sick and twisted way, i really enjoy it and think most people would benefit from trying it every once in a while.

This is one of the first times in my life that i’ve faced a challenge that i really wanted to overcome and struggled to do so. That being said, i’m having a blast doing it, so i’m going to continue to take my lumps and keep fighting until i get this thing figured out. I’d love to be one of those older guys racing in the Masters 45+ category that’s been racing since he was in his 20’s and still tearing it up. At times bike racing has been really tough and discouraging, but it builds character, right Mom? This whole phase will just make that first win that much sweeter.


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