I'm planning to dip my toes into some National Level Racing this year. I love racing at the local level, but I want to become the absolute best version of my racing self that I can be as quickly as possible so that I can enjoy as many years of local podiums as possible before I ride over the top of that bell curve, and my fitness level starts going in the opposite direction due to the increased recovery times that unavoidably come with age at some point. I find that, personally, I improve most quickly when I push myself well outside of my comfort zone. That means jumping into the deep end with no arm floaties when I have barely learned to doggy paddle. . .
Let me clarify up front that I have no (nada, zilch, zero) aspirations of ever being signed to a Pro team or quitting my "day job" (aka REAL CAREER) and racing professionally full time. Maybe, in another life, if I'd found bike racing at a much, much younger age, that would have been a distant dream of mine, but as it stands now, I'm very content to just push my own limits, become the best that I can possibly be, and then maybe push a little bit further past that. . . in the evenings and on the weekends. . . when I'm not sitting behind a desk :-)
In order to do my best to prepare myself (as much as possible) for a "Big Girl Race" at the National Level, I've decided to race a few local Men's P123 races. The thought process behind this is that:
- The field sizes are much larger than the local W Open fields- a much closer representation of what I'll likely see at the national level
- The competition is (I've been told) more aggressive - not in a bad way - they just ride a lot closer together, don't soft pedal nearly as much, etc - more like what I'll see on the NRC Circuit
- The races are longer - closer to the Women's National Level Race distances
- The average race speeds are faster . . . a LOT faster. . . than what I'm used to
So, here I am. . . 4 days out from my first Men's P123 race (This post is being written on Wed, Feb 10th, although I won't publish it till later), and I have so much going through my head:
- OMG YAYYY. . . This is going to be AWESOME! I CAN'T WAIT!!!!
- OMG. . .WTF was I thinking. . . I'm not ready for this!
- Oh shut up - I'm ready - I've been training my butt off all off-season and am in great shape - I can totally hang in there with these guys. . .
- Wait - what if they're super super rowdy and attack/counter relentlessly from the gun? OMG - I'm going to ride the most humiliating 78 mile training ride of my life off the back of the peloton
- Stop It. It will be FINE. Just be smart and position yourself well. It will be great practice at finding the draft, and holding your positioning. . . .
- But what will everyone think of me if I register for this race and get popped right away?. . . I don't want anyone to think I've got a big head or think too highly of myself or think I'm "too good" to race w/ the women!!
- Stop It. It will be FINE. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You're doing this for YOU and YOUR own personal training plan as a pathway to reach YOUR own personal goals. There are no expectations of you, other than to go out there and do what you've been training all winter to do. Suck it up and get out of your own head.
- But damn. 78 miles is a LONG way to go full gas. . .I don't know if I'm ready for this.
- No better way to find out than to just go do it, right?!? Worst thing that can happen? I'll jump into the deep end, doggie paddle my way across, and finish my race an hour after the peloton. . .thoroughly embarrassed. . .but at the end of the day - who cares? No Harm / No Foul, right?
- Okay - I'm really doing this. No turning back. I'm registered. I CAN DO THIS. Seriously, what am I so freaked out about? It's just another bike race. . . and it's not like I'm expected to win it!
Sooo, yeah. I'm really and truly as excited as can be, but also rather terrified, all at the same time. I know it will be fine. I know I can hang in there with these guys if I'm smart, keep my nose out of the wind, stay "invisible" and mid-pack. I can't get stuck "surfing the back" because the slinky effect will destroy me. I have to be forcible enough in my positioning to put myself mid-pack, and then hold my position. Just do it. No if's, and's or but's. I. CAN. DO. THIS.
Also, thanks to the lovely Kat Hunter, who graciously offered me some advice as a woman who's raced men's fields and knows first hand what to expect: EAT (& drink) EARLY and OFTEN. I must remember this. Don't drift too far back because working my way forward will be MUCH harder in this race than what I'm used to (and I'm already not all that good at it in women's races. . . ). Also: Pee Breaks. She was kind enough to fill me in on the etiquette of pee breaks in longer races. . apparently "They are an informal but understood thing: maybe a few of the big teams decide they're going to do it, and the pack is expected to soft pedal until they catch up again". . thank goodness for Kat's shared wisdom b/c I would have been absolutely clueless and thoroughly confused about what the heck to do if this had happened on Saturday and I hadn't been forewarned!!