Last Saturday was the Barry Roubaix, a 36-mile (or 62-mile if you’re brave) gravel road race. I’d describe it as a road + cyclocross race, although I only had to dismount twice due to crowds of people walking, there was certainly some technical riding included.
This race had some significance for me because it was the first real race of 2012. Last fall was a difficult season for me, dealing with burn out from overtraining, injuries, and asthma. After last cyclocross season, I have taken a good deal of rest, got on a better medicine to control the asthma, and started my base training. Technically, this race marked the end of my first base period, so I wasn’t quite sure how fit I’d be. Most of my training up to this point had either been strength training or low-intensity, longer rides.
Due to a hectic work week, we left Chicago later than planned Friday night, not arriving to our hotel until 11:30. We basically got there, went to sleep, woke up and left. I woke up feeling sleepy but excited. I had some coffee and a bagel — the same breakfast I eat before every race. We drove to the race course, registered, and then got ready. This race felt very anticlimactic I guess, because I’m used to getting to a race and trying to get in a few pre-rides on the course. You can’t exactly pre-ride a 36-mile race! My warm up ended up being spinning around a paved loop with a couple of hard efforts. This has become pretty standard for me, it works for me. I like the hard efforts to gauge how I’m feeling and how my breathing is that day.
Right afterwards it was time to line up. I rolled up to my staging category, found some familiar Chicago faces, and try to remain calm. That’s nearly impossible for me. I feel like puking before most races; that nervous knot in my stomach is ever-present. In a way, I welcome that feeling. That nervous excitement is why I love racing. Each time is a gamble, a test, full of risks and attempts to perform at my best. I often say that if that feeling goes away, maybe the magic of racing will have gone with it.
Suddenly the whistle blew and we were off. This race had a start I’m not totally used to, a motor-paced lead out to the gravel, with a slow-rolling start. It was kind of nice actually, being surrounded by about 200 men and somewhere 10 other women. Our 14-29 field was smaller than the others, but no doubt a strong field.
About 5 miles into the race I was settling into a pace and came upon a gravel descent into a hard left corner. Somehow down that hill, my water bottle fell off my bike and I was without hydration. It would have been unsafe to stop and go grab it, so I continued on. I began thinking about how I was going to do a 36 mile race with no water. At some point, I desperately stopped and grabbed another lost water bottle that was about half full. I know what you’re thinking, it’s gross!
Well, I didn’t put it on my mouth, and it was a “desperate times, desperate measures” situation as I had started to combat dehydration and cotton-mouth. You gotta do what you gotta do!
All I can say about this race was that there were so many hills! I caught up with Christina Peck (Chicago Cuttin’ Crew) and we both exchanged positions several times throughout the rest of the race. I really enjoyed the course, with the mix of surfaces — from gravel to pavement, sand, and mud puddles. The hills were something I wasn’t ready for, but I did my best.
I was able to ride most of the sand except for two spots where there were just too many people walking their bikes for me to get through. In those instances, I pulled out my cyclocross skills and dismounted, shouldered the bike and jogged through the sand. It certainly seemed easier than dragging my bike through the loose and turned up soil.
At some point, we hit pavement and that was the home stretch. We had maybe 5 more miles to go. Christina was right behind me, and Chelsea Strate (the woman who went on to win the race in our category) was right in front of me. Somehow, these ladies grabbed a good wheel and off they went. Perhaps that’s experience, knowing when to lay down your final effort. I kept Christina in my sights thinking maybe I’d try to catch her.
Honestly, I was so happy to be finishing this race breathing normally and easily (well, relatively), that I didn’t try to sprint to catch Christina. It was very hard to tell where I was in comparison to the other riders. For all I know, somewhere far ahead were more ladies mixed in with the many men that could have been the front. So, I decided to enjoy the rest of the ride and I finished a short 28 seconds behind 2nd place. After the race, I waited in line to see the results, and they had me placed as 4th. Most races I’ve been to do a podium through third place, so I packed up and headed north to see my family.
As it turns out, I was actually third! There was a miscount, which put me on the podium where I belonged! I missed my podium and prizes due to the oversight, but knowing I placed 3rd in my age group and 10th in the 36-mile women’s race overall made me very happy. This race was my first race after a really tough season, and I was so happy to be feeling healthy again, that was really what made this race awesome. So what made the difference? Rest. I have learned the hard way that rest is very important, and by taking lots of rest over the winter, I feel as though I have come back strong and I couldn’t be happier.
And the prizes? The Barry-Roubaix organizers have mailed them to me. And the podium shot from my first road race? Well, I just photoshopped myself in.
All images are used under the Creative Commons License. Credit for images goes to Jason Duggan, Andrea Tucker, and Steve Balogh.