Last year, I entered the bike racing scene, having competed in 6 races throughout the season. All of those races were criterium style races at The Driveway. At the end of the race season in October, I decided that I would try my legs at a road race in 2015. The race I had in mind for my first attempt was Pace Bend.
Pace Bend is a Texas state park that has a 6.2 mile road running around its edge. It is a very well-maintained surface that is mostly rolling hills with one short 8% punching climb on the back side and a 0.3 mile 4% grade uphill finish – a nice and varied course.
When I set my sights on racing here, I had planned on making the 45 minute drive there every Saturday after my marathon in October to ride the course for practice. That was an ambitious plan, as I found out, due to this winter being ridiculously cold and wet. Instead, I managed to make it out there twice 1, 2 between November and February. That was enough that I had the course generally memorized, noting how long various efforts and segments of interest were. I used various road signs, buildings, and road markings as perspective points.
In the weeks leading up to the race, my riding schedule was only weekends because of rainy weather and lack of daylight after work. I had also lent my rollers to a friend, so indoor training was not an option. I kept my rides on weekends on the long side: 80-120 miles split between both days. The week leading up to the race, I started forcing myself to get a quick 45-60 minutes of spinning and intervals outside in the mornings before work. That way, my legs were loose for the race.
On the night before the race, I made sure to give my bike a good cleaning and gather together all of my gear just in case I slept in and had to rush in the morning. I’m pretty sure I spent at least an hour making sure my numbers were perfectly pinned onto my jersey - I hate seeing numbers flap around in the wind. Since the temperature was going to be in the low 50s, I planned on bringing all of my cold weather gear just in case, but planned on only wearing a base layer and possibly knee warmers. Everything was ready to either wear or load into the car before I went to bed around 21:00.
I woke up around 5:00. Race roll-out was 8:05, so I wanted to get there early enough to park, meet up with team members, and get a quick warmup lap in. That meant being in the car by 6:30. Breakfast was my normal bowl of muesli with chia seed and almond miak. I drank 16oz of beet juice (P.E.V.) at 6:00, two hours prior to race time. I do this prior to every race and it seems to have a positive effect on my performance. I took a banana with me in the car to eat when I arrived to provide some fast carbs. Then right before heading to the staging area, I planned on sucking down a Gu gel for even more fast carbs.
On the drive to the park, it started to rain. Damn. It didn’t really stop raining once I got to the park, either. Damn Damn.
Upon arrival, I found a place to park and ate the banana. The temperature in the low 50s combined with rain meant I kept my jacket on until it was time to go to the staging area. I met up with Jason and got a quick warmup lap in before stripping the jacket, eating the Gu, and heading to the staging area to roll out.
At the staging area, Jason and I found the two other cat5 teammates Ray and Jim and lined up next to them. 58 riders started in the cat5 race. In front of us, rolling out 5 minutes before us was the masters 4/5 race. Behind us was the women cat 4 group, in which had LJ and Shannon were racing.
Finally, as the rain started to pick up, we were on our way downhill toward the first turn at the stop sign. Right away, the pace going into that turn was close to 30mph. As soon as we made the first turn, the front of the pack took off and the group started to split. I wasn’t having any of that, though. Of the four BSS guys, I was in the front, and had to bridge that gap or risk immediately being dropped. I burned a match for about a minute of hard effort over the first set of rollers which peaked at 8%. Eventually, I was able catch someone’s wheel and let off to catch my breath a little bit. Then I checked to make sure Ray and Jason were still there. Unfortunately, Jim wasn’t able to keep up with the group and got dropped at that point. It was his first race ever, and he kept going on his own for the rest of the race, so major kudos for him. Ray came up next to me and told me about Jim and said he wasn’t sure where Jason was. Eventually we found him as he made a move past us.
It seemed like it was raining pretty hard on the first lap. Every time a rider in front of me crossed over the painted center yellow line, I cringed in anticipation of them losing control. There were a few guys in front of me who were all over the place. One guy had a wobbly, untrue front wheel (seriously?) and wasn’t able to keep his line. I really wanted to pass him at some point, but there was never a good opportunity.
The first short and steep climb was coming up, and I knew it was going to be where more people would drop off the back. I had to make sure I kept my speed going up it and accelerated off the crest. I passed a bunch of people on the left, and kept that momentum going after cresting. That was something I’d need to do 3 more times and every time would get faster and hurt more.
For the rest of the first lap, I sat in and made sure to try to coach the guys around me on the course, reminding them of upcoming turns and to stay off of the painted yellow line. Before I knew it, we were already burning up the climb to the finish of the first lap. The second lap was more of the same, and generally uneventful. The rain picked up, however.
By the time we started the third lap, I was in a really good groove. I felt amazing. My heart rate was steady at an average of 160 and I felt like I could keep doing the same thing for hours. I still needed to focus on spacing out my efforts, though, and not getting left behind on key segments. The short climb on the back side was coming up for the third time and I was feeling strong enough to make a move to the front after cresting.
I was out of the saddle, dancing away on the pedals up the hill…
“Huh. That’s weird.” was the first thing that went through my head as I finished working my way up that climb. Squish. Squish. Squish. Squish. “Shit.”
“Hey man, your back tire’s pretty low,” I heard from someone behind me. I waved goodbye to Jason and Ray and let them know that I was out.
My body felt amazing halfway through lap 3 of 4, but my race had come to an early demise through no fault of my own or anyone else.
Not too far ahead on the side of the road was a car, so I rolled up to it. A girl named Amy got out and asked if I needed anything. I told her I could use a ride back to the finish line, and she kindly obliged. After my bike was loaded into the back of her car, we slowly drove the course back to the finish area. I got out, thanked her, and greeted Logan as I walked past the announcer booth.
The cat5 race had less than 15 minutes left on its last lap, so I hurried back to my car to throw my bike in my car and change shoes. I ran back to the finish line just in time to see Shannon and LJ finish their third lap. Then I hung out to watch their finish. Ray was up toward the front and ended up finishing in 10th, but Jason had fallen off the back at some point after I left and finished outside the pack.
For the rest of the day, I hung out with friends, drinking coffee and hot apple cider, and cheered on the groups as each lap passed. As the higher category races progressed during the day, they got longer in duration as well. The rain stopped, though, so they were lucky in that respect, but the temperature was dropping. I had planned on sticking around to watch the pro/1/2 race, but it was getting too cold for that. After the last womens race finished, I headed home. More accurately, I headed to Unity Vegan Kitchen for some food, and then I went to Bicycle Sport Shop to have them fix my flat – I was still pretty damn upset and didn’t even feel like looking at it, let alone change it.
Until that point, I hadn’t even looked at my tire to see what caused the flat. It turned out that it was a puncture flat caused by a large, sharp rock that lodged itself into the tire. I taped that rock onto my bib number which is now hanging on my wall with the rest of my collection.
All in all, it was a great race (up until my disappointing early finish). I can’t wait to do it again next year. Now I need to sign up for the race in Lago Vista in less than two weeks…