Sunday, June 12, 2011

TSE: My first ever stage race

It’s hard to believe it has been a week since Trans Epic finished.

So much happened during that whirlwind week it has taken me a wee bit of time to decompress and let the race results soak in.


                                                            Photo:Vince M. Camiolo

With hindsight, I want the race to happen all over again. It was such a unique experience. It strengthened the bond that I already have with the people I train with in State College (Rich, Richie, Bob and Pete) but also gave me a chance to spend a week meeting 100 other like-minded souls who are driven enough to ride their bikes for 7 straight days.  On the flip side, I remind myself that every morning I felt like I had been hit by a car, and couldn’t believe it was only day X of the week.

Rich and I were going through it together.  Although we were living in the same house, and helping each other out (for instance, when he had heat exhaustion after stage one and with my general constant beatings) we were also completely self-absorbed with the goals we were trying to achieve: Rich to remain in the leader’s jersey and me to hold onto 3rd place.

The crashes at the beginning of the week were most definitely a shock to the system as I rarely crash hard. I don’t need to harp on about them too much as I covered that side of the story in the Dirt Rag’s ‘most memorable stage’ article.  In brief, the prologue was not a good start.  I tried to relax but instead it ended in a severe crash.  I lay on the trail for minutes, bike atop of me and stuck in my cleats.  I seriously thought Selene (who started 4 minutes back) was going to ride over me as if I was a log if I didn’t release myself soon!  The result: a bruised/broken rib which was to take a couple more beatings in the following days.

                                                         Photo:Vince M. Camiolo

The second stage was classified as the ‘road’ stage.  I really had no idea how I was going to fair on this stage.  I knew Amanda and Selene were both strong and smart riders on the road, so the only game plan I had was to stick as close to them as I could from the start.  I knew they would most likely try and source a strong group of men to draft off.  In the end, the pace was too fast, but I found THE most delightful guy who helped me out a bit.  I wish I knew his name (riding in a Slime jersey), his brother was the tall red headed guy who was killing it in the master’s class until he had some bad bike luck during the Queen Stage (5) (broken derailleur).  Anyway, this guy was going at the perfect pace for me through the flat roads of Coburn.  I was surprised how awesome I felt, despite the previous 2 days of crashing and racing in the extreme heat.

During the second stage, I also realized that Selene Yeager is called the Fit Chick for a reason.  Even when we reached sections of trail which were un-rideable, she would pick up her bike as if it were a feather.  I watched her dance away over the rocks as I awkwardly lugged my bike behind me.  That woman is all round strong.

Amanda’s husband Nate was also a gem during the second stage (and continued to be a gem all week). He poured water over my head at the aid station and was just an all round supportive and helpful kind of a guy.  In fact, later on in the week, I came to an aid station and almost looked at him like ‘are you getting my drop bag?’.  I had to remind myself that he was my competitors support, not mine!

At the end of Stage 2 I crossed the line in 3rd and was psyched.  Unfortunately, Karen Potter had fallen ill and had to drop out.  I did wonder why I hadn’t seen her speedy legs fly past me all day. She was too ill to go on and was out of the GC.  With this news I knew my chances of making getting and overall podium spot had increased.  There was no way now I was backing out of this race, broken bones or not.

After what I had considered two very good days of racing, sitting 3rd in the GC and 17 minutes ahead of 4th placed Sue, I decided that I would play it as safe as possible for Stages 3  (Raystown) and 4 (RB Winter min xc).  I really couldn’t afford to crash hard again on my rib.  I knew Sue would be strong at Raystown and I had no idea what the mini xc’s were going to be like.  But when they are also referred to as ‘Super D’s’ I had an incline that I needed to be careful.

Careful was how I played it.  I like riding Raystown but the riding does not play to my strengths.  Perhaps I am too light for the whoop-dee’s.  I expend a lot of energy getting up small climbs because momentum does not carry me through. I crossed the line in 5th, but I was ok with that.  I just hoped I hadn’t lost too much time to Sue.  It turned out I had lost 7 minutes.

The Stage 4 mini xc’s at RB Winter State Park were in my opinion, not so much fun and my least favorite stage.  We spent 6 hours out there but only raced for 50 minutes or so.  I can understand why people like it, so I am not complaining that it is part of the week's racing, as I am sure people equally complained about the climbs and rocks of the other stages when I was in my element. Variety is what makes a good stage race which brings the best all round rider to the top of the podium. The hardest part for me during Stage 4 was that fact that my rib was damaged, the muscles around it were trying to protect it, and thus sprinting uphill at VO2 max in pollen filled air, left me coughing and gasping for breath and further stressing out my muscles.  At the end of the last mini race I rode straight to the van and cried (which hurt my ribs even more!).  I was a mess, but everyone has a bad day so I was trying to take it as it came.  I was nearly there, the end was in sight. The beer stop at Elk Creek Café didn’t help, but that’s another story.

When Stage 5, the Queen Stage, finally rolled around I was happy and relieved.  The weather was cool and crisp.  I had 7 minutes on Sue and I knew if I played it smart in the trail then I could hopefully maintain my lead via the climbs.  There were so many locals out on the trail.  HO had put up signs with our names on it: 'Go wee Vicki!'. Loved it.  It was a special day to ride along our special ridge line.  The racers were impressed, we were proud, and there was beer and snacks at the remote finish.  Well put together Mike and Ray!  Selene asked me if I wanted to ride a parade on the final stage.  I was not sure if what she meant by a parade was what I hoped she meant, and was excited and relieved that she meant a ladies ride through the woods on the final day.  Sue agreed. The GC was settled.  Amanda was 1st, Selene 2nd and I was going to take 3rd in the Trans Epic, my first ever stage race.

Saturday, the final day and Stage 6, was a 26 mile cross country route from the camp.  The ladies met at the start.  There was music and costumes/casual attire.  We paraded indeed; chatted, stopped for beer and snacks at the aid station rode and the trails like we owned them.  Amanda and Selene were kind enough to offer wise words of advice on my racing:  start my 100 mile races at the front; go out hard; have confidence.  Later on that night as we partied and watched the beer derby, Amanda continued to give me advice and support.  It was invaluable.  She was my sports psychologist.  I felt like I had met a good friend.

                                                               Podium L to R: Sue Haywood, Selene Yeager, Amanda Carey, Vicki Barclay, Rebecca Rusch

With reflection, I learned a lot about myself during the race week.

  1. I don’t really care what the racing weather is like (this statement could come back to haunt me!). Being Scottish I should (and maybe do) suffer in the heat and humidity.  Remember, I lived in a country for 26 years where the temperature rarely goes above 70oF, and there is most certainly no humidity.  However, as long as the race starts reasonably early my body can acclimatize.

  1. My pain threshold is higher than I thought.  That and adrenaline is a powerful thing!  I would never have considered riding my mountain bike with the pain I was enduring had I not been racing.  But when the race went off, my body took over my mind and each day I was able to complete my goals.

  1. I suffer from a huge lack of confidence or that is how I portray myself.  But I believe that all riders/athletes do, and at times it is a good thing.  It’s what motivates us to train and race harder, so we can line up next to our idols (male or female).

  1. I am just as happy when Rich is doing well as when I am doing well.  I am so proud of his efforts last week as he is of mine.  We make a great team.

I am excited to see how Trans Epic will change my racing and fitness.  They say it takes 2 weeks for training to take effect so I am hoping it surfaces at Lumberjack 100 which is only one week away.  Also how the mental advice I have been given will affect my race strategy and confidence.  That I have a feeling may take a little longer.

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