TT = Time Trial. That’s the first thing you should know. Secondly, this was my first ever time trial race and my first race of any kind since I competed for a couple of years in the Denver Corporate Cup cycling criteriums for AT&T Bell Labs back in the 1980s.
The Frostbite TT has been on my radar since sometime late last year when I started thinking about tossing my helmet in the ring of racing. And, for the last week to 10 days, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, planning for it, and anxiously awaiting my turn at the start line. I sought out the advice of a trainer, Lester, at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine for my pre-race warm-up routine. Lester gave me a warm-up that was similar to what I had sketched out for myself, but with much greater detail. Another piece of advice he gave me was to take time before race day to prepare two lists — 1) a list of everything you’ll need to take with you on race day and 2) a time-line that works backwards from your start time. Making sure to include things like ‘register and read race info’, ‘start warm-up routine’, ‘a last potty stop’, ‘pin race number to jersey’. I made both list. This activity is right up my alley, so I made the lists waaay ahead of race day and refined them the entire week leading up to race day. The other two things I was keen on was watching the weather forecast and the race start times.
Race times were posted on Thursday and the Senior Women 55 -59 years of age ( SW55+) category’s start times were around 1 pm. The weather turned out to be the biggest concern as the forecast was for high winds. Even with moderate temperatures, high winds can make for a cold, difficult and even rather dangerous event. I took a screen shot of the two cities that are closest to the I-25 exit 288 where our race began. As you can see, neither of them are very inviting! You know you’re in trouble when you are hoping for a 25 mph wind (over a 40+ mph one)!
The only good news was that at least everyone in my category would suffer under the same conditions. I also wondered how windy it would have to get before they canceled the race all together. Until that time, I’d just assume the race would be held and I’d continue to work to my timeline.
I packed several sets of cycling clothing since I really wasn’t sure just how windy it would be and how cold that would make it. I brought my winter riding shoes as well as my regular shoes, my mtn bike pair and my ultra-light pair that make me walk like a duck. I set Pogo up with the cleats for the ultra-light shoes and packed the other pedals. Pogo was pretty much ready to go. I did take the lights off and eventually removed the mirror and seat bag as well. If I had been real hard core, I probably would have taken one or both water bottle cages off too. As this was my first race, I decided that would just be silly! If I ever got to the point of having a time trial bike, a funny looking pointed helmet and a painted-on skin suit then maybe I’ll worry more about water bottle cages. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it.
It took several trips to the car to load up all my stuff. There were three small sport bags and a small box of bike tools. In addition to the cycling clothes, the bags were packed with food, camera, bike computers, sunscreen, butt-butter, water (lots of extra since I assumed none would be provided), my handy-dandy little wind gauge, a printout of the start times, my timeline and warm-up instructions and a change of clothing for after the race. The bags were so full, I was convinced I couldn’t have possibly forgotten anything!
The wind was not bad in Berthoud when I left the farm at 9:30am. It wasn’t bad as I drove north past Loveland and towards Ft. Collins. However, as I crossed mile marker 275 it suddenly picked up. And, it continued to get stronger as I drove farther north and the landscape got more and more desolate. I thought to myself — couldn’t the wind have waited just a few more miles? Then, I reflected how it was probably worse north of exit 288 where our race started. I should just be thankful that the race wasn’t in Cheyenne!
Registration went quickly and smoothly. As I stepped away from the registration table, I spotted a Blue Sky Velo team member, Paul. I’ve ridden with Paul at the velodrome and he actually gave me one of his long sleeve team jerseys to wear until I get my own. We parked along a long dirt side road with many other racers. The race was already underway and cyclists were in every stage of preparation. Most racers were warming up on stationary trainers which was smart because the wind was whipping and as hard as it was to just stand up in the wind, trying to get an ‘easy’ warm-up going would be impossible. Clearly, my warm-up plans were in jeopardy! Hmmm, I didn’t bring a stationary trainer. Note to self: Add stationary trainer to list!
Luckily, Paul did bring a stationary trainer and he was willing to share. His start time was such that his warm-up would end just about the time I’d scheduled mine to begin. Perfect, saved by the team. As Paul was warming up, I tried to decide what to wear. It was down right cold standing around in the wind. I started out with my winter-weight tights, my lined long-sleeve jersey and a couple of wind-proof layers on top of that. I pulled on a pair of winter-weight gloves as well and my winter shoes. Of course, that meant I had to switch Pogo’s pedals back too. So I did that. The wind was howling and didn’t show any signs of letting up. The only refuge I had was to use the car as a wind block or sit inside the car. When out of the wind, it was really quite comfortable.
Paul wrapped up his warm-up and headed off for his start. He was fired up and felt confident. Personally, I thought he was just a tad crazy since he decided to keep his disc wheel on! All I could think about was how the wind would be pushing sideways against that wheel the entire race. I was glad that Pogo had shallow-dish road wheels on instead of deep-dish time trial wheels.
My warm-up went pretty well. I had to stop a few times to take care of things like putting my number on my jersey and stripping off a layer of clothing as I warmed up. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had dressed too warmly. I stripped off my winter-weight tights and put on a mid-weight pair. I took off both wind layers and put on my Blue Sky Velo jersey as a top layer and I switched out my gloves to a pair I normally wear in the fall. I finished up my warm-up and headed over about 15 minutes before my start time.
There were 6-7 riders ahead of me. Two of the six riders in my category were no-shows. Apparently they were smarter than the rest of us. The other gals in my group looked like serious competition. They were all tall and lean. I felt a bit out of place. I started to look around for the short/stout category of riders where I thought I’d fit in a bit better. No such luck. I didn’t need a watch, I could keep time by watching the riders take off. Every 30 seconds a rider would start out. After Ceil Murphy was sent on her way, I was next! One of the volunteer’s held my bike so I could be on and ready. I happened to glanced down at my gears as I got onto the saddle. DUH! I was in totally the wrong gear. I had fought the headwind on my way to the start, but now I was heading south with an awesome tail wind. I should have been in my larger front ring and at least mid-range on the back cassette. Instead I was just about in my granny gear! Nothing I could do about that now. The starter was on the final count down…. ‘5’, ‘4’, ‘3’, ‘2’, ‘1’ and I was off.
I spent the first few seconds getting into the proper gear. Then I ramped up to race pace. Everyone told me to hold back initially – that excitement and adrenaline might cause me to go out to quickly. I kept that in mind. I focused on Ceil up ahead of me. She was my rabbit. I also focused on my breathing and on my cadence. It was very hard not to get caught up in the moment. A part of me wanted to treat the race as a 30 second sprint. I knew that was the excitement and adrenaline that I had been warned about. It might also have been the strong cross/tail wind. I looked down at my computer and saw that we (Pogo and me…) were flying along at over 20 mph. Immediately the thought that came to me was — “The second half of this race is gonna hurt like hell!”
Have you ever wondered what goes thru a racer’s mind during a race? I have. Now I have an idea – at least I have one data point. For me, it felt a little bit like being a pilot or a race car driver. Every few seconds I’d check in with myself — Was I pushing too hard? Was I pushing enough? How did my legs feel? Was there tension in my neck? my shoulders? Was I gripping the handlebars? Where was my rabbit? Where was the wind coming from now? A quick look at the computer for my cadence and heart rate. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Even after the initial start where I expected my heart rate to be elevated, my heart rate was always over 160 bpm. Go back thru all my training Garmin data and you’d be lucky to see a half dozen rides where my heart rate gets that high. And, here I was cruising along the I-25 frontage road revving my heart like there was no tomorrow.
There were many more rolling hills than I expected. Since I hadn’t ridden the route before, each rise was rather unexpected as were the downhill stretches. As I pushed on, I tried to make a couple of mental notes that might help me figure out where I was on the return trip. I suppose I should make another “Note to self: ride the route before you race it!” For many, this was not their first Frostbite (can you say… Slow Learners!) so they knew the route and had a good idea of how much energy they’d need to make it back at full throttle. Me, I was flying by the seat of my bike shorts!
After almost exactly 16 minutes of racing, I came to the turn around point. Only one gal had passed my at this point and she had also passed my rabbit, Ceil. She had trouble navigating the ‘U’ turn though and went down. Ceil was closest to her but not affected by the fall. I was far enough back to watch it happen but she was up and off again before I made the turn. My second gearing mistake happened at the turn. Perhaps it was because I was watching the rider go down, maybe it was just the excitement of the race, but I failed to gear down. As a result of my inattentiveness, I went into the turn in my highest gear. Now, as soon as I made that ‘U’ turn I was hit with a 25+ mph cross/headwind that made it almost impossible for me to pedal in that high gear. Even jumping out of the saddle and really leaning into it was not very effective. The other problem is that changing gears under such stress is also difficult. So, again, it took me 10-15 seconds before I had worked my way thru the gearing snafu and got things back to where I could race again.
My prediction came true. The ride back was hell. The headwind component of the wind was stronger than I’d realized. I knew that I had over six miles to go so I had to pace myself or I’d blow up for sure. Ceil had pulled away a bit as I was fumbling with my gears. My challenge now was to ride as hard as I could and still have enough to finish strong. Having never time trialed before, I had no previous experience to draw on and the wind was a huge wild card. When I looked down at my computer now, my heart rate was in the mid 160s! And every time I looked down it was in the mid 160s. I was just waiting for the boiler to blow or for the leg muscles to pop!
Other riders started passing me more frequently now. There were a handful of women (60+ and 65+) and I think they all passed me. Then some of the senior men (don’t know the age group) also started to catch and pass me. A few of them flew by me like I was going backwards. To be honest, at times, I wasn’t sure which way I was going! My speed on the return trip started off in the mid to high teens, but by the third or fourth mile had dropped down to the low teens.
A mile or so after the turn-around a gust of wind caught me by surprise. It blew Pogo and me a foot or more to the right. Then another gust came right after the first and pushed us another foot — this time right off the road! As I tried to steer us back onto the pavement from the soft shoulder a third gust took Pogo right out from under me. Luckily, after the first gust I was already taking action to unclip and was already free and able to get a foot down to avoid falling when the last gust hit. The wind was so fierce, it was not easy to get us back on the road and moving again. We rode a good three to four feet from the edge of the road after that!
With a couple miles to go, Ceil was out of her saddle and struggling to pull away. I was struggling to keep her in my sights. My low back started to cramp a little and I could tell that I was digging pretty deeply into my reserves in order to keep going. I remember telling myself to dig deeper, to push on the uphills and to just ‘slice’ thru the wind. (Anyone who know me and my blocky build can get a chuckle out of that one!). Mostly my self-encouragement worked. I dug deeper, I pushed harder but with a little over a mile to go, I found that when my reserves were close to empty and there was a split second where I feared I might run out of gas before the finish line. It was also clear that my rabbit would escape today and all I could hope to do was limit the damage. It took everything I had to push up the last incline to the finish line. My teammate Paul coached me before the race saying “When you see that finish line, just put your head down and bury yourself!” That thought crossed my mind — but my body had nothing left to give. I was afraid to try to stand and sprint in because I wasn’t sure my legs would support me. I stayed seated and pedaled as hard as I could all the way across the finish line.
I made my way back to the parking area and rode up and down the off-ramp a few times to cool down. The cool down only happened when I headed down the ramp. Riding back up the ramp into the wind didn’t serve to cool me down very much! As I rode, I reflected. It was a difficult race. I would have liked to have ridden a stronger second half but overall I was pleased. I learned a lot about time trialing today and a lot about myself. I think I’d like to try it again.
Back at home in my new team’s jersey – with the whippets!