First off, let’s get this out of the way now: this has been the longest winter EVER! At first I thought it was just part of living in Chicago – a purgatory I happily (ignorantly) signed up for when I accepted my new job and moved away from temperate Kansas City. Every day during the month of February, I would log on to weather.com and check not only the forecast for Chicago (surprise, surprise: mostly cloudy, highs in the 30s) and Kansas City (most of the time, sunny and highs in the 50s). Then I would check every sunny, warm snowbird destination and crunch the budget figures over and over hoping each time I would magically find a way to finance a week-long traincation to: Tucson, San Diego, Austin, etc.
Then everyone got hit with Old Man Winter and no matter where on the map I threw the dart, everyone seemed to be suffering from unseasonably cold temps and SNOW. This was March.
An additional perk of this purgatory was training inside. Every day. For hours. Every. Day.
Most of the time this took place in my landlady’s basement which is lit by only four single light bulbs, and with a very low ceiling with *just enough* clearance so that you can climb out of the saddle. And then there is the clutter. JB and I are allowed a six by three foot space to set up the trainers (they make too much noise in our apartment, which she lives below). We made due and passed the time watching bike races downloaded on our laptops.
Then there was HPI (Human Performance Institute) and two nights a week computrainer pain sessions with the teammies, which helped pass the time EMENSLY.
But even that had its expiration date and with two weeks before my first race of the season, I was burnt out. I didn’t want to race and I certainly didn’t want to get on the trainer, or computrainer, again.
So I inserted a few days of rest going into race week and that helped.
And again, every day I logged into weather.com but this time, I was checking the weather for Hillsboro, Illinois, home of the Hillsboro Roubaix, a road race with a 29 mile loop on country roads. Two weeks before the race, JB and I headed down there for a little recon of the course and got extremely lucky with the weather – it was sunny and 58! I was so blissed out happy to be riding my bike OUTSIDE for the second time in two whole months that I almost cried.
Race day blessed us with similar weather – sunny and high 40s.
Leading up to Hillsboro, I was scared. Nervous. Anxious. I had numerous conversations with JB about it. I whined. A lot. I tried to put my finger on what it was that I was so worked up about – I mean, I wasn’t going to forget how to pedal and simply fall over, would I? It all came down to… bike racing is new to me and something that I have spent hours, days, and months in the basement training for. I knew my fitness was there, but what about my skills?
Luckily, HAC had four women registered for Hillsboro and we had a plan.
Race morning, I “warmed-up” – a couple of quick laps of the start/finish and getting acquainted with the killer hills and pavers this race is known for. I’m a good climber and I knew I had that going for me, but what about the others? How fast could they take those hills? Would it come down to a sprint finish?
Women 4 were the first to race. We lined up and I realized I was overdressed. Rode back to the car, grabbed a vest, back to the line, back to the car to get MY vest (I had grabbed JB’s), back to the line where I got dressed as the RD said a blessing to keep and protect us.
The whistle blow and we were off! First mile was neutral with a nice downhill where, to my surprise, everyone hit their brakes. Then there was a loud POP, and the group let out a groan… someone flatted before the race began. Bummer. Riding, riding, riding, slow and steady, and Maria (Cuttin’ Crew) comes along side and tells me it was Annie, my teammate, who flatted. Ugh. Annie wanted to race more than any of us that day and was devastated that she hadn’t put wheels in the truck – none of us had. (Except for Vanessa, but she rides 650s).
So Annie is done, and now it’s just us three from HAC: Erica, Vanessa and me. La la la la. It’s a nice sunny day and we’re doing a bike race and the pace is slow to tempo. Then, around mile six, I got an itch and I attacked which resulted in a solo break for like, 100 meters and it was SO FUN, but I don’t have the strength to go solo at 23mph for 21 miles, so I got back in the group. A couple miles later, Desiree (xXx) went and I went with her and I thought we could make it stick for sure, but back to the pack we went. A couple more honorable attacks (one by Erica) and each one was reeled back in.
Coming back into town and I was so thankful I had ridden the course two weeks ago. The two road races I have done in the past, I did without knowing the course and therefore, not knowing how close the finish line was until people were winding up for the sprint. This time, I was mentally prepared by the landmarks around me and then… we hit the twins from hell. The twin hills aren’t long, but they are somewhat steep.
I was near the front and did my best to breathe and relax as my heart went from “rest” to “redline”. There were about six people ahead of me, including Erica, and I just tried to focus on staying on whatever wheel was in front of me and PUSH! PUSH! PUSH! all the way through. I knew the key to the hill would be to continue in a big gear at the top instead of recovering, and that is what I did – PUSH through the flat leading to the downhill and then click, click, click to the biggest gear, then SCREAM downhill, yell at Erica to “Come on!”, hit the cobbles, up and around the corner AND DIG!!! There were still about five or six girls in front with me and my brain was yelling, “PUSH ANDREA! PUSH!” I knew there was a slight downhill right before the final turn home and I clicked down a gear, got in the drops, rounded the turn, and gritted my teeth. I passed about two girls in the final sprint and ended up 5th out of 31 finishers in the women’s cat 4 race. Erica came in 10th and Vanessa finished with the pack.
My goal was top 10. Not bad for a girl who spent 99% of her training indoors over the past three months.
It’s still cold here in Chicago but we’re flirting with 40s and 50s this week. Hopefully spring doesn’t turn out to be a saucy tease and actually sticks around before we go straight to summer. The season is off to a great start, despite the weather.