For some unknown reason, I decided that the Spring Prairie Road Race would be my introduction to road racing. Maybe it was the allure of the brochure boasting “tendon tearing climbs.” Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.
My racing experience has been in mountain biking, which means I understand mud and grime, rocks and roots. This year I’ve been doing a lot of road training - learning about drafting and spinning, and figured why not, let’s try this road racing thang.
Spring Prairie was 26 miles (Women’s 4s). Four 6.5 mile loops. I’m more of an endurance athlete, so that was a little short for me. But, I figured it also might be a good first race.
I signed up for the event with teammate Jen Groen. We were nervous about the 18% incline that we’d have to ride four times. And that monster hill had sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. An extended family of hills awaited us.
Jen and I rode with the pack up the first hill to the starting line. There were about 15 of us. A third up of the way up, I dropped my chain. Not ideal – dropping one’s chain before the race starts. I quickly put the chain back on, but the field had already taken off.
I swallowed a fireball of frustration at my misfortune.
“I can catch up,” I told myself as I spun furiously and concentrated on the blur of riders moving farther and farther away. I spotted Jen trailing the pack slightly and tried to catch her. But the gap was widening, stretching like melting taffy on a sweltering day. Any chance of working together was quickly slipping through my fingers.
Keep steady, I told myself. You’ve got the endurance. You’ll catch ‘em.
But I could barely catch my breath. I labored heavily as I wobbled up the hills. My chest felt tight. My lungs were sore. I cruised down the hill only to be hit by the wind trying to blow me sideways.
I saw Jen and the pack recede like ants shimmering against the road, father, father, until they were just specs on the horizon. Taunting me. And, then gone.
I continued alone, braving the crosswinds and hills. Joni Mitchell was stuck in my head in an incessant loop, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Of all songs, why this one??
“Good job, good job!” spectators in deck chairs cheered as I wrestled up the 18% grade hill welcoming me to lap two. “No,” I thought to myself. “Not a particularly good job. I’m so far behind that the pack is in a different zip code by now.”
My lungs were getting tighter by the minute. It dawned on me that I should use my inhaler. I reached into my back pocket, grabbed the dusty thing and took two puffs. My lungs began to open up. It was refreshing to breathe in deeply and fill the lungs with sweet air.
Once the iron cage lifted, I started biking faster, but I still was by myself. Soon the junior riders began to catch and overtake me. That’s hard for the ego, but I have to give them props. They were fierce.
I was nearing the end of lap three when the women’s pack came up from behind and lapped me. I tried to hang on to their wheels, but they were too fast. They shot past and sprinted up the 18% grade to the finish line.
I slowly climbed behind them. My bike wobbling in all directions.
“You’re almost there!” an encouraging spectator shouted. “Almost done!”
“No, I’ve been lapped.” I stated. “Got one more lap to go.”
But the course officials had a different idea.
“Race is over,” the official told me as I began lap four.
“Not for me, I still have one lap to go.”
“You’re done, it doesn’t matter. We’ve scored you.”
“But I came out to ride 4 laps, 26 miles. Can I finish the last one, please?”
They let me continue the last lap. I tried to make it count. Tried to gain some momentum, some reason for being out there.
The first wave of Master’s Men 50+ passed me. “Hold your line,” they admonished, but followed up with “good job.”
“Thank you,” I smiled. I was feeling more charitable than earlier in the race.
Yeah, I was last. I mean really, really last. But it was my first road race, and I had to deal with a dropped chain, a bike that weighed a ton, and an asthma attack.
I can’t say I felt elated when I finished. I never did tap into that blissful state of euphoria. But I survived, learned a lot, and am looking forward to trying this road thing again.