My first bike race: F*&%ing Bananas
A few weeks ago, I decided to register for my first pure bike race at the Rollfast Gran Fondo in Indianapolis. My goals were to go hard at the start, hang on as long as I could and keep the rubber side down.
What did I learn? The first two hours of a big bike race are fucking bananas. Everyone redlines, the peloton is total chaos while some cyclists are wearing headphones as you are flying along at 30mph. And I loved almost every moment of it. The Gran Fondo was exciting, stupid, exhilarating, terrifying and fun.
I realized during the race that coach Marilyn Chychota prepared me for this experience with years of cycling together. Marilyn is an Ironman Champion and a professional cyclist. I swear I actually heard her in my head the whole ride telling me what to do. Including the following:
- Don’t get dropped. DON’T GET DROPPED! When the pack goes, you must go.
- Stop looking at your computer. You are racing. Yes, you are at your max heart rate for the last hour but IT DOES NOT MATTER. Again, DON’T GET DROPPED! If you do, it will take forever to finish.
- You will get bumped in the peloton. I even rubbed wheels with one rider but stayed calm and strong. The other cyclist reacted well too and we both stayed rubber side down.
- Get in a pace line. When possible stay near the front close to the third position. And tell the guys when you need to get back into the pace line. I pulled more than I wanted but I stayed safer towards the front.
- Never be at the back of the pace line.
- Pull and rotate through the pace line at an even speed.
- DON’T GET DROPPED!
- Always be pedaling and feather your front brake to control your speed.
- Know if you stop at a stop sign that the peloton will start up again as if they are on fire. Blaze of glory!
- Don’t let any women pass you. I didn’t.
- DON’T GET DROPPED!
I can’t thank Marilyn enough for teaching me how to race my bike. Having these skills has made me a better triathlete too. Thanks to our Endurance Corner camps I have had years to practice these skills as we turn triathletes into cyclists.
After the crazy first couple of hours, I settled in with a group and pulled from the front. Towards the end of the race I dropped the pace line and was pulling just two other men to the finish. I appreciated that both of them took brief turns at the front giving me some time to hydrate and fuel.
I am amazed how little cyclists drink and eat. Most only had two water bottles and I saw no visible food consumed. I had four bottles and consumed 1100 calories. This doesn’t include the 600 calories I ate for breakfast. I still spent the last hour thirsty because there were no aid stations.
After the race I was parched and wandered off to find a water fountain. I ended up missing the podium announcement and picture. I went to check how I performed and discovered that I was the third fastest woman. I lost to two women in the 25-29 age group who went 3:55!
At age 50, I realized that I have aged out of this sport. Too dangerous and risky with my focus on triathlon and being mobile until at least age 100. I was happy with my performance and fitness. I went hard and hung on until the end. It was painful and I think necessary to break through some mental barriers.
After the race I called KT to tell her my surprising time and results. Her first response; did you cut the course? And her next response; what takes you so long in an Ironman? KT ended our conversation by issuing a final proclamation that my bike racing career was over. Almost before it started.
It was fun while it lasted. No easy way…