I raced the West Branch Classic road race earlier today. I finished. But overall, it went pretty badly.
Lets rewind to my last blog post. After Tour de Frankenmuth, I went on a fairly spirited 32 mile solo ride. Then on Monday, I went on a horrible 55 mile ride with my friends Dan and Sarah. The forecast called for clouds and 60 degree weather. Instead, it rained for 40 miles of the ride. And the temperature never got above 50 freaking degrees! With the rain, wind, and clouds...it felt arctic! My buddy Dan was lucky enough to turn around and go home because of knee issues. Sarah and I continued on, assuming the rain would let up since there was no rain forecasted for that time of day. We assumed wrong.
After that, I didn't get on the bike again until the race this morning. I have been told that was a mistake. But in my defense, I felt fatigued. And non-cycling life kept me busy. Should I have made time for a moderate ride on Thursday? Would that have helped? No clue. I planned on a light spin on Friday. But instead, I mowed the lawn since my wife said we were starting to look like the Clampetts! lol
After mowing and doing a load of laundry, I cleaned up my bike and got all my gear ready. I made the same concoction I used for Tour de Frankenmuth: Hammer Endurolyte, Hammer Fizz, and a 5-Hour Energy. I also wanted to make sure I got some sleep so I took a diphenhydramine pill at around 9:00pm and set my alarm for 4:30am.
When my alarm rang, I was all sorts of messed up! That stupid diphenhydramine did a number on me. Aside from just being very very drowsy, I also just felt...weird! Sort of like...my body wasn't my body, or a out of body experience type of thing. This lasted for pretty much the entire drive as well.
Anyway...my buddy Charles showed up and my place at 5:30am, while I was having my breakfast (an apple and a bagel with cream cheese) and we took off. My friend Sarah was leaving from Flushing, MI. We came across her car on the highway with about 45 minutes driving left to do.
We arrived in White Branch at close to 7:30am! We made great time! Charles wanted to stop at the McDonalds right off the highway to use their facilites and to get breakfast. I probably should have done the same but I just wasn't feeling hungry at all. Sarah got a coffee, we all used the bathroom, and we headed for packet pickup. We mistakenly went to the Quality Inn at first, but apparently that was only packet pickup for the previous night. Today, packet pickup was at the race start.
We got there at 8:00am. Charles and my field started at 9:05am. I forced myself to eat a NutriGrain bar while in line because I knew I needed more calories. Then...we waited. For whatever reason, they didn't open up packet pick up and day-of registration until around 8:20am. By the time I got my race number, it was 8:30am. So little time left! We quickly pinned on our numbers, got our bikes ready, and ourselves ready. No time to warm up or even tool around really. It was time to get to the staging area!
That's the elevation profile of the race. Two laps. 44 miles. And a killer hill at the end of each lap, with rolling terrain throughout the rest of the course. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride this course, so despite the above profile I really did not know what to expect. My original plan was to ride near the front. But between the diphenhydramine and not being able to take in a lot of food, I was feeling like absolute garbage.
Result? 3, 2, 1...go! Annnnddd...off to the back I went. Luckily, the pace was very casual to start the race. That gave me some time to get my legs under me a bit and start perking up. Nothing really happened until the first short, punchy roller. Not very steep. Not very long. But some people started to fall off the back. I was riding in dead last place, so I sprinted around them to latch on to the back of the pack. This happened several times during the first lap and thinned the 30 man field a little bit.
At the end of the first lap was the long hill. It's not ultra steep. I think it reaches around 7%-8% grade at its maximum. But the entire ascent is a good 1.6 miles long...and the steep part is at the very end. It was pretty hard. By the time we got to the top of this hill, a few more riders had dropped off the back (though a couple actually caught back up!).
There were a couple short bursts of speed, but nothing major. I was still near the back. And everything was going fine. I felt like if I could find my way up in the group a little, I'd be in good postion to finish respectably! I knew I was a much better climber for that last hill than a lot of guys remaining!
Then the oddest thing started to happen. I started moving up the field without any effort. Before I knew it, I was in the third spot. There were about 10-ish miles left. I felt like I was in an ideal position! The two guys in front of me really started to slow down. I mean like 16 mph slow. So on the next little incline, I found myself leading the group. Not good. I'm not strong enough to lead and fight the air. I didn't know what to do. So I just spun along at a moderate pace. Then the winds started...and my moderate pace started feeling difficult. What I didn't know at the time was that I'd inadvertently put a appreciable gap between myself and the field. I had just assumed that they were on my wheel. But after the race, Charles told me I was up there way too long...and I also ended up putting a small gap between myself and the field. I did NOT mean to do that. But what resulted was a fairly violent counter attack. All of a sudden, the field swallowed me up at light speed and I was at the back. And I was thankful! I needed some protection from the wind!
Next thing you know, Charles was up at the front! I know he probably didn't want to be up there either! In retrospect, the reason Charles and I ended up pulling for a while near the end of the race was because the heavy hitters in our field wanted a bit of rest before the violence to come.
Charles wasn't up there super long...but I'm sure it still took its toll. He started drifting back, smartly. We had about 6-ish miles left to go. And not long after...it happened. VROOM! The field took off like it was shot out of a cannon! The group of riders I was near, at the back of this field, started to get gapped! Oh no! I quickly dodged around them and tried to catch on with the swiftly departing field. I was mashing the best I could. I found myself in no mans land: behind the lead group, but in front of a few people that got spit out the back. I tried to mash a little longer by myself in no mans land. I could tell I wasn't catching up very quickly and I was burning matches trying. I was tired. Both my calves started to cramp a bit and I had some side stitches happening. I slowed down to ride with the riders behind me. It was now me, Charles, and two other riders. I noticed that the group up ahead was slowing. I started entertaining the idea of catching them so I could be a part of the final uphill sprint. I wanted to bridge all four of us back to the group. Closer. Closer. Closer. Soooo tantalizingly close to grabbing someones wheel! The main group made the final turn. But before our group got to the turn, a stupid police van pulled out in front of us and came to a complete stop before the turn!!!!!!!! Couldn't see oncoming traffic around the van....and the van was so wide and to the right side of the road, so you couldn't easily pass on the right. @#$%!!!! Finally, there was room on the right to squeeze through! We four squirted through. The main group was still within range! I start to go again. I'm burning matches. I need some help! So I turn to Charles, "You got anything left, buddy?" Charles was gassed. I looked to the two other guys. Heads shaking. And that's when I knew. Game over, about 1.5 miles from the finish line. I shut it down and cruised with Charles. The two other guys passed us and went on their way. At the steepest part of the hill, I decide to give a little bit of gas and scoot past Charles. Then I caught one of the guys that left us. I thought about catching the second guy, but didn't have the motivation to bring myself into the red to do so.
Not sure where I placed. Didn't see where the results were posted. So, I'll have to wait until the results are posted online.
Lots of mistakes for this race. But which ones mattered? And how much did they matter?
1) I should probably have gotten on my bike at least once in the 5 days before the race
2) Diphenhydramine might have been a bad idea. Maybe. Still undecided.
3) I should have eaten more prior to the race
4) I should have warmed up. I'll have to break my rule of not warming up. I need to be ready to go at the beginning of the race...not 20-30 minutes into the race.
5) I had some GI discomfort during the race. And GI distress on the drive back home. Plus, even though I felt like I drank a lot of fluid, it did not satiate my thirst. My mouth was parched and I was dying of thirst after the race! Maybe that concoction I made is not so great. Must try different fluids and calorie source.
6) Why on earth did both my calves start to cramp? I rarely cramp. And I thought my fluids had more than enough sodium and potassium. I have no answers here...I just don't get it.
7) I'm not strong enough to take pulls. I should not have gotten caught out front leading the group, and for so long. And I should certainly not create a gap to illicit a counter, which required me to get on the gas to keep up with them after they blasted past me.
8) Do NOT get caught so far at the back at the end of the race! I'm still not getting that! When the pack made their violent move, I couldn't get around the riders unable to respond...and when I finally circumnavigated around them, the gap was too big for me to close up.
Anyway...live and learn. Charles is normally a much strong rider than me. He was having a bad day...and he was over geared for these hills. I'm sure next time, if we're ever in a similar situation, we could bridge up to the group!
Here's my Strava of the race:
Sarah completed the women's cat 4! She had a rough day as well. She finished 5th...not bad! But...it breaks her podium streak. And she ended up working way too hard for the group of five women out front. Plus, the girl that won refused to take any pulls which rubbed some of the girls the wrong way. Sarah and another rider, Kari, are on different teams but willing to work with each other. I told Sarah that next time, they should box her in out front: pin that rider against the side of the road, with Sarah behind and Kari on her left. Make her fight some wind!
Well...next up is a KILLER ride. Michigan Mountain Mayhem! 130 miles...with 10,000 feet of climbing. I will not be racing this thing. I just want to survive it. I'm thinking 14 mph average. Tops. No joke. This will be tough for me! We have a whole crew going up to Boyne! Me, Kendal, Rebeka, Sarah, Joe, Dan, Charles, and Laura! Should be fun!