Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Maui Stage Race Recap

Maui Stage Race

Since I'm not doing very much any running these days, I'm spending a lot of time on my bike training for Cycle to the Sun.  I've always enjoyed competing in running and triathlon events, so I thought I should sign up for the Maui Stage Race.  My stepbrother is a very talented bike racer in Southern California, and even though I am nowhere near that level of rider, I still thought this event would be a good experience even though I had no clue what was involved.

Sunrise on Day 1 - we lucked out with perfect conditions!
The two-day race consisted of a time trial and criterium on Saturday, followed by a road race on Sunday.  With a Century and several other events under my belt, along with the more intense training I've been doing the last two months, I went into this event feeling pretty confident in my abilities and fitness level.  I didn't place any real expectations on myself because I had no experience with the TT or crit, I just went in with a positive attitude, ready to ride.

Time Trial
This was pretty cool.  I knew the course well because I frequently ride the Central Maui area, but I never did any practice runs of the specific loop leading up to the race.  The riders lined up and went off in one-minute increments.  I chatted with Jeffrey from South Maui Bicycles just before we lined up, and (showing my total and complete inexperience here!) asked him if it was OK to pass the other riders.  I knew you couldn't draft, but wasn't sure about passing - he told me the idea was to pass as many riders as you could and not let anyone pass you.  OK - good goal!

I went out strong and kept pressure on the pedals.  It's amazing the distance a rider can make with a one minute lead - I didn't see the rider who was just before me at all - I only passed one of the juniors at about the half-way point.  I would periodically check behind me but I never saw any riders approaching, so I felt pretty good and kept pushing just a little bit harder - not getting complacent and my coach warned me not to do.  I wore my Garmin but never looked at it the entire time - just tried to stay focused on how I was feeling and pushing the pedals.  Then BAM - not long after the third turn, the rider behind me passed me.  I picked up the pace and tried to keep her in my sights, but she had an extra gear I did not have at that point.  And right at that area of the course the climb began and I started losing speed.  That's when I got passed two more times. As hard as I tried to keep up with them, the continued to pull away.

There was about 10 minutes left to go and that's when I remembered what my coach said, "The last 10 minutes should REALLY HURT."  So I dug down, tried to rally, and then pushed as hard as I could after the fourth and final turn for the last stretch to the finish line and finished in 47:09.  I was really hoping to come in between 42-45 minutes, but I really lost my speed after the third turn.

Not long after I got home, I got an email with the results (amazing to get it so quickly!).  I told my husband I got 8th place - then giggled and said, "Well, 8th out of 8."  Even though I was in last place I was still OK with it because the overall times were fairly close together.  My optimism was still in check.  I ate breakfast, had a brief nap, then had lunch.  Before long it was time to head back down for the criterium.

Again, first time.  Ever.  This was a closed-course race on about a 1/4 mile loop.  The start/finish line was at a fairly level point, then the course gently sloped downhill to the first turn and continued mostly flat into the second turn where you hit a slight incline to the third turn, then into a light headwind along the flat to the finish.

The women, children and men 60+ lined up at the start.  I picked an inside spot in the second row, thinking that I would be able to get up near the front (a key position, I was told).  A Cat 1 racer was going to be our "pace man" and get things rolling.  The idea was that no one would "attack" in the first 10 minutes, simply build some momentum and get the riders settled in.

My starting-line philosophy did not work.  After the first lap I ended up in the rear 3rd of the pack with about 3 riders behind me. I mistakenly assumed that people would ride toward the inside of the course, but really they rode the outside then cut into the corners (you could have a serious accident if you came up on the inside and got squeezed out!).  If you weren't tight to the group and able to keep up after the second turn into the uphill, you were really screwed when you hit the head wind.

Into the 2nd and 3rd laps, I realized exactly what my coach said: being at the rear of the pack you were at the mercy of the braking of the front riders into the turns. I felt fine handling myself in the turns and could have gone a lot faster, but I spent the next couple of laps trying to move up the line and the other riders were having none of it. I also realized that this was the "first 10 minutes" and I already felt like I was maxing out/redlining - it was a huge effort to catch up/keep up and each lap left me further and further behind.

I think I was into the 6th or 7th lap that I decided to DNF. I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends and it was either finish this and have nothing left for the road race, which is the event I was most looking forward to.

I realized that I am not a sprinter/racer in this sense. These riders are really amazing! And one of the really cool things about bowing out was that I got to watch Kimberly (who has the same coach as I do) really kick some ass! She looked like a pro out there - she was working with this 17 yr old phenom - Tyler - and they dominated the race - and this was her first crit.  Amazing.

Road Race
This was a familiar course for me.  I ride it frequently in training - it's my own back yard.  I knew it was a tough course, though, with some good climbing in the beginning and at the end.  Despite the lasting sting of the DNF from the day before, I again felt pretty confident with this stage of the race.

I was cool (57f), clear and beautiful in the morning, with no wind.  It was a seeded start, so everyone lined up appropriately.

We were off...then before we made the turn to Kekaulike and the start of the climb the pack was gone and there were just a few of us stragglers at the back. I ended up leading our little pack up the climb, then the men passed me on the downhill, but they had their weight to help them go. HOWEVER - HOLY SHI*T - I can't believe I hit almost 40mph going down the hill at one point! I LOVE THE DOWNHILLS! I was clear, dry and virtually no cars, which was wonderful.

We made the turn and hit the rolling climbs and that's when I really started to eat and drink more - the road is wide and straight so its a bit easier to do. I wasn't too hot or too cold or to hungry, but I just didn't have any legs! Pretty soon I was by myself and that's when a lot of self-talking began.

You have to pass the finish line on the way out to the winery which is kind of demoralizing, because then I got to see exactly how many people had already finished, but I kept on going and again enjoyed the descent into Ulupalakua. I turned around at the winery, and that's when I realized that there was only one other person behind me. I just kept on going and pushing the pedals, then pretty soon he caught me and passed me, but was never too far ahead.

One insight I had was that it did seem a little bit easier/shorter the climb out of Ulupalakua than the last two times I've done it, so I think that was a good sign.  At one point I thought of this BLOG POST I read last week and kicked myself up a notch because what I was doing wasn't even close to what Andrew went through in his race.

The last 10-15' the motorcycle was following me which quite frankly totally sucks.  But I kept my composure and actually said thank you and blew a kiss at him after I crossed the finish line (which I hope he didn't find weird or offensive!), which they promptly tore down shortly after got there.

The post-race party was great - they had a guy with a portable pizza oven from Outrigger Pizza, a beautiful salad, lots of beer (of which I didn't partake because I was so tired I probably would have passed out - AND it was 9:30 in the morning, after all), water and massage, which was wonderful.  I've never been able to get a post-race massage at any event, and these women were truly magical!  I actually felt pretty light on my feet as I headed home.

In Retrospect
After talking to my coach, family and friends, I realized that I was an orange in a basket of apples and unfairly comparing myself to this group of very dedicated riders.  I knew it too, deep down inside, but I'm usually solid front of MOP in running and triathlon.  I've NEVER been last and I've never had a DNF in any athletic event and neither one of those things feel very good.  I'm a solid believer that good training will pay off in good racing - and it will in cycling, but just in a different way and perhaps after some more time in the saddle.

That's not to say that I've never had a bad race, or that every race turns out exactly the way I planned or expected, because I have and they don't.  But I certainly plan to make sure that I lessen the odds of it ever happening again!

I want to say a special thank you to a few people who were at the right place at the right time and helped me stay motivated and positive throughout the weekend:
  • Dana - thanks for being there after the crit and allowing me to vent a little bit!  I very much enjoyed our conversation and would like to do it again some time.  I can't wait to hear how Honolulu goes for you...good luck!
  • Debbie - it was such a surprise to see you at the finish line of the road race, and I have to say you were instrumental in preventing me from having a total meltdown by keeping me busy with conversation.  I hope you have a great time on your upcoming ride in the Alps!
  • Jeffrey - Thanks for rooting me along the way - and for your support after the road race.  As tough as it was I had a great time overall and you helped me keep some things in their proper perspective.
And to my coach - who is amazing - and who I never thought had ever come in last in a race. 

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