Let the racing begin!

Let the racing begin!
A feeling of relief after my first ever crit- 11th place out of 26 girls.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning to race while learning to live with MS

The hopes of being this all star cyclist are slowly diminishing with each crash I have. I expected that racing would be a challenge, but I was also expecting to have the god given talent of kicking some butt. It seems that the only butt I have been kicking is my own…

Tour of Champaign-Urbana was another learning curve, but over all a great time. Went to the race with my good friends and coach Mark and Isaac. The weekend was filled with good times and good laughs and a little harassing on their end. We all raced, some did better then others. I’ll let you guess who was who: Cyclist “A” finished the race and came in 6th over all, cyclist “B” was a great teacher and showed what not to do in a race by trying to catch a breakaway in the first 5 minutes and cyclist “C” crashed for the second time in 5 races. You guessed it- I was cyclist C….

Nervous as usual before the race, I tried snapping out of it and strategizing on what I was going to focus on for the race. I was trying to think of the one thing I wanted to improve on from my last race at Monsters of the Midway. I decided that I needed to work on my sprint to the finish. During the Monsters of the Midway race, I stayed with the lead pack the entire race but fell back a couple spots on the last turn and sprint to the finish. Still ended up 14th out of 41 girls over all (even with some Cat 3’s in there). I knew if I had sprinted to the finish I could have definitely broke into top 10 and gotten close to top 5. Tour de C-U was my chance to see what I could do.

The Race
There were 16 girls in the Cat ¾ race some of which I recognized from previous races. I think it was 10 out of the 16 girls were Cat 3 leaving just 6 of us Cat 4 girls to get schooled by these beasts. The official got us to the line and we were off. The race started FAST. We hit it hard getting up to 27 MPH within the second turn. I was doing well, holding my own and remembering to stay in the front of the pack. The first two corners were good, I was feeling strong. The third turn was decent but I dropped back a spot or two. Then came the dreaded 180 degree turn. Booking it at 26mph to the turn, the girls quickly began hitting their breaks anticipating the 180 degrees of fun. Once cornering it was a quick sprint to catch up to the lead pack. This was hard- going from 26mph down to 16 mph then back up to 26mph within 5 seconds 15 to 18 times was ROUGH! I quickly became tired from this turn and by the 5th time around I was falling to the back of the pack.

Letting MS Win
It was at this time I started having a little bit of a mental road block. It was a gorgeous day out,

hitting in the mid 80’s, but with the sun beating down on us and the quick race and sprints making me hit new max HR’s I became worried. All I could think of was that my MS was going to flair up. Over heating was not a favorable thing to do for someone living with MS.
Everyone’s MS is different and different things make people flair up, this I fully know and understand, but sometimes I think that being around people who live with the disease too much is letting things get to my head. Everyone ALWAYS asks me if the heat bothers me. When I say no, they are relatively surprised by this. For them, the heat makes them tiered, weak and unable to go on with their normal day to day routines. Over heating has caused them to flair up and even sometimes go to the hospital. All these thoughts and more were rushing through my head as I started to get tiered and what I thought, began to over heat. It was at that point, I gave up, I let the lead pack go and fell off the back. I gave into the disease….

Fight to the Finish
Angry at myself for not pushing harder I spun a little to give my legs a bit of a rest and to get my HR down. I kept going, thinking that maybe I could catch up to the lead pack and make a miracle happen… ya- wishful thinking. I felt bad, like I let Mark and Isaac down as I passed them along the route cheering me on. They kept yelling at me to push forward, to catch some of the other girls who had also fallen off the pack ahead. I figured, what the hell, at least I could try that.
With 5 laps to go, I put it into high gear. I put my head down and tried hammering it out the best I could. I finally caught up to one girl who had fallen off the pack and told her “lets work together”. Her and I worked through another lap and caught up to another girl who had fallen off the pack. The three of us worked the best we could, trying to catch up to the lead pack with 2 laps to go… uh huh, not going to happen. I just started focusing on kicking those two girl’s butts to the finish line.
Last lap and the three of us stepped it up. As we began approaching the final 180 degree turn and I started focusing on my main intention for the race, the sprint to the finish. As I went into the turn I took it hard and sharp. I wanted to get as far ahead of the girls through the turn as possible because I figured they had more in their legs then I did since I pulled them for the last half of the lap. As I took the turn I began pedaling through to get the momentum started, and as my left leg made the stroke through it hit the pavement and popped the bike out for underneath me and down I went… Crash #2 of my racing career!
As I slid towards the curb I watched the other girls fly by me and sprint to the finish. “There goes all the hard work I put into the race,” I thought to myself. I quickly got up, shook it off and jumped back on my bike. I wanted to finish the race no matter what. I had my sprint, just by myself, but crossed the finish line with my head held high. Even though I had given into the disease, I fought through it in the end to bridge the gap to some of the other girls. And even though I had fallen, I got back up and finished the race coming in 12th out 16. All and all, I raced and I learned.

The Learning Curve
I got this tattoo back in January to motivate me, to make me fight harder, be stronger and to inspire not only myself but others around me. I didn’t want it to be a reminder that I am living with the disease, but a reminder to fight it and push through the barriers that it puts up against me. Right now, the tattoo is representing just the opposite. As the change of weather approaches I have noticed flair ups here and there from blurry vision, fatigue and even a little bit of what I used to make fun of my mom for (calling it her “tap-a-tap-a foot” for those Simpson fans), drop foot. I keep forgetting that I have only been diagnosed with this disease for less then a year.

There is still so much for me to learn regarding my limitations, what does and doesn’t make it flair up, and how much I can push myself. Sometimes I think I am an idiot for trying this whole racing thing out. I feel like I’m trying to pretend that I don’t have this disease, that it isn’t going to impact me and my life as much as I have seen it do to my dearest friends and family. But in all reality it is going to impact my life. There are going to be those times that I can’t do something I wanted to do because of my MS, but there are going to be times that I DID do something despite having MS. It’s all a learning curve for me right now. Learning how to race and learning how to live with a disease that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. MS might have gotten me at the Tour de C-U, but all I have to say is watch out. I’m not letting it get me again….. Suck it MS!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

First Race- CHECK... First Crash- CHECK

And so it begins. After months of training (been on my trainer inside since October) I have competed in my first criterium as a member of the MS Racing team... and I LOVED it!

Pre-race training & jitters:
So I have been training HARD since October. As soon as it got cold out I turned my basement into my cycling torture room. I committed myself to HOURS on the trainer- some days reaching 3 hours. Kept myself occupied with movies, television and the radio (most of the time the TV and radio were on simultaneously). Thanks to some good friends, I had a good and solid training program. When January came around, I asked my friend Mark to help me out and coach me. Being a cyclist himself and owner of Start2Finish Studio I knew I was in good hands. The intensity of my workouts quickly increased and with that came the massive amounts of sweat. Yes- it's true, girls DO sweat. I might be one of the abnormal ones, but being in a basement for hours having your hear rate in Zone 3 will cause a waterfall of sweat. Lets just say at the end of all my workouts I looked like I had gone swimming with my clothes on. It was SICK!

The week and days leading up to my first race (Gaper's Block Criterium) I was really nervous and somewhat questioning myself. Could I really do this? I mean I bought my bike only a year ago and now I was going to try and race it- what the hell is wrong with me? I quickly snapped out of it once I thought again of why I am doing this. I needed to prove to myself that just because I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, it didn't mean that I couldn't reach new goals and set bigger and better dreams. MS isn't the end all be all and I wanted to make sure that not only I knew that, but other people affected by the disease new that as well. This is my way of saying "SUCK IT" to MS!

Race 1 Recap:
Let me just say thank god for my friend Elle. She came out with me to the race. I really needed someone there with me to kind of calm me down and make sure I was on track with everything (like putting my number on correctly). When I got there I jumped on my trainer and warmed up. I was pretty quiet during the warm up. Trying to focus on what I had learned in the women's clinic on cornering during a race and most importantly not crashing. During the warm up Elle and I came up with 3 goals:
(1) Stay up - i.e. no crashing
(2) Stay with the pack - for those of you who are non-cyclists this means just staying with the group
(3) Finish the race

All seemed pretty realistic but the one I was most nervous about was #2. Last year during my first ever race (Willow Springs) I got dropped 5 miles into it after pulling a muscle in my leg. I finished the race but it left a bad taste in my mouth about racing. But I pushed that out of my mind and just focused on it being a new race and a new day.
It was finally time for the race. I approached the start line. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest- it was like high school swimming all over again. I looked to my left, looked to my right and saw the other 25 female cyclists focused and ready to race. They blew the whistle and we were off....
The race started slow, no one wanted to jump in the front. When we approached the first corner I was about to crap my pants- all I could think of was not to crash and take out the rest of the girls. We hit the corner and it was like a knife through butter- easy as can be. The girls picked up the intensity and started a pace line. I was at the front of the pack peddling away and holding my own. We kept the pace line going for a steady 10 laps and then the final 4 lap countdown began and the intensity picked up. The front of the pack picked up the speed. At one moment I looked down at my computer and we had hit 28mph (let me just emphasize that it was a windy day and this was with the wind at our back). I kept with the lead pack all the way to the end and sprinted to the finish to come in 11th place out of 26 girls. Not too shabby for my first ever criterium. I had completed all 3 goals that Elle and I had set and I felt like I was on top of the world. It was a great feeling! I was hungry for more...

Race #2- the crash:
It was bound to happen so I guess I'm glad I just got it out of the way. I got ready for the race just like I did on Monday. Elle came out to support me again which I again, am so thankful for. She even did a little song and dance for me to get me ready for the race :-)

I approached the start line- 21 girls in all for the race- the whistle blew and I was off again. This race was a little different then the one on Monday. There were a lot more experienced riders and they were picking up the speed quickly. At one point I looked at my heart rate monitor and hit a new record max of 197. Before I had only hit 187.
We had about 6 laps to go and I was in the front back. We were approaching a turn when the girl in front of me hit her brakes (as she had been doing the WHOLE freaking time). I knew better then to stay behind her the first couple of times I saw it happen but I did because I didn't want to be at the very front of the pack. As soon as she hit her brakes before the turn, she swerved to the right, my front wheel hit her back wheel and it came right out from under me. Before I could say "what the (fill in the blank)" I was bracing myself for my one on one with the cement. I hit, and I hit hard. I think going into the turn we were at about 19mph- not too fast but it was up there. When I hit the ground, I didn't really feel too much. I closed my eyes and hoped that I didn't take out anyone else along with me.... unfortunately that wasn't the case. One girl flew over me, bike and all. She ended up jumping back into the race and coming in 10th though- shes a stud. Me on the other hand, my bike was going two different directions, I had a hole through 2 layers of clothing on my right elbow, a massive lump and bruise on my butt and bruises and scrapes on both knees.... I decided to call it a day.

I quickly called my coach and told him the news. I felt like an idiot and was disappointed in myself. He cheered me up and told me it was ok and to bring my bike in tomorrow and we will check it out. I felt like I disappointed him and myself. On the way home all I could do was replay the race in my head. I was angry and determined to do better. As soon as I got home I texted Mark: "I'm racing Friday as long as my bike is good- I'm hungry and want more!

Race #3- the double sprint:
After going to see Mark on Thursday, I got my bike fixed and pimped out with some new racing tires and a shorter stem. NICE! Mark also checked out my newest collection of bruises and scrapes and I was as good as new. I was ready for the next day's race.
Unfortunately no one was able to come out on Friday so it was all me in the pre-race prep. Warmed up a little longer then usual to get my knee and hip ready for the race. They were in a lot of pain throughout the day. Spent some time riding up and down the road doing some sprints and working on cornering with the new wheels and the new fit. All seemed good- I was ready for the race.

The whistle blew again, and we were off. It was a lot smaller group then the other two races, 12 girls in total. The race started out VERY slow. No one wanted to take the front of the pack. On the third lap I was pushed to the front and led the group for a lap and then fell back cause the front is NOT where I wanted to be. About 6 laps into it the Cat 3 girls pushed ahead and I, along with 8 other girls were dropped. I worked with one girl to keep the lead pack in sight. At one point I saw another girl fall of the lead pack and I was determined to catch her. With 3 laps to go, I pushed ahead. The girl was about half a lap ahead of me and I knew I could catch her. Two laps to go, I was almost there. One lap to go and I was closing in on her. I dropped the girl I had been working with for the majority of the race and was on the sprint to the finish. I pushed past the girl I had been trying to catch and crossed the finish line to find out the that officials had told us the WRONG lap number and we had 1 more to go. WTF!!!! I was spent. The girl I had originally beat past the finish past me and at the last corner the girl I had been working with for the majority of the race, was now with me at a deja vu sprint to the finish. Over all I came in 8th out of 12. Not the best, but some great experience and a decent race after my crash on Wednesday.

What's to come:

The first couple of races are out of the way and I am eager and excited for some more. Still planning out my race schedule but for sure I know I will be doing the Tour of Elk Grove and a non-race event known as the RAIN Ride (163 mile bike ride across Indiana in 1day). I'll keep everyone posted on whats going on and what's to come.

I'm excited and thrilled about this new part and adventure of my life and I hope to inspire others (with and without MS) to conquer their dreams and reach for the stars. Anything is possible and I hope to prove that.

xo xo xo