Prologue: Winning is sometimes bittersweet.
1st lap: Three of us are on the line at the start. I’m confused. I had thought there were more.
We start fast. At least it feels fast. But when I check the time at the first lap it’s not where I want to be. And I know what’s coming next.
2nd lap: It begins at the start of the second lap – it always does. The doubt. From experience I’m now usually prepared for the fight. I’ve been in this ring more than once. I know the drill – head down, find a rhythm and the happy place and don’t engage with doubt. But doubt is a relentless bully. And she knows the buttons to push. And she does, with just two words.
“Pro?” she sneers. “Really?”
No more needs to be said. I do the rest.
“You’re a fraud,” I tell myself.
“You’re in the wrong class.”
A year’s worth of positive self-talk and Fascat mental coaching dumped on the trail.
The word “Pro” written with sharpie on my left calf might as well be the iron brand of a scarlet letter. It burns – and with it my embarrassment. I imagine every racer (all men) that passes me seeing my sharpie category and smirking. I keep my head and body low in what I think is a racing position, but it is more like a cower.
I consider quitting. My shame is so sharp I can taste it, and I can barely pedal.
Middle: Somewhere in the middle I manage to outride doubt. I’d worked so hard the previous year on the mental skills for situations just like this. A small victory no matter the final outcome.
Interlude: Performer vs. competitor. Passing through the pit zone is a little bit like being on stage. Spectators, sounds and most importantly, energy. Energy that you can absorb during the brief moments you pass through. The spectators cheer, shout your name or sometimes just your number. And for this tribute you pay back with an acknowledgement of some kind. Everyone does it differently. Mine is to look like a racer. No matter what happens on the rest of that course — there in that pit, I am a racer. The trick of course is to absorb that energy and to make it last the lap until next you pass through.
The Catch: In the same way I outride doubt I somehow ride myself back into the race. Moving forward just a little bit at a time, building mental energy and just pushing through. And in my fourth pass through the pit I hear the announcer give a status update on my ride. I’m moving up — just one minute from the front.
I finally see her in front of me. I wait. Not wanting to get too close too soon. And when I pass, I pass as hard as I can, and I don’t look back.
The finish: The time between the catch and the end is about 20 minutes. But it is the whole race over again. Between there and the finish line I race my way past about a dozen men getting by them perhaps more because of their goodwill then my technique.
I cross the line with Larry the announcer calling my name and my arms high in victory. It is just like my dreams.
Bittersweet: I am not the fastest woman on the day. In fact I am fifth overall. But I am the fastest in the Pro/Open Category. My normal racing age category is the fastest group overall on the day.
My initial decision to race the pro/open was because I thought the other women were as well. A racer that has previously been faster than me missed the pro/open start by 5 minutes – she finished 54 seconds behind me. You have to take victories as they come.
Open – not Pro: Announcer Larry Grossman said it best. I won the “open category.” I wished they’d marked my leg with “O” for open. I’m not a pro. My coach has told me again and again, “The pros put their chamois on the same way the rest of us do”, but boy that “P” is a heavy weight, and I’m sure their chamois is different.
Racing: It may seem obvious, but racing is as much a mental game as a physical one. Perhaps more so.
RME series: In four years of racing the RME series, and despite small women’s fields, I’ve actually never won a race in that series. Lots of seconds and thirds – in fields of three and four — but never a win. This is a first.
Sticky Goo shifters: In that last 20 minutes of the race my gloves and shifters were covered with the sticky gel I’d forced down each lap for food energy. With every change of gear my gloves stuck relentlessly to the shifters. It was distracting beyond measure and honestly that was all I could think about.