Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Red Clay Ramble

The Red Clay Ramble was the perfect last hurrah for this year’s racing season.  I braved this mass-start race for several reasons.  It was a gravel grinder, not a road race on a paved roads.  Also, it started only 10 miles from my house.  Finally, it had a masters women’s category!  It’s rare to see masters women’s races around here, and so I wanted to give it a shot.

I owe a lot to my sweet husband Robert for making this race possible for me.  I had debated about which bicycle to ride.  I have an old beater of a cyclocross bike named Frankenbike, which I love, but it's not the fastest thing in the world.  Another option was borrowing an old road bike of Robert's and putting wider tires on it.  That's what I did for the Rouge Roubaix back in March.  That was an excellent choice for that race because the 102-mile Rouge Roubaix has significantly more paved road than the Red Clay Ramble.  However, I finally decided that Frankenbike would be better for the Red Clay Ramble.  It all turned out to be a moot point, though.  A few weeks ago, Robert surprised me with a new high-quality cyclocross bike.  It's a bright orange Fuji.  I love it!

I've ridden the Fuji several times, but last Saturday I really broke it in as I pre-rode the 56-mile Red Clay Ramble course.  What a beautiful route!  Additionally, it has a nice mix of surfaces, mostly unpaved but with significant paved sections that add some speed.  Because it was so close to home, I rode to and from the staging area as well as riding the course itself.  I started out my pre-ride with a stop by the Monticello farmer’s market.  Therefore, my entire ride was 84 miles.  I was mainly riding for pleasure and averaged nearly 16 mph.  Those extra miles to and from the racecourse were on paved roads, increasing my overall speed.  I figured I might be able to average 16 mph on just the racecourse itself on race day because adrenaline would give me a boost.  Let’s just say that I miscalculated – in a good way.

At the race yesterday, there was one mass start for all categories.  There were at least 75 racers.  I’d be lying if I said that that many people starting together didn’t make me nervous, given my serious crash several years ago.  Between that and my usual pre-race jitters, I had to tell myself several times, “No barfy!”  (That’s what I used to tell my beloved greyhound Cosmo, who had a sensitive stomach his whole life.  He just passed away last month at 15 years of age.)

The mass start worked to my advantage.  During the first few miles, I maneuvered fairly close to the front of the peloton, drafting off of the fastest guys for as long as possible.  I was still with them as we approached the most treacherous part of the course, a bridge at about mile 7.  We carefully (and quickly!) rode single file along the middle of the bridge, not along the boards on either side with their dangerous gaps:

As you can see, the hazard was very well marked.  We had also been warned verbally at the pre-race meeting.  I was amused when race volunteer Benny Watson dubbed it the Bridge of Death.  I felt like I should have been on a quest for Dionysus.  (Bonus points to anyone who gets this obscure reference to my favorite Rush song, Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres.)

Within another mile or so, I got dropped, but I was able to bridge back to the front group – yea!  Eventually, however, I did get dropped for good.  It wasn’t until almost mile 15; I was thrilled that I was able to hang on that long!  That was probably the deciding factor in my race because no other women were up there with me.  The other thing that helped me a lot was that I recover quickly.  Even after redlining with the front group, I was able to settle back in at a pace I could maintain for the rest of the race.

This race was such a good illustration of the wide variety of cycling experiences I drew from.  Trying to stay with the peloton was like Tuesday Worlds, just a little more jarring because of the gravel.  Also, I frequently ride on the dirt roads around my house.  Furthermore, all the endurance training I’ve done (100-mile or longer rides) makes a 56-mile race much less mentally daunting.  Even my time trialing came into play yesterday as I rode a few short stretches by myself.

Luck did have a role, though.  After I got dropped, I joined up with a couple of other guys.  The three of us worked together well for several miles.  Then, another group of about six caught us.  I couldn’t really look back to assess the group; I was just praying that there wasn’t another woman among them.  I didn’t think so, but I didn’t know for sure.  Then, we happened upon my Georgia Neurosurgical teammate Cal.  Cal had been in the front group but, unfortunately, flatted.  He was just getting back on his bike after fixing his flat as we approached him.  My energy level was good, and so I bridged the short distance up to Cal.  No one followed me.  I think I joined him at the perfect time, right as we got on Fortville Road, one of the longest paved sections of the race.  Drafting was even more effective for me on the paved roads, and Cal obligingly did most of the pulling.  I really appreciate his help.

I can’t decide whether it’s worse to get snotted on or sweated on when you’re riding behind someone else.  Probably the former.  Cal only sweated on me, but he did so rather copiously.  I really didn’t mind, though, because I was so focused on the race.  Besides, I just pretended that it was pixie dust that made me go faster.

On North Cross Road, Cal and I caught up to Jim Phillips.  The three of us pretty much rode the rest of the way together.  At least until Cal started cramping.  Toward the end, he finally had to drop back.  I felt badly about leaving him, but there wasn’t anything I could do for him.  Jim and I kept at it, and I picked up my pace for the last few miles.  It was nice to have a companion, and we encouraged each other as we went along.  At last, here came the finish line!  Jim pulled ahead and finished about 2 seconds in front of me.  I didn’t mind a bit because he had been so gracious to help me in my race.  I was the first female finisher!  I even broke 3 hours (2:57:41), averaging not 16 mph but almost 19 mph!

Who needs Dionysus?  I had really been on a quest to win one of these fantastically unique awards.  It even has a cool hanger made from a piece of bicycle chain!

I entered the masters category because I really haven’t done much racing besides time trials, and I was a little nervous about the competition.  Ironically, the masters field turned out to be even tougher than the women’s open category!  Isn’t it great that we all can keep cycling – and competing – even past our 20s and 30s?  I hope more women will discover how much fun gravel grinding is.

Thank you to the Bicycling Club of Milledgeville, Chainbuster Racing, and everyone who made the Red Clay Ramble possible.  I had a blast and look forward to next year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cycling Mojo

Form comes and goes, but it sure can be frustrating when it’s not there.  For most of this season of Tuesday Worlds, I haven’t been able to hang with the group.  I think I know why.

All along as I trained for RAAM earlier this year, I was working toward two conflicting goals: endurance and intensity.  I needed endurance for my portion of the total distance (1/4 of 3,000 miles = 750 miles), but I also needed to ride as hard as possible on each 30-minute leg I raced.  Ultimately, I focused more on endurance, which turned out to be the right call for RAAM.

After RAAM, I did some interval training to prepare for two late-season time trials (TTs).  On July 25 I raced in the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix TT in the women’s Cat 3-4 division.  I placed 2nd, finishing behind a Cat 3.  It wasn’t close between the two of us, and my time was comparable to last year; I was satisfied.

My bigger race was a week later on August 1, the state TT championship.  The previous two years, I won the women’s Cat 4 state TT championship.  I’m still a Cat 4, but this year I decided to race in the women’s Cat 3 division.  I wanted to challenge myself, and I thought it would be pretty uncool to win the Cat 4 championship again.  (This year’s time would have, in fact, put me in 1st place for Cat 4.)  USA Cycling rules allow cyclists to race TTs in a higher cat (which is actually a lower number – kind of confusing).  I think that’s because TTs don’t count toward your classification; only mass-start races (road races and crits) do.  Because I gave up mass-start racing after my serious crash a few years ago, I’ll never be able to cat up.  (My epitaph should be: Cat 4 4-ever.)  Racing Cat 3 at this year’s state TT championship went as well as I could have hoped for.  I was on the podium (3rd), and I improved my time on the course by almost 30 seconds over last year.  Not bad, particularly considering that I didn’t do nearly as much TT training this year as usual.

Although I’ve given up mass-start races, I feel like I still get a good taste of road racing because of Tuesday Worlds.  They are intense, with breakaways, bridging gaps, and (too often for me) getting dropped.  Given that I’ve been performing well in endurance cycling and time trialing, it’s not so surprising that I haven’t been able to keep up most weeks at Tuesday Worlds.  These really are three different types of cycling, and it’s unrealistic to expect to be at the top of my game on all of them at the same time.  Besides, endurance riding and time trialing come more naturally to me.  Not to mention, the guys at Tuesday Worlds have been getting stronger and stronger (Matt Triick!).

Last week I managed to hang with the second group at Tuesday Worlds.  I was thrilled because this was the first time I had stayed with any group since maybe a month before RAAM.  At last night’s Tuesday Worlds, I hoped I could keep that momentum despite not feeling particularly peppy at the start of the ride.  (I think I’m still feeling the effects of last Saturday’s 130-mile ride.)  Alas, I got dropped yet again and even earlier than usual.  Someone gapped me on the first big climb on Zebulon going out (grrr!).  Oh, well.  I’m pretty sure I would have gotten dropped later in the ride anyway.

I’ve got about two months of Tuesday Worlds left before the days get too short for road riding after work.  I’m going to go back each week and hang on as long as possible.  My goal is to stay with the group at least another time or two.  I hope I get back my cycling mojo.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pedaling and Paddling

Possibly the one thing that can make pedaling better is to add some paddling.  At lunch today, Robert and I were discussing our afternoon plans.  When he said that it would be a great day for kayaking, I knew exactly what we needed to do.  I had already planned to ride my bicycle to Allison Lake in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge, a pleasant ride that takes about two hours round trip.  Allison Lake is also the perfect place to go kayaking.  I rode to Allison Lake, where Robert met me with the kayaks - and our beagle Shelly!

Shelly really seemed to enjoy riding in the kayak today.

I took her out for some more dog paddling while Robert tooled around on his mountain bike.  Because of all my RAAM training earlier this year, this was the first time I had been kayaking all year.  I definitely won't go so long again before my next kayak outing.  Gently gliding on the water on a beautiful August afternoon - nothing else in the world is so peaceful and relaxing.

I saw and heard all kinds of wonderful wildlife both on my bicycle and in the kayak: wild turkeys, fish, cricket frogs, dragonflies, egrets, cranes, and even a bobcat!  I saw several wasp nests like this on submerged trees out in the water:

I was careful not to get too close or disturb the wasps, using the zoom feature on my phone camera.  Note the fishing line and lure near the nest; I'll bet some fisherman got out of there in a hurry!

After I rode home, I made us a homemade pizza.  We also had some sparkling wine because every day is a reason to celebrate.  It was a happy day for humans and hounds alike.