It’s funny how things turn out. I ended up having a really fun weekend of racing down south in hot sunshine yet on early Saturday morning, I wasn’t even sure I was up for racing for some reason.
My journey down south was some what eventful and stressful. I sat in the car park eating my pre race snack of quinoa cake with honey and drinking Osmo Pre-Load. I’d opted for Pre-Load today for hyperhydration – ok so it wasn’t roasting hot, but it was warm and being a short aggressive crit, there’s little chance of fuelling or drinking during the race itself. It was also partly as prep for racing the next day at Capernwray which would be my first hilly road race of the season to make sure I didn’t end up dehydrated before the start line.
The warmth from Natural Hero Hot ginger rub felt good despite the sunshine and I got on with my warm up. Then I was reluctantly standing on the start line for the crit at Salt Ayre which was sponsored by Total Cycle Coach thinking to myself i’d rather be at home on the club chaingang.
That feeling only lasted for as long as it took me to get clipped in, then it was smiles. Eve went for an early attack and stay away for 18mins. I let the other riders do all the work and when the catch was made, I attacked. I didn’t think it would stick. I looked back and saw I had a decent gap as my team mates got on the front. Approaching the start/finish line, the bell rang for the prime lap so I thought i’d plug on and take that for the team. Much to my surprise I took the prime with ease. I felt pretty chuffed with that. The gap was bigger when I looked back.
All thoughts of keeping my legs fresh for the race at Capernwray the next day went out the window. There was only here and now. I’d deal with tomorrow when it arrived. I rode the rest of the race with my head. It sounds a weird thing to say, but all the marginal gains added up and each lap the time gap grew. I used the tailwind to add on more gears and up the speed, carrying speed into the hairpin and pedalling through it before dropping a gear into the headwind to spin my legs a bit more and delay the fatigue. I was mindful going round the course to take the fastest lines. The gap gew to 30secs. Two lines from songs randomly popped into my head: “You can go hard or you can go home” by will.i.am and Eminem’s Lose Yourself “if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or let it slip away”. Focus. Breathe. I sat at my threshold HR because that it felt good and was enough to keep the time gap increasing without blowing up.
Pedal. Breathe. Focus. I looked at my garmin, 30mins of the race had passed and the gap was steadily increasing. I could see the bunch through gaps in the trees. I wished the comms had decided the race would be 40mins instead of 45mins as I started to hurt pushing into the wind. Colin who was at the finish line shouted (encouragingly) at me each lap to keep going, and the comms did a great job of keeping me motivated with the time checks.
Soon it was a 40 sec gap and I was gaining on the bunch. 40mins came and went. I began to suffer. 3 laps to go. My hamstrings weren’t used to this kind of effort and started to complain a lot. I did what I do best in racing and blocked out the pain. I was still increasing the time gap because there was no way I was easing up to enjoy the last 3 laps as I had no idea what was happening in the bunch. I saw Eve attack at least once. On and on I went, round and round. I was hoping moral in the bunch would have dropped when they realised they wouldn’t catch me and they’d start playing a waiting game with each other for the sprint. But I couldn’t count on that so I kept my effort on until I was about 100m away from the line – and by that point I was around 150m away from lapping the field! It was a great feeling! I’d also won the prime and prize for most aggressive rider so our team took away most of the prize money as Jess lead Eve out for 2nd place, Sarah 4th and Jess got 7th after her stunning leadout for Eve. I love the photo finish where you can see Jess with her hand in the air as Eve crosses the line. Huge thanks to Jess, Sarah and Eve for getting on the front of the bunch and letting me get away.
The race had been a harder effort than I’d planned so I opted for Osmo Acute Recovery with almond milk before my cool down, then 2 hours later a second protein shake and a cold bath followed by Natural Hero peppermint spray. I’m actually a recent convert to the peppermint spray, usually prefering heat but the cooling effect on my legs was bliss!
Waking up early on Sunday morning (no thanks to the clocks changing for less sleep than normal!) I went through my usual race rountine. Anytime I squatted down to pick something up (i squat whenever i can these days to continue to build up my strength!) my hamstrings screamed in pain at me. Hmm. Other than that, i felt good. The hot ginger rub provided a lovely heat to my quads just before I got on the rollers to warm up. I actually could have done with some new hamstrings because during my warm up my hamstrings were tired and sore. No time to worry about that though.
The neutralised start took us to the top of Sunny Bank climb and it was during this time up it that I learned its not a climb that suits my riding style. At the top, the flag dropped, and Eve picked up the pace. The first lap saw several attacks, including one from Jen who was racing despite suffering from a wisdom tooth infection. A break of around 9 got away on the second lap but we didn’t really work together properly – sometimes we chainganged but then other times riders would come blasting through and attack or sit on the front. Eve told me there was a chasing group of 3, one of which included Sarah from our team. The 3 chasers caught us as a result of the breaks lack of organisation.
The race was uneventful other than the attacks – none of which were allowed to get away. Coming into Sunny Bank climb for the 3rd time I could feel my hamstrings start to cramp. I knew from the prime laps who was likely to win or podium and I also knew that today it wasn’t going to be me given the state my hamstrings were in – i’m delighted that they are working now but they aren’t used to working in hilly races yet! I grabbed some more to drink and hoped my hamstrings would settle down. I ignored them for the last lap but every climb really hurt and I mean really hurt. Cramp is evil. Coming into Sunny Bank for the final time, Jo and Karen from GB Cycles went for a long attack from the bottom. I weighed up my options and decided they’d both blow up before the top so didn’t go with them. The more I climbed, the worse my hamstrings got. Ahead I could see Jo and Karen who had opened up a gap, going on to take 1st and 2nd place. I was a rather sorry state grovelling up the climb with cramp but decided I’d grit my teeth one last time to see if i could take the 2 riders in front of me. I stood up to go and the cramp immediately got worse and I sat straight back down again to take 10th, having lost 30 secs on the winners in the final 1km climb! Eve faired better than me on the final climb, despite having put in an effort to take the primes and took 5th. Sarah got 12th and Jen 16th.
With the stunning weather and the first of the National Series races fast approaching, we headed out to get some more miles in our legs. It was a social ride, enjoying the sunshine, blue sky and looking at the lambs in the field. There was some muttering about the hills and terrain on tired legs from the race, most of it from me as my poor hamstrings and glutes wondered why I was trying to kill them but it was a great to ride in shorts and a short sleeved jersey in March!
Many thanks to everyone who has helped me on my path to recovery and full strength over the last 6 months including Colin, George and my other half Andy.
Thanks to Total Cycle Coach and Graham Atkinson for the photos.