Sunday, March 20, 2011

Madera Stage Race 2011
It’s not about winning or losing its how you play the game.

Steve Heaton 35+123
I have experienced the difference between winning and losing. I truly enjoy the win as much as the next person and feel disappointed in myself when I lose (“lose” is a relative term used for not performing as “I expect of myself.”) If you think about it, very few people get the opportunity to win. With that said, why do the majority of people enter races knowing they won’t win? I say it’s to play the game! So many things have to come together mentally and physically to have a “successful race.” We train hard for many months for some races and not for others. We pick and chose events that showcase our strengths and plan for success even in races we train very little for. We look to times of success for motivation throughout the season. It’s like winding a coil with a success handle for months. When a day of training or racing comes along that doesn’t work out how we planned we have to flip the locking lever on the coil to keep it from reversing. It’s an opportunity to reflect and discover what happened and how to grow from the experience. It’s not always very clear to see or understand. Like when I fit someone on a bike and I see areas of improvement. I look at all the connecting links leading to it. Usually I discover a connecting link that needs adjusting. In races it could be a few decisive moments of success or failure, I try to understand, then log into my mental storage for future use. The best part is when it’s time to unleash the coil! It all comes together I’m on fire and having a great time. Win or lose the race it’s exciting!!!  

One morning over coffee Michele says, “Can I use your race wheels for Madera?” Next thing I know she’s getting new ultra light carbon tubular race wheels and I’m signing up for the race. My category was full and I had to sign up for the younger category 35+123 if I wanted to race. It didn’t concern me since I just aged up this year and knew what to expect. It wasn’t on my annual schedule but an opportunity to race 3 times in 2 days sounded like a good idea. Plus Michele would be racing and it’s really exciting to be in a race passing a group of women and see my wife putting the hammer down. I didn’t know anything about the 3 races with only a week’s notice so I called on teammate Jim Langley who has raced it before and won. He races a different category so we wouldn’t be racing together unfortunately but he gave me valuable insight to the time trial & road race. It helped me wrap my head around the weekend’s events.
Racing requires physical strength, mental toughness, smart tactics, individual strategy, a will to succeed etc.                   On that note: have you ever been camping and go to light the fire and it just doesn’t seem to want to flame up? It smolders along……. …you keep trying but flames never come. Well, that is how I felt the whole weekend of racing. I spent a lot of time talking to myself mentally motivating myself not to give up. It felt like straddling a razor. All I wanted was to quit or get on with it. One minute I’m searching for something to happen allowing me to throw in the towel and say F---it I’m done. The next minute I’m planning an attack to break away. This mind set doesn’t offer the best instinctive decisions. I made a few decision errors over the weekend that cost me.

Criterium Sat 1:45pm
I arrived in time for my 2pm criterium race Sat (.6 mile loop for 40+ mins), did the usual warm-up on my trainer, then a couple hot laps on course. BAMM we start and I’m just not feeling motivated so (as strange as this will sound) I attacked and established a breakaway of 5 for a lap. I tend to do this mid race to “stretch my legs.” Basically I’m telling my body to increase the size of pipes that deliver blood to working muscles. A bigger pipe means more blood to transfer more oxygen and I go faster longer. It worked physically but not mentally. I decided I was going to stay close to the front end of the field of 48 riders the whole race. We go round and round with no one able to get away from the strong field. The pace is fast and even though I’m not motivated I can hold a forward position and power my way around the group to place myself anywhere I want. I figured out the other teams strategies and was able to play off them to help me position for the finish. In criteriums the last few 3-5 laps are super fast and get faster and faster until the finish line. Since I was holding a forward position already I didn’t have to spend much extra energy. 3 laps to go the attacks come and it’s a single file line and 30mph. Then you get guys jumping forward to get a better position for themselves or bringing a teammate for the finish. “Bell lap – DING,DING,DING” 1K to go! Last lap of the race.
I’m now 8 guys back and I want to be 3-4 back because the last turn to the finish is long with a headwind and I want a slingshot move past guys in front of me to the line. I jump forward and a guy 2 spots in front of me does the same thing as I’m passing and we almost collide. I position 3 back from front going into second to last turn. Maybe a little too close but I wanted a clear shot at the finish line. First rider is all out with a gap of 10ft, the guy in front of me is riding just as hard and I’m third rider with a line of 45 hungry racers on my wheel. OK, the first guy is sure to not win along with second guy since he is taking just as much wind. Now that leaves me? If the guy in front of me slows down even just the slightest it’s gonna get crazy and I’m in the hot seat! I’m watching for riders that might pass on my right and if they do I have to respond and get in on it (the left side is construction cones with less than 6 inches, no way for anyone to pass on left.). It’s a pretty strong cross headwind from the right and we are strung out at 30+mph so no one comes up. As we approach the final right turn into the wind to the finish line my thoughts are “I have to jump and sprint all out as soon as this guy pulls off.” I’m hoping he attempts to jump so I can get a little more out of him but I don’t think so. As we round the corner he dives inside and it’s now up to me! I dive with him and then jump around with a clear shot at the win. It’s a long way but with a single file line of riders behind it’s long for everyone. “Click” I shift to harder gear pedal, “click again” oops! I shift to easier gear? A guy passes me… “click” harder gear - line is coming “gogogogo” then out of the corner of my eye I see a group of fast charging riders way over to my left slingshot passing each other and me right before the line. I’m 6th place within a bikes length gap. I was not happy with my finish performance and lack of motivation. On the other hand I was able to ride strong and be at the finish with a good placing. I swapped wheels to my time trial bike packed up and drove to almond orchards 30mins away.

Time Trial Sat 5:16pm (10mi 23:34mins)
I had time to drive the course to get the lay of the land. I took a few pictures and got a solid warm-up to flush out the crud in my legs. I was even less motivated for the TT 5:16pm start. I went hard off the start line and settled. I had my 30sec man within 100m by the first 4mins and held him in sight. A few minutes later I get passed by a guy like I’m standing on the side of road? I charge on and he pulls away out of sight. One minute I’m thinking “alright I’m doing better than I think!” The next I doubt myself. As time passes so do I pass a couple guys. I’m feeling OK just a little off and decided on the last turn 3mins to finish I would go all out passing my 30sec man and at 120% effort to the line. The sun is about to set, sweat is all over my glasses and I can only see out of my left eye. I’m going so hard looking for the finish tent in the distance. “It’s a blue tent.” I can’t see it but when I do I’m going to push on the pedals as hard as possible until I puke! Finally out of my left eye I think I see it? Gogogogogogogo seems like it isn’t getting any closer?…………200m I jump out of saddle and sprint to the line. No I didn’t puke but wished I had. I just couldn’t feel the hunger. I knew I performed well with my strategy but just couldn’t dig deep mentally. My power output was good but not my best, I had control over when and how much energy to release I just couldn’t hold on to it. Lack luster 21st place

My power profile from TT
The gold line represents watts/power. The initial jump at high power then I quickly settle into a nice pace. The spikes are turns in the road. Last 8mins to last 3mins a slight drop in watts. The final 3mins I pour it on to finish.

Road Race Sun 8am
Well, I’m feeling a little better and not fatigued from yesterdays races. It’s cold and I’m dressed in layers and ready for anything today brings. The race starts with a neutral roll for 5min to the start and I gotta take a leak really bad. It’s going to be 3hrs so do I pull off do my business and catch up before we take off? Instincts say yes but I don’t listen so over the next 3hrs it’s heavy on my mind taking precious mental energy away from doing my best thinking. About half way through I sense the serious attacks will be coming in the next few moments. How to explain? It’s like looking at a chess board. I see how the riders are positioned together and how their bodies are moving. I go to position forward and BAMM it’s on! A few attacks keep me from positioning forward or going with move since the road is blocked (not allowed to cross center line) and the pace is fast. I remain calm and have a plan to take chase once it slows before the bumpy section of road in about 10mins. OK – I’m in position. Up front the breakaway is in striking distance. I wait for someone to attack and work together to bridge the gap. BAMM I jump with a guy. We exchange hard pulls but the pack chases us down and sits on our wheel. I keep up the effort to make sure we hold the gap to the breakaway in front of us. Some guys says “let the team with the overall leader do the pulls.” Being in the state of mind I was in I decided he is right. BUTT I knew if we let them get anymore distance from us they could be gone and any chance at the win would be over. I backed off, sat in and recovered waiting for the lead team to take chase BUTT it didn’t happen and the breakaway slipped away. I was so pissed at myself for letting it happen adding to my realization that my head isn’t into it. I was feeling strong and never felt like I was suffering so I knew I had the physical ability. With about 45mins of racing remaining we start to really slow down as the lead teams literally gave up any hopes of catching the leaders. I was not going to take any part of this lazy racing! Once we turned into a tail wind I attacked solo. I wasn’t confident I would catch the leaders but I thought if I stayed away in “no man’s land” I would move up in the overall standing. They chased me down again and sat on my wheel. I looked back with total disappointment in them. So here I am not able to get away from the pack and the lead group is up the road so no chance at winning the race today. We get to the last 5 miles and it’s a super bumpy section of road (more like off road with huge craters, ruts and debris for 3-4 miles) leading into the final set of roller climbs to the finish. I’m thinking “I gotta pee so badly” as I slam the bumps in rapid succession. Now my sciatic nerve is kicking me in the lower back. All I want is for it to be over. I could pull out of the line of riders and end this madness. The pace gets faster with a series of attacks and I’m feeling the pressure for the first time all weekend (it’s a love hate relationship.) I love the fast pace but with the urine sloshing around in my bladder I’m in serious pain and pulled out of the line of riders (Aaahhh). As I pulled off I see 3 guys gap us. I get a moment of relief and decide to step on it and position on the tail end of group. We soon hit the final rollers and I go into final sprint mode for pack meat placing. Guys are attacking each of the final 3 roller climbs and I respond to each attack holding second wheel. It was a little strange. These guys were out of the saddle going what looked like really hard. I see really hard body motions and hear heavy breathing but I was sitting spinning along with ease. With 50m to line I jumped away for 13th. Better than a sharp stick and a poked eye! I found a watering hole and took care of business. 14th overall GC
- A ho hum weekend of racing, was it worth it? Yes
- Do I think I played a good game? Yes and no! 
Yes, in the sense of I didn’t quit (I wanted to so many times over the weekend) and knew the decisive moments in the races.
No, in the sense I didn’t listen to my instincts from mental lethargy.
- Would I do it again next year? After thinking about it for a few days……yes.
- Would I do it with the same mental head space? No.
 I now have a visual of all 3 race courses and what to expect. I know where i made mistakes and how to improve overall.
It was a good weekend. I enjoyed listening to Michele, Jim and Bob tell stories about their races.            

1 comment:

Satin Matt said...

Thanks for sharing the highs and lows - nice photos too!