Summer is bike-racing season. Summer is also wedding season. And sometimes the two meet back-to-back, as was the case the weekend of May 19/20th when I flew to D.C. with high heels, party dress, and helmet and bike. After a fun evening of celebrating a childhood friend’s wedding, I woke up the next day to take on the Kelly Cup Bike Jam. Assuming that a “bike jam” was some sort of bike race (maybe I could win myself some fancy southern homemade jam?!), I packed the cooler and my #1 fan and supporter, Mom, into the car and made the hour drive north to Baltimore, Maryland. A chance to race on a new course and against unknown competition is always exciting and nerve-wracking, but at this race I would be racing not only against my fellow Category 3 women, as well also the Cat 1/2 women. Sprinkle on some extra nerves. Not to mention the humidity would add an additional challenge, which, although fairly mild for the East Coast, was enough to remind me why I had moved to arid Colorado nine years earlier, and to make my face sufficiently beet red on the start line (see photo evidence).
With a big prize purse on the line and a winding crit course with a slight uphill finish that was just long enough to hurt, the race was game on from the gun with a professional rider from Kelly-Benefits Optimum attacking literally from the start line. For what seemed like an eternity the field was strung out chasing her back. The course was in a large park in Baltimore, just a mile or two east of the Inner Harbor. It was winding with only one real corner, a left-hander that was greater than 90 degrees and which led into a slight climb to the finish line. I was certainly thankful to have altitude training on my side. Despite the fast pace, my lungs felt like I was hooked up to my owner personal oxygen tank. Having altitude on your side may help you breathe easier (literally), but it doesn’t do anything to save you from lactic acid buildup, and with the attacks going off left and right, my legs were starting to scream just 10 minutes in. They went a little something like this:
My Legs: “Ouch, ouch, this hurts please stop….please stop NOW!”
Me: “I’m not listening to you!”
In every race, the goal is to have a good result, but I also look to learn something from each race and to work on various skills that I will need when I hopefully move up to a Cat 2. A race in a new State against racers I did not know and on a course I had never ridden was the ideal opportunity to work on my bike handling and pack-riding skills. So through my screaming legs (“OUCH!”) I concentrated on moving up through the pack. Not around the outside of the group, but through the middle where the draft is greatest and space is a rare commodity. About 20 minutes into the race, a break of five finally formed off the front of the race. Thank goodness! I was pretty confident that based on how fast we had been riding, no Cat 3’s had made the the break. And if there were, then good on whoever she was…and may she be automatically upgraded after the race for the sake of all Cat 3 women in the Baltimore/Washington D.C./Virginia area.
I had read on the flyer that the race was also the championships for the Mid-Atlantic Bicycle Racing Association, or MABRA. As it turns out, I had missed the words “age-grade” on the flyer, and the race was only the championships for the masters racers, not the Cat 1, 2, or 3 women. But I didn’t learn that until after the 50-minute crit had ended, so through much of the race I ignored my screaming legs by thinking about how cool it would be to return to Colorado as the MABRA Cat 3 Champion. Technically you had to be a member of MABRA to be eligible to for the championship title….minor details.
With 6 laps to go I had finally figured out the course and how the group was moving and taking the corners, and had moved up toward the pointed end of the group. I was comfortably sitting 5th or 6th wheel and holding my position around the course, through the sharp left-hander and up the hill through the start/finish line. I could hear my mom screaming on the sidelines……”Goooooooo Kathryn!!!” But then with 4 laps to go, I found myself quickly drop back 15 places. My mind was telling my legs to work, and my legs were trying to work, but 1+1 was not equaling 2 for some unknown reason. I tried to move up over the last few laps, but never managed anything more than 5 riders from the back of the race. When the finish line approached for the last time, I did what I could to jump from the back of the pack and hope I could pick off a few girls on the uphill finish. But my typically very poppy sprint was uncharacteristically flat. Was it the thicker air in the sea level? Was I having some sort of bad reaction to all of the extra oxygen available in the air? I rolled around for a cool down lap with the other girls wondering what in the world had gone wrong. It was only after my legs finally quit their aching that I realized my back tire was going flat, very flat. So flat that when I hopped off and pressed my thumb into the tire, without any effort I pushed straight through to the rim. Problem solved. In 8 seasons of racing, that was my first flat tire during a race. At the end of the day I called myself lucky. Thank goodness I hadn’t crashed.
I had still managed to come in 3rd in the Cat 3 women’s race, which was scored separately from the Cat 1/2 women, as only 2 other Cat 3’s had been able to hang in with the main group of Cat 1/2 women. It took Mom and me a while to make it back to the car with me walking barefoot pushing my bike (remember the flat tire), and the three other racers that stopped me to ask if I rode for “That Naked Team From Colorado” (why yes I did!) and to check in on how their track buddy Vera was doing. It was a successful and fun weekend of flying the Naked team flag for on the East Coast. The only disappointment was that I didn’t win any homemade jam in the Bike Jam!