Written By Crystal Anthony
A few years back I began taking some anxiety medication (after a near-death experience with hypothermia from my first triathlon attempt, I began having panic attacks) and shortly thereafter ran in a USATF series 12k race with my team. When the customary discomfort set in after a mile or two, I was shocked to find myself thinking: “Eh, this hurts, no point in suffering to finish.” I was so mortified to feel totally ok with giving up (and I actually did drop out!) that I decided to forego the culprit medication: I’d rather face the panic attacks than lose that drive to excel and to win that made me “me.”
Eventually, the panic attacks subsided and naturally I went about training for triathlons a year or so later, but since then I have known something more about myself: I’m one of those nutty people who cares—excessively—about racing, and even when it looks silly I don’t give up. Sometimes I want to win and sometimes I just want to do the hardest possible thing I can finish. Call it stubborn or driven or tenacious, when I want to do something, I get it done, barring having to be carted off in an ambulance.
After my brother Jesse and Alison S both mentioned Cascade Classic as their favorite stage race, with lots of long steady climbing, a beautiful venue, and a good old TT that I’d like, I began to look into it. Located in Bend, OR it was not only in familiar territory (former CX nationals locale) it was also very close to some relatives with whom I could stay for the week, and held during my summer vacation, making the logistics feasible. Thanks to help from LadiesFirst and Phil’s ever-gracious bike assistance at Seaside, I was off on my way. It would be my first NRC race, and first significant stage race. But it was a challenge that life seemed to line up in front of me and for that reason, I was up for it.
Staying with my aunt and uncle was a treat, as the first night they grilled up some cedar plank salmon and then drove Jesse and I for a sunset tour of the McKenzie Pass road race course. A winding paved road snuck up through dynamited rock and emerged into a lava field which stretched into the distance where snow-covered peaks towered into the clouds. I’m glad I saw the vista ahead of time because had I rolled up to this unique scene for the first time on race day I might have dawdled to admire the view!
The following day, Jesse’s mechanic helped me get my bikes in order and then Jesse, some friends and I previewed the TT course in rain, sleet and 50-degree weather. Hmm. The weather report had predicted 80s and sunny all week, so I was ill-prepared for these conditions, but what was there to do but crank up the heat in the car and hope for improving skies!
Finally, raceday arrived. Well sort of. The prologue began at 6pm so even though it was Day 1 I still felt like I was waiting and waiting all day. And while I was waiting, the building adrenaline could not sit still and kept itself occupied by messing with my head. It could not wait to unleash itself on the racecourse. I did several warm-up laps of the course, sipped some RedBull and finally, I was down the ramp and wailing on the pedals. The 2-mile lollipop course wound up a hill and turned around in a parking lot. On the first turn, I nearly plunged through a cone and into a yard and had to brake jerkily, then I was stomping off again nearly taking out a volunteer as I careened too close to her loose orange vest. Clearly it would have been good to pre-ride at actual race speed! At the top of the hill, the corridor for entering the parking lot was about one-third the width it had been during warm-up so again I was slamming on the brakes. In the end I finished mid-pack—the winner had averaged something like 31mph!—but ah did it feel so good to have gotten the heart pumping, muscles working and head feeling clearer!
In the parking lot waiting for the first real race—75 miles up and down McKenzie Pass then up to a Sno Park at Three Creeks (which I learned is actually a [single] river), I felt in way over my head. Teams sat in circles in their folding chairs planning strategy. Team mechanics working out of spacious trailers were lubing chains, honing derailleurs, and inspecting brakes. Everyone had prominent veins and chiseled quads, and was aflurry with a role and purpose and so much equipment, and then there I was extracting my borrowed bike from the back seat of my car with my exactly two wheels. Hah. And there were so many women! As Lyne described it later, there was a big party going on and I got overwhelmed with everything happening around me. I tried to make myself look busy, pumping my tires multiple times, making fake adjustments to my brakes, getting my food ready, using the restroom. Finally we were off on a long neutral start, and then the descent began. 15 miles of it. I had been so keyed into the two climbs on the route that I hadn’t given much thought to the initial slope—down. The 104 of us theoretically had the entire road, but huge semi trucks that had been pulled over still took up nearly a whole lane meaning the peloton swerved back and forth around the trucks as well as around the sweeping turns, all the while teams attacked from the get-go. I lasted maybe 10 miles, before I backed off on the speed around a significant curve around which several women crashed, the attacks hurtled the peloton ahead while I literally shook in my pedals wondering if I was going to crash and what would happen if I did. Suddenly, team cars sailed by me left and right, veering around crashed riders and parked semis and throwing me further off balance. All the while I was losing sight of the peloton while I tried to curb what seemed to be my reckless speed. One moment it was a lightening storm of violent movement and unpredictable hazards, and the next it was calm… the peloton and train of cars had sped out of sight, the road leveled slightly, and I was there pedaling my bike through a forest in Oregon while the sun shone brightly. Well, this was really not at all what I had envisioned, but in my mind there was no doubt about what to do. Keep on riding as hard as possible. The race was over, that day for sure, and probably the entire week, at least in terms of being competitive, but there was still good experience to be gained and good racing to be had all week, provided I met the challenge ahead of me to finish within the time cut. The time cut (115% of the winner’s time) is quite generous if you, say, fall off a bit on a final climb or something. However, if you lose the field with 65 miles to go and 6500 feet to climb, well lets just say I knew I couldn’t lallygag around. As far as I could calculate, I’d have to hold just over 19mph to make the cut, though without a computer, watch, powermeter, or any sort of device it was not going to be that easy to judge my progress! Partway up the 15-mile 4,000 foot first climb, I came upon the racer who was my ride back to the start. She had flatted. I stopped for a minute or two to see if she needed anything or if I could call anyone for her once I got into cell service again. Hopefully, I’d find some other ride, and hopefully I wouldn’t miss the cut because I’d stopped.
I didn’t catch anyone else until the second, final climb. After passing a few riders, I came up to two women one of whom I knew from cross and I asked them about the time cut (since they had timing devices!). I got a snooty reply back that it didn’t matter and would I just keep riding. Fair enough. I kept a brisk pace going and the two of them sucked my wheel and refused to take turns with me, as if there were any games to be played when you’re all dropped! “Come on you gotta work too,” I yelled back. “Pfft, well you come sailing by if you want to go that hard fine but we’re not going to work.” Seriously? I shook my head and then attacked all out for about a minute dropping them behind and then continued to press to the finish. After 3h52m of riding I crossed the line.
Too tired to cool down, I hunted around for a ride back to the start and found a super nice volunteer who offered to drive me the hour to my car. Then, it was just a matter of waiting hours to find out if I’d made the cut.
Having refreshed the results page on the website, oh, I don’t know several dozen times, I learned I had made the cut by under 3 minutes, and also that I was the last rider to make the cut! (10 had not) And that little victory made my day.
The delightful part about being DFL is starting first in the TT. As I climbed up to the platform, I overheard the official instructing the newbie, gray-haired volunteer, “Now what you’re going to do is hold the riders’ bikes…” I’m pretty sure I gasped audibly. The first time I clipped in the volunteer stumbled and I had to get back off feeling a bit like a cow for being too heavy for the man to hold! Then success, I was clipped in on both sides – but he was holding me about 10 degrees askew! “I’m not straight!” I shouted but he was either not strong enough or not concerned enough to right me and the seconds were ticking down so I didn’t have time to get off. Still securing me in a tilt, he let go on cue and I promptly tumbled over the side of the ramp ending in a heap in the piles of timing wires and platform struts. I managed to climb back on my bicycle and ride a decent TT, not my best, but certainly in the mix (30th). The funny thing was that since I started first back with all the slow riders my time held up as the fastest on the day for quite a while so I got a bit of airtime J Hehe. But I’d lost gobs of time on the McKenzie Pass road race so the few minutes I gained did little to affect my standing in GC.
Before the second road race I picked many riders’ brains about descending tactics. Also, I had dinner with Anna B and her team and got to meet some other racers in the meantime. By the Cascade Lakes day, I already felt more comfortable just having seen what the race was like and not feeling like such an outsider to all the other riders and teams. I was able to hang in on the descents and to ride in the peloton all the way to the climb up to Mt. Bachelor. It was so much more enjoyable that way! Though the field was large, the riders were all skilled and the pace was brisk which made the race engaging. Within about 20 miles of the finish, the snow-capped round dome of Mt. Bachelor emerged into view in front of us, a beautiful sight but also a bright white target. I finished in the mix (34th) on the climb, I think I could have done better but it felt good to stay with the field and to be part of the race!
“It’s easier at the front,” Meredith reminded me at the start of the crit. Somehow, though I tried to line up early, I ended up awaiting the gun only a row or two from the back. Other riders have mastered some Houdini moves to maneuver forward in the starting corral. Then, my foot came unclipped 3 times in the opening lap (worn out cleats) which was somewhat worrying as well as inefficient. And voila, the black hole position in a crit, at the back of the field, yo-yoing around the corners working twice as hard as everyone else to go half as fast. I rode off the back (again) this time working with another woman Nik who was a former duathlete to team TT our way to make the time cut (again). Whew. Nik and I high-fived upon learning we’d made it, which may have been excessive being in nearly last place, but I have to say after fighting it out all week it was very satisfying to know I’d be able to finish the race.
Having improved in the second road race, I had high hopes for the circuit race with its frequent punchy climbs. However, after ½ lap I fell back too far on a descent and lost the field. Ah, I had so wanted the chance to test my climbing again against the field and was really bummed. Off I was again on a mission to make the time cut. However, this time I caught many dropped riders along the way, working for bits of time in small groups, which helped the time pass. On the climb portion I always dropped the group though and set off to catch the next group. By far it was the hardest day, though only 4,000 feet of climbing, the constant rollers and steep sections made it seem really tough. The heat probably also contributed (I drank 7 bottles) and also the fact that it was Day 6. Somehow, I found I still had climbing legs and I fought over every hill just for the heck of it. Perhaps it was rude to the groups I had been riding with (I don’t know the etiquette) but I wasn’t up for coasting in I wanted to ride every bit of the race to my potential. Funny enough one of the groups caught me at the line having made up the time back on the downhill. But I made the time cut with plenty to spare and therefore finished the race!
Just by finishing, I ended up 62 of 104 starters. It was the hardest race I’ve done (though not necessarily from a physical fitness standpoint), and there were times I didn’t know if I could do it, but for that reason it was all the more satisfying to finish. Sometimes when place and time become irrelevant, because you are so far off, it’s an opportunity to go beyond the limitations of labels – good, bad, win, lose, fast, slow – and really see what you’re made of. For whatever reason, it’s usually adversity that can reveal this, but once you see it, it makes winning that much easier. As a case in point, the very next Wednesday I sailed to a 1-minute PR on the local TT course.