My First Century, Crits, and Toneke

Written by Crystal Anthony
This past week I rode my first century. Never having done 100 miles had been like
never having read Animal Farm, or never having seen E.T. It was something I had
to do to make it to cycling adulthood. I was sheepishly excited to reach this goal,
mostly because my training peers routinely rode longer than this and it felt more
like playing catch-up then venturing forth. Case in point, acting as my gracious
guide by mapping the route and grilling homemade (and gluten-free) prosciutto
pizza after we finished was my friend Amanda who has done epic things like 300k
rides.
During the ride, I experienced no terror from speeds I was unprepared for, no
claustrophobia from peloton sizes I’d never navigated, no agony from grades I’d
never trained for. Tackling the century ride was manageable enough given the
fitness accrued from years of racing marathons and triathlons. While an eerily
smooth experience, there was calm satisfaction in knowing I’d come a pretty long
way since I pedaled my first magenta Huffy up and down our neighborhood’s
Gregory Island “hill” as a kid.
But here’s the dilemma. I’m kind of a snob about things I consider too easy. While
part of me likes the control and predictability of pure endurance efforts, once the
novelty of the sport wears out I start jonsing for a new challenge, something that
will test me on more levels than just the ability to suffer.
If there’s anything that doesn’t seem too easy to me, it’s crit racing. And by that
I mean they scare the sh** out of me. Recently I dedicated a week to getting crit
experience, racing in three during that time period. First was hometown Beverly,
in which I raced with the Master men, a virtual second pro field with the likes of
Mark McCormack in the mix. I raced until my legs screamed and I fell off the pace.
I fought back in then fell off the pace again. So I sat out a lap and hopped back in.
Then there was a crash and I got stuck behind it, I fell off the back again, and after
several laps fighting back in a small group, got pulled. Concord crit a few days later
was a smallish women’s field, so the pace was doable. My legs were very tired
though, and I mostly practiced trying to lose less time around the technical downhill
every lap, which happened to be just before the finishing sprint. I ended in 9th.
Kudos to Elle who successfully anticipated the correct positioning for the finish and
crossed the line 2nd (to a soloing rider off the front). Finally, when I showed up to
Salem a few days later, my legs felt great and I felt comfortable being at the front of
the field for the first half of the race. I was even right there for the first prime, but as
I was sprinting, and no one else was close, I suddenly questioned whether I’d heard
correctly. I didn’t want to look stupid sprinting on the wrong lap so I slowed up
and two women came sailing by. Oops. Still, I felt like my recent crit studies were
paying off and things were coming together when suddenly about 2/3 through the
race, I hit a pothole and my seat popped loose, the nose suddenly pointing up at my
chin. Relax, I thought, just head into the pit and get it fixed and take the free lap.
Bad news greeted me at the pit however as the official informed me that my mishap
did not count as a mechanical. “That’s your fault for not tightening your seat so
no free lap,” she explained, “You should really tighten everything before you race.”
Yeah, I’ll make a note of that… Race over. I negotiated with the head official to be
allowed to finish the race, albeit relegated to the back, but garnering cornering skills
just the same.
These crit endeavors call to mind the Monty Python segment in which a king is
telling the story of his castle to a prince: “When I first came here, this was all swamp.
Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just
to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the
swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.”
As many people have pointed out to me, I am not exactly a natural crit racer and crit
school did seem to be a series of swamp sinkages. But beneath the control freak
who is perfectly content at times to solo for hours in aero position, is an experience
junkie who thrives off the adrenaline of hurtling into things just a bit, or a lot, out of
her control.
No stranger to making a fool of myself by being quite terrible at something at the
start, I’m of the sort that jumps on a plane to a Latin American country to go teach
5th grade, knowing no one in that country, armed only with a degree in exercise
physiology and a smattering of Spanish. What ensued were two years of “figuring
it out” on the job, including many 14+ hour days of correcting papers, a classroom
fire ignited by my students, and many laboriously creative lessons that flopped upon
implementation. In other words I fell in love with teaching. See before discovering
teaching, I feared I would never be able to settle into a career because I tend to
get bored out of my mind doing the same thing more than once. Despite a rough
start I’ve stayed hooked because the classroom is a place I never get bored; there
are continually new personalities to engage, new methods to implement, new
technology to incorporate.
In the throes of a road race, like in the classroom, there are a thousand decisions and
judgment calls that take experience to navigate. On the one hand this is promising
as perhaps I’ll stick at this for a while, but on the other hand, there are often many
failures along the way. So after the aforementioned and other castle demises,
seasoned riders encourage “It just takes experience,” or “just go out and have fun
with it.” In other words, there isn’t an easier way to become a good bike racer, but I
can learn.
Funny it’s the same response I had to my classmates in grad school. I attended
many small group discussion sessions brimming with students who’d just
barely finished flipping their tassels on their undergrad mortarboards, eager to
have “intellectual discussions” about teaching. When other students asked “Well
how do we teach students good morals?” I reflected on my time in Central America
and found myself thinking, just get out there and teach. Every student and situation
is different, you have to just pay attention, listen, use your good judgment, and watch
other good teachers. The joke is on me now, as many times I now feel like those
annoying students who want to be told the answer when it comes to bicycle racing.
I have to get out there and race, pay attention, listen, use good judgment, and watch
other good riders.
If it’s anything like teaching, though, it does get easier, eventually…
At least there are better days along the way. Tokeneke road race came at the end
of the crit practice/century training segment. A friend generously offered to drive
Andrea and I down to the race which allowed us to relax pre-race. It was great to
have a mini team, a friendly face at a road race. We did a warm up riding down the
finishing climb and then back up it to scope it out. It was just over two miles long,
with the first half a steady 9% and then a gentler slog to the finish at around 3-4%,
and a slightly downhill final 100 meters. Rain began to come down in torrents just
before the start, but the air was warm and I thought perhaps everyone would be
just a bit more careful on the descents! Since the race was only 44 miles, consisting
of two laps with two climbs apiece. I had a feeling that a break would go early,
probably over the initial climb, and that it would stay away considering the field was
under 30 riders.
With this in mind, I did my best to stay with the field on the initial descents, and
made it to the first climb. Ugh. About five minutes or less into the climb, I was
already suffering. I wanted to quit. But, it’s funny how the mind checks out
before the body, and somehow my legs kept on moving, like proverbial chickens
running ‘round with their heads cut out. Suddenly I realized I was in a break of
seven riders who had separated from the rest of the field. An important lesson that
no matter how you feel you can still ride hard.
The seven of us pushed a good pace through the first lap, then on the descent into
the final climb, I popped off the back and lost so much distance to the others that
the follow cars whizzed by. Oy, déjà vu. But, I stayed calm and as soon as the road
leveled a bit I hammered to make up the time. I picked off one car at a time and then
made a final effort up to the group, catching them about a half mile into the climb.
There were seven of us at the top, then six, then five, then four, a battle of attrition
was on.
I knew that I couldn’t afford to lose so much distance on the group descending
on the finishing lap so I decided on a different tactic for the descent. The plan
worked, and we embarked on the final climb together. I pushed the pace a bit on
the steepest section, then backed away a little because I wanted to be able to see the
others going into the finish. Silke and I made it to the finishing 200 meters together,
she surged and I followed her wheel, then she sprinted and I couldn’t match her. In
retrospect, I probably could have pushed harder up the climb, rather than leaving it
to a sprint. I also need to be more mentally tough and committal to sprinting!
Andrea rode a strong race as well finishing in 13th.
While I was happy to place 2nd against some strong riders, there is still abundant
room for improvement. Naturally built into the sport are continuous new
challenges that, though requiring patience, intrigue me. There is something about
being immersed in a variety of new situations, negotiating unfamiliar territory, that
eventually causes something to click, the same thing I eventually discovered about
teaching: there aren’t any shortcuts, but you can do it. To finish the king’s story,
“But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest
castle in all of England.” That last castle, the strongest one, can only represent
the seasoned riders who not only have the years of base fitness but also skills and
intuitions honed over hundreds of race scenarios. Until I get there, I imagine I
haven’t seen or smelled the last of mire and skunk cabbage.

This past week I rode my first century. Never having done 100 miles had been likenever having read Animal Farm, or never having seen E.T. It was something I hadto do to make it to cycling adulthood. I was sheepishly excited to reach this goal,mostly because my training peers routinely rode longer than this and it felt morelike playing catch-up then venturing forth. Case in point, acting as my graciousguide by mapping the route and grilling homemade (and gluten-free) prosciuttopizza after we finished was my friend Amanda who has done epic things like 300krides.
During the ride, I experienced no terror from speeds I was unprepared for, noclaustrophobia from peloton sizes I’d never navigated, no agony from grades I’dnever trained for. Tackling the century ride was manageable enough given thefitness accrued from years of racing marathons and triathlons. While an eerilysmooth experience, there was calm satisfaction in knowing I’d come a pretty longway since I pedaled my first magenta Huffy up and down our neighborhood’sGregory Island “hill” as a kid.
But here’s the dilemma. I’m kind of a snob about things I consider too easy. Whilepart of me likes the control and predictability of pure endurance efforts, once thenovelty of the sport wears out I start jonsing for a new challenge, something thatwill test me on more levels than just the ability to suffer.
If there’s anything that doesn’t seem too easy to me, it’s crit racing. And by thatI mean they scare the sh** out of me. Recently I dedicated a week to getting critexperience, racing in three during that time period. First was hometown Beverly,in which I raced with the Master men, a virtual second pro field with the likes ofMark McCormack in the mix. I raced until my legs screamed and I fell off the pace.I fought back in then fell off the pace again. So I sat out a lap and hopped back in.Then there was a crash and I got stuck behind it, I fell off the back again, and afterseveral laps fighting back in a small group, got pulled. Concord crit a few days laterwas a smallish women’s field, so the pace was doable. My legs were very tiredthough, and I mostly practiced trying to lose less time around the technical downhillevery lap, which happened to be just before the finishing sprint. I ended in 9th.Kudos to Elle who successfully anticipated the correct positioning for the finish andcrossed the line 2nd (to a soloing rider off the front). Finally, when I showed up toSalem a few days later, my legs felt great and I felt comfortable being at the front ofthe field for the first half of the race. I was even right there for the first prime, but asI was sprinting, and no one else was close, I suddenly questioned whether I’d heardcorrectly. I didn’t want to look stupid sprinting on the wrong lap so I slowed upand two women came sailing by. Oops. Still, I felt like my recent crit studies werepaying off and things were coming together when suddenly about 2/3 through therace, I hit a pothole and my seat popped loose, the nose suddenly pointing up at mychin. Relax, I thought, just head into the pit and get it fixed and take the free lap.Bad news greeted me at the pit however as the official informed me that my mishapdid not count as a mechanical. “That’s your fault for not tightening your seat sono free lap,” she explained, “You should really tighten everything before you race.”Yeah, I’ll make a note of that… Race over. I negotiated with the head official to beallowed to finish the race, albeit relegated to the back, but garnering cornering skillsjust the same.
These crit endeavors call to mind the Monty Python segment in which a king istelling the story of his castle to a prince: “When I first came here, this was all swamp.Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, justto show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into theswamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp.”As many people have pointed out to me, I am not exactly a natural crit racer and critschool did seem to be a series of swamp sinkages. But beneath the control freakwho is perfectly content at times to solo for hours in aero position, is an experience
junkie who thrives off the adrenaline of hurtling into things just a bit, or a lot, out ofher control.
No stranger to making a fool of myself by being quite terrible at something at thestart, I’m of the sort that jumps on a plane to a Latin American country to go teach5th grade, knowing no one in that country, armed only with a degree in exercisephysiology and a smattering of Spanish. What ensued were two years of “figuringit out” on the job, including many 14+ hour days of correcting papers, a classroomfire ignited by my students, and many laboriously creative lessons that flopped uponimplementation. In other words I fell in love with teaching. See before discoveringteaching, I feared I would never be able to settle into a career because I tend toget bored out of my mind doing the same thing more than once. Despite a roughstart I’ve stayed hooked because the classroom is a place I never get bored; thereare continually new personalities to engage, new methods to implement, newtechnology to incorporate.
In the throes of a road race, like in the classroom, there are a thousand decisions andjudgment calls that take experience to navigate. On the one hand this is promisingas perhaps I’ll stick at this for a while, but on the other hand, there are often manyfailures along the way. So after the aforementioned and other castle demises,seasoned riders encourage “It just takes experience,” or “just go out and have funwith it.” In other words, there isn’t an easier way to become a good bike racer, but Ican learn.
Funny it’s the same response I had to my classmates in grad school. I attendedmany small group discussion sessions brimming with students who’d justbarely finished flipping their tassels on their undergrad mortarboards, eager tohave “intellectual discussions” about teaching. When other students asked “Wellhow do we teach students good morals?” I reflected on my time in Central Americaand found myself thinking, just get out there and teach. Every student and situationis different, you have to just pay attention, listen, use your good judgment, and watchother good teachers. The joke is on me now, as many times I now feel like thoseannoying students who want to be told the answer when it comes to bicycle racing.I have to get out there and race, pay attention, listen, use good judgment, and watchother good riders.
If it’s anything like teaching, though, it does get easier, eventually…
At least there are better days along the way. Tokeneke road race came at the endof the crit practice/century training segment. A friend generously offered to driveAndrea and I down to the race which allowed us to relax pre-race. It was great tohave a mini team, a friendly face at a road race. We did a warm up riding down thefinishing climb and then back up it to scope it out. It was just over two miles long,with the first half a steady 9% and then a gentler slog to the finish at around 3-4%,and a slightly downhill final 100 meters. Rain began to come down in torrents justbefore the start, but the air was warm and I thought perhaps everyone would bejust a bit more careful on the descents! Since the race was only 44 miles, consistingof two laps with two climbs apiece. I had a feeling that a break would go early,probably over the initial climb, and that it would stay away considering the field wasunder 30 riders.
With this in mind, I did my best to stay with the field on the initial descents, andmade it to the first climb. Ugh. About five minutes or less into the climb, I wasalready suffering. I wanted to quit. But, it’s funny how the mind checks outbefore the body, and somehow my legs kept on moving, like proverbial chickensrunning ‘round with their heads cut out. Suddenly I realized I was in a break ofseven riders who had separated from the rest of the field. An important lesson thatno matter how you feel you can still ride hard.
The seven of us pushed a good pace through the first lap, then on the descent intothe final climb, I popped off the back and lost so much distance to the others thatthe follow cars whizzed by. Oy, déjà vu. But, I stayed calm and as soon as the roadleveled a bit I hammered to make up the time. I picked off one car at a time and thenmade a final effort up to the group, catching them about a half mile into the climb.There were seven of us at the top, then six, then five, then four, a battle of attritionwas on.
I knew that I couldn’t afford to lose so much distance on the group descendingon the finishing lap so I decided on a different tactic for the descent. The planworked, and we embarked on the final climb together. I pushed the pace a bit onthe steepest section, then backed away a little because I wanted to be able to see theothers going into the finish. Silke and I made it to the finishing 200 meters together,she surged and I followed her wheel, then she sprinted and I couldn’t match her. Inretrospect, I probably could have pushed harder up the climb, rather than leaving itto a sprint. I also need to be more mentally tough and committal to sprinting!Andrea rode a strong race as well finishing in 13th.
While I was happy to place 2nd against some strong riders, there is still abundantroom for improvement. Naturally built into the sport are continuous newchallenges that, though requiring patience, intrigue me. There is something aboutbeing immersed in a variety of new situations, negotiating unfamiliar territory, thateventually causes something to click, the same thing I eventually discovered aboutteaching: there aren’t any shortcuts, but you can do it. To finish the king’s story,“But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongestcastle in all of England.” That last castle, the strongest one, can only representthe seasoned riders who not only have the years of base fitness but also skills andintuitions honed over hundreds of race scenarios. Until I get there, I imagine Ihaven’t seen or smelled the last of mire and skunk cabbage.

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