Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'll Always Be His Little Girl

Yesterday was hard for me. I so didn't want to go to the bar-b-que my brothers were having at the farm. I could have given you a million and one reasons why--I didn't feel like driving that far, I was going to be tired from 65 miles in the saddle, the kids wouldn't get a nap--but it all boiled down to one main reason, I didn't want to cry. You see, the farm was my dad's piece of heaven on earth. I remember when he and my brother's bought the land he said that he didn't think he would ever really get to retire. He was buying the ground so that he could retire on the weekends while he was still working. Donnie was prophetic. He retired in August and left us that next April. So you see, there is a lot of meaning to the land for me.

The last time I had gone to the farm was the one year anniversary of his death. True confession time--I have never been, and will never go, to my dad's grave. I truly believe, with all my heart, he's not there. We may have buried his body, but I know his spirit lives on in the woods in Southern Illinois. The last time I went down, it was almost too much for me. I walked the woods and the trails and cried. I had a heck of a time getting myself together to even drive home that day. Even driving past the turn-off to get there has brought me to tears, so I knew yesterday would be a struggle. And you have to know, I don't like being upset around people. I always work at being a positive, happy person.

I did fine when we first got there. I sat in my chair, visited with old friends, and tried to relax. I may have made it through dried eyed, but then my maama and Uncle Lloyd got there. My maama is my dad's mom. She is the strong, most incredible woman I know. Her faith and resilency have been inspirational to me as long as I can remember. She'll be 93 this fall and is still living on her own. My Uncle Lloyd is my dad's older brother. There was never any mistaking the fact they were brothers. Lloyd was a little taller, broader shouldered, but otherwise they were identical. Uncle Lloyd always grabs hold of me and hugs me with such love and tells me he loves me. The same thing my dad did every day of my life growing up. Here's an insight into who I am--I had a pretty amazing childhood. I grew up pretty poor, we never had money and there were months I know bills weren't paid. The amazing part of it was I never knew that then. All I knew was that I was loved, supported and encouraged to try whatever I dared. My daddy told me he loved me every day and that I would always be his little girl. And he was very specific about why he told me he loved me so much. He said life was too short and too unpredictable. You never know when may be the last time you see someone and that you should never leave anything unspoken to someone you love.

I was feeling some emotion after visiting with them for a bit, but I was still fine. Then it was time to eat. Jeffrey's voice cracked when he asked me to stand with he and Michael while Uncle Lloyd made a toast to Pop and Maama blessed our food. Then I saw the bottle of Pepsi, my daddy's drink of choice, in Lloyd's hand. And Lloyd hugged me again. I could barely mumble "I miss him so much" as the tears poured out of my eyes. The last time we had all gathered there was the fall when he was diagnosed with cancer--one last cook out with him. I felt so alone standing there, surrounded by our family and friends yesterday. I felt so empty with him there. After Lloyd gave his toast, cousins and aunts embraced me as I sobbed, but I just couldn't stop. I walked away knowing what I needed. I told Sam I was going for a walk.

I took the main path down to the creek and talked aloud to him. I talked about walking the woods, looking for deer tracks. I asked if he knew how much I really hated hunting and that I did it for him. I reminsced about our times down there, the pig roast, hunting trips, weekends. Mostly, I just kept repeating how much I missed him. How much I wished, every day, my kids had known him. I got to the creek and just stood and watched the water. I wanted a sign--a cool breeze to blow, a young deer to walk by--to know that he was with me in spirit and could hear what I was saying, but those things only happen in movies. So I stood a little longer until I could get myself under control. I made the hike out of the creek bottom back to the party. Andy hugged and hugged on me because he saw that I'd been crying. And it was in that moment, I knew my dad's spirit lives on. I looked my incredible son and told him how much I loved him and that he'll always be my little boy, something he has heard every day of his life because nothing will ever go unspoken between us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Race Report: Tour de Ste. Genevieve--AKA the Big Bonk!

I wish I could pinpoint what happened to make the race fall apart for me. In reality, I think it was a combination of issues. We got there in plenty of time and headed out for a warm up. My rear derailleur was out of whack and I was having trouble getting into my mid gears. I found Klucker (he was officiating) and he gave me a quick adjustment. That helped out there but what I couldn't tell from the warm up was that I it was still out at the top of the rear cog--that comes later. (And let me get this rant out here--Klucker switched out my wheels and cog on me last night. I didn't know he was doing it until it was done and I got the "I checked it on the stand and it's fine" response when I asked if it was shifting right).

Sunday was the first HOT day we've had this spring. It was 90 degrees when we pulled to the line with high humidity and a strong breeze. I had hydrated well Friday and Saturday and was conscious of my nutrition. There were 16 women who went to the line in Women's 4 and we were combined with the 3 Women's Masters 40+ and told we could work together. The whistle went off and we rolled out for our neutral start. About half way to the start Madeline started taking off. Allison and Amy called her back and we regrouped. We hit the start line and started racing. The first climb was a big ring climb about five miles into the race. I was watching my field position and made it up with no problem. I kept reminding myself to drink as we went through. Leaders changed throughout the next several miles. I tried to avoid some of the woman as much as possible because they were all over the place. We got to the climb at mile 10. I had looked at the course profile but I guess I misjudged this one. I thought we were done and the group was sitting up so I looked at Amy, Master's teammate, and said hold 'em back. Off I went. I got up near our pace truck and looked back and had gone alone. Ok can I make this stick? My heartrate was at 193 and I was in the wind alone. That's when I realized this climb was still going. Oye! I got in the small ring, then started working my way up on the rear. One from the top, I started slipping. It would stay in gear. I was really starting to fatigue but didn't want to sit up just yet. I shifted down and kept climbing. I was out about 7 minutes when I saw the green of the Hub girls at my side. I let up and got in and rested.

The next seven miles or so were hot and calm. There were some rollers, but no killers. I Gu'd at mile 17 and tossed my empty bottle. We then got to the climb at mile 21. I knew this one would be tough. It was long with a steep pitch at the end. I tried one more time to get in those top gears but it wouldn't lock in. I got out of the saddle and started to climb. I stayed up and we fractured the group. Our lead group had two Master's women--Amy and Alison and four Cat4 women--Britta, Laura, Ashley and me. Amy looked back and yelled that we had a gap and to haul. The girls at the front ramped up the pace. Amy kept trying to get a pace line organized but it was struggling. It was about then that I realized that I was done. I had stopped sweating and didn't have enough saliva in my mouth to spit. At mile 23, we turned onto the frontage road along the highway and I fell off. Ashley was on my wheel and offered to pull me up, but I didn't have it to go with her. I rode by myself, head down and exhausted. DNFing was sounding pretty good about then. I kept trying to talk myself through. I looked up and saw that the group had caught the Womens 1/2/3 and there was some confusion with the our lead vehicle and their wheel truck. It slowed them up. I tried to go harder to catch them but couldn't.

Mile 27 hit and I knew KOM was looming. When I studied the course map, the only thing I wrote about this climb was UGLY! and it was. I saw the 1K to KOM sign and reminded myself that it was only .6 miles. I dropped into my small ring and worked on spinning. I was slow but steady at the point. I hit the 500M mark and my body stopped. I honestly thought I may fall trying to get out of my pedals. I got off my bike. To quit or not to quit...I started telling myself your first DNF makes it an option for every race here on out. One foot in front of the other. Keep walking. Stand up straight to get oxygen. Don't cry. This is demoralizing. Cat passed me about that time and asked what happen. Dehydration, heat stroke, I don't know. I kept walking 100M to go and Tricia passed me. I saw the line and was almost there when Bethany passed me. I hopped on the bike at that point and made a half-hearted attempt to catch them but they had started working together and there was another little rise. I got back in my small ring and started counting down miles and doing crazy mental math problems to distract myself. (Being an English major, math really makes me concentrate. It's a trick I've used for a while to get through it when it hurts.)

I made it to mile 30 when I heard a voice behind me, "Suzanne, what happened?" It was Alice, our other Master's racer. I told her I bonked and she offered her wheel. I graciously accepted but was secretly worried for the first 3-5 minutes that I couldn't hold on. My salvation was the Ste. Genevieve sign. We made it to the city limits, I can make it to the line. I pulled alongside Alice and we chatted and we rolled through. I saw our turn to finish straightaway and was relieved. I would finish this race.

I ended up in 8th, not quite the race I had envisioned. I learned a few things (attacking early in a RR is not smart, probably should have had three bottles with me on the bike) and I'm a stronger racer for having done it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Race Report: O'Fallon Gold Cup--The Sweet Taste of Victory

I got to the park and registered with plenty of time for a good warm-up. There was not a level spot on the course. My mental message to myself about it was "Pop It and Drop It" meaning that the front half of the course would pop my HR and the back half I would need to concentrate on getting it to drop.

We rolled to the line and got started on time. There were seven women in our field and we were on course with the juniors. We got pre-race instructions and the whistle and were off. It was an uphill start and I struggle to get clicked in the pedals. Once I was in I caught up with the pack and we were off. The first two laps we stayed together as a field, with one little surge led by Kate. During the third lap, on the back side of the course, I decided to see who had the legs today and attacked. I peaked back and saw I brought three with me--Ashley, Kate, and Mary. We had shaken the other three off. Around a few more times and we got a prime bell for cash--the same amount as my entry fee. Boy would it be sweet to race for free! Around we went. We were in the sweeping turn at the end of the back side descent and Ashley started to go. I jumped on her wheel and we started the uphill to the line. About 200M before the line, I pulled along side of her and got out of the saddle. I pushed it and kept going. I got the prime and a gap. OMG! That rocked.

The next three laps or so I was out by myself. I was about 17 minutes in and was going past the start/finish and heard someone yell "Hang in there, Mary." They had caught me. I looked back at Kate and told her if they were on, they could work. I sat in with the group for a lap and a half and we got another prime bell. We were in the sweeping corner and Kate went. I jumped on her wheel. I didn't want to be greedy, but I also didn't want to "give" it away and lose good position. I pulled alongside of Kate as we started uphill and told I was gonna make her work for it. I kept encouraging her to sprint. As we got closer to the line, Ashley pulled on my right. She pulled even with me and kept going as we hit the line. Ashley and Kate were fighting it out with Ashley getting the prime. She and I kept going and put a bit a gap on the field. Around again and three to go was on the lap cards. She and I shared the work and were at the line with two to go. I heard someone yell for Mary again. She had bridged up to us. I sat up slightly and let her take the pull. She asked me how many laps were left and I told her. I got on her wheel and followed her around. At some point I looked back at Ashley and mouthed "let her work." The juniors almost took us all out on the backside because they couldn't find a line and hold it. Mary did some great evasive manuevers.

We got the bell lap and I continued to sit on Mary's wheel. I held on to her through the downhill. I noticed she was out of gears and was standing to accelerate and I was still holding on with gears and legs to spare. We hit the sweeping turn and I decided to make my move. I spun up my cadence, added gear and pulled around. I didn't know if Ashley jumped on or not, but I wasn't taking the chance to lose it at the line. At the bottom of the hill I was up and sprinting. Across the finish with a good deal of daylight between me and the other two! My first win and it was oh so sweet! I think I enjoyed it so much because I felt like I made it my race--I made things happen when I wanted them to happen.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Brief Hiatus

I'm in the midst of a little racing hiatus. Mother's Day weekend didn't have anything on the schedule, and I'm chosing not to head to Rolla for Hellbender this weekend. After the hecticness of April, I'm enjoying a little slower pace. It's also giving me some time for weeknight racing and long weekend rides.

I love the weeknight racing scene in St. Louis. It doesn't get any better than Tuesday Night Worlds and the Goldberg Heller Festival of Speed. My passion for racing was ignited last year by the Wednesday time trials. Until I started going out there, I liked racing, but I didn't have a drive for it. It was something about the laid back atmosphere--everyone wants a great race & fast time, but there's a different feel than the weekend crits. I only did one Tuesday night last year, but from the several I've done this year, it's the same way. It gives the shy social butterfly in me a great outlet :)

I had a great race this past Tuesday. I got my first fit on my road bike. (It only took me how long!) Mike does an excellent job of making sure I'm comfortable on my two-wheeled girls. My goal for the night was to stay with the pack for the entire race. My first Tuesday I held for three laps and jumped out for one. Several weeks ago I held for about nine laps before I sat one out. I wanted to be in it for the long haul this time.

The race started out great. I was in a good spot in the pack and the pace was reasonable. I moved around a lot on the bars, seeing how everything felt with the new stem and seat placement. Everywhere felt great. We hit a prime lap for the women--didn't even think about going for it. My goal was to ride a smooth, solid race and stay. About halfway through I fell to the back of the pack and had to work to stay on up the hill. I needed to get myself back in the middle to make it easier. I looked for some good wheels to grab (thanks, Amy!) and got back in there. Around 23 minutes in we got the bell for the men's prime. Oh, hell! Now it's gonna get crazy! Breathe, find a wheel, get in your drops! Around and up and back to the line and I was still in it. Let the countdown begin...if I made it this long I was staying. 3 to go, 2 to go, bell lap! Woo Hoo! I didn't have any energy (or business) to even think about the sprint but I made it. I even drank while I rode. It's a small victory, but an important one to me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Pain of the Pursuit

Last summer my first “group ride” ever was with a small group of women about two weeks before the WG crit. We met one Saturday morning and basically did the Hub ride. That ride stands out to me because my friend Stephanie said something to me as we did our last climb (don’t ask me where because I was so turned around by that point I was dizzy) that really has resonated with me and stayed in my head, “This route is great because the hills challenge you but you forget how painful they are as soon as you’re done.” For a girl who sometimes has trouble getting her words out the way she wants, she nailed this one!

Fast forward to last week, my buddy Kate and I were chatting about racing and effort. She remarked about “the amount of suffering in the sport.” I made a flippant remark about soaring heart rate, but in my head I was thinking, “Suffering? Sure I work hard, but It isn’t that bad.”
Fast forward to last night. I walk into our team meeting and several folks were looking at photos from Sunday’s race. Amy said, “There she is. Show Suzanne that photo.”

My "race face"--Photo cred: Dave Nelson
And there it was. It all came crashing back. The searing pain in my quads, the pounding of my heart, the sickeningly sweet taste of the Gatorade as it threatened to rise up. I suffered. Racing hurt. My self-talk from the race started coming back like flashes from a drunken evening. I remember telling myself, “She’s not going to get you twice.” and “There are only three laps to go. A body can endure anything for six minutes.” And from the Open race, “Pain is temporary, money buys new shoes.” followed by “you can’t let them catch up to you…that would really suck.” Then I remember talking to Sandy right after the 4 race and not being able to do more than just shake my head because I was afraid of what would come out if I opened my mouth.
Great Bob, Almighty! Why didn’t I remember all this before? Why do I do this to myself on a regular basis. Then Stephanie’s comment came to my head with a little adjustment—Racing is great because it challenges you but you forget how painful it is as soon as you’re done. How true that is! Although I think I’m going to make the picture my Facebook profile pic for a reminder and a motivator to train. Hmmm, maybe if I train harder it’ll hurt less??? hee, hee, hee *she giggles coyly*

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Inaugural Belleville Pro-Am Criterium--Back-to-back efforts again!

Sunday’s events were at a new venue in the area, downtown Belleville, IL. The team I raced for last year was sponsoring the race, so I volunteered to marshal the course so I could race for free—that was my thinking in deciding to take on two crits in a day—nothing to lose, and two great workouts. The only unfortunate thing was Saturday was a grand fondo, so the racing numbers would be low.

I registered and rode the course. It had six turns, two close left-handers after a nice downhill, a small hill and an S turn to the start/finish straightaway. The pavement, in spots, was a little rough, but well marked. We rolled to the line for the Women’s 4, all eight of us—Trish (was in my break away at Forest Park), Tara (did the solo break that we couldn’t catch last Saturday at Carondelet), Danielle (first race ever) and four junior women from MICDS. I was very proud of one of our juniors who pulled up on the line for the first time ever. She shyly asked me if that was okay and I told her to never be afraid to be in front. Buddy gave us pre-race instructions, couldn’t tell us if we got a prime, and had trouble blowing the whistle to get us started. We all had a bit of trouble going because of that. Everyone got clicked in and we were off. By turn four we were down to a 3 women lead pack, Trish, Tara and me. We all took turns pulling as we moved through the next couple of laps. About 11 minutes in, we got a bell for a prime. We played nice through the backside of the course until the middle of the S to the start finish. Tara took off and I was on her wheel. I didn’t want to give her too much because I knew first hand she could handle the course solo. She got the prime by less than a bike length and kept going. I tried to stay with her but didn’t have it. I let Trish come around to pull and Tara made up more ground.

The next twelve minutes or so were filled with Trish and I keeping Tara in our sites. We took turns pulling, but when Trish was pulling, I felt we lost ground on Tara. We got to three laps to go and I knew I had a decision to make—if I we were going to catch Tara, I was going to have to do the work knowing full well that Trish would sit on wheel and go for the sprint. In my mind I had to take that chance and at least have an opportunity for first rather than settling for a sprint for second. (Have I ever mentioned I’m a bit competitive?) The next three laps flew by but seemed to go in slow motion all at once. I bombed through the quick left turns, swearing I could have reached down and touched the pavement I was laying it so for over. I worked the hill to my advantage and made up ground there. Coming around with one lap to go, I heard Mike Weiss, our team sponsor, tell me, “if you’re gonna do, you gotta do it now.” We turned to the back side of the course and I grabbed Tara’s wheel and held tight. It was going to come down to the sprint. I let Tara pull us up to the 200M mark, right at the turn to the start/finish. It was on. Out of my saddle, adding gears as I went, I dropped Tara and fought Trish tooth and nail. Trish had played it smart. She got me by less than an inch at the line. I felt great with the results and was confident I made the right decision to go after Tara.

Women's Open Race. Photo cred: EvilleMike
I had about an hour between races so I grabbed a granola bar and a bottle of water and noodled around the area. I wanted to keep my legs warm and be ready for the second effort. I talked with a few of the more seasoned Cat 2 & 3 women—they knew I was doing the race to get more experience and were incredibly supportive. Eleven women rolled up to the line, representing six teams. Tara had jumped in this race as well. The start was much smoother this time and we were off—at a bit of a slower pace than the last Open race I was tried. (This was later attributed to the fact the Chris wasn’t racing—she likes to go out hot). Two laps in and we were still all together in a pack. I realized something after turn two in our third lap—the reason Tara goes for the single break is that she’s uncomfortable riding in a pack. She moved all over, staying on the outside of the group most of the time—never grabbing a wheel. I made a note to use that knowledge in future races. We hit turn four and headed uphill and a break went off—Jamie, Molly, and Emilie. Three teams represented. Amy took the charge of trying to take us after them, but they gained ground on us. We flew by the start/finish and through turns one and two when I heard Amy shout “I need some help up here.” That was my cue and up I went. For some reason I was feeling sassy and that gap they had on us didn’t look that big—it was time to take one for the team. I looked at Amy and said, “Hop on, let’s go!” My plan was to spend my legs pulling her up to the break, and then fall back to the pack and slow them down. Amy had different plans as she had ridden and won the 137mi fondo the day on Saturday, but didn’t have time to tell me that. I took off and was about half-way to the break and looked to make sure Amy was still on. Nope! Aw, heck, I was out there by myself, what was I thinking. (Amy later told me as soon as I got off, she sat up and slowed them down for me…great teamwork!) My little friend inside my brain told me you’ve already committed to this, get on up there. So I did, I rode that bike like I stole it and caught Emilie’s wheel in the middle of the S turn. We cruised through the straightaway and I looked up long enough to see Klucker’s sheer sense of amazement at where I was sitting. (he was officiating the race)

OMG! I'm in the break in the Women's Open. How did that happen? Photo cred: EvilleMike

I stayed on for about four laps, taking my turn pulling and helping our group grow the gap. The girls were fabulous and supportive, giving me tips as we rotated through. I lost my hold on the group on the hill and knew I didn’t have what I needed to get back on with them, now what? Time for my friend and I to chat. Do I sit up and wait for the pack? Do I try to maintain solo? We were about 23 minutes into a 35+3 race…hmmmm. Looked over my shoulder, no pack. To heck with it, let’s go. Fourth place was still In the money for this one. It could be a profitable day for me.

Off the break..riding solo. Photo cred: EvilleMike

About to get caught by Allison & Natalie. Photo cred: Eville Mike.
I rode the next 12 minutes solo, not seeing anyone behind me or the break in front of me. It was three to go I heard the announcer tell me two riders were closing in. I got a backwards glance at turn one and saw it was Natalie and Allison. I did my best to hold them off, but they got me between turns one and two with two to go. As soon as they caught me, I sat up. I had worked hard and was ready for a few seconds recovery. They were taking the bait though. They held my wheel until after turn four when Allison took off on the hill. Natalie and I tried to go after her, but couldn’t catch her. I dropped back behind Natalie and took her wheel. If I wanted to stay in the money, I would have to take Natalie in the sprint and I needed to recover. That girl did her best to shake me. She slowed down, she tried to sprint away, she rode from side-to-side on the road. I was on like glue. Up the hill we went and into the S-turn. As we made our way onto the finishing straight I revved up my cadence, got out of my saddle and through on gear. I took the sprint by a comfortable margin. What a feeling! My goal had been to hang with the pack and I went on a break and took 5th? Unbelievable!

Natalie and I sprinting for 5th. Photo cred: EvilleMike

This course and venue were incredible! I really hope that Veloforce will be able to hold onto this location and grow the race. It was a challenging course with a great area for spectators.