Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ll probably know that I suffered a pretty bad injury about 11 months ago – crashing during training and fracturing a bone in my pelvis. It took six months to heal as, I admit, I was very bad at doing the whole ‘rest’ thing and did all the wrong things from starting riding again too early to overdoing the other exercise I was allowed to do.
Once healed, work and life was busy enough to prevent me from getting back on the bike regularly – or so I thought. By winter I’d realised that I was taking any excuse to avoid getting back into training. I loaded up Training Peaks with some free training plans and promptly ignored them. I promised I’d go back to the track and didn’t. Something was holding me back. It was the fear of being so much slower than before and starting the uncomfortable slog back to fitness, not to mention the fact that everyone else was going to be a full year fitter and more race-hardened than me now.
After a few more weeks of barely dipping my toe back into training I said to myself GET A GRIP JESS, IT’S GOING TO BE SUMMER AT THIS RATE. I needed something to give me a kick up the ass, something to give me the motivation I was badly lacking. So I decided to do a race. I knew full well that I wasn’t race fit, and that I’d get dropped by the fast girls, but I had a strange urge to be back in a bunch, riding as fast as I could, feeling the peculiar mix of adrenaline and serenity that you only feel in a race. It would also throw into sharp focus how much work I’d need to do to catch up.
So that Saturday, Lee Valley Velopark Winter Crit Series, I rolled up with my Spin on These wheels and Altura team kit and was pleased to see an impressive turnout for the women’s race. There were 19 racers in total, including a large number of Cat 4s. My strategy was to stay with the bunch as long as possible, but if a strong group broke away and I couldn’t keep up I should at least be able to ride with a slower group. However, as we arrived at the start line the commissaire called forward the Cat 4s and announced that they’d get a half lap head start and the 1/2/3 Cats (For clarification I am a Cat 3 from racing crits in 2016) would have to chase them. WHAT, NO! I felt too embarrassed to put my hand up and ask to join them, and glumly watched my fallback plan ride away and steeled myself for a painful experience.
The race set off and for the first ten minutes I felt surprisingly fine, even taking a few turns on the front. Then we collectively realised that the Cat 4 group was surprisingly fast and we weren’t making up any ground on them… not good. The more vocal riders chivvied the fast group into a tight through and off and the pace quickly ramped up. I started to struggle after a series of strong riders took massive pulls on the front. Eight minutes later I was hanging miserably at the back, trying to avoid a gap forming, but form it did. I sighed as the distance irreversibly increased, realising I was at the very back of the race and now guaranteed to come dead last.
I sat up and waited for the Cat 4s to catch me, figuring that I might as well get as much racing time as possible. Once they did I slotted in and felt comfortable, however in less than half a lap the fast group caught the Cat 4s (finally) and it blew apart the group. Having had the luxury of a lap and a half rest I could keep up, and stayed with the main group until the end. My sprint was laughable but I did finish ahead of some girls who dropped off, but since I’d been lapped I still technically finished dead last. But I finished. And I enjoyed it. And now, finally, I want to train again.