Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time Trial Season: A Third Place Streak And The State Championship

After getting off to a bumpy start in road and criterium racing, I shifted my focus to time trialing until the Texas State Championship. Time trialing is definitely a comfort zone coming out of triathlon and it was a relief to throw myself in that direction for a while.  I decided to do as many of the Tyler 4 mile TTs as possible, one of the IronHaus 40K series, and then the State Championship.  Each TT gave me an opportunity to dial in technique, equipment, and pacing for the big race.
The Ninja Bike wearing race wheels for the first time!! SUPER SEXY!
Thank you to my tireless and patient coach, Brian, for the hookup.

A rain date gave me an extra racing opportunity and I was able to attend three of the Tyler 4 Mile series.  This is a race that I have done several times before... in fact, it was my first time trial ever.  It's a fast course with no turns. Just put your head down and hammer in a single direction for 4 miles.  If the wind is right, like it was the first time I ever raced it, you can see some stupid fast times.  Since that day, despite being faster overall, I had never been able to touch my initial time of 7:41.  This year, like last year, the wind was not a hindrance but not really helpful either... mostly gentle crosswinds with a slight push, particularly in the first of the three.

The first one went off (it was actually the second in the series but the first that I did this year) and it was the first time running it with a change in the locations of the start and finish lines.  I took the Ninja Bike (my trusty Cervelo P4) out and proceed to hammer like a damn fool.  It looked to me like I was on track to BLOW my old PR out of the water... right up until I saw the flagger near the old finish line and in my hypoxic state decided that I was done.  I sat up and coasted for a while.  Something didn't seem quite right and I started soft pedaling.  THEN I saw the real finish line.  OH CRAP!! I never really made it back up to speed and my PR effort was shot and I finished in 8:05.62.  I did finish well, first woman and third overall, not far behind a VERY fast couple of guys who are nearly untouchable in this race.

COOL! Third place!

The next race, however, I rode to the proper finish line and finished in 7:35.92.  PR shattered!! YES! The placings were the same.  First woman, third overall.

Oh, huh. Third place.

In the final race of the series for me (there is actually 5 of them), I shaved a few more seconds off bringing my time down to 7:32.65.  Still first woman, third overall and at this point my consistency had become a running joke!


I rolled out to IronHaus in San Antonio the next Saturday.  This was my trial run for everything, including the way I wanted to handle the travel.  I went to San Antonio the day before and stayed in an inexpensive room that I had booked online.  OOF! That was a misstep. The hotel and it's neighborhood were SCARY! I had left Wilbur home with a neighbor looking in on him and missed his company badly, especially his bark if someone tried to come near the room.  I woke up several times with nightmares, though I am not sure if they were related, and so I didn't sleep well.  I was a ball of nerves when I headed to the race course.

My good luck charm!

I realized that I have only ever done 40K as a part of a triathlon, and only a handful of times at that.  Pacing was going to be tricky.  After the start, I headed off like I was on fire and very quickly reminded myself that 40K was a LOT farther than 4 miles.  I keep telling myself "easy as she goes, it's a long way." Why I am invaded by colloquialisms during races, I have no idea, but there you have it and it worked.  I slightly underpaced and had a big kick left for the finish.  That was good because at the turnaround, I saw that the really fast woman that had started 1 minute behind me was, well, right behind me! In the end, I ended up third (again!! It was becoming a theme for the season!) behind some higher category women who's abilities command enough respect that I couldn't be anything but proud to finish in that company. I turned in a 61:31 (a 24.24 mph average) and was extremely happy with the effort, especially considering I felt that there was little room for improvement for the big race the following week.

I am doomed to third place.

The following Saturday was the State TT.  I felt a lot of pressure to do well as a lot of people were talking like I had already won it.  I knew anything could happen on race day and NEVER to get cocky about your chances for the top spot.

I remedied my mistake from the previous week and made sure that Wilbur could come.  Honestly, his presence has become a very steadying force for me and I was grateful for it the night before.  As I warmed up for the state TT, something that I miscalculated and hadn't really left enough time to do, I was doing long loops on the road near the start.  I was making my final turn and suddenly, the wheels shot out from under me and I was on the ground. I jumped up and did a quick check of the bike, put the chain back on, looked at the time... 8:15... my start time was 8:19:30.  I hopped back on the bike and headed down the road one more time to make sure everything was working.  I arrived at the start at 8:19:00 by my garmin.  Fortunately, it was 60 seconds behind official time because my chain fell off again.  I got back on my bike with 30 seconds to spare.

Completely unsuspecting here.

And the next thing I knew I was off!  The first thing I realized was that I was in far too big of a gear.  I struggled to push the pedals.  Once I got rolling, it felt better.  I love that part of the race and it helps me to find a good rhythm so I went ahead and let myself roll on that a bit to get my head in the game and off the crash.  I clicked down a couple more gears, then settled into the aerobars.  That is standard procedure for me and as soon as I am down, I back the gear off a couple of clicks until it feels good.

I pulled the shifter.


No response.  No tension.  It was like it wasn't even attached.  I was confused.  I had just been able to shift down the cassette into this MONSTER gear I was now struggling to push. I pulled up again.


The reality started to dawn on my.  I had 40K ahead of me, the first 10 miles would be into a headwind, the next few miles has some gentle hills, and the finish was uphill.. and I was STUCK in a big sprinting gear.

My brain went through some serious gymnastics.  I can't even begin to chronicle the myriad of thought running around in my head at that moment.  I tried the shifter a few more times to be sure (something I did many more times before the finish in a desperate hope for a miracle) but knew it was hopeless.  It was totally dead.

Then I did something that I am really proud of.  I made the decision to find out how much my legs really had in them.  I knew I could push this gear as long as I didn't let my speed and cadence drop too much.  I came up with a plan.  I thought that I might be able to shift into my small chainring and possible move into a smaller cog if I needed to.  I had that as an exit strategy so I would ride this thing like I was on a track bike, using cadence and shrugging into a more aerodynamic position to mimic having gears.  And I was going to ride this gear like I planned to be there.  NO slow mashing or rocking in the saddle.  Tight, strong, fast.  At least until burned through all of my matches and died completely.  Maybe by then I would have put enough time into the rest of the racers to stay on that podium.  Nothing I could do was going to make this 40K hurt less and I had already tossed the quitting idea out.  I was still there to win that thing.

I'm not going to wax poetic about how much it hurt. It hurt a LOT. As much as I was afraid it might.  I did reach that point where I really wanted that exit strategy.  I had managed to rationalize that if I could get just a little relief, I could totally spin home on my little ring fast enough.  I even pushed down on the left shifter to signal a switch to my small chainring.  Too bad that shift was useless too.  I was in so much pain that I was begging for my way out but too bad.  I was stuck with what I had ALL THE WAY TO THE END.  So I just kept hammering.

Ya know, cycling is finding funny way to teach me that my limits aren't what I think they are.  My time was 63:04.33.  Disappointing after the previous weeks performance but under the circumstances, not bad.  No matter what else happened (and it took hours to find out as results came in very slowly), I was happy with the way I had handled myself.

Another great part to the day was the people.  Almost all of my racing and training up until this point has been a solo venture, a lonely experience.  After a long drought, I have met some really great friends in this sport and found myself surrounded on that day by friends from both Austin and Tyler.  It was possibly the best part of the entire day.  I wouldn't have traded that for all my gears!!  It was the best feeling in the world!
LOOK! Something other than THIRD PLACE!

But as it turned out, that effort was good enough to win.  I had pedaled my broken bike all the way to the top of the podium and after the podium pictures, as we were stepping down, I heard the announcer say "Meet your new Cat 4 State Champion, Lora Popolizio".  I didn't realize anyone was still taking pictures as I did a little fist pump and mutter "f**k yeah" under my breath.  It was a good moment and a great way to break a third place streak!
The look on my face tells the whole story.

Seriously, a giant thank you to Coach Brian who is the reason I had the legs I needed to pull that bit of ridiculousness off.  Talk about overkill! I cannot express enough how happy I am to finally, at long last, put a championship race on the calendar... and not only make it to the start... BUT WIN!

Now back to the road bike and time to get that part right too.

And there you have it.

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