The theme of the past few weeks seemed to be how training the mind is just as important as training the body. I watched the documentary Desert Runners, where people run distances of up to 1000km in four different deserts. All these people were incredibly fit, yet many of them weren’t professional athletes. Their strong mind allowed them to keep running even though their feet were overrun with bloody blisters, or if it was 120 degrees out, or if they couldn’t hold food down, or if they had faced danger along the way.
The King/Queen of Turnbull course had five hills. These hills ranged from longer distance/less elevation to shorter distance/higher elevation. You got points for each hill depending on how you placed. We also had a 10 min break in between each hill and the descents didn’t count for the race.
I scouted the route with Aish a few days leading up to the race. We did the first two hills and we were both feeling pretty confident. That was, until we reached the third hill.
I was scared to go down it. At the very start it reminded me of white water rapids. Steep drops combined with sharp turns. I started descending and felt my bike slipping under me. “Forget this, I’m getting off.”-- I thought. I’ll walk down to where Aish is. She’s on her cross bike. I’m on my track bike.
“I think it might level out after this part” -- I said. She agreed, so we walked down a bit more.
I was still off my bike. It was midnight and all I could hear was a neighborhood dog barking from a far. A few cars sped by. I decided I would see if I could climb back up. I found a flatter part to the side of the climb and tried to clip in. Tried a few times. I finally got clipped in and then fell against the hill because I couldn’t get my other foot in time to mash up. I tried zig-zagging and my tire kept rubbing on my foot every time I turned, breaking my balance. I fell. Tried once again, and got up a bit further until I couldn’t push the crank anymore. Aish was cheering me on from the top. I got off again and wistfully walked back up.
We drove up the remaining hills.
Race day came. My legs were stiff from the nerves. I decided I would aim to finish. No matter how slow. Four other fixed girl riders and five girl road riders showed up and we were divided in our own categories.
My strategy was to be as efficient and energy saving as possible for the first easier hills without falling behind. My biggest disadvantage was not being able to zig-zag up like on my old bike, because of tire clearance on my newly acquired whip.
We started going up the first hill right behind the boys. One of the fixed girl riders, Evelyn, jetted up in front from the beginning, and for some reason I didn’t notice it. I was with the girl pack for a while. Everyone seemed to be taking it easy for this one. Mid way through I sped up and broke away from the pack to get the win. Once I got up, I realized I wasn’t in first place the whole time!
“Who beat me? Oh well, I got four more chances…” I thought to myself. I found out it was Evelyn who beat me. Evelyn had been riding fixed for four months. She was an endurance runner who had picked up cycling through a courier job. She has a small build, great for climbing, and was wearing regular sneakers and cages on her pedals. Which added to her awesomeness.
She looked spent after the first hill. So I banked on her not being able to finish the harder, steeper hills.
We descend to the bottom of the second climb. My goal was to try to stay behind Evelyn the whole time while still trying to save my energy and see if I could out sprint her at the end.
We started going up together for the first half until she gained an advantage. I stayed back with Judy for a while. I felt myself slowing down more and more as I realized I wouldn’t be able to catch Evelyn. It was more mental at this point. Judy and I were taking turns passing each other, and I tried shaking her off but she held on, which started to make me anxious, and for some reason it slowed me down even more. Judy passed me and gained a gap with less the 1/3 to go.
I got out of the saddle and sprinted past her all the way up to the end. Phew, close one. Glad I was able to pull that one out of the bag.
After seeing how the second climb went, my focus shifted from getting first place to successfully maintaining second place.
The third climb was a little steeper than the second but it was also a bit shorter. I decided I would try to gain a gap in the beginning so that when I eventually slowed down I could hopefully maintain the lead.
I got off my saddle and chased the boys, trying to hang on with them as long as possible. For the first half of the hill I was in first place. I thought to myself I still had a chance to win. I kept going and then I saw Evelyn right behind me. She passed me. A super steep part came and I powered to catch up. Every fiber in my body hurt. We were both working so hard. There was no “efficiency” at this point. We were mainly just trying to survive.
I gained the lead for about 10 seconds until I couldn’t take the pain anymore and got off my bike. That’s when it kicked in how exhausted I was. I slowly walked up watching Evelyn get farther away from me. I look back and the other girls weren’t in sight yet. Luckily, I had created a gap early on and bought myself some time.
I got back on the saddle and tried chasing her down. I didn’t loose sight of her but couldn’t muster up the explosiveness I needed to catch her. I regretted getting off my bike so bad. But at least I finished in a cool second place, and unless something unexpected happened I would most likely be able to podium.
Fourth climb was the women’s prime. The prime was in the exact spot that I had struggled on while scouting the route with Aish. It was the hardest part of the race with a 26% maximum grade. I decided I would try to hustle up to that point and inevitably get off my bike to a running finish and hopefully be able to keep my gap.
I started off in the front of the pack again. I maintained my lead for a good while. And then it started getting really steep. I slowed down a bit. Look behind me, and Evelyn is right there. Damn. I could tell she was in a lot of pain, too. But I was not longer banking on that stopping her.
We got to the super steep part where I would have to run up. She was already in the lead and in sneakers. I was in road shoes. Evelyn is a strong runner, so I didn’t stand a chance and she took the preme.
Last hill was Greenleaf Ave. The toughest climb of the race. At that point my plan was to run up. Unfortunately Evelyn and I got a little distracted chit chatting on our ride from home base to Greenleaf and got lost, so we started late behind the pack. She went for it and dropped me again. (Surprise). I took of my cleats off and walked up to the end. One of the homeowners shouted “Well, that’s one way to get up!”
Although there were times in the race I gave it my all, looking back on it I feel like I could have gone a bit faster. I was scared. I kept on trying to preserve my energy for what was going to happen next (And I wasn’t quite sure what that would be). I was also scared of the pain. I’m not used to the pain and discomfort yet. But it’s all repetition and getting your mind assimilated with what your body can do. You only learn what it can do by putting it through the test.
Don’t get me wrong I think Evelyn would have probably taken the win either way. But I think I could have put up a greater fight.
Efficiency is important, but being able to manage pain and develop a strong mind is just as important. Luckily we’re able to train our minds at the same time as our bodies. This, combined with preparation (studying the route) is a huge advantage over other individuals that may be more fit, even.
I tend to play it safe, possibly because I'm just starting out. I want to be able to race and leave it all out there. I don’t want to feel like I could have “done more”. I want to race and then collapse on the floor at the end like the pros do. They’re not scared of the pain. They go for it. They spend a lot of time pushing their bodies and know themselves. I think I didn’t push myself more because I didn’t know if I could. But with practice I’ll find out, and I’ll become more used to being in highly demanding situations. At the end of the day the person with the most heart perseveres. My current goal is to train my mind into being stronger so I don’t sike myself out when someone passes me or when the hill gets really steep.
My teammate Esme told me “you gotta fall in love with the pain”.
Always give that extra push.
Words by SWAT "ROTY" Anatevka Photos by Julio Boostamonte and Tom Jenkins special thanks to GLK for throwing a killer race