Monday, November 2, 2009

Developing Women Racers -- the Tri-Flow Way!

Kaya at the Folsom Criterium

Introduced in 2006, the Tri-Flow Women's Development Racing Program is designed to help riders bridge the gap from club rider to team racer. In a six-week series of workshops, clinics, and rides, we teach women everything they need to know to begin road racing and then support them at their first race. Since it's inception in 2006, 66 women have participated in the Tri-Flow program, and many of them have continued to race both locally and nationally as CAT 1 - CAT 4 and masters.

Following is a program re-cap from Kaya Beeley, who participated in the 2009 Dunnigan Hills program:

I bought my first road bike in 2003. For the first couple of years, I did a lot of club rides and solo rides through the Oakland and Berkeley hills. It seemed that the club riders were always training for something, so I finally got around to doing my first century ride. It was great to finally have a purpose and focus to my riding. I got my first bike computer and started logging my miles. Last year, my endurance riding peaked with my completion of The Death Ride, a 129 mile ride with 15,000 feet of climbing. After proving to myself that I could sit in the saddle for 13 hours, I found myself less enthusiastic about endurance riding. Not because it was boring in the least, but because I had learned a lot about mental toughness and how hard I could push myself. I was ready for a change.

Years ago I first joined the Velo Girls for a Girls Got Skills clinic. As Coach Lorri claims, it shifted my cycling paradigm. I learned to corner my bike and make emergency stops, which allowed me the confidence to race down hills. I am proud to hold the house record for fastest maximum speed, which is 53.5 mph (yes, I only live with one other person, but he’s a boy!). Now I’ve taken almost all of Lorri's clinics and rounded out my cycling with road riding, mountain biking, and road racing.

It took me 2 years to get up the guts to try racing. I love to ride fast, but wasn’t sure it would translate into being a good racer. I’ve never done any sports competitively, so wasn’t sure I would be driven to win. Since I just wanted to dabble in racing, the Velo Girls Tri-Flow Women’s Development Racing Program seemed like the perfect fit. I would train for 6 weeks with other women and then do one race.

Well, Dunnigan Hills was that one race. It turned out to be the epitome of an awful first race. I got into a car accident on my way to the race (never take Ambien before race day). I tried to ignore the distraction of the car accident and stay focused on the race. After the neutral first mile and a half, the chase began. I found myself behind a rider who thought drinking was more important than staying with the pack. The entire pack passed me on the left and right, while I was too chicken to make my move. When I looked behind and saw an empty road, I finally pulled out from behind the woman in front of me and tried to sprint to the pack. With no wheel to hang onto, I was working really hard.

By mile 5 of a 41.5 mile race, I had already thrown up in my mouth. I thought at this point that I was dead last, and couldn’t believe the race could be over almost before it begun. I spent the next couple of miles fighting the strong winds alone, trying to bridge the gap to the girls who were not too far ahead. Once I finally caught them, we worked together and finished the course. I realized that I was not indeed last, but that there were lots of us spread out around the course fighting our own personal battles.

I couldn’t let that lousy performance be the beginning and ending of my racing career (though it sure did look like racing was not for me), so I quickly signed up for the last races of the season. Folsom Cyclebration built up my confidence and turned out to be a lot of fun. I participated in the criterium and was elated to finish with the pack. I couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was, so I signed up for the next day’s circuit race. The course turned out to be much harder, but I hung onto the pack and even threw my bike over the finish line, even though I was nearly last place.

The next weekend was the Henleyville Road Race. The day had come for me to redeem myself. I needed to prove to myself and others that road racing was something I could do, or else I wouldn’t know whether to join a road racing team in 2010. It was the very last race of the season and I still couldn’t answer the question: “Is racing for me?”. I was especially nervous because my fiancĂ© would be driving the follow car and I didn’t want him to have to pass me when I got dropped.

The race was 3 laps, adding up to 54 miles. My goal was to hang on for 1 lap. I was surprised when the race started at a pace I could handle. As we got closer to the finish line of the first lap, the pace increased to a sprint. I couldn’t believe people were sprinting on the first lap, but I gave it everything I had, since my goal was to do just one lap with the pack. I was ecstatic to cross the line with the pack and enjoyed the second lap, thinking of it as a bonus lap. By the third lap, I noticed that the pack was down to 12 women (though we had started with about 25), only 2 of whom were on my team.

I didn’t have an actual team responsibility for the race because I was a new racer. My goals were so modest that they didn’t include the finish line. The two Velo Girls who were supposed to go for the win, were still in the pack, so I asked them how I could help. Once we were a few miles from the finish line, I realized that neither one was set up for the win since one had horrible leg cramps and the other had been doing most of the work during the race. So, once we got to the 200 meter sprint, I went for it. I crossed the line feeling as though my chest might explode, but miraculously came in 5th.

I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I had given up after Dunnigan Hills. I’m so glad I stuck with it because now I’m addicted. I can’t wait for next racing season. I may have bad races, but I’ll keep in mind that there’s always another chance for a great race.

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