I had another crappy night of sleep, and woke up this morning with my stomach doing back flips. It was probably a combination being outside too long yesterday, and nerves. This case of nerves wasn't like the feeling I get before a triathlon. The pre-tri "I'm ready to kick some butt in my age group" nerves is nervous energy. This morning was the "OMG, I've got to go climb all those damn hills at least 3 times!" nerves. I was truly anxious about this race.
I ate a very light breakfast of two slices of whole wheat toast, pineapple chunks, and a cup of tea. Not exactly the "breakfast of champions", but it was what I could handle at the time. The stupid elevator was out of order still so on my way to breakfast I had taken all my gear so that I would only have to carry the bike down the 4 flights of steps. I'm glad my bike is light, and I was hoping by the time I got back it would be fixed.
I got out to the start about an hour before te scheduled start of the first race. Guys are on wind trainers getting warmed up. I like to warm up before a short race, but for a long race like this I just want to ride around the parking lot a few times just to loosen the legs. For me the first five miles is my warm up. People were getting rather anxious because they were behind schedule and changed the start order. They opted to have the Masters 35+ and 45+ men go after the Open men, and before the Open women. That was fine with me. I didn't want them blazing down my butt almost immediately.
The only bad thing was there was more standing around in the sun. There wasn't a ton of shade, but we all crowded in. I don't know what it is about the Empire Games, but no matter what the weather has been like all summer it seems to be hot and humid on the day of the road race. This wasn't as hot as Syracuse in 2002 when it was 96 degrees, but it was very humid.
Finally it's time for the Open Women's field to take off. The head official gives us the final instructions and warns us about the dangerous turns and descents and the potholes. Yada, Yada. Been there, done that, know this course. Let's get the show on the road. The first few miles is a neutral start where the field rolls along. I figured I'd just sit in until things got going. At one point I thought I was going to get dropped during the neutral roll. We were going down a hill and I hit 36 on my odometer. The pack was starting to pull away. I did get back on, but as soon as the pace car sped up I got spit off the back. It was a good thing the pack was in sight when we made the second turn onto Bogtown Rd, because there was no course marshal there. I was afraid I'd forget the turn on the next lap. Fortunately by the time I came around again one of my fellow USI tri-geekettes, Flori was posted there.
So began my lonely lady of the road routine. It was going to be a long morning. It wasn't too long before the break away group of the masters 55+ men came by. A little later Nancy caught up with me. She wished me luck as she went by. Again it didn't really matter what field I was in, I was going to be going it alone. Though in the masters I would be done after two laps. The other problem with the Open is technically I can't work with masters riders. Even if I could have hung with Nancy it wouldn't be allowed. I did get a number of the older guys ride up to me and invite me to work with them. I told them I was in the Open and could not do so.
The one good thing the race being down here is USI was the promoting club, so I had lots of familiar voices cheering for me. Though on my first lap somebody yelled "Go Gloria!" I said "It's Polly, not Gloria!" Under my breath I was saying "Gloria wouldn't be this far behind." This course had a number of killer hills. The worst was Oak Ridge Rd. Climb a hill to get to it, make a left and then it's straight up. The feed zone was on the first section which is the easiest, but as it gets steeper and steeper. The hill has 3 parts to it. Each part is steeper then the previous one. At the top, make a left turn and it flattens out though still an upgrade, and just when you think you've made it to the top, BAM! another short but steep hill. This road is interesting because there is a tree in the middle and traffic goes to the right of the tree. When I did the course in training a few weeks ago I took one look at that and opted to go against traffic. That side wasn't quite as steep.
I knew sooner or later the Open Men would pass me. I was just praying it wouldn't be on Oak Ridge or the screaming descent. Fortunately it was on a straight away so I simply pulled over to the grass, stopped and let them go by. One of the trailing vehicles stops and a guy asks me if I'm in Open Men. I said "No! Open Women." I'm not sure if I was more annoyed or if he was more embarrassed. Short hair, not much in the boobs department, helmet, sunglasses, and far off the back of the women's field, I guess it's an easy assumption to make. But you know what they say about assume. Make an ass out of u and me.
One of the ways I know my attitude about this race is different was when two trucks decided to stop in the middle of Hardscrabble Road. A moving van and had pulled into a drive way, and a UPS truck stopped right in front of me. Had this been a triathlon where I was trying to smoke my age group, I'd would had been seriously pissed. Here it was an opportunity to take breather. Several Masters Men cam up on me and actually crossed the yellow line and went around. I decided I would pass on that idea, especially when the UPS guy was holding up his hand. I simply stopped, and passed when it was safe to do so.
The other challenge on a course like this is balancing the whole drinking thing. On the first lap you can't receive new bottles or anything. I had a large bottle of water and a smaller bottle of Hammer Heed. By the time I got to the feed zone I was just about out of water, but still had a decent amount of Heed left. I dropped off my water bottle, assuming (there we go with the A-word again.) I'd get another large bottle. I was given a small bottle, but was not ready to part with the Heed bottle. I had to be judicious in my drinking so that I wouldn't run out before the third trip up the hill.
After I had gotten my water I saw the NYC coach, Billy Montgomery. Billy and I go back a long time. He would always give me crap on the Gimbels Ride, and at first it upset me. Then one day when he was announcing a race I did in Prospect Park, afterwards he explained that he was just ragging on me. After that we become good friends, and it he's got to be one of the funniest guys in the peloton. He's always making crazy black jokes, telling funny stories, talking trash, and getting people to laugh. So today when I saw in the feed zone I said "Hi Billy, I love you." He says back to me, "Okay, stop with the niceties and start racing." You have to understand at this point I'm going about 5 MPH up this damn hill. So I yelled to him in jest, "F$%k you Billy." Somebody comments about having too much energy, and some of the Long Island people our ragging on me about what I said. I'm thinking to myself, "Oh crap! This is a bike race. This is not Gimbels where everyone trash talks like that. This is the Empire State Games. I can't be talking like that. What if people don't realize I'm kidding around. Are they going to report me for unsportsmanlike conduct. Am I gonna get DQ'ed and get zero points?"
I found myself at times talking to Dad, and discussing the fact that he and Uncle Ernie inspired me with their long rides. I said "I hope you and Ernie are riding with me even though it's been awhile since you all have ridden." When one is by herself it's easy to start talking to herself. I certainly didn't have any riding company. Every time somebody came by and offered a wheel I played it straight, and passed. Though I'm not sure I would have been able to hold on. Also riding with people may have increased the possibility that I wouldn't be far enough behind to justify them pulling me.
As I was getting close to the end of my second lap I saw Mark and said. "I hate you Mark!" Shortly after that I crossed the finish line and the official said "you got two more laps to go." I'm thinking to myself "Oh God, are they really going to make me do this two more times?" The inner-wimp was talking louder then the inner-competitor(masochist). I knew on this third lap the men would probably pass me again. Unfortunately a big group of the 35+ masters passed me on the screaming descent. There really was no place to pull over even though the wanted me to do so. Even riding the brakes I still had a lot of speed, and there was no way to stop quickly and pull over, so I just stayed as far to the right as possible and out of their way.
On this lap I also got caught by the women. One woman was off the front, and then a few minutes later the second and third women came by. Later another 4-5 women passed me. I figured this was increasing the odds that they'd pull me. The break away from the men's open passed me on another descent that was only a mile or so from the feed hill. I knew they'd be through the feed zone by the time I got there, but I was concerned that the field would overtake me while I was getting bottles. There was no way I was not taking two bottles this time around. I was totally out of Heed, and had very little water left.
I get to the feed zone, and my back is killing me. I drop the one bottle and Gemma hands me a new one. I drop the other, and I'm really wobbly. Dave gives me the other one, and the two them are pushing me as I get the second bottle in the cage. I have no energy to make any snarky comments to Billy. I'm dying of thirst, and I have these two fresh bottles, but on a hill this steep I can't take a hand off the bars to drink. I'm thinking to myself, "Just get to Maggie and Mary. You can drink up there." I'm also thinking, "If I have to go up this hill a 4th time, I may have to walk up it!"
Mary and Maggie were up at the top of the last steep hill by the park. Every time I'd come up they would be cheering for me. It was a good spot to have friends cheering. Each time I'd come up I'd say "See you in an hour." The third time up I said something to the effect of "I hope I don't see you again up here."
The last hill has a tree in the middle of the street. We had the choice of going on either side of the tree. The first time I had ridden the course Nancy and I went to the left against traffic. To the right looked longer and steeper. Just as I get near the hill four guys come up on me. One takes the road to the right. I hesitate a moment to wait to see where the other three guys are going. They take the left, and then I follow. I was glad it was only four guys and not the rest of the open field. Once I got to the top I could cope with getting passed by a large field.
As I made my way down to Hardscrabble Rd., I was wondering what was going to happen when I got back to the finish line. The masochistic side of me was saying "You want to do the 4th lap to say you did it, and have the distinction of being the last person on the course." The wise wimpy side was saying, "You're dying on the hills, they may have to give you an IV, just let them end your misery." Every hill I climbed on Hardscrabble the wise wimp was screaming louder then the inner-masochist. When I got to the junction of Hardscrabble and June Rd., Mark was still there. I told him, "If they don't pull me, I'm sending a hit man after you!" He tells me, "Don't worry, it's been taken care of."
As I approach the finish line the official tells me I have one more lap, but I can stop and finish one lap down. The key word was finish. I stopped, and verified that if I stopped on this lap I'd would simply be last, get the points, and not be DNF. When he said yes, that was good enough for me. As I walked over and sat on the grass I heard one of the officials say "Number 71 continued on." Number 71 was the woman from Long Island that I beat by 18 seconds in the time trial. When I heard that I started thinking "Damn, I'm such a wimp. She went out for the fourth lap. Maybe I wasn't that far back, I should have gone on."
As all those thoughts went through my mind, Nancy came over and gave me a hug. She was wearing her bronze medal. I told her what I was feeling at the moment. She assured me that I did the right thing, and that I did a good job. She said that as she passed me during the race she was thinking about what a hard race it was going to be for me. As I continued to be down on myself she reminded me that I had started training late. She was right. Once again I was my own worst critic.
I rode back to the parking lot after the men finished. I got talking to one of the guys from Long Island. It turns out number 71 was a good 15 minutes ahead me, so it wasn't like I was going to catch up with her and have company for "La Tour de Torture". Also the officials were a little confused as to whether she was done or not, and whether or not she was the last woman. As it was when the standings were posted they had her listed as down a lap also. I'm not sure what that was all about.
Mary and Maggie came back to the parking lot, and said they waited for me. I told them I was given the option to finish down a lap. They agreed that it was a no brainer, and that I made the right choice. Later on when I spoke to John he too told me I was smart, and to stop beating up on myself for stopping when I did. "Hello, Polly! You're 53! You didn't start training until April! You haven't been doing a lot of hills! You're still over your racing weight! Cut yourself a break!"
Got that out of my system, and enjoyed a very nice post race lunch with Maggie, Mary and Karen. Nothing like a good meal with the girls to help put everything in perspective.
The Hudson Valley guys scored pretty well, so we moved out of last place in the team standings. From third to sixth it pretty close. However it's going to be up to the guys if there's any chance of bronze. That would be nice since I wasn't scoring any medals on my own. Again if I had been in the masters I would have been fourth. Fourth place sucks.