In the days leading up to the start of my cycling and race walking races at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, my thoughts danced between “I’m not ready for this” to “I got this!”
Worried that my lack of training from ongoing foot issues, I had to do plenty of self-talk to remind myself to focus on the fun I would have, to give each event my best effort, and not dwell on perfection.
Well, I believe that approach worked.
The 5K Hill Climb was on Tuesday, Oct. 17, kicking off the four days of cycling races. Held at Snow Canyon State Park, the course started near the sand dunes, a short distance from the southern park entrance, and ended just past the north toll booth near State Route 18. According to my Garmin’s tracking:
- Beginning elevation: 3,219 feet
- Ending elevation: 4,117 feet
- Gain: 897 feet
- Distance: 3.1 miles
- Average road grade: 5.48% (one stretch may be close to 11%!)
I arrived at the southern entrance around 7:45 a.m., a good 90 minutes before my start time. The park ranger warmly welcomed me and asked that I check for desert tortoise seeking warmth or shade under my car before leaving. Smart critters!
After parking behind a snaking line of cars alongside the roadway, I walked about a quarter-mile to the staging area for a quick porta-potty visit. The morning was magical with clear turquoise-colored skies, brisk cool air, and sundrenched red mesas. The morning light glistened off the eastern-facing hills while the western cliffs cast the start area into deep shadows.
I also passed many cyclists warming up on their trainers, friends chatting over coffee, and others huddled for warmth in their vehicles.
- Tip: If you have a bike trainer, bring it with you so you can easily do your pre-race warm-up. Simply it up behind your vehicle. It’s more efficient and convenient than riding around avoiding pedestrians, cyclists, and distracted drivers.
Back at the car, I put on my cycling shoes, helmet, race belt with my bib number, and sunglasses. Then I put one of the water bottles in its cage and added two Gu gels in the bento box. I then remembered I wanted to mount a new small video camera to my bike’s handle bars and capture the race experience.
Well, I fussed and cussed trying to attach the camera casing to its bar mount. It seemed the screw wasn’t long enough to catch the mount’s thread. So I tossed it all into the trunk and used my remaining time for a warm-up ride.
- Tip: As Coach Jackie Arcana told me long ago when I began doing triathlons, don’t try *anything* new on race day. This goes for tech gear like video cams as well as shoes, clothings, nutrition, etc. Try things out in the weeks and months before your event.
At 9 a.m., I made one last visit to the porta-loo then found my place in line at the start. Idly, I wondered how many of the female cyclists in my division standing behind me would pass me.
The starter called my name, and I wheeled up to the start line. The seconds ticked off the digital clock and then I was off.
I was in the proper gear to get a speedy start (well, “speedy” being a relative word) and I didn’t have to change gears for awhile. My Trek FX 7.3 hybrid bike has a triple crankset (3 front rings of differing sizes) and 10-speed cassette (10 rear rings of differing sizes) that gave me many gearing options before I’d have to get off the bike and walk.
Yes, I knew well in advance I’d be walking a good portion of this course.
And sure enough, I did run out of gears — and gas! — just after the first half mile. A sad but true fact. So began the cycle (pardon the pun) of getting off the bike, pushing or leaning into it up the grade, hopping back on when the course leveled out, watching yet another rider pass me, and wondering why I did these crazy things to myself.
After pedaling past the campground, I dismounted yet again — somewhat clumsily now — for yet another steep grade. While in the midst of wishing I had trained more and weighed less, I spotted one of the official Games photographers up ahead. So I put my game face on, smiled, waved, and made it look like it’s quite normal to go for a walk with a bicycle.
- Tip: Always be ready for your moment of fame whether by an event photographer, local media, or family members. Unless you like your grimaces and pained expressions, have a smile ready to flash. Once I find my own well-hidden photo somewhere in my office, I’ll swap it out for the one above. It, too, was taken by SG Photos.
Of course, about 25 feet further ahead, the road seemed to level out a little. But not enough as I struggled with the grade and getting back on my slightly too-big bike. Fatigue was setting in. The bike jerked to the left but I managed to stay upright and not impede another ride.
Ugh! Instead of a smooth circular motion, I felt like my legs were churning on the pedals. I wasn’t going fast enough to attempt to cycle out of the saddle.
“Keep going, you’re almost there” or words to that effect drifted toward me as a woman passed me. Ariel, whom I had met the day before at the mandatory race meeting, kept what seemed to be a blistering pace up the grade. She soon over took two men before disappearing around a bend.
Her encouragement lifted my spirits and, it seemed, my bike as well. Pedaling came easier and I may have sped up to three miles per hour.
Somewhere around the 2.5-mile mark, I had to completely stop briefly to catch my ragged breath and let my heart rate ease up. Looking back to see how far I had come, I muttered, “I gotta lose this weight!” — wait, this is NOT helping me!
- Tip: What I love about challenging races such as this hill climb is that I’m living in the moment. I’m not thinking about what to make for dinner, details of a work project, yesterday’s news, or anything else…well, maybe “So I’m doing this because…?”
So I changed that thought — quite forcibly, I might add — to “I got this!” and “Gitter done!”
With about a half-mile to go, the road ahead looked steeper with every pedal stroke and footstep. My new mantras evolved into a sing-song said aloud and with determination. I felt new energy in my legs and heart, to keep going, to keep moving, to keep my eyes on the prize of reaching the finish line.
At that point I didn’t give a rat’s cap if a passing rider heard me. I wanted to reach the finish line in the saddle and pedaling!
With less than 100 yards left, I saw Ariel coming toward me and shouting encouragement. What she said didn’t matter, only her words’ impact on me. She rode with me until the last 20 or so yards where I whooped and hollered with glee.
The ride back downhill to the start line was simply amazing! A speed display sign clocked me going 25 miles per hour — only in my dreams could I ever pedal that fast on a flat road!
My time of 59:41.09 nabbed me last place in women overall, and a fourth-place ribbon in Division IV Women 55-59.
Can’t wait to do this again next year!!