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!“
My ongoing foot issues threw my training plans way off track. I had to do A LOT of positive self-talk to remind myself to focus on the JOY and FUN. As shown in this meme shared on the Slowpoke Divas’ Pinterest page, I would have give each event my best effort, and not dwell on perfection.
My Inner Naysayer refuses to believe. My heart knows the truth.
Best Effort Wins Over Perfection
The 5K Hill Climb on Tuesday, Oct. 17 kicked off four days of cycling races. The course at Snow Canyon State Park started at the sand dunes near the southern park entrance. The road winds upward, and the finish line is just past the north toll booth near State Route 18.
Here’s a snapshot of the course’s features (according to my Garmin watch):
- 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. She asked that after my race that I first check for desert tortoise hiding under my car. They like to seek warmth or shade in those morning hours. 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.
As the sun rose, so did the energy level of the cyclists and their support crews (a.k.a. family and friends). The Lycra-clad gang warmed up on bike trainers or along the road. Friends sipped coffee and chatted. Others tried keeping warm in the chilly fall morning. I hugged good pals Ariel and Karen and wished them the best in their events.
- 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, clothing, nutrition, etc. Try things out in the weeks and months before your event.
Time to Race!
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 ultimately 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 new 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.
Time to Walk — Uh, What?!
No, I wasn’t being pessimistic in that assumption. I planned for it, because I knew well in advance what this course was like.
And sure enough, I ran 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 do 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 walk a bicycle in a race!
- 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 rider.
The Tough Get Tougher
Ugh! Instead of a smooth circular motion, I felt like my legs were stomping 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!”
The Finish is Just Ahead
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, her mere presence energized me. She rode with me, saying words I didn’t comprehend, only felt. With 20 or so yards left, she swerved off, letting me forge ahead to the finish line solo but not alone. I whooped and hollered with glee…with breath I didn’t know I had!
A Sweet Downhill
Once I recovered from that immense effort, I climbed back onboard my bike. My butt didn’t mind…after all, it wasn’t on the saddle that much or for long. I turned back, to ride back to the start line and festivities area.
That ride was simply amazing! The wind blew through the vents in my helmet and around the edges of my sunglasses. My eyes teared. My hands played with the brake levers. I bent forward into the wind.
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 a fourth-place ribbon in the Division IV (Beginner) Women 55-59, last woman overall, and second to last overall.
Can’t wait to do this again next year!!
Originally published as “Race Report: Cycling 5K Hill Climb” on Oct. 17, 2017 | Retitled, edited and added new feature image on Sept. 5, 2023.