By Kelly McPherson — In the spring of 2015, I wrote an article detailing my experience as a non-racer, racing my very first RMR Crit. It was a valuable experience and I vowed to race it again many more times this summer. I did, a bit. I managed to get to a couple more RMR Crits, the Sugarhouse Crit, Wildflower Trailfest and Pedalfest, and the West Mountain Road Race.
Work, kids, vacation and a flooded basement got in the way and I didn’t race as much as I had planned. I know, I know, excuses, excuses. If I were a real cyclist, I would have gotten my rear out to a lot more races anyway, right? Possibly, but I have been married for 25 years and I would like to stay that way. Sometimes, even with an extremely supportive spouse and family, turning pedals has to drop in my list of priorities.
Even though I didn’t race nearly as much as I had wanted to, I did learn a lot and am making concrete plans to be able to race more this year. Below are a few things that I learned.
- Crits are not that scary. They have the reputation for being lean, mean, crazy, Nascar on bikes kind of scary race. What they really are, is a bunch of crazy, mostly guys on bikes talking smack and riding in circles as fast as they can go. Occasionally there is a crash and, yes, there is an ambulance on standby, but no, they are not that dangerous. Newbies are welcome, provided you take some time to learn some bike handling skills and don’t take every one out while you ride.
- The Sugarhouse Crit is the perfect mom friendly event. I don’t know why more women don’t ride crits. They are great! Women complain all the time that we don’t have enough time to ride, take care of home and family, work and race too. Crits are the perfect solution to that. They are short and fast. Then are done and you are on your way and back to your normal life. If you can find time to take a class at a gym, you have time to race a crit. When I ride a century, it takes all day and I come home crazy too tired to get anything done other than a shower and a nap.
I got to sleep in and then make my way casually to the Sugarhouse Crit. I rode for 45 minutes, watched the race after mine, and then went home and had a wonderfully productive day. The venue was in a lush, green park where, if my kids had chosen to come, could have happily played while I raced. Perfect!
- There is more team strategy in cycling than I had anticipated. If you have the time to watch a few races, you will see teams working together to make sure someone on their team comes out ahead. It was interesting at the Sugarhouse crit to watch the Porcupine guys block, and I mean literally block as they looked more like linebackers than cyclists, the rest of the field from pushing and attacking their teammate who was in the breakaway. While we often ride alone, this is far from a solo sport. Teams can make all of the difference. It would be well worth a racer’s effort to seek out and to join a team.
- Other cyclists are super nice! Cyclists have a reputation of being snobby and only caring about one thing, winning. I found that this is just not true. As long as you don’t get in the way, most cyclists are very welcoming and helpful to those around them and are happy to see new people come out for the sport.
At the West Mountain Road Race, I had fallen off the back on a climb. I am still significantly heavier than the other racers and so I struggle to keep up on climbs. One of the other racers noticed this and tried to bridge me so that I could catch back up to the group. She wasn’t on my team. She had no vested interested in me staying with the pack. In fact, she was risking her own race to save mine. I have seen countless instances like that this year as experienced racers have attempted to make sure that I am encouraged to come back and race again.
- Nothing takes the place of good, consistent training. June and July were tough months for me, personally and I didn’t get to train as much as I would have liked. The Wildflower Trailfest was a very humbling experience. No amount of attitude or fortitude would have allowed me to keep up with those mountain goat mtb girls. Yikes! They were off and I never saw them again. This was a great race, however, and I am more committed than ever to spend a lot more quality time on my bike so next year is a little better.
- While the all women’s rides are popular, some of us girls have a wide competitive streak. Wildflower Pedalfest satisfied the call for both a fun, casual ride as well as some competition. The ladies who are not into competition, rode the fun distances. Those of us who wanted to wet our competitive whistles raced the Big Mountain hill climb. I was excited that the hill work I have been doing lately, resulted in a much faster climb this year. Next year I am going to be even faster!
- We need more girls to come out and race. At the RMR Crits, I was often the only girl on the track. There were only a handful of us at the Sugarhouse and West Mountain races. While it was cool to have placed 3rd in my category at West Mountain, I would much rather have earned that place by beating someone else to the finish line rather than just being the 3rd in out of 3 participants.
These races need to be marketed where the girls are at. While there are a large number of girls at the all-women’s events who would never consider racing, there are quite a few who would if they knew how or where or when. A simple flyer in a couple of event swag bags might go a long way to encouraging new participants. Continuing to market races on websites and Facebook pages that target competitive cyclists is like preaching to the choir. The people frequenting those places are already competitive cyclists. Very few new people are being captured.
Girls, we need to put on our big girl panties and come out and race! I have heard that racing is intimidating. Maybe, it is, but it only is until you give it a good try and see that it isn’t. I have seen some race directors going out of their way to include us, but we aren’t making it easy for them. How long will it be before they give up trying? I would like many opportunities for myself, my daughters and my granddaughters to race, if they choose. We need to support these directors if we want them to continue to support us.
Racing is fun! I have really enjoyed it and it motivated me to work extra hard this past winter so that I can be better prepared to race stronger this year. While I will never likely win any races, racing has made me a much stronger rider. I am loving it!