Road Racing Lessons to Remember

By Kelly McPherson

Kelly McPherson in the City Creek Bike Sprint. Photo by Dave Iltis

It has been a few years since I wrote my first article “New Road Racing Adventures of a 43 year old Mom” when I wrote about that first terrifying crit race at RMR and my first tentative steps into the world of competitive cycling. Since that day, I have raced countless more times, pedaled my bike to amazing places that I never thought I would be, met incredible people, joined a club, gotten significantly stronger on the bike, almost finished a solo Lotoja, crashed several times, lived to ride again and learned a ton. Below are a handful of things I have learned. None of them will likely make you finish faster. That is still not my strength. They might be of use to the newbie just considering rolling up to a starting line as well as the seasoned cyclist who is finding themself in need of remembering a few things.

  1. Weight is important. I am a heavier cyclist. I have been trying to lose weight since I started cycling, but really haven’t had a ton of success. It is frustrating to Strava-stalk people after a ride to compare power measurements and find that I am generating 30% more power than those around me while they are riding easy and I am doing everything I can just to hang on. More weight equals more mass to move as well as more for my heart and lungs to support. It is simple physics. I saw a girl go from back of the pack to front of the pack in one season, just by losing a few pounds. As one of my teammates recently pointed out, it is sad that you can line girls up by weight and often that is the order they will finish in. If you want to be faster, be lighter.
  2. Weight isn’t everything. While it is important to be light, you can make up some of the difference by being more experienced, smarter or more skilled. Knowing that the attack won’t last forever, how to corner well and how to fuel and hydrate properly can make the difference between staying with the pack or getting dropped. Last summer, I beat a lighter girl at a DLD crit because I realized that she didn’t know how to corner or descend well. I used that to my advantage to put as much distance as possible between me and her so she couldn’t make up too much ground on the climb, where I am weaker. Of course, the next time I raced her, she figured out how to corner and so beat me instead.
  3. Get help, when you need it. I don’t care how long you have been an athlete, you don’t know everything. Oftentimes, I see athletes who started in another sport try cycling with lots of athletic ability get frustrated and quit because they aren’t used to losing. Don’t quit! Get help and learn what you need to do to get where you want to go. A good coach is worth their weight in gold, even if you only use them for a short time. A nutrition clinic could give you that one tip you need to solve your GI issues. That question you post to the Facebook group isn’t proof that you are stupid. It’s proof that you are smart enough to learn wherever you can. Keep reading. Keep asking. Keep yourself inquisitive about your sport.
  4. It isn’t always about the win. I had a teammate ask me why I continue to race crits even though I almost always come in last. I have learned that if the only reason you race is because you win, you will likely stop racing when you stop winning. Someone has to be the one in back. If only the winners continue to race, then that becomes a very small race. Everyone races for their own reasons and I would strongly suggest that you find your “why” other than winning. For me, there are several reasons, but mostly it is to continue to overcome the overweight, type II diabetic, non-vegetable eating, sugarholic that I used to be. That isn’t me anymore, but I have to fight for that each and every day. I could probably do that with regular casual century rides, but I don’t feel the drive to improve with those like I do with racing. It is this desire to improve that keeps me focused on power kale salads, interval work and consistent daily workouts toward my goals. It is this craving for improvement which keeps me focused on the healthy behavior changes that have led to measureable physiological changes that show I am winning my war against the diabetes, stroke and heart disease that plagues my family and sets a strong positive example for my children.
  5. Don’t watch the Youtube crash videos. For every video of a race going smoothly, there are 100 videos of someone crashing spectacularly. For every crash, there are at least 100 races that don’t have a crash. Youtube videos unfairly represent how dangerous cycling really is. Yes, racing has its risks, but most of the time no one crashes. If you are scared of racing because you don’t want to crash, stop watching crash videos! Instead, watch the videos that give good instruction on how to ride in a group effectively, how to lead attacks or how to support another rider. Those would be a much more productive use of your time.
  6. Cycling friends are more valuable than your bike. I don’t care how valuable your bike is or how good of a rider you are, all on your own. Cycling friends are the ones who will get you back on the road when you have lost your motivation, encourage you to try again when you have had a bad race, give that one tip that you needed to overcome a barrier and even help you win a race that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to win on your own. Finding those friends often means the difference between staying in the sport or leaving it. Find a team that fits who you are and get involved. Ride the group rides. Give kudos on Strava. Comment on the message threads. Consistently and regularly give support to others whether or not they might be able to help you at some point. I cannot tell you how many times a well-placed comment or word of encouragement has gotten me back on track. I hope I am doing the same for others.
  7. Consistency is King … or Queen. Go for the long game. Small habits consistently performed over time will have a greater impact than massive efforts in the short term. This is true no matter the area of life, cycling or otherwise. You will have up days and down days. The true and most significant gains are made when you are consistent for a long period of time. Keep it up!
  8. There is always more hill. Once you get to the top of the hill, there is always another one. Continue to set goals that excite you. I have been training to complete Lotoja for 6 years. Yes, that is a long training plan and it has sometimes been a struggle to stay excited about it. The first year I rode it, I finished 159 miles before it got dark. The 2nd year, I didn’t get in, but continued to train. The 3rd year, I successfully rode it with a relay. The 4th year, I broke my wrist 4 weeks before the race, got my cast off 2 days beforehand and finished 185 miles before it got dark. Last year, I got a nasty concussion in May that kept me off my bike until almost July and then got shingles in mid-August. I finished the entire course, but 15 minutes too late to count as a finish. I am positive, if I can stay rubber-side-down, that I will finish Lotoja before 8:30PM this year. My training is good and I am stronger than I ever have been in my life. This will be the year that I finally complete the goal that proves to me that I am no longer that overweight mom that I was many years ago, that I have finally completed the transformation into a new, healthier person. Am I done? What will I do next year once I have accomplished this? Not quit, of course! I am not sure yet. . . but I have been plotting a route on Google Maps from Washington DC to Lincoln City, Oregon. Hmmm. . . maybe? Anyone want to join me?

Kelly is a 40+ cyclist who lives in South Jordan UT with her husband of 27 years and 5 kids. She has a BS in Health Education from the University of Utah and loves to stay healthy and fit and take as many people with her as she can.

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