The Hill and The Hump………….
The Florida State Criterium in Lakeland last weekend has special meaning to me because last year’s race in this beautiful city was my very first racing experience as a Cat 5 rider. After training all winter and spring, I had high hopes of doing better this time around than my first showing twelve months ago. The one thing that I was intrigued with when I preregistered for the event was that the promoter mentioned that the course was being moved a block south to its original location that had a full block and a half of uphill labeled as “The Hill”. I thought to myself that “The Hill” would be no different than a stiff head wind and it was just another opportunity to prove myself and besides, if there is an uphill, there’s probably a nice downhill as well so I was ready for the challenge.
When I arrived at the course, the new location provided a different feeling right off that bat, something raw and edgy. Unlike last year, the start finish line was out in the open, no longer nestled in between the little down town restaurants and street side pubs, this time it was located on the long straight after cresting “The Hill” and a small false flat I’ll call “The Hump”. As I looked down the approach, I could feel my throat kind of gulp at what I had anticipated on being a no big deal “Hill” and realizing that this was going to be a real grind as I could see the grade of the road heading straight down to the lake below. Watching the Cat 3 riders make laps was giving me a certain excitement mixed with a cautious optimism on my ability to overcome this “Hill” thing.
As I started my pre race rituals, I had an opportunity to meet Mike Tomlinson, one of the editors of this magazine and one of the points we both agreed on was to include a bit of encouragement to some of you guys reading my race report stories to get off of the side lines and into the race. I told him I have set a personal five year goal to Race as a Master 55+ guy and challenge for the Florida Cup Series and that I have to start like everyone else as a Cat 5 guy learning the ropes and getting some experience under my belt. Now after three races, I know a lot more about myself and how to handle a bike in a real race environment.
The main thing you have to have is the desire to just do it and then give it everything you’ve got. When I’m out there, for me just starting out, it’s not about winning, it’s about participating and learning the flow of things. I really don’t care what people think of me like “look at that old man out there racing with those young fellas” or maybe I don’t have the newest greatest bike or gear, so what ? All you gotta do is register, prepare yourself physically, respect your own safety as well as your fellow riders and go for it. I haven’t come in last in any race but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I did, right now I’m mainly in it for the priceless race experience keeping my five year goals in proper perspective. So if anybody has been sitting on the side lines waiting for the right moment or when “you are ready”, just do it and have fun trying, you will find it really is a lot of fun and you can do more than you think you can.
Back to the race, I pulled up to the start line on the left side because I don’t like to make turns from the inside so good advice is to think about what you’re getting ready to do and strategically think about each turn and where you want to be, in a crash or the cause of the crash is definitely not where I want to be, so my first turn will always be an outside approach for me.
The race official said go and we were off, it was as usual a fast start and I stayed with the pack as we rolled around turn one and two as we hit a strong head wind rolling down the hill toward the lake. At the bottom at turn three, it was a nice sweeping high speed turn that you could carry your speed all the way to what was to become the dreaded turn four and the beginning of the climb up “The Hill”.
As I made the turn and started up, I thought to myself OMG what have a gotten myself into this time ? I’ve only trained on flat land around my neck of the woods in Riverview and at 230 lbs, I have a load to haul when going vertical but I tried to keep it all in perspective moving forward and up. The thing about this “Hill” was I could keep my speed up pretty good for the first block but once you crossed over that first street you still had a bit of a “Hump” that was the darnedest thing to get over without feeling like you were going to blow up. It was right about then that I knew it was going to be a long 30 minute race but as always, I will not quit or give it up so it was time to start pacing myself and just keep pushing the petals. Sure enough after a couple of laps I started coming back to a couple of fellas that had also started to feel the effects of “The Hill” and “The Hump”, lol. One of the cool things about a race like this is that everyone is suffering just like you are and as you get closer to the end several of us would give an encouraging word to those that were struggling and then when I found myself struggling, that same guy I encouraged earlier was now passing me and encouraging me back to keep going. The heat of the day really started kicking in as we came into the last few laps, I was very happy to hear the three to go call and kept churning it out to the finish.
The course was definitely challenging and I really enjoyed the fast downhill portion taking an opportunity to get the feel of a super high speed turn at the bottom and tested my limits going up “the Hill”, overall I came in 27th out of 30 riders, gained some very valuable experience about myself and racing and loved every minute of it (now that it’s over… Lol ) and I’ll be back next year for sure.
If you would like to read more about Bicycle Racing in Florida, check out my story as well as others in The Florida Racing Magazine ( http://www.floridaracingmagazine.com/current-issue-1.html )
Page # 4-5 shows the dreaded “Hill”, Enjoy !