In Loving Memory: Sublime Sublimity
Tomorrow, the Hardest of the Hard Oregon racers will tackle a meat-mincer of an early-season race: the Sublime Sublimity Circuit Race. May the force be with them – that bad dog is about a bitch, as documented by last year’s race report.
In honor of their suffering, I present a re-run.
Death by Sublimity: A Race Report
25 February 2009~
I hate rollers. I’ve always hated rollers.
I hated them last year during the Covered Bridges 200k and I hate them now, at this moment, on this circuit called Sublime, in this town called Sublimity.
Cruel. All of it. I can see it come together.
The race organizers smirking while jotting down the name. The race organizers snickering while deciding on the finishing climb. The race organizers rubbing their hands together like so many evil vermin, planning a leg-smasher for mid-February.
We showed up. We all showed up because it was close to home, or maybe because it was new. Or because we thought it would be good training. Or because we didn’t know any better. Or maybe we were goaded.
Whatever the case, we drove and signed papers and handed over money. Then we pinned numbers on each other and laughed nervously while the rollers sat waiting for us.
They looked small from far away. That is part of their trick.
And here I am. Here we are – in Sublimity. In a church parking lot. Only it’s not Sunday, it’s Saturday, and our church is Pain. We’ll confess on Basil Hill.
The race has started to the tune of a neutral rollout. Small field, lots of smiling, trepidation abounds. I pedal slowly on the second row and sit and wait, taking stock.
I’ve got the wheel of a good friend to my left, 390 calories in a bottle, one emergency flask of Hammer Gel in my right pocket, 5 electrolyte caplets dissolved on a tall bottle of water, and two more caplets stowed in my left jersey pocket (break in case of emergency).
Coming out of neutral we hit the first roller. Sunny Gilbert is on the front of the race looking settled and strong. Meg Mautner, a Masters rider, to my right. We hit the first roller and I listen.
Breathing. Not mine. I shift and spin faster, sitting comfortably in with the pace being set by Sunny. MacKenzie Madison comes to the front. Lindsay Fox shows up. Meg Mautner is now gone. My friend, Lindsay Kandra, is still up and to the left. The front of the group is forming. Dawn Riddle comes forward.
On the next roller, Riddle, Gilbert and Brenda Spinney go off the front with a small gap. Sailing over a rise, Madison and Fox chat about whether or not to bring back the break. We’re approaching the base of Basil Hill so I tell them as much and advise that we wait to see what happens on this climb and then chase if we need to – there’s a long, 4-mile rolling slight-downhill on the other side and a chase will be easier there.
I am not a climber. My power to weight ratio won’t drop jaws. But this is Cat 4 racing and I can hang.
The meaty part of my hands rest on the flats of my bars while my legs spin small gears. I stand as the grade rises and look around.
The field is shattered and strung out. Climbing desperately in all variation of disarray. The road race is over. Now begins a test of courage.
There are four of us together at the crest: MacKenzie, Kandra, Fox, Swift. We descend into a sharp right-hand turn and then regroup. Off the front: Gilbert, Riddle, Spinney.
“Should we go get them?” someone asks.
“Let’s do it.”
And here’s where the miracle starts. We’re in a cat 4 womens’ race and there is actually something constructive and organized happening. A chase group is going after a break. A successful and efficient pace line has been formed. Three women on the front of the race are coming back slowly. There’s no rush so we pursue them with a steady cadence, one strong pull after another.
Now we’re seven.
We sit on the back of their train for a few minutes, resting. Then we begin taking our turn in the wind, one by one. As we leave the roller-coaster express downhill section of the course and head into the climbing I say, “This race is going to be a lot easier if we can all stay together.”
Famous last words.
A draft will not save me up the rollers. None of those women can get me up those hills any faster than I can spin my legs. Dawn takes a pull on the front that almost kills me. I’m not feeling good.
I survive one roller, then another. Then one more. I’m taking shorter pulls than the rest of the group and apologizing inwardly.
Finally, I float backwards next to the line, coming off a small uphill pull and then accelerate a few strokes to latch onto the last wheel of the group. I expect rest and there is none. I feel like I’m on the front.
I look down into my bicycle and see black cages full of untouched water-bottles. My computer is telling me we’re 55 minutes into the race. I’m hungry and thirsty and my legs fucking hurt. Goddamit.
The wheel in front of me is getting harder and harder to hold. The group is silent. Suffering.
Internal dialogue: You are stronger than your stupid legs! Don’t be a jackass. You need this group. Don’t get popped. Don’t get dropped. Stay on! It will be harder by yourself.
Spin spin spin spin. I’m feeling anaerobic. Half a bike length opens ahead of me.
No no no no.
Two more bike lengths.
No no no no no no no.
Three. Four. Six. Nine.
It happens in slow motion. Bodies up ahead of me getting smaller, standing on their pedals working against the grade. The sound of gears fade and is replaced by the sound of a car. Behind me.
I hate that car. I hate that fucking car. But I’m red-lined already so I’m going to have to accept the fact that the follow car is going to go around me and eventually it does.
I hate that car.
On the other side of the monster roller there is a little rest where I spin my legs fast fast fast to try to loosen them up. Heading into the next climb I begin to chase, keeping the car and the group in sight for a few miles. I am now traveling the same speed as they are and for the next 5 miles I get time gaps of 60 seconds from spectators.
“They’re a minute up the road.”
“They’ve got 60 seconds. Go!”
This is stupid. Why I am riding the same speed as they are now? Why did I let myself get popped? What the fuck was I thinking?
Linsday Fox is stopped in the middle of the road. Mechanical.
“You got it?” I ask.
“I think so.”
The group is still 60 seconds up the road when I get to Basil Hill again and I know that they’ll put time into me on the following descent. I’m screwed.
And alone. With these legs. These horrible, stinging, searing, aching legs.
Welcome to Sublimity, baby.
I focus on the fast section and try to ride as smoothly as possible but manage to drop my chain anyway. Traditional on-bike re-chaining technique fails and I hop off to fix the problem. As I do, I notice Fox approaching behind me. I’m on the bike and spinning by the time she arrives and I jump on her wheel.
Unfortunately, my pulls are slowing her down. I can tell, and she can tell.
“I’ll do what I can.” I say, “But my legs are popped. I don’t’ have much to give.”
She’s a nice girl and thanks me for my efforts but when we get back to the climbing she rides away from me slowly and I say, “Good luck!!”
She’s going fast. I bet she’ll catch them. Either way she looks strong and tenacious as she battles her way up the grade – standing on the pedals with gritty determination.
Alone again and facing a lap-and-a-half.
They’re going to catch me.
No, they’re not. There is no “them”. There’s no peloton. No group to catch you. Keep pedaling.
I make a right hand turn where I can see a mile or so behind me and find nothing. No cars, no trucks, no cyclists. Ahead? Nothing. No one. Lindsay Fox is gone.
More climbing and the cramping in my legs is so bad that I decide to take a desperate measure – I fish around in my back pocket, pull out an emergency Endurolyte and bite into it. Nasty, nasty, nasty. But the effect is immediate and the relief in my legs is noticeable.
Now officially alone, the psychology of suffering comes on in earnest so I settle in for a long time trial and begin telling myself stories.
Someone up there is going to pop. Someone will come backwards and then you’ll have a friend. Yeah, that’s it. Someone is coming backward.
You never know what will happen. Maybe a mechanical? The closer you are to them, the better shape you’re in.
I’m going to eat a burger after this. I’m going to have a beer.
You’re just training with a number on, remember? Remember the point? You’re supposed to be obliterating yourself – that was the plan.
I’m going to eat a burger after this. I’m going to have a beer.
That hill is coming up. Basil Hill. You’ll have to climb it one more time. Considering that you’re in your granny gear now on this roller, I’m pretty sure you’re screwed. And what about the finishing hill? The 20% one? You’re going to tip over.
Just keep pedaling and shut up. Everyone else is suffering, too.
I look up and the sky is dark and brooding.
Rain. I dare you. I fucking dare you!
Rain!! What are you, scared? Give me everything you got! I dare you. Do it.
Despite my taunting, the clouds do not comply.
My body is crumpled into a human grimace. Left groin muscle starting to feel seriously strained. In the final four miles, I begin to pass riders who are going the other way. Their races are over. Womens’ Cat 1-3 riders are among them.
I thought they were doing four laps? How did they finish ahead of me if they never passed me? This conundrum is enough to distract me for 84 pedals strokes. Susan Peithman: “GO, SWIFT!” I drool in acknowledgment.
Another unidentified rider: “Yeah, kill it, Heidi!” Despite the fact that I’m about 200 watts away from killin’ it, I smile. It catches me off guard. The smiling, I mean. That shape made with my mouth.
I’m almost done so I stand up and push. Look back – no one as far as the eye can see. Ahead, a wall that someone decided to pave. At the top of that? A finish line, my boyfriend, teammates, friends, OBRA officials.
I stay seated and grind with my front wheel popping up off the ground every few feet when I let my weight shift backward. Steep. So steep.
Stupid. Cruel. Ridiculous.
When I cross the line I stop immediately, slump over my bars and say the only thing that pops into my head.
Laughter. (I’ll find out later that every single finisher released a similar statement upon crossing the line. It’s a good thing OBRA was not DQ-ing people for language.)
After 10 or 15 minutes of recovering at the top of the climb, a pod of us begin the 4 mile ride back to the church parking lot. I am surprised and shocked to find my legs semi-functional. We cheer to the rest of our field as we pass them making their way in – teammate Erica Loder is the first person we see and the rest roll in behind, separated by amazing distances, each one having ridden in their own little time-trialing hell for more than two-thirds of the race.
Later I make good on my half-delirious beer and burger promise while Lindsay, Sal and I tell race stories that don’t need to be exaggerated.
I fall asleep with the unspoken agreement in my mind that I will never ride my bicycle again.
In the morning, I wake up and see 4.5 hours on my schedule and shove my pedalbike off in the direction of Troutdale, directly into the heart of an approaching storm.