Racing into fitness

I like to say that racing was the natural progression of my bike riding but it’s the mountains and valleys getting there that make the story. My first adult experience on a bicycle was a no brakes crash into my husbands race bike – breaking his derailleur. After that it took almost two years to get me back on a bike.

I started cycling because it was my husbands thing and to be honest, I felt that if I did not start biking I would never see him. So because of that, I spent the first three years chasing my husband on ridiculous road rides, slogging through miles, and suffering the whole time. I began to resent the sport… what was I working for? What was the goal? Sure, I had more time with my husband, but it was not quality time. I remember a particularly bad ride on warm summer morning, it was a road climb up to the top of a local road called Twin Spruce (those of you who know the road may not think much of it, but to a novice rider like me, it felt like 100 miles at a 20% grade.) I made it two switch backs from to top before I found myself heaving on the side of the road, blurry vision, crying. My husband tried to be encouraging, but it was too much. To me, there was no point. After that, I hung my bike up. I just could not see the fun in it, and I could not feel the fitness gains to justify the pain. I felt like I let myself down, I’m not one to quit. The fastest way to get me to try something, is to tell me I can’t. But, it felt hopeless to spend every moment in the pedals resenting it.

Fast forward a few months and Melissa tells me about her new project SQUARE1 Cycling Collective. With some encouragement, I decide to join. Less because I wanted to try the whole bike thing again, and more because I wanted to support a friend. The first coffee ride I attended I settled into the back of the pack. I had been told the pace would be easy, and the rout wouldn’t have much climbing. Yeah, I’d been told that before. I was nervous of the large group of women who had years of experience on me. However, the pace was social, and the miles cruised by as we chatted and encouraged each other. And to my pleasant surprise, there were other women who matched my skill and confidence level. When we got back to the cars, I felt accomplished for the first time in my cycling career. No one to had to sit and wait for me around every corner, at the top of every hill, I wasn’t rushed, and I didn’t cry. An easy social ride, sure, but I had made it.

I set myself a goal to improve my fitness. I told myself I wanted to be able to ride at the front of the pack, rather than sitting at the back. I started to make small gains in fitness, but more importantly I started to enjoy my time on the bike. I became more confident in my own abilities, which opened up countless opportunities to ride new roads. I completed my first solo ride up to Maroon Bells, a 12 mile climb from Aspen, Colorado. Something I never thought I could accomplish, when a year ago I couldn’t even complete a three mile climb on a local road. I continued to ride throughout the spring and summer. Eventually my fitness plateaued and I began to feel frustrated again.

Que the start of Cyclocross. I had been to some of Melissa’s clinics before, and the sport seemed fun (yet, dangerous). I never imaged I could be good at it, and even told a fellow teammate that I’m not the type of person to race. I started attending more clinics and practicing on my own. The addiction was settling in. I would drag my husband down to the course almost every night of the week, I was finally noticing huge changes in my fitness.

My very first race was the Newbies Women’s at the Back 2 Basic’s, a Wednesday night series in Golden, Colorado. The race would be 20 minutes long on a mix of grass and gravel. My husband was attending another race, so I had to do all the prepwork on my own. Something that would normally cause me anxiety, but I knew when I got to the course Melissa and the Square1 ladies would be there. That simple thought was so comforting. As the rains set in, the emotional state of the event became more chaotic. When I was handed my number the event became very real, I was going to be racing Cyclocross. Before panic could fully set in Melissa tapped my shoulder “let’s get your number on, are you excited?” a familiar face made all the difference.

The whistle blew and we were off. I honestly could not tell you whether I started well; a sense of calm washed over me and all I could see was the course. I negotiated my way into second, following my teammate’s lines as I had done in practice. We reached the sand pit and I could hear the cheering and screaming from the sidelines “Pedal! Pedal! Look up! You got it!” adrenaline kicked in and off I went, riding a clean line to the front of the pack. “Smooth is fast, smooth is fast” I kept telling myself. By the time I crossed the finish line I was hooked. It wasn’t the win that had me craving the next race, I was captivated by the excitement of achieving something with an amazing group of women.

The encouragement and support from the women of SQUARE1 Cycling Collective facilitated more achievements in a few months then I ever thought possible. I’ve pushed my comfort zone, found a sustainable fitness plan that works, and made some pretty amazing friends. My future outlook on cycling is chalk full of amazing opportunities to learn new skills and challenge myself; and I cannot wait.

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