Thursday, May 21, 2009

A tale of two Kerns

I'm not sure why, but I signed up for Kern 2009 after an absolutely miserable Kern 2008. I think it was because it is such a big gathering for the Velo Bellas, and I wanted to be part of that fun energy. And, Rick comforted me with the fact that the average temperature for that weekend in May, in Bakersfield, is 84 degrees. And, I wanted to exorcise the demon of that hill climb that I let dominate me last year. I do not easily give up, and was quite upset with myself after that. So, I told myself that if the temps turned up again, I could just go and hand out water bottles. Ha!

This year, I was much more prepared. Kern was actually my first real race this year, so in that sense, I was less prepared. But, all around, I was more prepared. I did not over-train this year. I built hard all month leading to Kern and then REALLY backed off the last week to let my form come up. Every time it got hot in the Bay Area, I made sure to ride in the hottest part of the day - sometimes with extra clothing with climbs. I wanted my body to become one with that feeling of being in a roasting pan.

My goals this year were:
-Make a huge improvement in the TT (specific goal was to take 1:45-2:45 off the time)
-Hang longer in the circuit race
-Finish the hill climb
-Suffer less than last year

I'm happy to report that all goals were accomplished.

We rolled into town on Thursday and hit the TT course for a preview and to open up the legs a bit. I took a couple looks at the hill and how I could minimize damage there. I was pleased that it was significantly cooler on Thursday than last year at the same time.

Bena Road TT

Friday we assembled at Bena Rd. around 11:30 a.m. We all registered and tried to stay out of the sun. The start times came out and they were placing us at 1 minute intervals instead of 30 second intervals. That created the first challenge of the day - to stay cool and hydrated and manage nutrition for a start that would be over an hour later than expected. It was about 90 degrees out - so a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the 2008 version. I just had to get over the start time change and focus on the event, being happy for the cooler weather and better preparation. When I went off, I did the whole thing on perceived exertion. I did not look at speed, heart rate or power - just went by feel. In the end, I finished with 32:28 - a full 3:17 faster than last year. Wooo hooo! I blew out my goal. I do think I could have gone a bit harder in a couple places. But, I kept myself from blowing and suffered significantly less than last year. So, two goals met for the first race.

Walker Basin Circuit

After a lousy night of sleep (all night mini-golf next to hotel), we headed out to the lovely Walker Basin. It was cooler in the mountains, but actually a bit warmer than last year overall. That was not a good sign. I was nervous about my first pack race in a while. The W4 group did 4 laps this year instead of 5. I figured that was most of the mileage my legs needed for the hill climb. Yay! I let myself be pushed into a bad position because of my nerves. But, I did OK. There was a crash that took a couple riders down in the first sprint up the hill. I was actually feeling good getting up the hill, but got gapped avoiding the crash. I was able to chase back on and hang for a while, but I was eventually doomed by the effort of chasing back after the crash and was dropped. The W4 field was BLAZING. We did the first 3 laps in about 1 hour. Crazy. That's faster than crit speed. We passed the W3, W35+ and W45+ fields. Next year I will be joining the safety and refined tactics of the W35+ group.

Havilah Hill Climb

It was HOTTTT again at the hill climb, though perhaps 5 degrees cooler than last year. I focused heavily on hydration and cooling for this race. I also learned some lessons last year that would be valuable. I ended up wearing an ice-filled Camel Back bladder under my jersey as I had done at the TT. This gave me extra water and cooling of the core. When the whistle went, I just settled into my Zone 3 pace and let the pack go. I knew I had to stay in Zone 3, because it was going to take me more than 1 hour and I couldn't be in Zone 4/5 much, if at all.

Right off the bat, there was another rider behind me. I tried to stay with Kat from Velo Girls, but she wanted to go a bit faster on the approach. I passed another rider in the first 3 miles. Stragglers from other fields came past me. I just focused on my own effort. A couple miles into the climb, one of the W4s came back down the hill. So, I had 2 behind me and one pulled out. Not bad so far. I finally caught up with Kat and we rode together for a bit. She had let herself blow a bit and was dealing with nausea. I ended up going past her when she blew again after the slight slack section. I played cat and mouse with Marsha, a team mate in the 55+. She was alternately walking and riding much faster than me. I just kept plugging along at my snail's pace. She eventually finished a couple minutes ahead of me. I felt GREAT until the last 1K. I think I started feeling the altitude a bit at that point and was breathing shallow breaths. But, I made it! And, I wasn't last! Perhaps next year I will try staying with the pack at least until the turn.

Woody Road Race

This was the point in the race where I suffered as much or more than last year. I started the day in last place, as I hadn't made enough time on Kat in the hill climb to make up for the circuit (barely) and the rider behind me pulled out at the start of the race. It was just as hot as last year, plus there was some humidity. It was miserable. And, the structure of the start was different than last year. We started with the steep, 2km climb that was at the end last year. I stayed with the pack over the first couple bumps. Then, I realized I would not be able to push that kind of effort and still finish the 50 miles. I backed off an buddied up with Kat to ride out the race. We could see Lala and Lisa H. ahead of us and thought we might be able to catch at some point. As we finished the first lap, Kat was feeling nauseous again and decided to call it a day. I felt good, so kept going. The 2nd time up the steep section really took it out of me, though. I told myself to just get to the feed zone where Rick and Michael were, and I could pull out if I needed to. But, they patched me up and encouraged me, so I continued to the finish. I think that was the slowest 50 mile ride of my life. I was literally limping to the end and then had a little meltdown riding back to the car. Fortunately, Ryan came by and gave me enough encouragement to get to the parking area. Thanks, Ryan!

So, despite a miserable last day, I had a great Kern. What a contrast with last year! I am making baby steps in the right direction. If I improve my TT as much this year as last, I will be in the top 5 next year. :) I met my goals and even ended up with the lantern rouge for my efforts. Thanks to all the Bella team mates and to Rick, Tyler, Michael and Erika for being our support crew. And, thanks to all the other racers, Velo Bob, and officials who did the give and take of encouragement the whole weekend. That is something that makes Kern a truly unique experience.


styler said...

You were a rock star last weekend. I am so happy to have helped and look forward to next year. See you soon.

CyclistRick said...

What styler said ...

You know you are happier that you did not DNF at the feedzone. The last part of the Woody RR was painful, but now you know you can survive. Next time you might want to take Hernando and I up on the offer to take the bike back to the parking area for you while you go in the car.

We'll tweak things and get you so you can continue to make improvements. Including using the earplugs at night so you can sleep :-)

Mr. C said...

Quite the accomplishment, regardless of the result. I am not sure I would have endured.

velogirl said...

congratulations, Sarah!

chatterbox said...

Thanks, all!

Dana said...

I'm so proud of you, Sarah! I promise to join you next year, as either a crazy Cat 4, or a more civilized 35+...we'll see.

Groover said...

I remember last year's race report quite vividly. Funny, I had forgotten that it was Kern but remembered Bakersfield and everytime I saw a sign for Bakersfield during our California trip a couple of weeks ago I thought of you. I kept telling Alberto that there was a cool stage race for women somewhere in the area ... LOL

Well done. That's great that you achieved your goals and the Lantern Rouge is something to be truly proud of. It speaks of determination!

chatterbox said...

Dana - we missed you! Glad you will endure for next year.

Groover - yes, the race is primarily to the east of Bakersfield in the mountains, so you probably met up with the course(s) at some point. Hope you had a nice trip!