Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, June 26, 2015

2015 State TT Championships Race Report

By Kat Hunter

I’ve always wanted to be more “put together.” I want to have good hair. I want to have a spotless, organized house, one that doesn’t have spaghetti sauce and bike grease on the walls. I want to cook healthier meals and read more books. I want my toddler to say “Please” and “Thank you” as regularly as he screams “NO!” I want my writing career to really take off, so much so that editors will respond to every email and pitch instead of one out of ten. I want all these things very much, and many more.
TTT: Christie, Kat, Allison, and
Theo (standing in for Katie Kantzes)
It all seems so easy, looking at what other people have and you don’t. It’s taken me 31 years to realize the truth behind that obvious lie—whatever you do, if you’re going to do it well, it takes a lot of energy. For the last 10 years or so, my workout is what I get done during the day, come hell, high water, or a bad case of the sniffles. First it was running, then briefly triathlon, and finally my ongoing, roller coaster love affair with bike racing. In the beginning I cultivated the obsession with sport to lose weight (in college I’d packed on 20+ lbs), but later my workouts became something else entirely, a compulsion that had nothing to do with balancing out the day’s dessert menu. Competition is at its heart, and most of all, meeting expectations.  That’s another way of saying, I guess, that I’m striving for perfection in this, perhaps more than all other things.

The State ITT was something of a debacle. Other people might say they’d be happy with my time. But you know what? I bet they have great hair. Or maybe a really high-paying job, or a spectacularly polite child, or a house that doesn’t perpetually look like they just moved in. I probably sound like I’m complaining a lot this year, but when you know that you’ve actually given everything your all—the training, the preparation, the necessary equipment—it’s hard not to feel a sense of betrayal when your careful plan melts away like a popsicle in the Texas sun.

The State Time Trial Championships, put on by the Northwest Cycling Club, were held in Hempstead, a small town about an hour northwest of downtown Houston. The 40K course was basically all flat, fast road: an out-and-back with a 180-degree turnaround. Saturday was the individual TT and Sunday was the team TT. Both days it was windy, with a headwind for most of the way out and a tailwind for the return. But there’s one word that describes this course best in mid-June, trumping everything else: HOT.

The air was thick and humid, with the temps probably in the 90s around my late-morning start. (I’ll go ahead and say, with no small amount of jealousy, that I think the riders who went earlier had a much easier day of it.) About two weeks before I’d had an episode with heat exhaustion—my first ever—when I was riding with a fast friend in East Texas. I’d suddenly started feeling nauseous and weak mid ride, with on-and-off cramping in my lower back. Hours later I’d thrown up and felt awful for the rest of the day, with what felt like a hangover the next morning. The episode seemed crazy to me because I’d worked out hard in much hotter temperatures before, but hot weather has come very suddenly to Texas this year after a mild spring, and I’d spent a few weeks racing/traveling out of state. The best I could figure was that I still wasn’t acclimatized.

This TT I certainly started out with more respect—verging on fear—for the kind of havoc heat could play on my body, but it still wasn’t enough. My goal was to hold 260 watts average. I’d had a couple of good runs at the Castroville TT the previous weekend and in May, and I was expecting this course to be faster. With the heat, though, I probably should have started at 250 and just done my best to hold that. Instead I’d let the average power creep up to 265, feeling great, until all of the sudden I wasn’t anymore.

Racing in the heat seems a lot like racing at altitude. If you go a little too hard you won’t be able to recover, and sometimes you don’t realize what that point is until you’re past it. Five or six miles in I was painfully aware of my mistake.  Soon I was doing good to hit 230 watts, and from that point on it was the most miserable TT I’d ever done in my life. A TT is by nature already awful, but add to that the fact that a) it’s hot as blazes, b) you still have forever to go, and c) you know you’re going to have a much slower time than you were aiming for, and then you’re pretty much looking for any excuse to stop and just lie down on the side of the road. If I’d seen a nice, sharp-looking bit of road debris, I might have run over it with gusto; with my luck, though, all that was available was a flattened possum.

I’d wanted something that would show the fitness gains I’ve made this year, but my finishing time was exactly one minute slower than 2014. A lot of other people had similar stories of being way off on power; of course, many had done a better job of anticipating that than me and had planned accordingly. Officially, at 57:23 (my head unit, oddly, showed 58:30 and the course at about 250 meters too long) I was the winner of the P12 category. Allison Atkinson (ATC Racing) was the only other person racing the cat, though, so there was no prize money for us. While I wished we’d had more competition out there, at that point I definitely wasn’t blaming anyone for opting out.

Team time trials, unlike ITTs, are actually fun, and I don’t understand why more people don’t do them. A TTT is an interesting formula in which you try to get the best out of everyone, and while there are lots of ways to get that wrong and maybe only a few ways to get it exactly right, the process of trying is genuinely enjoyable and educational. You’re not out there suffering alone, and you have your teammates to encourage/curse at you. Compared to an ITT, the miles float by.

Like last year, I was signed up for the TTT with ATC Racing (now state champs three years running), but this time I was guest riding in my hot pink Visit Dallas Cycling p/b Noise4Good kit and there was a completely different squad of girls in the orange and black: in 2014, it was Missy Ruthven, Marla Briley, and Maggi Finley, and for 2015, it was Christie Tracey, Allison Atkinson, and Katie Kantzes.

We were the only team signed up for the P12. We’d also had no practice riding together on TT bikes, as we’d made the decision to race the State TTT together only two days prior. Our plan was to keep things casual and fun, but also as fast as we could go.

The starting rotation was me, Christie, Allison, and Katie, who was on a road bike. I probably started out too hard again, and though I knew better, it’s hard to curb yourself with so many unknowns. With the headwind on the way out, I felt like I was pushing against a wall. Christie seemed comfortable—probably too comfortable—tucked in behind me (she'd put in a great individual time the day before), and I worried I was actually slowing us down. I shortened my pulls, feeling better within a few rotations, and then ramped the intensity up when I was on the front to offset the fact that I was spending less time there... This approach was, obviously, a mistake, but I'm not sure my brain has ever functioned correctly during an all-out effort.  My teammates were working too hard, and even when they pulled through quickly, they were getting a big dose of the wind.  I was also accelerating too much when coming back to the front.

Katie, a phenomenal rider, was having a bad day—she was the only one on a road bike, not to mention the crazy heat. She fell off before the halfway point, which none of us realized until it was too late. The TTT time would be determined by the top three riders, so now we couldn’t afford to lose anyone else, but we struggled with this. Two or three times we let a gap form and had to slow to let the rider catch back on, also making the mistake of slowing too much and breaking her momentum as she regained... We probably would have had a better idea of where to set the pace if we’d ridden more together beforehand and could have made a lot of small improvements throughout the effort to add up to a substantial time savings; overall, however, we had a fast time (58:04) and a good race. We worked well together.

ATC Racing support crew: Jack and Theo Mott
My son, Theo, stood up on the podium with our ATC Racing team. He’d been running my husband ragged for two days of racing, and Jack had managed to help with team equipment and preparations in spite of it all. I owe him big time, especially since I forgot it was Father’s Day… Again and again, Jack has picked up the pieces for me this year and kept me rolling.

Next up for our little bike-racing family: the three of us will travel to Bend for the Cascade Cycling Classic, July 22-26.


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