By JoAnn Cranson, Team OAM NOW Cyclist
I’ve always loved bikes. I loved riding. I did long rides with friends. I didn’t set out to race. Then, just over 3 years ago, I entered my first race. I knew nothing. I knew no one. But, I learned. I learned that I could ride CAT 4; a category for new racers. I learned how to hop on a wheel and hold my line through the corners. I learned how to race. Since then, my passion for cycling has grown with every new challenge, and there are a lot of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is that racers my age are few and far between among the women. Because they do not offer a masters category for women, I race with women ages 16 through mid-life; this makes for a challenging field from the onset. Now that I have upgraded to CAT 3, I race with all the Pro/CAT 1,2,3 racers which pushes me to race hard and train harder. I love the racing. I love the challenge. Frankly, I am hooked.
Last year, I learned about the Senior Olympics (50 years old and up) where serious cyclists like me can race against people in their age group. This was incredibly appealing because I could really see how I race when pitted against my cohort. This year was the State Trials, in Clarkston, MI, where the top 4 places qualify for the Nationals (which are held every other year).
So, I planned my training, with Mark Olson of Athletic Mentors, around these trials. Just when I think I’ve hit my peak, Mark reminds me “There is still more potential in you for you to go farther.” We worked both on and off the bike, with my core and on my strength, which has allowed me to surpass the goals I’ve set, and set my eyes on new ones. Nothing proved this more than my trip to the state trials in Clarkston.
On the way there, it rained almost the whole trip and continued to mist as I warmed up for my first race. I was so thrilled to be in an environment filled with so many senior cyclists. It’s definitely a different kind of racing atmosphere. Everyone was encouraging each other and because there are no teams, each cyclist is there to do his/her best.
Just as in regular races, there were not that many women competing. However, there was a wide range of ages with the oldest in the 80-84 age group; she was such a neat lady and encouraged everyone.
The first race was a short time trial of a 10K (4 ½ laps). This course was a curvy 1.4 mile with a couple of small hills thrown in for good measure. I knew what time I needed for each lap to beat the course record. As I hammered through the course, I held my lap times consistent and I was on track. I worked hard to stay calm and focused, keeping a steady pace. As the last lap rolled around, I knew I had broken the record. When the times are listed, I confirmed that I beat the 1996 record by 16 seconds. Not only that, but I finished 2nd overall (meaning, only one person – a man – was faster than me)!
My next race was a 20K road race, but the weather continued to wreak havoc on the weekend. As a number of us sat under cover waiting for the rain to stop, we entertained one another with our cycling stories. One gentlemen, in the 80-84 year old age group, said he had been racing since he was 40 years old. He raced all over the world for a number of years. Later, I was told that he had won the National Senior Olympics in his age group quite a few times already. His passion for cycling was alive and well… what an inspiration to keep training and stay active.
Finally, the next day, the weather broke and a beautiful day welcomed us to the 20K road race. Men started 30 seconds before the women. Because there is a mix of ages, I didn’t know who I was really racing against at the start. My friend Nancy wasalso racing, so she brought a level of comfort to a nervous race morning. Once again, I had looked at the course record and made that my goal. It was the same course, but 9 laps this time. I knew what I needed to do, but I also had 2 more races to complete today. With more wind, a longer course, and 2 more races, I had to be smart. But, after the first lap, I was already on my own. I’ve been here before… I knew what to do. Time to get into my rhythm and pedal. Not only did I win, but I beat the record by 1:03!
With only 1 hour to recover, I started the 5K time trial – which was truly a sprint of this 2 lap course. I missed the record by only 2 seconds. I still managed a win in my category and 2nd overall (men and women).
The last race of the day was also the longest race. A 40K race on this same course. I was about to do 18 laps. By now, the wind had picked up more and everyone was more tired. A woman I hadn’t seen before stayed with me for the first lap. Then, in the second lap, she took her turn up front and I drafted, which was fantastic in the brutal wind. We continued this way through the 3rd and 4th laps, breezing by the men as we hammered into the wind. We could hear cheers from everyone watching! Excitement mounted as we rounded the corners, each of us taking a turn pulling for a lap. About halfway through the race, I took my turn pulling, but when I turned to see my race partner, she was nowhere to be found. I knew to go for the record again, I needed to keep my speed up on my own.
A group of 3 men came up behind me and passed me. They were taking turns drafting, but I knew they would eventually tire and slow down. We played leap frog, with me keeping my steady pace and them catching me and slowing down. We kept this up for quite a while, but as I passed the crowds, everyone had learned my name and was cheering for me to catch the men. With 6 laps to go, I continued my slow and steady push. I will always remember the look on the last man’s face as he turned and saw me coming. As I passed him by, I heard, “What the (bleep)?” That was all I needed to keep pushing past them. Most of the words thrown my way were words of encouragement from other racers as I passed by…“Don’t let them beat you” and “You keep going” from the older gentleman whose story I shared earlier.
In the end, the two guys beat me, but not by much. The winner beat me by 23 seconds and 2nd place by less than a second! They both came up to me afterwards and congratulated me on a great race. I wasn’t in the least bit discouraged because I beat that all time record by 2 ½ minutes!
With a few great wins and course records under my belt, I’m headed to Senior Olympic Nationals next year in Minneapolis and looking forward to meeting more new cyclists. I can hardly wait!
I started learning about racing bicycles just over 3 years ago… and I keep on learning. The greatest lesson to date: It’s never too late to follow your passion and to take a chance to try something out of your comfort zone. Go For It!