I was a runner. Not elite by any means, but determined. Captained my winter track team in high school, played field hockey and lacrosse in college, ran 10Ks for charities and yearly Turkey Trots for tradition, raced outrigger-canoes off the California coast, hiked through the Andes, attempted and failed to summit Mount Rainier…new challenges and the pursuit of different skills often beckon, even if I fail. Running was my favorite way to connect to nature, bond with a friend, clear my head and maintain endurance for other sports. A daily run was like having a good cup of coffee or eating breakfast: without it I felt off.
I had never ridden a bike for competition, but given my eclectic sporting history and propensity for scaring myself, I didn’t think twice about entering a biathlon just a few weeks before the event. Raced with a 1996 Gary Fisher “Zebrano”, a heavy hybrid bike, my running shoes, a Camelbak hydration pack, and a mountain bike helmet. I passed people on fancy, sleek triathlon bikes, and figured they were in a different field than I. Had a blast, finished with a grin and headed home. A week later I received an award in the mail; I had won my division. Surprised, I chalked up the win to beginner’s luck.
After several years of riding heavy, ill-fitting borrowed bikes, I finally saved for and financed a Cannondale Six13 (I knew nothing about bikes and components, but the bike was lighter than anything I’d previously ridden, and much more fun to ride up hills). With no coach, no structured training program and no idea how to approach a race tactically, I placed third, second, and then won my division in the only three races I entered with my new bike: two biathlons and my first triathlon, a half-ironman. The ride was my favorite part.
Bitten, smitten and stoked as a surfer, I vowed to improve, better my times, and hone my skills. I had a plan, but…
Returning from a training ride on a warm Saturday afternoon, a van struck me (see A Bit of Styrofoam and a Band of Angels) and among my injuries, I suffered damage to my knee, which diminished my ability to run well. My plan shattered, I spent three years in physical therapy and away from any type of competition. With time, I was able to ride again and fell in love with cycling. Though I miss running and the days of pain-free knees, I enjoy spending more time on two wheels than on my two legs. After all, isn’t it true that one “should only run if being chased. And even then, one should only run fast enough to prevent capture,” as per rule #42?
In 2012, I braved my first season of bike racing. I nervously rolled up to more than one start line with my number pinned on the wrong side of my jersey, successfully “un-tacked” off the back of the pack and made several “solo reverse breakaways” in local races (terms coined by BikeSnobNYC). The Tour of the Battenkill, 65 miles of hilly terrain on dirt and paved roads, was my first road race. Scared sleepless, but overcome with the thrill of racing, I was unaware that if I went as hard as possible for 3 plus hours, I wouldn’t have much left for the sprint finish; I gave a good lead-out. I couldn’t reach my drops for half of the season because unbeknownst to me, my bike was three sizes too big, and I thought people yelling, “Two minutes! Two minutes! You can do it!” from the sidelines of a race in Central Park, meant the onlookers thought that we, ‘the pack’, could get around the 6-mile loop in two minutes. Little did I know, there was a “break” of racers two minutes up the road. I now know the meaning of a “time-gap”.
After numerous failed attempts to hold someone’s wheel in races, I sought to ride like Jens Voigt and attack with fearless abandon. My baklava laden Greek legs somehow responded and I upgraded from a category 4 to a cat. 3 in my first season. I didn’t race in 2013 to try to heal the tendonitis in my leg and to focus on pursuing work in the arts. But I missed riding and racing. I returned this past summer with more knowledge and understanding than in my rookie year, and with a renewed vigor for the sport. Whether in a break, soloing off the front or finishing dead last, racing is always more fun with good, supportive mates who value teamwork, have your back in races and make you laugh on and off the bike.
Oh and I name my bikes: “Gordito,” the aforementioned Gary Fisher hybrid (my graduation present from high-school) is my trusty, albeit rusty, beater bike. Then there was “Flaca,” the Cannondale Six13 who, though svelte and lovely, was a few sizes too large for me and had to go. “Negrito,” a 2012 Cannondale CAAD 10, took her place as my dark-like-the-night road bike/race machine.
I learn something in each race. And I know I am still a newbie in the grand scheme of the cycling world. But riding and racing are about the experiences and the love of the bike, not just about the results. No carbon fiber frame, no coach, no fancy wheels, but with support from my family, teammates and friends, I did alright and managed 11 top 5 finishes and 6 podiums in 19 races this past summer and am on the cusp of a cat. 2 upgrade. Passion and perseverance can produce results and I dare say Negrito and I are meant for each other.
Now that the 2014 road season has concluded, I hope to gain some technical off-road riding skills so that I can race cyclocross and not just take tumbles and become familiar with the ground (as I’ve gracefully done several times in my first few attempts.) I have two left feet when it comes to ‘cross. But I’m determined. One day I will master the art of the remount so that I’m no longer passed by everyone in our field and the field after ours. Yes, I’m that slow at remounts.
Who knows, mountain biking just might be in my future as well. One thing is certain: I’m genuinely grateful each time I get the opportunity to swing my leg over a bike and ride. Sometimes in life fate steps in and the stars align to help you say goodbye to one part of yourself and hello to another. I was a runner; now, I’m a cyclist.