2012 Elite, U23, Juniors & Paralympic Road National Championships – Day 4

Originally Posted 6/25/2012

Saturday (6/23/12) was Day 4 for Chester and I at the 2012 Elite, U23, Juniors & Paralympic Road National Championships.  Today’s race was the 72K Road Race which was divided up into 3 laps.

Our road race was at 8 and held on the Fort Gordon Military Base.  Since our race started at 8, we had an early wake up call.  Chester woke up at 4:30 excited to get going.  I rolled out of bed around 5:15 and started getting ready.  We managed to roll out to the truck around 6:30 and were at the race venue at 7. 

Since it was going to be a long race and the temperature was rising fast, we didn’t need a warm up.  Our race started promptly at 8 and there were 7 other Tandem Teams in the event.  The race started fairly easy.  I put us on the 3rd wheel and did my best to keep us out of the wind.  Because this race was our 5th ride on the bike together, I probably wasn’t as smooth as I should have been and was learning ‘on the go’.

It got exciting when I hit a bump in the road and my water bottle came loose in it’s cage. Normally this isn’t a problem on my bike, I just coast, reach down and fix the bottle.  It’s not so normal on a tandem when my cranks are synced up with the stoker.  I tried to come to an immediate coast only to have myself ‘bronco’d’ because Chester had no idea I was trying to coast.  I missed my bottle and it was gone.  And this was only 3 or 4 miles into the race.

After that, things settled down.  Dave and Clark (The class of the field) jumped on one of the first hills and got a pretty solid gap.  The guys have been training together since 2007 and made the Paralympic team this year.  They are super smooth and were out of the saddle attacking the hill – on a tandem!  I later learned that they train with local pros in AZ.

At this point, there were 4 tandems together and we started working together to keep Dave and Clark in site.  On one of the hills, a tandem dropped their chain, so it was down to Chester and I, Greg and Steve and a team from Oregon.  We worked together for the remainder of the lap and kept Dave and Clark within about 30 seconds.

When we finished the first lap, Greg and Steve were able to bridge up to the lead tandem and a few miles into the lap, Chester and I dropped the tandem from Oregon.  Chester kept asking if I could see the lead group and I told him that I could.  I told Chester that we just needed to stay composed and ride our race.

By the end of the second lap, we were firmly in 3rd place and I couldn’t see the leaders anymore.  Chester and I kept plugging along as fast as we could. Chester had me check to see if anyone was behind us and I checked several times and knew we had 3rd place pretty much locked up so long as we didn’t have any mechanicals.

About 1/2 way through the 2nd lap, my hamstrings started aching, not in a cramping kind of way, but in a ‘sore muscle’ kind of way.  I was blaming it on the saddle because it’s wider than the saddle I ride on my road bike.  Chester said his hamstrings were starting to cramp.  This was strange because we did a 50 mile ride the previous Sunday and didn’t have any comfort issues at all. (I did a recovery ride on Sunday and realized real quick that the discomfort came from pedaling so hard on the Tandem – My hamstrings flared on a climb)

Both Chester and I had a pretty bad 3 miles towards the end of the race.  I kept coaching Chester while trying to mask my own hurt on the bike.  I knew we were getting close to the finish and told Chester we were almost finished. It’s always interesting to me how the pain can disappear when you know the finish is close.

We got to the last climb right before the finish.  I knew we had a significant lead over 4th place as offered to drop down to the small ring on the front but Chester said to leave it in the middle ring.  So we did and finished the last climb and race as hard as we could.  We finished 3rd in the Road Race and we are both totally happy with our result.  I could barely pedal when we finished my hamstrings hurt so bad.  It took me 10 minutes to get my shoes off because I couldn’t lift my foot more than six inches off the ground nor bend over to unbuckle them.  Both Chester and I worked super hard during the race and had nothing left at the end.

We ended up with a 23.5mph average and my avg HR was 153.  To put this into perspective, I did the Colllier Lilly ride (63 miles), averaged 23.7mph but my average HR was only 146.  Racing Tandems is HARD!!!

It was a great weekend for Chester and I.  For me, it was extremely eye opening.  Spending 3 days with Chester and his friends allowed me to really experience how much I take some things for granted.  Watching Chester get through the day, the challenges he faces, made me respect what he does on a daily basis even more.  All of the Para-athletes I met had smiles on their faces and never once complained. 

I spoke to several parents of the athletes.  They all were so proud of their kids.  They see how hard they have to work every day just to get through the day.  These athletes don’t just wake up and go.  They have to first overcome whatever obstacle they have, whether it is visual or physical before they move on.  It would be easy for these athletes to give up and ‘sit in a corner’, but they don’t.  They get up and go, all the while trying to be as normal as possible.

I’m very thankful for the experience to have my eyes opened and maybe, just maybe give me a little more ‘fight’ when things aren’t going exactly right on the bike.

I’d also like to thank Dave Teiermeyer (he made Chester’s Tandem), Big John at Cool Breeze Cyclery for getting the tandem put together and running great, Cool Breeze Management for allowing me to attend Nationals, Coach Sarah Matchett of Cool Breeze Coaching for getting Chester and I into great shape and the Veteran’s Administration for supporting Chester and all the Veterans.  I’d also like to thank the US Paralympic Organization for giving all of these athletes a venue to compete.

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