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First race experiences - A long time coming with many more planned

Sylvia Poulos  | Published on 7/16/2020
Sylvia Poulos TONGA P1 2020.jpg
While in graduate school I was traumatized by a labmate’s constant road rash and watching a nasty pileup during the men’s pro Twilight criterium in Athens. I couldn’t see the joy. And yet I started riding and found my athletic spirit on the bike. Short rides around town were insufficient, especially after hearing about the RAAM team during my first Sorella meeting. This year I took the plunge and applied to race on the Allegro team, Sorella’s team specifically meant to support women, regardless of age or discipline, who are newer to racing.

I finished my first races in the Tour of North Georgia (TONGA) and accomplished my goals of finishing and learning to better prepare for future races. For anyone else that wants to know what racing for the first time feels like- here’s my perspective.

TONGA is a local daytime race in a small town. I was nervous and showed up early to give myself plenty of time to prep and warm up. In some ways, it felt more like showing up to ride a supported century with packet pickup and instructions. There were no floodlights and large crowds of big races I’d seen as a spectator so that settled some of my nerves.

My first race was a circuit course with all women starting together. While I knew we all had different goals for ourselves, I realized I could not keep up with the cat 1-3 women when a gap developed during the first climb. I was still with a few other riders who worked together, including fellow Sorella Diane Schleicher. While the group broke apart by the end of the race, I was thrilled that I ended up finishing earlier than others, including a racer that rides with people I’ve considered above my league.
Sylvia Poulos Diane Schleichter TONGA P1 2020.jpg
Those racing in the individual time trial had a few hours to recover. I’d planned my recovery nutrition but the Sorella tent offered welcomed shade and great company. As we got ready for the time trial, I had to let go of the odd feeling that I was riding light. I tend to be an overly prepared rider with two bottles, snacks, tools, and first aid with me. I knew logically that they were close enough for true needs so I warmed up and headed for the start. I really liked competing against myself and the clock and came up with a list of things to work on including turns and purposeful movement.

My overnight recovery was less than ideal and I didn’t feel well-primed for the road race the next day. As heat exhaustion set in, I had to slow down and play close attention for signs that I needed to stop. While I finished, I learned how my body reacts when the stress response of a race is added to fatigue and heat.

Before packing everything in the car my last lesson was that I need to pack something to cut the zipties from the timing chip after a race. All in all, I accomplished my goals and realized I like the competition of a race and competing to achieve personal goals. While many races have been cancelled, I still have plenty of goals that I can work on. Outdoor and virtual riding, coach challenges, and virtual racing on Zwift are on schedule as I plan to keep racing.