Heading for the starting line.

I did my first bike race today!

Peggy and I showed up at the crack of dawn this morning at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for a 6-lap, 20 mile road race.

It was thrilling to ride with over a hundred other riders, thirty of them in my racing class (Category-5, the lowest level). Riding in such a big group of cyclists was at first a little nerve-racking — but my excitement overcame my jitters, and pretty soon I got into the groove.

It was fairly easy going at first, but after the first lap the pace picked just up a little — and suddenly I found myself struggling to keep up with the pack. You see, riding in a pack gives every rider (except for whoever is in the front) a significant advantage over someone riding alone — so if you are separated from the pack, it takes tremendous effort to get back in the game. I knew that if I ever found myself falling off the pace by even a few feet, I was essentially going to be out of the race.

Sure enough, just as we were finishing the third lap, I found myself precipitously losing steam and dropping off the back of the pack, falling to about 50 feet behind, then 100 feet. I knew I’d never catch up, and honestly I was kicked. So I dropped out at exactly the halfway point.

Tonight, twelve hours later, I have regrets about dropping out. But I can say for sure that at the time I was 100% confident that it was the right decision. I was completely spent, out of breath, wobbly, and defeated.

Regarding my fitness, I have some lame excuses: I’ve clocked only about 20 miles over the last two or three weeks (I’ve been travelling and working late a lot!), I got about three hours sleep the night before (bad planning, plus I didn’t anticipate daylight savings time), and I think I have something of a cold or allergy or something. Ultimately, however, I need to train more if I hope to keep up with even these Cat-5 racers.

Regarding my skills, however, I suspect I simply have an awful lot to learn. This was the first time I’ve ridden with 30 other people competitively, and it’s a wholly different animal from cycling with a friendly pick-up group. I can draft pretty well with other riders, but I’m not so good at it in a pack of people who are actually competing with each other. The aggressive jockeying for position in the paceline was pretty hair-raising, and the occasional glitches — like the inexplicable sudden braking or the time someone knocked a cone right into the middle of the pack — really threw me off.

Still, I am absolutely looking forward to racing again next week. The lessons learned today are already valuable: I know a little bit more about what to work on during this week and what to be ready for next week.

So my first race was a dud. Next!


13 responses to “My First Race”

  1. jonathan Avatar

    as a 2nd year racer, Cat 4 (who raced in the 3/4 race today) I remember the excitement – still totally have the bug…I do think it’s brave to race without first riding in high tempo group rides, practicing riding in a paceline & the like. You can find that almost at any time in Prospect Park. Personally I waited until more experienced riders/racers told me that I could hang both in terms of fitness & bike handling skills. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t race now, but just be careful and you definitely need to do about 100 miles & week (minimum) to be able to hang. Or, 6 laps of prospect park in an hour by yourself (no drafting)

    anyway, good luck!

  2. Chris, you should check out Decisive Moments, a well-written blog by another racer. He’s chronicled his initial decision to start racing through his recent decision to do Cat 4 races.

  3. charlie jessup Avatar
    charlie jessup

    yo this shit is wack yo fuckin hell

  4. Matt: Thanks for the link, it really is a fascinating blog. One thing that’s awesome about blogging is that you can always find a blog out there where someone chronicles their experience doing something you are about to try to do yourself.

  5. Charlie’s disappointed that he can’t buy graphpaper here.

  6. cat 3 wana be pro Avatar
    cat 3 wana be pro

    Nice report, more then riding alot you need rest. The number of miles you ride is not as important as the amount of time you ride. Getting dropped after 3 laps is a bit discuraging but with fresh legs an determination you will be able t0 finish.

    Fast 1/2 ride 20 hrs a week, fast 3; 12-15, fast 4/5’s become fast 3’s. More important is getting lots of rest!


  7. Wheel Rider Avatar
    Wheel Rider

    Christopher, as a first time C5 racer, I feel you’re pain! Don’t be too discouraged, though. My experience is many C5s have been riding for awhile. Either informal recreational racers, mountain bikers or tri-athletes. The team I’m racing with ( in some respects was reluctant about having me on the team without more experience. I’ve only really gotten serious about riding since June of last year.

    I, too, raced this past weekend and after 2.5 laps was dropped. The gap just kept widening. No excuses, although @ 6′ 3″ and 220 lbs, I could offer a few. Bottom line, I’m not in cycling shape. I also need to put in more time on the bike. I’ve heard others on the team say that 150 miles/week is a minimum and 200+ isn’t far fetched if you want to win! So, I’m on the trainer tonight, on the bike tomorrow and the balance of the week and over the weekend I’ll do some long group rides.

    Now for a change of subject. I’ve been thinking about making a trip to NY, my former home, to do the Prospect or Central Park race. The funny thing is that I came to this site looking for graph paper. Actually, my daughter came to this site and, with a sense of disappointment in her voice, came downstairs asking why a site that should have graph paper instead had someone ranting about a bicycle race. If she wanted this type of ranting she could have asked how my race was:-). lol. In any event, I’ll be in NY from the 20th to the 23rd, at least this is the plan. If I stay until Sunday I’m doing the Prospect Park race. We can hook up and do the race together. I promise to finish and in all likelihood you’ll have company at the back of the pack. Respond back and we can make arrangements. Otherwise, good luck! The officials, I’ve found, are pretty good about letting C5 racers, who are lapped, finish, as long as they’re not a hazard to the other racers.

  8. Chris — I also will recommend Luke’s Decisive Moments (he’s also a friend).

    Have you considered joining a team or a local club? It’s a good way to get into training and learning the ropes. Highly recommended if you plan on racing more and regularly.

  9. Patience Merriman Avatar
    Patience Merriman

    It’s so hard to be a successful bicycle racer these days without surviving testicular cancer and dumping a famous blonde rock singer. But I have faith in you, and even if you’re never the spokesperson for a major credit card company, bicycling will hellp you stay fit and reduce stress. I am SOOOO happy to see a helmet on your head. Watch out for jerks in cars and wear a safety light at night.

    Love, Mom

  10. Dude, know I’m late on the congrats, but uh, congrats! I wanna go to that abandoned airfield on Long Island sometime. The one where they have bike races. Let me know when you’re going next. – Steve

  11. Chris – I hope to join you at the back of the pack by the end of the summer, as I get in better shape. Well, you’ll probably have moved up a bit by then, so you’ll definitely have at least one person eating your dust.


  12. Ed Peterson Avatar
    Ed Peterson

    Just rootin’ around when I tripped over your website. Racing is always a shock to the first timer, there is just no way to simulate the intensity, changes of pace, and the dynamics of “the pack”. All the advice you’re receiving is on target, you need 6-8 hours a week minimum with some fast pack riding and plenty of rest. I started three years ago in cat 5 at age 47 and it took me awhile. I race a lot (40 races in 2006) and raced at Prospect 8 times this year. It took me two seasons to get into the top ten on a regular basis with a best finish this year of 4th place at Prospect. I’m racing in cat 4 now and am a consistent back finisher workin’ my way up to the top ten (not there yet). Don’t be discouraged, this sport is demanding and requires a serious commitment if you want to be successful. Any race you finish with the main pack is a good effort, hang in there and good luck!

  13. Chris, I was looking around for info on how fast I need to go to not get dropped on a cat 5 race, and lo and behold I find your site. Remember me, by any chance? We haven’t seen each other in at least 10 years. Say Hi to Peggy and email if you want to ride some time.