A race report from up and coming road racer Michelle Henry. Michelle is based out of Denver, Colorado, is a mom of 2, and works full time as a Clinical Dietitian. She has always looked at Tulsa Tough as a bucket list race. Once she became a category 2 road racer she realized that dream was now a reality.
One of my goals, or “bucket list” races, I set for myself long before I started upgrading through racing was to go race in the Tulsa Tough. If you’ve ever heard about it, pulled up a YouTube video or watched on the live stream, you’d know why any crit racer would want to be there. Choosing Tulsa Tough to start out my month of crit racing was, of course, a choice in trial by fire. The name says it all and it is probably a total understatement! This race is crazy, it’s tough, it’s amazing. I knew I was going to go to Tulsa after I upgraded last fall, not knowing how much longer I would have the opportunity having two small kids and a full-time job, on top of training, I am constantly reminded that this trajectory is probably not going to last forever. When I also had the opportunity to race with Team Elevate Racing, based out of Texas, and learn from a former teammate, Jennifer Assali, I took it.
Day 1 of Tulsa Tough Women’s Racing – The One I Survived
I’m nervous as all get out, facing the fears of “you’ll never make it, they’ll chew you up and spit you out” or worse, getting caught in a crash.
A big race, a big corral. Jen says we have to corral up 30-40 min ahead. Well, I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t just stand next to my bike for 40 minutes before the start of a crit. I am so not “trained” for doing this I discovered! [Taking notes for workouts…. It’s ok if you don’t warm up because well, you basically don’t get to?!?!]*
Call-ups. Wow, this field is stacked. We have a saying back home on our little Colorado race team: It’s all fun ‘n games until an Olympian shows up. Yeah how ‘bout a few Olympians, some national champions, and a handful of teenage phenoms? UGH, this is gonna hurt…
We get going, Blue Dome District crit, this is a figure-eight course, pretty flat but OK is very windy, so we have a couple stretches that hurt if you weren’t on a wheel. Uphill finish, not too bad, I actually like those. The finish doesn’t matter if I don’t survive the first 58 minutes (or was it 48?), who knows… we get going and I’m mid/late pack because of where I landed in the corral and after call up.
First couple laps I’m figuring out my preferred lines since we didn’t get a chance to ride the course ahead (some streets are one-way only so our pre-ride the day before consisted of half course and half sidewalk). I’m making sure I can see the front, I’m not last, and I’m on high alert for crazy. Things are going great, from what I can tell, I’m upright, riding fast, taking corners how I like, moving up a little (not much, it’s hard with that many corners), but most of all I’m still here. Then comes the first crash: girl doesn’t turn, hits wheel goes down right in front of me… dodged. Still in, little spooked. Then the next one. The marshals are great at whistling when they see one so you have one extra peripheral alert. This one is in front of me but I ride through, kicking whoever went down as I pedaled (so sorry!!!) but I gotta go… Gaps are open, jumping those, probably pulling a few girls with me, it’s ½ a lap before I reattach finally.
Then comes the first crash: girl doesn’t turn, hits wheel goes down right in front of me… dodged. Still in, little spooked. Then the next one. The marshals are great at whistling when they see one so you have one extra peripheral alert. This one is in front of me but I ride through, kicking whoever went down as I pedaled (so sorry!!!) but I gotta go… Gaps are open, jumping those, probably pulling a few girls with me, it’s ½ a lap before I reattach finally. OMG, now I need a rest, please no prime bell… We’re going again and about the time they start counting down again, there’s another one… get around that (how the heck did I see that?) anyway.
Now I’m in it to finish. I’m on the pack, the pace turns up with 2 to go.
Just. Hang. On.
Finished near the tail end of the pack. FINISHED. That’s right, first PRT crit and I finished. What a relief, maybe I’m not so bad after all?
Day 2 of Tulsa Tough – The One I Didn’t Survive
Corral again, it’s 90+ out and sunny (beautiful, but it’s stinkin’ HOT for standing there before a race!) I got a good position after call-ups are done but turn one is a hole-shot. We get going and they’re braking HARD every corner. Stand up and sprint out of every corner, don’t lose contact! After several laps, people were getting worn out by the chase out of every corner and getting gapped. I jumped a few, got back on, stayed on another couple laps and then a big gap opens ahead of me. I can’t make it. I try to catch for a lap and when I realize it isn’t happening I decide it’s time to go. I’m not delusional, they’re going to pull me eventually, I need to save it for tomorrow, Cry Baby Hill. The people I was near when I dropped out, I watched as they rode hard another 15 min before they got pulled, fate was inevitable, 30-something people didn’t finish that one. Two of my teammates made it the whole race though! They did amazing!
Day 3 of Tulsa Tough – Cry Baby Hill
The final race, with Cry Baby Hill. This place is insane. Super hot again, but I had a Colorado teammate in the men’s cat 3 race who I wanted to see today (he finished 3rd on Saturday, 4th on Friday, so he was killing it!) and so while two of my teammates sat in the air conditioned car, I hopped on my bike to go watch him finish his race. On my way back up I got lost, missed a turn, and ended up having to walk through the crowds on Cry Baby Hill. They are packed, 15-deep on these yards, drinking, shouting, crazy outfits, and some guy is spraying us all with the hose. “Please don’t spray my bike!!!!!” I yell… that wasn’t convincing apparently. I freak out, I have to get ready, I can’t get through the crowds, ask them which way to the street I was on and they don’t know… this party. Figured out where I was, got back to the car, and got our stuff together. Have to take our cooler with us because it’s too hot not to have a few ice socks, an extra water bottle… We corral up again, 40 min ahead. This one is about attrition, can you hang on to the hill climb.
The first 10 min go pretty well for me. I can climb okay so I take the outside line into it because people seem to be getting less brake-happy over there and I can carry some speed up the hill. I am passing people every time up the hill, but these gaps are getting a little hard to cover. Only takes a few more times and I’m off the back. I wasn’t near getting lapped put the officials are pulling anyone off the back because the crowds are hard for marshals to manage if you’re not on the pack. He gives us 1 more lap… so I take my time. I finish going up the hill and take my beer hand up, it’s time to celebrate anyway – I made it 16 minutes on my first time on Cry Baby Hill which I’m told is apparently an accomplishment (never thought I’d measure my accomplishments in number of minutes I stayed in!) Now I’ve got the bug, time to get better and come back for more! But first… I’ve got 9 more crits to do before my racecation is over!
*Don’t misread my sarcasm for race or training recommendations!