First Race

neuroLast Saturday I participated in the Barry-Roubaix Gravel Road Race. A 62 mile race in the middle of Michigan near Grand Rapids.

The week(s) leading up the race I was both nervous and excited about it. Nervous because we’ve had such a bad winter that I wasn’t sure what the conditions would be like – cold, icy and snowy came to mind. In cold temps it’s always hard to figure out how to dress. As an all winter commuter I’ve experienced the pain of freezing feet and it is not pleasant. I also had never done a gravel race before. I was excited because I was finally going to ride outside after months on the trainer.

Then on the Thursday prior to the race I received word that Katie, one of my best friends passed away. For those who don’t know, my friend Katie was diagnosed in May 2013 with Neuroendocrine Carcinoma and was given a 3% survival rate. It would be like starting a race knowing that you only had a 3% chance to survive and you didn’t know how long the race would take. It was a frustrating and painful time for all who knew her.  Katie battled this cancer like a warrior. She endured months of strong chemo which gave her multiple side effects for which she took too many medications to name in order to keep her somewhat comfortable. Then she found out it spread to her brain and had to have brain surgery. After the brain surgery she dealt with pain from her growing tumor on her liver, inability to walk or use her arm from neuropathy and nausea to name a few. Every time she turned around the news was bad. The times she did get out she always looked as stylish as ever.  Before the brain cancer, she even made one last trip to see her beloved Chris and the trimonsters participate at Ironman Arizona. She made the trip and still planned outings for the group. She loved celebrations and birthdays.  Just a few weeks prior she was at my house giving me a birthday gift.  Among other things she had booked me a massage in Vail where I was headed the week of my birthday.  This is how thoughtful she always was.  She knew that unless she booked it and paid for it that I wouldn’t go.  I’m even terrible at using gift cards!

I waited until the day before the race to pull my bike out to get tuned up. When I took it off the rack I saw that I still had her picture on the top tube. It was hard to see. I had taped it there when I did my Leadville race last year to give me strength to get through the race.

Picture of Katie (we were at a costume party having fun) for inspiration.

Picture of Katie (we were at a costume party having fun) for inspiration.

I was initially not sure if I could actually do the race and look at her picture but then I thought what would Katie say in this situation.  Not only that what would she do, she would totally suck it up and kick ass! I also thought it would be good just to get away and be on my own for a bit.   I packed up my bike and drove 3.5 hours to Hastings, MI on Friday night before the race. I arrived around 9:30 ET checked in and bought a grilled chicken wrap for dinner from Micky D’s had a glass of wine to calm my nerves (Katie would understand that!). The race didn’t start until 11 am the next day so there was plenty of time to chill and reflect. The previous two days were extremely emotional and my anxiety was high.  I couldn’t rid myself of thoughts of how beautiful a person she was with a beautiful smile and a great laugh. We had such good times together. She was wise beyond her years and was a great at listening and giving advice when needed, how unfair it was that her life was taken so early. She had so much more to give.

I woke up early and for a brief moment forgot about the previous two days. Unfortunately reality set in again. I looked over at my bike and thought to myself Katie would want me to do this race.  She would say go honeybadger!!

I went to breakfast and ate the hotel eggs and sausage and had some toast with some almond butter and a banana brought from home giving a full bolus since the starting time was still a couple of hours away. I chatted with my teammates asking what everyone was planning wearing given the cold temps (below freezing) mostly – shorts and knee warmers or full winter cycling tights… winter gloves or fall gloves , the list goes on and I had brought several variations. I also had bought new winter cycling boots which I planned to wear for the first time; this was my third try at buying winter boots which is why I was just using them for the first time. I wanted them big enough for heavy socks and room to move my toes and since I ordered them online it was not easy to guess the size especially when you have Italian makers.

new winter boots!

new winter boots!

It was not raining/snowing at the start although it ended up snowing a bit during the ride. Here is what I ended up with for a 62 mile below freezing race from toe to head;

  • Ski socks and gore windproof socks
  • Gore-Tex winter riding boots
  • Fleece lined winter cycling tights
  • Thick base layer
  • Cycling jersey
  • Craft wind/water proof cycling jacket
  • Balaclava
  • Lobster winter cycling gloves

I felt fairly comfortable throughout the ride and was glad for the larger cycling boots so that I could wiggle my toes when they felt a little cold. I tested my blood sugar and was at about 200 at the start I left my basil rates the same anticipated some adrenaline from the varying conditions.  Which at that time of day is about 0.8 units / hour.

We all lined up in our waves and waited for our start. I started to get a little chilled while waiting.   I wasn’t sure what to expect (at all). All I know is that the whole wave went off like a bat out of hell and I was left in their dust. I tried to keep up/catch up for the first 4-5 miles but knew that I couldn’t sustain that pace for 62 miles. Most people were riding nice cross bikes which gave me a bit of a disadvantage on the road starting out. I ended up with a small group of people. I think we were pretty much at the back of the pack. I won’t lie I felt a little discouraged, ok very discouraged. I looked down and saw Katie’s picture which was all I needed to keep going and just enjoy myself.

The route itself was pretty challenging, not large hills but frequent hills just enough to get annoying. As I got to the first “mud pit” (it had rained the night before so there were several) I negotiated through it without skidding out. Then “Tony” a guy from Iowa who I had been chatting with reminded me to look where I was going not where my wheel is. Oh yeah! How could I forget, this was such a valuable lesson I had learned in Leadville. After 20 miles I noticed I started catching up with a few people I’m not sure if I was picking up speed or if they were slowing down. I did make it up hills that others were walking up but with the mountain bike I definitely had better gearing for this. I found  Priscilla one of our female VQ’ers and we rode together for a bit. The company was nice. We stopped at the aid station where I ate a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’d munched on a few blocks and had a hydration pack with Skratch in it. The sandwich tasted great. Off we went. Between miles 30 and 40 I didn’t see one person except for the people directing the course. It was kind of nice. I pushed on looking at my time and realized I’d actually make the 42 mile cut-off which was a relief. I didn’t come all that way for just 42 miles! I reached the final aid station where I ran into some other VQ’ers I ate a peanut butter gel at that aid station. At this time I was feeling great. My Garmin beeped at every 5 mile split and I noticed that they were all pretty consistent which meant I wasn’t getting slower. I didn’t test by blood sugar because it was too damn cold but I sensed that I my blood sugars were good from how good I felt. As each hill came I pushed myself. I wasn’t going really hard but hard enough, sort of on the edge of uncomfortable which is pretty unusual for me because normally I’m overly cautious. After passing a number of people, in the last 5 miles I caught up to another woman rider she pushed the pace and I kept on her (cx) wheel. In the last few hundred feet I sprinted to the finish line beating her by a hair. Ok I may be a little competitive after all! I ended up 22nd overall at 4hours and 33 minutes and 1 second ahead of her :).

I walked back to the beer garden to see if there were any team mates around and I checked out my Dexcom. I was really happy I had a wavy line which dipped below 100 and spiked to just below 200. Katie and her sister were always aware of my blood sugar and asking how it was.  In fact Katie’s sister Caroline saved me during IM Arizona.  She actually walked a couple of miles to meet me with my tester and made me test during the run when I felt my worst (I found out that I wasn’t actually low I was high).  Aside from the gel and the sandwich I had also eaten about 9 blocks (3 servings) probably a bit too much for the length of race but at least I didn’t go extremely low (or high). I saw Robbie get the VQ team award and spoke with Eric S whom I met during Leadville training and is also a diabetic. I LOVE that guy, he and I get the shit with the ‘betes.  He hasn’t had it for long (like 2 years) and I feel bad for him but he is a huge biker guy and rode the 36 mile course in a fatty!  Unfortunately, I started to freeze shiver so had to leave before getting a beer from the sponsor (Founders Brewery).

I showered and hoped in the car to drive back to deal with the reality of Katie’s passing. When something so terrible happens to someone so young and full of life you definitely take things into perspective. I had a 3 hour drive and plenty of time to think about life and all it has to offer and how lucky I am that although I’m stuck with a life-long disease I can still pretty much do all the things I love doing. Riding my bike and being outdoors definitely tops the list, which gave me something in all the sadness to smile about. So Katie, thank you for all the valuable lessons you taught me in life and in death.

I will not take my life for granted. I will not take my loved ones for granted. I will live life to its fullest.

I’m keeping that picture on my bike but have changed the words to “forever” Katie because she will be in my heart and mind and be forever cheering for me albeit from a different viewpoint.katieforever

I love you Katie and I miss you more than I can express.  I have a huge hole in my life where you once were. I need you and your wisdom.

I end the post with this picture because this makes me happy.  Me riding along with a wonky number.  When I asked if  I should raise money for NET I was told that Katie would rather I raise money for diabetes so that is what i’m going to do.  Watch for future posts!


Riding my bike being outdoors=happy

Riding my bike being outdoors=happy



About Gillian

I am a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of 30. I run marathons, participate in bike races , ironman triathlons and everything in between.
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1 Response to First Race

  1. scully says:

    This was just absolutely beautiful. Congrats. I’m so impressed.

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