A spectator inside the race...

Douglas A. Bauman
July 23, 2004


A Spectator Inside The Race

After reading an article in a local newspaper titled "Murrysville race for everyone," I wondered what they meant. I suppose they meant that the Murrysville Cycling Classic bicycle race was not only a race for pros and amateurs, but notably it was also a race to be enjoyed by the spectators. For me the race took on new meaning. I've been bicycling all my life, and being 46 that must encompass 40 years by now. Did that qualify me to enter a race full of mostly younger participants, most of whom have raced before? Perhaps.

Anxiety could describe a small part of my makeup the morning of the race, but it was mixed with wonder. I wondered what it would be like to actually participate in a race. I had never done that before, being one of those rare individuals who does lots of riding by myself just for the fun and exercise, and on very rural roads for the most part, just like the roads which encompass most of the course in Murrysville. Without realizing it, I was in for a few surprises.

Arriving for my event about an hour ahead of time, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the number of people. Sure there were spectators, but the vast multitude of those gathered were seated on bikes and were huddled, meandering the course area or otherwise situated. It was enough to evoke a stirring sense of that anxiety I had earlier, especially when almost every participant was outfitted in the typical racing garb which one typically sees on Lance Armstrong. I wore old shorts and a white tee shirt, and had a 10 year old plain helmet. Then there was the registration -- they wanted to know my affiliation or team. I reported 'Self'.

At this point I was waiting around, listening and watching the ongoing festivities, as some of the races were already in progress. I was beginning to understand what the participatory journalist George Plimpton must have felt while quarterbacking for the Detroit Lions. A man out of his league. But I was there to enjoy the thrill of finding out first hand what this race experience would be like, and was not about to back out.

After an hour it was time for my race, the entry level men's category 5. Everyone lines up, and there is typically not enough room in a starting row for everyone, so the pack lines up 4 or 5 layers deep. I lined up on the right near the middle row. The race starts and I'm doing fine around the first bend by the Municipal Building, but then I realize what I'm in for. The pace quickens on the straight-away and suddenly I'm passed by one after another of all the following participants. By the time we get to Mamont road I'm at the tail of the pack, finding it hard to keep up. I am exerting much of my energy, and suppose I could catch up, but at a cost of using up most of the initial reserves. By the time we get to the natural gas complex by Hills Church Rd. I am passed by the trailing rolling enclosure vehicles. That was the proverbial straw. I figured that would happen, based on my pre-race calculations of my time versus typical times of past races listed on the internet, but I didn't figure it would happen that soon. By the time I get to Steele Rd. I no longer see the vehicles or the bikes. When I get to the top of Steele Rd. the traffic monitors tell me with a wry smile that I'm two minutes behind the pack. I exclaim "That's all right". They reassuringly tell me that I'm doing better than them!

By this time I'm in my own element. After passing two young, friendly and encouraging traffic monitors at the entrance of Weistertown I am basically by myself. No other riders are in sight. Virtually no cars or any other signs of anything but nature are present. It almost seemed hard to believe I was still actually in the race. Beyond this point it's much the same until I get to the first of the three killer hills. As I arrive I see way up at the top several of my category riders. Aha, I tell myself, I'm catching up. But the illusion of catching up is simply the hill slowing down the other riders as I approach the base at full speed.

After the exhausting ascent of the second killer hill, along the top is a row of spectators with the fullest vigor, several offering water for the riders. I decline. On the third hill I am passed by many of the category 1 pro riders, no problem as the road is straight and wide. My race is two 10 mile laps, and for much of the next lap I find myself successively being passed by a small group of riders, attempting to keep up to them for a mile or two, then falling back. In the end I surmise that this attempt to keep up helps my time considerably. On the second loop I pass only one rider at the first hill.

After completing the set of three hills on the second loop, I'm starting to feel great as I know 'it's all down hill from here' to the finish line. But I hear the lead police car coming up that hill as I round the bend at the top. Oops, that's the bunch of category 3/4 riders that started five minutes before my race, they are on their third lap! I'm suddenly thrown into a panic and throw all of my remaining energies into doing my very best to stay ahead of these guys. I really didn't want to finish after them, or have them pass me. Perhaps in vain, but certainly valiantly I ride with my swiftest spurt possible along the top of Windover Rd. then on to Hills Church Rd., where I am passed by that lead police car. Undaunted, I speed down the extreme beginning of Crowfoot Rd., this time approaching the sharp downhill curve faster than the time before, but making the turn without difficulties and riding on down Crowfoot as fast as I have ever done.

Near Murry Woods as the last slight hill approaches I wave to onlookers and am now passed by the lead rolling enclosure vehicle, and the driver informs me that the riders are coming upon me quick! As I approach the top of that last slight hill, only 100 yards away from the final bend before the last straightaway into the finish line, here they come. I was able to stay in front of them going down hill, but that list hill did me in, and the experienced riders start passing me on the left. Ouch, that hurts my pride, as I was hoping to finish ahead of them. As they are swift, and I am intimidated, I swerve wide on the last turn, almost running off the road, but somehow maintaining my position with little room to spare. Somehow I avoided disaster with only divine providence to thank.

Recovering, I realize I've lost some ground, but knuckle under, dig deep and pump my way near the end of this pack of front runners through the finish line. I see the race director and others recording numbers. I wonder if I've been recorded for posterity. The other riders proceed on, and I swerve off the course as I'm done, almost literally. I stop my own stopwatch, as I had noted from last year's postings that the trailers didn't have times listed in the results. I'm astonished, I've completed the course 8 minutes faster than all of my practice attempts which seemed to have been stuck at a threshold, but now I've broken through that barrier to achieve one hour and 12 minutes. I know that most of the other riders in my race had finished in anywhere from 53 minutes to one hour and 10 minutes, based on last years results. But I'm happy. I finished the Murrysville Cycling Classic with a time that is not beyond the envelope of respectable times, at least in my opinion.

Douglas A. Bauman
July 23, 2004