I have shared many exciting experiences with Karel in the past 6 years since we met on a group ride, after being "set up" by some friends.
One thing I have always said about our relationship is that we have similar lifestyles but different passions.
I have always loved Karel for his true love for cycling. I have never once asked him to be a triathlete, do a triathlon or even do a running race. Karel has crossed a few running finishing lines in remarkable times (1:29 for his only half marathon this November) but his fire burns for cycling..and I love that.
It was tough to miss the Gate River run as a local, BIG race here in Jacksonville but it was a no brainer to go join Karel in Delray beach after hearing that this race was part of the USA Crit series..and it was a twilight criterium.
Karel gave me a tough workout for Saturday morning after I told him that I wanted Sunday off to enjoy the morning without having to rush off for a workout.
After a 1:30 interval bike on the trainer which made my legs burn, followed by a tough 50 min interval run, I cleaned myself up, put on my 110% recovery gear, made my smoothie and we hit the road.
Campy was super excited...but like always, never knowing where he is going but always happy to be invited.
Our 4 1/2 hour drive down south to the Boca Raton area was a little eventful with a few heavy downpours and lots of wind. The radar was checked many times of the course of the afternoon for a speedy criterium race is no fun in the rain.
When checking into our hotel, we got settled and Karel took a little nap. I caught up with my athletes on Training Peaks and Campy made himself useful by napping with Karel.
I always look for pet-friendly hotels and Homestead Suites (or Extended stay) happens to be one of our favorites. Clean rooms, fairly inexpensive (+$25 pet fee), a mini kitchen (stove, sink, full fridge, toaster, microwave) and typically nice locations. We had a beautiful lake in our backyard and we were only 4 miles from downtown Delray beach.
Around 4:30pm we headed to the race venue so Karel could get his bib numbers and so he could check out the course. In a criterium, the course is usually short (less than 1K) and includes 4 corners. Most of them are in a downtown setting and this race did not disappoint. There were lots of cute shops and many local restaurants. I absolutely LOVE local eats but due to the timing of the race, we didn't get to eat anywhere local before the race.
Karel typically does not eat anything big before a crit. Imagine racing at your highest intensity and trying to digest a meal soon before the race. Not too much fun for the digestive system.
Karel had his pre race meal of vegetarian pasta and eggplant around 4 hours prior to the race and then a bowl of fruit w/ yogurt around 3 hours prior to the race. After that, coffee, water, sport drinks (EFS) and energy chews (power bar). Karel knows what works for him and at this level of racing, there isn't a lot of room for error. You practice a few times, then you know what works. There's always tweaking along the way as I make mental notes as to what works/doesn't work for Karel, without telling him what to do but rather helping him reflect after the race.
Karel warmed up for around 30-40 minutes in our hotel room on our Cyclops power fluid trainer while Campy and I got ourself ready for the race.
Around 7pm we headed to the race venue and after parking, Karel rode away to get himself into the zone.
After the women's Pro race, it was time for the Pro field to line up at the starting line. 90 riders made their way to the front, with a large number of riders getting seated near the front due to "qualifying" for higher seated numbers by partaking in the grid computrainer finals the night prior. Karel could not participate because he had to work...oh yes, the life of a Pro cyclist who isn't able to train and race full time. Sadly, Karel's full time job is not like most of the other riders that race the USA Crit series events. Karel works as the GM of the Trek Store of Jacksonville. The other riders go to work by riding their bikes and recoverying with massages, physical therapists, chefs and any other help to take their training to the next level.
But lucky for Karel, he has me and Campy...his two biggest fans! Oh, and along with the Gearlinkers, our friends and thousands of other people watching the live stream (See link below).
Around 8:15pm the race was off! CRASH!!
Nothing like having a crash in the first loop. With tight corners and 90 riders fighting for the same spot, criterium racing is a total adrenaline rush for spectators and the riders.
Luckily, Karel was not affected and he stayed in the race. You see, in cycling you are there for the ride. You can be having the best day but if someone is having a better day or if you don't focus for one minute, you loose your wheel and you are out.
The event was long so Campy and me walked a lot. All around the 1K course as the riders ticked away laps, 80, 79, 77, 76......
Around an hour into the race, Karel was looking good but the race was starting to get exciting. There was a 3 man break away, which was about to lap the field. Nearing the end of the race, the break away finally caught the field which would make for a very exciting finish. The three men in the break away would automatically get 1st, 2nd and 3rd but it was up to them to sprint for their designated spots...along with the 60ish other riders who were still in the race for the finish.
It isn't suprising to see riders get dropped from the field. With over 90 minutes of racing and a few laps to go, perhaps the 30 mph average speed was too much for some of the riders to handle.
Nearing an hour and 45 minutes, I was so proud of Karel and his teammate Rad for hanging in the race. Karel had mentioned to me before the race that he wasn't sure if he was ready for the pain. Karel can tolerate a lot but racing at this level is something that someone like Karel can not fully prepare for on a daily basis. For you can only push yourself so hard in training and can do so much to boost fitness in racing.
This is something that is common for most crit riders and this type of pain is something that many of us never reach during training or racing.
The only way I can describe the pain is if you can imagine running 80 x 1kilometer repeaters at all out effort, but without any rest. Maybe a second here or there but in cycling as soon Karel rounds a corner, he has to get out of the saddle and sprint at all out max (power of 1000 watts at times) just to prevent himself from getting dropped.
4 corners, 80 laps.
1 hour and 45 minutes of racing.
Karel and his teammate Rad finished the race and I was so incredibly proud of them. This race was incredibly tough for so many reasons, primarily because it was the first crit of the season on the USA crit series schedule and it came rather early in the season. There's still 1 1/2 more months until the notorious Athens Twilight Crit which is the fastest crit race in the US..yes, faster than this race and with 150 starters.
Campy and I found Karel as he was warming down and I could see the exhaustion covering his body. He could barely speak and all he could do was exhale.
I left him alone but people in the crowd kept coming up to Karel, wanting to congratulate him (along with the other finishers) for the race. I suppose the fans think these guys are pretty incredible...I think so as well. Lucky for me, I'm married to one incredible guy who impresses me on so many levels. Karel motivates me to create goals out of my reach and to overcome any obstacle in order to reach my goals. What an endorphin rush along with a major boost in motivation.
Finally, we ended up at the car and all Karel could do was lay on the backseat. Of course, Campy thought Karel had won the race so Campy was jumping all over Karel, kissing all his sweat off his face. Campy managed to get a smile out of Karel and eventually, we made our way back to the hotel around 11pm.
What an exciting weekend, filled with amazing efforts by Karel and the other riders.
Karel has one more race until the Tampa Twilight criterium in downtown Tampa on March 31st. Then 4 weeks until Athens. I'm not sure how he does it but nothing is slowing down the fight in Karel. Perhaps we can all learn something from Karel....
If you think you can or think you can't, you are right. Sometimes you just have to give it a go and see what happens. Remove the pressure you put on yourself and just be greatful for the opportunities you have in life to be your best, feel your best and perform at your best.
You must do the things you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
An exhausted finisher...
Video of the race:
Delray Pro Crit Race