Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Coach (and Athlete) Becky Piper
2020 was tough for me - with a deployed husband, changing training goals, moving across the country, and of course...Covid. But when I had the opportunity to race in the Paralympic Team Trials for a chance to represent the USA in Tokyo, I knew I had to take the opportunity "by the horns" and race my heart out.
So for this blog post, "Coach Becky" is going to step aside and let "Athlete Becky" tell you about her adventure at the Para-Cycling Paralympic Team Trials!
The Days Before…
I flew to Minneapolis on Wednesday morning and promptly went to get Covid tested. It was our second and final test. My roommate and I pulled up, shoved a swab up our noses, turned it in, and waited for results to come a few hours later. Since there was nothing more I could do, I got to the hotel, built my racing bike, and got it ready for my final two practices.
After an adventure getting Fish and Chips for dinner, I was all tuckered out and went straight to bed. But not before I got a negative Covid result!! Yay!
The next day, my racing team and I scoped out the course. It was just shy of 9 miles with only one Hill of Death (as I call it) and a long climb right at the end. So it wasn't too bad! Thursday was official check-in day, so I went to the meeting room, got checked in, and found out my exact start time (9:50 AM CST).
After dinner in the hotel room (we had enough adventure the night before…), I plopped into bed and got ready for Friday.
Friday...Less than 24 Hours Until Race Time…
Friday was the official course practice. This means it was closed to traffic for two hours. We could go into the athlete warm-up area, see the starting ramp, and ride the course one or two more times. I only rode once and went at an average RPE of 4 to 5, as prescribed by my coach. Everything was planned, all the preparation was done, now all I had to do was relax. I didn't.
I woke up Saturday - for the first time in a year and a half, it was race day. I didn't have nervous butterflies, just the feeling of pure excitement and joy to be racing again! After a light breakfast, which I found works best for me, I fought my way into my skinsuit (which, by the way, looks SUPER AWESOME) and left for the Athlete parking/warm-up area.
When I arrived, I slowly got my bike out of the car, changed into my cycling shoes, took in just a little pre-race nutrition, and started warming up.
I had an hour and a half before my race...plenty of time to get everything done. I finished warming up and traveled to the final bike check and race start. After the officials checked everything out with the jig (a fancy set-up to see that my bike passes the regulation specifications), I sat under the line-up tent and waited for my time. Nervousness check: Still not nervous, just excited!
Two minutes to race time - the bike holder guy (I decided that was his name) took my bike up and set it at the start line.
Nerve check: Oh, there are the nerves! Definitely nervous!
When I feel nervous, my right, paralyzed foot uncontrollably twists inward, making it really hard to clip in. As the clock hit 10 seconds to "go" time, I was still trying to get my foot calm enough to get a clip. I wasn't ready when my time came, but 10 seconds later, I was ready and BLASTED out of the starting line.
Well, I blasted...but carefully. 50 feet away from the start was a technical turn that I navigated really well, if I do say so myself! I was off! First, there was a nice long downhill that I got up my speed on for the rolling hills that came next. About a mile in, I came to the Hill of Death. But I knew I had to get up that thing if I wanted to finish this race. So I climbed. It was really short but hit a solid 10% grade in it. After about a minute and a half (I told you it was short),
I made it up, did a little cheer for making it up, and started building my speed again. I raced down to the turnaround, which was narrow, but I specifically practiced tight turns because I'm not naturally confident in them. Since I did that practice, I handled the turnaround well and did the second half of the course. There was QUITE the breeze coming back, and it did affect my time. But it's not like I could change the weather, so I adjusted my strategy to take on this wind.
Finally, I came to the last uphill...it was a long slow climb, but I knew the finish line was just 200 meters past it. Now was the time to charge! I gave everything I had left, got up that hill, saw the finish line, and gave it everything I had. I finished with a time of 35:54 - not my best race. Still, after a year and a half of not knowing when I'd race again, it was a great culmination and return to racing, and I'm very happy with it.
Update: The Paralympic Team was announced today, and I am SO HAPPY to say I raced with them at Paralympic Team Trials. Good luck to each member of Team USA's Paralympic Team headed to Tokyo!
Coach Becky Piper is a USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 Triathlon Coach, Paratriathlon Coach, and Cycling Coach. She is currently on her way to Michigan but has made a little stopover in Wisconsin to see friends and family while her husband Sam is serving in the military. Her dog, Gunner, is with her on the long adventure across the country. She is the reigning national champion in the Time Trial and Road Race in women’s C2 Paracycling and is preparing for her debut in the Paralympic Trials, but her true passion is coaching. Coach Becky can be reached at email@example.com.