“It’s just Spring Series, why are there butterflies in my stomach?!” was my external monologue at 10am this past Sunday. I’ve done Spring Series races before, so I knew what to expect. But there they were, a whole swarm of butterflies taking up residence in my tummy.

For those unfamiliar with “Spring Series”, it’s a set of early season fun-races used to shake the winter cobwebs off the legs before the formal racing season begins. There are no points to be won, no official time, and you self-select your own race group. And the most coveted prizes are the yummy cookies given to everyone afterwards, regardless of results.

What made the butterflies a tad more tolerable was knowing that the lovely little critters had migrated into the stomachs of most of the women that were joining me in the race. I knew this because we spent the whole morning group-chatting about what to wear, what we were stressed about, and tips for cold weather riding. And seeing as I’d organized this group of women, many of whom would be racing their first race that day, I felt the need to portray confidence rather than nerves for their sake. Oops, there went the butterflies into a bigger somersault. Clearly they weren’t informed that I was trying to ignore them for the sake of others.

But we had a plan, a plan to ease us into this thing called racing. We had spent the last 6 weeks learning the theory behind racing, so this was our chance to start practicing. So we agreed to take the first few laps at a manageable pace for everyone. This would give opportunities to try moving around in the group, understand the effects of the wind, try a turn on the front, and understand what it’s like to have to chase down a wheel. All things that are hard to practice at full-speed if you haven’t tried them before.

Our butterflies ‘flew’ us to the meeting point, we (Danielle) conquered mechanical issues (without the help of any men I’d like to add), packed our backpacks with everything we might possibly need, and set off for the race course. As I listened to the chattering behind me…wait why was I leading the way? I’d just said that I needed to keep my HR down during my warm-up. Ok, from my new spot near the back I listened to the chatter and was reassured by its positivity. I heard introductions being made, nerves being shared, and laughter throughout.

After bonding over a group pee in the ditch (yes, we women have to go pee together no matter where we are), we made it to the start-line – 12 women. 11 from ERTC. We made Coach Tim proud, the front line was filled first. I reiterated our plan, slotted in, and we were off. Riding like Noah’s animals (2 by 2…) we started with a headwind and quickly understood the value of taking turns on the front. I had a few moments to explain group riding to a women who had never ridden in a group before, let alone raced in one. That takes guts, more than I ever had when I was starting that’s for sure. We turned the corner and were met with a new lesson – surging through corners. I think many women have cornering practice on their list of things to work on in the coming weeks. More wind...why is it always so windy? Ok, here comes another corner…

Hang on, where is Danielle going? And Sarah?  Oh crap, this is now a RACE!! Game plan, meet window. New plan: try and survive and by goodness, DON’T LOSE THAT WHEEL! The next 2.5 laps were full of speed, attacks, chases, bits of recovery, WIND, team work, tactics, did I mention wind, burning lungs and legs (that wouldn’t shut up no matter what I told them), and a fourth place finish. Remember the woman who’d never road ridden with a group before? Well if it wasn’t for her wheel I’d have been done-for a few times. And 2 of the top 6 finishers had never tried racing before.

As with every race, ours broke into a few different groups, each with their own learnings, joys, and challenges for the day. Much laughter was heard from Jessica and Christine as they bonded over being dropped, winning the suffer-face contest, and shamelessly using the juniors for a draft. Nancy took the opportunity to work on her cornering skills and used Jessica and Christine as little ‘carrots’ to chase. And Katie and Natalie successfully finished their very first races despite the unexpected change in group strategies.

Cookies were devoured, stories and learnings shared, and smiles were seen all around after the race.

Our women’s racing movement in Edmonton is no longer just an idea or a dream, this Sunday it became a reality. A very big, encouraging, and EXCITING reality. And to those who feel intimidated at the thought of trying something like this, be forewarned. For the last 5 years I laughed at anyone who asked if I raced – seriously, me a racer? HA! And now my first real race is looming just weeks away.

And guaranteed, my butterflies will be back, this time likely the size of pre-historic butterflies. But so will everyone else’s. And we are going to harness those butterflies, channel their nervous energy, support each other, and try this racing thing. Together.

See you at the start line!