Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

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Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

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Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Ridgeline Rampage – a race review

Having raced in the Ridgeline Rampage on Saturday, I can cross the first mountain bike race of the year off my list of things to do.  When I arrived in Castle Rock for the race, the weather was somewhat cool and overcast.  The weather forecasters had been predicting afternoon rain showers.  I had packed a variety of clothing so that I would be prepared no matter what conditions I would be racing in. I had ridden this race last year, so I knew what to expect for the most part in terms of course terrain and elevation changes.  However, this year, the course was going in the opposite direction.  Somewhere in the back of mind I thought this might mean that there would be more climbing involved, but overall, it should be very similar in either direction.

I picked up my race number, t-shirt and goody bag at the registration table.  All the while the sun seemed to be hinting that it might actually make an appearance and warm things up for the afternoon races.  I was early enough that I had time to cruise around looking for team mates and visited the pit area just in time to see my team mate, Carol, pass through.  After that I returned to my car, suited up, and began the process of riding up the nearby hills to warm up my legs.  I had heard that this year’s field of racers was bigger than ever and wondered how that would play out during the first mile or so of the race.  Last year, bikes had literally been tire to tire at the beginning, making for a frustrating and challenging traffic jam to navigate through.

As I pedaled around the neighborhood surrounding the race course, I came to see that the first half mile of so of the course went uphill through the neighborhood streets.  I suspected the course had been routed in such a way to thin out the racers before we rolled onto single track.  To some degree, it worked.  But eventually, there came an inevitable traffic jam when too many riders come together in one place on an incline.  This is my least favorite part of racing the Ridgeline Rampage.   I can’t help but think that spacing out start times would alleviate this problem.  As a few cyclists hopped off their bikes and began running them up the hill, I decided to do the same.  This turned out to be a mistake because everyone I had just passed ~and then  some~ eventually got rolling again and it was impossible for me to find a gap big enough to squeeze into to get rolling again.  Lesson learned.

Once I was on the move again, I settled into a steady rhythm of climbing, calling out “on your left!” , and assertively passing other

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

racers as I cruised up the hills.   Before I knew it, I was starting in on the food that I had packed with me.  I was surprised that I was feeling the need for energy so soon into the race.  This is when I concluded ~rightly or wrongly~ that more climbing was required to ride the course in this direction.  The good news was that the course was designed with the pit in the center of a figure 8, meaning that I could grab a hand-up of food or liquid if necessary at the middle and end of each lap.

I did pass a lot of guys and a few gals, but I never was able to chase down the one or two women in my age group who passed me during the run-up fiasco at the very beginning of the race.  As I was closing the second half of my last lap, my triceps were burning, my thighs were screaming at me, and I’m certain I let out more than one whimper as my body protested the continued pain of climbing.  After reviewing the statistics later on Strava, I realized that each ten mile lap of the race had 1,000 feet of climbing… no wonder my body was protesting!  The wind and rain moved into the area during the last few hundred feet of my race.  I rolled across the finish line and went directly to the food tent.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches never tasted so good!Post race

One Race at a Time

It was a crisp Sunday morning and I intentionally had not pre-registered for the criterium race because of Colorado’s notorious winter-like weather conditions in the Spring.  It had been only 26 degrees and snowing the day before!  I arrived early at the Stazio Baseball Fields for the University of Colorado Stazio Criterium.  I sat and watched some of the collegiate races as the sun continued to burn off the crisp morning air.  I was exchanging text messages with a teammate and soon concluded that if I did register for the race, I’d be the lone representative in the peloton from my team.  I finally decided to end the procrastination and registered for the race.

I headed back to my car and bumped into a former teammate who was also racing.  We agreed to meet after warming up and head to the start line together.  It’s so nice to see a friendly face before a race!  The peloton was quite large with 30-40 cyclists as they had grouped both beginners (Category 4) with more experienced (Category 3) racers.  As we took off on our first lap, there was the usual shuffling for position as we rounded the first corner and started up a slight hill.  Then we crested the hill, headed downhill and around to the start line.  The second lap began much like the first.  As we circled back to the start line again, I noticed that the peloton slowed significantly as we rolled by the announcer and what few spectators were there.  I had moved to the outer left side of the peloton in anticipation of the right turn we would be taking.  Ahead of me, a couple of cyclists began to wobble back and fourth.  Suddenly, the woman to my left was thrown over her handle bars to the pavement.  I thought I was over far enough to avoid her and her bike.  No sooner had this thought crossed my mind when I found myself laying on my back on the pavement.  As bodies and bikes came to rest around me, I found myself still clipped in on both sides, struggling to free myself from the bike so I could get up.  A kind spectator came to my aid and helped me out of my pedals.  I laid on the street for a couple of moments, wiggling all ten toes and all ten fingers, trying to decide if I was going to be able to pick myself up.  Everything seemed to be in working order, nor was there any substantial pain or blood.  I slowly stood up to see a shocked crowd of people staring back at me.

 

I grabbed my bike and quickly inspected it for damage.  I knew the peloton would soon be coming around and I wanted to get back into the race without dwelling for too long on what had just happened.  The race official directed me on where to line up as the peloton approached.  I was off for the second time.   We did two more laps before the race was brought to a stop to allow for the ambulance to  pick up two injured cyclists who had not moved from the road since the crash.  We continued circling the parking lot in an attempt to keep our legs warm.  When it was time to line up and restart the race, I began to notice the aches and pains I had sustained in the crash.  Sharing the story of what had happened with understandably curious racers didn’t help me mentally.  As I started this race for the third time, my body was aching and my mind was no longer competitively engaged.  I had lost my race mojo for the day.  I just wanted to finish it and go home.

 

I had two opportunities to bail out on this race: one when the crash happened and another when the race was stopped for the ambulance.  I’m not exactly sure what it was that initially got me up and going again.  However, getting those two laps in with the peloton before the race was stopped for the ambulance was critical for me.  I was back in the race before I had the opportunity to overthink what I saw, heard, and felt during that crash.  Several people have asked me what’s next in terms of racing.  I don’t necessarily know the answer today… but I’ll figure it out come race day.  Just like I did at Stazio.

Just Do It!

I’ve discovered that I am a bit of a fair weather cyclist.  I just don’t like to be cold.  That being said, sometimes you have to do things that you don’t necessarily like.  Saturday morning I got up at 5:45 AM to have my usual pre-race breakfast the recommended three hours before my start time.  As I was mixing eggs and brewing coffee, I could hear the wind howling outside the kitchen window.  The only thing I dislike more than being cold is the wind.  I kept telling myself that I could always bail out at the last minute; but if the wind did die down, I needed to be prepared to race.

For the next hour and a half after breakfast, I sipped coffee and read more of my book (I am Malala – highly recommend).  All of my warmest cycling clothing had been packed the night before and was ready to go.  The trainer was already loaded in the car.  I just needed to load my bike and hit the road.  I checked 3 different web sites for up to the minute weather forecasts at Lookout Mountain.  I got different numbers from all three – one had a temperature of 21 degrees and snowflake graphics; another had a temperature of 46 degrees and 27 MPH winds.  No matter which one was correct, it was likely going to be a cold, windy race.

As I pulled into a parking space at Lookout Mountain, I saw a few team mates.  This brought me some comfort… if they could brave this cold, windy weather, surely I could, too!  As I pinned on my number and dressed for the warmup, the wind continued to gust.  Today would be the first time that I would warm up while wearing my down coat.  I was pleased that I began to sweat after a few minutes of pedaling and eventually had to remove the coat.  My start time approached and I finished changing into my race clothes and loaded the trainer back in the car.  I pedaled around a bit before getting in the start line to keep my legs and the rest of me from becoming chilled.  The cold actually proved to be a great distraction from my usual pre-race nerves, which I hadn’t even given so much as a thought on this chilly morning.  Normally, as I stand at a start line, I calm my nerves by telling myself that I can vomit at the finish line, if I still feel the need to do so by the time I get there.

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Oredigger Classic Lookout Mountain Hillclimb start – Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

Five, four, three, two, one… and I was off into the wind.  As I pedaled up the 4.6 mile course, I tried to make myself as small as possible when the wind hit my face, and as tall as possible when the wind was to my back.  At one point, the wind was so strong that I thought it would bring me to a complete stand still.  At that point, I knew that today’s race would not result in any personal bests for me.  My only hope was that everyone else would also experience such a gust, slowing the entire field of racers.  After crossing the finish line, I pulled to a stop in a nearby parking lot, and for the first time in a very long time, I actually thought I might vomit… I guess that means I gave it everything I had.

As I drove home from the race, I realized that despite how windy and cold the ride was, I still had fun and I did not regret going.  This is how 99% of my rides/races end.  On only one occasion did I regret going for a ride – but that one ended in a crash and I wasn’t able to ride for several weeks afterward… so it doesn’t really count and maybe one day I’ll write about it, but not today!

Today’s lesson is that you should ALWAYS go out and pedal, even if you don’t want to.  I’m just certain that when you come back home, you’ll be glad you went… 99% of the time!

The Big Finish

Finish line! Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty