Primalpalooza: From Excitement to Dread in Milliseconds

If you read my last blog post about cyclocross, you know that I was racing on a borrowed bike.  I’m pleased to report that passing the woman I borrowed the bike from in the Green Mountain Sports CX race did not result in a loss of  bike borrowing privileges!  I was even able to do a couple of mid-week cyclocross training clinics where I learned the proper form of a suitcase lift (where no suitcase whatsoever is involved) and mounts and remounts.  After all this practice and success with the last race, I was very excited to register for “Primalpalooza“… with a name like that, what’s not to like??

I had observed this race last year from a vantage point where I could see the stair run-up as well as the switchbacks leading up to the stairs.  For those of you unfamiliar with a stair run-up, it’s where you dismount from your bike and carry it (like a suitcase) up the stairs.  Here’s a video of a gal who happens to be pretty good at it:

Beyond the portion of the Primalpalooza course that I could see, I had absolutely no idea what the rest of the course was like.  I was in for quite the surprise as I started my pre-ride on race day.  Each lap was 2 miles of twisty, turny chaos with a couple of sides of barriers, stairs and whoop-de-do’s.  Oh, and let’s not forget the howling wind!  Despite all this, I was super excited about the race right up until the moment when someone mentioned that there were 64 women registered in my category for the race.  64.  My heart immediately sank as I thought about what it would be like to try and maneuver through this course, particularly the narrow sections, with so many other racers.

As the race official began call ups, I waited patiently to see if my name would be called.  Very near the end, I was happy to hear my name.    I guess one race earns you a call up!  With 64 women to contend with, I’ll take whatever advantage I can get!  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint down a fairly wide street that quickly narrowed to a one lane uphill dirt road.  The pack quickly thinned due to the incline.  The twisty sections of the course caused many women to fall; I’m still not sure if the wind played a factor or if it was inexperienced riders.  Some women went down in sections of the course where wheels were ~ or should have been ~ straight.  One woman rode forearm to forearm with me through two corners only to fall over when we entered the straight away.

On my third lap, I was pulled from the race, along with everyone else who was behind me.  Because each race runs for a specified amount of time, the officials stop racers at the finish line once that time is almost up.  This keeps all the subsequent races on schedule.  I’d never had this happen before and was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to keep going.  Nevertheless, when the race results were published, I was pleased to have finished in the top half: 25 out of 64.

One of the best parts of the day was having my family there to cheer me on and hand up water bottles.  I loved hearing “go Mom” all over the course; these cheers weren’t for me necessarily, but I love seeing and hearing kids of all ages cheering on their mom.  It makes my heart sing.  In reviewing the race results, it did not escape my notice that the woman who lined up in front me ~ very near the back ~ had a top 10 finish.  If she can do it, I can do it… with a little more practice!  It’s time to learn to race smarter…. and maybe invest in a bike of my own.

Reaching for water.

Reaching for water. AND it’s time for new gloves.

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.

gmx

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!

muncy

Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Firecracker 50 – My First Endurance Race

I was recently talked into racing in the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado on Independence Day.  I was told I would get a fabulous pair of Woolie Boolie socks AND get to ride my bike in the town parade.  Then, if I didn’t get to the cutoff point in time, I’d be sent down the mountain with a beer!  Having never ridden my mountain bike for more than 27 or so miles, I was a little concerned about my ability to actually ride the entire 50 miles (that’s what the 50 in Firecracker 50 represents).  But, I was really excited about the socks, parade, and potential for a beer hand up.  Besides, I can’t think of  a better way to start Independence Day then spending a few hours on the mountain bike.

Terry and I arrived early in Breckenridge on race day.  We went to the race headquarters and picked up socks, t-shirts (bonus!), and race numbers.  Then we returned to the car to suit up and warm up our legs for the race.  The race would be two 25 mile laps with ~4,000 feet of climbing per lap.  My goal was to make it to the aid station before the cutoff time so I would at least have the option to ride the entire second lap, if I thought I was able to do so.

We lined up on Main Street by category; as a sport woman racer, I found myself in the back as usual.  When the whistle blew, I took off up Main Street with about 15 other women in my category.  I rode as far as possible to the left so that I could hold out my hand and touch as many of the little hands reaching out to me from behind the barricade as I could.  So many people were clapping and cheering as we rode by… maybe because they knew seeing us meant the real parade was about to start?  Regardless, what a fantastic way to start a race!

For several miles, we pedaled up Boreas Pass Road to the first aid station.  This served to thin out the racers before we reached any single track.  I did not stop at the first aid station and continued onto the single track where I was able to pass more frequently than I got passed.  At one point I passed Terry without recognizing her.  As I pedaled past her, I heard her yell “go Amber!”.   Before I knew it, I was at the second aid station where I took in some of the plentiful nutrition being offered by race volunteers.  I knew that proper nutrition would be critical to successfully finishing this long race.

The aftermath

The aftermath. Yes my feet are that white and my legs that dirty.

Between Aid Stations 2 and 3 is a little section of the trail called Little French Gulch.  This section is full of loose, chipped slate and at one point, the grade is 25%.  I found myself, and all of my new mountain biking friends, pushing our bikes up this section beside the snow banks and through ice cold streams.  At one point, I had sweat dripping from my eyelashes.  This is something I’ve only experienced in a winter spin class at Defined Fitness Training.  When the trail finally turned and leveled out, it was extremely narrow.  It was so narrow that passing required the rider in front of you to actually stop and pull off the trail.  I went as fast as I could here as I didn’t want to have to stop and let anyone by.  Before I knew it I was going down a fun terrain park-like section where I crossed what would be the finish line had this been my second lap.

As I continued on to begin my second lap, I grabbed food and some electrolyte drink as the hike-a-bike section, heat, and distance were beginning to take their toll on me.  I just kept telling myself to get to that aid station before the cutoff time.  This time going up Boreas Pass Road, the spectators were few and far between; only the occasional honk from a passing car, or words of encouragement from another racer.  As I reached Aid Station 1, I parked my bike and stood in the shade to have some food and catch my breath.  I asked if I had made the cutoff and was told yes by one of the volunteers.  However a few minutes later, another racer pulled into the aid station and asked the same question.  This time the answer was different from a different volunteer.  We had to make it to the second aid station in 20 minutes if we wanted to try to finish the race!  I debated about turning around now, but a little voice inside my head piped up “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now.”  So I hopped on the bike and pedaled.

I missed the cutoff at Aid Station 2 by about 8 minutes, but I was very proud to have made it there IMG_3150in the first place.  I was 37 miles into the Firecracker 50 when I was offered my choice of cold beers for the ride down the service road.  Heineken never tasted so good, and I didn’t spill a single drop on that bumpy road, steering my bike one-handed.

Lessons learned: read the race rules and COMMIT them to memory.  I wasted valuable time at Aid Station 1 on my second lap and could have made that cut off time at Aid Station 2 if I’d kept moving.  Gatorade is not a good drink choice for me; test the products being offered at a race BEFORE race day.  Oh, and let’s not forget to actually RIDE the distance of your race before race day.

I can’t speak highly enough about how well the race was organized, marked, the nutrition and hydration offered at aid stations, and the volunteers.  Oh, and let’s not forget that parade and all those little hands wishing us good luck… See you all next year!