And now a break from our regularly scheduled Thunder Rolls race reports, part 3 of which is not coming along so quickly….
The morning sky through the bathroom curtains looked weirdly dark for 7 a.m. on a summer morning, and a quick peek outside confirmed my suspicions: it was raining. I know that I’m supposed to be all “Woohoo rain! Awesome! This is what cyclocross is all about!” but I wasn’t. It’s not that I mind getting wet or muddy; in fact, those kind of make my day. It’s the falling I’m not so crazy about, and wet, muddy conditions up my chances of falling to around 110%. On the other hand, my failure to get around to cleaning my bike was looking a lot better.
|Singlespeed, men’s 4/5, juniors|
It was still raining when the first race started at 11 and held the singlespeed, men’s cat 4/5, and juniors divisions and was the largest race of the day. We could only see part of the course from where we were sitting (actually, no matter where you were sitting you could only see part of the course) but heard talk of some minor carnage. Our spot did provide a prime position from which to heckle/cheer for (depending on my mood) my friends as they passed by each lap. Bikes and legs were covered with wet grass and mud, and mouths were hanging open. Awesome.
The youth race came next and was only one lap. Kristen and I left the registration table to Vanessa and got our bike clothes on. I’d had rice and a taquito for breakfast and decided maybe I ought to eat something, so I had a banana, a pack of almonds, and a Starbucks mocha. Lunch of champions!! By the time we were both ready, the kids were finishing up and there was no time for any warmup or preride, so I was going into the race blind. My first lap would just have to be my warmup and preride. 🙂
We “got” to share the course with the men’s 3/4 division, which mean we were going to be passed by even faster guys and our race, at 45 minutes, was slightly longer than the previous one. Awesome again. The guys started a minute ahead of us, and then we were up. Maybe because of the rain (which had stopped during the first race) or maybe because there were a lot of other bike events on the calendar this weekend there weren’t many women who showed up: only four in our race. I actually got a decent start before quickly falling behind the two lead girls, and fell even further behind as I moved through the unfamiliar turns cautiously.
I was pretty nervous about the two bigger hills I’d heard about — I’ve gotten braver, but the wet ground added something new for me to worry about — but instead I went down hard on a switchback. Here I was focused on the hills and I fall on practically flat ground! Luckily, falling in a damp field is way easier on your body than on pavement or rocky singletrack, and I was right back in after picking myself up and retrieving my water bottle. Kristen passed me here after making sure I was ok, and then I caught back up at the barriers.
|This is actually a picture from last year, but it shows the barriers and pretty much how I feel about them.|
Now, if you watch people who are actually good at cyclocross, they swing their leg over their bike and coast in towards the barrier on one pedal, lift their bikes and leap over the barriers like deer, and then jump (literally) onto their bike seat and pedal off like madmen (or women). My much less efficient method is to ride up, stop, get off my bike, lift it, get back on, and hopefully catch my pedal and ride off. Because the barriers are always in a prime viewing location, it’s a minor humiliation every single lap. One of these days I need to actually work on dismounts. I’ll put that on my list.
The rest of the course swooped back and forth, up and down, with a couple of nice flattish areas where I could recover and a couple of big hills where I could hold my breath and hope for the best. I had to laugh on one of my laps when a photographer was at the bottom of that hill; I can only imagine the fear on my face as I sailed past him. I’ll put “get braver” on the list, too. Scott had posted that preriding the 2.5 mile laps at medium effort took him 11 minutes. Knowing his medium effort is something akin to my redline effort going downhill, I estimated my lap times would be about 15 minutes, and I was pretty much right on. By the third lap I was wiped out and felt like my legs were going to fall off. Uphills that really weren’t that bad seemed almost insurmountable. Boy was I glad to cross the finish line!
Because Kristen had flatted and DNF’d, that left me in third place for my first cyclocross podium. This was particularly exciting because they were paying out awards 5 deep and I was actually going to get money for the first (and probably only) time for racing. Usually money is going in the other direction with my racing hobby.
|Cat 4 podium, minus me.|
The part where I am stupid…
Standing there catching my breath and thinking about grabbing food from the taco truck, I watched as the officials got the final race, open men and open women (the fastest people) lined up. “How many open women are there?” I asked. The answer, as it turned out, was four. Four, and the payouts went five deep. This meant that as long as I finished the race I’d collect an award. It was a no brainer…and by that I mean I didn’t use my brain at all. “Add me to your list!” I told the official.
“You know this is 60 minutes, right?” a friend asked me as I wheeled myself into the very back of the group. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about this. Or about the fact that my race-day nutrition wasn’t exactly ideal. Or the fact that my legs were already about to fall off.
“That’s ok, I can come in last in an open field just as well as in cat 4,” I responded.
Larry, one of the officials, and I go way back, so I’m pretty sure (given our experience “together”) that he was joking when he reminded me, “You know you can’t DNF and still finish in the money!”
“I’m not going to DNF,” I shot back, “This is still 17 hours shorter than Dirty Kanza.”
And then as the guys took off and we stood there waiting our minute before our start, it sunk in. What the hell am I doing?? I wanted to die after 45 minutes and I immediately signed on for an extra hour. I’m hungry. I’m going to bonk. I’m going to be in the way and piss off all these fast people. I was out there, though. I was stuck. The only thing stupider than jumping into this race would be to back out now. And there’s the whistle…
I was immediately dropped, which was no surprise, but at least I was more comfortable on the course than my initial foray. Of course, everything felt like way more work, but the advantage to this was that my fear level on the hills was much more controllable…mostly because crashing and/or dying didn’t seem like such a bad alternative. It was a good thing Larry had given me a hard time about DNFing, because I was thinking a lot about doing it. As I rode the course, though, it seemed like everywhere I went there was someone cheering for me, even people I didn’t know. It was pretty awesome to have that support and encouragement.
Coming in at the end of my first lap, I was really hungry and feeling weak. With around 45 minutes left to ride, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to finish without bonking. I fantasized about friends handing me food as I rode by…and this is a total fantasy because I really need both hands to ride my bike. Hitting the barriers for the first time, I had seen Justin and his crew standing there with a dollar bill or a piece of licorice. Of course I took the dollar, but I thought about that licorice for the rest of that lap, and on my lap 2 I took the licorice. Ah, sugar. Hopefully that would help.
|Twizzlers rock. Photo credit: Jim Davis|
This lap was equally sucky, and while others were racing I was just doing my best to maintain forward motion. This is so stupid. More cheering. Friends are awesome. The last (paved!) uphill is terrible, and a guy sitting on the hill remarks, “Bet you’re wishing for a triple [chainring] right now!” Not only was that true, but I’d spent almost the entire race in my lowest gears confirming my need for even easier ones.
Lap 3. Another piece of licorice. “This one hasn’t even hit the ground yet,” one of the kids tells me. This is good to know, I guess, but of minor importance in the big picture. It’s still sugar, even if it had been dirty sugar. The downhills are still sweet relief and my handling is slightly better, but I want to cry on a couple uphills and now even the flat parts feel like hills. Good grief. My Garmin shows that I’m going to finish this lap with another ten minutes left in the race. I ponder whether there’s any way I can stretch this lap out for that long and avoid riding another one, but no. There’s nothing to be done but stick it out and ride a fourth lap.
Lap 4. No more candy handups. Sad face. A turn or two later I notice a piece of purple licorice lying on the ground and consider stopping to pick it up. It’s the “stopping” part rather than the fact it’s on the ground that deters me. I’m still dragging like crazy, but this lap is made happier by the fact that everything I ride is for the last time. It’s not joy I feel as I cross the finish line but sweet, sweet relief.
|Gina, Sunny, Rachel, and me.|
And because one of the girls DNF’d, I end up with 4th place instead of 5th which, regardless of how little I belonged there, was pretty sweet. Proof positive that sometimes in life, the key is just showing up and sticking it out.