In Memory of Michael…

This isn’t an entry I know how to write, so I think I’ll just start out by stating the facts.

IMG_1096My manager and “let’s talk about cyclocross!” friend, Michael Prater, was killed while out for a training ride. An avid crit, road, and cyclocross racer, he was out enjoying the uncharacteristically lovely sixty degree weather when a car swerved into the shoulder, hitting Michael. The road he was on is a popular cycling road, with fast speed limits but a very wide shoulder. The driver took off but her car was discovered shortly afterwards (obviously she wasn’t getting too far in it) and she was also found a short distance away. There were five syringes with residue, a tourniquet, and a spoon in the car and the driver attempted to hide several different kinds of pills in her bra. She claims she was ‘distracted by a couple fighting in the back seat’. To put it politely, I find this to be quite dubious. To put it less politely, I think she is full of shit.

Michael was rushed to the hospital but never woke up.

He is survived by his wife Ellen; his three year old son, Davis; and his four month old daughter, Rosalyn.

Ten mile after work ice cream ride? "Kit up!" and "If you don't Strava it, it doesn't count!"
Ten mile after work ice cream ride? “Kit up!” and “If you don’t Strava it, it doesn’t count!”

It’s hard for me to editorialize on this topic, just because my feelings are so strong it is hard to express them. It would feel dishonest, though, to mention Michael without mentioning his character. He was a generous, playful, energetic, and compassionate soul. As a leader, Michael was the kind of man who people followed because they wanted to be a part of his team, to make him proud. He led by example and I can say confidently, without exception, was universally adored  by his staff. He always had a joke or a story to tell and even when I made a mistake, he wasn’t ever anything less than laid back. He improved every situation by being calm, kind, and good humored without fail.

IMG_1107The hardest part for me to think about is what a good father he was. He was so into his kids. Everything about them delighted him and even after the birth of his daughter he was much more interested in showing off the newest photos he had taken of her than talking about how little he had slept the night before. His children were, without a doubt, the apple of his eye and it genuinely breaks my heart to think about the fact that Michael was robbed of the experience of raising them and his children were robbed of such a devoted, enthusiastic, and loving father.

That’s all I’m able to write on the topic for now. In the words of Michael’s father, the only way to describe the situation is “a fucking tragedy”.

There is a GoFundMe for Michael’s wife Ellen and NoteFrog, an information management program, is offering a free lifetime license to anyone who forwards a receipt of their donation to Michael’s GoFundMe, so if you or anyone you know is into cool programs or could use some help with digital organization, it’s a great way to be rewarded for your kindness.

You are missed.
You are missed, Michael.

 

 

Race Recap: OVCX Finale at Major Taylor Velodrome

Time to wrap up the cyclocross season with one last race recap. The final race of the season was at Major Taylor Velodrome at Marian University outside of Indianapolis. I had never seen the venue before and therefore had no idea what to expect.

Going into the race, I was fraught with anxiety. If I won, I could bump myself up from 4th to 3rd in the series standings and accomplish one of my season goals. However, I knew that wouldn’t be easy because the small field was filled with fierce riders. If the course suited my strengths and I didn’t have any mechanical problems (I’m looking at you, chain), I had a chance. If anything went wrong, it was Game Over.

I took my bike to the bike shop a few days before with the intent of getting my chain shortened. Instead, the mechanic told me that a derailleur adjustment would probably help. Not sure why I was just now hearing that, after taking my bike in to four different mechanics multiple times, but I decided to risk it and go with what he said.

I was up and out the door early on Sunday morning. I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time to pre-ride the course and formulate a game plan or re-ride tricky sections. As I pulled up to the venue, I saw an entire field of beautiful, smooth, power sections taped off. My hopes soared.

Photos don't do this feature justice.
Photos don’t do this feature justice.

Then I pulled into the parking lot and my heart sunk. While half the course was perfect – perfect! – for me, the other half was a nightmare. The trickiest feature, in my opinion, was a series of long, winding curves down a hill. Photos don’t do it justice, really. It was steep and the soil was loose. Of course, my brakes aren’t worth a damn so even if I would have felt confident going down it at a reasonable speed, there was no way to slow my bike down to my version of a “reasonable speed,” so it was one of those sections where I had to hold on and pray for the best. Other features included some steep uphill curves and a soggy run up.

But the other half of the course, as I said, was ideal for me: flat and with only a moderate amount of cornering and sharp turns. Maybe the race wasn’t a total loss.

I tried to pre-ride the downhill curves several times, with each time being a little worse than the previous attempt. I just couldn’t get my bike to slow down enough to feel confident taking on the 180 degree turns and loose ground. In retrospect, I think my brakes might be too big for my hands and if I had been able to figure out a way to be back off my saddle and corner while in the drops (giving me better leverage on the brake levers), I might have had more success. Hindsight is always 20/20.

After the starting whistle, the field charged into our first go at the power section. I was able to work my way up relatively quickly and I think I was sitting second or third wheel and gaining a little bit of ground on the leader.

Then came the technical section. The steep uphills, which I had been able to ride once before the race, were clogged with dismounted riders, forcing me off the bike. Okay, no problem.

Then the downhill. I stood on my bike and squeezed my brakes to no avail, so instead I put both of my

I was actually super stoked to see a pump-track section!
I was actually super stoked to see a pump-track section!

feet down in an attempt to slow my speed. I just managed to avoid washing out and made it down the hill, though I then had to clip in and attempt to re-gain what momentum I could before the run up. The run up was long and slippery but I made it up, fighting to not lose too much ground to the two women who had managed to pass me with their superior bike handling skills. There were two stone steps and then another steep downhill that led into four pump track humps. These hadn’t been any problem in pre-ride but the bike traffic and quickly melting frost made them a little precarious and I almost crashed after the third one.

OVCX Finale cyclocross
Photo courtesy of “Yet Another Bike Photo Page”

On the power section, I put my head down and fought to catch up with the two women ahead of me. I gained a little ground but had lost a solid twenty or thirty seconds on the technical part of the course. I had my eye on one girl in particular and managed to start the second lap within sight of her. However, after reaching the technical section for the second time, I had a feeling it was a lost cause. I had to dismount on the uphill turns again, and one really awesome friendly dude kept ramming his bike into my Achilles, which I guess is the Grown Adult Human Male way of saying “Excuse me, I think I can ride this section. If you and the person ahead of you move slightly to your left, I’d be able to get around you”.

My second (and final, thank God) time on the downhill curves was significantly worse than the first. I tried with all my might to ride it but ended up going through the course tape at the bottom and into the SRAM tent. All the men were helpfully encouraging me to “brake!!” as though I was unaware that is what I should have been doing. I almost crashed head first into one of them and then quickly hopped back on the course.

Thanks, dude. PS - I still beat you.
Thanks, dude. PS – I still beat you.

I guess I wasn’t going into the run up with enough speed for one of the men, who almost crashed into me trying to get around me on an off-camber turn and then promptly fell into me trying to dismount. His saddle was caught in my front wheel and he helpfully yanked as hard as he could to disengage our bikes. I could tell something was wrong with my front brakes but couldn’t figure out what the problem was or how to fix it while running frantically up a slippery slope. I got back on my bike and knew my front brake was definitely rubbing and functioning even less than it had been, but obviously I wasn’t giving up on the last half lap over something as silly as a rubbing brake, so I charged on. The steep downhill and corner leading into the pump track humps was a little scary with essentially 0 braking power, and I definitely could tell my speed on the flats was affected, but I soldiered on anyways and managed to pass a strong Cat4 woman after she crashed on a slippery turn. The course had gone from moderately dry and hard packed at the beginning of the race to slippery and slightly muddy so I didn’t tear around corners as quickly as I would have liked.

I did manage a podium.
I did manage a podium.

I crossed the finish line well out of sight of the two Cat4 leaders and, as a result, well off the overall series standing podium. I was crushed and walked to my car to pull myself together and put some warmer clothes on.

Overall, I was/am just a little disappointed in my season. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I dropped my chain six times in five races, had decent braking ability only sometimes, and am no longer (usually) coming in in the bottom 25% of finishers but it’s still frustrating to not achieve all the goals I had hoped to. I plan to take a few weeks off the bike to focus on running, yoga, strength training, and some core work and come up with a training plan for 2016. Tentatively, I know I want to make skills work and off-road riding a bigger part of what I do and I think I’d like to aim for 400 hours on the bike next year. But that’s another blog post all on it’s own.

Here’s to the end of the 2015 season and to the beginning of the 2016 training cycle! #cx365

 

 

Race Recap: Tofurky CX

When I found out we had another race at Kingswood Park, aka my home venue, I was thrilled. There’s nothing like not driving two hours to get to a race and being able to race on your ‘home turf’. Originally, this race was supposed to be at St. Mary’s in Indianapolis but apparently there was still damage from  the last race at that venue so they were unable to host another race. Fine by me!

One of the few parts I was uncertain about at Tofurky: downhill 180.
One of the few parts I was uncertain about at Tofurky: downhill 180.

I was able to go and get a quick pre-ride in on Saturday before the race. As my friend Amie had texted me, it was my kind of course. Nothing too tricky and plenty of power sections for me to gain an advantage. I was able to ride the whole course besides the barriers, steps, and sand, so I was feeling confident going into the day, despite the fact it was only supposed to be 28 degrees at the start of my race.

I arrived around 8:30 and got some more pre-race laps in to warm up and see if the course had changed overnight (it had been muddy the day before so I wanted to see if it had been majorly torn up by early pre-rides or if it had dried out. Luckily, it was the latter). It was terribly, bitterly cold and I couldn’t feel my hands and feet after two laps around the course, which concerned me. Mentally, I was a little shaken just because I knew I didn’t have proper cold weather gear and, frankly, I was a little miserable with the below-freezing temperatures.

I had second call-up, which was perfect for me. All three of the women that I’ve been trading off wins and losses with all season were in the race but I felt confident that if I could keep up for the first lap or so, I’d be able to give them a run for their money.

My start, as usual, was lacking. My slow reaction times usually take me from an advantageous starting position to mid-pack as best. Luckily, unlike other courses this season, the start led around a turn and into a straightaway so I was able to quickly regain a position near the front. In past races, ending up behind people at the start has proven to be a sometimes fatal blow to my race, especially when I have to patiently sit and wait on their wheel as we go through technical sections while the front runners increase their lead.

After only a minute or two of racing, I felt good. I was actually surprised at how well my body seemed to be handling the cold and I could feel myself getting stronger and gaining ground.

I was able to get around some people at the barriers and pass some phenomenally good chick on a mountain bike after a few minutes. I could see the leaders only five seconds or so in front of me – a totally manageable gap in cyclocross. I sat on the wheel of one of my frivals (friendly rivals, aka girls who beat me sometimes). As we went around an off-camber, I heard her yell “My fucking hands!”. Seeing as how I could only feel my first two fingers on each of my hands, I laughed out loud and tried to call out “Girl, me too!”. Shortly after, I was able to pull in front of her and try to get as much ground between us as possible.

Moments later, as I rounded a sharp 180 degree hairpin turn, I heard my chain making noise.

An example of a chain watcher.
An example of a chain watcher.

“Good thing I installed that chain watcher!” I thought nervously. I continued to pedal, assuming that since I had installed a part on my bike to prevent my chain from dropping I’d be able to shift down in a second to prepare for the upcoming hill and eliminate the noise.

Once again, I looked up at the leaders, whom I hadn’t been this close to this quickly the entire season. “I can span that gap!” I thought excitedly.

Suddenly, I looked down and saw that my worst fear had been realized. My chain was off my front chain rings. Completely off. There was, obviously, no point in pedaling, so I quickly dismounted. Swearing, panicked, and watching all of the girls I had fought to get past speed past me, I tried to put my chain back on.

“Okay,” I thought. “Thirty seconds. This is only thirty seconds.” I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to win at this point (the other girls are definitely strong cyclists and would give me a run for my money even without a mechanical) but this was salvageable!

However, the funny thing about giant pieces of plastic that are supposed to prevent your chain from falling off is that they can also make it almost impossible to put your chain back on.

I yanked on my chain, I tried to finesse my chain, and I began to panic, wondering if I’d even be able to finish at all. My friend Ellen’s boyfriend Gary ran over and tried to check out the problem. He was stumped. “Is there a way to loosen it?”

“If you have a screwdriver,” I replied. He didn’t.

I almost started to cry.

Finally, after a solid four (4!) minutes of struggling, Gary pulled some voodoo with pushing the crank backwards and then forwards and somehow managed to pop my chain back above the giant chunk of plastic. I remounted and took off, and did not find humor in the person that hollered “Now it’ll be even harder!” at me.

I was dead last at this point, having watched everyone else speed by me some time ago. My mind was preoccupied with trying to gain as many places as possible to get as many points as possible to try and salvage my series standing, as well as trying not to visibly sob on my bike.

People I knew shouted encouragement at me on the course, even some of the girls I passed encouraged me as I barreled forward. I couldn’t even see the leaders, although even if I had been able to spot them, catching up was just straight up not an option.

Halfway through my second lap, I could see and hear the lead men catching up to me. I was upset and knew I would more than likely be pulled and have to finish a lap early (which still technically counts as finishing, but, still). I managed to fend them off well, but as I passed through the finish line the course official yelled “You’re done!” and motioned to the course exit.

Holding back tears, I managed to get most of the way to my car before starting to cry. I sat in my car gasping for breath and sobbing for a solid five or ten minutes, questioning all of my life choices and cursing my bike. I kept thinking of the hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars I had spent and the goals that will remain decidedly unchecked at the conclusion of this season. I honestly felt like I could have won (though of course, this will never actually be known and may just be my ego talking).

I managed to dry my eyes and make it out of my car in time to talk to a few of my competitors (the girl who had screamed about her hands had dropped out shortly after I had my mechanical and another rider gave us both advice about proper gloves and offered to loan us some at the next race). Julie, a woman who I’ve come to look at as a sort of mentor, offered a few words of encouragement which just caused me to choke up. A man named Chris, who taught the workshop I attended back in August, commiserated with my problem and offered a few cheap and easy fixes to prevent it (one is a different chain watcher made out of aluminum so when it fails it can be bent out of the way easily to get the chain back on and he also recommended taking a link or two out of my chain to tighten it up).

All in all, it was definitely a disappointing and frustrating experience. I’ve resolved to buy another bike – new, this time – by the beginning of next season because like, why am I riding my life away only to be thwarted by jumpy chain rings?

A few days removed from the experience and I’ve calmed down and am trying to focus on the series finale on the 6th as well as think about all of the things I can do over the next year to improve myself and my whip. That’s all you really can do, right?

Final results:

Cat4 women – 5/7, Wave results – 9/15

Race Recap: Cap City State Championships

The weekend after Derby City Cup was the Ohio Cyclocross State Championships, hosted by the amazing Cap City Cross. I had attended a few Cap City races in previous years as a spectator and not a racer, but I remembered them being a pretty laid back and welcoming atmosphere so I was excited to see what the  was in store.

I could have opted to make it another two day weekend but since my ‘actual’ championship race was on Sunday, I decided to skip out on Saturday to make sure I wasn’t too gassed for the actual race and to avoid the extra costs associated with double race weekends.

My race, of course, was the first race at 10am. It was billed as the women’s Category 3/4 race and I had been told it would be scored as such as well. I was disappointed to be racing for the state title against Cat3 women but wanted to race my best anyways. None of my OVCX frivals (friendly rivals) were signed up, much to my surprise.

One of my friends who had raced on Saturday told me that the course was one that would suit my strengths – nothing terribly technical or unridable, and plenty of long stretches for me to put some watts into. My pre-ride confirmed this.

I arrived early and felt surprisingly good. After a few laps around the course, I had identified the challenges (some sharp up-and-down, hilly “s” curves that required precise gearing and steering to successfully ride) and opportunities (a few long stretches near the front of the course and the long, uphill stretch on the back of the course) and felt pretty confident, even if I wasn’t counting on beating the several Cat3 women signed up to race the 3/4 race.

Upon arriving at the starting line, the official announced that there seemed to have been a slight miscommunication. The Women’s 3/4 race was only a championship race for the Cat4 women. The Category 3 riders who had signed up could wait until the 2:00PM race that day to ride their championship race or race non-championship. Understandably, the Category 3’s were a little miffed but all of them were good sports about it. Most of them chose to wait until 2:00 to ride in the official championship race but a few were unable to stay around that late and so they chose to stay in the 3/4 race.

The field was probably the smallest I’d seen all season and with the last-minute clarification that I was in fact riding for the state champ jersey, I felt a new surge of excitement. I took my spot in the front row and waited for the starting whistle.

Per usual, my start was total crap. The starting group was small but I still ended up near the back. One of the other Cat4’s had a great start but took a hard fall on the first right-hand turn. I managed to avoid collision and tried to work my way past the ladies ahead of me. I passed one on the barriers and managed to pass several more on the first straightaway. I made it through the S curves without issue (always a gamble for me, since sometimes my chain ring will decide it is in the big ring and it will stay in the big ring thank you very much) and came into the paved uphill section strong. I flew past two of four women remaining ahead of me and managed to stretch that distance.

I was able to see the second place woman ahead of me and one of the people cheering me on (no idea who the guy was, which just proves how awesome and friendly the Cap City community is!) was giving me updates of how far ahead of me she was. It went from twelve seconds to ten seconds throughout the next lap until finally on the second lap’s uphill straightaway I was able to pull past her and put some distance between us, although she was never far off me for the remainder of the race. (Note: I am writing this entry over a month after this race took place and honestly can’t quite recall if I made this pass on the second or third lap. Forgive my editorializing.)

Cat 3/4 Overall Podium
Cat 3/4 Overall Podium

The woman in first was a strong Cat3 rider and I knew unless she was having a terrible day, I just wouldn’t be able to catch her, especially because while I felt decent, I didn’t feel great. My focus shifted to staying ahead of everyone else. I let myself think about winning the state champ jersey for a moment and then turned my attention back to the course. My third time through the S curves I didn’t shift properly and lost a few precious seconds when I had to dismount, run a few steps up, and run around my bike to re-mount.

The final half-lap was me looking over my shoulder to judge the amount of time Ohio Cyclocross cat 4 podiummy opponent had gained and trying to not make any foolhardy fumbles that would cost me second place in the wave or potentially the state champ title.

I successfully crossed the line as the first Category 4 woman, earning me the title of Cyclocross State Champion. While the title may not mean much in terms of actual real-life rankings, it was still really cool to be able to stand on the top step for once and hey, free jersey!

cap city cxMostly, I would like to emphasize how cool Cap City races are. Everyone is friendly and it seems like a really awesome community. Their motto is “PMA, no jerks” (PMA = positive mental attitude). My kind of ‘cross. I’ll definitely be adding a few more of their races to my 2016 race schedule.

Race Recap: Derby City Cup

After the chaos that was CincyCX weekend, you’d THINK I’d be looking forward to a weekend off. However, the next weekend was the Derby City Cup, another “big deal” cyclocross race at Eva Bandman Park in Louisville, KY.

Like CincyCX, Derby City Cup is a two day affair that hosts professional cyclocross races on both Saturday and Sunday. Eva Bandman was host to the world championships in 2013 (the first ever in North America!) and having seen the venue a few times, I was excited and apprehensive to race on the site. I was also eager to test out the effectiveness of my new “chain watcher” I had installed on my bike. It’s a piece of plastic that is supposed to prevent your chain from dropping off the small chain ring. God knows I was willing to try anything after the catastrophe at the previous weekend’s race.

Derby City mud pit ovcx cyclocross blog small
Peanut butter mud for the pro races

I drove up early on Saturday morning, leaving my house around 6 and arriving around 8:15 to pre-ride. It had rained the day before, meaning some of the course was a little muddy but luckily it was nowhere near Devou-like conditions. The only worrisome part in terms of mud was a huge mud pit on a straightaway near the start of the race. Watch the video I took of the Elite Women’s Saturday race to see what I’m talking about.

 

I ran into my friend Amie while pre-riding and we took a trip around the course together. When we got to the mud pit, we both opted off our bikes to try and walk through or around it.

“Are you just gonna wait for the race to see if you’ll make it through?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the plan,” she said.

Immediately after the mud pit were a few small camel humps and the rest of the course consisted of a nice mix of technical sections and power-filled straightaways. There was a flyover, which I had never seen before, some tricky sand with a deep enough rut that I could ride it halfway through, a few sets of large steps, some hills that most everyone ended up running up, sketchy off-cambers, and one or two scary, steep descents.

Before the race, I ran to my car really quick and used an old toothbrush to clean the mud from my cleats that was preventing me from clipping in smoothly and easily. As a result, I missed my call up (embarrassing) so I ended up starting near the back. Given my terrible starting skills, this was a handicap right off the bat.

The starting whistle blew and the field and I sprinted down a long, paved straightaway, a gentle left turn, and into the anxiously-anticipated mud section. Amie and I charged through it neck and neck, and there was mud everywhere, caking our drive trains, flying up in our faces, etc. As soon as we cleared it I looked at Amie and said “Well, that sucked”. She laughed and agreed and I tried to shift into the proper gearing for the short humps coming up.

The muddy aftermath
The muddy aftermath

I was trying to pass people whenever I got the chance, which was usually on the straightaways and while running through the last half of the sand. My cleats filled with mud pretty early on, making clipping in difficult. This wasn’t a huge deal on most of the course but it was unnerving not being clipped in going down a few of the steep descents.

There was one in particular I had been terrified riding down in pre-ride. The proper position to descend in is clipped in and standing up with your butt back off the seat. I descended fully seated with my feet not even on the pedals, hoping for the best at the bottom of the drop (I was pretty lucky). Click through for a video of Katie Compton riding the hill I was oh-so-scared of.

Towards the end of the final lap, I had my eye on one girl ahead of me. There was no one else in sight and I had no idea how I stood in the field. I tried to get around her on a few turns to no avail. The finish consisted of a steep run-up leading to the paved finish sprint and when I tried to pass her, she shifted her bike on her shoulder so I couldn’t get around her. I fumbled my re-mount at the top, putting me a few body lengths behind her on the sprint. I shifted up into my big ring, put my head down, and barreled forward. I passed her on the sprint and beat her by one second, according to official results. As she saw me pass her in the final yards I heard her yell out “Shit!” as the announcer called out our second and third place standings.

Covered in mud and so happy about it!
Covered in mud and so happy about it!

As I waited for the podium, I compared mishaps and mud with my friends Amie and Dustin. Dustin had had a mechanical on the last lap that took him from one of the lead positions to the back of the pack. I had actually passed him at one point which even in my state of exhaustion seemed strange. Amie had made the podium for Category 4 35+ and I was second step on Category 4.

I didn’t know the girl who had beat me but assumed she must ovcx women podimhave been way out there, since I hadn’t seen her the whole race. Of course, this might have been due to her tiny stature since she was, oh, eleven years old. Yup. Beat by a pre-teen. I swear, those cyclocross kids are badass. They have no body weight and no fear, making them formidable opponents. Anyways, that’s a podium picture I won’t be showing off.

I grabbed lunch with Amie and Dustin, showered in my hotel room, and came back to watch all the later races, including the typical domination of the women’s field by Katie Compton and a surprise victory by Stephen Hyde over national champ Jeremy Powers. hotel room bikeThen, a relaxing night alone in a hotel with my one and only (my bike, obviously).

The race the next morning had a start time of 8:30, meaning an early wake up call and trying to eek out as much pre-riding as possible between sunrise and call ups. The course was unchanged from the day before except some of the parts that had been unrideable due to mud were a little more dried out and packed down. This should have been an advantage but for some reason really messed with my head. Maybe it was the fact that the day before I was able to think “Oh, I can run this because no one will be riding it!” but now I had to think “Oh, I should be able to ride this!”. Unfortunately, due to my general and mental fatigue, this was not good. Coupled with an even shorter time to pre-ride and I was not looking forward to certain sections of the course.

I made my call up this time and the start was similar to the day before, although I could feel early on I didn’t have the “pop!” left in my legs that I had the day before. I traded off leads with people I would usually be able to fly around but I just wasn’t able to push it as hard as the day before, plus I was still running sections other people were riding, including the hill that had scared me so much the day before. For some reason, the packed-down dirt and deep ruts at the bottom really threw me off in a way I just wasn’t able to overcome mentally. I need to work on my bike handling skills so that minor tricky features don’t throw me off in the future because I know I lost a lot of time walking when I should have been pedaling.

One woman, a charismatic, quirky, and friendly Masters rider named Gail was with me for the most of the last lap of the race. I would pass her, and she’d pass me right back on the technical sections. We almost had an unfortunate collision at the bottom of the hill because I was trying to veer to the left to give her the good line for passing and she figured I’d do the typical cyclocross tactic of taking the good line for myself. Honestly, I figured if I was too much of a wimp to ride down the hill she deserved the good line. We narrowly avoided collision and stayed together for the rest of the lap. As we ran up the final incline to the pavement she looked at me and said “I need a drink.” Amen, sister.

I finished fifth of eight in my category and 10th of 16 in my wave and was disappointed but not surprised. I spent the rest of the day watching people ride the sections I had botched to try and figure out what I could do better. The answer is “be better at riding my bike”, basically. And commit to my line.

I think two day events aren’t really my jam. My heart rate data for the two day weekends was incomplete due to Garmin malfunctions but I could generally guess that while my heart rate was about my typical race heart rate for the first day, on the second day I just couldn’t put out the same effort. Not sure if I need to work on cardio or recovery to remedy that or just focus on being able to maintain a racing mindset for two days in a row, but it’s something I’ll need to sort out for next season and it’s good to know for the future (for example, if the race I really care about is on Sunday, maybe hold back a little on Saturday).

 

Race Recap: Cincy2 Cyclocross Weekend!

So, the weekend of Halloween was The Weekend. The weekend I’ve  been looking forward to for oh, a full year, year and a half. It was the Cincy2 (formerly Cincy3 because there was a Friday race in previous years), probably the biggest weekend for the Cincinnati cyclocross scene. In addition to the usual races, Saturday would host a C1 race (the highest UCI level race besides world cup races, I believe) and Sunday was the second annual Pan American Championships. The best racers from across the continent would be in attendance and I was super excited to race this year at Kingswood Park, my ‘home turf’ park where I do the majority of my off-road practice.

I spent the weeks leading up to the race anxiously anticipating and preparing. I was nervous about not doing another race before Kingswood, since my last race at John Bryan had been such a disaster. However, I stayed true to my workouts, tapered off the week before, and tried to get adequate sleep and manage my nutrition.

kings cx pre ride cyclocross blog
Took this when it rained on me during my pre-pre ride. Totally worth it.

Friday before work, I went to Kingswood to pre-ride the course. It was an open pre-ride and it was almost surreal watching people like Katie Antonneau and Stephen Hyde whiz around the course at the same time as me. I had also been a few days prior to try and pre-ride, but the only part of the course that was marked were two tricky mini-camel humps that I just could not figure out how to ride (click the link for a video of what I’m talking about). I kept hitting a root trying to go up the first one (causing my bike to fly out from under me), and on the second the turn going into it was so tight that I had to kill all my speed going down (or as much as my shoddy brakes would allow) and wasn’t able to muscle my way up the short, steep hill afterwards. After discussing it with my friend, he advised me to just commit to running the parts of the course I felt I couldn’t ride, as trying and failing to ride a feature is often more of a detriment during the race.

Overall, the course was definitely a “power course” as opposed to a “technical course” which was very good news for me. Give me a few long straightaways where I can shift into my big ring and I’m good.

As opposed to last year, which was bitterly cold, race morning was rather pleasant, with just a slight chill in the air. I decided to ride without arm warmers since I tend to get really hot really quickly when I race.

This race was different than the others because literally all the women not racing the elite races started together. I wasn’t thrilled because I tend to get anxious and have bad starts when surrounded by a bunch of people, plus my starting position was a few rows back from the girl I was most worried about beating me. However, this also meant the race was 40 minutes instead of 30, which usually works to my advantage.

As expected, my start was not strong. I was jostled out of position and ended up going through the course tape thirty seconds after the start. I had to dismount, re-enter the courses, and try to power past as many people as possible without getting overeager and making another costly mistake.

The course was about 2.2 miles long, the longest allowed by UCI standards, so we only did three laps around the course. As I predicted, the power stretches were hugely beneficial for me, allowing me to fly by people I would be stuck behind on the more technical part of the course.

Shortly after, as I went up and over an off-camber hill climb, my chain dropped. At this point I’d had some experience with such an event, so I was able to get it back on in about thirty seconds, run to the top of the hill, re-mount, and continue on. Definitely not ideal though, especially given the especially competitive field.

I think the rest of the lap was uneventful, with me trying to avoid being stuck behind anyone or making any more technical errors. There were definitely a few spots I had to run but I think everyone else did too, so I didn’t lose much time.

The second lap was a practice in the art of ‘playing catch-up’. I tried to use the long straightaways to my advantage to pass as many people as possible and to try and close the gap between myself the the leaders of my category.

The third and final lap started off strong. I had been eyeing the people in front of me and was able to spot the girl I had had my eye on at the beginning of the race. I knew if I was able to catch her, I was most likely assured a spot on the podium, if not the win. It was hard to judge for sure given the mixed field of sixty or so women of all ages and categories.

Of course, as I climbed the same damn hill, my chain dropped again. Cursing, I dismounted and frantically tried to get it back on as quickly as possible. One rider passing me told me to “get my chain back on and get back on the bike!” as a means of encouragement. “I know!” I responded. It felt like an eternity, but was most likely just another thirty second ordeal. I remounted and busted my ass trying to regain the places and time I had lost. Halfway through the final lap, I spotted the girl I presumed to be the (almost?) leader. Unfortunately, we came up on a series of tight turns and the woman in front of me kept blocking the line I wanted to take to try and get around her. I was frustrated but not defeated.

The finish line was a long straightaway with a slight uphill incline and deceivingly spongy terrain that made it an incredibly painful hundred yard sprint. I powered up into my big ring, put my head down, and pedaled as hard as I could. I was closing the gap but running out of real estate.

In retrospect, I'm still proud of this. Especially because I got a rad kings CX "coffee mug" aka trophy.
In retrospect, I’m still proud of this. Especially because I got a rad kings CX “coffee mug” aka trophy.

Despite my best efforts, the lead girl finished two seconds ahead of me. Two seconds. Two chain drops and I came in second by two seconds. I was crushed. I walked off behind the park building and tried to hide my tears of frustration from anyone who could see me. I knew my mother and grandma were looking for me but I was so angry at the results that I had to take time to calm down before I could face anyone.

I knew the next day’s race would favor the technical riders and reports from my friends Amie and Dustin confirmed my fears of a tricky course designed for much more advanced riders. I had tried to pre-ride the course last year and as a result had decided to not even bother entering. I hoped this year would be better.

As luck would have it, it rained all night Saturday. Rain makes tricky courses even more difficult and without mud tires or effective brakes on my bike, I knew a muddy, technical course would be a challenge. Nevertheless, I was up at at Devou before sunup to prepare and pre-ride.

Pre-ride was a disaster. The course was such a mess they even re-routed a part of it for our race because not only was it impossible to ride, but it was impossible to walk. Check out this video of the elites trying to ride it. No, really, watch it. It’s hilarious.

The rest of the course wasn’t much better for me. With abysmal bike handling skills and the aforementioned equipment handicaps, I cried before the race even began. I even decided to not even bother pre-riding some of the sections since I knew I was going to have to do them eventually and with sunrise not occurring until nearly 7:30 and a call up time of 8:15, I didn’t have much time to prepare anyways. A very nice Cat3 gave me advice about a steep, slippery hill that I was terrified of (the slickness of the grass combined with my shitty braking capabilities made it a feature I would have to tackle with the “hold on and pray” approach). Without mud tires and toe spikes on my shoes, even running some of the dicey sections was looking pretty difficult.

My friend Amie asked me before our race if she should just get her mountain bike to ride. I told her honestly that if I had my mountain bike with me, I would choose to ride that over my cyclocross bike. She made the last minute swap and as we lined up together I told her my goal was just to finish.

Again, with all the non-elite women starting at once, I started off near the back of the pack and kept moving steadily backwards throughout the race. I think I was mentally exhausted from the day before and just didn’t have the “go get it!” attitude I need to do well in a cyclocross race. Plus, did I mention the mud?

Without mud tires (and maybe even with, who knows) my bike was not feeling too steady underneath me. I probably crashed a few times and I definitely had a few close calls. Of course, the super muddy sections were totally unrideable for me, though I know a few of the better women were able to ride at least one section that I “walked”. “Walked” is, in this instance, a relative term. Compared to biking, yes, I was walking, but compared to what I would normally consider walking, I was more “falling”, “crawling”, and “clawing” my way around the course. Spectators tried to be encouraging but I was so unhappy I couldn’t even fake a smile.

“You can do it!” one lady yelled.

“I’m not enjoying this!” I yelled emphatically back.

On the downhill that made me nervous, my friend’s/the woman who beat me the day before’s husband hollered encouragement. I had dismounted my bike to walk a slick section right before the hill and as I remounted my bike I looked at him, yelled “I’m scared!” and tried to clip in and get my weight back and out of the saddle as quickly as possible, all while trying to “feather” squeeze brakes that hardly worked in sloppy, wet conditions.

It was not fun. I was literally crawling up hills of mud, trying not to drop the bike I was pulling up after me because if I dropped it, it meant I’d have to make a trip down said hill to retrieve it and waste even more time.

When all is said and done, I’m mostly mad that there’s no good pictures of me looking desperately unhappy while hauling a bike on my hands and knees up some stupid muddy hill.

On the second lap, I was relieved to see I was about to get lapped, and get lapped hard. “I hope they pull me!” I yelled to someone. “Please, God, let them pull me! Don’t make me do another lap!”

I ended up coming in dead last. Yep. Worst finish ever, including all of last season when I was riding the 31 pound mountain bike I got for my 12th birthday and I had only been riding for two or three months. 58/58. I was a little miffed, but it was such a shit show I wasn’t even able to be genuinely angry about my finish. Genuinely angry at the course, sure, but with a performance like that, I deserved last. Definitely.

I also did this. How? No idea. But it happened.
I also did this. How? No idea. But it happened.

Oh, I also dropped my chain somewhere along the way but like, fair enough, ya know?

Amie, who finished before me (obviously), had similar feelings about the course. Mid-way through the third lap, she crashed and thought she had messed up her handlebars. Since she was riding a flat-bar mountain bike, it wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong, so she soldiered on to finish her race, somewhat concerned that her steering seemed to be a bit off. After she was done, a Trek mechanic (we like to think it was 11-time National Champ Katie Compton’s mechanic/husband) rushed up to her to assist with her bike. In one swift motion, he simply flipped her front wheel 180 degrees and handed the bike back to her. She had ridden the entire last half lap with her handlebars and front wheel completely backwards.

I had a good laugh and I think she realized the humor in it when I pointed out she still beat me handily.

Overall, the race was terrible, but spending the day in the sunshine with friends watching some of the best bike racing in the world was one of the better cycling-centric days I’ve ever had.

Also we didn't have to ride this section of the course, which is a definite plus.
Also we didn’t have to ride this section of the course, which is a definite plus.
We also didn't have to ride the PanAm Plunge, which looks both awesome and terrifying.
We also didn’t have to ride the PanAm Plunge, which looks both awesome and terrifying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chain Drop Count for the 2015 Season – 4

Race Recap: Buckingham Financial John Bryan CX

So, I’ve procrastinated writing this entry for about a week and a half. My race at John Bryan was my worst so far in the season and kind of a mess from beginning to tenth place finish.

  • It was cold out. During warm up, I couldn’t feel my toes and my fingers were freezing in my Pearl Izumi “cool weather” gloves.
  • The start was a mess. I had second call up, so I strategically positioned myself. Another girl came and wedged herself between me and the other girl in the grid, which while I was a little miffed at, wasn’t a big deal. Then, a girl with a second row call-up quietly eased herself into the first row, making nine people wedged elbow-to-elbow in an eight person row.
  • This meant that my abysmal reaction time was even more of a hindrance, because the extra close quarters made maneuvering and avoiding everyone else’s wheels even more difficult.
  • So, I’m a few people back. No big! I’ve come back from worse.
  • A few minutes later, on the first small, steep descent, the girl immediately in front of me crashed.
  • Because I was so close to her and because my brakes were once again only-kind-of working, I had to make an emergency dismount or plow right into her.
  • However, this was on a part of the course that was a few tight, up-and-down “S” curves. So not only did I have to dismount, but I had to wait for people to pass me (since I couldn’t just interject myself into a row of moving cyclists), run up the small incline, and remount.
  • So, I quickly remounted and started down the next small hill. Because I had done an “emergency dismount”, however, my pedals were not in my usual remounting position and I couldn’t find them with my feet in time to maneuver around the hairpin turn. A spectator heard me literally yell “Where are my pedals?!” as I coasted down the hill and was forced to completely stop, run up the next incline, and remount (this time, thankfully, I was able to find my stupid pedals).
  • Of course, at this point, I’m almost in the back of the pack. I was able to fly by a decent number of people but the course was full of turns and technical features which made it nearly impossible to pass anyone on large portions of it. At least for me. I’m sure experienced riders had no problem.
  • So, I sit on someone’s wheel until the next straightaway. By this point, I’m sure the leaders are way far gone, but maybe I can at least pull close.
  • Whoops – caught behind someone else for another quarter of a lap!
  • I finally had a straightaway to myself at the beginning of the second lap. I put my head down and made a charge for it… and my chain promptly dropped. Cursing to myself, I dismounted and tried to quickly put it back on the chain ring where it belonged but of course, it kept getting tangled and stuck in the derailleur/other chain ring/etc. So it took me a solid 45 seconds to get it back on, which is kind of a big deal. Of course, all those people I had worked so hard to pass flew right by me, some even hollering to ask if I was okay.
  • Once I got the chain ring back on, the rest of the race was pretty much just being stuck behind people, passing them, and then getting stuck behind someone else.

I ended coming in 10th of 21 in my wave, and 5th of 9 in my category.

Below is some technical jargon no one else will really care about but that I feel like recording for posterity’s sake:

I record my heart rate data on Training Peaks and it gives you a number called “TSS Score”. I forget what it means, but it’s basically a score of your exertion during an activity. 100 TSS is basically as hard as you can go for an hour (meaning you can’t go faster but you can still make the hour at that level of effort).

My previous two races had TSS scores of 59.7 (for a 30 minute effort, average HR of 180, max 190) and 61.1 (for a 36 minute effort, average HR 177, max 192). This race was about 30 minutes and I ended with a TSS score of 44.4 and an average heart rate of 173, max 182.

 

 

Race Recap: Valley View CX

I’m not sure how to start this entry, so I’ll just dive right in.

Valley View CX was awesome. I was really nervous going into the race, as I knew there were going to be quite a few awesome girls in my category and I really wanted to podium. Two of the girls there had beaten me previously, one had come close, and another girl won a 6 hour mountain bike race a month or two ago, so I knew it would be stiff competition to get onto one of those three steps.

This thing is amazing.
This thing is amazing.

My anxiety caused my to take extra care with my recovery and prep. I discovered that the massage chair in my living room will actually give customized massages, so I spent time working the knots out of my back and having my calves rubbed after my eight hour shifts on my feet (and I really think it did make a difference). I didn’t get in all the time I wanted to in the saddle but I did schlep my bike down to the basement to do a few rides on the trainer instead of skipping training days just because it was rainy or dark outside (God knows getting up to ride before work is a whole other challenge). I also tried to get an adequate amount of sleep and eat to ‘fuel’ myself (the potato chips that seem to perpetually live on the counter are my worst enemy atm).

cyclocross training blogMy intervals for the week definitely didn’t inspire confidence. I had trouble getting my heart rate to where I wanted it to be and holding it there but I tried to shrug it off and just consider it ‘one of those days’. ‘Those days’, in my opinion, play an integral role in making you a better athlete. For example, one run that I went on last winter was terrible. I started off and immediately got a very painful stitch in my side. I decided to run through it, figuring they usually go away after a few minutes or once I really focus on my breathing pattern. This time, though, the sharp pain stayed in my side for the whole four miles and the entire experience was just generally unpleasant. However, I know now that if I can run through that, there’s a million other minor annoyances that I can run through without another thought. It’s really easy for me to freak out on race days thinking “x doesn’t feel right” or “what if…” or “Why didn’t I do x???” etc. and remembering that I can manage through less than ideal conditions is comforting. Mostly, I just wanted to write this paragraph so I have a place to showcase the pretty sunset photo I took on that ride.

cyclocross trainer
How I spend my Saturday nights

The night before the race, I did some openers on my trainer in the basement after I got off work. Even though it was 11:00PM before I was finished, I really think it was a good idea to do these after work rather than before. After standing for 6-8 hours, my legs tend to feel a little ‘dead’ when I first get on the bike and while the openers were definitely not easy or fun, the next morning when I got on my bike to get ready to race, my legs definitely felt better than they would have otherwise.

Going into the race, I had been advised to be more aggressive on the finish and to not hold back on the first lap. I have a hard time ‘getting out of the gate’ so to speak but I knew that getting a good start could really make a difference. In my previous races, holding back and just ‘staying on the wheel’ of my competitors hadn’t really worked out in my favor so I decided to just go for it this time.

The start was a fifty yard straightaway on pavement that then banked right into the ‘bowl’ portion of the course, which was a small ‘valley’ area of sorts that was filled with off-camber turns and several consecutive 180-degree uphill/downhill turns, which are not my strength, and uphill barriers (ugh). After that, though, there was a long portion of straightaway where I felt I could really use my power to my advantage. I was pleased to discover my front shifting seemed to be cooperating so I made the decision to gear up into the big ring for the power portions of the course.

valley view 2014
The run-up in 2014. Do you see what I mean? It was ridiculous! Click through for source.

After the power section was the same loose dirt run-up from last year’s course. Last year it had been at the very beginning, so on the first lap as soon as you started you basically had to stop and wait in line to walk up because it was so bottlenecked with people trying to get through. Putting it halfway through the course seemed to eliminate this problem.

After that was a ride through a barn, some mud, and another ‘power’ section.

I was pleased with my start. I lined up on the left so I would be able to go to the outside on the first turn and I think I managed to get caught behind fewer people than normal. The power section was my JAM. Seriously. I geared up into the big ring on the first straightaway and was able to blow by some people. I didn’t hesitate or see people I wanted to beat and decide to ‘hold back and get them at the end’. I just went for it, and it felt great. Don’t get me wrong, it hurt, but it was great. I did have a bit of a scare on the second lap where my bike decided it “didn’t really feel like” shifting back down into the small chain ring but it did eventually cooperate just before it became a major, dismount-inducing problem.

On the first run up, one girl behind me totally blew past me so the next two times I did it I made sure to hold my bike on my shoulder in a way that let me take up as much room as possible (these tactics are actually acceptable in cyclocross, though I had my doubts about actually using them until I realized it was one way to avoid having to chase down and spent time and energy trying to re-pass people).

On my first two runs through the barn, I was neck and neck with someone else (different people) and narrowly avoided crashing as they went to make the right-hand turn as I was barreling right into their path. I muttered a choice obscenity and continued on my way. The second time through I actually almost took out this really sweet junior girl named Emma. I apologized and she told me to just go ahead of her because she “wasn’t feeling well”. I hollered that she looked strong as ever and took off as fast as my legs would carry me, being careful not to wipe out in the sticky mud sections.

At one point I was also passed by someone because I crashed into a wooden stake, which I’m sure was very graceful. My ‘mentor’ of sorts (an awesome woman that rides the Elite 35+ category) was right by where I tangled myself in the stake and she shouted encouragement and reminders to just stay calm and get back on the bike.

On the third lap, I knew I wasn’t first (I could hear the announcer talking about the girl in first but I had hardly had a glimpse of her the whole race) but I figured (hoped, really) I was in the running for the podium. The girl who beat me at Harbin Park by a minute and a half was on my tail and I knew any bobbles or mistakes on my part would let her blow past me and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch her again if she gained enough ground. I kept glancing over my shoulder but wasn’t able to really shake her.

As we neared the finish line, I heard the announcer comment on how we’d be having an exciting sprint finish. As I neared the pavement straightaway, I shifted one gear up, put my head down, and sprinted. I had no idea how strong of a sprinter the other girl was but I wasn’t going to take any chances. It’s never over til it’s over!cyclocross podium Valley View

As the official results show, I came in second by less than a second, but dammit, I came in second!

I beat both of the girls who had beaten me previously, and the girl that won had a phenomenal race. I’ve beaten her previously, but not by much. As she said, it was the perfect kind of course for her – a little muddy, a little slippery, and a little technical. She then offered to have her bike shop order in toe spikes for me because I hadn’t had any luck finding them myself because she really is just a super human being.

I have this Sunday off work and was thinking about driving up to Indianapolis for the race this weekend, but there’s only two people pre-registered in my category and honestly, I don’t want to risk getting too many upgrade points (the ‘points’ system in cyclocross is really weird. Basically, you get points based on where you finish in your ‘wave’ and once you get fifteen you’re automatically upgraded to the next category. A win is worth 5 and the next few places get points based on how many people are in the wave, etc. I currently have 7 points) and not being able to ride the Kings CX race as a Cat4  because I’ve been looking forward to it for an entire year and I just don’t feel the need to get my ass handed to me by the women who race Category 1/2/3 races just yet. Let me live a little, will ya?

Guess that means I can take a week to get a little training in, work on my bike handling skills, and mentally prep for the John Bryant race on October 18!

 

Race Recap: Commonwealth Eye Surgery Promotion Cross

Not related to my race, but this was taken during one of my rides last week on my mini-vacation.
Not related to my race, but this was taken during one of my rides last week on my mini-vacation.

So, this past weekend was my second OVCX race of the season – Commonwealth Eye Surgery Promotion Cross, in Lexington, KY. It was an enjoyable race and I surprised myself with how well I handled some of the course features because I know they’d normally be something I’d be hesitant to ride at fast speeds but apparently once I get a little racing adrenaline in my system, all bets are off/my regard for personal safety goes out the window. Not to say I didn’t scrub way too much speed going into corners and generally abuse my brakes but I handled the off-cambers and super bumpy course better than I would have expected to.

Speaking off off-cambers, half of the course was on a hillside. Just… on a hillside. Not a super steep hillside, but a hillside nonetheless. Right out of the start there was a flat straightaway that quickly turned into several s-curves and very, very short but steep inclines. I was actually worried I wouldn’t be able to ride the second incline (it was one of those situations where mentally I knew it had to be possible but I just couldn’t figure out how to power myself up) but luckily one of my friends pulled me off to the side and told me the trick was going into the hill with enough momentum to get you most of the way up and then being in the right gear to clear the rest in just a few pedal strokes. I had fallen on it no less than three times but after hearing the ‘trick’ I was able to clear it pretty handily. Amie, you’re the best.

The rest of the course was a mix of off-camber and short straightaways with a few other technical aspects thrown in, like some 180 hairpin turns and barriers.

I was lucky enough to get the last front row call-up but my start still definitely left quite a bit of room for improvement. After barreling down the straightaway, we reached the s-curves and small inclines. One of the leaders completely crashed on the first turn. Unfortunately, I got caught behind some riders that couldn’t get up the first incline so, along with almost the entire field of riders, I had to dismount and run.

After re-mounting I immediately focused on picking up speed to get up the second longer, steeper incline but to my dismay I saw that my line of choice was bottle-necked by riders choosing to run it instead of ride it. I tried to take a wider line and go up the outside edge of the hill but instead ended up on the ground halfway up with a girl on top of me. I quickly apologized, helped untangle our bikes and dismounted to a straightaway with just enough of an incline to be pretty painful. I spent the majority of the first lap chasing riders and trying to find my way up to two of the leading women (the leader was a junior with quite a gap on the rest of the field thanks to her ability to avoid the chaos at the start).

The three of us spent the next lap and a half pushing each other and trying to figure out how to pass on the twisty, off-camber course. One of these women was a Cat4 35+ rider so I was focusing on staying as close as possible to the other rider, who was my direct competition for a Cat4 victory.

On the second full lap, as I was battling to stay on the wheel of/pass the woman in front of me, somehow, somehow, managed to drop my god damn chain on an uphill section. I literally cried out “Why?!” in frustration and tried to gather my wits as quickly as possible and put my chain back on the front chain ring where it belonged. It probably took me less than 30 seconds but by that time, the other two women I was with were depressingly far in front of me and I was passed by at least one other rider in the meantime. 

cyclocross blog podium lexingtonI spent the final lap and a half chasing down the lead three women. The junior who had gone out strong had dropped back considerably. I battled past her on the final thirty seconds or so of the course, including the two steep mini-hills. I actually finished only two seconds behind the second finisher in the wave (the Cat4 35+ woman) but was 29 seconds off of the first place finisher. 29 seconds! 29 seconds! Why, why, why did I have to drop my chain?! I’m not trying to say I definitely could have beaten her if my chain hadn’t dropped, but I think it would have come down to an interesting head-to-head battle between the two of us because our lap splits were almost identical for the rest of the race.

Overall, I’m pleased with how I did and how quickly I was able to recover from both my crash and mechanical. I’m anxiously awaiting the race this weekend – two of the three women that have beaten me in the past two races will be there as well as one of my friends who is a pretty solid rider and a skilled bike handler. It’ll definitely be a good race, and getting on the podium will be no easy feat.

I’m trying to focus on doing more ‘right’ this week in preparation. The past two races I definitely could have done a better job getting sleep both the night before and the night before the night before, and my pre-race nutrition in the days leading up to the race left a little to be desired. I have to work six hours on my feet the night before but I’m hoping if I work on resting and stretching, and wear my new shoes that aren’t completely shitty, I’ll be able to minimize the negative effects.

 

Race Recap: Harbin Park Cyclocross

Well, I have several half-written posts in my draft box but I’m going to go ahead and ignore them to write my first cyclocross race recap blog!

Today was the OVCX Series Opener at Harbin Park. Last year, this race was part of the Cincy Three series on the last weekend of October. I signed up to race and arrived at the venue way earlier than I needed to (I got the start time wrong by an hour and a half) and after hours of anticipation, I crashed in the first half lap and couldn’t continue due to bent brake cables or something. So I was a little anxious but ready to actually ride a full course at the venue.

Today I got my start time correct, so I had an appropriate amount of time to get ready for the race. There was one off camber downhill I was a little worried about, since my brakes are both embarrassingly loud as well as not very effective (I often have to drag myself to a complete stop with my shoes. It’s bad.). I was lucky that it was a power-intensive course as opposed to a technical one, since my bike handling skills are still pretty lacking.

I was lucky enough to have a first row call up and lucky to be racing with a group of really cool ladies.

My start was better than last week’s at the pre-season race at Kingswood Park, but definitely not great. Fast starts are one of the many skills I need to work on.

I spent the first half of the race chasing a group of three to four ladies ahead of me (there were actually five women ahead of me but one was so far ahead I literally didn’t know she existed). There were a few times when I sat comfortably on the third or fourth place girl’s wheel to try and lower my heart rate, since I could tell I was quickly “burning my matches”. I’m not sure if this was a mistake or not.

A photo of me in the sandpit last weekend. This is a far less efficient way to get through sand than actually being able to ride it.
A photo of me in the sandpit last weekend. This is a far less efficient way to get through sand than actually being able to ride it.

About mid-way through the second or third lap I managed to pull ahead of the group and start to make a tiny gap, which was promptly closed when I ran through the sandpit while everyone else rode it. I’ve never successfully ridden a sandpit longer than five feet or so, and I haven’t had time to practice “emergency sand dismounts” (aka getting off my bike quickly enough to not end up rubber-side up and still clipped in to my pedals) so I hadn’t even really considered riding it, which in retrospect was a mistake and cost me precious seconds that could have had me in a closer battle for second.

I spent another half lap chasing/passing the women who had handily sped by me in the sand but managed to pull away towards the end of the third lap. It was me and one junior girl battling it out until I was passed by someone I hadn’t seen the whole race. She was definitely faster than me but I managed to stay within range of her until the stupid sandpit again, when I lost just enough distance to make the rest of my chase attempts meaningless. Of course, I still battled it out the best I could, trying to keep an eye on the people behind me.

The finish was a long stretch that had just enough of an incline to make it really hurt. I finished strong but was definitely spent by the time I reached the end of the course.

Also we got medals, which is unusual for cyclocross but I'm always a sucker for hardware.
Also we got medals, which is unusual for cyclocross but I’m always a sucker for hardware.

I ended up coming in fourth in my wave and third overall, which I’m actually really excited about. I’ve been training for a solid year specifically for cyclocross (with some triathlon training thrown in mid-summer for ‘a fun change of pace’) and it was really awesome to actually see my hard work come together. One of my season goals was to podium and I managed to do it on my first race! My next goal is to stand on the top of the podium. I don’t think I have any chance of catching the woman who came in first today but I think with a little training I can at least be a challenge to the second place finisher, especially if I actually prepare for my races properly, instead of spending multiple 7-8 hour shifts on my feet, taking the three days prior to the race completely off the bike, focus on fueling my body, and getting more than four hours of sleep the night before.

I have this Sunday off (since this weekend’s race is three hours away and I just don’t want to drive three hours each way by myself for a thirty minute race, ya know?) and time trials the next two Wednesdays so hopefully over the next two weeks I’ll take some time to get rest, bump up my fitness, and work on my bike handling skills.

Race highlights:

  • Passing men who were clearly pissed that a woman was passing them
  • Having a spectator yell “You’re so much better than last year!” enthusiastically at the barriers. If I had been physically able, I would have laughed. Instead, I just shouted “thanks!” as I remounted my bike.
  • Talking to really awesome women who like bikes! Yes!
  • Standing on the podium, obviously.

Edit: Apparently, the woman who came in first was only about a minute and a half ahead of me, and not over six minutes ahead, as I initially read the results!