Valley View was probably the hardest race I did last year. Not from a technical standpoint, really, but from a “oh my god I just want this to be over everything hurts” standpoint, but I came in second and loved it.
On Saturday, Leon and I went to go pre-ride the course (one of the huge benefits of having a race close
to home). It was very similar to last year, but the rain in the days prior had left a very muddy patch on the course. I was grateful to have someone there to follow their line, since Leon generally knows how to go around corners pretty well, while I’m still learning (enter wide, cut is close, exit wide!). There were few curbs that made me nervous I’d hit them dead on and crash, but after a few tries, I was able to ride them. Leon had switched my dry weather file treads to Clement PDX mud tires before we went to ride, and I was immensely grateful, given some of the exceptionally sloppy portions of the course.
I had a second row call up this time, but once again, I had an actually decent start and didn’t end up piled up behind 20 other women. There were several juniors ahead of me, and one girl that had beaten me the week before. It’s her first season riding and apparently she’s a strong rider, so I wanted to stay as close as possible and not miss any opportunities to pass.
As with the past few races, having solid brakes and not having to worry about shifting was awesome, especially on the off-camber downhills, and especially on the flat power sections, where I was able to shift into my big ring and make up some ground, which is what I did.
On the first trip through the mud, I went through neck and neck with the girl ahead of me. She either chose or was forced to dismount, while I was able to ride, and once we went around the muddy corner and I hoofed it up the standard Valley View run-up, I put my head down and tried to put as much distance between us as possible.
It worked. I established a lead, and thanks to some very considerate Cat 5 men (one guy literally hit his brakes and told me to take whatever line I wanted!!!!! You’re the best!!!!) I worked my way through the field and started chasing one of the three juniors ahead of me. I focused on keeping my effort up without getting sloppy, and sticking to the lines Leon and I had practiced the day before.
I crossed the line as the first Cat 4 woman, and subsequently got to stand top step on the podium. Another really rad thing about the Valley View race is that the podium prizes are super awesome. I got a $50 Infinit gift card, a pair of De Feet socks, a pair of Pearl Izumi gloves, a $10 gift card to Bishops Bicycles, as well as a few other trinkets. Seriously? That’s awesome!
After the race, I got back to my car and saw some texts from my dad telling me he and my mom hadn’t been able to make it to the race, although they had intended to come. I hung out for a few hours, and thought about how cool it would have been to have my parents come to a race, especially one that I won.
That’s when it occurred to me that I was going to be catting up by next weekend anyways, so… what if I upgraded to Category 3 and raced the 1:30 Category 1-2-3 women’s race? I doubted it was possible, but I couldn’t shake the thought. An extra race on a course I liked, a discounted race fee, and my parents could still come see me ride! Okay, I’ll ask Julie.
I asked Julie if it was possible, she sent a text and talked to an official, and I got the thumbs up at like, 12:45. I texted my mom, and she said she and my dad would come watch. Awesome!
I registered for the race, pinned my new number, and tried to sit down for a few minutes to give my legs a break. Soon enough, my parents were there and it was time to take my spot at the very back of the field.
My start was sloppy because, like a fool, I was messing with my bike computer when the whistle went off (who does that?). As to be expected, I was immediately at the back, but wanted to pass at least one person because like, people were watching.
My mom was busy taking photos, and my dad was busy heckling me (“You have plenty of time to make move!”) but I managed to reel in a few ladies. I was catching up to my friend Kari who beat me in almost every race last season, but my first or second time through the mud I crashed and with her mountain biking chops, I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. I tried to reel in a few more women in the field, but I didn’t have quite the same “snap” in my legs as the last race, and they’re all strong racers, so I didn’t make any progress. Plus, I was way sloppier, having to dismount (or “dismount”) in the mud twice, and not handling the curbs as well as I should have.
So, my 30 minute race was three laps, and this 45 minute race was six. Explain that to me.
Of course, as I expected, I was pulled a lap early. The official told me at the beginning of the fifth lap that this would be my final lap and I replied (perhaps a little too enthusiastically) “Awesome! Thanks!” (the lady behind him laughed).
However, I got lots of positive “feedback” about being a badass for doing a second race, and had plenty of people cheering me on as I proceeded to get “not last.” After reviewing the results, I feel mostly positive, since it was my second race of the day and first race in the 1-2-3 category, which includes women that race with the Elite category racers. And I only got actually lapped by four people, and the last two weren’t even by that much.
I came in 7th of 8 category three racers, and 24th of 28 in the start wave.
Overall, Valley View CX is awesome, and I’m looking forward to next year, and possibly grabbing another badass Bishops podium swag bag.
So, race #2 was at Harbin Park. I went up the evening before to pre-ride the course (one big, big bonus of local races). The course was mostly the same as last year — lots of power sections, nothing terribly technical — except for one giant hill in the back. Dubbed “The Sledding Hill” (not for this race, I’m assuming that’s just what it’s called because it’s long and steep and ends in a field and would be perfect for sledding), the downhill was some steep switchbacks that led into a very open 180 degree turn, straight back up into a switchback halfway up the hill, to finally end with a gut-wrenching fifteen foot climb.
If it was paved, it would have been decently challenging probably, but for whatever reason Harbin Park just has this crazy grass that makes everything six times harder to ride. I pre-rode the hill a few times, but only bothered to actually ride up the hill twice, figuring like, it’s going to suck no matter what, I might as well not do hill repeats the day before a race.
I managed to get the switchbacks on the way down figured out pretty quickly, at least to my own degree of satisfaction. I saw other people practicing over and over and over again to find the smoothest and fastest way around the turns, but I figured if I had a line that let me get down to the bottom without crashing or putting a foot down, that was good enough for me.
Honestly, though, when Ellen texted me the morning of the race and said “we don’t have to do the hill!” I was pretty thrilled. The course was enough of a lung- and leg-burner anyway, I was definitely not looking forward to climbing that hill in the middle of the race.
Anyways, skip ahead to the race.
I had a better start than I expected, and took the hole shot with one other junior. Around the first corner I slowed up, which was a mistake. I let several girls get past me, and had to struggle to re-pass a few as the others got further and further away.
I spent most of the race by myself. Besides the two leading juniors, I knew there was at least one other Cat 4 ahead of me, and I caught glimpses of her as I rode. One spectator told me I was in fourth, and then the next lap corrected himself to tell me I was fifth, which meant I was sitting third instead of second. I soon confirmed this after seeing the two ahead of me locked neck-and-neck.
I thought the course was a power course, which would usually be my forte, but the terrain just sucked my strength, and after hearing someone describe it as a “climber’s course” I was like “oh, yeah, that’s probably right.”
I never successfully fully rode the sand, but came close within six inches the final time through, which was a highlight.
I told myself repeatedly I could catch the two women ahead of me, but by the time we hit the back half of the last lap and I saw that they were pushing each other to their limits and extending their lead, I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t be able to catch them.
Well, I’ve waited too long to write this post, so all I really remember is the power-sucking course, and the pain in my legs and lungs as I struggled to catch the two leading ladies.
Takeaways include “learn how to ride sand,” “take the hole shot,” and “don’t slow up and let people around you or they’ll take off and you’ll have to watch them be ahead of you for the entire race.”
So, it’s been a while since my last update, to say the least. Cyclocross season has already begun (believe it or not) and I’ve got my second race coming up this Sunday. Yikes, that was fast.
I didn’t get in any racing this summer like I had planned (triathlons, mostly), but I did just finish up the six race cyclocross time trial series put on by the OVCX every year, and I managed to catch a few road time trials in a local series, too, which are actually pretty fun. My original intent was to just use one to establish my threshold power (yes, I have a power meter now! Formerly owned by Chauncy, originally owned by Michael) but I wasn’t happy with my first attempt, so I went to a second, and now I really wanna break the 29 minute mark (my previous times were 29:40 and 29:14, respectively) for the 10.2 mile course, so I’ll be attending a third this Tuesday, which is sadly the last for the year. I’m also itching to try a time trial bike now.
I had a rough few weeks (well, closer to like, two months) this summer, where I was really burned out and not feeling confident AT ALL in my fitness or bike handling skills. Sitting in a chair all day at my new office job basically melted every bit of core muscle I’ve earned over the past year or so of sporadic core work, and honestly, sitting all day just in general makes you feel terrible. Add this on to my panic that I hadn’t done even a fractional amount of the off-road work I wanted to do this summer to prepare for cyclocross, and my total burn out on doing the same structured intervals basically every week for like three months, and I was seriously considering sitting the season out and just enjoying being a “recreational rider.”
Luckily, I talked to Chris (who is my coach) who told me to stop being pouty and overthinking everything, and to go ahead and just have fun and enjoy the process. Hate doing intervals? Fine, stop doing intervals. Do your races, have fun, get back to the training when you feel like it’s time to turn it back on. No pressure.
Oh. It’s that easy? Just… cut myself a break??
Anyways, now I feel great and love my bike and am having fun again, so, that works.
My insecurities coming into the season led me to not request an upgrade to Category 3. I figured if I was in worse shape than last season, why would I want to race against even faster people? My first race, however, went better than expected, and if I can pull off a repeat performance (or at least just a race I’m proud of) this weekend, I think I’ll request an upgrade, and finish out the season as a Cat 3.
Speaking of the first race! The first race this season was Commonwealth Eye Surgery Promotion Cross, with the same course as last year and everything. This was the second OVCX race last year, and the first time I dropped my chain. I remembered liking the course (nothing overly technical, because God forbid I have to use my bike handling skills) and with my new “let the chips fall where they may!” attitude, I actually was pretty excited to race.
So, I get there, pre-ride, yada yada, talk to Ellen and Krystal (it was Krystal’s first cyclocross race. She did it in Chacos, which is hilarious and like, legit), line up. The women’s field was small, so I’m pretty sure I had a front row call up, despite registering after the two week cut off.
I think my start felt better than last season. I’ve done a few one minute sprints over the past few months, and just getting used to the quick acceleration made a huge difference. Or that’s what I’m telling myself, anyways.
We ended up doing four laps this year, as opposed to last year’s three. When I came around and saw the lap counter after the first lap and a half, I probably audibly groaned.
Like last year, the course was basically a bunch of twists and turns on the side of a hill by a bunch of cornfields. I’m not great at turns (actually, I’m terrible at them, which is kind of a major problem in cyclocross) but I will say that I managed to actually gain ground on a series of four 180-degree S-turns down by the pit. That was my real victory of the day.
Besides the turns, there were a few straightaways, and a few more interesting sections, like an almost wanna-be pump track section in the back, and a few swooping turns leading into small, steep descents that were actually really fun to ride.
The race was a lot of chasing people down, sitting on their wheel, and then making a pass during one of the wider straightaways. It was a strong field, but I managed to spot and chase down several riders ahead of me. There was one other woman I could see that I just couldn’t span the gap to, but she ended up being a Masters 40+ rider anyways, so, whatever.
I ended up coming in first (!!!!) for my first OVCX win (I did win the state champ race last year, but that wasn’t part of the OVCX series). I got to stand on a podium, and I got twelve beers for my trouble.
Also, the girl who came in third asked me if I had raced the 15-18 age group last year and I was like “…No, but thank you.”
This isn’t an entry I know how to write, so I think I’ll just start out by stating the facts.
My 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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!
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.
“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?
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.)
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 my 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!
Mostly, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 have 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. Then, 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.