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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
My 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
I 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.
My second race of the season was on July 12. I have a feeling I shouldn’t be as disappointed as I am with it, but for some reason it lacked the pre-race excitement and post-race jubilation of the Mojo Running triathlon. Even my pre-race openers on the Saturday before lacked the “pop” of the previous race. I remember worrying about how “heavy” my legs felt and then brushing it off as pre-race jitters/self-doubt.
This race started us out three at a time, so no big group start to the swim, which was fine with me (honestly, though, I was usually pretty good at getting to the front and pulling away from the pack so I didn’t have to deal with all of the start-of-race chaos of kicking and pulling and whatever else people do). I chatted with a few very pleasant women before the beginning, and I appreciated how friendly triathletes are compared to the athletes at certain other sporting events.
My swim time was a commendable 12:51 (as opposed to the 9:41 of my last race, which further cemented in my mind that the first course was a bit short). Again, I tried not to go out too strong because “no one wins the race during the swim, but you can lose the race during the swim”. I didn’t want to spike my heart rate and try to “recover” during the bike or completely blow up during the run. Regardless, it was still the 3rd fastest split of the 91 women in the race.
My first transition, like my last race, was too slow. 2:19. I tried to speed it up from my previous race, but obviously that wasn’t exactly successful.
The bike leg wasn’t nearly as fun as my first race of the season. My time wasn’t that far off, but it felt like I was working harder and it was just less enjoyable – I didn’t spend the whole time with a grin plastered to my face, even though I did try to consciously remind myself to enjoy it. It was fun watching dudes fly by me on their expensive tri bikes only to chug past them on the uphills on my aluminum road bike. Compared to the rest of the field, though, I was disappointed. 15th of 91 women with a final time of 40:49 (18.2 mph).
The run wasn’t comfortable but it was less uncomfortable than my previous run. There was a lot of gravel and dirt running, which I wasn’t expecting. Given my proclivity to toppling over, I wasn’t thrilled about it but it was all okay. I actually did better compared to the rest of the field in the run vs. the bike leg (26:26, 9th of 91 women).
Overall, I can’t complain too much about it. It wasn’t quite as fun as the first, but I wasn’t feeling as good going into race day as I was with the last race. My total time was 1:23:47, which was only slightly off of my previous time once you take the time difference for the swim leg into account, and I was 7th of 91 women and won the Female 25-29 category.
So, for no good reason whatsoever, I’ve found my motivation waning over the past two weeks or so. My few weeks of hitting (or at least nearly hitting) my goal of 100+ miles a week have given way to gratuitous “taper weeks” followed by “recovery weeks” and so on. So, I figured it’s time to re-hash what I’ve done in the past month or so and try to get excited about the cyclocross season I’ve been dreaming about since last year.
We had a staggered start, with athletes starting about 5 seconds apart. I was #108 so I started near the back of the pack.
I started out going easy on the swim. On the first triathlon I ever did, I went out way too hard on the swim and pretty much blew myself up for the entire bike leg. Since the bike leg was my focus this time, I wanted to make sure my heart rate didn’t skyrocket right out of the gate. Unfortunately, I believe they incorrectly measured the distance of the swim course so my finish time was spectacular but also unrealistic (9:41 with only a handful of training swims under my belt).
The bike race was so fun. I think I was grinning the entire time. In my previous races, I got my ass handed to me in the bike but this time it was my turn to blow past people. I thought the course was pretty flat but several people after the race mentioned how “hilly” it was for a triathlon course. With only 300-something feet of elevation over the 12.1 mile course, it was flatter than most of my training rides of similar length, even when I don’t do any larger hills. Either way, I was thrilled with my time and average mph (39:25, 19.1 mph).
The run was a little rough. My first split was way faster than it should have been (8:08) and some gastrointestinal issues had me worried for the remaining two miles (8:30 and 8:27, respectively, with the last .2 at an 8:03 pace). Overall though, with a 26:16 run split and a 1:19.06 finish time, I can’t complain.
I was the fourth woman overall (in a field of around 50) and won my age group. I was actually only 2 minutes off the first place woman, which was amazing. If I only had faster transitions!
You know, two race reports and cyclocross blogging seems a little excessive for one post, so I’ll get the Caesar’s Creek Tri report up separately.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a few weeks. I had been tossing it around in my mind and after seeing photographer Ally Newbold’s terrible bike crash (feel free to donate to her medical fund here) I began writing it bit by bit in my mind during my rides.
Then, as luck would have it, I had my very own bike crash that resulted in an ER visit to make sure I didn’t have a broken face or bleeding in my brain. I was riding on a road near my house, doing the second workout in my new weekly training plan, and I was crushin’ it. I felt great, I was going fast, and I felt confident. I went over some railroad tracks that I had crossed at least a dozen times before… and that’s the last thing I remember. According to my Garmin, I was going approximately 18.1 MPH when I crashed, so I hit the pavement pretty hard. All I remember after that is a man asking me for my phone number and a woman hovering over me until my mother arrived to take me to the Emergency Room.
This was the beauty shot I posted on social media to remind my friends to wear their helmet and to drive carefully around cyclists.
These photos are a more accurate representation of what happened:
Abrasions, swelling, bruising. My helmet also has a nice crack in the side where I broke my fall with the side of my head.
All in all, I got very lucky. One of the things I am most thankful for is that everyone on the road was being a courteous driver. If someone had been riding my ass, or even trying to pass too closely (“It’ll take me like five seconds to get past this chick, it’ll be fine”) I could have ended up much, much worse.
Which brings me to my main point… Drivers, I promise I’m not trying to be an asshole when I’m riding my bike. We just see the road differently.
I know a lot of drivers get annoyed when they’re caught behind a cyclist. We’re slower than you. As much as I like to flex and admire my legs in the mirror, I am humble enough to know my gams don’t boast the 100+ horsepower of your spectacular vehicle.
But hear me out.
I try to stay pretty far to the side of the lane. There aren’t a ton of bike lanes where I live, so I am going to be in the road. However, I can’t and won’t hug the white line like I’m trying to bike a tight rope. Why not?
When you’re on a bicycle, you need to be approximately a million times more aware of what’s on the road. When you’re in a vehicle, a small (or even large) pot hole in the road is something you may or may not swerve to avoid, and something that may or may not cause your hot coffee to spill all over your cupholder (the latter happens to me daily, because I’ve lost every single coffee cup lid I’ve ever owned). When I’m on my bike, the same pot hole could easily result in a flat tire or a total crash.
When you’re driving, do you ever think about sticks in the road (post-storm oak branches aside)? If I run over that same stick that you have the luxury of crunching over thoughtlessly, again, I could very easily end up rubber-side-up in the road.
Also, road shoulders are not nearly as well maintained as the roads themselves and are often filled with debris that has been swept off the main route. And people leave their mailboxes open and I’m not actually that keen to find out what happens if I hit one (does the door rip off, or do I come to an abrupt and unpleasant stop?). If I’m not riding in the shoulder, it’s not for the explicit purpose of pissing you off. It’s for my safety.
I need room to swerve a little bit. I need room to make a quick decision to not end up splattered on the side of the road. I want to avoid that branch, I want to avoid the pot hole, I want to avoid the post-winter cracks and crevasses created by frozen water and snow plow shovels. If I don’t, I could very easily end up crashing face-first into the pavement or sliding along the blacktop and ending up right underneath your tires.
Even things I don’t think of as hazards (for example… railroad ties I’ve ridden over plenty of times before) could put me belly-up in the middle of the road. If you’re tailing me, or trying to “sneak around” me, you’re not going to be able to stop as fast as me. It’s really, really possible that you injure or kill me in a split second.
“But I’m in a hurry!”
I hear you, I really do. As someone who is perpetually accidentally late, I get it. Or maybe you’ve just had a long, terrible day at the office and all you want is to go home, microwave a Hot Pocket, kick back, and watch some TV.
But let me break it down for you.
My average speed on most rides is 15mph. Most of the roads I ride on are 25-35mph roads.
If you’re caught behind a cyclist for 30 seconds and you’re slowed from 35mph to 15mph for the whole 30 seconds, you are adding an additional 17.2 seconds to your commute.
If you’re caught behind a cyclist for 30 seconds and you’re slowed from 35mph to 10mph (uphill, perhaps) for the whole 30 seconds, you’re adding an additional 22.5 seconds to your commute.
That’s less time than it takes to microwave your Hot Pocket. Wanna know what takes more time? Running into a downed cyclist and having to fill out an accident report.
I know there’s a whole host of issues drivers have with cyclists – some are fair, some are a little dubious. But all I’m saying is if you happen to see me on the roads, give me a little extra room. It’ll cost you less than 30 seconds (and let’s face it, being caught for a whole 30 seconds doesn’t happen that often – it’s usually much less) and it helps me get home alive.
And the next time you see me taking up an extra 12 inches in the lane, remember, I’m really not trying to be an asshole. I just don’t want to crash again.
Both of my bikes have been spring-tuned. I took them to a new local bike shop that is totally rad… but I think I’m just going to stick with the trusty guys I usually go to, since New Shop told me I needed a new drive train (chainrings, cassette, chain) for my GT road bike that would run me about $150. I went back to my Trusted Shop just to double-check, and both of the guys there said “Wait, why are you replacing all that? New chain, yes, but the other parts look just fine?”. Cue a giant sigh of relief and gratitude upon hearing that.
I was also told I might want to look into new shifters for the cx bike. New Shop said I could make them last another season, but the shifting is all sorts of wonky (also currently stuck in the large chainring and I’m not sure what happened). According to the Very Professional Research I’ve done (googling bike forum answers), Ultegra shifters do sometimes wear out, but difficulty shifting can also be due to buildup of grime within the shifters themselves. I’m not about to take apart a pair of expensive Shimano shifters, but I might see what the guys at Trusted Shop think. New Shop quoted me between $260-280 to repair/replace, but honestly, why didn’t I just buy a new bike if I was gonna throw down $500 on a used bike that needs $300 worth of work done to it, ya know?
Other than that, I finished my first “training cycle” last week, making this week a rest week, aka the perfect time to get sick and feel like I have cotton balls stuffed in my head. I’ve only gone on one easy one hour cross ride this week and between that and the cold/allergies I’ve got going on, I’m really not feeling so hot. I’m hoping to get out twice this weekend for some easy rides and then start my new training cycle on Monday or Tuesday. I’m crossing my fingers for good weather and improving health.
Oh, also, I ran ten miles last Sunday and I was pretty shocked and amazed that I could do that (especially at a 9:25 average pace). Now it’s time to decide what races I’m going to do this summer (do I try for a half-marathon in May? Which triathlons should I do? Should I try one of the beginner mtb time trials at a local park?) and get crackin’ on my absolutely abysmal bike handling skills in preparation for cyclocross season.