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!