Race Recap: Valley View CX

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

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

This thing is amazing.
This thing is amazing.

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

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

cyclocross trainer
How I spend my Saturday nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Race Recap: Commonwealth Eye Surgery Promotion Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Race Recap: Harbin Park Cyclocross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race highlights:

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

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