Monday, November 24, 2008

Yes, That Was a Dead Rat on the Course: Kruger's 2008

Kruger's was pretty much a banner day for the Team Tedder crew. Blue skies, muddy without being sloppy and a slew of great finishes.

After the end of the Cross Crusade, race attendance drops off dramatically. Folks are shelving their cross bikes for the season or taking two weeks off to get ready for the USGP races during the first weekend in December.

Because D is taking the latter approach (rest, USGP), there was no reason to get out to Sauvie's Island at 8am. I was grateful for the extra hour sleep and the time to take a hot shower before heading out.

Tried a few new things for this race. First, the warmup. Beth and I did our usual set of 30 second sprints, but this time I tried to keep up my heart rate at around 85% between sets. I sweated through two t-shirts (it was an unseasonably mild day), but I felt nice and loose when we lined up to race.

Second, I raced the singlespeed for the first time. Although I rode it for SSCXWC, i don't really consider that a "race" as I was dead tired and pretty much getting my drunk on throughout the entire race. And finally, I pulled out the pink socks for this race.Photo Credit: Brujo

My field (Women's B) was only about 20 riders, down from about the 40-50 during the cross crusade. The 50% drop seemed to be consistent with all of the fields. Here is Sal pimping amongst the ladies before the start.

Heidi has been practicing her starts and it showed yesterday. She took off like her ass was on fire and got the hole shot into the first corner. I was right behind her, along with a gal I had never seen before, in a blue skinsuit.

Blue skinsuit and I snuck around Heidi in the singletrack and I didn't see another B rider (or at least I thought as much...) until the last lap. I also didn't see the carnage behind me as we worked our way through the back of the 35+ field. Awesome shot, K-man!

Blue skinsuit was fast and I had one gear and wasn't able to hold her wheel once we got to the gravel road. But I thought I saw her out of the corner of my eye at the first two-pack of barriers with a dropped chain.

Thus began my stint at the front of the race. I was so jacked up that I didn't even realize that I should be having my typical second lap slump until I started the third lap.

Riding the singlespeed was such a joy. Having one gear makes everything so much less complicated. No deciding whether to shift up or down, spin or stand up. You either push the gear, or you don't. There is also something about the geometry of that bike that is makes it easier to handle than the Kona and, after a season on some mediocre tubulars, I loved riding on the (pink!) IRD Crossfires.
Photo Credit: Brujo

I got into a great rhythm and every time I had a chance to peek behind me, no one was there. So I rode in no-man's land for 4 laps...not fast enough to catch the A's and building a comfortable gap behind me...or so I thought.

During the third lap, I really started to fell the burn and prayed for the bell at the finish line. No such luck. Two laps to go. That fourth lap was the hardest. I put my head down and screamed at myself to keep pushing. The lap was a blur of bad dismounts, near-misses on the barriers and the rush of blood and wind in my ear-aching ear. But I could win this race, maybe, if I just kept pushing.

Coming around for the fourth time, I thought I might get lucky and they'd end our race because the A's were about to finish. No such luck.

So the process repeated itself once more....mud, rotten goddamn pumpkin barrier, mud, road, bunny-hop dead rat, barrier, puddle, barriers, the tent, more barriers, gravel road incline, wind through trees, dismount, trudge uphill....and then, Jen caught me.

I had forgotten about Jen. No, actually, I hadn't even thought of her since the whistle, even though it was really odd that she hadn't passed me in the first lap. I saw her out of the corner of my eye and managed to eek out, "Jesus F-in Christ Jen."

For a split second, I though about just letting her go. Jen is a machine. But this was my race. Mine. And I might not be able to hold onto her wheel for a whole race, but I sure as hell could for 1/3 of a lap. So the chase was on.

Even though I was spinning as fast as I could, she got a pretty nice gap on me during the slight decline on a gravel road. But she struggled a bit trying to find a gear when we hit the mud and I closed quickly. She made it through the barriers first, but I was back on my bike quicker and back on her wheel within seconds.

The mud singletrack made it impossible to pass without risking a spill, so I concentrated on staying on her wheel, hoping that she would make a mistake on one of the three corners into the finish line and give me the inch or two that I would need to blow by on the inside.

But she didn't make any mistakes and I rolled through the finish line six inches behind.

Jen and I spent about 10 minutes thinking we had gone 1-2, as I was positive that no one else had caught me.
That's what I get for forgetting about blue skinsuit. I had remembered someone in the same kit passing me during the third lap, but she wore an 800 number (the B's wear 100 numbers) and, thinking that she was a really fast 45+ rider, I let her go. Yah, turns out she was a B. Meh.

But hell, third place on a bike with one gear? None too shabby.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poop Fest 2008: Washington County Fairgrounds Cyclocross

This will forever be known as the race when I got bucked off my bike into a soup of poop. In a rodeo corral, no less.

Venue: Washington County Fairgrounds. Course: long, flat, bumpy, lots of straightaways and hairpin turns. Each lap ended in a large livestock show corral that resembled a mud swamp after a week of heavy rain. I wasn't fooled by the benign appearance of that "mud." I'm from the county and have been to a county fair or two in my time. I know happens in livestock show corral. Pooping. Ew.

Here is D, the 2008 State Champion in the Clydesdale Division. My B.B.M. is the fastest fatty in the state:
My own finish was less than spectacular (20th), but I can honestly say that I worked as hard as I could for 45 minutes. And it was the first race in over a month that I didn't feel dead tired going into the weekend...acupuncture works wonders. After my session on Friday afternoon, I felt better than I had in three months.

I had a great start and was in the top ten going into the wood chip pile that was a 1/4 of the way through the lap. Then we hit the back of the 35+ field and most of us were forced to dismount. I got clubbed in the head by a gal who shouldered her bike on the left side and got tangled up with someone else that lost her footing.

I was able to ride most of the mud pit, but the first time through I dismounted (more like flopped of) the bike on the wrong side and ended up having to carry my bike with my bad shoulder. Somehow my jersey was up around the bottom of my bra, a fact that I didn't remember until I was puzzling in the shower later why there was so much mud INSIDE of my bra when i was wearing both a jersey and a base layer.Something I want to work on in the last races of the season is getting a good finish on the first lap and start on the second lap-basically the second 8-10 minutes of the race. I'm not sure whether its a warm-up issue or if I'm racing beyond my fitness at the start. but I'm consistently struggling with that chunk of time.
At this race, it seemed like once the second lap started, every 45 seconds I was losing a place. By the third lap, I am able to pick up steam and ride hard for the last two laps/twenty minutes, but that retarded lap 2 killed me in terms of overall finish.I was racing Mary Z. for most of the race. Mary was a teammate of mine when I did Team in Training in 2005. We all did the Olympic Distance race that year, and Mary was the fastest person, male or female, on the team that year. I think she's in medical school now, but she still has the time and the legs to come out to a cross race every once in a while. She's a remarkable athlete.I got a 25 meter gap on Mary and three other gals going through the last lap. I remember coming into the six-pack thinking that if I could get through it cleanly, that I might be able to make my goal of finishing in the Top 15.

The next thing I remember thinking is "C'mon, seriously?" and I was on my back in the grass by the second barrier. I think I came in too hot at the first barrier and either couldn't get clipped out or didn't get clipped out fast enough. I was off the bike, but my front tire squarely hit the barrier. I tripped over that one and practically face-planted into the second.

I was able to get up quickly, and only one of the gals caught me in the barriers. I jumped on my bike, clipped in and started pedaling. Nothing happened. Chain was off. Again. Story of my life this season.

Once the chain was back on, I was far behind my pursuers, but I chased like my ass was on fire. My bike is crying out a loud metal on metal protest from the rear and my right brake lever is tilted 45 degrees off-kilter. I caught one of them quickly, but couldn't get around the other three. As we came into the shit swamp for the last time, my strategy was to ride as far in as I could and run like hell to the finish.

Halfway through the bog, my front wheel hit a rut and the bike just stopped. I pitched over the right side into the slop. My bike just stood there, stuck upright in the mud. I felt like it was mocking me.

I scrambled up as quickly as one possibly could out of a puddle of E. Coli, and grabbed the bike to start running. It didn't move. The poop was laying claim to my bike. I remember yelling, not unironically, "SHIIIIITTTTTTTTT". The second time I pulled at it so hard that I was lucky that it didn't fly out of my slimy, filthy gloves and decapitate another racer. Here I am trying to remount after the spill:
At this point I'm only aware of a few things: D, who is practically doubled over from laughing at me and my legs and lungs, which are burning sulphur fire. I had to get moving or I was just going to lay down in the poop and let it claim me. I started slowly at first, but I caught a pink jersey out of the corner of my eye and just began to run.I made it to the finish line before the pink jersey and stopped. I wanted to puke. I wanted the red spots to clear from my eyes. I wanted a goddamn beer.

Congrats to all of my most excellent cross lady friends, all of whom had GREAT races (or if the race was so-so, the beer-drinking afterwards was GREAT): Beth (State Champ and Series Winner 35+), Heidi, Sarah Tingey, CoCo, Sage, Margi, Megan, Kristin, Sarah Tisdale, Shari, Sherry, Traci, Anne, Heather G., Jan, Tessa....and a big congrats to my super duper fantastically sweet teammate Jen, who fought her way to 6th place Sunday and second place overall in the Women's B division. Losing doesn't suck as much when you're getting beat by a bunch of fast-as -hell class acts.

And a big shout out to all of the friends, new and old, that have cheered their asses off all season: D, Jeff, Kenji, Dave, Chris, Danny, Doug, the whole PV crew (Matt, Sal, Sierra, etc, etc), Andy, Tom, Denny, Joel, Karen and everyone else that cheered, laughed or heckled me through the season.

The end of Cross Crusade means the end of the season for lots of folks, but I plan on racing the singlespeed at Kruger's on Sunday and signed up for both of the USGP races months ago.

But I'm starting to thing that it's really time to dust off the mountain bike again.....

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Is There a 12-step Program For Bike Addicts?

All of us have had moments on our life when we realize that we have changed, having not known that the change was taking place until the transformation was complete.

Over the of course the last year I have turned into a junkie cyclist. Not a simply a bike racer, cyclocrosser or commuter. A crazy addicted cyclist, through and through.

There were some noticeable symptoms:

-A bike collection that grows on an average of 1 bike per 8 months. Its at five at this point-- kona steel road bike, kona cross bike, steel singlespeed cross bike, carbon kuota TT bike and my newest baby-the pink specialized full suspension mountain bike. This winter will probably see the addition of a track bike and perhaps, if the price is right, a carbon race bike.

-The most expensive shoes I have ever owned are the carbon-soled road shoes I bought after losing feeling in my feet during the State Championship crit.

-After years of posturing that I would NEVER do a road race...I did two in one weekend.

-I religiously get up at 5:30AM to train and will ride through North Portland in the dark and in a monsoon to get to intervals, all in order to finish mid-pack in local bike races.

-I haven't been shopping for work clothes in months and haven't bought a pair of non-cycling shoes in over a year. However, my winter and rain gear collection is growing at a rate of 1.4 items per week.

-I make up excuses to ride my bike to work, even when taking the bus would be quicker and more practical.

-All of my friends are junkies. I fall sleep every night with a junkie.

Despite all of this, the Aha! moment took place only a week ago, as I was sitting at my desk looking out at a dreary drizzly Portland November afternoon. I looked first at the stack of work steadily piling up on my desk. Then at my happy orange Kona and my rain jacket, finally dry from my morning commute. And then thought, this would be a perfect time for a bike ride.

I rode up to the top of Mt. Tabor, did a few slow repeats and rode back to downtown. In the pouring rain. Smiling a crazy junkie smile the entire time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

PIR and SSCXWC: Ups and Downs of Cross Racing

Finally getting around to writing my race reports from last weekend. My lack of motivation and inspiration at work is starting to seep into other areas of my life.

Last weekend was the penultimate race in the Cross Crusade Series and the "official" Single Speed Cyclocross World Championship race. In order to qualify for the latter, we were supposed to show up and "compete" in a time trial qualifier on Saturday morning.

Saturday ended up being a total clusterf*ck. I finally had new wheels for the On-One, but when Daryl and I threw them on (complete with pink IRD Crossfire tires) Friday night, we discovered that the pink chain was too short to allow for any clearance for the back tire. And my seat post clamp bolt was completely stripped. But both were easy fixes that I figured could be taken care of Saturday morning.

Beth, Jeff and I met at Chris King at 9:15am to get a quick spin in before the 10:30 (Or was it 11? Or 10? No one seemed to know for sure) informational meeting. At about 9:19:23, Beth pointed out that the back brake pads on the Kona were completely stripped. Then, at about 9:26:45, it starts to piss rain. Not mist or sprinkle...this was a deluge of fat raindrops that soaked through my socks in a matter of minutes. Consensus was immediately reached to bag the ride in favor of more coffee.

We checked in, got our start times for the qualifier (three hours away), and drove over to Fat Tire Farm to see if they could make the quick fixes on the singlespeed so that I could ride it for the qualifier. We left the bike, grabbed more coffee, and headed back to Chris King.

There were over 200 people milling about when we got back. About 150 of them were either in costume or already drinking beer or waiting in line at the single porty potty procured for the event. Everyone packed underneath a few tents trying to stay out of the rain, which showed no signs of letting up.

The route was finally announced (up Saltzman, over to firelane 5, up Lief Erickson back to Saltzman), as was the fact that it would be a good 20-25 minute ride, through the gravel spray of trucks and SUVs speeding down Hwy 30, just to get out to the start line. I was really trying to keep a good attitude about the whole debacle, but it was getting progressively difficult.

Beth, Coco, Coco's friend and I jammed into the Subaru to keep out of the rain while we waited to head out to Forest Park. Then the Subaru died. Again. By the time I had made a couple of calls about the car and arrived at the staging area, I was officially in a bad goddamned mood, as evidenced by this photo (credit Sarah T.):

The time trial, however, ended up being fun, as things you think will totally suck often are. The single-speed was still at Fat Tire Farm, but they let me ride on the Kona on the honor system. I picked my easiest gear, figuring that I'd rather climb comfortably that worry about pedaling through any of the downhills.

We climbed up Saltzman for a mile or two, then hooked over to Firelane 5. Whereby I discover that, despite some new, hastily installed brake pads, that I have no back brake. It's so soft as to be nonexistent.

As I have had enough problems with Firelane 5 in dry weather, on a mountain bike, with fully functional brakes, I decided to shoulder my bike and run, rather than take the chance that I kill myself or someone else. My time ended up being ridiculously slow. Can't say that I cared all that much.

We rode back (with me pussyfooting it down Saltzman on the front brake), jumped the car, then I sat at NW Portland Les Schwab for an hour--in muddy bike gear. I got the prime seat in front of the TV and no one bothered me for fear of contamination.

On race morning, D and I loaded three tons of gear, and D's mom Lori (in town from St. Louis), into the car and headed out to Portland International Raceway. We sent up at the PV encampment (and it has truly become an encampment-600 square feet of tent, heaters, two changing tents, two fold out tables, a repair stand, bike racks, eight cases of beer) and settled in for a long day of muddy race action.

D had another great race, despite a first lap crash and the loss of several square inches of skin on his left hip. He chased his way back up to second place. If he can stay upright this weekend, he'll likely win the Clydesdale Series title.

At least one of us is performing consistently. I had been having a series of really low energy days leading into Sunday and had another mediocre race. Great start, but as soon as we hit the peanut butter mud on the east end of the course, it was as if someone had shot a hole in my gas tank. I went from 3/4 tank to 1/4 tank within a matter of 30 seconds. It was really demoralizing. I willed myself to work harder, push through it, but my body just wouldn't listen.
Quitting was not an option, so I settled in at the middle of the pack and tried to enjoy the course as much as possible. Because there was a lot to enjoy about this course: lots of mud, puddles, barriers, flat straightaways. Here is the first "barrier," a concrete pad in the middle of a field.
Here is one of two run-ups: this one had four barriers and a man-eating windmill at the crest, courtesy of Yakima. This section kicked my ass almost as much as the tacky mud...I haven't quit mustered shouldering my bike properly and the seat would repeatedly hit the back of my helmet as I trudged up.

In the final lap, my body finally quit ignoring me and I was able to put in a strong effort through to the finish. I finished around 24th place. Meh. Dead legs, bad attitude. I hated cross, hated the time I was wasting to train for it, hated the bike, hated the mud.

I then had 60 minutes to "recover" before lining back up again for the SSCXWC race. I changed into some dry clothes and, despite the fact that the doctor recently said no booze for four weeks, started pounding recovery beers. Figured it would dull the disappointment of a bad race and take some of the pain out of the five additional laps to come.

Turns out, riding that singlespeed was the best thing I could have done. I loved riding that bike and had a blast participating in the race.

No call-ups at the start this year. They basically lined everyone (at least 200 folks-despite the fact that you were supposed to "qualify" for the race, it looked like people were jumping in left and right) up in a huge field and let us loose. Which led to 45 seconds of balls out riding, then coming to a screeching halt as we got onto the course and hit the first barrier.

Fifty meters later, the bubble machine (that's me in the left hand bottom corner, white helmet). By the last lap, the wall of bubbles was twelve feet high and three feet deep:

Fifty meters after the bulbbles: the run-up. This is what it looked like on the first lap. There was a drum corp working at full volume on the left hand side and hundreds of people sticking either a beer or camera into your face.

Things spread out quickly and I just rode along, putting in hard efforts when I could, stopping for a beer when the opportunity presented itself.

I drank out of a beer bottle right after Ryan Trebon and slapped him on the ass when he lapped me for the first (or maybe second) time. I got doused in the face with IPA by Beth. I got shoved off course by some riders taking themselves way too seriously and, in a breathtaking display of ninja-like bike handing skills (check the ninja socks in the photo below), only managed to take out three people and two small dogs. I ran full speed into barriers and rode without fear into drop offs and puddles. I mentally willed the naked guy not to touch me as he rode past. I rode a pink and turqoise bike with one gear, in a basketball jersey, through the mud, for 45 minutes.

And fell in love with cyclocross again.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Barton: Let the REAL Cross Season Begin.

The Barton Race is held at a gravel pit out near Estacada. Yes, a goddamned GRAVEL pit. This leads to an inevitably high amount of carnage, both of human and two-wheeled variety.

I have a mixed history with this venue. Two years ago, during my first year racing, I was part of that carnage before my race even started. The weather was miserable and there was a ton of exposed slick rock. During the pre-ride, I was practicing the infamous downhill when my brakes caught and I careened into the an actual gravel pit at about 16 miles an hour (landing squarely on the X spray-painted on the pit). Dislocated my thumb and gave myself a concussion.

Last year, the weather was beautiful and the race marked the first time that I raced a B race without getting pulled a lap early. I was cooked, but ecstatic, after that extra lap.

I was really excited about this race this year. The weather was looking favorable (rain, rain and some more rain) and the quality of my performance is usually inversely proportionate to the quality of the weather.

We got out to the race venue around 7:45 (I will admit for the record that it does not take an hour to get out to Barton...noted for next year) and Beth and I rode most of the course twice before they let the beginner men loose on each other. The carnage began almost immediately.

D had another stellar race, throwing down some hurt on all of the other big fellas and winning by about 50 seconds.

Our tent had a perfect view of an muddy off-camber descent that was picking off every 10th rider or so. At first it was sort of entertaining, because everyone was walking away. Then a B rider had to be taken out in an ambulance after face-planting at the bottom of the hill. Heidi and I looked at each other in a bit of panic and I decided to find somewhere else to be until the course was cleaned up.

Turns out K-man broke his collarbone at another section of the course. The rock of fear began to harden up and roll around in my stomach.

The off-camber section was removed for our race, but we still had to contend with the longer, steeper descent that had vanquished me two years ago. I rode it fine at 8am, but by 2pm it was a sloppy, slick mess.

The start was almost 3/4 mile of gravel road followed by double track. I had a great start and was sitting at about eighth coming into the single track. Our whole field was slowed up on the single-track when we ran up on the back of the Masters 35+ field. This allowed the top fifteen or so riders to stay pretty bunched up for most of the first lap.

A gap opened up between the top four riders and the next six as the pack hit the gravel road for the second time. I had a good feeling I was sitting somewhere around 10th. Now I just wanted to ride clean for the next 1/2 hour (figuratively clean, not literally clean, the latter would have been impossible).

There were a few places where I knew that I would be able to close or create gaps: the gravel road, the parking lot and the monster descent. I time-trialed the former as much as I could, and, as for the latter, as scary as it was for me, it was apparently far more intimidating to others. The key was head into it without hesitating, to sit back as far as possible and keep the hands light on the brakes. My back wheel jumped or skidded each time, but each time it was a clean ride-followed by a huge sigh of relief. (Note: If you don't have a moutain bike, get one and ride it. Especially at short-track. It is much easier to learn handling skills on a full-suspension rig with big tires.)

By the third lap, I was battling with EJ from Portland State. I'd pass her on a straightaway, she'd get get me back on a slick corner (since I'm using D's wheels with the fatty tires and wider rims, we're having to keep my back brakes soft and I made up for it with an overabundance of caution on gravel corners).

Neither of us were able to create a gap that stuck until the final 1/4 lap. I was able to get by her on a run-up (thanks to Jeff's bastard plyometrics), remount without face-planting and hauled ass as hard as I could along the levee for the finish.

Effort was good enough for 8th place. Maybe I'm finally breaking out of my slump. Whew. And it was the most fun I've ever had on a cross bike-sloppy, nasty, muddy, crash-free, mechanical-free fun.

(Thanks to Tim, Anne's husband, for most of these pictures).

If you're interested checking out some more fantastic photos of yesterday's race venue, click here.