Monday, September 28, 2009

900 Extra Seconds of Suffering is a Lot of Suffering

Nine hundred seconds. This was the difference between the pop-tart, cream-puff level suffering at Starcrossed and the Tabasco-sauce-and-battery-acid-in-the-throat suffering of Battle at Barlow.

I won the Women's B race yesterday. My first cyclocross "W" and I'm really grateful for that. But nothing about this race was fun, graceful, coordinated or even remotely exhilarating. Simply, it fucking sucked.

Yes, I know. If you're doing it right, racing cyclocross is supposed to suck. Especially when one's Saturday pre-race hydration plan included six beers, four gin and tonics and two of something pink in a martini class. The suffering that comes with that sort of "race prep," I deserve. And I can control that.

I can also control waking up and getting to the race in time for a decent warm-up. And whether or not I decide to ride like my ass is on fire for the first lap of a race, consequences be damned.

But heat. Heat is something I can't control. This is becoming progressively more frustrating. Even with the weather in the mid-70's, my body refused to regulate itself properly. I love this time of year, warm days and cool nights, but have officially gotten to the point where I can't wait to race in the rain.

Enough of that. Here is how the race went down.

Lap 1: I went out hard from the whistle, got the hole shot and was out front for most of the first lap and a half. Barlow has the most challenging run-up of the season (in my opinion). There are two choices: a shorter route up a set of railroad-tie stairs that are too high for anyone under 6'8 to actually "run up" or a longer route up dusty and loose single track.

The first lap I attempted the stairs.

By the fourth step-up, my hip was screaming "NO THANK YOU, YOU STUPID BITCH!" Although acupuncture has finally loosened the problem muscles, those muscles have lost conditioning and were in no mood to heave my 150 pound ass, plus a 18 pound bike, up a dirt hill at full speed.

After the run-up, the course continues to climb for another 50 meters. It is totally ride-able, IF you are in the right gear. First time up, I had forgotten to shift down before dismounting my bike and had to grind my way up and out of that section. Even through exhaustion, I wouldn't make that mistake again.

Lap 2: After ten minutes, the burn has set in. But I was hoping that after two laps, I would be able to settle in, become one with my burn and recover for a bit. Didn't quite work that way. I realized that I was in a bit of trouble the second time through a false flat up and out of the woods and onto some practice fields. After the problems this summer, I'm acutely aware of when normal suffering starts to cross over into hands start to tingle and shake.

I realized that I was going to have to let up. Either that or pass out. So I let up. Two riders in my group pass me. I have two goals at this point: (1) keeping within 5-10 seconds of the lead while I try to get a little recovery and (2) not quitting. Because all I really wanted to do was roll off the course, take all of my clothes off, pour a bottle of HEED over my head and hit myself in the head with my own shoe until I passed out under a tree.

(Photo: Tim Schalberger)

Laps 3, 4 and 5: A lot of wanting to get this race the hell over with. Somewhere in lap 4 I caught both of the women that had passed me in laps 2 and 3. One looked like she ran out of gas after attacking most of the third lap and the second dropped her chain on the penultimate time up the run-up. She probably would have won the race if not for that mechanical. She looked a helluva a lot stronger than I felt.

The only thing did feel good about was that I was riding clean and, although was slower through the barriers that I would have liked, technique was decent. Here is a link to a barrier shot from Oregon Cycling Action. I still can't remount correctly in a race, but I can't say that I really care. It'll come in time. And maybe with some more heckling from...well, they know who they are.

(Photo: Tim Schalberger)

After the bell lap rung, we rode into some flat switchbacks and I could see the gap on who was chasing me . Figured that if I could just stay upright and keep moving forward, I would stay in front. Maybe. Possibly. Hopefully. I was JUST. SO. FUCKING. HOT.

Longest lap of a life full of long laps. I took the stairs on the run-up with the grace of a large jungle mammal and banged both of my shins. Hit my back tire on all of the barriers. Accidentally spit on a spectator when the wind picked up at an inopportune moment.

Never been so glad to finish a race, ever.

(Photo: Tim Schalberger)

My first ever win on a bicycle was the Icebreaker Crit in April. That win was exhilarating and made me want to race my bike FOREVER. This win was excruciating and made me want to throw myself in front of a slow moving train and pour Aardvark sauce in my eyes. As I slowly rolled back to the team tent, three things were going through my head:

(1) Do not pass out or throw up in front of all of these people.

(2) Why the fuck do I so this to myself?! Correction, pay MONEY to do this to myself?!

(3) Shirt. Off. Now.

Then I sat down, put my head between my knees and tried not to cry. That is how bad I felt. And how relieved I was that I hadn't quit.


It feels sort of "off" to be writing such a bitchy, negative race report about winning a race. Some folks never get to win a race, and I've been blessed to win several this year.

But, then again, I suppose that every racer knows what it feels like to have your body revolt and to not have any idea how to deal with it.

All in all, once I had cooled off enough for a proper perspective check, it was a good day. My FT placed in the Top 10 of the beginner race, Beth was dominating her race until a last lap flat, our junior racer cleaned up his field and German went 2/2 on races where he crashes spectacularly. There were post-race beers and black bean burgers. And I finally got decent post-race sleep, thanks to REM caps, compression socks and some post-race TLC.

Cross Crusade starts in T-Minus six days. My guess is that the B field will top 50 riders, and everyone will be fighting for call-up points for the rest of the series. Let the mayhem begin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Starcrossed In Stripes

It official: Cross Season 2009 has begun. Like last year, my season opener was Starcrossed in Seattle, WA. For me, its a perfect season opener. Only 30 minutes and held on a flat fast course that favors riders that can power up repeatedly and recover quickly.

Let me digress for a moment. I love this course and the venue. But honestly, the administration of this race (at least for us lowly category amateurs) needs a lot of improvement. Registration did not open until an hour before the womens' race began. The lines are long and there was some confusion on the paperwork that needed to be completed by out-of-state riders. Preprinted waivers had made up EXCEPT for the first race of the day. There weren't enough pens or safety pins. There were probably several ladies that didn't get a proper warm-up in because they were stuck standing in line for 30 minutes. That is sort of bullshit.

What is also bullshit is that race numbers (which, in theory, determine your place at the starting line) were assigned randomly, not by time of pre-registration. I was the first or second person to register for the 3/4 race, but was assigned race number 154. What the hell?! This also happened to Jeff and my teammate Dave. It completely negated any reason to register early.

And it completely changed my race strategy. I had anticipated lining up at the very front and hammering from the whistle. Now, I would probably have to spend at least a half lap working my way through people before I could get up to speed.

I get nervous enough before races, and this development did not improve my mood in the slightest. Because Heidi and I had been in line early, I was able to get in a decent 35 minute warmup. Not the hour I would have liked, what was lost in quantity was made up in quality. 20 minutes at high tempo, followed by six one-minute sprints. Ears ringing with The Knife and sweating like a pig, my mood improved and, by the time we staged, I was sort of resigned to starting in the back and making the most of it.

(Anna and I getting ready to do some damage to the 3/4 field. What I can't understand is how I managed to roll around for twenty minutes with a crooked helmet without anyone telling me. Thanks friends.)

Turns out most of my agitation was unwarranted. The call-ups were almost as random as the number assignment. Anna ended up getting called up to the front row and I was in the second. I could totally handle that.

I had a great start, once I got around the two women that were lined up in front of me. Both of them were (by their own admission) novice racers and both had a hard time getting clipped in. Anna made it to the first corner first, but we both pushed hard on the second straightaway and were 1-2 by the time we took the second corner into the velodrome.

That is pretty much how it stayed for the next 29 minutes. A Haggens Berman ride made up the gap twice, but fell back again almost immediately both times.

Sorella Anne's husband Tim was taking picture and video at the race. Here is a video of the first time over the barriers. This is when Anna and I started overtaking the masters' field during the first lap. I go through at about 1:10, Anna at about 1:14.

Anna set the pace most of the race. She pushes a huge gear and I was content to suck her wheel. I often paced us through the more technical portions, but she always made it back around me on the straights.

(The of the few places I was in front of the Annamal.)

Looking back on the race, I should have spent some time in my big ring while we were riding the flat, fast sections. I was staying out of it due to the stress that pushing those gears put on my injured back (that is a whole other story), but it let Anna to ride the same pace with less work.

Notice the proper facial form for cross racing: suffering. And boy, I was suffering. But its a different sort of suffering when I'm at the front of a race. Its about pride just as much as it is about the taste of blood in my mouth. I got myself up to the front and there was no way I was going to start moving backward.

I was able to hold Anna's wheel until the last 1/2 of the last lap. My legs were about to pop and I couldn't match her last big acceleration. She got a ten meter gap that I knew I wasn't going to be able to close. The goal at that point was to hold my position for three more looooooong minutes.

Notice that BOTH my helmet and hat are crooked at this point. As is Anne's tongue.

I almost did it. A Gentle Lover's rider passed me with about 75-50 meters before the finish and, again, I couldn't match her passing acceleration.

Rolled through in third place. Here is the video Tim took at the finish. Anna and I finish at about the 1:50 mark.

The post-race inner monologue went like this: Yah! Podium! Schwag! Throwing up in my mouth! I have to do this for HOW many more minutes next week?!

I am really happy with this race. Stayed upright, had good form through the technical sections and rode at a really high pace for about 25 minutes. I love racing the TriCross and was pleased with the tire and tire pressure choices (IRD Crossfires at about 38-40 psi). I do need to talk to the shop about the chain length...I almost dropped my chain three times and I think it may be too big for racing in the small chainring.

Room for Improvement One: fitness. The extra 10-15 minutes in Crusade races is seeming like an eternity right now, but that should develop in small chunks over the course of the season.

Room for Improvement Two: remount. I can remount properly about half of the time in practice, but was nowhere close to doing it right in the race. I watch my friend Heather remount in races and she's so smooth. It is not only faster, but it has to be easier on the bike and the body.

Finally, courtesy of Dave Roth, the Women's 3/4 Podium:

(The rest of Dave's pictures can be found here.)

All pinstripes and all smiles.

But seriously, I could have done without the podium girls. Now, if they could have gotten a few of those pro racers to stand up there with us, in lycra, that would have been a different story.

I'll be out at Barlow this weekend, at least to volunteer. Racing is a game time decision that will depend on how my back heals and stretches out over the next 72 hours.