Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Cross Nationals - Women's B

What an experience! This was my first season of 'cross racing, and thus, my first visit to Nationals. I was inspired to see the number of racers in all of the fields this weekend, but to line up for a race with 61 other women, representing 19 states, was truly amazing.

Standing on the line, the woman next to me declared, "this is getting cold" and I chuckled in response. It turned out that she was from Smyrna, GA, and was used to 70 degree temps! I told her the 40 was warm for us at this time of year, and she grimaced.

When the whistle blew, all 62 of us were eager to get the race underway. Unfortunately, a crash on the start line took down a number of riders, including two of my teammates. I managed to get around the bikes and bodies, and tried to sprint up the pavement with everyone else.

It is important to note that there was some rain and/or frost on Saturday evening, making some of the opening sections of the course SLICK as SNOT. Really - that is the best way to describe not only the first two corners, but also the off-camber "slip and slide".

I got lucky enough to be on the outside line in the first corner, which allowed me to get around the second crash of the race. I could see that another of my teammates was involved. From here, I negotiated the "slip and slide" - an off-camber section of the course that had women who chose to ride high, sliding to the bottom along, and through the course tape. Somehow, I made it through all of the chaos intact, with both wheels firmly on the ground!

On either the second or third lap, as I was going over the barriers, I heard Mike yell that I was in 33rd place. ACK! I couldn't believe that I was working this hard, and was that far back... Neither could the woman who was beside me - she let out a groan.
I felt really good yesterday though (better, in fact, than I had on Friday) and kept on pushing. I managed to catch a racer I haven't been able to beat all season (who was riding dressed as Wonder Woman), and passed her. I worked really hard to try and stay ahead of her. The good thing was that spectators would call out "Go Wonder Woman" along the course, so I could usually gauge just how close to me she was . On the third lap, she and a rider from California got by me on the second greasy corner. Mike had offered to change out my tires before the race for some better mud tires, and I opted not to - bad choice. Two times around this corner, I slide all across it trying to get ANY traction and/or forward direction, and both times, the tires completely clogged with mud making navigation of the "slip and slide" treacherous (especially when forced into a high line!).

After Wonder Woman got by me, I felt a little deflated, and sat up for a couple of seconds before chastising myself. I KNEW that if I could stay with Wonder Woman until the pavement on the top of the course, that I could catch her. I hunkered back down, keeping her within about 5 bike lengths, and managed to pass both she and the CA rider on the pavement as I predicted. I put a little bit of distance between us here, and increased that at every opportunity - this was the final lap of the race!

Every now and then, I could get a look back to see where she was, and put the hammer down just enough to stay ahead. On the final sprint, I didn't even look behind me, just geared it up, and went. As I crossed the line (ahead of Wonder Woman and CA-girl), my HR was at 180, which I thought was high. HA! Apparently I worked for where I was - average HR for 45 mins was 179 with a high of 189! YIKES! I finished 33rd.

I am really happy with my finish yesterday, and with the season that I had. Although yesterday I was celebrating the end of a VERY L-O-N-G season, today I am more sad that it is over. I will miss all of my riding/racing buds over the winter months...It was amazing to me all weekend, the number of people spectating who would call out my name. I told my DH that I didn't know who half of them were . It did make a difference, to me and to the other racers though, having the support of our friends, teammates and fans.

Here's to the end of a great season of 'cross in 2006. Who's going to Kansas next year?

Friday, December 15, 2006

'Cross Nationals - Women's 35-39

I knew from looking at the list of racers who were pre-registered in this age category that I was going to be pack fodder. This was a field STACKED with Elite racers, including one of my own teammates. I expected that I could at least learn something from the experience, and since my goal for next season is to race at the Elite level, I might as well get used to finishing near the back of the pack.

The butterflies started early for me - about 1:30 am. I was awake every half hour worrying that I had to be up and out of the house by 6:00 to get to Janet's to get down to the venue in time to pre-ride the course. Not a great start, but it was what it was...

I managed to get in a pre-ride before the course closed for racing, and it was a lot of fun. Uphill pavement start to a 90 degree right turn (over a curb) onto the first grassy section of the course. This section included some tight corners and a somewhat greasy off-camber section, before some long straights, more 180 degree turns and a jump off the bike for the first set of barriers. Back on the bike into the "whoopdee-doo" section of the course. Literally, this was like riding a roller coaster - lots of short ups, followed by quick gullies, interspersed with tight turns. Out of here into the only real climb on the course, cross some pavement, a few more dirt turns and a downhill into 180 degree turn to concrete stairs. Off bike, run stairs, back on bike on long, straight pavement section. Would be a good place to recover, but I used it as an opportunity to pass (if possible) or to draft. Right turn around a tree onto a rooty path that paralleled the pavement, down a steep-ish stuttery hill into another 180 degree turn up to dirt stairs. Off bike, run up stairs, back on bike to the "gravity cavity" - an off-camber, left-hand entrance into a downhill/uphill, around a corner, back down, around another corner, up and around the tree. Now there was a long straight away that had a slight rise (and by lap 3, this rise was PAINFUL), down along the water, some more switchbacks, onto the pavement, uphill, back down and into the final run-up/stair section. Down over some REALLY slippery roots, and back through the start/finish.

Any of you who raced at Nationals last year will remember this - there was a blizzard people! Not this year. We had an overcast day with temps in the upper 40s, low 50s. Now, for all of you from warmer climes - this is MILD! It meant not having to wear a jacket or tights... It also meant that the couse was DRY!

At GO, these women went out like there were rockets attached to their bikes. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I heard a WHOOSH sound from the back of the pack. I think I knew I was in trouble early, but I thought I could manage and push through.

For two and a half laps, Janet and I were together, stuck somewhere in no man's land. I knew we had passed some of the other women, but I also knew that a good portion of the field was ahead of us. Janet passed me and said "Let's go", but I didn't have much more to give. I stuck with her for another lap, hearing from the sidelines "Go get her wheel", "She's right there, you can catch her". What they all didn't know was that I was going as hard as I could, and she was just having a better day than I was.

As I was coming up the start/finish stretch after my fourth lap, the leader of our race, Wendy Williams, passed me. I could have done another lap, but wasn't really too sad when they told me that I was finished . The net was that the results don't show well (22nd out of 25 starters), but I actually felt pretty good. I started and finished; didn't finish last; and I had a great time. It was humbling, but in looking at the results afterwards, there was only one person who finished ahead of me who had not all season (at least for the local racers) - Janet!

Cris finished fourth, landing her on the podium! In another National Championship race, Julie Lockhart (another teammate) became the Women's 65+ National Champion! We were all so proud of her for her accomplishment - she has been out to EVERY practice and clinic all season, most of the regional 'cross races, and even calls me when it's pouring out to see if I want to go out to practice. I only HOPE that I have her energy and enthusiasm when I am 65 (BTW - they had to create a new category for Julie - they had previously never had someone in her age group race at Nationals!).

Here is a link to video from the race (thanks to Janet's husband, Juan):

Sunday, December 3, 2006

MRC 'Cross

After a few warnings about the pending Pats game on Sunday, Mike, Janet and I headed down to Wrentham via a somewhat circuitous route, but arrived without hitting traffic, and in plenty of time to warm up before racing started. Contrary to a few of the women who were racing on Sunday, I was happy to see so much of the race in a grassy field as we drove past to the parking area - I like those kinds of courses!

The warmup lap revealed a course that suited me well - lots of tight twisty corners in the opening stretch, a set of barriers leading into the woods (which was all double track, but also bumpy), around a tree and back into the field, down a hill into a very loose 180 degree turn back up the same hill, into another field where we climbed up over a piece of ledge (this had the potential for flats getting up on, and getting back down), through more twisty, turny, grassy sections, downhill to another set of barriers, back out a straightaway to a large log (requiring a dismount by all but the most talented - and even some of them failed ;-)), across a road, through some more tight turns, and into the start/finish. I loved it!

I lined up at the start alongside a woman who has been racing Elite all season, but had to get home for a commitment in the afternoon - GREAT! At the whistle, I took off, and looking at the photos, I had a pretty decent start behind Elite racer (who exploded from GO, and whom I never saw again...). I unfortunately got stuck behind a junior racer going through the turns on the first lap until she missed one and went down. Once into the woods, I was able to pass women who had passed me in the barriers. On the first run down the hill and around the 180, a rider went down, causing a bit of a jam, but I managed to swing wide enough to miss all of the traffic, passing a number of women in the process. Out into the field I heard that I was in 5th place - how did that happen???? I knew, however, that racers were close behind me. Must keep going.In the third lap, I made an error getting around the 180 degree turn, and got passed by two racers. I hung onto them through that lap and into the final lap, where they finally gapped me, and I finished 7th, with my teammate right on my heels. I was happy with my finish!

There was some controversy in our race, however. When we came down to see the results, we found that one of the women had been DQ'd. It turns out that she was ahead of another racer coming into the final sprint (for 2nd and 3rd); the rider behind somehow hit the other racer's derailleur or rear wheel, and went down. There was a protest, and the officials stated that the racer that had been ahead had violated rule 106: No rider shall make an abrupt motion so as to interfere with the forward progress of another rider, either intentionally or by accident [relegation or disqualification; possible 20 days suspension if a crash results]. She didn't feel that this was correct, and a few spectators questioned the validity of the whole incident as well. It was a hard lesson for her, but we can ALL learn something from this so we don't get caught in a similar situation. The good news out of this? The officials were consistent, DQ'ing Justin Spinelli in the Elite men's race for doing the same to Mark McCormack as they sprinted for the first lap prime.

I am taking this weekend OFF from racing, so good luck to any of you headed to RI for the Verge races. I hope to see some of you at Natz next weekend.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Porky Gulch Classic


Mike and I went up to NH this weekend to participate in the Porky Gulch Stage Race, and we had a BLAST. This was a three-stage, two-day race as follows:

Sat AM: Toughest Two Hillclimb - two mile TT up the Mt Washington Auto Road
Sat PM: Storyland Crit - the name says it all!
Sun: Rockpile Rampage - a 'cross race on the Great Glen trails at the base of Mt. Washington

We arrived at the race venue on Saturday morning, and the temp was a balmy 30 F with a wind. It was COLD! The first news we had was that the TT had to be shortened from two miles to about 1.5 miles because of ice and snow on the auto road. Trust me when I tell you this turned out to be a good thing ;-).

The beginners went out first , and it was a typical TT start - every rider going off at 30 second intervals. The only difference was that they left a 1 minute gap between fields. The first 1/4 mile was flat, and you could definitely get going at a good pace. Pedal, pedal, pedal - SLAM! It didn't take long to hit the 15% grade and feel like you had hit a brick wall. Suddenly I was seriously questioning myself - "What the heck are you doing? You don't climb hills! What were you thinking????" Lift foot, push foot down, lift foot, push foot down... Must keep going. I don't think that regular 'cross gearing is recommended for this kind of effort - I used my lowest gear, and was definitely looking for about 3 more.

Around another corner and I could see the ice/snow on the road. There was a swath of pavement that was clear - about 2.5 feet wide. Finally - the finish! Yahoo! Cross line, immediately feel like throwing up. No kidding. Once finished, we had to wait for all of the other racers to come across the line - think about being really warm, sweaty, and now standing in 25-30 degree weather and having to ride back down - BRR!!! Methinks I now also understand why they don't let racers in the hillclimb ride back down the mountain - full brakes and 33 mph was a little crazy ;-). One negative result of this part of the race was that both Mike and I (and many others) demolished our lungs. The combo of no warmup combined with a short and intense exertion with the cold air fried the lungs causing hacking/wheezing fits for hours after. I finished the TT in second place - while I am a TT racer, I am NOT, nor have I ever claimed to be a hill climber...

After some recovery and lunch, we headed to Storyland for the afternoon crit. Throw out all of your perceptions of what a regular crit is like, 'cause this was not like ANYTHING I have ever done before! Think of 20 - 30 turns, some of which were a true 180 degrees, tight chicanes around trees and stationary objects, paved walking paths that weren't wide enough for a car, and passing sights like a giant Cuckoo Clock, Cinderella's castle, a roller coaster, the Old Woman's shoe... This was a very technical (but fun) course that made the whole weekend worthwhile.

All of the beginners, including men, women and juniors, lined up together. I had a strong start, and managed to get the hole shot. Hole shot in a crit? Yup - we had a wide start, but that quickly narrowed as we entered Storyland. One of the junior racers passed me, and on at least two corners, caught his pedal. Thankfully, he didn't go down! This was a 30 min race, and we ended up doing 7 laps round and round the nursery rhymes and fairy tales. I managed to pull off a win here - I think it was the fantasy land influence ;-).

Sunday was the 'cross race - temps were a little warmer, starting out around 34 F. This was a tough course that really put a focus on endurance more than technical skills, although where the course was technical, you really needed to be on your game. Again, all of the beginners lined up together for the start, and for the second day, I ended up with the hole shot. This was NOT to be a good strategy for me, however, as I was apparently tired from the previous day.

There were two sets of barriers on the course, the first being very close to the start, but with a very difficult approach - a hard, 180 degree right hand turn around a boulder, slightly uphill. There was no coasting to these barriers, and the dismount was not pretty. The remount was also difficult, as it was on a gradual uphill slope. This led directly into the tunnel (crossing underneath Rte 16), where there was two way traffic... Coming out of the tunnel led to a 90 degree right turn into a steep run-up, and then onto some fireroads. The second set of barriers came at the bottom of a 20+ mph section of fireroad. In reality, this was a little dangerous, since the barriers were also on a run-up. Scrubbing speed to get off without carrying TOO MUCH momentum was a challenge on every lap.

I ended up getting gapped pretty hard in this race, and mentally gave up at one point. I was tired, it was cold, and I decided that I stunk at 'cross racing. We had to do 5 laps of the course (it was 30 mins, and since the number of laps was determined by the time required to do the first lap, and I went out too hard, it was my fault we did 5 and not 4). On the fifth lap, I was exhausted. I came over the first of the first set of barriers, and took the second barrier in the shin - flying through the air to the other side. Of course, this is where EVERYONE was standing. Now, I not only stunk, I was embarrassed, my shin hurt and my seat was sideways and I needed to keep going! I fixed my saddle position on the run-up, and finished the final lap of the race, exhausted, and frustrated. But, I finished. And. I. Had. Fun. ;-)

I finished the stage race in 2nd place overall. Don't get excited - there were TWO women in the entire race! I think that next year, we need to get a group together for this event - it was hard, but it was FUN. I was really happy with my crit result, and with "less" training next year, I think I could do better at the hill climb and 'cross race.

BTW - Mike had a GREAT weekend, winning his overall category. He raced intermediate, but would have finished in 2nd or 3rd overall in the Elite category...

I really can't say enough about how fun this weekend was. The organizers were great and the race was really well run. I'm looking forward to going back again next year!