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!