Mike and I first raced Coyote Hill back in the late 90s - the first year Tom ran this race. The trail then was all fresh cut singletrack - loamy, power-sucking trail with small pungee sticks everywhere. And the fields were freshly mowed, making the course, as I remember it (I was a beginner back then), incredibly difficult. The singletrack is worn in now, but the course is still technically challenging.
My race day started auspiciously - I got up to close a window when I heard the rain hitting the skylight. Unfortunately, while I was awake, my foot was still sleeping, and when I put my weight on it, it went out from under me pretty hard. It would only be later that I realized I had sprained it... Racing on a sprained ankle in the mud, uphill on slippery roots is ok, right? ;)
Outside of that, the race for me can be described in three parts - the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good: I drank THREE bottles and ate my Clif Bloks during the race! Woohoo. The pre-ride showed me that the ONLY Place I was going to be able to do this was on the uphill start, the grassy area near the start/finish and one teeny section of double-track. I took advantage of all three places! I also had a great start, despite lining up in the back and trying not to go out too hard, or near the front of the pack...
The bad: The course was tough and technically challenging. It was raining when we arrived, making the roots slippery, and some sections really muddy. I watched racers crashing on rocks, on roots and in giant mud puddles where logs were buried so you couldn't see them. I hit a tree - twice. I ended up scraped, bruised and generally sore. The course required you to be "on" the entire time... Also, doing an entire lap of the course prior to the race was a BAD choice. I didn't have much time between that and the race start (which, thank goodness, ended up delayed by 15 mins).
The ugly: Lap times went downhill fast. I had a good first lap, riding with Alex J from IBC. We went back and forth - she would crash and I would get by, only to have her pass me (or ask nicely to get by) on some downhill sections (where I reminded her that I had become more cautious given that I had a mortgage to pay!). I lost Alex in the second lap where I technically rode better, but with lapping traffic, had to literally stop to get out of the way on occasion. The second lap for me was six minutes slower than the first, which I attributed to all of the traffic (and to having to coach Colin through his cramping episode). By the third lap (which was really my fourth), I was tired (DUH!), and started making mistakes. Slipping here, sliding there, dabbing where I shouldn't have needed to. I got angry with myself and started yelling out loud (good thing no one was around 'cause they would have thought I was crazy!). My final lap was even LONGER, bringing my total race time for about 15 miles to 2:41 - too slow.
Learnings: a full lap pre-ride isn't a great idea on a technical course. Don't let the person you are riding with get away after 1 lap. Colin can recover after dropping to the ground and writhing in agony. And the trees will always win ;)
Last year, I had a TERRIFIC race at Sterling, finishing 6th in the Women's P/1/2/3 field. I have convinced myself for a year that it was a fluke - happened my accident - nothing like that could possibly happen again - EVER. While I reveled in that result all last year, I also questioned its validity for an equal amount of time.
My focus this year is on the MTB racing, but I needed to do Sterling to prove to myself, one way or the other, that last year was or was not a fluke. I was going to be racing with the NEBC Elite Women, so met up with them for pre-race meeting and warm-up. All the while, I was casual - excited about the race, but no nerves. And then BAM! Slammed in the gut by a 2x4 right before the start. Butterfly Olympics? Forget about it - this was WORSE. What if it was a fluke? ACK!
I nervously lined up with the team as well as the likes of Anna Milkowski and Mo Bruno (no wonder I was intimidated!). There were about 25 of us at the start as we headed for the neutral climb up THE HILL (including one racer who started our NEBC Intro to Racing Clinic, but clearly didn't finish since her number was pinned on upside down...).
The first lap of a race always makes me nervous, and this time out was no different. At the beginning of the season, I am always wary of the handling skills of the other racers. With Rebecca doing a good amount of work on the front of the pack, I decided to make a move up to the front to help out - which also let me lead through the fast downhill sections of the course, and back onto Rte 12.
The headwind on Rte 12 slowed the pace of the pack, and I quickly found myself at the back. I knew that I needed to be closer to the front going into the hill, so surfed forward, only to get swarmed and end up once again in the back going up the climb. I still managed to pass riders going up the hill, but this year the climb seemed harder than I remembered from last year. Multiple laps I ended up chasing back onto the back of a group after cresting the hill, and all of that chasing extracted a toll.
Eventually we ended up with a break of three up the road (which included Rebecca - yay!). With only about two laps to go, Brooke told me that she wanted to potentially put someone in the middle. Unfortunately, with all of the chasing I had already done, that wasn't going to be me this year.
With one lap to go, a second group of five got a gap on the remainder of the group we had been racing with, leaving Brooke, Susanne, Nat and I with Mo and a Williams racer. Brooke told me that she thought we should set Nat up for the bunch finish, for which I was grateful - the seventh time up that beast was going to do me in! Coming onto Rte 12, Susanne and I were so pro - rotating between the two of us to keep the pace high as we approached Sterling Center. Knowing that my race was just about done, I worked all for the set up...
So, imagine my surprise, when just as I am thinking they can take it from here, I hear Brooke screaming at me to GO! GO FASTER! GO! What?!?!? Wasn't it Susanne's turn? Wasn't I finished? What do you mean, GO?? I'd been going and my legs were toast. But, I cranked it up as much as I could into the center and into the final turn before the hill. Finally, Brooke came by me shouting that this was it, DIG! GO! No way, Jose - my legs were waging an all out revolt at that point, and I was shutting down.
The Williams racer got past me as we approached the line, and I finished 11th - one out of the money. I promptly found the first driveway out of the road, and fell over - still clipped into my pedal! What I hadn't realized was that I had ended up gapping some of our group as we came into Sterling Center, and Brooke was trying to get me to give it all I had... I did - there was NOTHING left in my tank.
So, after a great result again this year, I have concluded that last year's performance at Sterling really wasn't as much of a fluke as I had thought. The funniest thing was having Susanne refer to me as the "hill climber" the next day :).
Flipping through photo albums this week, Mike came across some of our older MTB racing photos, and scanned them in. These are from my first year racing - 1997. I loved that old Slingshot, too, but not the jeers of "Hey - do you know your down tube's missing" from the spectators ;)
Racing at Nashoba
Surf and Dirt
And look - it's AA as an official!
This is from Catamount - sunburn and mud in the same day!
I have two major passions in life (ok, three, but the third is a given ;)) - cycling and teaching.
For years, I have been involved in the education/training field. I started in high school on a co-op assignment, teaching English and Math (yes, me) at an elementary French School. I moved to substitute teaching for language teachers at my high school, a lab TA for Computer Science (yes, me!) in university/college and then into corporate education where I still sit today. Why is this a passion? Ever explained something to someone and seen a lightbulb go off? That's the point - sharing knowledge with others, and seeing them grasp the understanding of what you are teaching. You can literally see their facial expression change when they finally "get it".
What does this have to do with cycling you ask? One of the ways that I "give back" to the sport I love is to volunteer at NEBC's Spring Racing Clinic. This is the third year I have participated as an instructor (after first being a graduate!). The clinic pairs my passion for teaching with my passion for cycling, and for 4 weeks in April, I get to watch new cyclists/racers embrace the sport I love. It is so satisfying to watch people who at the beginning of April don't know how to ride in a paceline, progress so that at the end of the month they are riding smooth pacelines, sprinting, cornering and displaying confidence in handling their bikes.
Sunday was the graduation exercise for this year's racing clinic at BRC's Wells Ave training crit, and I went to do a "ride along", coaching them through their first race experience. We managed to ensure that everyone had numbers pinned correctly (none upside down or on the wrong side!), seatbags were taken off the bikes, the course was previewed, warmups were complete and even a flat tire was changed. I could see and feel the nerves as they lined up to race.
I literally rode alongside the group coaching them on when to move up, when to pull off and sometimes, when to shift ;). A few laps in, the prime bell rang. I encouraged Joy to get on my wheel to provide her a leadout for the sprint, practing skills from the clinic. I picked up the pace and launched Joy and Kate (from Quad Cycles) to the line, with Joy taking the first prime. Kate, with a bit more race experience, realized that they now had a gap. The two worked together to increase their lead, and were off.
I drifted back to the chase group, happy to see that they were using their newly learned skills. I coached a Quad teammate not to chase down the break (and why) - she did a fantastic job of blocking, and the chase group was never able to close down the gap, despite sustaining a 20 mph pace. Race tactics wasn't something we really discussed as part of the clinic, but I did address it with the group in our post-race debrief.
After spending 3 laps chasing down the break myself, I caught them with only 4 laps left in the race, encouraging them to make the most of the gap they had, and to continue working together. In the end, I provided the final lead out, and Joy took her first racing win, wearing the NEBC colors! It was so fun to see everyone SO EXCITED about their racing experience. They were all talking about going back to the next Wells Ave D race in June!
Too bad we can't require all racers to go through our clinic. In the combined A/B field it appeared that someone didn't know how to corner in turn 1, grabbed some brake, and caused a signifcant crash in front of me, with about 7 or 8 riders going down, bikes and riders being ridden over and damaged in the process. After already having been put into a curb earlier, seeing teammates crash put me out of the racing mood and I decided I'd had enough.
I hope some of our clinic grads go on to do well in the local race scene. I know Joy, for sure, has the racing bug already, and is registered for Sterling next weekend!