Monday, August 27, 2012

And So It Begins...

The pit bikes

This weekend was the first cross race of the "season" for us - the Monson race put on by the Cyclonauts. We commented yesterday that we remember when we started this crazy sport, the first race was usually late September - now the "season" starts in August! Of course, that meant remembering what to pack, what the routines needed to be ... It was a good opener not only from a racing perspective, but also from an organizational one!

Monkey Vanderbacon
ripping the downhill
Of course, one of the prime benefits of the season starting is reconnecting with friends we haven't seen since the season ended in December. People say to me all the time that I must really like to ride/race my bike. The truth is that I like to hang out with cool people (and eat food and drink beer), and there are A LOT of cool people at a CX race! It was fun catching up, reconnecting, and making new friends. Fatmarc Vanderbacon and his wife even came all the way up from the mid-Atlantic for this one! 

Last year, I raced this course in the onset of Hurricane Irene. The conditions were muddy, wet and nasty, and I wasn't happy with how I raced or finished - I had a bad day on the bike mentally. I'm happy to report that this year, everything was the diabolic opposite from that (well, not sure how happy I was to be racing in almost 90 degree temps and eating a pound of dust...). This course has come a long way from its "jungle cross" beginnings, and I really liked all aspects. It was bone dry, and VERY dusty.

Mike looking strong
Mike's race went off early, and I ran around the course cheering and taking photos. He hasn't been doing too well in the heat (and did I mention yet that it was hot?), but managed to finish in 2nd place in his field - a strong finish for sure!

Later, I lined up on the start with about 15-20 other women - most of whom I know well from years of racing. There were some new faces though, including some trying out their first CX race ever! Unfortunately, I had a VERY bad start - as in 3rd last off the line bad. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but it wasn't good. I quickly moved up on the downhill pavement, but got caught behind a racer who unclipped going into the first off-camber uphill, and was forced to run. This put me behind, but I still didn't panic.
The only cool place
on the course!

I was solidly moving ahead when suddenly, despite pedaling, nothing was happening. The chain had come off the front chain ring and up onto the guides, forcing me to run up a [very] ride-able hill, and stop to get that chain back in the right place. I watched as at least 5 women passed me... 

The attack
Once I got rolling again I was determined to just race my race and do as well as I could. Slowly, I clawed back the women who had passed me with my mechanical. Then, I started to pass other racers who were ahead of me from the start. I never panicked - just kept my head down and focused on moving forward. On the final lap, I put in a hard attack to pass one more woman, and then knew I just needed to ride clean to the finish (though I did have sights set on one more who was only a bit ahead). Going into the final barrier, the chain once again got itself up onto the guides... DOH! Now, I did start to panic - mildly. Thanks to the encouragement from Mike and friend Eiric, however, I calmed down enough to put my foot on the chain, knocking it back onto the chain ring. From there, I buried it to the finish, maintaining my position.

Water feeds were required!
I ended up finishing 7th, and I am very happy with my result. Despite issues during the race, I stayed determined, calm and focused enough to pick my way back up through the field. It was a good start to the "season", and I am looking forward to the coming weeks and months!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hard Lessons

I have been racing competitively now since the late 90s, but I am still learning lessons about racing all the time. Unfortunately, it's usually the hard way.

This past weekend was the annual Hodges Village Dam MTB race - part of the Root 66 race series that Mike and I have been participating in for several years. This was our fifth attempt at the race (well, Mike's fifth, and my fourth since I had to miss one year) which also doubles as the MA state championship. Mike is humble, but he has won this race (and the championship) four out of five attempts, including this year. I haven't had quite the same luck...

Every other year, the weather conditions seem to be different - dry and dusty, or a monsoon that causes butt deep puddles, or lakes. This year was the former - not only were the trails incredibly dry and dusty, but the temp was in the low 90s, and the humidity was as well. With an 11:30 (ish) start, we were racing in the heat of the day, and it would be tough to stay hydrated.

I like racing this series because I know all the women in my field, and we have become friendly competitors over the years. Sue L remains my nemesis (and is on her way to her second attempt at Leadville this week). It's all smiles and chatter on the start line, and then we get down to business (though we still do look out for each other - more on that later).

On the whistle, I went out as hard as I could, getting the hole shot and quickly creating a small gap. Smart, yes? Um - remember the weather? Probably not so smart in the long run. But I led for the first part of the lap, with two of the younger women coming around me early, and then Sue going by on an uphill (now THERE'S a surprise :)). I passed one of the younger racers, Tina, back, and it was game on. 

There's not a lot of room for recovery on this course - lots of roots and rocks, and even though there are long sections of flat dirt road or trail, I was going flat out to use those to my advantage. Heading into the final third of the course, I was still ahead of Tina, with Vickie M coming up behind as well. In my haste to stay ahead before the hardest climb, I did something I don't normally do in a race and went down. Hard. Both Tina and Vickie asked if I was OK, and my quick response as I tried to get my bike off of the singletrack was "Yes. Go. Go. Go!" What I realized then was that I had hurt myself, but not enough to stop racing. Back on the bike, and head down to begin the chase. Lesson 1: Bumbles don't bounce.

Not long after, I came across both Tina and Vickie on the side of the trail. I would later find out that Tina had crashed and taco'd her front wheel, bruising her hand/wrist in the process, and Vickie was suffering from a case of heat stroke. I asked if they were OK, got a negative response, and told them I would send someone back for them, which I did when I went through the start/finish to begin my second lap.

The second lap was relatively uneventful. I still felt reasonably good, and knew that only Sue was in front of me, with two more racers behind. Mike passed me near the end of my second lap, and gave me some much needed encouragement as he went on to race for his win.

Somewhere in the third lap, the wheels started to come off the bus. It was hot, I was sore, and I was getting tired. I got passed by Katina, who kindly asked me if I was doing OK before she rode off. Undeterred, I kept thinking as I went through each section that I only had to ride that hill, those roots, that darned bridge one more time. Nearing the end of lap 3, I was low on water. My hands hurt, my feet hurt, my back was screaming, and my right side (knee, hip and elbow) was throbbing and swollen. Did I also say it was hot?

Mike was near the start/finish having completed his race, and offered encouragement and water. I knew I could do one more lap. And then, as I crossed over the line, I was asked a question - "Do you want to go out again?" I stopped to question this - would I still be scored if I finished? Was the 4th place rider still out on the course? I reiterated that I COULD do another lap, was assured that I would be scored if I did not, and was told that the 4th place rider would be given the option to also be scored after 3 laps. Given how I was feeling, I made a [bad] decision - I packed it in.

When I looked at the results, I saw that I had been moved to 4th place - the rider behind me, who I assumed would be scored after 3 laps, opted to finish her race. The placing was fair, but I was disappointed. My disappointment is only in myself - of having taken the easy way out and thrown in the towel. Lesson 2: NEVER quit racing and NEVER take the easy way out.

At the end of the day, I finished 4th overall, and 2nd in the MA state championship. Not a bad result, but I had hoped for better. I have done the "Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda" multiple times already, but I'll chalk this up to learning my lessons the hard way.