Sunday, December 27, 2009

race report: NBX Day 1 (Verge NECCS #13), 5. December 2009

Check it, yo: at some point my superstitious tendencies are actually correct. Race No. 13 of the Verge Series found me bogged down at the start, trying to make it up on the hole shot/run-up (definitely NOT my favorite course design of the season), crashing out halfway through the first lap on some slippery/grass mud that wouldn't ordinarily give me trouble, then having a terrible time remounting, then trying to make up ground before the start of lap 2.

Shortly after hitting the dirt singletrack, I noticed that my chain was coming off, and when I tried to pedal it back on to save time, it ended up getting further screwed up. Suddenly, I heard a clinking noise--the chain had sheared off my derailleur hanger with it. FUN!

Instinctively, I ran to the pit, but entered at "pit pass" instead of the actual "pit entrance." David, bless his heart, met me at the pit, and we decided that the race was over as Mark, the pit mechanic, explained to me that I'd have to leave and reenter if I wanted to continue anyway. Yeah, given that the whole race had already gone by and sucking on Saturday is okay... notsomuch.

I spent the rest of the day of my first-ever CX DNF getting the preliminary fix (I have a spare der. hanger in my race bags) done at the pit, then getting the other stuff done at the shop. Turns out that the mechanical had also trashed the derailleur cage. Lesson learned: swap out my $10 derailleur hanger every few "expensive side" crashes to avoid having the hanger's weakness take the rest of my bike with it.

race report: Baystate Cyclocross Day 2 (Verge NECCS #12), 29. November 2009

OMGWTFSOBEHIND!!! on race reports.

Anyway. I was more than satisfied with the previous day's top 5 finish. When I pre-rode on the morning of Day 2, I was pretty sure that things weren't going to go as well. Instead of the awesome monster run-up, the course included a shorter run- or ride-up (I knew after the Cat 4s it would dissolve into sloppy mud ruts, and planned to run it) and a new detour into the woods over some roots.

However, the steps could possibly work in my favor, and the barriers would be great if I hit them with the right amount of momentum. For some reason I didn't feel as on top of things as I did the day before (probably sleepy), but I also didn't feel as much pressure, so that was good.

Coming through the hole shot, I was in about tenth, and as we went around the early turns I could see Emily Curley leading the race--awesome!! I worked to catch up to her and Sally; that eventually happened at the steps, where I sprinted by and then took my time remounting. Sally was a close contender but ended up crashing out in the barrier section--argh! I worked with Nancy and then ended up ahead of her.

The rest of the race was pretty magical: I was in the zone, and my head and legs knew what to do and were working together instead of fighting each other. Due to the fact that I was in the zone and reacting, and due to the fact that, um, a bit of time has passed since Sterling, I don't remember many other details from the race. I do know, however, that I made smart decisions at the obstacles, managed not to crash on the sketchy downhill after the run-up, stayed in the big ring for the entire race, and wrapped up 5th for the second day in a row. Elated!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

upcoming: Ice Weasels!

Yes, I am behind on race reports, but first: check out this race on Saturday, because it was fun as hell last year and looks to be even more awesome this time around.

More details:

Monday, November 30, 2009

race report: Baystate Cyclocross Day 1 (Verge NECCS #11), 28. November 2009

When my coach and I were planning out the season, I knew I wanted both days of Sterling to be "A" races. I absolutely loved Baystate CX race last year--it was miserable (cold, with mud puddles and icy runups), but I happened to be super-mad that day, and I took that out on the course and shredded (by my standards at the time--it was the only top-half Verge finish I had all year).

I'm a lot happier overall this season than I was last year, and I also feel like I know my way around 'cross a hell of a lot better. So I was curious to see how Sterling would play out, and put my trust in the taper my coach assigned me. He and I had agreed that I could take the weekend beforehand off from racing, and this turned out to be crucial: I went from hating every pedal stroke (as I had at Mercer) to having fun on the bike again. And, by the time I pulled out of Wednesday night's practice race after doing my assigned 15-minute interval, I felt confident again.

I'd been flailing on asphalt for the previous two weekends, so the dirt track start at Sterling was a huge, huge bonus. I bobbled a little at the whistle, but quickly recovered and went through the hole shot somewhere in the top 10. After that was the hairpin turn and the runup. I saw Sally crash out and go over the tape just in time, shouldered, and managed to get a great line right up the middle of the hill, past the other girls who had opted to push their bikes. The front of the race (Julie, Emma, Catherine) was in sight as I remounted. Awesome. I spent the rest of the first lap chasing; I think this was where I managed to pass Emily at some point. Right after the beginning of the second lap, I was chasing Libby White. This was her debut race of the season, but she knows what she's doing on a bike: I attacked and made a move to pass her in the corner toward the runup; she immediately responded by finding the other line and passing me back. She pushed her bike up the run-up; I shouldered, passed, and used my momentum to get down the hill and to the horse jump with a gap.

I worked with Nancy for a bit, then managed to get in front of her with a gap, and kept hammering it open. Every time I looked back during the third lap I saw Erin Brennan behind me, and, as she'd kicked my butt at Gloucester and Casco Bay, I had a vested interest in beating her for once. Melissa Houde was right in front of me as we rolled out of the Gravel Turns of Death (TM) and back to the track--but I attacked too late and she got the sprint, decisively. I rolled over the line knowing I was top 10, and pretty happy with that... maybe 6th, 7th? When I finally saw the results, though, I felt like a zillion bucks. 5th in a fairly sizeable, difficult Verge field? UmmmHELLyeah. Not only that, but I couldn't believe that the goal my coach and I had planned the season around had actually been met. And to top it all off, Erin came over and called me "bitch" for beating her! It was pretty awesome.

Friday, November 27, 2009

super-belated race report: USGP Mercer Cup Day 2, 15. November 2009

So, USGP, part deux. Realized upon preriding that most of the previous day had not been rerouted. Gah!! Preriding mucked up my derailleur, bike, and drivetrain pretty badly. None of the bike washes were operational yet, so I ended up rinsing the bike by ferrying bottles of water from the restroom.

We lined up and once again, crappy start on the asphalt, then drilling it on the grass. I raced pretty well for the first few minutes, with Jess still in sight. Then, somewhere between having a hard time finding a freakin' line to ride, getting said line directly cut off by one of the juniors zooming from behind, crashing once or twice, and, on top of it all, coming off a week with no rest day... things started to suck. In truth, I hated almost every minute of that race, and was cursing being there, cursing the pounds of mud added to the bike, cursing trying to heave it through the slop and over the barriers, giving up on shouldering because the bike had gotten so heavy... yeah. I'm sure it was nowhere near as bad as Mercer was last year, but I was having a completely whinecore day, and breaking down mentally.

In the third lap I managed to fight a bit more, take charge and get back four or so places; one of these women, however, eventually passed me back about 400-600m before the finish. I was hating it so much at that point I literally said, "I don't care" as I saw her go off into the distance. Then another girl approached from behind and, miraculously, I did begin to care again. We entered the finishing straight and, after one of the worst races in recent memory, somehow laid down what was probably the best sprint of my season. It was not as decisive as the sprint at GMCX (where I already had a gap and was ripping it open), nor was it as elated as the sprint at Providence, because everything I had left went into it. Once I got off the bike, I couldn't even stand up straight.

THAT 30 seconds, I was proud of. The rest... notsomuch.

Still had a great time with friends after the race. Here's a photo of Jess and me (both of us elated to be freakin' done):

bikes, Jess & me

And on the way back to Boston, I stopped in NYC to visit an old friend from college. I love that after all these years, we still love hanging out on the roof:

NYC from the roof

I took the following weekend off racing and hey, guess what? Now I'm excited again.

super-belated race report: USGP Mercer Cup Day 1, 14. November 2009

This race report has been belated, partly due to my being busy, and partly because I don't have a huge amount to say about Day 1 of Mercer. Besides, any complaints not about the race itself have probably been covered by Mike already.

So other than that: at the start, I was still a little shaky from the crash at NoHo. Thankfully, Laura, who'd also gone down, had travelled down to USGP as well, and lined up with me. Still, though, I was staged in the back row, and also was a little timid due to the wet pavement. The second I went through onto the grass, though, I started drilling it and before I knew it, Jess and Kirsten were both in sight. This is pretty new for me. I managed to keep Jess in sight for half a lap, and Kirsten for a bit longer.

Second lap was a bit more difficult. Third lap, I was in race form again. I was battling back and forth with this girl Kathleen, and then ultimately got her on that lap. Finished 12th--right behind Kirsten (11th) and Jess (10th). I was reasonably happy with that, given that Jess and Kirsten usually have several more places on me.

Speaking of Jess--she is awesome. She and her husband, Vinnie, opened up their domicile (15 minutes from the venue!) up to some of us for the weekend. Jess and I hit it off at SpectaCross and hung out when she was up for G-star, so it was great to get to catch up with her. Also awesome to have a warm place to sleep, do laundry, and wash the bikes.

After post-race cleanup, Jess and I headed back to watch the pros before running errands. Here's our friend/results czar Colin duking it for out a couple laps after suffering a mechanical at the start:

And here is Geoff "I Took A Leak on the Sissy Line" Kabush, also throwing down after a mechanical knocked him out of third place:

Later, back at Chez Galatro, we hungry cyclists enjoyed a fantastic pasta dinner, a huge spread of dessert, and, despite (or perhaps because of) the collective biketardness, a bunch of excellent, entertaining conversation. Adam regaled us with crazy UCI stories, and Colin let us have first crack at the fantastically awesome crossresults T-shirts. Tiring morning, good evening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

race report: Cycle-Smart International Day 2, Verge NECCS #10, 8. November 2009

When we last left our intrepid hero, she was on this whole "tomorrow is another day" kick. BAHAHAHAHA... ominous foreshadowing!

Sunday was, of course, another early morning. I swung by Central to pick up Nancy, and we headed back to NoHo. I had already picked up Sunday's number on Saturday and pinned it, so all I had to do was warm up, stay fed and hydrated, and keep an eye out for any last-minute issues that might need to be tweaked on the bike. Ace! I ended up getting in 2.5 laps of warmup. The course was even more fun than Sunday (who could NOT be in love with that airborne jump off the railroad track? Seriously, I want to know) and I was excited.

I didn't consciously know that things were about to go south, but I think that there were signs of what was going to happen before it actually occurred. As I put on my racing socks back at the car, I started getting more superstitious than I usually do. 30 minutes later, as we stood waiting in the start box, the cub juniors had an awful crash in front of us. Right after they cleared him off the course, the whistle blew--definitely in keeping with the element of surprise that is supposed to characterize a cyclocross start, but also a bit creepy. Three seconds later, I saw wheels crossing to my right. The wave hit right in front of me and I got sucked into the bottom of the pileup, skidding out on my face. It took a couple seconds for the shock to wear off, and then I realized I wasn't seriously hurt, just pissed. I got up, grabbed the bike... and realized the back wheel wouldn't move. It had come partway out of the dropouts from the impact, so I fixed that. Still not moving. I shouldered and started running to the pit.

At this point Rob and Peter were standing on the sidelines at the hole shot area, asking if I needed anything, but I was apparently too busy screaming "mother*******" to notice. I'm not sure how I didn't get relegated, particularly since by this time the cub juniors were coming back around in the opposite direction and not only was I swearing bloody murder, I was doing so in front of, you know, THE CHILDREN. By the time Aumiller ran up to me, however, I was starting to come to my senses; he asked if I needed help and I yelled at him to meet me in the pit. The officials took pity on me (either that, or they were tired of the screaming) and let us go off the course in a non-pit area to look at the bike. Aumiller helped me calm down enough to realize that the chain was stuck behind the cassette. He gave it a good yank, the officials found a safe spot for me to re-enter the course, and I was back on my way... in DFL... hoping to God not to get lapped. I yelled some encouragement to Emily, who was still running, then flew around the rest of the parade lap as quickly as I could. When I passed Spaits and Rob et al. on the sidelines, they were yelling that if I stayed in it, I would catch girls. And you know what? I believed them.

I gritted my teeth while coming through the finish area, groaning inwardly at the fact that the real race was just starting. Then I heard Richard Fries calling me out for looking "fetching" in my kneesocks. Given that in the past he's typically called me out for my pain face, Fries calling me sexy was just one more indication that I was not having the best race day ever. But strangely enough, it cheered me up ("hey, if I can't be a winner, I can at least be a show pony, right?") and I attacked the first turn with venom. Much of the first lap was lonely, with me still chasing, but Aumiller and Nick showed up at the top of the hill and their encouragement kept me in it. Cathy, bless her, was also cheering. All of my friends on the sidelines were no end of awesome, and in the second and third laps, they turned out to be right: I started catching people. Anna... Julie... Katherine... Kristen... Jill.

Each time I caught someone, I felt more motivated and also more aggro, to the extent that I was practically hearing 2Pac in my head (NB: when I get pissy in races, my internal radio station starts playing "Hit 'Em Up") and thinking to myself about giving my competitors "the business." From a numbers perspective, I was doing much worse than usual; from an effort perspective, I was balls to the wall and it was GOOD. I spent a huge amount of time in the drops, looking ahead, and attacking. I was clawing my way back up (or, as Aumiller calls it, "clawing ass") and caring about every place I could move up and every second I could save. Near the end of the last lap, Jean was in sight and I was chasing her. I got close enough to have her in my crosshairs, but she held me off with a solid sprint.

I was chatting with David right after the race, still a little disoriented. When I reached down, unsteadily, to grab my bike, I realized my handlebars were wet. I'd been going so hard I'd drooled all over them. Fetching, indeed.

race report: Cycle-Smart International Day 1, Verge NECCS #9, 7. November 2009

My week leading up to NoHo was somewhat stressful. I was running on a sleep deficit and, as a result, found myself feeling uncharacteristically, genuinely whiny (most of the time, I'm just mock-whiny). LAME. It wasn't until Friday afternoon that the "OMG ! PSYCHED TO RACE! BRING ES!" feeling started to hit me. Unfortunately, this was still intermixed with "OMG! SO BUSY! AND SO MUCH STILL TO DO BEFORE I MUST WAKE UP AT 4:30AM TOMORROW!" Grah. I managed to get all the pre-race admin done, but, dude, some weeks I feel like I just need more hours in the day, and more freakin' sleep.

Aaaaaanyway. I had decided to drive to NoHo both days: carpooling back with Lodri on Saturday, carpooling both ways with Nancy on Sunday. So Saturday a.m. I was on my own. Sometimes a two-hour solo drive at the crack of dawn is actually what I need to get centered, so the journey to NoHo wasn't all that bad. Once I got there, it was, however, freaking COLD. I started setting up my stuff, decided to go with tights, and prerode. I practiced the start, but not full-bore (as the start was in reverse for the parade lap, and the rest of the race was actually running in the other direction, most riders warming up were going the opposite direction). I got in a lap or maybe two of the rest of the course. Then I pinned and did all of that garbage. Ahhh, yes, note my use of the word "garbage." Yes. At this point, mid-season ennui was catching up to me. This would be race number 18 of the year, and though I liked the course, I was starting to feel the length and weight of my season.

So, the start. Was front row but didn't get out as quickly as I'd have liked; fortunately, was able to drill it on the grass and get up into 13th or 12th or so. By the end of the parade lap or the beginning of the "real" first lap, I was beginning to regret my decision to wear tights, as they were heating the hell up. My frustration was only exacerbated when Richard Fries started calling out other chicks for wearing knee socks. "DAMMIT, I wish I were wearing my awesome socks right now," I thought to myself. And that wistful instance of passive vanity (yeah, it's bike racing, yeah, it happens, but still) pretty much sums up my level of motivation. I mean, it wasn't the worst race ever, from a mental perspective, but it certainly was not the best. One, I let Sally get by me as she drilled it through the sand pit. Two, BrittLee and I were battling it out as usual and this time she got by me. Three, I repeatedly got wicked bogged down in the sketchy corner after the cinder and Brett ultimately took that chance to get by me too (fortunately, I got her back later after she endo'd in the barriers).

On the bright side, I had some great efforts--for example, for the first lap or two, Tasha was right in my sights, and I did attack and counterattack quite a bit. But there were also points where I should have stuck to wheels harder, or attacked, and didn't or couldn't. I only finished 2:00 back from Frances... but on the downside, I finished 15 places back, in 16th. Yeah, the field was stacked; yeah, the dry, fast course didn't totally suit my abilities; yeah, I finished 11 places better than I did last year. Nonetheless, it was the first Verge race of the season in which I didn't meet my top 15 goal, and I was kind of pissed at myself for not drilling it more. "Tomorrow is another day," I kept telling myself. But I was soon to find out that, much like Rhett Butler, sometimes cyclocross frankly does not give a damn. TO BE CONTINUED...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

race report: Canton Cup, 31. October 2009

Right now, it hurts to be me.

No, I'm not being emo--life is pretty sweet at the moment. The only problem is that my left shin is scraped to hell from Saturday's race and, well, it kinda hurts to wear jeans. And, as wearing jeans = me, from October - April, right now, it hurts to be me.

Soooo, Canton Cup. Was hoping to do well at this race; it was the first race that I really felt I did well at last year. What with the long, flat stretches and asphalt sections, Canton is a bit of a power course, but the turns and barriers break that up and that suits me fine. I was happy, on the pre-ride, to see that last year's back asphalt section had been re-routed to include a turn back through the woods over a log. Sweeeeeet. I was also happy to discover that the uphill before the low barriers that gave me such grief last year (I think I ran it, every time) was now totally rideable for me--no question.

The lap was pretty long, and I didn't have time to do more than one lap on the preride, so instead I decided to do some practice starts and dial in my gearing choice. This paid dividends--when we lined up, I had what was, for me, a near-perfect start--I surged up the hill in the lead and ended up through the hole shot a couple bike lengths behind the lead group of riders.

Photo by Geoff Martin

Arley's advice about cornering at last week's clinic really helped through the first turns. I was able to keep my speed up, and worked my way up near the leaders. I was sitting on 3rd's wheel (either Giulia or Laura) on the way up to the doubletrack turn... and then I bounced off of it and off to the side of the course. DAMN, THERE WENT THE PODIUM, I thought (yeah, this type of mental breakdown... stuff I'm still working on). I got back on as quickly as I could, but the crash happened in the worst possible spot and, by the time I collected myself, at least five more riders had passed me. I scrambled to get back up and passed more people in the turns... still not enough. Though I had the inaugural crash of the day, I didn't have the last one--I could see pileups happening in the chicanes. Then when we came onto the wooded asphalt section, Leah crashed out. I was able to get around and catch on the chase group as they went up the hill to the short barriers. I started working on those girls again. We came out of the barriers, hit the chicanes and the runup (nailed it), and then we were on the track and I busted ass to get up to Sally and BrittLee. Unfortunately, BrittLee bogged down in the corner in front of us; I think it was soon after that that Sally and I got around her, and then I was drafting Sally up the hill through the finish area. We only had one lap to go at this point--WHAT!??! It's true the lap was long, but it still felt like we were just settling in.

Anyway, sometime in the first half of the second (and final!) lap, I passed Sally. Then, as I was coming out onto the wooded asphalt and thinking, "OK, take this corner smart, and don't crash out," I leaned a little too much, and crashed right out. Sally came past me, I righted myself quickly enough to get back behind her but not quickly enough to pass back, and then headed into the turn with the log.

After all the early mistakes, the rest of the race was pretty clean and solid. Sally stayed away to get 5th and earn a well-deserved upgrade point; I turned in a decent sprint and held on to 6th. While the race could have gone better had I not crashed, I still improved last year's finish by ten places (16/37 last year, 6/37 this year). Not too awful, at all, and at least the blood on my shin looked kind of hardcore. This, of course, brings us back to the bit about how it hurts to wear pants right now. Fortuitously, I had packed a skirt to wear post-race, as it was going to be warm and "dressing like a woman" was a good standby "costume" for lazy-ass me (hey, the people who know how I roll at 'cross races thought it was funny). Also, Canton has showers, so I got in there and scrubbed the wounds out (yeah, yelping a little, but what can you do?), then kept 'em covered in tall socks for the rest of the day. WIN. No, wait... 6th.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

race report: DCCX, 25. October 2009 (Spank Me Sunday #4)

My good friend and former teammate Ken has been living in the DC area since last August, and he offered me a standing invitation to come down, visit him, and do a 'cross race. I believe his exact words were more along the lines of "come down and beat up on some MABRA girls." Since violence obviously appeals to me, and since Wilcox had said good things about DCCX, I thought I'd try my hand at that race. I was excited about racing out of town, so much so that when I wrote up my training calendar with my coach, I designated DCCX as an "A" race.

Just one problem, though--when BikeReg for the event finally opened up, I scanned the registration page and realized that they were grouping the 3s with the elites instead of the 4s. At that moment, I could already feel the pain (not to mention, the DEFEAT, oh my God, the defeat) set in. However, it was also noted on the registration page that the Cat 3 results would be subset, with prizes 5 deep. This was a huge tipping point for me--I'd get the opportunity to race against and learn from the really fast chicks, but the results of this experiment would be measured against those of others in my category. I decided to give it a go.

DC-area racer Arley Kemmerer put on a free skills/course intro clinic the day before the race; this was infinitely helpful. We went over the entire course, she had interesting ideas about pretty much every corner, and, best of all, we got to practice the start about five times, which was great since starts are not exactly my strong suit. When I rolled up to the line on Sunday, I was in the correct gear and, though I was nervous about the imminent handing of my ass to me by various 1 and 2 chicks, I was in the right gear and excited to get on the course. After the whistle I managed to clip in, get up the hill, and bounce up on to the grass about mid-pack. It was the hardest and best start I've done all year, and I managed to up the ouch factor by holding on. I was hurting but holy God, I wasn't getting dropped right away the way I was at QuadCross--I was ACTUALLY IN IT. So painful, but so exciting. Of course, as the pain worsened, the excitement turned to fear and nausea, and as we went across the asphalt and back up onto the grass, I had serious doubts about making it through the entire race at that pace. Kept hanging on and staying with people, until the barriers, when Christina Briseno stalled in front of me, I accidentally clipped her coming through, and she started swearing. SHIT, second elite race and I pulled a total n00b move.

While Christina and I went back and forth for the rest of that lap, I started questioning whether I belonged there, and eventually, she pulled away. For the next two laps, I sat in against the pain and worked on keeping Heidi Goldberg (Cat 1 road racer for Kenda, but new at 'cross) behind me. I worked on using momentum, and I was able to do it on this course like I never had before--there was one tiny hill that I kept bombing up when others were falling back. Then Heidi got away from me. Gah! New goal--okay, same goal I had at the start of the race--was not to get lapped by the leader. Meanwhile, while worrying about Arley lapping me, I was lapping some of the Cat 4 women. By splitting the fields the way they did, the promoters attracted a variety of category and ability levels, including a lot of beginners--75 total women, said the announcer--and that was pretty awesome.

The start of lap 4 was excruciating, but once I hit the brick section in the woods the "oh shit" factor turned to "only 1.5 left to go, and still on the lead lap! Woo-hoo!" It was at some point during the beginning of lap 5 that I realized I was actually NOT going to get lapped by Arley. Holy awesome. Stupidly, I relaxed a little. And then... I saw the girl advancing behind me, heard her friends cheering for her (Becca), thought maybe she was a 3 in my race, and wanted to hold her off. "Gaps don't close in cyclocross, they only open," I heard Myerson saying in my head for the umpteenth time, and through the barriers and into the latter half of lap 5, I worked on hammering out that gap again. Owwww. I struck a balance between teasing out space between us and not making stupid mistakes that would crash me out and close the gap. My last barrier sequence was perfect, and I finally nailed the muddy ride-up that I'd been dismounting and running in each of the other laps. I was ass-tired but I kept upright and kept Becca behind me. Once we went through the start and got back on the grass, I used my momentum to get me up the small hill again, then came back down around the turn, sprinted up the asphalt toward the line, and called it a day.

Though I held Becca off, it became apparent she was a 4 and not actually in my race, and I was pretty convinced that, even though I hadn't been lapped, I was DFL. I was wiped, felt like crap, and was basically ready to collapse and cry. I went to Ken's team's tent and put my bike down. The silver lining was Ken had brought draft root beer with sugar in it instead of corn syrup, which was awesome because it meant I could actually consume it (my body and high fructose corn syrup are sworn enemies). So grabbed a root beer from the cooler, started downing it... and then realized halfway through that I was drinking an IBC. Corn syrup city. SHIT. Not only had I just sucked ass at elite racing, but I was about to be in a world of pain. I gulped down some water and decided that, since it was possibly only a matter of time before total stomach shutdown, that I should spin my legs out a bit.

I spun around a bit, then headed over to check the results. Miracle of miracles! I had finished 16th--squarely in the bottom half of the field, but decidedly NOT dead last. They had not subset the Cat 3s in the results, but I was holding on to hopes of, like, squeaking into 5th for the 3s, so I decided to check back in a bit. Sure enough, the next time I wandered back to the results, the 4 podium was going on, and then I heard names being called for the Cat 3 podium, mine among them. OMG! PRIZES! I ran over to the AABC tent, grabbed my camera, and found Ken. We headed back to the podium just as they were starting the awards. They called up someone for 4th... then 3rd... and I was getting confused because my name had been among those called over originally, but they weren't calling me up. Then they called up 2nd. Still not me. There was only one spot left. OH. WOW. It was at this point that I turned around and looked at Ken in disbelief, much like some character in one of those terrible tearjerker sports films my dad used to watch when I was a kid. Then the announcer said, "And all the way from Somerville, Mass..." and called my name. Twenty minutes ago I thought I was the Sultana of Suck, and now they were letting me stand on top of the box!!! Yahtzee!

In my total biketardedness (which is probably evident given how much I've whined about the race, and how sweaty I look in the podium picture), I jumped on the podium before grabbing the prize pack, but luckily someone who had their wits about them gave it to me before I ran off without it. Of course, this meant that I stupidly wandered off holding the prize pack but leaving my bike at the podium. All I can say is, thank God this was DCCX and not Hartford 'cross. Anyway, I successfully retrieved the bike, we packed up, and when Ken and I got back to his place, I dumped out all the schwag from my prize pack...

Holy wow, does DCCX know how to make a girl happy. They gave me a ton of stuff, everything was thoughtful and awesome, and everything was my size. It's obvious the promoters cared a lot about getting women to come out for this event--I was touched.

Also of note: winning the Cat 3 obviously made me feel better about the race overall, but there were some other improvements for me in that race. At one point I passed someone and instinctively threw my elbow out to defend the move; at other times I was using momentum to get up that hill when my reserves were depleted. So, even at the bottom half of the field, I managed to come up with some confidence and that was awesome. The race start, the finish sprint, and the general aggressiveness are all things that I've been working this season with the advice and encouragement of my coach. So, a big, big thanks goes out to Cort for all of that.

Later that evening Ken, his teammate Steve, Steve's wife Jen, my friend Anna (who happens to live two blocks from Ken) and I met up at Quarry House for celebratory beers and great conversation. Anna got to experience cyclists in all their weirdness (you know, talking about food one second, Port-a-Johns the next, and unfortunate Spandex mishaps the third), but she totally rolled with it. Meanwhile, I was nursing the Pyramid Apricot Ales that I can't obtain up in New England, and soon, everyone was giggling.

Ken inevitably knocked back his fourth of five beers and demonstrated the universal hand signal for "bullshit."

It was an awesome weekend of friends and racing. DCCX and my Silver Spring homies do it right!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

race report: Casco Bay Cyclocross, 17. October 2009

So remember how my last post mentioned cumulative pain? Yeahhhhh, about that. After three weekends of Verge NECCS doubles, I was pretty beat... but then my coach sent me an email about a Wednesday practice race.

Have I mentioned my coach yet? No? Well, in a nutshell, working with my new coach this season has been great. Not only has my racing improved a LOT, but so has my 'cross fashion. Said coach has helped me realize that there is absolutely no shame in wearing GoreTex windstopper-type pants--the stuff one of my teammates used to make fun of me for because he said it was drug dealer garb, a.k.a. "smack pants"--while doing a rainy day workout or, hell, even while pre-riding a race course on a clear day... but I digress.

Anyway, so he emails me about this practice race, and I go, and so does Kathy, and we attempt to throw down, only it's, like, us, maybe two Cat 4 guys, and a bunch of Cat 3 guys, so this doesn't work very well. However, she and I suffer through the entire race, which is like 45 minutes or whatever, while a bunch of the other folks are jumping in and out... so there's that dignity, at least. The race is dark, but it's also pan-flat and mostly grass or decent dirt, so I spend the entire evening in my big ring--awesome for me as I am NOT a power rider. I also pretty much shred the barriers every single lap, which is double-awesome, but by the time I return home my eyes are all but rolling back in my head, and the next morning during my running workout my legs feel like they're carrying as many sandbags as a certain Cat 3 men's Verge NECCS leader. Ouch! Friday's short roller session doesn't completely get the lactic acid out, either.

So come Saturday, the lead is not yet out, and it is cold to boot (but thankfully, dry), and I am in the car stressing out over a number of other important life decisions, like music selection and when to crack the seal on my peanut butter and honey sandwich. The drive up I-95 to Portland is gorgeous, however--bright sunshine, changing leaves, the works. When I get to the venue, I pit my wheels, pin, throw my smack pants over my skinsuit, and check out the course.

It's a short asphalt uphill start that turns right onto some grass, then back onto asphalt. As I roll along the top of the park in my hoodie, jacket, and baggy pants, waiting for people to come ask me if I'm selling crack, I note that this is going be a power section. Course turns down again, loops, then back up onto some off-camber, blah blah blah. A lot of grassy corners (which, after my attempts to shred on Wednesday, I could probably do in my sleep from here on out), several steep run-ups, some bumpy doubletrack descents, some barriers, and then, holy hell, this gravelly, sketchy singletrack descent on the side of a hill, where if you slide the wrong way, you fall the frak off and plummet to your season's untimely end. I make a mental note to myself that I REALLY do NOT want to be behind anyone in this section.

After the perusal of the course, I stay warm by riding back and forth along the bike trail by the bay, which makes me look like even more of a drug dealer. I spot a docked cruise liner and, um, I must be burned out or something, because I begin fantasizing about not showing up at the race and, instead, sneaking aboard the liner and gorging myself on shrimp cocktail at the inevitable buffet. "Yeah... I could really go for some cocktail sauce... or perhaps some tartar": NOT what one wants to be thinking prerace, but I'm sure--no, I know--that I've thought dumber things. Hell, I have SAID dumber things. Um, anyway, where were we? Oh right--smack pants and shrimp cocktail, awwww yeah.

At long last, the dreaded/appointed hour draws near, and I roll my smack dealer ass on up the hill toward the staging area. There are only a handful of women racing--three in the 1/2/3 field, and five of us in the 3/4 field. I know, from my copious stalkage of, that Erin and Olivia are the ones to follow. Sure enough, 30s after the 1/2/3s are off and they start us, Olivia and I are jockeying for the hole shot and then I'm chasing her and Erin on the power section. I lose them for a bit, but then they have a hiccup or two at the top of a runup and I catch them again. Then my cumulative pain accrues as Erin and Olivia slip away from me in the corners. Ouch ouch OUCH. I hear one of Adam Myerson's mantras, "Gaps don't close in cyclocross, they only open" in my head, and there it is, happening in front of me. So I work harder to also make it happen behind me. I can still see Lauren from Colby coming through the turns about 15-20s behind me, but I want to gap her out and keep the final podium spot, so for two laps, I put my head down and ride my own race. By the end of lap 3, I see Steph Chase from IBC, who beat me to a pulp both days of Green Mountain and started with the 1/2/3 women, in the distance. I decide that, since I can no longer see Olivia or Erin, Steph is my rabbit/carrot/whatever, and plan to attack her on the final lap.

Unfortunately, when I roll up past the lap cards, no one's ringing bells at me. The USAC officials are sitting around and the lap count says 2 to go, not 1. Oh right... it can't be over already, because we were doing 40 minutes, not 30, of racing, owwwwwww. I mentally regroup for a second, and then look up at Steph at the top of the park and start going for it. All through that lap, I follow her and work on closing the gap between us. I'm still behind her as we go into the sketchy hairpin dirtclod turn. but immediately after that is the scary singletrack, so I sprint past on the grass because I wanted first dibs on the sketchfest. Once I get safely down, I power along the gravel, go hot into the turn before the final runup of the lap, and then... crash. Oh hai, right, gravel = nemesis, did we learn nothing in practice? Fortunately (?) I'm semi-upright and still clipped in, so, though Steph passes me and gets away on the runup, I'm still close behind.

The beginning of lap 5 was a lot like 4, with me following Steph. I'm almost caught up to her when we hit the first runup, and almost get her on the run, but she powers up. So I make my move on the remount instead, and zoom ahead on the inside even though I only have one foot in. I'm working on the gap and trying to clip in simultaneously--fun for the whole family!--but somehow, it works, and I keep her behind me for the rest of the lap, managing to neither fall down the mountainside on the singletrack nor crash on the gravel before the final runup. Yahtzee! By the final runup of the final lap, I've finally figured out to keep the bike in the big ring because there's a downhill right after the runup anyway, and since I'm not worried about THAT, I dull the pain of the runup by thinking of all the runups I did in practice to perky Michael Jackson songs. WHY DO THEY NOT FEEL THE SAME OMG? Whatever. I get to the top, blast cautiously back down (there's gravel at the bottom of the slope before the turn back onto the asphalt, and we knowwwww by now how I am with turns on gravel), then do the final climb, sprinting and wheezing.

I'm walking around still breathing heavily, and one of the marshals asks if I'm "going to die." I respond, "nah, I'm just being dramatic" and 30 seconds later, I collapse on the grass and wait for number 4 to roll in. Then I hang out with Erin and Olivia for a bit. Also, my vanity gets the better of me, and I opt to NOT wear smack pants during the podium presentation:

Putting the "um" in "podium."

In sum: this race was small, but terrific. The course was fun, the surrounding area was beautiful, and the organizers were total sweethearts. Highly recommended for anyone looking for local races next year!

Friday, October 16, 2009

race report: Providence Festival of Cyclocross Day 2, Verge NECCS #6, 10. October 2009

When I rose at an ungodly hour on the morning of Day 2, it was cold but clear. I shuffled around half-groggy, half-on a race day adrenaline kick, loaded the car, and headed off. Just south of Boston, the sun was rising over the water and everything was orange and gorgeous.

Upon arrival at Roger Williams Park in PVD, it was still chilly. I decided that the weather called for a skinsuit (yay!) and kneesocks. I met up with Kathy and we hit the course for a warmup lap. It was a bit different than the day before, with some interesting technical twists. In particular, the course featured a "bowl" section, just over halfway through, that you had to bomb down and bomb back up (or, if you failed at the latter, scramble up on foot). Then, just off to the left of the staging area (if you were facing the finish), the course featured a few more interesting twists and turns. One in particular was a short, steep drop into a 180 with loose ruts at the bottom next to the tape. This caused a lot of people to scratch their heads on the preride... some guys were able to successfully preride it. It was sketchy, though, and I had visions of crashing into the tape and losing 10-30 seconds... so I decided to run it. Also on the same side was an uphill stairs section; the stairs were placed perfectly and you could dismount right into them with terrific momentum. Rawr!

I did well in the initial part of the start and then found myself drifting back near the top of the hill, so once we hit the grass I was fighting for spots again. Grah. Cathy had a fantastic start and was in second or third for a while (I think?) but when she drifted back I found her and followed her. I worked my way past her and then heard Leah on my tail--she was having an amazing race. There was a ton of traffic in the first lap, and we kept getting bogged down in corners. The pain also started to hit me. And it wasn't just the pain of the race itself, it was the pain of the last day of three consecutive weekends of doubles. It was as if I could feel the previous five races all at once.

There are times, however, where the switch on my cumulative pain flips over and the agony becomes almost spiritual. Of course in a race it's a bit grittier and messier than that, but whenever I think of it later, I'm like, "damn, that hurt, and then I made it hurt more." I think that was what happened on Day 2: I hurt, I felt like it was going terribly... and then I decided I could make it hurt more. On the second lap, things smoothed out traffic-wise, but I was still chasing a woman in an unmarked jersey, Nicole, who kept bogging down in the turns. I think I finally passed Nicole on a remount (?) and then gunned for Laura Kozlowski next.

Halfway through the third and final lap, I was finally in front of Laura. Then, just as I was embarking onto the nervewracking hairpin turn before the bowl section, I heard my friend Seth from CB screaming, "You're top ten!" followed by the ubiquitous RMM yelling, "hey, HERE'S an idea! Why don't you ride faster and open up a gap?!" It was exactly the right sequence of heckling--like, "hey, you're doing great, now do better, stupid!"--and suddenly, there was a raging fire under my ass. I let out a roar (literally, and, sadly, a little late for Jungle Cross), dropped down into the bowl, and nailed the ride up to the other side (I hadn't quite managed it on the previous laps). Dove back down, past a cheering Seth, into the hairpin turns and let the nausea pile on up as I worked on keeping Laura behind me. I felt pretty wrecked, but I wanted that top ten, goddammit, and I blasted through the rest of that course like I meant business. When I hit the tech section near the finish, I had a gap, but I scrambled up the hill and passed a junior to put someone else between my wheels and Laura's. Then I concentrated on not screwing up, took a better line on the roots before the asphalt than I had previously, and, once I hit the asphalt, sprinted my ass off, and finished with a grin on my face.

Of course, as you can see in this photo by Geoff Martin, I owe it all to the crazy socks:

I can't tell whether the somewhat dubious onlooker is a hipster or someone from Back Bay Bicycles--perhaps both?

Anyway, the race was great, and I then spent the rest of the morning harass--err, heckling the masters field with Linda, Karen and Kathy.

race report: Providence Festival of Cyclocross Day 1, Verge NECCS #5, 10. October 2009

Since people have been demanding that I update my blog with race reports from last weekend, here goes. (NB: by "people" I mean "Lodri," but she's rad so her opinion counts for, like, that of two people.)

To be honest, much of Day 1's race at Providence is kind of a blur--but not because I was fast. It was raining when I left Boston and muggy and warm (for October) when I arrived in PVD shortly after 7:30. I got a quick loop of the course in, and then went to do pre-race stuff. Decided to stay with short sleeves, given the weather.

Lined up for an uphill asphalt start that took a sort of sharp right up a curb--there was a block in between the curb and the asphalt, but you had to hit it right. This was kind of intimidating, but once I got through the entrance (with a glut of people in front of me) I worked to pick some others off. I found Cathy's wheel again, buried myself there, and got past. Inadvertently got in her way when people started dismounting in front of me on one of the steep MTB-type climbs--d'oh. Eventually lost her and focused on getting past Sally and Emily Curley. I was chasing Sally on the gravel near the lake; not sure about Emily.

If the rest of what I remember from Day 1 is correct--and it probably isn't--the race hurt too much and not enough, simultaneously. Or maybe, it hurt in the wrong ways. I think my lungs were killing me, and that's usually not the case. I used to be a runner, so on the bike, my legs tend to go first but I can still breathe. Um, notsomuch on Saturday. I was juuuust about to finish in front of Sally and Emily and then they both passed me in the tech section before the final sprint. D'oh. Finished respectably--13th out of 44--but not ecstatic.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

race report: Gran Prix of Gloucester Day 2, Verge NECCS #4, 4. October 2009

At some point during Day 1 of G-star, when we were both still experiencing post-race euphoria but had swapped out our Lycra for insane amounts of dorky yellow rain gear, my friend Jess and I agreed that the morning's mudder had been so awesome and successful that we could probably completely throw Day 2 and still be happy with the weekend.

The morning of Day 2 was a little misty, but the roads were much drier, and the drive up to Gloucester was a lot less intense. I parked, de-racked, and took on the pre-ride. I immediately realized that Day 2's course was... confusing, and had us rolling DOWN the hill each lap. So I rode that part, but it seemed a bit short. Then I realized, upon watching staging for the men's Cat 4 race, that we were starting UP the hill, and going into another course section. So after the 4s were off, I pre-rode that section. The course wasn't completely together in my head, but I at least knew what lines and tactics to take in which section, and that was helpful.

Pinned, changed into a clean skinsuit, rolled, chatted, various pre-race blahblahblah. I was feeling pretty good, definitely looser (and warmer!) than the day before. Staging was also far less agonizing without the copious amounts of rain, and thusly, the two minutes spent behind the juniors did not feel like the longest part of my life.

The start was an improvement over the previous day's for me, in that I was still in the front until 3/4 of the way (rather than 1/4 to 1/2 the way) up the hill, but people surged past after that. It was okay, though: I drilled it on the grass and quickly got into a chase group with Cathy, my teammate Nancy, and some other girls (I think Lauren?). Once we flipped back down the hill to the other side of the course, however, I took the conservative line through the sand pit... dismounted, ran it, and immediately got dropped. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Whatever, I kept on racing (well, I mean, of course) and, fortunately, it wasn't game over. I caught Lauren at some point mid-lap, and then later in that lap, I think when we were hitting the mud chicanes, I dug into Cathy's wheel--I think she's probably getting tired of me doing this--until I could get by her. When I came down the hill my teammate Charles was standing on the sideline, screaming that I was in 12th. Holy crap, wasn't I, like, 40th in this race last year? Um rad.

I managed to stay in front in the sand pit (which I rode the second time) and could see her surge behind me when we hit the short, sorta-paved, bumpy power section by the water. I'm still not sure how I managed to hold her off before I got to the mud, but I did. Meanwhile, this other girl got past me, and I couldn't quite get the engines up to pass her back, so I ended up rolling down to the finish in 13th. Still: two top 15s, two top 25% finishes, and a very happy, muddy girl.

Once I cooled down I spent some time with Melissa and Chris, who were nice enough to come out and spectate even though she doesn't ride and he no longer races (he used to do downhill MTB). My friends are rad. The rest of the day was nice too: got to see TJ win on his home turf (natch, I was oblivious to that whole sand pit crash thing until I got home and consulted the internets). G-star 2009: big improvement over last year, all-around.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

race report: Gran Prix of Gloucester Day 1, Verge NECCS #3, 3. October 2009

Got on the road at 6:45 a.m. and hydroplaned my way up 128 to Gloucester. When I arrived it was still rainy and disgusting. This is why I pack seven pairs of socks for every 'cross race. I shucked my jeans, pulled up my bibs, threw on the rest of my warmup Spandex, sucked it up, and went for a quick pre-ride before the Cat 4 men took the course. It was soggy but not completely terrible, but I knew the conditions would probably change more than slightly before my race (i.e., duh, more mud, we can always run mud if we have to). With the schedule running late and times in between races tight, my next three objectives were: 1. get the pre-ride gunk off of the frame and out of the drivetrain, 2. keep the drivetrain running pre-race, 3. keep rolling around because the trainer is at home and broken (normally, this would be cause for celebration; on a rainy day, not so much), and 4. stay as warm as possible while doing 1, 2, and 3 in the middle of a gale.

Sooo... 1. The bike wash wasn't crowded, so cleaning the stuff off was easy enough. 2. In between running around to reg and doing other pre-race stuff, I kept lubing the chain (I am really liking Pedro's ChainJ this season; it's drippy enough for a wet race, but not as gunk-attracting as SynLube) and running it through the gears. 3. I rolled around halfheartedly. 4. Rolling around seemed to make me colder, so I got in the car and slathered on a bunch of embrocation before attempting 3. again. This sort of helped until the start line. It was pouring rain and the 3/4 women were staged two minutes behind the cub juniors; the 100-odd seconds without a jacket were pretty uncomfortable.

Once we started, the discomfort of the rain was, of course, replaced by the discomfort of the race. I always have a difficult time with the uphill start at G-star, and Saturday was no different--made it into the hole shot about mid-pack and had to start picking people off through the grass chicanes. Got crashed out behind Clara Kelly in a corner, got back on again. The lack of a proper warmup started to hit me; my transitions onto and off the bike were slow as a result. Same problem after the runup--I normally rock remounts, but I was shaking and struggling to find the pedals. My legs felt like some sort of ancient machinery. By the time we were rolling past the ocean on the south side of the park, I wanted to jump off the bike and jump into the harbor. I know that sounds emo and dramatic, but it really felt like the more preferable line.

Then something happened--I don't remember where or how it occurred but I know that by the time I was back on the grass, my legs were warm again and I was attaching myself to Michele Harrison's wheel. I was able to focus on the task of wearing the wheel down, and I started enjoying the task of picking lines through corners in the mud. I don't remember where I passed Michele, I just remember that it happened. Hope's wheel was next. I think we battled it out a few times, but I got by eventually. Then it was Cathy's wheel again. Sometime during the last lap, I found myself in front of her and behind Julie from IBC, with Julie just almost within reach. I crashed out after trying to remount after the last muddy chicane-turned-runup, but righted myself. Didn't catch Julie, but kept my position to finish 14th out of 75 starters. Considering how I finished last year, and that finishing in the top HALF of Verge races was one of my season goals, with the hope to maybe be 15th at a smaller race like Sterling... that was unfreakingbelievable for me. So, so happy. I <3 mudders!

Friday, October 2, 2009

race report: Green Mountain Cyclocross, Day 2, Verge NECCS #2, 27. September 2009

It was cold and rainy when I left the hotel, and colder and rainier when I arrived in Williston half an hour later. I decided to get a warmup in and switch to a dry skinsuit. Said "screw it" to cycling fashion and pre-rode with a hoodie tucked into my bibs under a wind jacket. The "bringing CXy back" factor was pretty low, but climbing in fleece warmed me right up. As the weather worsened, I retreated to my car and cranked the heat while pinning my number, embrocating, and calling a girlfriend who was racing Blunt Park later that afternoon. Not my usual pre-race M.O., but apparently it did the trick. When I showed up at the start line of this race, it was cold and rainy, but I was feeling relaxed and happy. Cathy heckled me a bit in the staging area, asking me if I was done with my goal of chasing her now that I'd achieved it. We bantered a bit and then I responded that my goal for the race was to find out what it was like to race happy. Ha! No way was I showing my revised goal of "beat Cathy by season's end."

The start was hard. Tasha grabbed the hole shot again; I went through in about 7th or 8th. I was trying to stay in front of Elizabeth, who'd beaten me the day before and at Palmer, and then, somewhere early on in the first lap, I found Cathy's wheel again and Cathy's an expert mountain bike racer, and as the conditions were crap, I knew she'd have a good line. Plus, she's Cat 2 on the road, which makes her, like, a beast.

I tailed Cathy for a bit, and I think I finally got around her in a corner going up the hill after the stairs. Given what happened the day before, plus, you know, New Super Top Secret Season Goal, my race could have probably ended with that, but I kept my head down and kept looking ahead. My legs and mind were working together and I was enjoying (!) the ride, even though it hurt. I came down the recovery sections trying not to slide out, but probably smiling. And when I saw Tasha ahead, I jumped on her wheel and started tailing her because this, this was just crazy and not possibly happening.

Tasha and I caught up to Olivia in front of us, and we became a chase group for a while. We got separated on the pump track section (they were riding up the whole thing, I rode up half and dismounted for the steepest part, then remounted at the flat top and rode down) but then got back together. Then Tasha dropped back and I was racing Olivia. I know that I passed her somewhere in the last lap, and she passed me right back. Meanwhile, my front derailleur was having the issues it usually has in bad conditions, and the large chainring became unusable. But I made the best of the cassette, and was still in such disbelief from "OMG! in front of Cathy! in front of Tasha! is this happening?! whose legs are these?!" that I stuck to Olivia on one of the final climbs and got her at the top. That instantly made all those long, lonely hilly training rides on the road this spring completely worth it.

I managed to hold Olivia off coming down the hill, kept the bike under control until the finish straightaway, and then put my head down and hands in the drops and sprinted. I was still stuck in the small ring, but the effort was enough and I snagged 4th, just off the podium, for my best Verge finish ever. I was beat but I broke into like the biggest grin ever--and at the time I thought I was in 5th.

So, other than the mech issues, one fumble with the bike on the pump track in lap 2, and a bit of braking in the corners (erring on the conservative side was, I think, understandable given the wet weather), everything came together for me during this race. I felt confident, I pushed hard but I meted out my energy with care, and I had just enough left for the sprint. Great day on the bike racing some really awesome women.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Green Mountain Cyclocross, Day 1, Verge NECCS #1, 26. September 2009

After a super-long, tiring week, the early, 3-hour drive up to Williston was actually gorgeous and calming. When I left Somerville the sun was rising over the Mystic. Mist was rising over the lakes throughout New Hampshire, and when I arrived at my destination up north, it was dewy and sunny and some of the trees were already changing color.

I hit registration, then took a couple warmup laps on what I soon realized was going to be a difficult, atypical 'cross course. Set at the Catamount outdoor resort, the rather lengthy course was full of chicanes and climbing. There was also a steep hill with logs in the woods (for me, that means "runup") and a descending (yay recovery) section thereafter.

With a front-row, slightly uphill start, I managed to get through the hole shot just behind Natasha taking it, then settled in for more climbing as some other women passed me. I still felt fierce, though, especially when I found Cathy Rowell's wheel and stuck to it for about half of the very long lap--chasing her in a 'cross race was one of the goals I set for myself early on this season. Yes, I told Cathy afterward, she was actually on a list that was hanging on my kitchen wall:

Fortunately, Cathy did not find this creepy--in fact, she was flattered. Whew!

Back to the race: we hit the power/recovery descent, zoomed back toward the parking lot and toward a chicane on a hill that (for most riders, including the pros) was best taken as a runup. I attempted to block Cathy by running past and remounting in front of her, but blew up from the extra effort and started fading back. I lost a few more spots after that, which didn't do much for me mentally, particularly since one of my crossresults "victim," Emily Curley, had snagged a spot in front of me and was successfully holding on to it. The following two laps were lonely and painful.

Finished a fairly respectable 12th--which would have been my best Verge finish to date (see: the rest of the goals list, which I totally need to update anyhow due to the upgrade), except that the field was only 21 women. I was happy about chasing Cathy, but definitely hoping to do better on Day 2.

The rest of Day 1 was fun and amusing. Here, for example, is a photo of my pal Jen riding the trainer in a skirt:

Monday, September 21, 2009

race report: Sucker Brook 'Cross, 20. September 2009

First things first: Auburn, NH is NOT off Route 95. I should have relied on MapQuest like I did last year, but unfortunately, I printed the promoter's directions (which said 95 not 93), and was halfway to Portsmouth before I realized the mistake. That's what I get for a. not MapQuesting and b. not being from here. I then proceeded to grumble and grouse my way through the back roads (thank heavens for the road atlas in my car) until I reached 93. Fortunately, I'd hit the road with time to spare, and arrived at the race at 7:48--

"7:48?!?! Where... where... WHERE IS MY CHAMOIS?!?!"

--yeah, um, sorry, where was I? Oh right, finally in Auburn, after getting lost. Reg was mercifully quick (I probably avoided the 7:30 crowds), and I pinned, stuck on the headphones, and got a good lap in. OH MY GOD I LOVE THAT COURSE. The off-camber was a bit steeper than I remembered it being last year (then again, last year I was sorta like "Whaaaa where am I?!?! hold me" for my first few races; now I'm like "oh right, I'm in the pain cave, yo").

Anyway, the start. Was stuck behind some folks--guhhhh I wish more races would stage by 'crossresults--and also, uphill starts aren't my strong suit, even when paved (seriously, give me a muddy track or flat grassy field any day of the week). Once I got to the gravel/grass, I started battling for position and taking places back. Didn't do a terrible job, either. At one point (I think lap 2?) I was battling Julie from IBC. I have NEVER fought it out with her--she is a BEAST. She ultimately passed me, but damn, that was rad. (Also glad to see her having a good race after coming back from an injury.) Also, I stayed in front of her teammate who beat me last week.

The other rad thing about the race was that, for me, it was technically pretty solid. My PSI choice (34/32 on Mud2/Jet) worked fantastically on both the grass and the doubletrack dirt/rocks. A couple other people got flats, so I was glad I stayed up in the 30s. I didn't ride the first sand pit section--I ran half and remounted on the grass area--which is what most offroad riders would consider the sissy line, but was what I knew would work for me. Yeah, I probably lost one place to Sally (I already told her I'd be out for blood next time, hehe) because she was screaming through the sand each time, but I didn't lose two or three places from crashing in it halfway through... that would have sucked more. In fact, I actually didn't crash at all. I had one minor mech issue--a shifting thing that I fixed in five seconds--and one near-miss, but I righted myself and didn't go down.

Mentally, I was also with it, though when I reached the point of nausea halfway through the last lap I may have dialed back a little more than I should have; the gap between Sally and me widened as a result. What I needed to do was catch her in the barriers and gap her BEFORE the sand, but I wasn't thinking clearly and, naturally, my dumb plan to recover on the pre-sand doubletrack and THEN attack fell through.

It was otherwise a smart race for me, though, and I snuck into 10th (out of 32 starters, including some chicks who've scored Verge podiums in the past) within 2:00 of the leader. Second top 10 3/4 finish this year--hell, EVER--so I'm delighted with the result.

race report: Quad 'Cross 2009, Women's P/1/2/3 Race (Spank Me Sunday #3), 13. September 2009

My original race plan was: "one lap of racin', four laps of drinkin'," but I'm pleased to report that during the elite women's race at QuadCX, I actually enjoyed four laps of racing and one lap of drinking. That's right, enjoyed. The course was fantastic this year, and the best thing about the race was being able to ride it again.

I wasn't as nervous for the start of this race as I had been for the earlier one, but once we got going I freaked a little and lost some places on the grass--which is a nice way of saying, I dropped to the back. And tried to catch on. And managed to chase Meg from Hup about half a lap, then lost her and was racing in DFL.

So in short: it hurrrrrrrt. Still, it was fun despite (or maybe because of?) the pain. A bunch of my friends cheered for me, including my roadie teammates; they must be catching the CX bug because they kept yelling "beer beer beer!" at me from various parts of the course.

Speaking of, about a minute or two after Mo Roy and Anna Barensfeld lapped me, I Henny-thugged it in the single barrier section. The resultant burning in my stomach distracted my mind from the pain in my legs for the final lap, and though I got lapped by a few more women, I managed to hold the last one off at the final climb. Yay! My guts felt absolutely wretched afterward, but I'm glad I survived a double day. I plan to do a few 1/2/3 races later in the season, and hopefully won't get lapped if I have fresh legs!

I finished at -1, but one of the MRC elite racers rolled a tubular, so I am listed ahead of her in the results! Muahaha. That'll probably never happen again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

race report: Quad 'Cross 2009, Women's 3/4 race, 13. September 2009

Worked on a lot of my old and new goals in this race, with a decent degree of success--very happy.

Improve pre-race focus: check. My admin on Sunday morning was in order and stellar. Okay, so my trainer broke again, but I rolled around the MCC grounds blasting the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen on my headphones. By the time I rolled to the line, I was ready to slay dragons. ("What, no dragons here?! Okayfine, I'll slay some damsels, whatever.")

Good start: check. Second into the hole shot behind Natalia G., held it for about 3/4 of a lap. (Being up there is nerve-wracking. Gotta work on that.)

Reduce crashes: check. I wiped out on some wet asphalt in the woods, but recovery was pretty quick. May have had another minor crash or two elsewhere, but again, quick recovery.

Fight back when passed: this was hard to do in laps 2 and 3, but on the final lap, Giulia and I were battling it out and I was in the game. She passed me, I passed back in the barriers (per my plan!), etc. That was rad. She drafted me across the parking lot to the final grass section and then advanced--oops, my mistake. Still, finished juuuust behind her, and turned some former nemeses into victims. Also awesome.

Get my head back in the game, block other stuff out: check. By the end of the race I had tunnel vision: didn't know what was going on outside the course, who was cheering for me, etc.--just knew that I was fighting Giulia. Happy to see mental improvement over the course of a race.

Season goal of top ten finishes in 3/4 races: check. 9/30 starters (28 finishers). I'm pleased.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm bringing CXy back.

Here is the new and beautiful assortment of socks procured for this year's 'cross season:

Here is what I have been doing to them in practice:

These days I'm learning a lot about what not to do on gravel. Thank Goddess for OxyClean!

Photos courtesy of Krautmaster E., a.k.a. Mom, who was in town last weekend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

race report: Palmer CX, a.k.a. "Jungle Cross," 29. August 2009 (Accelerated Cure Project #2, Spank Me Sunday #2)

"The spankings will continue until handling improves."

Dear Lord, I have *got* to stop crashing. Alternatively, perhaps given that I crashed at least eight times at Palmer, I now have the season covered? Oops, no, probably just jinxed myself. DAMMIT.

Anyway. Rolled into the parking lot in the rain, wayyyy too hyped up on coffee. Took a lap in same (rain, not coffee). Much to the amusement of some of the marshals, I dropped several F-bombs upon reaching the lake after the first section of singletrack--the water was knee-deep. Thankfully, I had brought six pairs of socks. I continued my warmup with some lackluster time on the trainer, but at least I was staying loose.

Then I went to line up. Given that a lot of the course was pretty MTB-like, I was bummed that no one at the line laughed at the joke I made when we were told we had 4:20 till the start. I mean, I'm not a stoner either, but come ON, it wrote itself. Anyway. My start was pretty good--I was right behind MRC, Perri Mertens, and Natasha until I crashed pre-lake. Still, managed to right myself and get up to the grass chicanes behind them. Early on in the race, I started feeling like I was bonking, but I did okay until we reached the chicanes in the second lap and I could see CBRC gaining ground on me. Yeeowch. Managed to keep Tasha in sight and hold CBRC off until another crash in the mud sent me flying off to the side of the course. D'oh. Cyclonauts passed me on... maybe lap 3?... when I went to the pit to fix my shifter and drop my glasses, which had become useless.

In some ways, it was an improvement over last week: the first lap went MUCH better than Blunt Park, and despite the two crashes that lap, neither of which cost me that much time, most of my other lines were okay. I did not get lapped.

But: one of my friends (the same one who told me to ride the log last week) was heckling me during the race, saying, "you're faster than this!" It embarrassed me a little because there was some truth to it--I was definitely NOT on my A-game.

So the race was also a good reminder of things to work on this season. I would like to do the following:
-get a smoother routine back in place for race day. SpectaCX was great in that it made me really happy about racing again, but spoiled me a bit in that when we weren't racing (which was most of the time), we were hanging out shooting the shit, and it was really laid-back. I need to readjust to time constraints, and plan for needing more time when the weather is crappy.
-fight back when I get passed. Being passed takes me down a notch mentally (I think this is true for most people), and in 'cross, I'm at my best when I'm reacting rather than thinking. So I want to make fighting back my default reaction, unless I know that I'm at an area of the course where I should bide my time (i.e., if I'm passed right before going into a barrier section, better to dismount and pass her again running).
-pay attention to choices that the strong racers are making in terms of everything from gear to lines, etc. Consider the options and decide whether they work for me.
-not be intimidated by the race leaders (particularly on SMS days), focusing instead on the race within the race.
-transfer my nervous energy into pushing/reacting rather than crashing. If the physics of potential --> kinetic energy always worked the way my race did Saturday, life would suck. Maybe I need to start thinking of races as rollercoasters, with the understanding that, if I take out whatever I'm feeling that day--happy, sad, nervous, pissed--on the course, the ride will be fraking awesome. I had one of my best races last year on a weekend where I was sad and pissed... it stands to reason that I can have another good race if I'm channeling run-of-the-mill nervousness.
-tune other crap out unless it gets me fired up. If someone is yelling something annoying at me in a corner, get out of the corner quickly and safely. If someone is being encouraging, transfer their positive energy back into my race. If someone is offering me a beer, pass and ask them for a rain check post-race... unless I'm pouring all of my reserves into the second race of a double day and still getting spanked, in which case, grab and drink the goddamn beer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

race report: Blunt Park CX Race (Accelerated Cure Project #1, Spank Me Sunday #1), 23. August 2009

So first of all, the good news is that Diane let me upgrade to Cat 3 in CX a couple weeks ago, right after SpectaCross. This means that I can now do not just women's open and 3/4 events, but 1/2/3 events. Because I'll be doing some open (1/2/3/4) and 1/2/3 races this year and expect to get my butt kicked for a while, I have decided to start referring to such events as "Spank Me Sundays" (or "Saturdays," where applicable).

Second, note that I'm actually posting my first Spank Me Sundays series report within 24 hours of the event itself. This is because I need to get the words out before the sting of defeat gives way to shame, with shame leading down the inevitable slippery off-camber slope toward seclusion. You get the picture.

Third, I was fairly lucky in terms of mechanical issues last year. Yeah, I'd had shifting issues occur, I'd dropped chains and gotten them back on, and I'd crashed in the sand pit at Gloucester and ridden a bent saddle to the pit 100m away... so I've been delayed, but no more than, say, 30-45s. So I've always wondered, in the back of my mind, what it must be like to be that person who spends half a lap running to the pit.

The problem is that lately when I think ANYTHING, either my riding suuuucks or hilarity ensues.

So... the course. I was absolutely loving it on the pre-ride. Light mud is kinda my new thing--a. it grosses other people out, and b. after the swamps of Jersey it is NOTHING to me. Also, I like chicanes, and those little scrabbly uphills that require me to shift a lot, really fast. I was therefore pretty psyched about the course. There were a couple logs in the woods section, but I successfully rode the second one during the warmup and the first one didn't look too hard. That, and Jeff and Mike told me that the stuff was rideable. Bastards.

Unfortunately, during the warmup I wasn't hitting these obstacles at race pace. So, even though I got a decent start despite them not staging the three combined fields at intervals of 30s or 1:00, I bumped over the first log and almost bit it. "Nice save!" said one of the 55+ guys. That could have been a warning to me (I mean, when my elders speak, it's like the oracle, RIGHT?), but it wasn't. I went for the second log, figuring, hey, I rode it in warmup, I can do it again.

Notsomuch. I hit it the wrong way and managed to crash pretty fantastically, with my leg still twisted in my bike and handlebars. By the time I'd disengaged myself, half the field had gone by. When I hopped back on, I realized that my left shifter was bent at a horrible angle and the chain was dropped. I immediately scrambled to fix the chain, but it was kinked back in the derailleur and on itself several times. I tried to untangle it; I kept losing seconds. So I decided to just run for the pit... for about, oh, 3/4 of a mile. I think the running was a crowd-pleaser, but, for obvious reasons I was not terribly overjoyed. By the time I reached the barriers, MRC's train was already lapping me. Blah.

After all that running, my legs were shot, and I was mentally in the hole too. I couldn't bring myself to care about a race where I'd already lost 5-8 minutes, and I hate it when I stop caring (though I was going to finish... no doubt about that). Thankfully, Spank Me Sundays are designated C efforts for me, and thankfully it's still August, because last year's nemeses and victims lapped me one by one. Truly, when the highlight of the race involves giggling to yourself because some friends on the sidelines sprayed you with a water bottle and it inadvertently landed all over your rack, you're probably having a bad day on the bike.

The results cheered me up somewhat, though. Turns out I did not finish DFL--coming in at 13/15, I somehow still kept two women behind me, even with all that time lost running. I also learned, or re-learned, that what someone else was able to do on their warmup or in their race doesn't ultimately matter--I need to race in consideration of MY own technical abilities. If running a sketchy area is the surefire but less impressive solution, it's what I need to do, even if it jacks up the line of someone behind me... no, ESPECIALLY if it jacks up the line of someone behind me.

Anyway, had fun hanging out afterward (YAY BEER AND PEOPLE), and am looking forward to the next race. Hey... it's August!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

in which bikes, fashion, and slumber all collide.

Last night I dreamt about cyclocross again.

It wasn't a repeat of the dream about winning Gloucester, or one of my more standard "'cross race gone wild" dreams about being forced to ford a river with my bike on my back.

Oh no. This dream was about trying on the Dopers Suck tall socks that I recently received in the mail (but have yet to take out of the package--I'm sort of, you know, saving them). And in my dream, the socks could've been a little more fitted, but were even taller than they were in the picture on the internets, and I was pretty jazzed about that.

I think I need help.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

race report: NJ State Fair SpectaCross, Day 2, 1. August 2009

Note: I apologize in advance for any grammar gone awry in this race report. I just got my wisdom teeth out Tuesday and am intermittently on Vicodin, so... deal!

Anyway, second day of SpectaCross. Arrived at the State Fair late Saturday morning fueled by a giant breakfast (Jersey does diners right) and carrying a sack of groceries for the rest of the day. It was sweltering hot (this is where everyone can chime in with "yeah, not 'cross conditions"), but we had jugs of water in the back and there was always the bike wash if necessary. Despite the uncomfortable weather, and the fact that my event was not until 8:00 p.m., this was probably the most relaxed I've ever been at a bike race. I spent part of the afternoon walking around the fair with one of the other evening racers, Jess, giggling over what type of embarrassing airbrush decals we could purchase for the guys who pulled up to the race driving a secondhand ambulance (they'd painted it black and were looking for new logos). We also checked out the MTB stunt trials happening outside the arena. For the remainder of the afternoon, I divided my time between watching Al Donahue, Jonny Bold, and Jared Nieters battle it out in the elite race and hanging out in the shade.

The course became available for warmup shortly before 5 p.m., so I hopped on my bike to make a couple rounds. It was the same loop, but the terrain was totally different from the day before. Most of the slop had dried up into rutted dirt, but the morning and afternoon races had packed down a hard, fast lane about a foot and a half wide. If I could stick with that line, it would be smooth going; if I bounced over into the ruts while making turns, it was going to become painful. The giant puddle was smaller than it had been the previous day, but it was still there, throwing water on my feet and mud on my drivetrain. I noticed that, after two rounds through the puddle, my front shifting was a bit wonky. After pre-riding, I went to wash the mud off, then re-greased the chain and ran it through the gears. The shifting was somewhat better, but I was pretty sure that, given the course conditions, it would become an issue during the race again. So my working game plan was to jockey for position early on in the big ring as long as I could stand it, then make do after downshifting (not ideal, but it worked for me last year when I had shifting problems at Canton). Later, for the rest of my warmup, I spun out for a bit on the asphalt road behind the fairgrounds, and generally just tried to stay loose and hydrated. As the race was unsanctioned and it was sweltering for most of the day, bottle hand-ups were OK'd for the pit, and I took Dave up on his offer of feeds during my race.

Shortly after the end of the race prior to ours (elite women and elite juniors), we started warming up. I decided to save my drivetrain by avoiding the mud section (I'd already pre-ridden it like three times at this point) and sticking to the grass. Meanwhile, the event organizers gave us the news that they were going to combine our race (novice/intermediate/45+ women) with the final race of the evening (novice men). Which, of course, meant that Lang's and my eyes lit up as we exclaimed, "REMATCH!" The start got delayed about 15 minutes, but finally they staged us and set us off. I had a better start than the day before--I think I was about seventh coming into the hole shot. Eric Davidson passed me right after that, I think, along with another guy. Things were moving a lot faster than they had the day before in the slop.

I really wanted a repeat win, and I really wanted to stay ahead of Lang, so my goal was to race smart and minimize crashes. Yeah, oops. A couple laps in I lost Lang when I took a corner in the spiral too quickly, hit a rut or something the wrong way, and wiped out. I tried to lose as little time as possible--righted myself and hopped back on. I also had another crash on the course--at this point, it was getting dark out. The arena was lit, but the lights weren't yet on over the grass, so we were doing 180s and jumping barriers in the twilight and it was awesome.

Oh... also... feeds. I'd told Dave in advance that I was going to want the feeds to start around the middle of the race, so he hopped in the pit about a lap or two in. We were all set to do the first handoff and then both totally jacked it up... fortunately, the rest of our handoffs went smoothly. I'd actually never taken feeds in a race before (I'm not a 60-mile hill race kinda gal) so it was kind of fun. 'Cross racers have a rep for being more laid-back than road racers, but it's also not a big secret that we really like to yell at/heckle people, so between my yelling "next lap!" and Colin heckling Dave for the one botched feed, several people met their verbal quota for the day and went home extra-happy.

The other PRO thing about the race was the fact that the announcers were narrating both the men's and women's leaders... so... I got called out. "And we have the women's leader in the arena--she's the one in the green and blue kit, wearing a pink helmet!" QuadCycles got some air time too! It was really awesome and also nerve-wracking, because... well... usually only Verge Series races are announced in New England, and I've never led one of those. The announcers were also narrating the women chasing me; because the course was so small, I could see Jeni, in second, pursuing me as I went through turns. I could also see Lang ahead of me, and he was cheering for me, which was rad. Stay smart, and hold it together, I kept telling myself. When I entered the spiral in the arena for the final time, I tried to get through it as efficiently and carefully as possible. I knew I had room coming around the final corner (in which I'd crashed before) so I coasted across the line and threw my arms up. Great conclusion to one of the best race weekends ever.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Race Report: NJ State Fair SpectaCross, Day 1 (Cyclocross sprints)

When I told some of my friends and teammates that I was doing a 'cross race in July, they thought I was crazy ("Doesn't that not start for, like, another two months?" Ben and Jeremy asked). But I couldn't wait to go. 'Cross is my focus this year, so I decided to throw in the towel on my lackluster road season and get right to the good stuff. Yes, for me, "the good stuff" involves bombing over rutted grass, taking 180-degree turns through mud, jumping off my bike and over planks, jumping back on again, trying to finish respectably in the face of coughing up snot and wanting to puke, and then probably drinking a beer in the parking lot afterward to replenish any lost fluids. It's a lifestyle preference--don't hate. Fortunately, about a hundred or so other bike racers shared my 'crosslust, and joined me in Augusta, NJ for a weekend of bikes, mud, muscle shirts, strollers in beer tents, and, of course, 4H quilting exhibits.

I had Friday off of work, so I loaded up the car, got some coffee, and then rolled over to JP to pick up my friend David, who was going to race the men's elites and got assigned the job of navigating about ten pages' worth of Mapquest directions. Thankfully, he was up to it: it was sunny when we departed Boston, but once we reached the middle of Connecticut the weather became a full-on Herman Melville-style squall. At some points I was white-knuckling it at 40 miles an hour, barely able to see the car in front of me.

This totally rad weather front meant that by the time we arrived in Augusta, parts of the Sussex County Fairgrounds were covered in a glorious layer of slop. We de-racked the bikes, talked to some fellow racers, then walked around and scoped out the course. About half of it looked like a normal 'cross course, marked off with the requisite stakes and tape. My "tape reflex" (which involves smiling dreamily and drooling a little every time I see stakes and tape, and had been inadvertently set off at crits earlier in the year featuring children's grass races) engaged, and then I saw the rest of the course. It was a dirt arena-turned-mud-pit in front of the bleachers, and a bunch of fluorescent mesh organizer worms from IKEA marked off what the race organizer referred to as the "spiral of death": a series of twisting turns with a junk car in the middle of it all. Originally we were supposed to compete on a run-up over the junk car, but the organizers had lost power and were unable to finish building the run-up (still, the junk car was a nice accent, especially since the IKEA worms looked a lot like prophylactics).

I took a lap or two on the course, trying to figure out which lines to take through the mud. A fall during the warmup revealed that under the mud was a layer of asphalt (this was why the worms were used instead of stakes and tape). This was great in one sense because it meant the mud was rideable, but it also meant that any crashes in it were not just going to cause me to lose time: they were going to hurt like hell.

From the "spiral of death," the course went over a short grassy hill, around a tight chicane of a turn (mmm... grass chicanes... how I missed you) that required picking a good line in advance from the top of the hill, and through more turns in the grass, winding around some animal stalls and back to a set of wooden plank barriers. The barriers came shortly after a turn but still allowed for a little momentum coming through, so I figured this race would be terrific practice. After the barriers, there was another small, muddy hill, then a turn back up and over the same hill, then a straightway past the pit, and back into the spiral. The course was shorter than the average 'cross course, but given the resources available, it was pretty authentic. The only thing that was really different was that a. it was summer and b. someone played a tape of LeeAnn Rimes singing the national anthem. I'm still not sure that bike racers know what to do with patriotism beyond stars-and-stripes jerseys: people were standing around, but still sort of setting up their bikes, while Colin, who runs crossresults, was huddled in the car with Linnea, hiding from the rain and/or really hating on America.

My race, a combined M/F novice field, was at 6 p.m. We were staged by our rankings on, which was pretty sweet because I got called up to the front row right before my friend Lang (I wore number 71; he was 72). We mock-glared at each other briefly and decided it was ON. The whistle went off and we converged across the field, headed for the spiral. I was fighting for a decent position and ended up about ten back from the hole shot, gasping for air as we started turning through the mud. The first two laps were agony; then somehow I passed Lang in a barrier between laps 3 and 5 and never saw him again. I still felt awful but at least my race was going okay--I was pretty sure I was first woman by a long shot. The laps were short--that, and the fact that I kept finding chewy (and nutritious!) chunks of mud in my mouth, made the race seem longer than it actually was. Fortunately, the men's leader lapped me somewhere near the finish and relieved me of doing one more lap. I ended up finishing 13th overall (thereby preserving my crossresults lead over Lang, who finished 16th), and getting 1/7 for the novice women, with a gap of 3+ minutes (thanks, mud!). Midfield in a mixed-gender race and first among the chicks were both better results than I'd hoped for, so I was pretty ecstatic.

Dirty biiiike, I got Pedros, I know what you liiiike

After the B event and the elite men's race, and what must have been at least two bike washes, I headed out of the arena and into the fair with Dave, where we found running water and some delicious ribbon fries. Then he got a call from Ben Popper and the Chicago/Canada crew about some Mexican food, so we headed there and I practically fell asleep in my food. Still not sure how I made it back to the hotel.

Friday, July 10, 2009

my babyyy.

You know that post Dooce has about when her daughter comes back after a week away and she had "missed her achingly, terribly"? Chances are, if you're reading this, that you're more into Lycra than mommy blogs, BUT, replace "week-long vacation" with "two-day tune-up and cassette change," then substitute "implausibly big" with "breathtakingly light" and the result = how I felt picking up my 'cross bike today.

Literally, because of *course* I had to shoulder it to carry it up the stairs once I got home.

Before that happened, though, I was hanging out at the shop, and ran into my former supervisor from work and his wife. They were out shopping for commuter bikes. I started talking to them about cyclocross ("basically, like steeplechase on a bike... falling is safer than on the road... but oh, one time a guy broke his nose on a barrier, that was interesting") and different parts of the bike ("you use cantilever brakes--they make stopping less effective, but they don't get as clogged with mud") and all of a sudden I was back in I-can't-shut-up-because-I-love-this-sport-so-much mode.

Much in the manner of that awful Mariah Carey song, the 'cross bike will always be my baby. Can't wait for summer 'cross racing to start... hell, I can't wait to put the knobbies back on and play in the park!

Race Report: 17th Ever West Hill Shop Mountain Bike Race, Root 66 Series, 28. June 2009

Cyclocross is my focus this year, and I've been planning my spring and summer bike racing with that ultimate goal in mind. On the road, I've been undertaking, with varied success*, hard, intense efforts, like crits and TTs. To mix things up and work on my technical skills, I thought it would also be a good idea to try a mountain bike race or two.

So Sunday, June 28 was my first-ever XC race. I arrived in Putney, VT bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, but could tell from the get-go that this was going to be a completely different animal from road racing: when I pulled into the "parking lot," the grass was ankle-deep, it was raining but no one was whining about their stuff getting dirty, and the promoters were giving away lots of free stuff. All that was missing was a drumming circle.

I waded through the grass toward registration, was convinced by my friend Janet to do the beginner race (2 laps) rather than the first-timer race (1 lap), then waded back to my car. Somewhere during this process I managed to drop my race number--oops--but obtained another one. So I was all good, until I realized that I'd managed to leave my MTB shoe insoles two hours away, at home, while drying the shoes out after a particularly gross rainy, muddy June ride. Double-oops. I still had the shoes themselves, but without the padding, the race was going to be potentially uncomfortable... at best, a little loose, at worst, like wearing milk crates on my feet for an hour and change (OK, let's be honest, the race took me closer to two hours). I considered sacrificing the insoles of my old sneakers, but was unable to disengage them completely, so said to hell with it and put the shoes on sans insoles and went to line up.

We started out in a pack on the field... a lot like a 'cross race, but in a smaller group (plus?) and with, in my case, a more unwieldy bike (minus!). Then we rounded some curves and descended into the singletrack.

It was really freakin' rooty and muddy. Last year, I participated in a couple of mud baths via cyclocross, and over the rainy weeks prior to this race, I'd spent some time crunching over roots at needles at the Fells in the rain, so either roots OR rain, I had the technical skills to handle... but the combination proved painful for a first-timer. It was the most technical course I've ever ridden, and I use "ridden" loosely: when I wasn't crawling/running/walking up hills, I was crashing down them. Finally, I came out of the singletrack and mud into a field. "Ahhh, grass," I thought. Unfortunately, it was a downhill that bombed into muddy doubletrack, on which I--you guessed--crashed again. Then I came out of that doubletrack into more grass, which later was a four-inch-deep bog lined with brambly rosebushes of some sort. Again, cyclocross skills, right? No, actually, on a cyclocross course, they remove the rosebush before the start, or prune it into some sort of crazy topiary barrier that forces you to dismount and jump, after which you spend the following Monday bragging to your coworkers about how you jumped over a bonsai in the rain and are therefore hardcore. Yeah, nope, not at all how it went down at Putney. They don't prune the shrubbery or remove other potential obstacles in mountain biking (if they do, it's called a "sissy line" and Geoff Kabush will almost certainly pee on it), which means if you're a n00b like me, you get snagged on the rosebush and it pulls you back like one of those evil, angry trees in animated children's films.

It was like some episode of Looney Toons, with me cast as Tom and the course as Jerry. Every crash just made me feel more mad and wretched, so much so that at the end of lap 1, I wanted to pull out. I told myself if Janet was going to pull out, I would too... but when I saw her behind me, it looked like she was staying in the race. Drat.

So it was back into the singletrack, mud, and roots... but I'm happy to report that, on lap 2, I, with one exception (where I endo-ed in front of elite racer Cris Rothfuss, who was doing her warmup lap), I didn't fall anywhere that I'd fallen before.

Instead, I fell in entirely new locations! I went down again in a slippery spot on a downhill, early on... bounced off to the side of the course... and, in the process, caught a bar end directly in my knee. OUCH. At this point, I felt at least half as awful as Nancy Kerrigan must have during the Tonya Harding-Jeff Gilooly incident (except that I was crying probably twice as hard). I dragged myself to my feet, whimpering like a little roadie princess, and slogged down the hill again.

The big success of that race, though, was that when I reached the grassy clearing again, I knew how to take the corner. Well, OK, actually I didn't know how to take the corner, but I had a new game plan that basically involved desperately grabbing fistfuls of brake well before getting there. In this awkward n00b fashion, I managed to bomb partway down the hill, then control the bike enough to curve into the doubletrack correctly and not wipe out.

The finish was shortly thereafter, but not until I'd completed an exhausting run up another muddy hill. When I crossed the line after finishing the slowest, most agonizing 9 miles of my life (and I'm factoring in my running career too, mind you), I pulled off the course and lay in the grass, in the rain, utterly exhausted, and also in awe of the crazy people who do these races twice a month and finish them in 40 minutes fewer. Hardcore.

I ended up in 5th place in my age group (19-34 year old beginner women), with three riders DNFing behind me. I was so banged up as a result of the race that I singlehandedly brought Nancy Kerrigan chic (bruised legs + ruffly skirts) back to New England for the week following the race. However, I would definitely do it again... on a drier day... with insoles.

*By "varied success," I mean, "often second-to-last, with numerical place dependent on field size"