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"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

race report: subconscious.

It must be the fall weather we're having this July in New England: last night I dreamt I won Day 1 of the Verge NECCS Series at the Gran Prix of Gloucester. NOT BLOODY LIKELY, but, a girl can dream. Oh wait, that was sort of the point.

Anyway, RACE REPORT time. I have absolutely no recollection of the hole shot, but all of a sudden, I was off the front trailed by a junior girl (maybe 8 years old?). She threatened to report me to the USCF officials for swearing, and I somehow (sans further swearing) talked her out of it; at the finish, another girl attempted to tackle me and slow me down BUT I PREVAILED! Unfortunately, I JUST made it across the finish in front of her, so no cheesy victory salute. Also, she had threatened to lie to Diane about something that had happened during the race, but I found Diane first! muahahahahaha WIN. (Literally.) Then I found a bunch of dudes from our team, who were leading cheers waiting for Kate to come in (apparently she had decided to do 'cross this season too), so I joined them. My friend Julie, who is a beast but for some reason had downgraded to Cat 4 due to teammates crashing, had also not yet crossed the line.

The course was very weird: some grass, but also some riding by ravines on dirt, and then a new "urban" element where we had to do a runup (I'm guessing, because I don't remember that part) and then ride through someone's apartment, which was being offered for rent. I believe I ran into my friends Abby, Jeff, and Jenn there. That was kind of nice. Also, it was apparently almost Christmas. But not cold.

Clearly, I have issues... but none that new straddle cables won't fix! Heh.