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!