Monday, October 1, 2012

Gloucester GP - adding some experience to my inexperienced status...

Well, that sure was something.  I was hoping to experience a muddy cross race yesterday, and it was delivered.  I don't recall there being many sections of the course that weren't mud unless they were puddles, sand, or pavement.  Challenging is an understatement.

I arrived in Gloucester with plenty of time to register, warm-up, and pre-ride the course.  What I didn't anticipate was maybe wanting to clean my bike off before the start or the fact that it would take me a fair amount of time to get around the course with it being so sloppy.  Slop - what a fun word.  Anyhow, John and John were Skyler's buddies for the day, and she had a blast hanging out with them while I slopped it up.  So I finished my inspection of the course with just under 20 minutes to spare, rode up to my car to drop my water bottle and grab a GU, and by the time I got down to the start area, I'd missed my call-up to row 3 or 4.  

My start in the back of the pack didn't really bother me; I don't have enough experience to warrant a good starting position just yet, and it wouldn't have been fair to people who've been doing this longer.  Last row was just fine.  However, as we hit the mud and I found myself having to dodge other riders, I soon saw the value of starting closer to the front.  At one point, a girl fell in front of me and I rode directly into her.  We politely apologized to one another and were on our way, but in the meantime, the field was getting pretty stretched out.  Over the course of the first lap, which seemingly took forever, I was back and forth with a few other girls, and I tried my best to ride as smooth as possible.  

To sum it up, I managed to stay on the bike when necessary, and I shouldered my bike the proper way on the dismounts, but I had some really ugly moments out there.  All semblance of technical ability was left on the first lap.  I learned a LOT in those three laps (I think it was three anyhow...).  The course was definitely challenging and fun.  It would have been nice to experience the double-race thing and do Saturday's race as well; from what it sounds like, the course was an entirely different animal.  Maybe someday I'll be up for it, but for now, Saturdays I am up for delivering mail.  

I ended up finishing 38th out of 42 finishers - there were a handful of DNFs and DNSs, too.  I wasn't last, and I finished, barely.  It certainly was a learning experience.  Today, my shoulder is sore, it hurts to wear my backpack full of books, and I think I still have some mud in the corners of my eyes, but climbing four flights of stairs with said backpack seems a lot easier than climbing a muddy hill shouldering a bike covered in 20lbs of debris.  Believe it or not - I'm looking forward to doing it again.  The Night Weasels Cometh this Wednesday to Shrewsbury! 

Cross Twenty-Eleven = 3 Races in 3 Months; Cross Twenty-Twelve = 3 Races in 5 Days... any questions?

I guess I finally get it.  There's just something about racing for 40-60 minutes at the highest level you can manage to put out...  I can't say I'm completely buying into it enough where I'm going to do all the silly stuff - like spend time gluing tires to wheels or bring two bikes to a race, though I can see the value in these activities - but I fully intend to learn how and when my body should be pushed to its limit within the course of a race.

Last year, I raced three times, and I had no idea what I was doing other than riding my bike, getting off my bike, remounting my bike, and suffering.  I raced at Mansfield Hollow, Hopbrook, and the local DAS race all at random throughout the season.  While my intention coming into the 2012 season was not to race every weekend, it seems as though I might come pretty close.  The races are close enough, short enough, and fun enough that they don't take too much time out of my homework-filled weekends. The brevity of the actual race and the fact that the course is a shorter circuit than a mountain bike race makes it an ideal event to bring the family to.  I'm not saying that cross is better than mountain biking - I'm only admitting that it does have some perks, and I've decided to embrace it.

So, I started out the season last Saturday at the Expo Wheelman's Silk City Cyclocross in Manchester CT.  The starting line was filled with experienced racers and regardless of my mountain bike fitness, I knew it was going to be a tough race.  Before the start, I spent plenty of time warming up, but I didn't get a chance to ride the course at all.  Rumor had it that it was a mountain biker's sort of course because it had some good off-camber sections and some tricky stuff, so I was hoping that would work to my advantage.  I should have pre-ridden it.  Yes, it was my kind of course, but I made some stupid mistakes, especially on the first lap, that I wouldn't have made if I'd spent some time going through the course carefully before the start.  There was one spot in particular where I was going to fast over a blind hill and didn't know there was a corner on the other side.  No amount of braking could stop me from going through the tape and off course.  You live/race and you learn.  I finished 4th and got to podium with some very fast ladies - the loot was pretty sweet, too... cash and Verge accessories.

Sunday I went up to Auburn, NH for the 2012 Suckerbrook Cyclocross Race.  Unlike Saturday's race, there were two options for the ladies - a category 2/3/4 race and an open race.  Based on my mountain bike license with USAC, I was automatically registered as a Cat 1 cyclocross racer (despite my HUGE lack of experience).  I'm trying to embrace this, and realize that it won't really hurt anything for me to race against the really fast girls.  So that's what I did on Sunday.  It was insane, and I watched as woman after woman rode away from me on the straightaways and I caught up to them in the very small sections of woods.  I left that race with a finish of 15 out of 20 and the knowledge that I needed power...  unfortunately in this case, knowledge is NOT power.

Wednesday night...  The Midnight Ride of Cyclocross in Lancaster, MA.  The women's open race was dubbed Elite Women and for good reason.  The best of the best were there.  Not only were there some of the best women in New England signed up, but these girls are some of the best in the country.  My goals for the night were 1) gain experience, 2) not get lapped, and 3) push harder than I did on Saturday and Sunday.  So, I spent some time warming up with Jordan Dube, and with 15 minutes to go before the race, I noticed my tire was getting a little squirrelly.  Sure enough, I had a flat - fortunately, I had a tube in the car, and even if I hadn't, a couple of people offered to lend me a wheel (thank you again, both Shawn M and Kate N's hubby).  So, I somehow was in the second row at the start and shakin' in my chamois.  Racing on pavement and in a tight pack is terrifying for me - mostly because I have no experience at it - and as luck would have it, the start was on pavement.  I'd pre-ridden this course earlier in the evening, but the sun was still out, so when I hit the dark corners of the course, it was a little unnerving.  I eventually got into a groove and rode hard.  The course was fun.  I managed to ride everything smoothly until the final lap where I went down in some woodchips.  The rider behind me gained some ground but didn't pass me until the final straightaway where we had a sprint finish.  I ended up finishing 11th out of 22.

What a fun couple of days...  and there're more coming.  I can't race Saturday at Gloucester because I need to work, but I'm signed up for Sunday and should be starting somewhere in the last row.  Wednesday night will be a race in Shrewsbury, MA called the Night Weasels, and the following weekend is the Providence Cyclocross Festival - again, I can only race on Sunday.  It's crazy how much more I like it the more I try it.