True Weekend Warrior
(Yes, this is my bike)
I would like to start my race report with a quote: Buddha said "When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."
This weekend I had a few moments when I was having trouble realizing how perfect everything is but I definitely tilted my head back and laughed (cried) at the sky! Instead of racing here in Madison I was headed up north for a weekend of hanging out and rollerskiing with my nordic ski team friends. However, as luck would have it there was also a cross race in Ashland which was only about 45 minutes away from where I was staying. I thought that was an opportunity too good to miss so I added my cyclocross bike to my list of things to take north with me.
Friday evening I had a lovely 2 hour rollerski working on the finer points of the kick-double pole technique for classic skiing. At this point all things were going smoothly for me and I did feel like tilting my head back and laughing at the sky.
Saturday morning I joined my ski teammates for some "dryland training" - aka strength and agility work. We started off with a trail run to warm up which I sensibly set off on at a very casual pace since I would be doing my cyclocross race at Noon. It was all going fine until I caught my foot underneath a root and was launched forward with my foot still trapped and took a very hard fall. The woman who was running with me had a look on her face of complete worry but I jumped up and walked it off. That was going to hurt later for sure!
It took a bit to shake it off and it freaked me out a little bit. Anyway I finished up the run and joined in our next set of exercises which was a circuit of several "fun" activities. This included leaping hurdles, doing a set of over/under hurdles to improve flexibility, overhead ball bounces to simulate double poling, jump roping, planks to work the core, ladder agility drills, and these weird bands that you use to do strength workouts with a partner. Not exactly the way I normally prepare for a cross race but still a fun morning (although I have to admit that I was jump roping so slowly that I was being heckled).
At the conclusion of a little stretching I was off to Ashland for the cross race. I got there with plenty of time to register, pin my number on, eat a snack, and do a little warm up. The race before mine seemed to be behind schedule and so I never got out for a pre-ride. Not getting out for a pre-ride is really, really a bad idea for cross racing especially if the race is a little "old school" and appears to include singletrack, rocks and roots.
The race started with a lemans start which basically means you have to set your bike down and then run to it. They had us put our bikes on one side of the set of 3 barriers and then start on the other side. Luckily there was probably only about 15 in my start time with about 10 guys and 5 women so it wouldn't be overly chaotic.
However, even with that small group I somehow started off at the back. I quickly passed one woman, then a 2nd woman, and got on the wheel of the 3rd woman putting me in 3rd and right in the mix. Unfortunately, the woman in 1st was off and gone like a shot and I never saw her again until the finish.
The course starts with some long straightaways linked together with 90 degree turns so not pre-riding that part was no big deal. Then you take a tight gravel turn onto a bumpy, rutted grass/dirt road. I passed the woman in front of me making that turn and could easily follow the line in the bumps. Then I crested a little hill and before me was a rocky downhill to a huge mud pit with standing water. Luckily I had asked why all the finishers in the race before were muddy so I did have some idea this was out there. I had also heard that you should go left to ride it but not too far left. Armed with that knowledge I took a line on the left that didn't seem as far left as you could go. Too bad I was totally wrong in my choice and as usual was in the "too far left" category. Right after hitting the mud/water I hit a hidden root and down I go into the icky mud and freezing cold water. As I'm picking myself out of the water the woman I had just passed rides by and the woman behind her runs by. I'm left extricating myself from the muck and am now completely dirty.
My mind is now thinking "4th place is good, that's not last, I can be happy with that." But once I get going again and forget about the muck that covers my left hand and body I can see that the other 2 women are not that far ahead. We quickly hit a gravel road and I accelerate up to pass one of the women. Then we take a quick turn into some singletrack and I'm all discombobulated and go the long way around a tree. At this point I feel bad because I'm totally holding up the woman I had just passed. Luckily we quickly hit another short gravel road section and I get a tiny gap back on her. Then we turn and go over these tree roots and I'm thinking about last week's flat tire I suffered and thinking that could surely happen again.
Then we go by the area where I parked and I know we go down, around and then back up towards the parking. I see the woman in front of me dismount for the uphill and I'm wondering if it really is so steep it can't be ridden. Then I round the corner and realize there are steps and I'm thinking "holy crap I need to get off this bike quick" and then I'm off and doing the most awkward run up the stairs which were super annoying because all the steps were spaced differently and I could never find a good rhythm. And then after what seemed like 15 seconds of riding you rounded another corner to a steep uphill that once again had a railroad tie halfway up it. If that wasn't bad enough there was concrete just barely under the surface which did not make for a great running surface.
After that you went down and around the playground equipment you headed towards a sand pit. Normally I don't have anything against sand pits but this one was to be my nemesis. First time through the pit I see that the woman in front of me doesn't make it but I'm feeling confident so I go for it. Except I only make it about 3/4 of the way before I stall out and I was unprepared for dismounting as I truly expected to make it (oh, the over confidence of those who once were much better riders than they are now). This allows the woman behind me a chance to get by again.
Next up you go up and around a tree with some corners that were possibly my favorite part of the course and I'm sure were inspired by the race director having attended the USGP (insert total egotism here for surely people copy all the cool USGP course sections). Then immediately you are off the bike again for 3 barriers in a row. At this point I get around the woman who passed me at the sand pit again and take off for lap 2.
On lap 2 I can still see the woman in front of me but she's keeping a steady pace and I can hear that my gap to the woman behind me is pretty small. Through the straightaways and before you know I'm back at the mud pit. This time I pick a slightly better line and just barely make it through riding. I can hear the woman behind me have to get off her bike so I take off as fast as I can.
This lap I'm definitely doing better as I actually know where I'm going. That helps a ton and I feel like I'm distancing the woman behind me. I feel like I've even closing in on the woman in front of me. Through the sand pit and the barriers I can see that I've distanced the woman behind me and that I'm inching closer to the woman in front of me. However, when the timers yell 3 laps to go I'm secretly wishing that I didn't have that many more times around as I wonder if I can hold off the woman behind me that long to keep 3rd place. Oh, the mental aspects of cyclocross are a challenge with the mind calling defeat as the body asks for reprieve.
Starting the 3rd lap I really try to work hard on the long straightaways as they generally are weak points for me. On lap 3 I try a different approach to the mud pit but I don't quite make it and have to jump off and once again stick my feet in the cold, wet muck. But I can see that the woman in front of me didn't make it either and I'm back on quicker than her and eeck out a little more distance on her. However, she holds that distance through the rest of the lap. As I go through the end of the lap/start at the sand pit and barriers I can see that my lead over the woman behind me has grown substantially which was a serious relief.
On lap 4 I totally rock the mud pit and find the perfect sweet line that I have been looking for all day so I feel good about that. I'm hitting the roots just right to minimize flatting and have even perfected the big dip in the trail which bottoms out my tire and also threatens a flat. I'm still struggling with the right technique for the stairs and in my mind I think I should shoulder the bike but I never seem to make the entry into the stairs in such a way that shouldering happens. As I'm once again going through the sand (and never making it the whole way!) and over the barriers I realize that I am not going to be lapped and I head out for my final lap - Lap 5.
As I go through on my last lap I don't see the woman behind me anywhere so I think I've got 3rd wrapped up if I just ride clean. I can see 2nd place tantalizingly in front of me; dangling just out of reach. My mind is conflicted - should I be happy with 3rd or should I really try for 2nd. The mind is a funny thing as it reminds me that 3rd is awesome since it isn't last place (my usual spot these days). It reminds me that I've got a full weekend planned and maybe I should pace myself. No need to kill myself since I'm already on the podium. But in the end I want to feel like I tried so I keep the pressure on. I really push it hard through the 2 long straightaways and try to really seal the deal with good cornering. And there she is maybe 15 seconds up on me and I'm trying to figure out where I can make up that time.
And then as I'm rolling over the bumpy terrain headed towards the rocky downhill and into the mud pit I hear a crazy noise. As I crest the rise to the mud pit I see someone laying in the water. I realize that the noise is someone yelling in pain and that the woman in front of me is laying in the water clutching her wrist. I carefully brake as I head down the rocky terrain and stop. Not being medically inclined all I can think of to say is "what can I do". Can I help you up? I grab her uninjured arm and help get her out of the freezing cold muck. Then I pick up her bike and get her out of the mud pit. Then I ask do you want me to walk your bike back with you or go for help? She sends me for help.
Of course, once I start out to go for help I realize that I have no idea what the fastest way back to the start area is as I don't know the park at all. I feel weird just riding hard on the course since it feels like I've abandoned her to continue the race. Luckily the course quickly lead to a spot that I recognized as near the parking lot and I was able to jump off the course and ride to the start/finish. It took a moment for the people there to realize why the wheezing biker came up to the finish from the wrong direction. However, I was quickly able to get my point across and get someone with some first aid knowledge back out to help the woman.
Then I said to the remaining people at the finish that if it was okay I was going to go back out and jump on the course and finish the race. I felt like I should since I was of no use to the injured woman any more. No one seemed to disagree with that so off I went. Then I noticed the woman who had been behind me and she was already standing at the finish line. Realizing she had been lapped I finished up at a leisurely pace.
And then I was done. I saw that the woman's friends had found her and she was quickly whisked off presumably to the ER to be checked over. I don't know what the outcome was but hopefully it hurt worse than it really was.
For sure not the way I wanted to end the race as I would have much preferred 3rd than to get 2nd through such an unfortunate accident. However, I didn't have much time to reflect on the situation as I realized the afternoon was passing me by and I needed to get back to Cable. Luckily for me I had a stash of Action Wipes from the USGP so I was able to clean most/some of the mud off me before I jumped in the car. I also had some goodies form the Ashland Baking Company to eat on the drive (an exceptional bakery for sure).
By 2 pm I was back in Cable and had traded in my very wet, muddy and nasty bike shoes for ski boots and rollerskis. Ah yes, the perfect way to spend the afternoon after doing a cross race . . . working on the finer points of classic skiing. The afternoon brought 2 hours of doing ski drills up a nice little hill that got longer and longer as the afternoon went on. I can't say I was sad to be done for the day and all my teammates were not shy about giving me crap for being tired. However, I did show off my trophy to some of them and might have left out the part where I only got 2nd due to someone's untimely injury. (If you ski as poorly as me you may be tempted to commit the sin of omission to try and make your teammates think you are good at something. Yes, vanity is a sin that I shall work on for the future).
And then afternoon led to evening and the next thing you know I'm hanging out with a group of skiers and enjoying a beautiful fall evening. The barbecue is going and we're all kicked back and having a good time. And then my Russian coach, Igor, hones in on me and gets out the Vodka bottle. And somehow I get talked into a vodka shot but not to worry we'll have a pickle with it so all will be well. And no I don't totally understand the pickle. Apparently you sniff it, drink the vodka shot and then eat the pickle. It is seemingly both a Russian tradition and a way to ward off a hangover. Good think I had the pickles at hand as one shot turned into two shots turned into three shots turned into "oh no not another one" which turned into one more shot and then even one final shot. It can be hard to keep track. And, of course, because it's not like I'm not old enough to know better there was a beer in between all this craziness.
And then it was Sunday morning. Morning sure does come early some days or at least it felt that way . . . because it was dark or some reason like that. But by close to 8am I was at the CXC training facility ready to do my ski erg test. This is not a good thing especially if you're moving a little slowly. However, the ski erg waits for no one . . . the ski erg being this machine that simulates double poling on skis and keeps track of time, distance, watts, etc. Before I knew what happened I was doing my 30 second test and then way too soon my 3 minute test. Although it made me feel like my arms might literally fall off from the pain of this I actually put out numbers that were not entirely an embarrassment. This is especially true if you count the fact that a couple of the women are strong . . . as in they actually look good when they strip down to their sports bras . . . as compared to me who would not think of doing that because the puniness of my lats, shoulders, triceps, etc would be revealed (and the glare of my pasty white skin would blind people!).
After surviving that it was off for another 2 hours of rollerskiing . . . this time skate skiing just to mix up the pain. I, of course, fell within the first half hour of skiing when I pushed off on a clump of leaves or gravel or something. Luckily I fell on the opposite side of my other falls to ensure even bruising!
By the time 2 hours was up I was ready for lunch . . . which was just the fuel I needed to get myself out for a 12 mile mountain bike ride on some sweet CAMBA singletrack. I will now admit that I am not nearly as hardcore as I sound and on one of the last climbs back to the car all I could think about was the searing pain in my legs as they begged me to cease and desist.
Which I did . . . .finally.
And for the record I was totally laughing at the sky as I thought about how I was totally "living the dream" and how people have no idea how exhausting it is to live the dream. Oh sure, my co-workers all think I live some exotic and exciting lifestyle that involves bike racing in the snow and ski training camps when there is no snow and fascinating sounding things like cyclocross bikes and rollerskis. Of course, then they see me stand up from my desk and limp my way down the hallway. Then they probably realize I'm just crazy.