Monday, October 4, 2010

I heart cyclocross!

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year.  I get excited about crisp cool mornings, apple harvest, pumpkins, falling leaves, fall fly fishing trips.  Recently I've discovered another reason to love fall-  cyclocross!  For those of you unfamiliar with this strange event, cyclocross is a type of bike race which takes place on a mix of turf, pavement, dirt (and mud!) often requiring great bike handling skills to navigate tight corners and objects like roots, rocks and potholes.  Every cross course also has a run up, requiring you to dismount, throw your bike over your shoulder and scamper (or stagger) up a steep hill.  There is usually also a set or two of barriers- you must dismount and hurdle over them while carrying your bike. Often there is also a section of sand or mud that is impossible to navigate on two wheels, so you have to hop off your bike and carry it over your shoulder as you run along.  All the running mixed in with intense cycling makes cross HARD.  But, you do laps on short courses, which means that people are sprinkled everywhere along the course cheering you on, taunting you to go faster, ringing cowbells, and sometimes handing out goodies to keep you going (so far I've been offered both beer and bacon!). 

I ddin't take either of the first two raced I did very seriously- I arrived only about 40 minutes before my race time, got registered, ate a snack, did a quick warm up and started racing.  Both races went something like this:

First lap:

Originally uploaded by StarbucksCyclingTeam

Feeling fresh!

Second lap: 

Originally uploaded by StarbucksCyclingTeam

Hanging in there, starting to hurt but managing it....

Third lap:

Originally uploaded by StarbucksCyclingTeam

Pain and suffering.  Out of gas.  Wishing I'd trained more.

In both races, I wound up about midway back in the pack, 19th or 20th out of 40ish.  I'd start out in the top 10, then gradually fade as girls from behind caught me.  These were fine results but I wanted to be placing a little higher.  While a lack of physical conditioning (and lack of preparation on race day!) was definitely contributing to this pattern, I had an inkling that my 39 tooth front gear was also probably too big for this kind of riding.  (If this doesn't make sense, here's an explanation- the bigger the gear you have on your front chainrings, the faster you go, but the harder it is to pedal slowly.  So, if your gear is too large, you can go fast but you run out of steam quickly).  Anyhow, I learned that most cx racers run either a 34 or 36 tooth chainring rather than a big 'old 39.  So, the day before the next race, I switched my chainring out for a 36.  I also did a clinic that day with Jitka and Vern, the mighty mud couple on our team.  Both dominate at cx.  They taught me how to properly carry my bike up the hill, as opposed to the dragging-bike-by-handlebar technique I used at Evergreen, and how to properly get on and off the bike.  Oh, I also arrived 90 minutes early- long enough to register, eat something, get enough fluids in my body, and take one or two rides around the course to check out the terrain.   

The course was flat, save for a short run-up, and pretty technical- very rooty and twisty, with a sandy stretch along the beach.  I lined up with the other girls in the grass, and when the gun went off, sprinted to stay with the leaders, just as in the previous two races.  We sprinted around the first corner, through a couple of grassy zig zags, then headed into the trees to weave in and out of the roots.  I tried to get a little too aggressive over one tree root, turned my tire too far to the left, and went over the handlebars, landing on my ass.  Feeling sheepish and apologizing to the ladies behind me, I hopped back on my bike and kept pedaling.  I was still in about 8 or 9th, not too far behind the race leaders.

We headed around two more corners, then down a little hill, another right, and we were at the runup.  This is usually the part where everyone behind me passes me, but remembering my new bike carrying technique, I threw my bike over my shoulder and scampered (actually scampered, no staggering this time) up the run up, hopped on my bike, and zipped down the hill back out onto the grass.  Not one girl passed me!  We did a few more zig zags, then it was onto the sand stretch, where I was able to power through by pedaling and sitting back in the saddle.  Other girls to my left and right peeled off in the sand, but I kept going and they faded out of my awareness bubble.  A few more zig zags and we were to the barriers, another slow section for me- I think a girl caught me here, but no droves of ladies came by my shoulder.

After a lap, I still felt fresh- and I stayed that way for lap 2, and lap 3, and reached lap 4, the final one, without dying.  For most of the lap I duked it out with another rider- I was quicker than her in the trees, around corners, and up the run up, but she was faster on the flat sections.  About 2/3 of the way to the end of the last lap, she caught me and kept going.   Oh well.  I was done and didn't really die at the end!  I crossed the finish line grinning- I couldn't believe how much better I felt than at the past two races.  I wound up 11th for the day out of 40, much better than earlier races, woo hoo!  This course left me happy, muddy, and looking forward to next weekend's race. 

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