Monday, September 27, 2010

Bumpy Roads Ahead...

Yes, Dansko podium shoes. So what?
No one can really prepare you for the abuse your body takes during a cyclocross race. By abuse, let me FULLY iterate from a woman’s perspective. In the women’s CAT3/4, a 30-45 minute race will be nothing but rough gyrating paths, painful twisting, and pure technical bike riding. Everything on your body hurts including your knuckles from resting on the hoods of your shifters. The best re-creation of this is to place your body in a washing machine and cycle yourself through a full wash, spin cycle and all. Only then could you adequately begin to understand what it is like to race in a cyclocross race. The much appreciated recovery periods are short straight-aways that generally lead into more painful things like barriers and run-ups. The ONLY reprieve is the end of a race where you can finally remove your body from the bike and collapse on a grassy knoll.

I’ve never been so happy to hear a bell in my entire life. The bell lap is the last lap, noted by a loud ringing (DUH!). At this point, I can no longer see straight, my mouth is an arid desert and I pray I remember to clip out before I smash into a log barrier. My remounts are slightly off camber, sloppy and haphazard. At times, my left foot never clips back in, or at least I stop listening for it due to extreme oxygen deprivation. The last lap is the lap where distance MUST be maintained. I refuse to look under my arm to see anyone behind me. If someone is behind me, I will likely hear his or her puffing and sighing over my shoulders. I do not need to see where they are. I just need to finish.

The best feeling of the entire race is the first 10-minutes post race. Ideally, there are friendly faces there, hugs are exchanged and someone has water (it may be a complete stranger BUT I will take it with NO questions asked!). After guzzling a few drinks, removing the hot sweat soaked helmet and unzipping the body suit…I feel STELLAR. I feel like I could ride another 4-5 laps….but this feeling quickly fades and then my stomach takes over grumbling with emptiness that reminds me I have burned and sweated off far more calories than I took in before the race. I usually succumb to the worst foods because I’m starving in the worst way. I justify mayonnaise because I feel after exerting every fiber in my body, I deserve a little gluttony and mayonnaise seems the perfect indulgence. It’s warm creamy goodness accentuates every bad fat you can think of.

While I joke about this season being a crash course…it truly is. Every race is another adventure with some lesson learned. This weekend’s lesson was a bit of a reward…”how to pose for podium” which I FAILED miserable partly because I was so thirsty desperately eyeballing a dude’s iced water bottle 20-yards away and partly because I really did not think about the picture until it had been taken. There’s always next weekend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

If you can’t podium, join em!

I was pretty excited when I went to bed Saturday night. The second cyclocross race of the season was only hours away (literally a 2 hour drive) and my legs were strong from a brief tour ride in the countryside earlier in the day. All the items on a checklist were accounted for including: new tires glued, bag packed, hydration mixed, skin suit cleaned, socks, helmet, sports bra, sweat band and shoes packed. My post ride snacks were securely placed in the official post ride snack bag ready to be consumed after a 30-minute race. I was ready.

When we arrived to the venue…the track looked perfect…an old golf course gone cycling with constant rolling hills, off camber sections, one run-up and obstacles. Anyone coming OFF the course was covered with silty dust. The course was so dry, that the dirt had turned into a fine powder creating rather slick turns. This called for less air pressure so the tires could grip the ground and corner properly. I warmed up my normal 30+ minutes and was ready on the line for my call up.

WHIIIISTLE! We were off behind the men and the juniors. I was surrounded by a huge group of Michelob Ultra girls all pedaling with their matching kits. I am not sure how I feel about a light beer as a sponsor but in terms of name recognition, etc…it was a presence at the race (they WERE one of the sponsors afterall). I took off with a lead group into a tight left turn dismounting for the barriers…1….2…back on. Then….I felt something….but ignored it for a while…unitl I reached the run-up where I could officially tell that my front tire was deflated. I immediately thought I was imagining this…so I rode into a tighter corner to confirm…my tire was airless. Um…um…what to do? Well…NOTHING. You cannot race really nice wheels without fully aired tires…so there in my first lap…I too deflated with my tire. Why had I not used the pit? That’s a good question with a longer two-part answer.

1. I did not know the rules of the pits. Sure, I saw people taking extra bikes and wheels over to the pit area but I really did not know why or how the pit should be utlized. I should have asked and confirmed.

2. My position. I was in a VERY bad place on the course where I would have to run a good section before I even reached the pit. The time I would lose would have been a loves labor lost.

So left with few options…I had to pull out under the tape on the back side of lap number 1. I DID NOT EVEN FINISH my first lap. I will not tell you about the raging amounts of disappointment I felt because there are not words to describe it. I did not even have a good story for my team…no wrecked bike…no mangled limbs…just a lazy, limp, flat tubular tire that would mock me as I rolled it through the grass with little gasps of air escaping. I had NOT even broken a sweat…made it through the course…seen the other fun parts…NOPE.

So what did I learn? As with most races…I am responsible for myself. I should have inquired about the pits…I should have checked my tires again before the races. I should have been prepared for a mechanical failure. My only solace to end the day was my latest find, which is Blue Moon beer in a can. The can works GREAT for racing and hand-ups (if needed). I figure if I did not win at my race…I won at selecting a beer. The smallest victories produce the greatest results.

Monday, September 13, 2010


With four hours of sleep Friday night, we still managed to be the second customers at the coffee shop Saturday morning (6:38AM) and if there was going to be ANY indication of how the weekend would progress, I should have perhaps taken notice when the barista said, "we are low on sugar!" For those of you who know me and my never-ending coffee addiction, you know I take (4) Sugar-in-the-Raws along with half of a dairy cow. ANY deviation from this recipe results in shivering, quivering, disoriented thoughts throughout the day. This was indeed my sign that the weekend would NOT be sugar coated.

It's ONE thing to race a race. As a participant, all you have to do is show up...pony up your entry fee and pin your number in the appropriate place. When you are part of a team HOSTING the event, this means ALL of the grunt work, magic, and sweat comes from YOU, the teammate(s). In all of my event planning years (nearly 12+), I have NEVER planned, hosted, or participated in a cyclocross it was ONLY natural that I am thrown into the deep end which included assisting the boys with mapping out, riding, and not falling on the proposed course of pumpkin stems, roots and run off pond sludge. If that were not enough, I also found myself hosting podiums, being the podium girl (sans sexy bikini...something I am sure ALL participants are thankful for), and calling races. Wait a minute...I haven't even RACED the course yet.

Riding the course on Satuday...learning the ropes of hosting a race.

On Sunday, with a few more hours sleep, breakfast in the stomach and coffee made juuuuust right...I felt way better approaching a course I had never ridden with my bike atop the car. In all my haste to pack up the appropriate snacks, clothing, gear, beer (2 kinds for discernable pallets), chairs, back-up clothes for rain...I neglected ONE major element...A HELMET. It is not a surprise that the officials will not let you TOUCH the race course without a helmet. My realization to this detail did not occur until I was one-third of the way through my coffee and 45-minutes from home. Kicking myself would only bruise me. Thankfully, a team mate who also shares a smaller cranium offered up his ULTRA light helmet which fit snugly on this chicks forgetful head. WHEW!

Now with only 1-hour to race...I was being barked at to warm up my legs. Literally, in my wandering thoughts, I almost neglected this too. Thankfully, I rode circles, paraded all around the course and then enjoyed a nice course pre-ride which assured me that this course was rough....and by rough, I mean I could sustain punctures or major organ bruising should I fall. I made the note in my head to NOT fall because I was also wearing my teammates helmet which I promised profusely NOT to destroy ruining his race for the day. The call to the line was quick and as expected, few women show up for cross racing....even fewer finish but I felt better when I learned how confused a girl was about the last thought before the whistle was "stay away from this chick."

Once the whistle sounded, in a horizontal line (referred to as a Braveheart start which only caused me to yell FREEEEEDOM in my head during the start), we made a dash over roots and stems to corale at a tight right 180-degree turn. I did not get the hole shot but I also did not get a bad place either because behind me I could hear the ramblings of near pile ups and wrecks. My goal was to get a lap done...and I did including the barriers, including the steep down hill which if I HAD wrecked there, I would be wearing rotten apples, fermented apple juice, and bee's. Coming into the second lap, I decided to go up a gear in the straight away when I realized...I COULDN'T....the shifter was frozen into 2 smaller gears. It was not a reason to quit...ride until something falls off the bike or off my body. Neither had occurred, so I pressed on. I made the two gears work as best I could...sometimes spinning too much on the straight aways but holding tight turns with NO dabbing.

First turn, tight 180-degree

The last lap, I was with 3 women...I took a brief spill on an off-camber section near the muck pond. I was back up immediately and did not check the bike over because nothing was hanging off and there was not time...then a pile up behind me which I could only hear. I did not even look back...I continued to the finish straight away where the officials waved me through the finish line. I still had legs left. I still had lungs left. Then as I bent over to check my derailleur to discover I STILL HAD A BIKE left as I removed a LARGE pumpkin stem that had LODGED into my derailleur . That was an EASY fix.

I continued to walk around the property with my parents missing my podium call but collecting some apples for a 3rd place win. Since I was only doing the race to finish, I was happy with 3rd place...I was happy to finish and not completely embarrass myself. I was happy that I could ACTUALLY do it. This may sound strange BUT cyclocross racing hurts and it is not a cute, girly sport. Bruises and scrapes are the norm...or in our case on Sunday...sunburn. There was a lot of pressure to "prove" that I could ride the course, ride my bike, or even get over the barriers. I did all three and identified my areas for improvement. You have to start somewhere...and now was as good a time as any.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This time next week...

Oh it gets in the way of the hobbies I love. This past week has been a wash for bike riding which has caused a considerable amount of grief in my world. Work required I step outside of the 9-5 ritual and life demanded that cohabitation take even MORE time to unpack boxes, organize dish towels, and throw out more trash. So, I am left with 6 days to get ready to ride a bike I barely know on a course I have never seen, smelled, felt, or rode on. Nerves? What nerves? I will simply chew my nails down to bloody stumps to prevent nerves from actually settling in.

Did I mention we do not have team kits? Nope! Nada!...No team kits because there was a small delay ordering those. I guess this means I have to worry about what to wear too...I'm limited on clothes...more limited on a budget. Cycling requires an extensive budget which few of us riders have. The best we can do is fake it and make our clothes last as long as possible which includes stitching up shorts and hand-washing jerseys.

Did I mention my tires are not glued yet? The boyfriend, who is an expert at tire glueing (this IS a skill, trust me) has not had the time or resources to complete this task. Now we have tires hanging, stretching throughout the house and soon to be glued.

Did I mention I do NOT have a routine before a race? If this were a foot race...I have IT down. I wake up at oatmeal with nuts, berries and flax seed...I drink one-cup of HOT coffee...I drink a cup of water. I use the bathroom (is that more than you wanted to know...well...sorry). I dress...oil up the legs...apply anti-chaffing cream...stretch...lace up the shoes and head out. This routine will become NEWLY established. I have NO idea what I will do for a routine...or if I will even repeat it later.

Did I mention I could not ride this past week? WHAT IS THE ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MUST DO BEFORE YOU RACE ANYTHING? PRACTICE...PRACTICE...PRACTICE...and WHAT COULD I NOT DO ALL WEEK LONG? PRACTICE!!! (insert grunting, growling disappointing sounds here).

Did I mention the tools we need to complete building the bikes and glueing the tires are clear across town? In order to move them...we are going to need 2 cars, strong forearms and more patience.

So other than barely being able to train, a lack of appropriate clothing, unglued tires, no established routine, missing tools...I THINK I AM READY FOR NEXT WEEKEND!