Monday, October 26, 2009

The fast and furious land of DCCX

We missed DCCX last year.  We were mountain biking in Spain that week.  I didn't know what to expect, but was really excited for this one.

I was gunning for this race - it's a big race in the MABRA series - which for me meant a large Cat 4 field (44 starters!) and perhaps a chance to win (I didn't).  I did all my prep right - some hard rides this week, an off day on Saturday, pre-rides and warm-up on the trainer while watching teammates in the elite masters race, all the right food, etc.  The course was great - some flat sections and a lot of sweeping turns that just really flowed fast and if you had the bike handling skills to rail them, it was all good.  A few three-pedal-stroke hills and two longer gradual climbs on the road at the start and finish.  Pre-riding it, I thought it was a course that would favor the roadies a bit.

They say that cross is all about the start.  I took the hole shot (again), as I'd wanted to.  The uphill start on the road quickly funneled into a left hand turn up and around some trees on the grass - lots of previous races had gotten bottlenecked early there and I wanted to stay out of traffic.  Proving that the start is killer important - here's partway through the first lap - the top three podium places are in this picture - all mountain bikers by trade, so I guess I was wrong about the whole roadie thing.

I was ready to turn myself inside out for this one and was trying to get away early.  I knew someone was sitting on my wheel on the long flat straightaway into the headwind on the first lap, so I intentionally slowed enough that she had to go around me.  I realized immediately I was not going to catch her wheel as I had intended (nor was I going to see her again).  She probably finished 2 minutes ahead of me if I had to guess and (according to the announcer) well into the elite field that started about a minute before we did.

The rest of the race I was just pounding on the pedals pretty much solo. Christine W. and newcomer Natalie were beating up on each other about 15 seconds back for much of the ride.  The cheering section by the barriers was insane.  I know there were a few people up there I knew - I'm also quite certain there were a few people that learned my name during the race as the yelling (Eric) was so loud (keep pedaling!).

I passed a few elite riders who were flagging early, went back and forth with an elite rider who was dropping me on the road only to get caught in the off camber turns, went by Tracy L. a bit later, and tried to be super nice to every lapped rider I came across.  That always made a big difference to me last year - lots more fun to know that even if you're not winning, others recognize you're working your bum off to be where you are in your own race.

I wound up with a sweet bag of prizes after taking second on the day (including Belgian chocolates!).

As a testament to how hard this race was and the energy I put out, Shea met me at the finish and asked what I wanted.  Normally I want water, my protein drink, or something equally healthy.  But yesterday, I wanted the beer that was on tap and I'd been jonesing for all morning and afternoon.

I promptly started hacking up a lung as punishment for drinking cold fizzy things immediately after racing.

Props to Jess who, in her third cx race was in the top 20, which means top 50%!  Rock on chica.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Still cleaning the mud from my ears - Granogue and Wissahickon

It's Wednesday and I still haven't written race reports.  Guess it's just that kind of a week. Did the big double of Granogue and Wissahickon this weekend.


Granogue - a technical course with sweeping off camber turns, a significant downhill, and two steep run-ups.  This was a MAC series race, which means a big field mixed with the fast cat 3's.  I was shooting for top 50%, hoping for top 10.  It had poured rain for about 3 days leading into the race and I could tell without a pre-ride it was gonna be sloppy.  Warming up on the trainer, I was watching the B masters crash the downhill and (often) go through the tape... one after another.  Crazy.  Ours was the third race of the day and already there was no semblance of grass between the tape, just mud. After scrumming for a front row start, I drafted up the hill and pulled around at the top for the hole shot.  Seems like no one wanted to lead onto the grass, and while I knew it wasn't a sustainable position, I was happy to choose my own lines through the first couple of mud-infused turns.

I felt great on my bike.  And like crap off of it.  The run ups were sucking my shoes down into the mud and holding them there, it seemed.  I could barely get traction (I will find my spikes for the next muddy race!) and wound up crawling at least twice.  Remounts were miserable - I caught my shorts 3 times on the seat.  After the hole shot, I was passed a few times on the uphills and then wound up trading places for much of the race with Anne of Sturdy Girl - she was racing in the Master's category, so it was fun to go back and forth with her.

On the last lap, I laid it down fast on the first downhill after the start (headed back toward the parking area) and slid at least 15 feet through the slip-n-slide mud.  At least one onlooker cheered.  Hey, at least if I'm gonna crash, I did so with style.  Got up and had some trouble getting put back together - turns out there was so much mud on my left glove I could barely hold onto the hoods.

Later in the lap, I was riding the downhill well and a rider had dropped her chain and was on the rideable line.  I said something and, thankfully, she moved over about 3 inches.  That was all I needed - in retrospect, this was extra nice of her - we were racing against each other and nothing said she had to move out of the way to fix that chain.  But if she hadn't, I'm afraid I would have run smack into her!  I sprinted at the end, not knowing (or wanting to) who was behind me (turns out, no one) and wound up crossing the line about half a wheel behind Anne for 12th in the Cat 3/4 field.

Wissahickon -  It wasn't easy dragging myself out of bed after 3 Saturday night loads of laundry (a warm glove of mine missed out on load #2) and shoes drying on the heating vent...  We ventured to Dick's Saturday night for a tent - the possibility of rain and likelihood that I was gonna warm up on the trainer again made me bite the bullet.  Turns out, those things are cheaper than I thought.

We got to Wiss a bit later than I'd hoped - I had planned time for a quick lap then bike cleanup and warmup.  But alas, it was not to be.  I told myself that it was okay - nothing about muddy water coming off my back wheel is warm.  In fact, it leads to a condition known as cold butt.  In spinning out before the start I achieved that condition.  It was soon to be followed by cold feet after plowing them through 6 inch deep puddles in the sand.

On lap 1, I was regretting not pre-riding.  I had a mediocre start (from the front row, again) but got boxed out what felt like 15 times in the first 3 turns, including once where I was unceremoniously pushed into a shin-height wooden fence.  Grunting at the woman who did this to me yielded a bit more space, so I wasn't resigned to the fate of men in other races who wound up crashing over it.  Getting pushed into tape I'm okay with.  Immovable objects... not so much.

About halfway through lap 1 of 4, my rear derailleur pooped out.  It just wasn't interested in shifting.  Arg.  Luckily, I've got it geared 36-46 in the front with enough chain to cross shift, so at least I had two gears for the remainder of the race.  I was, however, spun out on the road sections.  On a pitchy little hill just after the sandpits I managed to ride it while being pushed into the tape - fun!  It was a great move by whomever was doing it - she forced me into a harder line but I managed to ride it anyway.  On subsequent laps I would generally spin out partway up that hill.

The spiral of death at Wiss was truly that - mud and a slight hill makes that feature way more interesting.  Everyone crashed in here it seemed, including me - I laid it down at least twice in the spiral.  And the runup after the barriers was tough - slippery that I could barely get traction, but with a decent high speed dismount.  In all, lots of fun off camber and a few tricky little downhills that begged for attention.

By the last lap I was racing against one other woman who I managed to beat up the pitchy hill but then crashed on an off camber and she gapped me.  No legs or gears left for the sprint, I wound up 15th out of 34 on the day.  I'm pleased but not thrilled with that.  Tactically not my best race, but with the shifting troubles and gummy legs from Saturday's effort, I'm happy I did that well.

As I said, Epic.

Pics from Joe Mallis, Shea, and Cycling Captured

Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting ready for snow season...

Okay, I know, it's wrong to be thinking this much about skiing when we're not even halfway into cross season yet.  But it's 42 degrees and raining.  It snowed in upstate PA today.  And I have a lot of skiing related items on my to do list...

A few things to do before December 1st (ski season starts Nov 30 for me):
1.  Make appointment for boot work.  (Done!)
2.  Order new skis. (Done!)
3.  Find warmer mittens.
4.  Figure out availability/schedule for season.  This process requires simultaneous comprehension of at least 3 calendars, 2 lists, and an ability to guess when I'll have to give lab meeting in the spring.
5.  Shop for ski pants.  Recently lost weight means current black pants will fall down.  Even with my new belt.
6.  Brag about new skis - Atomic Elysian's. 92mm underfoot and super fun.  Did I mention it's technically a women's ski?

7.  Gain the ability to see into the future - when will the snow be ideal for a trip to Utah?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall treat: apple chips

Yeah, apple chips.  But not those processed oversweet undertasty ones in the bag from Superfresh that cost like $4 an ounce.  Homemade chips.  Who knew?  And it's so easy.

Take an apple. Or two. Or three.  Slice it super thin (you do have a mandolin, don't you?!).  Arrange on two cookie sheets on parchment paper.  Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar.  Bake 1 hour at 225.  Turn them all over, sprinkle again and bake for about another hour until they are getting crispy.  Try not to steal too many directly out of the oven.  A bonus - I was getting impatient and took them out still a bit soft.  As they've been cooling, they are getting crisper.

Lovely fresh taste.  Easy. Healthy.  Pretty.  The camera battery is dead or I'd show you.  They won't last until tomorrow, so you'll just have to try it yourself.  What more can you ask for in a recipe from a girl who is trying to stay at race weight?

Update: turns out I have a camera in my phone...


Monday, October 12, 2009

Spiral of delight at Iron Cross Lite

Iron Cross was this weekend - 62 miles of cross racing. some 238 people finished it.  I was not one of them.  I didn't start it either.  So good for them.

I did race Saturday for 'Iron Cross Lite' - which is a regular cross race at the same venue.  Known for it's "spiral of death" - a feature similar to those huge blue and yellow lollipops with flat concentric circles.  You ride in, flip a little tight turn and ride out.

The course was similar but better than last year - a single barrier log in the woods section removed ambiguity about whether to hop or dismount and the climbing was broken up into two sections.  Improvements in the sand pit configuration also affected a lot of races (read as, a bunch of  people, none of which were me, wound up lying in the sand under their bikes and, in all cases, were causing other racers to wish they'd had a better start).

Saturday's field was a combined women's field 1/2/3/4 - ouch, I pity the PA-based Cat 4's.  But I wanted to race with the fast chicks and see where I stacked up, so it was a perfect race for that.  18 starters, including at least several other Cat 4's. After a mediocre start, I climbed through the pack on the first hill, working my way up to about 7th or so - I was encouraged, this was my first not front row start all season and the start and subsequent passing went well.  A rider crashed in front of us in the first (rideable) sand pit, so we were off our bikes and running early on.  Betsy was off the front by about 2 minutes into the first lap - I held with the lead group for a bit, then had a terrible barrier on the backside (in the woods) - I ran into a bike/rider next to me.  Oops.  Gotta get the bike under control with hand on the top tube.  After a long pull coming back up the start hill, I bridged up and was back in the top 5 but in pain.  My only thought as I passed Shea yelling his head off was that I was in last lap pain at the end of the first lap - not a good sign.

I held on pretty well for the second lap as well, and was probably 7th after it.  Had a phenomenal write-home-about-this-one downhill barrier in the woods that time.  Perfectly done with a (non-double-hop) remount.  Yay!  Shortly thereafter I was surprised to see EH, who I expected to be in the top five - she'd dropped a chain and was working to get back up there.  The spiral was treating me well - I was spinning it in my big ring and not losing speed to other riders as I did last year.  I love that never going to stop turning feature!

Three laps to go... But, I burned too many matches on those first two laps and faded quickly into 9th.  I'm actually really pleased with that - top 50% in a combined field is where I hope to be right now.

Next up - another double - the infamous Granogue and Wissahickon.

Sidenote - we forgot the camera again, so no pictures til I can find some online later this week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Uh-oh, time to set some goals...

I told myself I could wait until after my first three cross races to set goals for the season.  And now I'm putting it off... but time to put what I've been mulling over in writing so I can commit to it officially.  In no particular order, here are some things I'm shooting for the race season...

Continue having fun.  Ride the muddy lines whenever it's smart.  Clean my own bike at least once. Learn to settle into my own pace within the first two laps.

Win.  Twice.  Then I won't have to waffle about when I'm ready to go up to the 1/2/3's.

Finish top 5 in a 3/4 MAC race - I might only have 3 chances at this one and those cat 3 women are strong.

Keep my training hours as high as they are now for the latter half of the season, even when it's dark after normal work hours.  I have no excuse - I have the flexibility to leave lab midday for a ride and come back.

Incorporate some weekly core training and stretching.  Else, those hip flexors are gonna hurt come ski season.

Get rid of the double hop on my remount.  Yeah, if you read my blog, you might think that I did that already.  But apparently I only did for remounts at practice.  At races, arg, it's there.  I'm sure it's faster to slow down for half a step and mount smoothly onto the pedal.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The two sides of sportsmanship

With Shea racing an early race and my race not until 1:30, I'm spending quite a few hours hanging out at the cross races this year. My people watching theme of the weekend - sportsmanship.

Webster's says:
sportsmanship: noun, conduct (as fairness, respect for one's opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport

Wikipedia might have it better:
Sportsmanship is conformance to the rules, spirit, and etiquette of sport. More grandly, it may be considered the ethos of sport. ... Sportsmanship expresses an aspiration or ethos that the activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors.
Perhaps more to the point, I think of it as how one responds to adversity - either our own or that of the competition.   This aspect defines us as cyclists - either as true lovers of the sport or simply riders. Here are just two stories from my weekend - both are responses to cyclists' own adversity and happened within minutes of each other...

I was in the pits for a several of the B-men on Sunday.  Standing there with several C3 guys, chatting and watching the barrier/fly-over combo (cheers to race coordinators for figuring out a way to put the pits in a great place to watch!).  Near the end of the race, a rider rolls up to the log barrier, dismounts onto an apparently twisted ankle, and promptly slams his bike across the log in frustration.  Just behind him, another competitor was forced to avert.  I watched in horror - I couldn't believe twisted-ankle-guy would jeopardize the safety of his compatriots like that let alone allow himself to show such disrespect for himself and his bike.  He hobbled through the tape into the pits, threw his bike on the ground again, and sat, massaging his ankle.  I was disappointed for this guy - here, he had a chance to show himself how tough he can be mentally and blew it.  One of the officials watched the whole thing.  Here's a note - if you are out racing cross, you shouldn't need to be reminded of your love and respect for the sport by anyone with a clipboard.

By contrast, about a lap into the B-men's race, Matty B. rolled past the pits but panted '10 speed rear'.  He had rolled a rear tubular on Saturday, and, as such, already had his own spare wheel on.  No one else is in the pit to ask, so I go scrambling across the course to the reg area, looking for one of my own or Matt's teammates.  Finding a teammate of mine, we grabbed his spare bike off the car and I brought it back to the pit, prepared to cannibalize the rear.  By the time I returned, three others had two rear 10 speed wheels ready for Matt to come back around with a leaking clincher. 

About 3 laps later into the race, we see, halfway back on the lap, coming up the steep hill, Matt is now running with his bike shouldered.  He had rolled the borrowed tubular clean off the rim such that it was dangling only by its valve stem.  A long time of running later, he comes back into the pit.  This had given us time to put air in his own clincher, make sure it wasn't leaking, and be ready for a second wheel change for Matt on the day (third on the weekend).  He only had a lap to go in the race and was DFL.  But he pulled it together to avoid the DNF - showing us how much he loves the sport and how he took his own adversity as a challenge - a test of determination to finish.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Double the fun 2: Reality Check

Race 2 on the weekend was Kelley Acres Cross, outside of Frederick, MD.  Set on an idyllic mid-atlantic farm setting / the promoter's front yard, it has the elements of a truly awesome race.  Especially since they added the flyover.  Yeah, I had to google it before the race - it's the only flyover of its kind in mid-atlantic cross.

This was the day of wheel issues for a lot of people.  Several friends had rolled tubies on Saturday and were operating on limited pit support.  Shea rolled a Tufo in the first half of his first lap in the C race, after a great start and while he was in about 10th - but way far from the pits so he walked it in for his first DNF.  Ah well, luckily for him, he got into the B race for his own reality check about how fast those guys are.  My friend Matt took two wheel changes and I wound up changing wheels before the start.

Despite a bunch of protein recovery food, goat's cheese on crackers and steak on Saturday evening, my legs were feeling the effort.  I resolved to only pre-ride the course (which included a longish climb) once so as to not drain myself warming up.  Yeah, I was feeling that sluggish.  About 5 minutes before the start I was spinning on the road to stay loose and heard something in my tire - arg!  An open safety pin had lodged in my front tubular clincher - I hit the pits before my race for my pit wheel and some choice words.

The race: Front row start and a big Cat 4 field (22 starters!).  Again, no callups, but I'm getting better at finessing my way to the start line where I want to be.  I had a awesome start and easily had the hole shot onto the grass.  This was good, as there was a tight turn and a small barrier right after the gentle downhill start and I wanted to choose my lines.  I led into the barrier and for part of the first lap before being passed by a woman who had a lot of confusion before her race about which category she was in.  (sidenote: if there's any question whether you should be in Cat 4 or Cat 1/2/3/elite, that probably means it should be the latter, and never reveal such confusion at the start line).  After a strong first lap, the top 5 or so of us were still pretty tightly knit - Loretta was off my wheel again on her Superfly.

During lap 2 I was feeling the burn, so to speak.  On the backside climb, 3 riders passed me, one of whom was absolutely flying up it.  Loretta stuck on my wheel until the next time round to the barrier/log pile, which she was riding... I heard a noise over the barriers and looked over to see shock fluid leaking everywhere.  She pulled off to the outside of the turn in a smooth getting out of the way move for a DNF.  Bummer.

I spent the rest of the race battling to get Tami (who I practice with regularly) off my wheel.  She claimed I was dropping her on the downhills - I think she was being kind, though.  Either way, I eventually had a shifting error on a pitchy uphill and wound up off my bike - she pushed by and gapped me - I never could get back on.  It was fun to be chasing people that I know and being pushed by women I knew would not fade behind me.  My technical skills were on despite my lack of legs - I bottomed out a crank cornering once and nailed the barrier/flyover combo every time.  Those steps had to be taken 2 at a time, no doubt.  All in all, 6th on the day - reality check that I'm not really dominating the Cat 4's as much as my first two races might indicate.  I'm pleased, but I had to dig really deep for that finish - 3+ minutes off the leader - the double was tough on me.  It was all true Cat 4's, though I think that gave Lynda the second win for an automatic upgrade.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Double the fun Part 1: A second 2nd

This weekend was my first of two intended double race weekends on the season.  Here's the first of two race reports:

Saturday: Breast Cancer Awareness race in Hagerstown.  It was a relatively small Cat 4 field, but had some strong riders that I have gotten blown out by before. This was a course that I wouldn't say necessarily suits me.  Love the off camber turns, which are everywhere, but with no rest and only one reasonably steep hill and one dismount per lap, I guess it's one that doesn't not suit me either - I just like the really technical stuff better.  As a side note, it was one of the most minimally marked races I've ever ridden.  This wasn't a problem in our race, but I heard mumblings that there was some blurring of the lines in the elite men's race.  C'mon, guys, sportsmanship.

My race: I had a good start and was third wheel onto the grass. Three women passed me on the first straightaway (now I'm 6th).  This was about where I lost count, a feature that became funny afterwards.  On one of the tough off camber turns on the first lap, a rider crashed as did the girl behind her.  I moved up two spots.  And passed two more riders within the first half of the first lap.  According to my count, I was 5th.  I continued to believe this for the entirety of a 5 lap race.  I knew for a fact that Leann was off the front and the ladies behind me were pushing me to ride hard.  Karl and other teammates were yelling for me.... loudly.  And often.  The course gave no rest, but neither did my cheering sections.  At urging from the peanut gallery, I tried to run bigger gears and spin through the turns more than normal. 

About halfway through, I found myself rolling up behind a local elite rider who I practice with often - she was in the race that started 1 minute ahead of us.  She was having bike trouble (rolled tubie and dropped chain) and I was happy to hold her wheel for even a minute.  I 'battled' with her for a bit and made only one mental mistake - riding partway up a hill before dismounting.  Altogether, I held my position within my own race and finished 2nd.  It felt better than that, though.  I had a great, consistent race on a course that I didn't think was made for me and I lost to a woman who is a Cat 2 on the road.  But probably about 30 seconds.  Fun.  I scored some pink socks for the effort.

This was my second 2nd place finish on the young season. 

Up and coming: Part 2 of the weekend: A reality check.  And look for a post about goals for the cross season  later this week when I figure out what they are.