Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Adventures in cyclocross

If you thought my first two unsuccessful forays into cyclocross would sour me on the sport, well, you don't know me all that well.  I don't know why I'm drawn to things I'm so bad at, but there you are.  And there we were, most of my family, at Faust Park for another installment of cx suckitude the day after our Halloween party.

Any longtime readers were probably surprised by the mention of my family at a race because that pretty much never happens, but Jeff and J wanted to hit Fright Nights at Six Flags once more before Halloween and Nathan came along for the ride.  Since Faust Park is conveniently located between our house and Six Flags, I convinced them I could race on the way.  ("Convinced" is probably an overstatement, but regardless, I got my way.)

Bubba Cross: Faust Park II


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Jeff and J played catch while I warrmed up
I did a few things differently before this race. First, there was no 18 mile orienteering race or running trails four days in a row before the race.  I actually started on fresh legs.  Second, I warmed up.  Third, I didn't intentionally stake out the very back spot when we lined up and made sure to have one foot clipped in at the start.

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Getting lined up and waiting for the start
Starting on a slight downhill didn't hurt at all, and while it made me a little nervous to be in a pack of bikes as we started riding, it was ok...and it didn't last for long.   Though most of the girls were quickly ahead of me, I actually had two people behind me for a couple laps...a new personal best, lol.

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Right behind me was the other Kate.  Well, she's been riding longer, so I guess I'm the other Kate.  Whatever the case, it made it a little interesting as people cheered because I wasn't sure which of us they were cheering for.  I just assumed it was for me, too. :)  This lasted for about two laps until she passed me and was never close again.

The course wasn't too tricky...one steep off-camber downhill that made me nervous each time I rode down it, and of course the oh-so-fun barriers.

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You should see some of the women carry their bikes over these barriers...they look more like astronauts in space the way they bound over.  And then there's me...lift...stagger, lift, climb back on.
 I couldn't see my family for the first couple laps, but the third time down I saw them near the start/finish.  J was blowing some horn he had, Jeff was cheering, and Jeff and Nathan took turns taking some pictures.

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Coming past the start/finish on a lovely downhill.
Of course I wanted to die pretty much the whole time -- I've come to realize that's basically cyclocross in a nutshell for me -- BUT I actually got to ride all 5 laps.  Usually I'm lapped by the leader and have one less lap to ride, and I was lapped by several of the A ladies, but maybe no B (my division, since there's nothing lower) ladies? 

Pluses: actually warming up, getting a better start, I felt like my handling and confidence improved on the course over the five laps, getting to ride one more lap than normal, coming in second last.

Minuses: no pre-ride of the course, I need to get more comfortable with pushing when it's hard/I'm tired instead of pedaling like I'm out for the bike equivalent of a Sunday stroll, crossing barriers, mount/dismount, dropped my chain once, and coming in second last.

...but...it was a beautiful day to race, I got to see some friends, my family got to see me race, and we had a nice afternoon at Six Flags...

Season pass processing line at Six Flags. #hopeyoudidn'twanttogoonanyridestoday
The lovely season pass processing line.  I'm basically in the middle. The left side of the picture is the line coming towards me, and the right side is where it wraps back the other way. This was actually only half of the story because there was an entirely different line for people who had bought their passes online.

 ...where I spent an hour and 15 minutes in line to get my season pass processed (Jeff and J took care of theirs the previous weekend when I was on the Katy Trail. 

I had really wanted to race at Faust Park because I knew there's be no cross the following weekend.  J's birthday was Nov. 4, and he was all about having some family time.  I couldn't convince him that going to watch me race would be good family time, and he didn't take Jeff's suggestion that they go to an autograph show in St. Louis (they're both huge sports autograph collectors) to free up my morning. 

It didn't even hurt too much to be skipping the race until I got up and it was beautiful out.  Then I started feeling internally grumpy thinking about how they were just going to watch football anyway, but I kept it to myself until Nathan came home and decided to take J to the movies.  Wait...why am I sitting around here when he's not even going to be here??  While Jeff drove the boys to the theater, I frosted cakes, vaccummed, swept, and cleaned off counters. 

He got home and I tried hinting: "I guess I could have raced after all!"  Nothing.  I did a little more cleaning before deciding I could either sit around feeling pissy because Jeff didn't suggest I go race, or I could see if he cared if I went.  He didn't, so I threw all my bike stuff into my car, threw on my jersey and some obnoxious socks, and left with 45 minutes to get gas and drive the 40ish minutes to the race.

Bubba Cross: Sylvan Springs II
Thankfully they were running a little behind and I could register and use the bathroom before the start, but I was still eating a pre-ride snack as we lined up.  I'm the queen of the last minute in my regular life, but I really hate running late to a race.

I ended up pretty close to the back and started poorly, so by the time we were halfway down the gravel straightaway I was in last or second last.   The course looped around behind the start/finish, so I had a great view of all the other girls strung out in front of me.  We crossed the gravel and hit a swoopy downhill section that gave me trouble each time I hit it, my back wheel fishtailing every lap.  Susan told me after the race that there was too much air in the tire; that largely preventable problem left me even more cautious/less aggressive than normal.

There were a couple long-ish uphills, and I felt terrible.  Wondering Why again did I want to do this???, I remembered what Doug told me before my first race about the first lap being the worst.  Thankfully, that held true this time.

Struggling (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)
As I came close to the end of the first lap, my friend Suzanne called out the mediocre racer's battle cry: "Go Kate!! You're not in last place!!"  :) I have awesome friends.  Suzanne, Krista, Mark, and Larry cheered for me the whole race, even as I lagged further and further behind. 

There was some nice encouragement within the race as well; almost everyone who passed me had something nice to say, and I cheered on (well, as much as you can when you can't breathe) the people I knew...and the girl who passed me up to give me back my regular last place spot. :)


Photo credit: Don McKinney
 Best pass of the day probably goes to Britta (above), though. As a slower racer, I'm glad to get out of the way if someone faster wants through, but I'm a lot more comfortable knowing where you are and where you're coming through.  Passing on probably the narrowest part of the course, she told me where she was and let me stay on my line while she came around me, cruising up the hill like it wasn't even there.


This time I only got to ride four laps, but that was plenty.  It was a long course, over two miles, and maybe that's why it seemed to go on forever. :) The nice thing for me about riding laps in a race is feeling more comfortable with each subsequent trip around the course, but I never felt like I had a handle on the best lines.

Minuses: no warmup or course pre-ride, never felt comfortable/confident enough to be more aggressive on faster spots, struggled on little double switchback and uphills, coming in last.

Pluses: This is hard because I don't feel like I did anything particularly well...ummm...beautiful day, didn't crash despite sliding all over, chose beer handup over licorice, good exercise and experience.  Oh...and if nothing else, the race left me with quite possibly my favorite picture EVER of me on a bike.

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Photo credit: Dan Singer

One really cool thing about the St. Louis cx scene is the photographers.  There are several really good photographers who come out to most of the races and take pictures.  Because my family is rarely there at my races, it's really nice to still see some pictures.  Well, sometimes it's humbling, too, to see just how bad I look while I'm riding. :)  

Next weekend is all about the Skippo 30K, where I'm sure the pictures of me will be tragically bad, but in two weeks I'll be back on the bike, most likely in last place and wondering why I'm there again...at least, until it's over and I remember how fun it was.

11 comments:

ajh said...

Good move to ride near another Kate and get more cheering! You have to lift your bike over those barriers?? I guess I don't know much about cyclo cross. It's fun to have your family there for many reasons but I always like someone taking pictures. I can relate to the Sunday stroll remark. I can do that in any kind of race.I am sitting here laughing at the mediocre racers battle cry! That is a GREAT picture! Is the Skippo 30 a running race? You get to race a lot!

pensive pumpkin said...

you are so awesome, and several of those pictures show what a badass you are!!!

now send me one of those zombie christmas cards already! LOL

brg said...

nice job getting out there. I'd bet you'd be a LOT faster with an actual cyclocross bike. hint...hint (as you know a girl can never have too many bikes!) I hope you had your suspension locked out!

misszippy said...

So great that you are dipping your toes in 'cross. I know so many people who love it. it does look like fun. And you're improving every time, it sounds like, so that's awesome!

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Sounds like you are on the upswing, great to hear how much you are enjoying it!

TriMOEngr said...

My favorite part (besides all the great pics): "...wondering why I'm there again...at least, until it's over and I remember how fun it was." That is me at every length/type of race!

Abby @ Have Dental Floss, Will Travel said...

That last picture of you is pretty badass.

Terzah said...

That is a truly badass picture of you at the end! Do you think race photos in bike races are generally better than the ones in run races?

Chuck said...

Great report, almost makes me want to try CX!

The Bear said...

Need to start looking for a CX bike for you for next year. Between the Kanza, Super Prestige, and Bubba Cross, you should get plenty of use out of it.

And more fun than grad school!

Patrick said...

Good Idea!