My idea of racing is typically to show up and complete the race, whether that's riding out the mileage or the clock, rather than competing. Focusing too much on results takes the fun out of a day where the results aren't so impressive, and to be honest I rarely put in the kind of training that would justify high expectations. Much better to just enjoy the experience.
I mean, sure, sometimes I have glimpses of
When I'm racing the "bigger" races like NUEs, I like to ride rather conservatively. A strong finish is more important to me than a podium finish, which is WAY more important to me than a DNF...mostly because I've usually invested significant money and travel time into getting to that start line. But for local, less-big events like MFXC and Cedar Cross, all bets are off. I use these events to ride hard, above my perceived all-day threshold, because if I blow up, it's not a big deal. And if I don't blow up, then I know I can go harder at the next big race. It's SO beneficial to my development as an endurance racer to have these low-risk opportunities to push myself.Right? Now, to clarify, my idea of racing wasn't aimed at beating other riders so much as it was a plan to give my own best effort and minimize stops. I had no set plans to ride with anyone. My hope was to latch onto a person or group going the same general pace I was, but I was comfortable with riding the course solo if that's how things played out.
|About an hour pre-race|
With one last-minute run back to the van to grab the tool bag that held my co2 cartridges and my money, I made it to the start line in time to witness the regular Cedar Cross festivities: National Anthem on electric guitar by Andrew Laffoon, my Team Virtus teammate Adam's son; Bob ripping off his shirt, and 100+ bicycles following a flag mounted to the back of Chuck's lead bike as we crossed the Missouri River and then rode down the pedestrian ramp from the bridge (check out the cool video from the ramp that Jeff Chase posted!) and met up with the car that was going to lead us to the gravel and the real start of the race.
|Our guitarist, Andrew, waving the flag out the window. Quick note: in a 'Merica touch, we were actually supposed to follow Bob's red truck down the road, a plan was stymied by the flagging boxing him into the Red Wheel parking lot.|
|Photo credit: Jeff Chase|
Credit for above photos: Brandon Blake
(L) Creekbed, (R) Much steeper than it looks hill
Sandwiched between these was rideable gravel, a few low water crossings that I approached with an abundance of caution after last weekend's swim, and some climbs that weren't nearly as bad as I remembered. I rode some with my Momentum teammate Mary and Alpine Shop's David and bounced back and forth with the Walt's crew, only managing to keep in touch with them because they had a couple stops that I didn't.
|Last year on Rutherford Bridge. This year I was too busy riding my bike to take pictures.|
|The smile may be a bit of a facade at this point.|
SAG - Callaway Nuclear Power Plant ( ~ mile 50 - ~mile 80):
The final singletrack segment came just after the SAG stop. "It's really rough," Chuck had warned me as I left, but I wasn't fully prepared for the horse-inflicted carnage I was to encounter. The pictures above can only hint at what conditions were like. Downhills were akin to holding and sitting on a jackhammer, and the flat sections left you struggling to pedal your bike over a million oversized rumble strips -- if rumble strips came in the shape of horse hooves. I don't know what riding uphill felt like because I didn't bother to try.
I probably walked the majority of the singletrack; the minimal (for me) increase in speed didn't justify the effort required or beating delivered by riding. I'd worry that maybe I was just being a wimp, but a much stronger rider than me posted to following recap of the singletrack ordeal on the Cedar Cross facebook page:
|Photo credit: Don Buttram|
I truly believe that few if any horse riders set out to ruin trails for everyone, but since their actions don't affect their own use they don't really understand the repercussions of taking a 1,000+ pound animal on muddy trails. Maybe we need to set up some kind of outreach or, failing that, strap them to a rigid bike and sent them down what we rode. They might emerge with a new understanding of our complaints.
Finally the singletrack hell ended. Chris had caught up with me right before the end, so we talked briefly as we emerged onto the gravel, but he was moving a lot more quickly than I was. Rather than being energized by the return to a rideable surface, I was feeling sluggish and defeated. It seems like maybe the course covered some thicker gravel around this point, too, but I don't remember for sure.
In retrospect, I definitely hadn't had enough to eat by this point: couple bottles of Gatorade/beet juice mix, half a Mounds bar (left over from last weekend), 1.5 packages of chomps, half of a salami roll-up, a maple syrup packet, an Ensure, and a handful of strawberries. Even assuming I've forgotten a few things, that's not nearly enough food for what was now about 5 hours of ride time.
I continued my bike version of trudging along, not unhappy, just not feeling as amazing as I had earlier in the day, until I heard a voice call out behind me, "Teammates coming, Kate!" Having Mary and David back made the miles go by much more quickly, both literally and figuratively, and before I knew it we were pulling into the surprise hot dog stop.
|Terry, a hell of a guy.|
Once again I was pretty blank on what I needed. I wandered into the gas station to see what sounded good and immediately spotted the ice cream cooler. One Snickers ice cream bar later, I was standing as far inside the refrigerator holding the gatorade, letting the cool air wash over me for a while. I refilled my water bottles in the store, paid, and went back out to the truck to get updates on everyone else while I devoured my Snickers and drank half a coke.
This stop was considerably less efficient than my first one (my fault...Janie was ready with anything I wanted, I just didn't know what that was), but around 3:15 I headed out for the last stretch of hills before the 30 miles of flat roads at the end of the race. This solo stretch passed by pretty quickly, and before I knew it I was at the bottom of what I remembered as the terrible hill before the reactor. Like all the other hills of the day, it wasn't nearly as bad as my memory had suggested. Hard, yes, but I never felt like I was going to die or even throw up.
|This section of the race was miles 50ish to 80 or so.|
"Only a new Batman."
|The dynamic duo, during happier times|
|If you look closely, you can see the salt stains beneath the lettering on my jersey.|
With the reactor behind us, it was all over but the crying (very nearly the literal truth). After one last very fun downhill, the course turns onto the Katy Trail and remains pancake flat until it climbs back up to and over the Missouri River bridge. After 85 miles of hilly, this sounds to the uninitiated like a piece of cake.
It's not. Even the Katy Trail section, which I remember from last year as being a fast, fun ride (helped along by the Virtus-TOG paceline...drafting and awesome company do wonders for my attitude), was a slog, albeit a much-needed shade-y one. The Oklahoma couple soon passed me, and then Jeff and Carrie cruised by. I made a halfhearted attempt to grab onto their wheel before drifting off the back and returning to my previous pace.
At about 95 miles into the race, the course turns off of the Katy and onto the gravel roads of the river bottoms. The gravel was thicker, and nearly every turn seemed to direct me into the headwind blowing from the south. For the first time of the day I felt the lack of company; if there was any place in the race where I could have used the distraction of conversation and the respite of someone to trade drafts with, this was it.
Usually when I reach this mental point in a long bike race I start walking hills. The walk breaks are something to look forward to, and the inevitable downhill gives me the chance to have fun, chew up a little distance more quickly, and forget for a moment how much I currently hate my bike. The unremitting flats offered no such respite; there was no point in walking a flat road, and the combination of gravel and headwind made coasting counterproductive.
I saw one of the Red Wheel guys stopped for a break at exactly mile 100 and had a brief flare of hope that I'd have company for the last 16 miles. I stopped for a moment to talk, but he didn't seem in any hurry to start moving again, so I rode on with just my angry thoughts for company.
Why would Bob route the race through here? Why ride back and forth on these gravel roads when we could just take the Katy back? He just wants us to suffer. Why are these roads so curvy? Why does every turn steer me into the wind? I thought this section was shorter.
Bob wasn't the only target, though. This was Mickey's fault. If it wasn't for all his stupid pushing to race this, I'd be riding along with my friends. I wouldn't be suffering this stupid, flat, windy last 16 miles alone. I should call him. I should tell him he needs to get back on his bike and get back out here and ride in with me.
If I'd had little voodoo dolls and the bike handling skills to use them while riding, both guys would have felt a thousand tiny stab wounds. Possessing neither the dolls nor the requisite skills, I kept riding and counting down miles and wondering why the hell is it getting so dark when I've gone so much faster this year?? This question, at least, was answered when I realized I was still wearing sunglasses.
Eventually I reached Jefferson City and guessed my way back around to the pedestrian ramp (the Garmin route included a road that was now closed and couldn't be used), picking back up the Oklahoma couple, who'd been unable to find road signs to match the cue sheet's directions, on my way. We retraced our tracks from the morning and finally, finally crossed the finish line.
|Our Momentum group post-race|
A secondary lesson is that I'm stronger and faster than I give myself credit for, but that I definitely need to work on fueling during those harder efforts. I never bonked, but more food may have prevented a few of the slumps I experienced, so I need to plan better for both on-the-bike nutrition and what I'm going to eat at those crewed checkpoints (thinking ahead here to Dirty Kanza).
The final takeaway is that my mental game still needs work. I missed some opportunities (riding with Chris, sticking with Mary and David longer, holding on to Jeff and Carrie's wheel) because I was ok with giving in rather than fighting a little harder. One faster race notwithstanding, I have a long way to go before my mentality is more compete than complete.