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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cedar Cross 2016


Note: I don't know if it's because I've done Cedar Cross so many times or because I spent the majority of the race suffering and trailing behind Mickey, but my race report turned out to be very much a "my race experience" report than information about the race itself. But if you're looking for that, you're in luck! The Gravel Cyclist came all the way from Florida to race with us and has posted a great race report as well as a video that really showcases the course.  Check out those links!

Also, commentary from Mickey in pink with occasional replies from me in blue.


My four years at Cedar Cross have been very different. The first year, Adam pretty much babysat me all day, leading me through the course and practically holding my hand for the last few miles as it started to get dark and I was so over being on my bike. Year two we rode together again, but this time he was sick and I felt awesome. Last year Mickey convinced me to "race" it; I spent much of the day alone but had my fastest (albeit grumpiest) finish yet. This year he offered to ride with me if I wanted to race it again. This would mean less fun but better training; I tend to be pretty conservative about my pace and knew he'd push me to ride faster.


And that's something we talked about. In fact, he even messaged me a couple days before the race to make sure I really wanted to race it instead of riding it for fun, so when you read me pondering whether our pace is too fast for me to sustain or trailing sadly behind just know that I knew what I was signing onto.  It works well for us: he gets to watch me suffer and say mean (helpful) things to me, and I get pushed out of my comfort zone and to not worry about navigation.

This year's start/finish was at P4 Pub & Grub in Tebbetts, MO, conveniently located right next door to the Turner Shelter, where Jacob and I stayed on our Katy Trail overnight back in 2013 and perfect for weary racers to stumble into after a long day on the bike. Chuck got us all reservations and was nice enough to claim beds for those who didn't hit town early.  (I was pretty impressed with the shelter.  I’m not a camper by any stretch of the imagination, but even I’d consider staying there.) 


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I left work early Friday afternoon and drove straight to Red Wheel Bike Shop in Jefferson City for early race check-in. A slow but steady stream of people showed up, and I passed my down time preparing our super fancy number plates, visiting with old and new friends who stopped by, and eating Jimmy John's (thanks, Kyle!).

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So fancy. Only people in the BAMF class got personalized number plates. 
After check-in I headed to Tebbetts. Since several racers were also staying at the shelter, I did some impromptu race registrations there as well.

"I don't care if you wear a dress [which he did -- check out that link]...you still can't register in the women's division."
In between collecting money, getting waivers signed, and visiting the electric chair in the museum next door, I tried to get my bike and food organized for the next day, finally heading to bed around 11.

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Such a professional looking crew. Incidentally, all four cups on that table are mine. :)
Saturday morning registration started bright and early. With Lori making numbers, Cara marking off pre-registered racers, and Janie filing completed waivers, we had a pretty smooth operation. They kept trying to chase me off to get ready and I kept planning to go in "just a minute". My friends are wonderful, so Chuck got my bike ready and Amanda heated up my breakfast while I worked and enjoyed the multiple cups of hot chocolate/coffee brought in response to my facebook plea the previous night. 

Hey, I know what I like. Thanks Janie, Josh, Scott, and Renee! 
The thirty minutes before the race were a bit of a mad dash, but I was ready on time. Mickey and I lined up way further forward that I would have chosen, following the lead vehicles onto the course after Bob's last-minute words and the now-traditional electric guitar National Anthem.

Photo credit: Scott Shaw

Rolling out next to my friend Alice.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
This was the second time I'd used my new Garmin 520 to follow a route, and I haven't entirely figured it out. When I pulled up the course, the Garmin asked "navigate to course?" I selected yes, assuming it would beep or something when I hit the beginning; instead, while the course displayed perfectly and was very easy to follow, it included a pink line drawn from my current location back to Tebbetts. During low times I enjoyed imagining following the line straight back to food and ice and seats that weren't attached to a bicycle, but my Garmin died after just over 11 hours, far short of the 15 it's supposed to last. Hopefully the reason for the the shorter battery life was the extra step of navigating to course all day.


Start to first singletrack: 

The first miles of the race were familiar from February's Callaway 50 60 (70) ride, but it was slightly disorienting to have no real idea when I'd be on the regular Cedar Cross course or where we'd hit it. Though we started at a more aggressive pace than my default I felt ok in the beginning and spent much of the first 25 miles in my big ring (a sadly rare occurrence).


Even before we hit the first section of Mark Twain National Forest land, however, I was weirdly uncomfortable. My back hurt, maybe because I'd worn my Camelbak to ensure having enough water for the 45 miles to the bag drop, and both hips were achy. "What's up with you?" Mickey asked. "I feel like your heart isn't really into this."


It was, though. I was committed to the race plan and didn't feel like I was soft pedaling, but first Christine, then Emily and Erl, and then another coed pair passed us. I could feel Mickey itching to give chase. "Come on...that's your competition," he urged. 


"I don't want to think about what the other girls are doing. I just want to ride the best I can."  


We have such a different approach to bike races.  He tends to win, I don't, so it's clear who knows what they're doing.  Riding with someone so much stronger, though, it's hard to objectively evaluate how I'm doing or how I'm feeling. Do I really suck, or do I just look painfully slow in comparison to someone really fast? Am I being way too conservative, or will pushing this hard early just make me blow up sooner?  (In retrospect, you did the right thing by holding back.)


Eventually we rode onto traditional Cedar Cross territory. When I could catch up with Mickey (when he slowed down enough) I told him how this was the first non-Katy Trail gravel I ever rode. When I couldn't catch up with him (most of the time), I noted landmarks from the Deuce and smiled at the memories.


We passed some super fast guys changing a flat on the side of the road (an enduring theme for many of this year's CCX-ers) and then later passed them again changing another flat.  (Point of note:  We actually ended up beating those “super fast guys”, even if only because they DNFed.)  I got a chance to ride and talk with Alice for a little bit as we leapfrogged back and forth, her far stronger on uphills, me slightly more comfortable on the descents. 


"We're getting close to the field section," Mickey told me, "Make sure and eat something now since it'll be harder to do that on the dirt."  (Teamwork makes the dream work!)

~25 mi, ~1:50 total time


The decline: First singletrack to drop bags: 

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Part of the first field section.
Photo credit: Michelle Townsley
We rode into the fields of the Mark Twain National Forest through cattle gates manned by the Lamb family. The grass was pretty high in some places; you could see the path, but I worried about hitting concealed rocks or hidden ruts and crashing. Mickey started to make a wrong turn at the end of the field, but I've ridden that section enough to recognize where we needed to go and called to him. I was as timid as ever as we rode into the woods and down a rutted, rocky stretch before popping back out onto the road.


My "local knowledge" came in handy again as we rode toward the powerline connector to Bob Veach Rd. Mickey's cue sheets were dead on all day and he was careful to keep his mileage matched up with them; still as we passed a gate on the side of the road, he slowed: "I think that was our turn."


"No, it's not."


Just a little further down the road he asked again, "Is that it?"


"No."


(If I’d have just followed the mileage on my cue sheets, I would have been fine.  I just didn’t remember the connector being so close to HW Y.)

Moments later we reached the actual connector and then had about 10 miles of gravel to the next singletrack section, where the GPS tried to send us up the wrong road. It was gated with a "no trespassing" sign, so without a course marking I wasn't about to ride up it.  The Red Wheel guys had mentioned the night before that we'd be starting the trail at the actual trailhead, so we felt better when we spotted the Moon Loop sign just a bit (Like a ¼ mile!  There was definitely something goofy with the Garmin course at this spot.) further down the road.

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Back on singletrack my sad lack of confidence was evident as I walked things I could easily ride. There were some muddy spots, but overall the trail was in fantastic shape compared to what I'd expected. I was in less fantastic shape, struggling more than I should have and moving really slowly. Eric caught up with us (He caught up with you!  LOL) shortly before the end of the singletrack and put on a little mountain biking clinic as I walked my bike down a slightly sketchy downhill. The three of us climbed the staircase of pain and rode more or less together until we popped back out onto the gravel, where he stopped to wait for the rest of the Momentum group. I spent the next several miles expecting them to pass us, but they had stopped in the forest to help an injured rider.


This next section of the course was familiar territory, riding gravel to Rutherford Bridge and then riding up the doubletrack road afterwards (also in incredibly good shape compared to previous years). Had I been alone I almost certainly would have missed the next turn, not because my Garmin misdirected me but because I "knew" that section of the course followed the gravel rollers past the crazy guy's house.
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Rutherford Bridge in 2014
Except that the "new, improved" Cedar Cross turned off the road and back onto singletrack. This is where things really started to go downhill for me. Mickey had been reminding me to eat and drink, and I'd been trying, but as I gasped for breath on trails that weren't difficult I began to realize I'd fallen way behind on food. We continued to leapfrog another coed pair; Jessica and I did a little bonding in this section, commiserating with each other about how bad we felt.


"I've already cried twice," she admitted.


"I'm really close," I told her.  (Damn it!  I still haven’t seen you cry.   )


Hearing voices ahead of us I was relieved that we were almost to the bag drop. Instead, it was group of equestrians out for their annual Derby Day ride (incidentally, one of the participants had contacted Bob to find out where they should expect us, offer to pack in beer for racers, and just generally try to ensure smooth relations between groups. There's frequently a lot of friction between mountain bikers and equestrians, but thanks to her outreach and Bob's openness, a situation that could have been unpleasant ended up being positive).  They were very cool, but I was moderately crushed by the disappointment of not being at the bag drop.  (One of the female equestrians gave me a Stag & told me I was the only one they had seen riding up that section of trail.  Everyone else they had seen were pushing their bikes.  I wonder if she’s married.?.)


"Not much further," they encouraged, and finally we pulled into the Boydsville bag drop. 4:15 for about 45 miles...we weren't setting any land-speed records, for sure. I rode straight to Scott's truck and filled my sports bra and jersey with ice. Janie brought me the bottle I'd left with her and took my camelbak, which I couldn't take off fast enough. I think Scott iced up my bottles and made sure they were full while I grabbed some of my food, ate a Reese's, and downed a bottle of cold water.  Mickey came over: "So I guess we're just riding the rest of this for fun? No more racing?"


I looked at him in disbelief. "Who's having fun? I'm not having fun! Let's go."


~20 mi, ~2:26 (~45/~4:15  total mileage/time)


The abyss: Drop bags to Hams Prairie


Shaun had dropped us early in the race but, struggling in the heat and bonking, was still at the bag drop and decided to roll out with us.  After a moment of confusion at the end of the road, we continued onto more familiar singletrack. Again the trail was much better than the horsed-up disaster of last year.  There were spots I had to walk, but overall it was very rideable.


That's not to say I was moving fast. My main goal at this point was to eat everything I could without getting sick, trying to repair the calorie deficit I'd dug earlier. I wasn't the only one dragging. Early on I caught up with the guys, Shaun leaning over his bike and Mickey digging for his phone.  "I think I left it in your truck," he told Shaun. "That’s why I haven’t been taking pictures."


"Well I'm not giving you mine to take pictures of me like this!" Shaun told him.

"Here," I helpfully interjected, "Take mine!"

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I'm really glad I handed over my camera so I could get quality shots like this. ;-)
I'm not sure whether the shirt full of ice, the constant stream of food, or Shaun's suffering gave me the biggest boost, but the combination certainly made me a happier person.  Seeing someone else struggling was almost a relief: Oh, this isn't all me. It's just the tough conditions. Granted, Mickey showed no ill effects, but I've long suspected he's a vampire and always suffer in comparison to immortals.


The singletrack went pretty quickly, and then we hit gravel for a few miles before turning into Dry Fork equestrian campground and one last section of trail. Chuck, manning the aid station, claimed that it was "only 1.5 miles".  The longest 1.5 miles ever. It was the bicycling equivalent of that old diamond commercial: "How can you make 2 months' salary last forever?" Naturally it was while walking a just barely uphill section of trail that I saw Lori with her camera.  (You must have been *really* hurting to not get back on your bike when you saw the camera.)

I swear it was a little bit uphill. Just a little. 

Once we were back on gravel, Shaun and I took turns feeling worse for the next 15 miles or so, trudging along on shadeless gravel roads.  (We had a glorious headwind in this section, too!  And that mailman in the Snatch Wagon playing leapfrog with us, stirring up the dust didn’t help either.)  Oh, that guy. I hated him, his aggressive passes, and his dust. But I was actually grateful for the wind because it helped cool me off a little. My ice had long since melted, and this year's unseasonably cool temps had left me totally unprepared for a high near 90.  My sock, wet from the singletrack creek crossings, had gradually slid down in my shoe, causing an uncomfortable hot spot.  Finally unwilling to ignore it any longer, I stopped at the top of a hill, sat down in the road, adjusted the offending sock, and then...stayed there.


Shaun found himself a comfortable spot under his bike, and Mickey documented (and savored) our misery.  (That video has over 1000 views, and I’m pretty sure 800 of them are mine.)


Could he be having any more fun? Actually yes, as you'll see in a moment.

As we grudgingly got back to our feet, I spotted Renee approaching. Having been sidetracked by an early flat, she was riding strong and quickly moved to the front of our group.  Meanwhile, the death march continued as did the videographic stylings of Schadenfreude Scorsese.




We weren't the only ones suffering. Around mile 72 we found Aaron lying on the grass beneath a bush. After fighting cramps all day long he'd made the call for a ride. I was bummed for him, but seeing another strong rider out was confirmation of what a hard day it was.  (I tried to get Aaron to ride with us to Ham’s Prairie by telling him it was only ~4 miles.  He was too smart for me and immediately knew I was lying.)

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Pretty much everyone had a similar message for Bob.
A few miles after leaving Aaron, we reached the highly-anticipated hot dog oasis. Cold water, a bite to eat, and a few minutes in a lawn chair did wonders for my mood. Mickey decided to have seconds just as I was ready to roll out, so I left on my own.  (I think I’ve eaten ~6 hot dogs in the last year, and every one of them has been in that man’s front yard.)  He caught me shortly after and told me Shaun had said to stop waiting on him. This was most unwelcome news since I'd been a fan of our slower pace and was particularly sad to have lost my partner in misery.

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So much sun, so little shade.
Luckily, the Hams Prairie gas station was only a few miles down the road, and while I lagged behind on the gravel I managed to at least draft on the pavement. Scott was waiting at Hams Prairie and filled up my bottles while I ran inside to take advantage of indoor plumbing. I'd planned to buy something in the store, but nothing sounded appealing and I left empty handed.  (Thanks, again, for the Coke, Scott!)


~35 mi, ~4:30 (~80 miles/~8:46 total time) 


Hams Prairie to finish: 


First Shaun, then Dave, Amanda, and Scott rode up as we were preparing to roll out. We waved and then hit the road. The wind, which had been blowing steadily from the west/southwest all day, had turned and was now coming out of the east, bringing with it much cooler temps.  I was almost chilly. It was lovely.

From Hams Prairie, it's only about 8 miles to the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant and the obligatory selfie with the cooling tower, but that 8 miles includes a big climb. I've ridden it in the past but didn't feel good about my chances this time around after feeling so bad all day. My dark suspicions were confirmed when I was in my granny gear before I even hit the hill itself, but I surprised myself and made it to the top without walking.  (You did a great job on the gravel hills for the majority of the day.  I know you were hurting, and you weren’t flying up them, but you didn’t walk like I would have expected in the past.  Kudos.) Knowing I can ride it makes it hard to walk it; also, after some of the climbing we've done this year, it no longer looks *quite* as intimidating.

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Top of the hill

In the past, the power plant has signaled the end of climbing. From there, the race followed flat gravel to a fun downhill and then nearly 30 miles of drudgery on the Katy Trail and flat roads. This year, Bob had minimized the Katy Trail section and routed the course back through a series of hills on the return to Tebbets.

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There aren't many rules at Cedar Cross, but one of them is the nuclear selfie. 

That last flat 30 miles was always the worst part of the race, so I was actually glad about the additional hills...until we hit them.  We made good time on the roads following the nuclear plant, and the big downhill was a blast, but I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to draft on the Katy, instead ambling along and counting the miles we had left.


Around mile 97 we turned off the Katy.  It took a moment to locate the road that was little more than a sketchy doubletrack trail (i.e. mud puddle), but it was marked and once we made the turn I recognized where we were from a previous ride.  This recognition filled me with dread because I remembered a huge hill on that route, but luckily it wasn't part of the course.

Unluckily, every other hill in the area was. After a brief, flat respite we started climbing. At first I maintained a good attitude, anticipating the descents that were sure to follow, but every time I thought we must be at the top we turned a corner and faced another incline. It was as if M.C. Escher himself had designed the course.


Eventually, defeated, I started walking some of the hills even though they were smaller than many of those we'd been riding all day. Even though I knew we were almost finished I was closer to tears here than at any part of the race. I did manage to ride up what I think was the final big hill, where I found Mickey waiting at the top still trying to motivate me.


"There's a girl 3 minutes ahead of you. She was walking up this hill and didn't look very happy to be getting back on her bike. Let's go chase her down!"

He turned to bolt off and then looked back at me.  I almost felt bad to disappoint him as I said, "I'm doing all I can to keep pedaling. I don't care if we catch her."  Thinking back on it now, I'm laughing because we're totally Tigger and Eeyore towards the end of the race. He's all "come on!! Let's go!!" and I'm moping along behind thinking that finish lines are overrated and the side of the road sure looks comfortable.

Not an exact quote. 
My misery evaporated when we reached the corner I recognized as the downhill to Tebbets, and we cruised triumphantly downhill and around the corner to the finish line.  (Liar!  Unless by “we cruised”, you mean that you realized that was the last turn and bolted to the line ahead of me, just like you always do.  One of these days…)


~34 mi, ~2:45 (114 miles/~11:30* total time)

My mental game continues to need work, particularly as it pertains to my physical state. So far, no matter what my brain has told me, I haven't actually been dying and my legs haven't, in fact, exploded; I probably could go a little faster. This year's first half, like 2015, was marred by poor fueling; this is a mistake I'm way too experienced to keep making, but I keep making it.  (You really need to set that Time Alert on your Garmin, and quit relying on your brain.)  On the other hand, I've improved at dealing with conditions like the wind without developing a full-on persecution complex.


Since the course was so different -- more singletrack, more hills at the end -- and the temperature was so much harder on me, it's hard to compare this year's performance with last year's. Strava shows that I was slower this year on every single segment. My total time was just over an hour longer than last year; granted, this year featured more trails, more hills, and hotter temperatures, but last year the singletrack was virtually unrideable so that probably balances out the increase.


I think I felt worse this year, which is frustrating because I've put in more training than ever before. And maybe that's part of the problem because it leads to higher expectations for myself. Mentally I do better if I go into a race feeling unprepared and hoping to survive. It's much easier to feel good about a race when success is measured in not dying.

Still, my friend Christine came up after the race and told me that all my work has really paid off and I've improved a lot since we first met. When I told her my disappointment with how the race went and how much I'd struggled all day, she replied that she felt pretty good all day and only finished 1/2 hour ahead of us. Now, she was all changed and clean when she said this, so maybe her timeline was a little off. Still, her encouragement made me feel a lot better. I probably need to be a little harder on myself during races and easier on myself afterwards.








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