Monday, December 12, 2011

MAC CX Series Grand Finale

This past weekend, the Mac Series took us back to Fairhill in Maryland on Saturday and then up to Allentown Pa for the grand finale of the series of fourteen races. I have been sitting in second place for most of the series and Art has worked his way up to fifth. We were both anxious to get out and race and give it our best and make our final decision on whether we still had any gas left in the tanks to consider racing at Master World Championships in Louisville Kentucky on January 11-15.

Friday we headed down early with our mountain bikes to ride White Clay again. That worked out so well last time. We gave it another shot. This time, I did not have a stiff neck and the weather was really sunny and warm. We had a laid back ride, no heart rate monitors or clocks, just pedaling and giggling as we twisted and undulated our way though the woods. When we exited the woods, we had a winter sky above that reminded me that winter is indeed on it’s way.

Fairhill Race: The race was held on a fair grounds/horse racetrack. The long course would take racers through three distinct districts that were separated by woods or buildings. On course were barriers, off cambers, barns, a run up and a trip into a sandy horse ring around barrels. There was also an actual wide single track through the woods, which was really cool for us mountain bikers.

I got off to a good start, and found myself in fourth place chasing Katy in third. The two leaders, Liz and Jen seemed to ride out of site on the first lap. I chased hard but I felt like I was losing ground trying to catch Katy and I still had a train of ladies behind me. Diane behind me was cheering for me. Funny, because I usually do that sort of thing and I think it is catching on. Yes, we all need motivation, and there are so few women, we can’t help but encourage each other, even when racing. The inner support between women in cross is so much like mountain biking in that respect.

I held for a lap in fourth and found I was no longer fading but holding steady with Katy just barely in sight in front of me. Then I noticed Jen in the mix with Katy, yet I was still 15 seconds back or so. It did not seem realistic that I would catch either of them, but I gave it a shot because I will never get better if I don’t try in these situations. I have a long list of things I could use to improve on, but one thing I am pretty good at is being efficient on the latter half of my race when other racers may start to fall apart. I have been trying not to get too discouraged in the first half but just plow ahead and hope things get better. They usually do.

I went into the bell lap chasing, and finally passed Jen. Jen is very strong and has won almost all the races in this series. I found out after, she had flatted earlier and changed bikes in the pit and was struggling with an unfamiliar pit bike. I could not hold my pass that long, and as we entered the last third of the final lap, Jen passed Katy and me back. To make things worse, I drifted back another 10 seconds from them.

As I climbed up hill past the pit, I began to give up as I was suffering and it was too close to the finish to dream of catching back up to them. Art screamed at me, and announced that they were suffering too. This was probably the best insight he could relay to me at that time. These were both strong racers, and I wanted to come in as close as possible on their heals if I could, and you never know when a door will open in front of you. With that, I charged the downhill towards the turn to the run up. It was a bit greasy and had chain link fence, not tape if I overshot it, but I felt confident going in with a tad more speed. Not only did I bridge back up, but the turn carved so nicely that I almost passed Katy on the inside, but then the door shut.

I am not very savvy or experienced with passing in turns nor would I want to take anyone out. So I did what is my nature, just to hang. Then the barriers opened door #1 around Katy. I entered the final sand ring on Jen's wheel. She dabbed the first turn, I dabbed the first turn, then she chose to run the next turn, and I preferred to dab and stay on. As I powered back up in the sand, door #2 opened, and I was by and up to speed very quickly. The finish line was a short paved sprint after exiting the sand ring, so I had to hustle. I really did not think I could beat Jen in a sprint, but Katy was close and I really did not know how close. Julie Lockhart gave me some advise once: always contest a sprint, even if you think they are not in your class, because you never know who may slip in there with them. So with that embedded in my brain, I hammered and was lucky enough to claim 2nd place behind elite racer Liz Harlow.

It was a very exciting race for me, to say the least. I was so excited afterwards, that I did not even realize that winter had arrived.

Limekiln Race: We arrived at the race to find a frosty wonderland, glittering with course tape. The bright sunshine was much appreciated as it was my first really cold morning this year. Art and I were glad to have our last race be a course that was so much fun and somewhat challenging. Art had a super race and placed 3rd with a big smile on his face. My race was not as smooth as his, and reminded me that I need to practice more stuff. It also included some suffering, some heckling, some laughing and a really spectacular crash into a pine tree, sending me sideways over the course tape. I was amazed that I did not get hurt. The fear in my eyes as I was headed for that tree was enough to wimp me into walking the descent on the laps to follow. Sorry to disappoint anyone that thought I was a super hero, but we all get mentally rearranged now an then, and I was happy the pine tree only broke my confidence and not my bones. I will face that demon another day. I did manage to rally back into third place, and finish on a good note.

Racing the Mac series this year has been really fun for us both, and this past weekend was a great series finale. ..... Louisville Bound!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sussex CX

Being one of the oldest cross races in New Jersey, Sussex CX race is a tradition for many. This year was spectacular with warm temperatures and dry conditions. For some reason I was really looking forward to racing this day, and I have no idea why. I just woke up feeling like I was going to have fun. This is a good thing for sure.

I tried to get a lap on the course, but did not have enough time for a whole lap before the first race got underway, so I had to wait for the first race to finish before I could go out again. This was the first time I messed up my pre-ride timing, but I adjusted and waited. It was really no big deal, but it meant I would not be able to assist Art at his start. I hated to abandon him, but I felt I needed to get out on course to get a feel for things, and this would be my last chance.

Although not super technical, the course was quite challenging with a triple, up hill set of barriers that plucked you smack in front of a muck hole, and a single barrier very close to a run up, sending your heart rate out of control every time. So, even though the ground was mostly firm, the promoters made things a bit interesting for sure.

I struggled getting my heart rate up while on the trainer before my race, leaving me not properly warmed up at the start. At least I got a pre-ride lap on course before which was a help. When the gun (trombone actually) went off, I felt like I got dropped on the slightly uphill start. I got a little panicky, but once I turned the corner to level ground, I was able to bridge up and make my first pass right before the grass. I entered the grass at full speed trying to take the turn as wide as possible so that I did not have to brake. I ended up using the whole track, nearly touching the tape. When I looked up, I realized I was back on the train.

During the first lap, I passed the leader, who had crashed and was fiddling with her bike on the side, and two racers, leaving me in third place. I pressed and suffered for 3 laps trying just to hang onto Christina in the turns. She would start to get away and then I would dig deep and reel her back. Not sure if she had a weak moment or I had a surge, but I passed her on one of the climbs and buried myself to give myself a cushion for the turns ahead. With this little effort, I started to catch sight of Erin ahead. That carrot on the stick was all I needed, to keep me pushing ahead. Three laps, and probably my fastest laps of the day, I crossed the finish line in second place. This was the women's elite field, so I won some cash as well as a cool cowbell.

When I got home, I started to analyze my race. The week before, I read a blog post by Colin R of
and decided to compare my race time with the guys. What I found was surprising: If I raced the men's 50+ (which is my age bracket), I would have been 11 th out of 24. If I raced Cat 4/40+, I would have won by almost 2 minutes. I also would have finished 20 seconds behind last place in open B men. What does all this mean? I guess I am faster than I thought I was, but not as fast as the young boys. I am glad to race with the ladies, and hope to get more out racing. .... Keeping 2012 Cyclo-cross Master World Championships on my radar.