Saturday, November 25, 2017

Big Changes Coming

I have an announcement to make:

Emily got a job in Northern California. We are moving to the Bay Area after the first of the year!

I will really miss the community I've come to know and love her in the D.C. metro. I'll miss my team, Veloworks-Spokes, Etc.; I'll miss my MABRA women's racing community; I'll miss my Team-Not-Team cyclocross group; I'll miss my workplace, Sport & Health, and all of the wonderful clients I've been privileged to train over the past three years; and I'll miss the beautiful terrain, the dedicated cycling paths, the ability to get so many places in this area by bike.

I'm going into a new environment sight unseen. I'll need to find a new team, a new gym, a new community. I'll need to get to know a new area with new and different terrain. I'll have to explore new bike paths and routes to get around my new home. And I'll have to find a good and trust-worthy bike shop.

I don't know anything about what the racing is like in Northern California. I've heard it's hilly; will I be too fat to do well? I just upgraded to cat. 3 at the end of the road season, and I'm about to upgrade to a cat. 2 in 'cross. Will I be able to keep up with that level in a new and more competitive region? Will I find a team that balances social and competitive well? Will the community welcome me?

I was very apprehensive about moving across the country when Emily was interviewing for jobs. But now that I know for sure that we're moving, I'm very excited! I'm going to explore a part of the country I've never visited extensively (the only time I went to NorCal while attending USC was for the Berkeley Bearathlon, the hardest sprint triathlon I've ever done). I'll get to ride my bike by the ocean and in the mountains. We'll be close to surfing and close to skiing. And I'm already getting back in touch with people I knew in college.

Also, I fully intend to buy a mountain bike once we get out there to fully enjoy what West Coast cycling has to offer!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Race Report: S'Ville Bikes CX & Winchester Apple CX

In which: I do not win

This was my first weekend in the 1/2/3 fields. I haven't yet upgraded to cat. 2; I'll still do Taneytown as a cat. 3. But after that, it will be time to upgrade, and I will have to race with the elites. These races gave me a preview of what that might be like.

S'Ville Bikes CX
Looking at the pre-registration before Saturday, I wasn't overly nervous. All the women registered were people I'd beaten before--which isn't to say that I always beat them or expected to beat them, but I felt like I was in a field that matched my abilities. Then, in line for the port-a-potties, I spotted a familiar face behind me. It was Julie Kuliecza, professional road cyclist and woman who is much faster than I. Besides being a little intimidated, I was also excited to see how hard a professional can go, and how hard I would need to work as a result.

Rain began to fall as we rolled over to staging, and the temperature had plummeted since I'd arrived two hours before. The course was mostly grass, a little uneventful, with a few long, steady uphills and one short single-track section in the woods. With rain falling steadily, I figured everyone now had way too much air in their tires, but at least we'd all have about the same disadvantage. Five of us rolled off in the 1/2/3 field. Julie took the hole shot, and for a while I was on her wheel! She almost slid out going too fast through a corner, which let us all know to be more careful. For a second, I thought I might be able to ride with her. Then she looked back, saw all of us still in touch, and turned on the gas. She rolled right away from the four of us and we didn't see her again until the podium. "Don't go too fast, Julie!" we yelled after her, because we didn't want to have to do five laps.

Teammate Beth was on my wheel throughout the first lap. Going into the woods, I tried to ride hard and take good lines so I wouldn't slow her down or mess her up (Beth is better than I am, technically). Instead, I hit a sharp rock and gashed a huge cut in my rear tubular's sidewall. We were close to the end of the first lap, and a short distance from the pit. I rolled on my flat tire to the pit and switched out for my pit bike. In the meantime, second (Beth) and third flew past me, along with several of the cat. 3/4 women. I came out of the pit still within sight of them, and tried to catch back on. But second and third always stayed out of my reach. The course was so wide open that I could see them dueling back and forth. Lisa would gain on the power sections and Beth would gain on the technical sections. Eventually, Lisa put the hammer down on a hill and dropped Beth. I rode the last lap trying to maintain my gap. I didn't want to catch Beth--both because she is my teammate and I didn't want to knock her off of the podium and because I wasn't sure that I could. But then Lisa dropped her chain and Beth and I both rode past her for second and third place. So we got to share the podium with a pro!
And Beth and I both have the leaders jerseys in the series: her for the 1/2/3 and me for the 3/4!

Winchester Apple CX
Apple CX may be the toughest non-UCI race on the circuit. It has several interesting features, so the course is long and hard, but it doesn't seem long and hard because you're always coming up on another technical section. There's a steep run-up (The Belgian Wall) into an off-camber and another run-up; there are a couple of super-fast single-track descents; there are lots of swoopy turns sections; everything flows together nicely and makes a really cohesive, challenging course!

I had a front-row start with some of the toughest women in the region. My nerves were so bad I was babbling. My hope was to mess up the start so I wouldn't have the pressure of having to hang with MABRA's best. Ever have a morning where you're not exactly tired but you don't feel like enduring the kind of pain necessary to perform well in a competitive race? That's how I felt. I didn't want to subject myself to the sort of hurt those women can dish out.

I really needn't have worried myself about feeling pressured to hang with them; I was off the back after the first three turns. I was so far out of my league, it was hilarious. There was one woman I could have out-ridden; she would put in big efforts on every power section (and I didn't care enough to try to match them) and then I would catch her wheel again in anything technical. But she really wanted it more than I did, and I was content to let her ride off with second-to-last place while I brought up the rear.

With all the 1/2/3s out of sight ahead of me and in no danger of being caught by the 3s and 4s behind me, I set about riding the cleanest race I could. The course was amazing, and it was so much fun to be riding without trying to win. I got DFL at Winchester Apple CX, and no one can take that away from me!

I have had a really good season, and it is nearly at its end. I have Taneytown this weekend, Capital CX the weekend after that, and BikenetiCX to finish everything off. I've seen the podium a few times and even won a few races! I've upgraded from cat. 3 to cat. 2. I'm content with what I've accomplished, and I'll probably take it easy and enjoy riding in the 1/2/3 field for those last few races (even if I'm DFL every time). I imagine next season I'll get frustrated with being at the back, and it will light my fire to improve. Until then, I'm content to bring up the rear!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Race Report: South Germantown CX

In which I get my confidence back

I raced all of the Super 8 (now the Super Series) races last year. But I only raced the Super 8 series races. I didn't do any of the Sportif Cup races. Most of the races in MABRA Land are associated with one of those two series. Since I only did Super 8 last year, there's a whole half of the races in the area that I'd never done! South Germantown CX was one of those.

The course was mostly open with a surprising amount of long, gradual uphill drags. The grass wasn't too thick and the ground wasn't too rough. There was one short, steep off-camber section, but most of the turns were really wide and designed for carrying speed. It was kind of a grass crit . . . which is absolutely perfect for me! It was also about 18° when I started pre-riding. The last race I did was a balmy 65°. This is the first race of the season where I've had to wear gloves. Those kinds of temperatures are bad but bearable, but they came on so suddenly that my body was not prepared.

This was my first time wearing the Sportif Cup leader's jersey, too. It's bright orange and hard to miss, but it entitles me to a front row starting position. I got the hole shot from the start and went off the front right away. For the first quarter of a lap or so, the field was strung out on my wheel. I tried to measure my effort and not go too deep too soon, but the first section of that course is all uphill! I always tell myself I'm going to sit in and let someone else set the pace, but then I end up on the front like a dummy anyway.

I'm not sure how or why I, but I managed to open a gap to the rest of the field. I went hard on the rest of that lap and increased my lead. By the end of the lap, I had a good gap to second place. The course was so open, though, that I could see the race developing behind me. I worked my way through the master's field, and caught one of the 1/2/3 women. My back and hips were cramping by the end of lap two (I've had cramping trouble in training all this week, I assume because it got so cold so suddenly). As a result, I was off and on the gas for the second half of the race. I could see second place behind me, and she steadily gained on me through the first half of the course. Then I would either pick it up on the second half, or the course just suited me better. Either way, starting each lap I could see that I'd grown my lead again. But every time I would think, "Okay, I can probably ease up a little," second place was right there to push me forward again. So I would ease up enough to relieve the cramping, then gun it again to maintain my lead.

Fortunately, my body didn't shut down so much that I had to stop entirely. I rode a clean race, too--not at all like Biketoberfest CX! I felt my rear wheel slipping slightly in a tacky turn on the last lap, but otherwise rode perfect. My two-week break from racing served me well. I feel refreshed. Excited to race. My confidence is restored.

And on that note . . . mid-way through this race, I started thinking that it's time to dip my toes into the 1/2/3 waters. I am still shy of the upgrade points needed to move from cat. 3 to cat. 2, although I'm getting close. And I'd still like to win the Sportif Cup Series in the cat. 3/4, if I can! But I think I will race up in the 1/2/3 for the next race (S'ville CX, if the promoter will let me) and see how it goes. I imagine that I will have my butt kicked, but that's probably a good thing.

Anyway, cross is fun and I like it. The people I get to race with are really cool. Even with no teammates around at this race, I still was among friends. That's a great feeling. We have a good thing going in the women's scene here in MABRA Land.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Race Report: Biketoberfest CX

Wasn't it a beautiful day for racing?
In which I learn why one shouldn't "send it" on a cross bike.

Saturday morning was beautiful for cross. A gentle chill was in the air, but the sky was bright blue and the sun was bright in the sky. I pre-rode the course (one which I'd never done before) and really enjoyed it! One of my teammates had mentioned that there was a lot of elevation change in it. That always worries me, but this was the kind of elevation change that suits me, with mostly short, punchy climbs that reward raw power over power-to-weight ratio. Also, there was only one place where I'd have to get off my bike, and I always love that. If I wanted to run I'd go back to triathlon, amirite?

I got a great start from the front row, but settled in at second wheel behind a woman I know is strong (she beat me at Schooley Mill). She was cornering better than me. I had to expend a little extra power after each turn to keep the gaps down. The whole 3/4 field was strung out behind us, too. I took a downhill left-hander a little too wide and went right into a stake. While I was disentangling my handelbars from course tape, the whole field passed me. I went from second to last, just like that. I was able to work my way back up to third using the power climbs in the first half of the course. Then we went downhill into a little pump section, a double hump where you could catch some serious air. I thought, "I got this. I'm gonna send." So I sent it. I probably caught about a foot off of that jump. And I did manage to land it, although my expensive carbon bike made a horrible sound, my handlebars slipped down, and I crashed (softly). I got up as quickly as I could and tried to adjust my handlebars, but nothing doing.

The position was awkward, with my drop about 3 inches lower than normal, but it was rideable. So I rode it around to the pit and grabbed my pit bike. Friend, teammate, and all-star mechanic Clay was in the pit for me (and teammate Beth, who was racing the 1/2/3s) and he had my A bike back together by the time I came around the other side of the pit. I pitted again and set off to try to re-capture some places.

That went pretty well for a while, and I think I worked myself back up into 4th (although I had no idea where I was sitting in the standings at that point). Another woman and I were trading 4th place--I would pull ahead on the short power stuff, she would pull ahead on the long drags--until the last time going over a log onto a long run-up. I was just about to pass her, but when I tried to re-mount after the log, I couldn't pedal. My rear quick release had come loose and the wheel had unseated. I fiddle around with it while 5th place passed me. I thought I had it fixed and started running with 5th, but when I tried to re-mount, I still couldn't pedal. I fiddled with my quick release a little more. Then 6th place passed me. I finally got my rear wheel sorted. At that point, I wasn't angry or frustrated. Really, what can you do? I rode as hard as I could to see if I could gain any more places, and was able to pass one woman to take 6th in the field.

In retrospect, the racing itself didn't feel that hard. At one point, I even asked myself, "Why am I not going harder?" Like last weekend at DCCX, my brain held me back more than my body. Two stupid mistakes cost me big-time in the first half of the race. And I'm lucky I didn't hurt myself going over that jump; a guy later in the day crashed there and broke six ribs. It would be easy to say, "If only x and y hadn't happened, I would have been on the podium." But x and y didn't happen to me; I happened to me! I made those mistakes, and the people on the podium were able to race clean (or mostly clean).

Even with all that happened, I had a fantastic time. I wasn't mad or frustrated (or crying, like last weekend) at myself; I was laughing! The errors I made were silly, and this is just a game. A fun game with bruises and heckling and beer. Plus, the day was beautiful, the course fun (for me), and the weather gorgeous.

Going into Biketoberfest, I was sitting second in the overall for the Sportif Cup, and the leader wasn't racing. I did enough (just barely) to hold off third place for the lead, so at South Germantown CX I get to wear this cool jersey!
It'll go well with my hair.
I skipped racing Sunday, and I'm not racing this weekend. I look forward to some long, slow zone 2 rides with my team in the beautiful fall weather!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Race Report: DCCX

This is what success looks like!
DCCX is one of the highlights of the CX calendar in MABRA land. It's a UCI race and it's in the District of Columbia, so everyone comes out for it. The atmosphere is terrific, the racing is hard, and the race directors do an unusually good job with port-a-johns; they even have them cleaned out between Saturday's racing and Sunday's racing!

I expected the racing to be tough, since the promise of racing on the same course as the pros always draws a larger and deeper field (if not quite so large and deep as Charm City, which had a C1 race and was part of the US Pro Cup). Additionally, the strongest 3s, who normally race the 1/2/3 field locally, join the straight 3 race since the elite race is a P/1/2. I had a few friends who raced the pros on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't envy them, but that will probably be my fate next year. If I work hard in the off-season, maybe I'll be able to finish on the lead lap.

Anyway. My race Saturday was awesome. I got a good start. I rode almost all the features smoothly. I knew that first and second were probably out of my reach, based on previous experience with those two women (girls really; they're 13 and 12 years old). I spent most of the race in fifth place, battling hard for fourth. I caught fourth place (another teenager!) with about 400 m to go in the race and held it to the end. So I got to stand on the podium at DCCX! Fourth place! Whoo!
And this is what mental fatigue looks like.
Sunday, I woke up feeling unmotivated. I didn't feel tired or sore or weak; I felt mentally tired and I didn't want to be there. I crashed hard during my pre-ride in a fast downhill section that I took too fast. There was some gravel in the corner, and I got into it right as I was turning. Fell over on my right side, banged my foot on my pedal (I was worried I'd broken it!), scraped up my elbow, and banged my head on the ground. One of the Bikenetic men saw me go down and helped me off the course. He sat with me until I felt I could go on, but I escaped largely unscathed!

I'm still sitting second place in the series, so I still get a front-row starting spot. I got a terrible start, though, and entered the first turn close to the very back of the field. There was a big crash in one of the first turns, though, and I was able to scoot past it on the left side. That got me a huge number of places back. I was able to work my way back up to about 10th place over the course of the first lap. I managed to catch and pass 8th and 9th in the second or third lap, and felt I could hold them off if I could just ride clean.

I did not ride clean, though. I slipped and fell in a loose right-hand turn that I thought I had dialed. Scraped my elbow on the EXACT SAME SPOT as I hit in my pre-ride crash, which burned like fire. Also took a bunch of skin off of my right calf, and my right hip, and my right shoulder. I somersaulted over my bike and took a second to determine whether I still wanted to go on while 9th and 10th re-passed me. I got up and re-mounted and set to work catching them again. I caught them with no trouble, but was waiting for the right moment to pass. In the final lap, I went down AGAIN in a loose chicane that was a tough turn (lots of crashes there all weekend, great viewing as a spectator) but that hadn't troubled me all weekend. I took all the skin off of my other side, 8th and 9th got a big gap on me, and I mentally said, "Just get me outta here."

I gave up at that point and forced myself to keep pedaling to the end. I managed to make one more big mistake on one of the final turns, where the course crested a hill, went over a tiny little curb onto the road, and then dropped down the other side of the hill before making one more turn onto the finishing straight. So I went into the uphill too fast, cleared the curb, but then totally screwed up my landing and came down so hard on my front wheel that I was convinced I'd broken the carbon or popped a spoke. So at that point I had crashed three times and was pretty sure that I'd broken my bike. I crossed the finish line and rolled off the course, frustrated more than tired, and skinned up all over. The woman I'd been battling for 9th place is a friend of mine, and she was ready with a hug and a "Nice racing!" That helped. Then I rolled back to the team tent, grabbed a water bottled, and rolled off on my own to cool down . . . and have a good cry. I sat on the steps by an abandoned building (the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home, the military retirement grounds where DCCX is held, has a lot of abandoned buildings), burning tear tracks through the dust on my face, and felt sorry for myself. And after about 5 minutes of that, I felt better. And I drank a bunch of beer and talked with my friends and shared stories about all our races and one of my teammates gave me baby wipes to clean off my (many) scrapes . . . and everything was good and fine and I still had an amazing time.

I'm proud of my performance on Saturday, but I've overcooked my brain with all the racing I've been doing. I could have raced much harder and probably been in the contention for 6th place on Sunday, but I didn't have the mental strength. Teaching my spin class on Monday mornings after a double race weekend is normally torture, but this morning my legs felt fresh. That tells me that I'm not overtrained physically; I'm overtrained mentally. So I'm going to shift my focus for the rest of the season and try to hone in on the Sportif Cup races, where I'm sitting second in the overall series. I won AACX, the Sportif Cup race last weekend. A few more wins and I think I'll have the overall lead. I may sit out the rest of the Super Series, or at least take a few weekends off. I'm missing the long, enjoyable, zone 2 rides with my teammates, and I miss the camaraderie of spending hours on the bike with them.

So that was DCCX--the good, bad, and ugly. I plan to take a weekend of long, easy rides and enjoy the feeling of being on a bike. And then I'll race Biketoberfest CX on Saturday and I'll hang out at Tacchino CX on Sunday (but I won't race). (Probably). (Emily, stop reading this).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Race Reports: Sykelocross, Hyattsville, and Charm City

I've been delinquent in my race reports. We have some catching up to do!

Sykesville didn't go well for me. It was meltingly hot. The course was really hard--technical and with a lot of elevation gain. I had high expectations after my performance at Hub Labels, but did not live up to them. My body absolutely exploded in the heat. I can't handle heat well, I assume because I'm small and muscular, and it places a ceiling on what I can do in the heat. I hit that ceiling hard at Sykelocross. Emily came to watch this one, but I didn't do a great job for her to watch (and she doesn't handle heat well either). Ended up 5th out of 19, so a decent showing! The results were all kinds of screwed up because the timing chip computers went down. So we stayed long enough for me to protest the results, then headed out before we melted! Considering how terrible I felt throughout the race, I'm happy with 5th.
Too tired and scared to post up properly. I would totally be the person who crashes in the finishing straight.
Hyattsville couldn't have gone much better because I frickin' won! Hyattsville is basically a grass crit with only one little climb. I got the hole shot and held the lead for most of the race, except for one little stretch where one of the local butt-kicking teens passed me. I passed her back and held a gap to the end by playing up my punchiness. I assume it's harder to be punchy when you're a 90-pound 14-year-old. First win as a cat. 3 in cyclocross, and it gave me the lead in the BikeReg Super Series!

Charm City CX was presented to me as the hardest race on the circuit. It did not disappoint. Since it's a UCI C1/C2 race, AND it's a part of the new US CX Cup, AND it's a little farther north than most of the MABRA races, so it draws the top cyclists in every category from MABRA, Virginia, Pennsylvania, maybe even New Jersey. I met people from as far north as Philly and as far south as Charlottesville. The women's fields were big! And they were full of talented women (and by that I mean waaaay more talented than me)! I won't go through the blow-by-blow, but basically the teenagers blew my doors off and won everything. There were other women my age who also blew my doors off, but the teenagers were the stars of the weekend in the cat. 3 races! Both days, I hit a brick wall in lap 2 and my back and hips went into spasm. Then it went away in the 4th and 5th laps (5 laps both days) and I was able to claw some positions back. Ended up 7th on day 1 and 10th on day 2. I think I still have 2nd place in the series, so I still have a shot at the overall!