This is my first DNF. First time I haven't been able to finish a race.
But at least it had nothing to do with my ankle.
I will admit outright that it's a little ridiculous to make a 3-hour drive (each way) to do a 30-minute race. Quite ridiculous. Especially when it's cloudy and cold, with sub-freezing wind chills, and threatening rain.
It makes very little sense, additionally, if you've driven all that way and your front tire appears to be a little bit squishy (when you'd just filled it up that morning) to air it up beyond the pressure you'd normally use and roll it anyway. Especially when you have an extra tube. But that's exactly what I did, and I certainly paid for it later.
The course was well-planned, championship grade, and very tough. The loop was almost two miles long, and it took me somewhere around 12-15 minutes to do one circuit. In a 30-minute race, that means only twice around. Course began with about 100 meters uphill in the grass. After cresting the hill, it dropped you down through a snaking, flowing section that weaved back and forth through trees at a downhill speed. There was an off-camber turn, a long stretch on hard-packed dirt, a slight ditch, then a long, flat, grassy straight-away. A slight downhill led into the first set of barriers (which I really slowed down for, believe me!), then up into another off-camber turn. Another hard-packed section, more winding back and forth through trees, then a steep off-camber turn, followed by a sharp incline (run-up, for those of us with a little less muscle and a little more weight). Last 300-400 yards of the course were on cobbles, with a steady uphill gradient. That section led to the finish line or (for those brave enough to tackle the beast again) a sharp left into a grassy section, the wheel pit, and a second set of barriers, before tackling the initial incline a second time.
I was still having trouble unclipping from my SPD pedals on Thursday, so I decided to run a pair of platform pedals on my bike with trail running shoes. There were a couple points on the course where that ended up being a great decision--I fell out on one of the off-camber turns, and if I'd been clipped in, I might have done some serious damage to my ankle. But of course I lost a ton of power, especially on the initial uphill. I'd gotten the chance to run the course before my noon race began, so I knew if I could just make it all the way up the hill, I'd be fine. Coming to the top of that hill, I was dead last out of all the women. Then I got over the hill, and bombed it. Passed three chicks straight away who weren't interested in taking all the curvy-windies at speed. Started chasing 'em down, confident that my handling skills and power on downhills and in the flats was the best (or among the best) in the field. I handled the first set of barriers with finesse (passed a girl and a masters rider there), fell out and changed the off-camber turn into a run-up (thank goodness for the platform pedals), and cut loose on the hard-packed dirt. Maintained speed going through another twisty-windy section, and tried to maintain speed in the grass. That next big off-camber turn was also a run-up for me, and the masters guy gained on me there. The cobbles were so tough, with that constant grade! Second set of hurdles were no problem, but I wasn't looking forward to tackling the initial climb again.
Second time around, everything felt tougher. I couldn't believe how hard I was having to work on the first uphill. A juniors rider passed me, and one of the six (or so) women I'd passed earlier re-passed me. I gained ground on her again in the downhill stretch, hit two bumps in the off-camber turn HARD. Tried to really push through the hard-packed section. Cleared the first set of barriers, but was really slowing down. Passed another masters rider at the barriers, but then completely slid out on the off-camber turn. Like totally fell down and slid a little bit. Pushed uphill, remounted, and managed to stay neck-and-neck with the old guy. He gained on me in the second hard-packed section, and the woman who'd re-passed me had broken the elastic and was out of reach by this point. Coming into the grass section next to the lake, I looked down and realized that I was riding on the rim on my front wheel. I kept riding it, because where else was I going to go? Slid out on the next off-camber turn, fought through the twists and turns, but hopped off when I got to the cobbles; no way was I running my rim on that bumpy brick road! Walked my bike back up to the finish. DNF.
I was absolutely bummed to have my first ever DNF, and to have missed out on yet another cyclocross race. But once I'd gotten past the initial ohmygoshthissucks part of it (and I at least didn't actually cry this time), I felt okay. My calf was definitely stiff by the end of the first lap, but my ankle handled everything fine, including the running, jumping, mounting, dismounting, and all that. I think I'm ready to run with my SPDs for next weekend, and that will give me more power.
Also, I think I need a different set of tires. My current tires are 700x26, and they're so narrow that they tend to sink into anything soft. And that'll slow you down, because it's like your tires are constantly rolling uphill. So I wasn't something wider and knobbier and more supple that'll spread out a little bit and give me less rolling resistance. The Specialized Infinity tires I'm currently running I'll keep on my road rims as a spare wheelset (lesson learned!) and I can use those for the dirt road series coming up in November.
Best part about this race was that it reminded me how flippin' fun this sport is. I love cyclocross. I can't wait to do it again next week.
But if something goes wrong this Saturday at Capital Cross, I'm scrapping the season, listening to the voice of the Universe, and cutting my losses before I wind up with something broken!