At last: success!
I finally managed to get through a full cyclocross race without injury or incident. No flat tires. No twisted ankles. I still managed to fall and puncture my leg with my chainring while simultaneously bruising 82% of my shin, but that wasn't bad enough to prevent me from finishing. Truth be told, I didn't even realize how bad I'd hit myself until I finished the race and took my pants off.
Rode up with one of my Specs Racing teammates, Bob. Racing started at 11:00, and my race was one of the first (Cat. 4 women rode also with the women's open race and all the masters divisions). Having the first race on the course meant that I had the stiffest grass to contend with, and there was a ton of grass.
The course began with a nice, long stretch of pavement, but slightly uphill and with the north wind right in our faces. From there we moved into a long straightaway on the grass. The grass had been recently mowed, but it was still thick and stiff (that's what she said). Course dipped around into a ditch (riding off-camber), which led us around a tree, uphill and around another tree, then back through another straight-away the way we'd just come. Much of the course was like that: grass, tree, tree, grass. Slight uphill, slight downhill, slight turns. Two barriers in a small cluster of trees. Two separate times the course turned sharply and directly up steep hills (those were fun).
The highlight of the course was the Mound of Mercy, a banana-shaped embankment that was a moderate climb on the ends and steep in the middle. Course followed a few sharp turns around trees, then straight up the stem side of the banana. We rode steady around the banana's back, down the other side into some more off-camber section. 180* turn at the butt of the hill, then forced dismount for a barrier and a long, steep run-up. A small chicane followed the first run-up, then an even steeper downhill, another 180*, and a final run-up. Remount at the top of that run-up, then hammer back down the banana, left-hand turn, and through the finish line. 1.8 miles. And that's just lap one.
I lined up in the second row in a field of about 14 women. I'd read an article about how to get a good start in cyclocross races (because what else am I going to do at work at 5 in the morning), and I applied that new knowledge to excellent effect. I grabbed a wheel, passed, grabbed another wheel, passed, looking for a rabbit to chase. Going into the first grassy section, I was sitting in third position, with a fair gap back to the next woman. But as soon as we hit that first section, I knew that I was in trouble. The two women in front of me were much, much stronger. My body was already sending me messages: "Too much! Too soon! Abort! Abort!" I let them get ahead a little bit and tried to find a manageable pace. All my lines were good, but my power was not. I was already tasting blood, and could feel bile stirring up in my stomach. Coming through the second section of trees, the girl in fourth was right behind me. I let her go ahead, saying as she passed, "I already feel like I'm gonna throw up." This may have been about a quarter into the first lap.
I still had a fair gap back to the next two girls, two women from Free State. I probably had a 20 second gap on them. One was working her way up to me, and she passed me sometime around the second lap. Coming to the pair of barriers on the third lap, I fell while trying to remount my bike, and jammed my knee right down into my frame, between the top tube and down tube. It hurt enough that I pulled off to the side to assess the damage. My quad was definitely sore, and my shin was definitely bruised. It was stiff as I started pedaling again, but it worked out quickly. The other Free State gal had passed me at the barriers as I was pulling off to the side, and I was anxious to keep contact with her. She and I traded positions through laps 3 and 4, chatting as we passed and re-passed. I can't repeat all the things that were said, but we were both grateful when the masters men lapped us and we had a lap taken off of our race.
After lap 4, I was still in the lead over the FSR chick. I hammered through the tarmac, trying to put as much time into her as I could. I backed off the gas once I got into the grass, then focused on taking the best line and doing whatever was necessary to hold her off. She was within 10-15 seconds going into the Mound of Mercy for the last time, and I thought she was going to catch me on the final run-up. Fortunately, I was willing to suffer enough to hold her off, and once I got onto the last downhill, I was golden. Crossed the line in 6th place, after 5 laps and about 48 minutes of racing.
As often happens in these maximal exertion type races, everything has kind of blurred together into one long stretch of vague pain. I remember my one little fall. I remember the few passes. I remember a few of the lines I took on the off-camber portions, and the run-ups on the Mound of Mercy. I remember letting one girl pass me, because I figured she was racing as a junior. Silly me, the juniors' race didn't start until 12:15, so this girl (maybe 13-14) was racing as cat. 4 woman. I felt totally stupid when I saw the results, because I could have ridden the girl down--I was passing and re-passing her the whole time--but I didn't bother because I didn't think that it was worth it.
This course was tough for me. All that grass was really draining. Talking to another athlete after the race, she mentioned that it was "a real power course." I hadn't thought about it in those terms, before, but she was right. And the need for constant power really took its toll on me throughout the race. But the greatest limiter to my performance in this race was the inability to keep contact with the next rider, mentally. I found myself in no-man's land several times in the race, and its because I lack the mental toughness to pull a few extra watts out of my legs to hand on to another cyclist's wheel. If they're tough enough to pass me, then they must be tough enough to keep going. And I guess that in my head, I'm not that tough.
My goal for next weekend (Smithville Cross Festival) is to better maintain contact. If the course is anything like last year's, it should be good for me. A start on the pavement, some tricky handling work, a little bit of singletrack, and a good set of barriers. It's got that one steep run-up, so I'll need to find the lugs for my shoes. And it wouldn't hurt to practice a few steep run-ups at Sim Park cross practice this weekend.
Okay. I know what I need to do next time. I'm set.