Guest Writer: Jason
- Brutal course
- 3 crashes
- Never lapped
- Crossed the finish line!
- A screaming, cowbelling entourage (i.e., my partner and her parents)
My latest race was easily the most physically difficult and painful forty-five minutes of my life. The course itself was tough, so luckily the weather was nice and there weren’t extra sources of torture, such as cold, rain, or mud. But so many other things can apparently go wrong in a ‘cross race and make you wish for some cold weather in return for having things go your way.
At first the course seemed non-threatening enough. It started with a long paved stretch, which was nice considering before jumping into cyclocross I only did road riding.
As the race began I was able to stay up toward the front of the race, and managed to pass a couple people into the first tight left hand turn. Things were going well, and as the course began to increase in elevation I was feeling confident that I could finish near the front.
That’s when I learned that it is never good to feel confident when racing.
Things were going smoothly as I began to climb a steep and narrow path among the rest of the pack. But then, the first few riders up ahead suddenly slowed as the path bottlenecked into a sharp and even steeper right turn. Hoping to just keep moving forward I kept pedaling and tried to squeeze through the right side, but two riders in front of me must have realized that was the best way through the turn at the same time, and the one directly in front of me grazed my front wheel with his rear wheel, and that was enough to make me lose any momentum I had.
Next thing I knew, I was laying on my side, still clipped in. Then another rider clipped my wheel, and fell too.
Without even making sure I was okay I scrambled to my feet as the rest of the pack rode by. The other rider that fell after me was already gone, and I realized that I was falling way behind. I was about to jump back on my bike and try to catch up, but the climb was way to steep and powdered with loose dirt so I had to run up the rest of the climb until it flattened out and I managed to get some momentum back.
By this time I was way behind, but I was heading back downhill, giving me a chance to refocus and start chasing. When the course flattened out it also became more technical, with a couple of hairpin turns and ditches to ride through. Then came a ride through a long section of thick, wet sand. Having some experience riding through sand baseball diamonds in my last race helped, and I managed to make up ground on riders ahead of me. The course then sharply turned to the left and up the small beach that made up the sand portion of the course. However, not all of the sand could be ridden through, so it was time to dismount, wade through the loose and dry sand that was at least up to my ankles, and then remount on a dusty asphalt path. I personally hate running, but my dismounting has really improved and I apparently can run well through sand, so I was able to pass some other riders through this section, and then make my way through a much easier, but undulating, grass section and across the finish line.
By the end of the first lap I had already caught up to the pack and made a few passes. I was already tired from the effort of catching back up, but I felt like I could still do relatively well. Then, heading back through the starting stretch of pavement I could feel that my bike felt a bit strange, bit I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Either way, I had to push on.
I told myself that I have to at least finish every race, and the only way I can quit is if I am injured or my bike absolutely refuses to move, so I had to keep going. Then things just had to get worse. As I was heading back up the large section of climbing, which probably made up about half of the course, the race bottlenecked again. I managed to stay back from any riders in front of me, but the next thing I knew everything I was looking at buzzed by me, sideways, and I was on the ground again. The rider behind me had apparently swerved to the right to try to maintain momentum, but my rear wheel was in the way. This time it took me a bit longer to get going, and I lost all of the places I made up. There was an area that was flat enough to allow me to get back on my bike, but as I kept climbing up the hill I misjudged making my way around a rut in the path, my front wheel slipped, and I fell yet again. This time I kind of laid there for a moment, wondering why anyone would put themselves through the torture of a ‘cross race voluntarily. But sensing that I might get lapped soon I got to my feet and started pedaling again.
For the next lap and a half I tried to keep my pace up, but I was feeling extremely drained from already having to catch up to everyone once and hitting the ground three times. Things were certainly not going my way. Every bump was starting to feel harder, and a ditch that we had to ride across was really beginning to hurt with its sudden drop and jarring rise that felt like it would send me into the air each time.
Luckily I had the second half of the course, which I was maneuvering through with much more speed that I would have expected through such a tight area. The sand section was my friend too, and while some other riders were having trouble with it, I was able to make up a little ground. Through the final lap I was extremely cautious through the climbing section that was my worst enemy throughout the race. Luckily I did most of that section alone, so no one was there for me to run into, or to run into me. Going through the flatter technical section one more time I managed to pass a couple of riders that looked like they were having a rough day too. Then, as I approached the sand section for the last time I could see another rider making his way through it. He was struggling and I was pedaling as hard as I could to catch up. As he was remounting his bike I was about half way through running across the dry sand. I remounted my bike and pedaled after him as hard as I could. I was toward the back of the field, but having someone up ahead was motivation to keep going as hard as I could. I was about two bike-lengths behind him, and then there was one final tough little climb that required riders to put in a hard dig to keep their momentum before getting to the finishing straight each lap. It hurt, but I managed to get out of the saddle and keep pushing in a much higher gear than I had in the previous laps. I squeezed past the other rider and through the last right hand turn. I was going way to fast, but managed to stay upright and make the turn, which was slightly off camber and on grass. I’m pretty sure the adrenaline was all that kept me upright through the turn and I pedaled as hard as I could until I crossed the finish line, managing to make that last pass.
After the race I felt like I was going to pass out or puke, but luckily managed not to do either. Instead, once I realized that the pain was over, I managed to be happy that I at least ended the race riding as hard as I could and making a few passes. I should also mention that my lovely partner and her parents were cheering me on, making lots of noise with yelling and cowbelling (is that a word?). It certainly helped to keep me pushing at the end of every lap as I passed by them, instead of quitting, which my body was telling me to do after each time I crashed.
And somehow, I managed not to get lapped, come in last, or faint, so I would say that by my low standards I had a great race!