Thursday, September 23, 2010

Photo by Jeremey,

First race in the Chicago Cross Cup series - SUCH an excellent series! - Jackson Park. I raced the women's cat 4s along with 51 other women! A HUGE field.

My goal was to finish in the top ten so I'd get a call up at the next chi cross cup race. I had a pretty good start, but once we hit the trees, women started shooting past me. A LOT of women. Not good. But I rode a clean race -- didn't fall, didn't get tangled up. I'm slow over the barriers, but pretty fast on the straights. I worked hard at catching the racers ahead of me, passing them and dropping them. It was super fun! I ended up 11th -- so didn't quite make my goal. Something to work for.

And really, not good enough to upgrade. Yes, this is my third year racing 'cross as a cat 4. I've never won. Last year, I don't think I broke the top five. I would love a longer race, but I've seen too many women cat up and spend the rest of their race days fighting as hard as possible to be 'not last'. I do that enough on the road -- I want to have FUN in 'cross. That said, catting up's not out of the question. We'll see how the season goes.

Photo by Vladimir Istomin.

I got a call up to the line in the men's 4b race. It was CROWDED up there -we were shoulder to shoulder. The whistle blew and I started sprinting and [I later learned] the guy next to me unclipped mid-stroke and fell into me. I crashed in the middle of 75 guys in a mad dash for the hole shot. These guys will ride over you -- I covered my head until the bulk was by. Then I leapt up, jumped on my bike . . . to find my seat was sideways. Off the bike, pound it with my fist until it's straight, jump back on and CHASE. The back of the pack was in the willows by the time I was off.

I caught up with the back and started passing guys. Hey -- Flannel Mike has a cross bike! I would ramp it up in the straights and speed past, trying to go fast enough to break their will to chase me. Coming through the start/finish, the lap counter says '2'. RATS! Only three laps to make up ground. I was counting on four.

On my last lap, I passed an unattached guy in a blue jersey. He did NOT like that. He got right on my wheel and at the first set of barriers, passed me back. I got by him again after the baseball diamond, and he once again glued himself to my wheel. At the second barrier, he got around me, but I passed him immediately on the straight -- I knew I had to put some distance between us before the third barrier, so I hit the S curves hard, powered back across the lawn to the little hill. Rode through the off-camber maze -- couldn't stop for the money monkey -- pushed super hard and could see that I was gapping him. I rode harder, and it worked -- I got to the third barrier, got over and back on my bike. As I started to pedal I could see him in my peripheral vision just beside and behind me, so I sprinted away, took the curves as fast as I dared and when it opened up into the start finish, stood up and rode as hard as I could and I beat him! I hear him say "I can't believe I got beat by a girl!" Dude, you got beat by a woman who gave you a whole minute head start. Heh.

I ended up 50th of 75. I cannot wait for the next race!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm depressed.

My racing this past season has been truly unexceptional and it's gotten me down. I work really hard. I spend a significant portion of my life training. I want to do well.

My best results this year: third place in the 1-2-3 field at Leland Kermesse in April and second place in a cat 4 tempo race at the track in August. Both of which I'm proud of - but they aren't nearly enough. Wins: Zero. Zilch. Zed. Upgrade points: 3 (from Leland).

Everything else has ranged from completely undistinguished to absolutely mortifying.

I pinned a lot of hopes on Master's Nationals in early August. And I felt pretty good going in. But it rained and I slid out and crashed in a slippery corner and that was the end of that. Down the drain.

The worst part is that I can't get the negativity out of my head. I don't feel good about my performances and now every training ride is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. My efforts are no longer building blocks to something greater, they are reviled as puny and pathetic. I'm Eeyore.

The Chicago Cyclocross Cup starts on Sunday. I plan to race the series. And I fully expect to be just as mediocre as I was last year - not strong or skilled enough to win, but doggedly placing between fifth and tenth. If I'm lucky -- the Jackson Park women's cat 4 race has SOLD OUT. I'll be racing 49 women instead of 19. I'm really thrilled about this -- I'm so happy that women's racing is taking off! To win THIS race would be *something.* Something I strongly suspect I will never experience. It's crushing. I can't seem to shake off the bitterness and just enjoy it for what it is.

And - despite being solidly unexceptional - I'm still accused of sandbagging in the cat 4s in 'cross! Why would I want to cat up? Yes, I'd have a 45 minute race in the 1-2-3s, instead of the 30 minute cat 4 race, but I'd be back in a field of seven women, DEEP in cat 3 limbo. If they scored the cat 3 women separately, it would be one thing. But racing as hard as I can to finish sixth instead of LAST is nowhere near as much fun as racing in a field of 50 where my hard work allows me to crush half the competition.


On Sunday I raced the ABR Team Time Trial National Championships in lovely Leonore, IL. My TTT teammates from the past two years, Heidi and Eileen were unable to race this year, so I had a whole new team: Mia, who's flying and has been on a winning streak; Courtney, recently returned from riding across the U.S.; and Natalie a strong racer whose work has interfered with her training lately.

We were able to get together to practice only twice. We'd all raced the TTT last year, so we pretty much knew what to do, but we were a bit ragged. The race was in a new spot this year, slightly farther away, so we all arrived behind schedule. And then my rear race wheel decided it was a *great* time to refuse to hold air. But we got ourselves together, pinned our numbers, warmed up for seven to ten minutes and got ourselves to the start on time.

On the line, Courtney leans over and says that she feel awful. I can relate - I'm still stressed out from the scramble and my legs are barely warm and I'm pissed that my race wheel is broken. I reassure her that we'll be OK - we'll warm up quickly in the race. And then the clock counts down and we're off. And Courtney was not lying, she was having one of those devastatingly bad days where your body simply refuses to do what you tell it to. We gapped her. We waited and she caught on and almost immediately she was gapped again. We waited.

Within the first mile, she asked us to go without her. Which meant the three of us left HAD TO finish together - your finishing time is taken from the third rider.

We hauled ass into the headwind and quickly passed the team four minutes ahead of us. That was encouraging. In the tailwind, Mia ramped us up to 30 mph and we sailed along in her wake for minutes at a time. The longest stretches of the race had an unrelenting crosswind. Mia continued to anchor. I would pull through and concentrate on not dropping speed for as long as I possibly could so Mia could rest. Natalie floated at the back, going from my wheel to Mia's wheel, back to mine. Mia, sitting upright on her brake hoods, would haul us into the wind while I crouched in my aero bars, barely clinging to her wheel. She was incredible. And Natalie pulled herself inside out. I gave everything I had, I only wish I had more.

We finished fifth, two minutes off fourth and four minutes off third. Not bad I guess, considering.

I would like to say 'next year we'll have it together! Next year we'll practice and we'll all have aero equipment and we will trounce all the Alberto's and Project 5 girls.' But that's what I said last year. I don't know what will happen. I hope we'll have more success.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I've been remiss. I joined Facebook and stopped posting race recaps here. But I have been racing quite a lot.

This is the time of year that I get a bit burned out. It's not so bad this year, but I'm still feeling it. I'm looking forward to cyclocross season and planning to race at the track a couple more times and do the team time trial. But right now, I want to relax a bit, see a movie, hang out with Jackie, shop. And - dare I dream - sleep in.

So . . . I took second place in a cat 4 tempo race at the track last week! It's my best placing at the track -- and sadly, my best placing all year so far. In a tempo race, points are awarded to the first two people to cross the start/finish line every lap - two points for the first to cross and one point to the second. So its a super hard race - one that never lets up. It being just the cat 4 women was great - without the 1-2-3 women, I'm one of the stronger racers [with them, I just try to hang on].

Track is a great interval workout for me - it increases my fitness drastically. And it helps with my abysmal pack skills - or I hope it will, I feel a bit like the bull in the china shop in a fast track race. I need to be able to control my track bike better.

This past Sunday was the first cyclocross race of the season. The brilliant brainchild of one of my teammates, it was a tag-team relay 'cross race. Everyone raced in teams of two, trading off laps. I raced the women's open and the co-ed races. Natalie, my partner in the women's race, was a hero - she sprinted the 100 yards to the transition station AND rode the first lap. I really enjoyed the race, the skills - such as I have them - came right back. I'm not as powerful as I want to be [am I ever?], but I managed to catch and pass a couple women. Nat and I finished a respectable fifth.

It was 96 degrees by the time the co-ed race started. This was a short race, three laps each. My partner, Paolo, established us solidly in the first half of the race and I did my best to improve our placing. We finished 18th of 49.

I was really blown away by how strong and fast a lot of the women have gotten. I'll need to up my game significantly to compete. I'm weary of being pack fodder! Time to break some legs.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Photo courtesy of Paolo Urizar

Got a last minute ride (thanks, Todd!) out to DeKalb for Half Acre's Gravel Metric on Sunday. This 62-ish mile ride on gravel, dirt, and a bit of pavement was not officially a race, but of course, I was racing.

I decided to take my road bike. I felt fine on it at Leland, and I didn't want the rolling resistance from my 'cross tires. And, frankly, my 'cross bike still has Montrose Harbor all over it. When we arrived, though, almost everyone had 'cross or mountain bikes. Only a couple of us had our road bikes - and everyone kept telling us how 'brave' (i.e. foolish) we were.

After the neutral roll-out, I made sure to be near the front. There was a wicked cross-wind, so I was staying tucked in next to Dave Norton. As soon as he said "someone's going to jump soon," someone jumped. He was on it, and I was on him and we were flying up the road.

We hit the first gravel section and just hammered. The guy in front of me let a gap open up, I darted around and closed it. Then we hit some deep gravel and I fishtailed just enough to get myself shelled. But I had a good gap on the groups behind me.

Pretty soon, Paolo comes by, towing the guy who'd been gapped earlier. I got on that train. Paolo was setting a brutal pace - he was SO steady that I was able to stick with him for a bit, but I was on the rivet. At the first uphill, I was on my own again. Which was fine. I set my own pace and rode within myself. Turning into the tailwind, I felt great and caught a couple guys that Paolo had caught and left behind. I kept my pace and worked with them to the first checkpoint.

Where I made the mistake of not filling up my waterbottles. A group was leaving just as we arrived, so I hurriedly checked in and rode off with these guys. Turning into the headwind, there was another group of four or five just ahead - so I bridged my group up and we had a long paceline.

I took my turns at the front, but bridging had taxed me, and I had run out of liquids. Before we got to the second checkpoint, I was gapped on a hill. I chased for a long time, but never caught back on. They were at the second checkpoint when I got there, but I HAD to fill my bottles, and by then they were gone.

So I was alone again, riding within myself. I was a bit dehydrated and starting to feel ill. I was forcing myself to eat, but everything was gross. But I had full bottles, and I drank often.

I got to the point in the course where you could choose to take a longer, 'easier' way, or a shorter way that took you through a creek. I'd had absolutely no problems at all with my road bike on the gravel, but everyone was making the short way sound so ominous, so I took the longer route. I suspect I was the only person to do this. The first leg of the 'easier' way was down an insanely rutted dirt tractor path. A mountain bike would have been VERY handy through there. Then a paved stretch into the headwind, then finally a gravel road back to the regular route.

I could see groups crossing the road I was on, I must have lost at least ten places by going around (and later found out that the creek was shallow and had a cement bottom - no problem on a road bike). So I chased a couple guys ahead of me, passed them as one bonked and they stopped. Then I came across 10 guys standing around while one changed a flat, and passed them by too. I slowed to eat a Clif Bar, and the two guys I rode with in the tailwind before the first checkpoint caught up. I sat on and let them tow me to the third - and completely awesome - checkpoint.

Checkpoint three had cold water. And cokes, cookies, bananas, peanut m&ms, chips, and all sorts of other stuff. They handed me a coke and filled my bottle for me. I ate a banana. The group of guys changing the flat showed up, so we all embarked on the last 22 miles together.

Despite feeling sick to my stomach, I had a bit of a second wind. After a few miles, we let one guy ride away from us and dropped a couple others. I sat in with two guys on 'cross bikes. I felt badly that I wasn't able to take any pulls, but they were so nice. They didn't mind me sitting in most of the time.

We were all feeling the heat and the miles. It was really grueling. When we finally got to town - Sarah Lu was there pointing us in the right direction. "You're in the top 20," she yelled. That gave me a boost, so I pulled us through town. The endless town! Finally we got back to the bike shop. I collapsed into the grass with the hard men who finished before me, while the awesome Half Acre volunteers gave me water.

I WAS in the top 20, and I was the first woman to finish. Yay!

But, man, did I feel AWFUL. I had all sorts of recovery food - a sandwich, salty pretzels, a builder bar - but I couldn't eat any of it. Nothing appealed in the least. Finally, I got my sandwich, but after one bite, threw it away.

My carpool went to the after party at Fatty's bar to eat. Half Acre knows how to have a party! They had a couple kegs of free beer there. We all sat in the beer garden and a very nice server in short shorts brought me a root beer, a veggie burger and big, soft, plank-like french fries. Soft, bland, sugary and salty - just what I needed.

By the time they gave me a CASE OF BEER! for being the first woman to finish, I felt much better. I gave away three of the six packs, and took one home for Jackie.

Thanks again, Half Acre - you're a class act. Next year, I'm going through that creek.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Did my longest ride to date on Saturday -- 157 miles. Last year Coach initiated the Eric Sprattling Memorial Three States Ride -- Eric Sprattling was a founding member of xXx, an experienced racer and a mentor to his teammates. He regularly did a 'three states ride," north to Wisconsin, south to Indiana and back. It was the day before Spring Prairie last year, so I only did the Wisconsin leg. I was excited to do the whole thing this year.

After a century, I still felt good! That was cool. And while I was pretty done in by the end, I recovered quickly -- well, I haven't attempted intervals or anything yet. We'll see tomorrow.

It was fun! I'll definitely do it again [and bring more food with me - buying a bun from McDonald's for the carbs was pretty gross].

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The second fitness check time trial was this morning and my time was abysmal. Almost two minutes off my best time and one minute slower than last year at this time. WTF!! I should be improving.

I don't feel like I can blame the injured ribs - they really aren't much of a factor anymore. They interrupted my training a bit, but still. TWO MINUTES?

I hate being slow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Had a great time at Monsters of the Midway on Saturday. SO many more women are racing and so many of them are STRONG.

I got there a bit late and had to rush to register and pin my number for the 3/4 at 8:45 am. The pace was high with lots of attacks until Stacy Appelwick - who placed third at Tour of Gila this year - rolled off the front with 5 to go. I saw her and thought, 'let her dangle and waste her energy - we can catch her.' But then she had 15 seconds on the field. I could see she was struggling and knew if we got organized and worked, we could pull her in. I went to the front and put in a dig, as did my teammates Maggie and Courtney, and a couple other racers worked hard too, but most of the pack wouldn't pull through. The will just wasn't there. So I though 'fine, sprint for second place. I'm not going to win a sprint anyway, what do I care?!'

Stacy stayed off and won. Coming around corner 2 for our last lap, I knew I had to improve my position. I got around a woman who was slow in the corners and took a good line through corners 3 & 4, managing to pass half the field. I actually participated in the sprint - not at the FRONT of the sprint, but still. Ginger from Project 5 pipped me at the line and I finished 12th of 38.

The women's Open was at 1:20 pm. There were fewer of us in this field - 20, I think - but LOTS of talent. Stacy was joined by her Bulldog teammate Val Bostrom, Leah and Kristen were there from Flatlandia, Project 5, Mack and Kenda and teammates Courtney and Natalie all stayed for this second race. Oh my god, this race was hard. I tend not to have good legs for the first lap or two, and it was all I could do to cling to the pack. For the prime sprints, the elastic streeeetched but somehow did not break. I really focused on my cornering, not letting any gap open up so I wouldn't have to work as hard on the other side.

After 35 minutes or so, the pace slowed. A couple dropped riders managed to catch back on. I considered attacking, but I knew I didn't have a chance in hell of succeeding, and stood a good chance of ending up dropped. So I went to the front and took a long pull. Not a very fast pull, but everyone was content to sit behind me and wait for the last lap.

Leah took the front and set a blistering pace on that last lap, leading out her teammate Kristen Meshberg. My cornering was solid, but this pack wasn't letting anyone by - I finished just behind the sprint, beating only the soft-pedaling Leah to the line. But I'm not ashamed of a pack finish in that race - it was the hardest flat race I've ever done.

Thanks to everyone who helped put on this race - it was a FUN day.