Nederland CX – A Race Review

Nederland CX – A Race Review

As I drove up Highway 72 to Nederland, I wondered just what the course for this inaugural Nederland Cyclocross race would be like.  The race flyer stated that the race course would wind through the heart of the town and include a mix of cyclocross features.  What exactly, did that description mean?  As visions or stairs and other urban cross features floated through my head, I parked and made my way to the registration tent.

The first feature I noticed was a very sharp, uphill turn onto a covered pedestrian bridge over a creek.  After retrieving my race number, I walked a bit more of the course.  I noticed another bridge and some railroad tie barriers.  I made some smalltalk with a woman nearby.  The topic of conversation quickly came around to the race course.  She mentioned on the other side of the course, that if you didn’t take the right line in one section, you were sure to end up in the lake.

At that point I decided it was in my best interest to get my bike out of the car and take a pre-ride of the course.  I didn’t mind getting dirty, but I certainly did not want to land in a lake astride my bike.  Once the current race was over, I pedaled on to the course.  I ended up behind another guy who must have already raced, because as we rode along, he told me about what was coming up around each bend.  In this section of the course that wound along the creek, the vegetation was so tall that you couldn’t see what was coming until you were there.  The first surprise was a sharp left turn.  The next surprise was a path of beaten down cat tails.  The mud below the cat tails was now being churned up by all the bike tires.  At the end of the cat tails was a steep run-up.

The next part of the course was the hard part: two- three off-camber ups and downs on loose dirt, and the steepest, loosest run-up ever.  This was followed by the steepest, loosest descent ever seen (by me!) on a cyclocross race course.  It was during this descent that I came upon the place where landing in the lake was supposedly a certainty if one were to take the wrong line.  My conclusion was that landing in the lake was only a remote possibility under the worst set of circumstances.  At the end of the lap, I began to question whether this race was something I could actually finish, let alone be competitive in.  I’d been nursing a sore shoulder all week and it would be impossible for me to shoulder the bike in any of the sections where it would make sense to do so.  I’d have to run the bike and lift it over the barriers when necessary.  I considered packing my bike in the car and going home right then and there.  Then my phone rang and Motoman wanted to know if it was raining in Nederland?  I looked up at the threatening skies and thought how miserable this course would become if the skies were to let go.

When Motoman arrived, I mentioned how hard the course was and that I was IMG_0925contemplating leaving.  His response was that it would be just as hard for everyone else as it would be for me.  As I pinned the number to my jersey, I thought to myself that I’ll just ride it; then I won’t have any expectations nor disappointment about how I finish.  Then we got a FaceTime call from our daughter who we hadn’t spoken to in a couple of days. It proved to be the perfect distraction.  When we hung up, I had only about 30 minutes before the start time to pedal around and half-heartedly warm-up.  Besides, who needs to warm-up for ride??

Promptly at 5:10 PM, the race started and we were off!  Racers were still rather clumped together when I reached the hard part of the course.  A crash in front of me forced me off the bike and to run more of the off-camber section than I would have liked.  However, as I trotted along, I realized that the women who were riding weren’t going any faster than I was.  I had started to run with my bike because I didn’t want to stop. But now that I couldn’t find a decent place to remount, I just kept going.  Two thoughts occurred to me as I finished that first lap 1) I did not want to run as much on the next lap and 2) this race was as hard for the other women as it was for me!

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Photo Credit: Cid Dennis

I dug in and settled into a pace I could sustain for five more laps.   I’m so proud to have finished such a difficult race!  Taking 2nd place was the icing on the cake!

 

 

 

 

Not only was this the hardest race I’ve finished, it was also the most expensive:

  1. Entry fee: $30
  2. Deductible for car repairs necessary from colliding with black bear on the way home: $750
  3. While tasty, the six pack of beer only drowned my sorrows temporarily.
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    Master’s Women 40+, 2nd Place Photo by: Cid Dennis

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    That’s black bear fur stuck in the wheel.

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Gowdy Grinder – A Race Review

I should have known how my race would end when I missed the turn off Highway 210 for Curt Gowdy State Park.  Or maybe I should have known when the friendly folks working the number pick-up table couldn’t find my race number, despite the fact I was “on the list.”  Or maybe I should have known how the race would end back on April 23 when my pre-ride was cancelled because the trails were covered with snow.  These are just a few of the signs as to how my race would end right up to the seconds after the race director yelled “go”.  However, this post is intended to be more of a race review than the excuses for my 8th place finish in the Advanced Women category.  On some level, they do go hand-in-hand.

I left the house very early on May 13 for the drive from Arvada, Colorado to Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  My race started at 11:01 AM, and I planned to arrive before 10.  I was grateful to have left enough of a cushion in my drive time to accommodate the missed turn off highway 210 which added about 30 extra minutes to my drive.  The signage within the park directing race traffic was obvious and easy to follow.  Because the number of race registrants is limited to just 325, there was ample parking as competitors arrived and departed throughout the day.

This race is self described as a “bare bones” race and as such, there were only a handful of tents setup at the Aspen Grove Trailhead, making it easy to figure out which one was the registration tent.  Despite a thorough search, the registration volunteer was unable to locate my number and waiver.  The race director quickly got involved and reassigned me to another number.  This left me with about an hour to kill before start time.  I busied myself with applying sunscreen, suiting up, checking tire pressure, taking in some calories, and a half-hearted warm up on and off the race course.  The Advanced Women’s race consisted of two loops, one ~5 mile loop, and another ~8 mile loop.  The two loops overlapped in part.  My goal was to finish the race in under two hours even though I’d never ridden the trails before.

The start line was situated on an uphill jeep trail so as to thin the flow of racers before arriving at the single track on top of the hill.  I was thrilled that mom’s were called up to the front of the 10 person peloton.  That thrill quickly passed when I realized that I was the only mom.  I knew all those other women had spent less time in a hockey rink and more time pedaling their bikes than I had.  I was even less thrilled when I got passed within the first 5 pedal strokes after the race started.  (audible sigh)

Because the April snow had foiled my plans at a pre-ride, I was very concerned about how I would find my way through the race course.  The Gowdy Grinder was quite possibly the best marked mountain bike race I have done.  There were signs at every fork in the trail as well as ribbons tied to tree branches.   Despite all this great signage, I made a wrong turn during the long loop of my race.  (I’d give specifics on exactly where this happened, but I neglected to turn on my Garmin at the start of the race.)  I back tracked and found the turn.  I’m still scratching my head as to how I missed it given the great signage.

At some point into the second loop I began to recognize the terrain from the previous loop and I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.  The terrain at Curt Gowdy was an interesting mix of flowy single track and funky rock formations that were incorporated into the trails.  It was more technical than I had anticipated, but very fun riding nonetheless.  I uncerimoniously crossed the finish line in eighth place of 10 racers and went directly to my car to change.

At the food tent, the race crew actually made sandwiches for participants.  Being that I am responsible for the cooking at our house, I was beyond thrilled to have someone build a sandwich for me.  It was quite possibly the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had!  They also had the best macarons west of Paris.  These alone would draw me back for the race next year! Thanks Pedalhouse and Laramie Racing for a fantastic experience!

The Golden Giddyup – A Race Review

2016 was the inaugural year of the Golden Giddyup.  You can read more about how it was founded on their website; they tell the story much better than I can.  I had decided not to do this race months ago when registration opened.  Then, a handful of days prior to the race, I met up with a friend who was not able to do the race due to a knee injury.  I figured she had already transferred her entry to some other person, but it turns out, it was still available.  When she asked if I wanted it, I checked my calendar and found the day to be wide open.   I had no excuse not to do the race and hated to see the entry go to waste.

Transferring the registration into my name proved to be a bit of a challenge.  While the registration page indicated that all you had to do was click a button and follow the instructions, it didn’t work for us.  After several attempts, we decided to contact race organizers for help.  Even with their intervention, I never received any confirmation emails indicating that the transfer had been successful.  I finally gave up and crossed my fingers that my name would be on someone’s list when I went to pick up my race plate late in the afternoon of Saturday, September 17th.

img_5597After all the effort that we’d put into transferring the race entry, I was somewhat surprised that my name was, in fact, on the racer’s list at packet pickup. The bigger surprise, however, was my race number.  Yep, I was lucky number 420.   After collecting my number and what few goodies remained so late in the day, I found a place to sit and wait for the “mandatory riders meeting”.

The meeting essentially covered rules and reiterated several times that if you come upon an injured person, you should stop to offer help.  It seems like a no-brainer to me, but apparently it’s happened, hence the reminder. The other message that was stressed was that passing riders have the right of way.  What that means is by the time a racer hears the words “on your left”, her time has already been beaten by the passing racer who started 20 or 30 seconds behind her.

The next morning I arrived at the start line at 7:15 AM – one hour before my scheduled race time.  As the announcers began calling up waves, I became confused.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one.  The announcers were calling wave numbers that no one had ever heard of.  For instance, my wave was number 38, but they were calling out something similar to “the fourth wave of the classic category.”  I brought it to their attention after several waves had departed.  They regrouped and started calling out the waves by the series of plate numbers included in that wave (even better), and everyone was happy again.

Unlike a traditional enduro race, this race had timed downhill and uphill stages.  The entry that had been transferred to me was a Giddyup Lite – North Table entry – meaning that I would race only the North Table Mountain leg of the race.  The race route had two timed climbing and two timed descending stages.   I’ve ridden on North Table Mountain more times than I can count, which was a significant contributing factor in my decision to do a last minute race.  Knowing the terrain so well,  I was a little nervous about how crowded it would be in the timed stages, even though the organizers were releasing racers every 20 seconds on the uphill stages and every 30 seconds on the downhill portions.  Much to my surprise, however, the timed release of racers really did wonders to ease trail congestion.  I  passed and was passed without any incidents; racers seemed to be respectful of the rules.

I’m proud to have finished the race 5th overall considering the injuries I had in June & July and their recovery time.  Sure, I’ve been riding as much as I can, but I haven’t been training for races.  I’m grateful to Linda for making my participation in the race possible.  I hope we can race it together next year!

One of the mantras of the race organizers was to “shape what you shred” – as seen on the pictured race plate above.   I can’t emphasize how much I appreciated that this was a core philosophy of the organizers.  I’ve been mountain biking in Jefferson County for five years and not once had I ever participated in a trail maintenance effort, until this year and for this race.  I found the experience to be so rewarding that I regret not doing it sooner.  I’ll be suggesting that this be an activity of every team/group that I’m involved with going forward.  Overall, I’d say everyone involved in this race was a winner, especially the trails!

Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

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Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

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Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Conquering Mountains

In my first season of racing bikes, I focused on a small hill not far from my house.  It’s somewhat funny to describe Lookout Mountain in that way, because there was once a time when I thought it was a big hill far from my house!  Later that season, I raced in the Guanella Pass Hill Climb.  Similar to many other race results, I didn’t come in first and I didn’t come in last.

I remember getting out of the car that morning and looking up at Guanella Pass from Georgetown Lake.  The wind was howling and I began to wonder about what I had gotten myself into.  There I stood, a petite woman closer to 5 feet tall rather than 6, looking up toward the summit of Guanella Pass towering over me at 11,670 feet above sea level.  The only things between me and that summit were 10 miles and 2,900 vertical feet beginning at 8,500 feet above sea level.  I was not concerned about the distance itself, but the elevation.  Denver is known for being the Mile High City, so I was already somewhat used to thinner air. But this race started so much higher!  I’d never actually ridden up a mountain pass at this point in my short cycling career.

I did not have the opportunity to do a pre-ride of the hill climb, so I had no idea what to expect. I was thrilled to have such a nice smooth road to ride upon. Immediately out of Georgetown, some fairly steep switch backs get your blood pumping and thin out the racers. Then the road levels out for a few miles before the sustained climbing begins. Looking back on the Strava data, there is one section with 27% grade…that’s probably where I was doing a lot of visualization. It was all I could do to keep going. I finished the race and even went back for more the following year. I cut 13 minutes from my time from 2012 to 2013.  I’m signed up to race this hill climb again this Sunday; I’m not sure what exactly it is that keeps drawing me back year after year.  A part of it is the satisfaction of conquering something so much larger than me.  Mantras and visualization were a big part of what got me through that thin air and up the steep sections.

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At the summit of Guanella Pass

This year I have a new bike. People have told me that I’d see a big change in my performance with a new bike. I’m a bit skeptical about that, honestly. When it comes to performance at my level, there certainly is a percentage that can be attributed to the equipment, but I believe the bulk of my performance is due to the training. I’m in a completely different place in my cycling journey than where I was two years ago.

The constants from year to year, however, are the thin air and steep sections. I’ll arm myself with some new mantras and perhaps some additional visuals. I’d share those with you IF I thought they’d work for you. Unfortunately, much of this stuff is concocted as I pedal through the discomfort and is unique to me. Just like I can’t pedal the bike for you, I can’t tell you what you need to hear to get through the difficult stuff… whether it’s on a bike or anywhere else. You need to look within and determine what kind of inspiration you need to keep going. Then create it for yourself or find it externally.

 

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A failed attempt at a mid-air picture – thecyclist-lawyer.com team