November 22, 2008

A New Addiction - Cross Crusade #8 – State Championships

I am addicted to cyclocross. I can no long deny this addiction, I had been trying for the last couple of weeks, but this week, I could do so no longer. While those around me may have come to this realization earlier, I admitted to myself I had a problem on Sunday night, on the drive back to Bend from the race at Portland International Raceway.

I had just finished my weekly race, the 7th in the Cross Crusade Series and I should have been resting, sleeping, thinking about something other than cyclocross, but no, all I could think about was the coming week’s race, the State Championship race in Hillsboro to be held the following Sunday. This was the start of a long week of thinking about this race. Thinking about warming up for the race, the start of the race, the dismounts and mounts that I would perform during the race, the pain I would feel 1/3 of the way through the race, knowing I was far from done and I would have to continue to push myself for 30 more minutes. I was full of nervous energy and wasn’t sure why… .Actually I knew exactly why, but wasn’t comfortable verbalizing until now; now that it is over. I was in the lead of the series in the B race and a win at Hillsboro would solidify my placement and my move into the A category next season.

So my week was filled with anticipation, nervous energy, and practice. The only way you get good at anything is to practice, so that is what I did….A couple of sessions of barrier and dismount practice, 2 interval sessions on the trainer, my daily rides to work, a long run Saturday, and plenty of mounting practice in the street, the park, and on my errands around town. I was going to get rid of the stutter step, period.

I was as ready as I was going be as we drove over the mountains on Saturday afternoon. By Sunday morning, after a good night sleep and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, along with a couple of Kacy’s peanut butter cookies, I excited and optimistic. We arrived at the Hillsboro Fairgrounds, in a dense white fog and I knew it would be a great day. We arrived early, just before 9am, and I didn’t race until 1:45pm, so there was a lot of time to mill around, cheer for other riders, drink apple cider and scope out the course.

Bumpy grass, flat gravel straight-aways, a steaming pile of what resembled bark dust, a 6-pack of barriers, a couple tight turns through the animal barns and then the arena; the place that would normally host a rodeo, bull riding, barrel jumping, and hog-tying. A shit filled, sloppy mud pit that was today, part of the course, somehow meant to ridden through.

Watching the Beginner race didn’t give me much confidence in my ability to ride through the tire sucking filth; not one person made it through, a number of adult males fell into the stuff, climbing back onto their bikes in a layer of muck that resembled being dipped in milk chocolate, no telling where their jersey ended and their skin began. One young rider lost their shoe in the first large mud hole, riding the rest of the race in just a sock. Most riders decided to run this section, passing their opponents that didn’t come to the same conclusion and repeatedly subjecting themselves to the brown toilet water.

As the day went on, the fog cleared and as the skill level of riders negotiating the mud pit increased, there was more success and some people were able to ride the whole “U” shaped circuit through the arena. I was still skeptical of my own abilities and until I actually entered the arena on my first lap, I was planning to run the entire thing.

At approximately 1:52, the whistle blew for the Women’s A race to begin, 30 seconds later, the Masters 35+ and then it was our turn, the Queen B’s. Don had taught me a new starting technique and I was going to try it out for the first time. Hands in the drops, butt on the saddle and when the whistle blows, just go.

It worked and I was off the line and in 2nd place coming into the first turn (much better than 25th position one week ago). Only Jen was in front of me and I wasn’t about to get beat, so pounded the pedals and within about 200 yards was in the lead. By the time I hit the steaming bark pile, and yes it was still steaming, I had caught the slower Masters and was slowed up a little through that narrow section, but was able to pass that group as soon as we emerged onto the bumping grass. Murph was there, along with Alan, Jim, Brian, Mar, Karen and a number of other loud voices. I was encouraged; I could do this, ride hard. By the second lap, I had caught my teammate Karen, who races with the Masters and is an extremely strong rider. “Get on my wheel” she said as she pulled me along the backside gravelly section. I was already tired, pushing myself as hard as I could, this course didn’t have any place for resting, it was all out, all the time. Over the barriers I passed Karen, but she was right there once we headed into the barns. Next was the arena; I was on Karen’s wheel and following her I was able to make it all the way through on my bike. We continued to pick people off and were in the mix with the slower A riders. Karen and I stayed together for the rest of race, it was all I could do to stay on her wheel during the straight-aways and she did every thing she could to catch up with me after the barriers. On the last lap, we got stuck behind some slower riders in the arena and I decided to dismount and run, Karen decided to keep riding. On two wheels, she had fewer choices in what lines she could take and got bogged down and boxed in, I passed her in the final straight away and we crossed the line just a few seconds apart.

It had been an awesome race, Karen and I smiled at one another and embraced, fully covered in mud and slop, we couldn’t have been happier. Turning around and catching our breath, we saw Renee cross the line. She soon joined us and it was high fives all around. There was an excitement in the air that can’t be artificial. The Cross Crusade was over for the year, the Sunnyside Team had finished it off with a bang and we were covered in dirt. Why wouldn’t we be smiling?

I had won the race and the series, Renee finished 4th place and took 3rd in the series, Karen took 4th as well and Mary had her best finish of the season. I saw Murph, gave him a big hug and smiled. Enjoy this moment Bishop, I thought to myself; this is the last time you are going to feel this way for a while. I was no longer a B, I didn’t have a choice, next season I would be racing A’s; with the big girls. Already setting goals for the coming season, Top 10 in the A’s is a lofty one, but like I said, I am addicted.