Friday, October 8, 2010

Low Stakes

I did two races in the past week, both of which were notable for my lack of preparation and overall unreadiness.  What a shift from the out-of-body-freak-out level of preparation before CTR, or the moderate hum of planning before Kanza.  The stakes are low right now, the races nearby and cheap, so why not just line up and see what happens?

Race #1

First off, last Saturday I turned up for the Bent Creek Park short-track mountain bike race.  The day before I had picked up my newly built Kish (more on that later) at Carolina Fatz.  I had gotten to ride it around in the parking lot at Fatz, then a short night ride around the neighborhood and through the grassy fields and woods across the street from my house.  But that was it. 

So in keeping with the pattern established the last time I picked up a new bike, I decided I should probably race the Kish at Bent Creek the next morning.  They were having a full day of events in the community park of Bent Creek (not the main mountain bike trail system) including trail running and kids' races.  I slept late and got to the venue with ten minutes to spare-- just in time to do the pre-race lap with everybody.  It was a good thing I did, because once I got on the trail one of the Paragon sliders moved a bit, causing the tire to rub on the chainstay.  I cut short the pre-ride and went back to the start, where I got the slider re-set by the race organizers and their tools.  Kindly they delayed the start for a second until I could run my bike down to the staging area for the LeMans start-- thanks Bent Creek race posse!

I was still a bit frantic at the race start, and didn't pay any attention to where the other women were in relation to me.  Since I have been mainly racing the longer endurance races lately, I didn't have any idea if the women lined up next to me were short-track rockstars or not.  I got into the woods assuming I was in third place or so, but not really sure.  After the race started, I realized how long it had been since I'd been in a real fast race-start situation.  Cohutta was probably the last time I'd really been on the gas at the beginning of a race, since the summer had been taken over by ultra-long races with laid-back, neutral roll-out starts.  The fact that I'd finally kicked the pneumonia and could breathe again put me in the mood to really pin it.  And, putting the brand new Kish frame through its paces, thrashing it around a bit, and getting to know how it moved, was pretty enjoyable.

The trails in this little park are pretty fun, with some berms and jumps as well as some rooty technical sections, overall a good fast trail.  For a while I was really enjoying sticking behind Gabe from Smoke Bikes, who was on one of his own handbuilt fixed-gear mountain bikes, with what looked like a road wheel in the back. That guy can shred some trail on a fixie.  Round and round for a while, and I kept looking for the women in first and second.  I was hoping maybe they'd fade by the end.  As the race went on, I lapped the women in the back of the field.

I was actually hurting myself pretty good out there cranking around the laps.  All that effort was getting me in the mood for the utter abandon of cyclocross: the ten minutes where I felt like puking, followed by the fifteen minutes where the good clean burn of the effort was almost transcendent.  Ah yeah, there it is, like an old friend.

It wasn't til the next to last lap that it dawned on me I might have actually been in front the entire time and been chasing a phantom.  When I passed my friend Karen, I realized I had lapped the entire women's field. Huh!  Guess I could have avoided putting myself in that hurt locker during lap seven!  I don't really understand short-track mountain bike racing strategy, and am sure I should have done things differently-- although getting to that total redline state sure was fun.

with my cool first place prize at the finish (photo by Karen)
My first place got me an awesome trophy made by Smoke Bikes, and I also got a gift certificate from Motionmakers Bike shop... but what it really got me was honestly excited about some more stupid all-out racing.  Short track mtb season may be winding down, but cyclocross season is gearing up, so there are plenty more opportunities for riding as fast as I can round-and-round in city parks in my immediate future.

Race # 2

The second ill-advised race in this report is the last race of the Wednesday night cyclocross series in Fletcher, near Asheville, hosted by Renaissance Bikes and Cane Creek Cycling Components.  I'd been meaning to go to this series every week, but since my workday tends to go long on Wednesdays I had not managed to make the drive up in time to get there.

This week was the last of the series.  I had my bike and kit in the car.  I drove up the interstate like a bat out of hell, while ingesting the only pre-race nutrition I had with me, Chex Mix and Diet Coke. But some construction delays on 26 (DAMN the Saluda grade and its endless construction) put me slightly behind schedule, and I got to the race venue just after the As race had gone off.

Luckily, the race organizers were pretty laid back, and said I could just jump in late.  I ran back to the car, kitted up, and jumped on my bike without missing a beat.  Starting to ride, I saw I was about halfway across the field from most of the racers.  I decided I would try to ride hard enough to only get lapped once by Cara, the only woman in the As. I also wanted to try as hard as I could not to get lapped twice by the lead men, although those dudes are fast.

The day's Chex Mix, Diet Coke, interstate driving, work stress, and 4:30AM wake-up time were starting to catch up to me.  Within twenty minutes I was sure I was going to puke, the second time I'd ridden into that zone in under a week.  It was the first cyclocross race I'd been in since Southern Cross, and the first real dismount-remount attempt I'd done in a race since last year. I managed not to crash or puke, however, and at the barriers managed several successful dismounts and unremarkable remounts.  So I call this race a success. I didn't get double-lapped by Cara, although I do believe I got double-lapped by the top men.   Despite my lack of cyclocross-specific skills and fitness right now, I am psyched for more races in the coming weeks.

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