Monday, November 19, 2012

Chagrin Cyclocross Race Report

For no tangible reason, I felt compelled to do a cyclocross race.  I borrowed a cross bike from my friend Bill who broke his collarbone and was unable to race for the first part of the cross season.  I got it a little less than a week before the race, and I rode the bike twice: the day I got it for about half hour around my parents back yard and the next day on the towpath for about half an hour.

The race I decided to do was a costume race.  Feeling a complete lack of creativity and having the added restraint of it not wanting to limit my movement on the bike, I went to the old standby catholic school girl.  Despite having gone to catholic school for eight years, I was unable to find a skirt or one I could borrow so I ended up going to a store and buying one.  As a sidenote, buying a catholic uniform skirt made me feel pretty sketchy.  I wasn’t even wearing the skirt to a party, and I felt a sense of guilt objectifying catholic school girls in a certain fashion. 

Anyway, the race was on the Saturday before Halloween, and it was cold and rainy.  Racing CAT4 in cross has one big advantage and one big disadvantage.  The advantage, and it was a HUGE advantage on that day, was that we got to race before the course was completely destroyed.  The disadvantage is that we weren’t racing for money, but for medals.  Regardless, I got there, got my number, and opted to do a practice loop.   I think it took about one minute to realize I was completely unprepared for this race.  About 85% of the 1.5 mile loop was mud, there were some very technical turns, some standing water in ditches, and a few logs that required either jumping or dismounting.  It is not a good feeling when you are riding your bike and see what is ahead and ask the question, “How the heck do I ride across that?”  Consequently, I fell twice during the PRACTICE loop.  I think I estimated that it took me about 15 minutes to do one loop.   Our race was for 30 minutes, so I tried to comfort myself that the most I would have to do is three loops. 

After getting back, I talked to some friends and gave my camera to a friend Gary.  I opted to take off my rain jacket and tell myself that if I got cold, I just needed to work harder.  The official didn’t like where I had my jersey pinned so with about three minutes before we were supposed to start, I frantically repinned my number onto my jersey (a liittle déjà vu from first crit this summer).

They let the CAT5 men out about a minute ahead of us, then we started with the juniors.  The beginning of the loop was a relatively grass straightaway for maybe a tenth of a mile to what narrowed to almost a single-track.  At the start, I worked pretty hard to try to get ahead of the field to limit how many people I would be behind when the course narrowed, and it would be difficult to pass.  I found myself in 3rd as we approached the more technical section.  I felt like I was doing pretty well until I got to the second ditch when I went down, came up and fell over.  I fell in the same spot on the practice loop so I had definitely been anxious about this spot and would remain so throughout the course of the race.  It took me a few moments to get back on the bike, and by the time I got back on course, two women had passed me, including future teammate Michelle. 

I did a fairly good job through the technical section until I got to a section of close turns, and I fell again.  There was then some standing water over mud, and I just couldn’t pedal the bike through the junk so I basically walked through it.  I didn’t dismount, so I was walking the bike like I had no concerns over time!  There were also a couple of logs on the course.  One I basically rode over every time, one I usually hit with my bike, then got off my bike and carried over it, then remounted after putting the chain back on the bike.  I was pretty ridiculous.  I believe the line running through my head was usually, “Way to ride like an idiot Marie!”

After what felt like miles of techinical riding, the course opened up to a less muddy section with three logs, then the fastest part of the course on a gravel driveway before the start/finish line.  I know that I was back in 3rd place by the time I got back into the single track section of the course on the second loop.  Now, there are things that happen in races every once in a while that stick with me forever, and I think that on this second loop is one of those moments.  We were approaching the ditch where I had bit it on the lap before, and my competitor behind me yelled up some instructions how to ride through the ditch.  Did you read that?  My competitor (and current/future teammate) Michelle HELPED me get through what was my biggest obstacle on the first loop without any problems.  Words cannot describe how I feel about this act of sportsmanship, humbled is the only one that comes to mind, and it doesn’t do her kindness justice.

I pretty much struggled in the same places on the 2nd loop that I did the first.  Everytime I was starting to make progress, I would fall, or slide out, or forget to stop before the log, then spend a minute putting the chain back on the bike.  Seriously, I am kind of glad I was wearing a skirt as it distracted people from how pathetic my riding was. 

I know I was in 3rd going into the 3rd lap, and all I could think was, “WHERE IS THE FREAKIN’ BELL????  THERE IS NO WAY WE CAN DO FOUR LAPS IN 30 MINUTES!”  ‘RING THE STUPID BELL, I DON’T WANT TO DO TWO MORE LOOPS!”  I think it was on the 3rd lap that I started to notice the friction caused by riding my bike with a skirt between the bike and chamois, that or Bill’s seat was really that uncomfortable (honestly, a possibility). 

Once again, I made it through the water ditch on the 3rd lap without falling.  I believe I lost a lot of time on the log on this lap, but was doing pretty well.  Because I can never make things easy on myself, I went off course when heading for the 3 log crossing.  I nearly quit right there, I was so mad at myself!  I mean, I keep falling, doing stupid stuff, and was still in 3rd.  What else can I do to sabatoge myself?  But then I reminded myself that I am not a quitter and that there is still a chance I can get back on the podium.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure that podium didn’t go five deep.

I rode back to where I went off course and worked to get back into 3rd.  I believe it was the only lap that I finished not in 3rd, but still having another lap was definitely bittersweet.  I wanted the opportunity to fight back for 3rd, but I nearly cried at the thought of having to ride through that stupid ditch again.  I was also steaming hot and had opted to throw my glasses as they were just fogging up and just getting annoying.  (I thought I knew where I threw them, as it turns out, they have been lost forever).

I passed Michelle for what was either the 3rd or 4th time before getting to the single track.  I worked very hard and felt like I was making gains on getting distance, then would slip and lose time.  I should note that by this 4th lap, the course was destroyed, riding through mud is hard work!  I was reaching my anaerobic threshold trying to hold off Michelle to keep my spot on the podium.  We approached the ditch, and I absolutely cringed, but I somehow made it through once again!  Shortly after the ditch, I came up on a junior and had to slow down.  I wanted to be careful when passing her as I didn’t trust myself not to hit her in a narrow section while trying to pass so I was stuck behind her for long enough that Michelle gained back some of the time I had put on her. 

We were basically neck and neck coming out of the technical section, and I just pushed with everything I had left!  I believe I was maybe a second ahead of her reaching the three logs the last time.  I can’t remember if she passed me on the logs or not, but she probably did, but I was fairly confident that I could outsprint her, which was ultimately the result.  I got third in my first cross race and was pretty excited about it except that I was completely gassed. 

When I finally wiped the wad of mud off my watch, I noticed that we went for about 46 minutes.  Do the math on that: 46/4=11.5.  46-11.5=34.5  34.5>30 minutes which was supposed to be the length of time we were supposed to race.  It was some of the hardest 46 minutes I have ever raced.  As an aside, there is dirt on my garmin that I believe will never come off the watch as it is still there nearly a month later.

Shortly after finishing, and I know it was shortly because I was still kind of panting, Bill asked me if I would race cross again, to which I responded, “I don’t know, that was really effing hard!”  For anyone that doesn’t race, if someone asks you that question when you are still in the pit of pain the race created, and you don’t say no, there is no way you aren’t racing again.  Heck, for the last two hours of Ironman Louisville, I was singing “One and Done!” to myself and still did another Ironman so the answer to that question is completely irrelevant to reality. 

After the race, Michelle told me that “she was going to make me work for it” which is beyond what she did out there.  I left this race feeling really happy, despite it being cold, I had a great time racing and spending time with friends.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Akron Half Marathon Race Report

I am pretty embarrassed by this race, but I am going to post this race report (although a few months late) anyway.  Sometimes, we have to be proud of our failures as much as our successes.
For the 3rd time, I opted to take advantage of the FirstEnergy discount and participated in the Akron marathon. Working in downtown Akron has a couple of advantages, and one of them is being able to walk to the race expo. I still don’t know that many people at the GO, but one of the few people I do know was also running the half, so we went over to the expo together. It was no WAC caravan of insanity, but it worked.
As we walked to the expo, we came across a man wearing an Obama mask. Some woman was talking to Fake-Obama and asked my friend if he would take a photo of her with Fake-Obama. He said sure, took the picture, then as we walked away, he started venting about how he couldn’t believe this woman would just give him her camera. He then said to me, “I swear, if you weren’t here, I would have totally taken off running with that woman’s camera. What is it about me that looks like I am a safe person just to give your camera?” I think I said something like, “Sure, okay. Too bad you are literally the nicest person I have ever met.”
We made our way through the expo with no real glitches. I ran into a few people at the expo, including cycling friend Pam. I have to say, Pam looks a ton different in a dress, kind of surprised I recognized her!

Race Morning:
Pre Race:
My mentor gave me a race strategy, which was basically run all out as long as possible, then just jog it in when I peter out. It sounded fine to me as I had pretty low expectations for the race.
For breakfast, I had a PB&J sandwich and some crackers. I had no problems getting to the race, I did get off the highway to take city streets, and I parked where I park every week day for work. I walked maybe a third of a mile to the starting line. I was a little upset with the location with the clothes’ drop, but I dropped my clothes off and hit the port-o-johns. I tried to find my friend Bill who told me he would be at the 3:40 pace group. I stood there looking and waiting, and no Bill.
I was starting to get cold so I went to the port-o-johns again. I was kind of grateful that there was so many as I was able to sit in there for a while and warm up.
Eventually, I made my way to the 4 hr pace group, kind of surprised I had not found Bill and not seeing anyone I knew, that never happens at Akron! As soon as I said that, I ran into a few people from my hometown (one of which is the guy whose heart stopped at mile 2 and is luckily okay).
I got to the 4 hour pace group, resigned not to see anyone, and looked to my right and saw fellow Cleveland Tri Club board member Marsita. We started the race together, but she looked much more prepared for the race, and I let her take off.
I have done the half twice before, and this year was the first year that I actually felt under-trained going into the half marathon. I did, however, actually taper for the race, and I was remarkably surprised by how good I felt running. The weather really was perfect, very similar to the conditions for my first marathon, and I just felt good.
I was wearing my garmin, but I honestly didn’t look at it once for the first half of the race, I was just enjoying running and being in good enough shape that I can run a half marathon when I am not sufficiently trained for it.

Mile 1: 9:35
I believe I ran into CTC-faithful Tiffany who was doing the full marathon. She looked great! She gave me some support, and I think I congratulated her on a great race at Rev3. I believe she went on to PR in the marathon, but don’t quote me on that one.
Mile 2: 9:24
While I wasn’t looking at my garmin, I was starting to gain a sense of my pace based on the clocks at the mile markers. It was clear that I was running a 9 something pace and felt pretty good about it.
Mile 3: 9:01
Now, my father has started volunteering at races in attempt to see his little girl out there racing. At Wisconsin, he volunteered in transition and never got to see me…he did get to see my bike as they took it back to its spot in transition, but no chance to give me a hug or a high five.  Last year at Akron, he volunteered for a water station…at mile 22 of the marathon course. Too bad I was running the half.  Then, at Cleveland, he did see me, although he missed his spot at the water station.  So, this year, his assignment was volunteering in the 1st exchange zone for the marathon relay. I figured that it wasn’t directly related to my race, but I should be able to see him, right? WRONG! This year, they opted to place the first exchange zone under a bridge so that the relay people would be out of the way of the marathon and half marathoners. Sorry dad, one of these races, we will figure this plan out!

I do have to admit that I really liked the decision to divert the relay people from the aid stations. It has always been a source of frustration that people running either the half or full distance would get cut off going to aid stations by people that felt they needed water after running a few hundred yards. (Sad, but true). I don’t mean to offend anyone who ran or has run the relay as there are some serious runners who choose to do the relay, but you also have people who I think run once a year and consequently don’t pay attention to the runners around them.

I also saw high school friend Justin aka a coverboy model wearing a Cleveland Browns getup. I was kind of surprised by how I recognized him despite wearing a helmet and dreads. Sometimes, my brain actually works.

Mile 4: 8:59

Yeah, looking at that split, it even surprises me, I ran a sub 9 minute mile in the middle of this race??? I was really going by feel and apparently, some rest enabled my legs to function.

Mile 5: 9:07
It was around this time that I saw friend and new teammate Zac by Goodyear/Firestone/Brown Street. He took a few photos, and then I assumed he was going to a cyclo-cross race.

Mile 6: 8:55

Seriously, 2 sub 9 minute miles in this race?

Here is when the race started to divert from the excellent race I was having, to what ended up being a bad bad race.

Mile 7: 9:10

It is at this point that I started looking for a port-o-john. I was hoping that I could make just one bathroom break then be done for the day. Hahaha, silly Marie!  Well, I waited a little too long and the line was pretty long, but I didn’t have much of a choice, well, I could have started asking random people if I could use their bathroom in their house, but that didn’t seem right.

Mile 8.3 (sorry, I hit the lap thing): 14:21

Ouch, that hurt, it was then that I noticed my pace went from about a 9:10 pace to a 9:30ish pace. Yeah, that stinks.
It was at this point, I started having flash backs to the marathon in 2010 where I spent WAY too much time in the port-o-johns. Instead of the stop in the port-o-john alleviating problems, it seemed to develop them even further.

Mile 9.3: 9:42

I believe it was about this point that I started dry-heaving. I have experienced stomach issues more times than I care to admit, but I have never dry-heaved in a race. Apparently, peanut butter is a big NEVER NEVER AGAIN pre-race food.

Mile 10.3: 10:49, yeap, I had to start walking around this point.  Damn you stomach!

Now, mile 10ish is where the course diverted from the old half course. Instead of heading down to the towpath from basically the University of Akron, the course went over the Y-bridge again and the half turned around like we did at mile 2 while the marathon and relay continued on Broadway to go down to the towpath on another, just as steep, hill.

Mile 11.3: 11:17

Starting to get discouraged…

Mile 12.3: 12:12

Beyond discouraged.

Finally .9 (my watch was long) 9:18

Total time: 2:12:23

Post Race:

I ended not finding anyone I knew after the race in the post-race crowd so after finding someone willing to take my beer tickets, I made the way back to my car. I have to say that it’s the first time I have ever run half where my legs didn’t hurt because my stomach really hampered my ability to run well enough to make them sore.

As I made my way to my car, I ran into cycling Pam once again and talked to her for quite a while. I was starting to get really cold so I finally made my way to my car to grab my sweats and change out of my running clothes.

I then made my way back to the finish line waiting for Bill…and waiting for Bill and waiting for Bill. He ended up missing his goal by about 10 minutes.  My favorite thing about this race (besides it being free) is listening to Bill talk about how he is never going to do this race again but then getting the eventual text that he can't pass up the big discount early bird registration.  Ha!  He has already signed up for 2013!

Not my worst half marathon, but nowhere near my best.  It happens.