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 , 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). BELL
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.