Tuesday, November 15, 2011

MFG CX WOODLAND PARK GP

MFG CYCLOCROSS - Woodland Park GP
Race Report

I’ve been aware of the WP GP that MFG has been putting on for a couple years now, and it sounded like a ton of fun, but my schedule had never allowed me to make it. This year, I vowed that would change. Never mind the fact that it was my first CX race since last year’s epic (and epically fucked up) SSCXWC, my first (and last) cross race all year, and that I haven’t specifically trained for cross in a good while. Never mind; ‘cross is all about attitude and I had it going in.

Three things: I’ve stopped worrying about what I look like while I’m racing. This means I’m the crazy lady with mirrored sunglasses and purple tights. Whatever. Second: My pre- and post-race nutritional strategies have been fine-tuned over the years and involve Red Bull, donut holes, and beer. Third: Being unemployed really cuts into your training funds, since it takes a lot of food to train for cycling. So I’m on an edge here, literally and physically.

Anyway, the race. I had set up a Facebook event and invited roughly 100 of my friends, mostly so that I wouldn’t wake up that morning and go “aw, screw it, the weather’s bad and it’s far away and bed is warm.” I had skipped a party at the house I’m staying at the previous night, put in earplugs, and went to sleep around 10. Turned out to be a very good move. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to face some CYCLOCROSS (lack of training, you know, notwithstanding.)

My bike was clean but not tuned, and I had a few auto-shifting issues on the ride in and during my warmup, but it was too late to do anything about it, and I’m pretty sure it just needs a new cable anyway. So that was working against me. I rode out to the course (about 8 miles from where I’m staying) and did some quick hill sprints, power squats, and jumping jacks to stay warm. When the race before mine ended, I hopped on the course, hoping to have enough time to gently preview the course. I got it, but I ended up lining up at the back of the pack. Where I should have been anyway.

There are only 2 places to be in a cyclocross race, off the front, or off the back. If you’re neither, you’re caught up in the storm, bumping elbows and handlebars and hoping no one in front of you fucks up an element and piles up. Given my training and fitness, and the fact that this was my first race in over a year, I chose the latter, trying not to be DFL the entire time. I kind of succeeded…

Right off the start I hammered it and put about 10 girls behind me. The course narrowed and we got trapped up in some single track where people were just riding slow and stupid. I got plowed into from behind by some bitch on a mountain bike who half-assedly apologized. I know you’re not sorry, don’t say you are. Then by about half way through the first lap I was really fighting that urge to purge. That’s how you know you’re working hard enough in CX: You kind of think you might vomit, but you haven’t yet. I backed off so I could recover, and by the time the barriers came around I was feeling ok, but as I came into the barriers my chain dropped. Good timing anyway, since I had to get off to clear the barriers: hup, hup, up the hill, and then put the chain back on. A girl comes around me as I’m doing this - Squeaky Brakes. I tail her down the hill and around the corner but somehow she gets away.

Laps start ticking. I hear the announcer say that there are 23 minutes to go - about half way. I’m recovering from the “urge to purge” feeling but not super stoked about why I’m here in the first place. I always go through this during a cross race: the existential “why the fuck am i doing this, i should just quit, why am i here” questions. Fortunately I silenced that little voice as my strength came back and I passed a girl going up the hill toward the end of the lap. The Cat 3 Masters men started coming around to lap, and I slowed up so that I wouldn’t interfere with their race. Then the Cat 1-2 women started passing. I continued to just ride my own damn ride, not interfere with the races that I wasn’t in, and to keep working. Two to go. Dammit. I was hoping the lap card would say “1”. Maybe next time.

At one point another woman passed me with an “On your right!” and I got out of her way, assuming she was a cat 1-2 lapping me. Not the case - her number was a Cat 3 number. So I jumped on her wheel and followed her through the barrier section. Dropped my chain AGAIN. Third time’s the charm. Put the chain back on, chase back on, pass her. Put distance between self and her. Keep mashing.

Last lap, I was starting to settle back into a rhythm and was feeling good. This is the problem with cyclocross - you can’t warm up during the race, you’ll waste your race. I was finally warm and feeling good and there were less than 9 minutes left. I kept pushing it, keeping distance and growing distance between myself and the next girl, and +by the time I came back around to the finish line I had way too much gas left for the sprint. Even though I wasn’t sprinting against anyone.

2nd to last, not last. Phew. That was my goal: not last. And I was only 10 seconds off the next girl - but she was out of sight so I didn’t use her as a rabbit. Mistake. Oh well…

Lessons learned: The womens’ fields in the cyclocross scene here in the PNW is improving. Hard. When I first started this stuff back in ’07, there were only a handful of cat 1-2 women at a given race, maybe 5 or 6 at most. There were almost 20. There were 26 or 27 Cat 3 women and according to the results over 50 Cat 4 women that raced that day. That is AWESOME. I love seeing more and more girls coming out and enjoying playing in the mud. It also means that I need to step my game the fuck up. HTFU. Train harder. Train specific. Train more and train better. Also, get your shifter tuned before the race, and maybe a second chain guard so you don’t drop your chain 3 times every race.

There are always lessons learned.

Another lesson I learned: Always invite all your friends. Even though only a handful out of the hundred-something people I invited came, I still had at least 7 or 8 fans yelling my name and even more people who I didn’t know heckling me for my fantastic fashion choices. My friends enjoyed watching me suffer and get muddy, and I enjoyed racing for people that I knew. Win-win.

Note to my friends: Next year it’s on. More, faster, better, stronger. The best part of cyclocross is the way there is always room for improvement - there’s no such thing as a perfect race. There’s always an element you could have cleared better, been stronger on the run up, or the stairs, or not grabbed such a handful of brake going into those swoopy singletrack turns. Always room for improvement.

Can’t wait for next year!!! Thanks to all who came out and thanks for reading! If you haven’t ever been to a cyclocross race I strongly encourage it. You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Collegiate Nationals Race Report

BACKSTORY: I managed to qualify for Collegiate Road Nationals this year. This is a bit misleading, because just because I was eligible and qualified did not mean I was prepared. A nasty bout with the H1N1 this fall derailed all my training plans for the winter, and school and snowboarding interfered with my spring riding (as did the crap weather here in the Willamette Valley). So I qualified for Nationals as an A rider because I showed up to enough races (I finished 3 crits and 1 road race, DNFed one road race, and did a couple of TTTs). There simply aren't enough women racing at the A level in our conference to fill up the slots for nationals, so as long as you show up enough times, you're qualified.

Which doesn't make you prepared.

So, not being sure if this opportunity would ever replicate itself, and motivated by the fact that the ASUO senate was paying for our travel and lodging expenses, I decided to join six of my teammates on the trek to Madison to represent UO at Collegiate Road Nationals.

MORE BACKSTORY: The Sunday before we left for Madison, I crashed my bike doing something incredibly stupid, and my body (and less so, my bike) paid the price - a gnarly wound on my knee, bruises on my hips and groin, and a big old bruise on my chin. The knee injury was bad enough that I was limping around and unable to ride for the days prior to leaving. But tickets and race entry fees had been paid, travel was booked, and the ball was rolling. I wasn't going to sit out on my first Nationals ever just because I was slightly injured - eff that!

ON TO THE TRIP: We drove up from Eugene to Portland on Wednesday, flew from PDX to MKE via DEN, and rented vans in Milwaukee, then drove to Madison. Neat town, good weather (when we weren't racing), fun trip overall. But we weren't there on vacation, we were there to race bikes.

THURSDAY, MAY 6: Unpack bikes, put bikes back together, make sure everything is in order for a race the next day. The rest of the team goes on a nice spin together while I am trying to find an 8mm allen wrench for my pedals. I'm still unsure that I can even ride a bike, given the state of my knee (it's stiff and painful to bend; i'm worried about damage to tendons and bones; I haven't had it checked out by a medical professional and am just doing all I can to keep the wound clean and try to regain range of motion). I find an 8mm Allen wrench to replace my pedals (TSA took the one I had in my carry-on); I go outside and ride a few laps around the Capital. Knee is definitely stiff and hurts, but it seems to have enough range of motion to ride a bike, so I am determined to start the road race. I'm not sure I'll finish, but I'll at least start.

Big dinner the night before, lots of carbs (pizza, ice cream), and off to bed early, especially as the men have an 8AM start. Rachelle and I plan to sleep in and leave around 11 for our 1:30 start.

FRIDAY, MAY 7: THE ROAD RACE

Rachelle and I got up around 8:30 or 9 and had a delicious breakfast at the Marigold Kitchen - I wholeheartedly recommend it if you're ever in Madison. We loaded up our bikes and gear, plugged the race location into the GPS, and headed out to Blue Mound State Park. As we drove, the weather got worse - 43 degrees, intermittent rain, and a bit windy. Well, can't back out now!

We arrived at the State Park about an hour and a half before our race start. The men were still finishing - and part of the course was also the drive to the parking lot - so we were held up while racers finished, and then drove up the hill to the staging area at the same pace as the guys finishing. As we were paying for our parking fees at the park entrance, our teammate DK passed us, so we cheered - and he shot back with a summary of how many of the racers felt about the course and the conditions - "Fuck this."

All right! We were feeling pretty motivated at this point - 43 and rainy, windy, foggy, can't see a thing... this has to favor the Oregon riders, right? Well, maybe the Oregon riders who have trained and are prepared for the race. Not the Oregon riders who ignored training all winter, who show up with injuries and old bicycles that weigh a ton. But whatever - we're here. I start getting dressed and realize that it's a lot colder than I'd anticipated, and that - oh crap - I forgot my wool base layer. Not okay. That means I don't have a base layer - I have a jersey, a rain jacket that isn't race legal because it's opaque, and the clothes that I'm wearing. I ended up putting my cotton hoodie on underneath my jersey, and Galen gave me his see-through rain jacket, which I put on over the top. I wasn't planning on doing more than a lap or two, and so whenever the hoodie got too wet, I'd stop and take it off.

Except I never did. But more on that later.

Staging and call-ups were confusing, and there were a ton of other girls there looking much, much more Pro than I - Embrocated legs, matching helmets and bikes, defined calf muscles. Crap. Well, I never said I was prepared to race against these girls, so I don't give it much more thought than that. Call-ups are confusing, we get to the starting area, and then we are off on the neutral roll out.

The neutral roll out is down a huge hill (that will end up being the finishing climb). We descend, we turn left, and then we climb a little kicker before the lead car stops us. Then, suddenly, the race is on, and I'm yoyoing off the back immediately. Find a wheel! But it's sketchy, we're descending, half the girls have deep-dish carbon rims (not good at stopping in wet conditions), and I don't know any of these riders and I'm not exactly a trusting drafter. I much prefer to know the girl whose wheel I'm on, or at least to be able to tell that she's a good rider. In these conditions it is super-hard to tell. So I yoyo off the back, I chase back on, I work with other girls off the back and basically do the yoyo for a good while. I can see the leaders though, so I'm not popped. Then the flat tires start happening. A pop, hiss, and there's a girl moving backwards through the pack. Then another raises her hand. And another. Three flat tires in the first half-lap. I hang with the pack, yoyoing off the back, for the first half-lap, until there's a substantial climb and then suddenly I'm off the back with a few other girls. But not last, no, definitely not last.

And then we lost the pack. There wasn't much organization among the girls that got shelled - some more determined to catch back on, others not working so hard. I work with a girl from Marian for awhile, then we get caught by a girl from Navy and one from Lees-McRae who had both had flat tires. And we're starting the big climb at this point. It becomes obvious that the two girls who had flats are more fit than those of us who are just shelled, so we once again got shelled. And then it was just me and the girl from Arizona climbing at our own pace - a pace which matches pretty well. I know that we're not even done with the first lap, and that I definitely can't burn all the matches if I want to have a hope of climbing back up to the staging area. At this point I'm in Quitsville - deep in the shame cave (not even the pain cave) hating myself and the weather and my bike and everything else. Fortunately Erin from Arizona is in a much better mood, saying she is glad to just be there, and is determined to finish the race.

Finish? I'm not sure I'm going to do that. But we match each other in climbing speeds pretty well and work together on the flats, and we've finished a lap - only 3 more to go! I see some people I know in the feed zone and decide that on the next lap, I'll stop and ditch my hoodie with one of them. I got hot and took off the rain jacket, so the hoodie is just absorbing water at this point, but it's not making me cold, I'm keeping myself pretty warm. So I keep it on through the feed zone the first time.

And then we start the second lap. Descents, turns, climbs... it really is a gorgeous course. Hecka hard climbs - including a short little one that's 14% - but I'm holding together. I eat some food, drink some water, get passed by a few more girls who were either stragglers or had mechanicals.

So we're off the back, riding our own ride, and honestly not working terribly hard. I know that I don't have a bunch more matches to burn, and I'm just glad that I have a cheerful, motivated ride partner - "I'm going to finish this race" turns into "I really want to finish this race, but if you quit I'm not going to be able to do it" and I'm suddenly motivated to finish. However long it takes.

My knee, surprisingly, was just a little stiff at the beginning and then ceased to hurt at all throughout the race. The biggest issue was after coasting a descent, getting it back into the groove of moving, but after a few pedal strokes it was fine. No pain, very little discomfort - I can't believe my luck.

We finish the second lap - getting passed by the D2 women on the brutal climb to the feed zone to the lap counter that says "2" and I can't find anyone I know, and I don't feel like stopping anyway, so I keep the hoodie on. I'm glad I have it on the descents, anyway... never mind the fact that it's probably absorbed 2 lbs of water at this point. Halfway done. Well, if I was going to quit, I would have done it on the first lap, and we're at the top of a descent right now anyway, so might as well do another lap.

It's on the third lap that the little 14% kicker really starts to hurt. We get caught and then passed by a D2 woman who was dropped on that hill, and we trade some good-natured obscenities about the hill and the course and the conditions. We get passed by a few big rigs on one section of road, which is a bit scary with the cross-winds, but not a huge deal. A few more climbs, a few more twisting descents and turns, and a lot of encouragement from corner marshals, and we're back on the stupid climb to the stupid feed zone to the stupid lap counter that is going to say "1" when we come by. Except there are suddenly motorcycles and cars passing us very slowly, and as we get to the top of the hill, the lap counter says "0" - I'm about to be lapped by the leaders of my own race. On a 15-mile circuit. That's just... well, that WOULD BE just pathetic, but fortunately it doesn't happen, as the guys at the lap board point at me and shout, "YOU have one lap to go!" And I joke back, "What, can't I go that way? To the finish?" And they reply, "Sure, on the next lap!" And my ride partner, Erin, has dropped the heck out of me (remember, I'm riding a 25 lb bike, and have at least 2lb of water in my hoodie at this point, so I'm a bit slower than she is on her 18lb bike with her APPROPRIATE CYCLING CLOTHING), but I came all this way, and it's just 15 more miles, so fuck if I'm going to quit now. So I turn back on to the descent, tuck in and spend the next few miles descending and trying to chase back on so I can ride with Erin.

It's a good distance before I can see her off ahead, and once I see her it still takes me a good while to catch back up. But then she's within shouting distance and she's looking behind her, so I yell "Hey, here I am" and she slows down and we start riding together again. And it's the last lap, there's no one behind us except a broom wagon, driving very slowly just out of sight behind us. I think the weather was a bit better on this last lap - less rain and wind - but that 14% hill still kills, and by the time we get to the start of the huge climb, I'm taking the whole road, zig-zagging all across the road. Erin thinks she's bonking until she looks down and realizes she's in her big ring. I'm pretty sure I'm hallucinating - the colors are quite vivid and I see patterns in the gravel by the side of the road, and there's definitely orange and pink and green tendrils in the sky. But I'm still upright, and I'm still climbing, I'm still riding my bike. No point quitting now, can't quit now, have to get back up the hill to the van anyway, and walking is stupid, so just ride. And so I slowly make my way, losing contact with Erin, zig zagging up the hill as slowly as my legs will turn over, but somehow without losing momentum and falling over. My legs are screaming, my arms are aching, my brain is repeating the phrase "last hill, last hill, last hill" and I pass the now deserted feed zone and the lap counter which still says "0" and the marshals usher me on to the final climb. And I hear that this part sucks, but I haven't ridden it yet so I have no idea how much agony is yet in store in the final mile of this bike ride. (I've long accepted that it's not a race at this point. I'm just riding my ride.)

A short descent, a right turn onto the road into the park, and a gentle climb. Nothing that should really be too much of a problem, but after the 4 laps I've already done, I'm close to my limit. It's a gentle hill. Not a bad hill. But I'm still saying "last hill last hill last hill" to myself (interspersed by "ow ow legs ow ow legs" and some more phrases with more obscenities) and as I come upon a group of spectators in ponchos and umbrellas and possibly unconsciously let out a series of grunts and groans. The spectators turn around and start encouraging me - "come on, you can do it!" "I'm not sure I can!" "Oh, come on, if us little old ladies can walk up this hill, you can ride it." Back and forth, as it's not my lungs that are holding me back - it's trying to turn over my legs over and over and over again as I keep fighting gravity, praying that the Bicycle Gods will magically turn my 23 tooth cog into a 25, and then it levels out and there are more people cheering, and I'm in the finishing chute. No one behind me that I'm aware of - I am pretty certain I have locked up the DFL Finisher place here and as the announcer says, "Now THAT is the HEART OF A DUCK" I take both hands off the bars, extend my arms and hold my head up high in a victory salute because I JUST FINISHED THE FUCKING RACE IN DEAD LAST. HA. TAKE THAT, LEGS. I gasp for air, ride further and further and find the van, and collapse in a pile of sobs and gasps.

I have climbed halfway up Mount Rainier and I've ridden 90-100 miles in a day before. But that 60 miles that I just did feels like THE HARDEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE. But I finished. I'm not at all sure how I did it, or even why - but I did.

I get in the van quickly to stave off hypothermia, towel off, put on dry clothes, and we're outta there. That evening: results posted show that I got 2nd to DFL to the Navy girl, guess she had more mechanicals but managed to tough it out for a 5+ hour finishing time, more than 45 minutes behind me. But I'm 2nd to DFL, not DFL... that's like winning. Then we eat LOTS of food, a little beer, more ice cream. Galen bought me a six-pack of Bitter Woman IPA - funny, for the girl who just finished 2nd to DFL. Soak in the hot tub and get some sleep, because tomorrow is the crit!

SATURDAY, MAY 8: I kit up for the crit, and get on my bike to warm up, but my knee painfully refuses to bend far enough to pedal. Fine, knee, you win. I un-kit, put on a warm jacket, and watch both the D1 womens and mens races. Got some good pictures, caught finish-line salutes in blurry photographs for both races, cheered on teammates and had fun watching. Stupid knee!

Saturday night: The banquet involves some good food, John Burke talking a bit too much about why Trek makes awesome bicycles, and watching trike races. The Monona Terrace place where the banquet is is a pretty neat building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We eat our food, watch some awards, and then leave early. Discover that you can't buy beer or wine after 9pm in Wisconsin (that's a dumb law.) Go to the bar and meet up with other NWCCC riders, have several beers, Jaeger bombs, and possibly whiskey. Good times.

SUNDAY, MAY 9: We don't do the TTT. Everyone else goes for a ride; I wander around Madison and spend way too much money in cute stores. Eat a delicious burger for lunch, walk around on my crap knee way too much. The sun came out, and the weather is in the 60's and gorgeous. I can't bear to be inside, so I spend all day wandering around Madison. Again - fun town. Spend Sunday evening in a coffee shop plugged into the Internet, getting some work done.

MONDAY, MAY 10: More coffee, more wandering around Madison, eating good food and looking at bike parts and clothes. Trying to not spend any more money. Eventually it's time to pack up and leave for Milwaukee; drive back to the airport, fill up the vans, check our bags, get on the plane. Change planes in Denver. Arrive in PDX way too late; drive back down to EUG. Finally home around 2:00 AM on Tuesday morning... whew, what a trip.

BOTTOM LINE: I WENT TO NATIONALS! I even finished the road race. My knee wouldn't let me start the crit, but I had fun anyway. Madison is a neat town and I fully intend to be back next year. Eligible and qualified, and perhaps even prepared next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hipsters discussing "cyclo cross racing"

Ha! Too funny. Thanks to Kori for posting this to Facebook.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

a new direction:

The past few weeks, sick with the flu, I've been provided with hours of entertainment by the one and only Lady Gaga. Her new video, Bad Romance, dropped last Tuesday and within 24 hours of its release I had watched it at least 12 if not 20 times. And it seems like nearly every day, or every couple of days, there's something new - a new interview, or a new song from the upcoming Fame Monster. And every single I hear is awesome, and every thing I hear her say is brilliant. She really is the new Bowie, in a completely original way. Everything I want in a pop artist and more.

But i isn't just that Lady Gaga has been killing it lately, or that I have exhausted myself and run my immune system down to the very wire. There's change in the air right now, and new ideas and thoughts are going to be very necessary to survive and thrive in the changing world. Lady Gaga has it made because everything she conceives can be made reality, because of her team and her media placement. But she worked hard for several years before she found that place. What is it that I have to share with the world, that I've been working for several years on and am ready to share? (Besides bike racing, or science?) Well... there are all those sketches and paintings and random creations that have accumulated over the years.

And the million dollar question that an item in my google reader posed:

Is it art if you don't share it?

And the correct answer is that no, it is not art if it is not shared, because the very reason for creating art is for it to be shared and to create a different feeling in other people. In order to become Art, a sketch or a painting or a sculpture must be brought out into the eyes of others, outside the protective embrace of its creator.

And with that I am proud to announce the launch of my new art blog. I'll be posting some old stuff and some new stuff, a little at first, and hope that it resonates. It's all very personal, of course, but what art isn't?

We'll be back to the usual bike racing on this channel soon enough. I just have to get this flu out of my system and I'll be back in action.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

right brain update

long radio silence. been busy; been sick. 'cross season has been going well; that is, it *was* going well until i succumbed to ye olde swine flu. i've spent the last week mostly in bed. the worst part is the brain fog... even when i'm not on nyquil my brain is moving at about 1/25 normal speed.

i finished my NSF grant on time, fortunately before i got sick. i even turned it in a few days early. it feels very good to be done with that deadline... though the next deadline, the comprehensive exam, is imminent (contingent upon me recovering from this flu). i have a topic and i think i understand it pretty well, but i still need to pick which testable hypotheses i am going to propose experiments for. it's interesting, since there are so many unanswered questions in biology, it's like low-hanging fruit. which one of these will i test. and since it's a proposal exam, i don't have to have any intention of actually *doing * those experiments (in fact i shouldn't). so i can suggest expensive, or time-consuming, or radically new procedures, as long as i can defend why i picked them and what they would show. and so it goes.

a large part of what i wrote about in my nsf personal statement essay was how my... *ahem*... "unique" background has prepared me for studying and communicating science. i chose to draw (no pun intended?) from my background as a visual artist/designer - although not a very experienced or good one, since i tend to be way too self-critical to be good - to visualize and communicate science. and i've been doodling today with my new wacom bamboo. it's a really fun toy - opens up completely new frontiers. so far nothing i've produced has really been scientific at all, but i am having fun playing with my own perception of visual objects. the little picture at the top of this post is one of the things i've spat out - this one probably took 10 minutes tops. i'm not sure if she's princess leia, or if she's got huge ears, or even if she's human, but i kind of liked her and felt like i could maybe let the world see her too.

it's almost like the virus has shut down the left hemisphere of my brain. my right brain seems to be functioning just fine - or maybe even better than usual. without that annoying left brain timekeeper ruler metric voice i can just produce things that resonate with how i feel. hopefully later on this will translate to me being able to communicate the ideas i am nurturing that have to do with development and neural circuits.

i also expect there to be bicycles in the near future. a future without bicycles is grim indeed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cross season begins! CC #2 race report

This past weekend was my first 'cross race of the season (finally!) I was a little late to the game because first, I was tired from road season and wanted time off, second, my 'cross bike was in pathetic shape, and third, I caught a little virus that ended up keeping me down for awhile.

The time off was great, but it couldn't last forever, because I get antsy. I finally got my Surly back in some sort of racing shape, and I'm mostly recovered from the virus, so this Sunday I headed up with my friend Jon to the Cross Crusade race at Rainier High School. I have to say, RHS is a damn near ideal 'cross venue. One complaint: It's a high school, so there's no alcohol on campus (and the whole venue is on-campus). No beer garden, no pre-race whiskey nip, no post-race pint of homebrew. Oh well - it was perfect in every other way... and it is, after all, a high schoool. I can respect that.

The weather was partly cloudy and kind of chilly, but the sun poked through in the afternoon before my race, and the course was bone-dry (and thus dusty). I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course, but I did tool around campus and checked out most of the course from the sidelines. The crux of the course was the long climb - since the campus is built into the side of a hill, there was a lot of climbing, and most of it all in one section. More on that later.

My race didn't start until 2, and we had arrived around 11:30 or so, so I had plenty of time to warm up. The ride from the car to registration/start/portopotties was downhill, which meant it was a climb to get back. So just riding around I got a pretty decent warm up. But I had brought my fancy new impulse-buy trainer (a pink kinetic road machine, from biketiresdirect - great deal AND super-fast FREE shipping!) so darned if I wasn't going to use it! After the singlespeed men's race started (which my friend/carpool buddy Jon was racing in) I went back to the car and set up the trainer, plugged in my iPod for a good 30 minute session - easy, then some harder intervals. Around 1:30 I popped the trainer back in the trunk and rode down to the course.

I was feeling surprisingly good after my warmup, and also surprisingly, given it was my first race of the season and my first race as a cat B, not terribly nervous, at least until well after callups as we were all corralled in the start chute. I lucked out on the callups - they do it randomly, based on the last digit of your number (after they call up the series leaders). My number is 172, and they called the 2's maybe 4th out of all the digits. So I was in maybe the fourth row for the start. The start was tricky, too, because the start chute was pretty much all gravel. We were fortunately staged on the grass, which made it easier to get started, since gravel is much kinder when you have momentum. So that was good. The Masters women had to start in the gravel, which I really don't envy them for.

The Masters A women went off first, with a 30 second gap before our start. Then we went off - all 54 or so women in the B field. I had practiced starts the week before, so I felt pretty good about mine: push, shift, push push shift, keep clicking into higher gears as high as you can go, picking off as many people as possible before the course bottlenecks. After about 30 yards of flat gravel, we turned onto the course just above the GRAVEL HILL OF DOOM, and started the paved part of the climb. I passed some women in the start, but I also got passed by a few. I think was in the top 15 or so by the top of the climb, where the course took a left hand turn off the pavement and onto a running trail. It was flat, and straight, and fast. A tricky turn with a big gnarly root in the middle of the trail, then another section of straight trail, with a slight downhill. Another left hand turn onto a section of LONG, FAAAAAST descent. Some bumpy roots in that section, but not too bad. At the bottom of the descent was an off-camber left, into a section with a lot of off-camber turns and a loop around a tree. Another turn, more descent, into a really rocky bumpy section at the bottom. Short rocky kick, gravel trail section, and the first pit entrance. It was at this point that I blew past LK, last week's winner and all-around monster (in a good/fast way). She was clearly having bike issues and was trying to get to the pit. that sucks: you win some, you lose some. Anyway. Around a practice field, a set of double barriers - hey, look, I've been practicing my dismounts and remounts! My barrier hops, not so much. That's still hard. Single track through the wooods, a couple of short kicker hills. Back out onto the grass, a really bumpy grassy off-camber section. More turns, a fast off-camber descent, then a blind corner into a barrier before a run-up. This dismount killed me on most of the laps: if you didn't get off before the uphill started you lost time. Pushed my bike up that hill every time, instead of shouldering it, because I ride 28 lbs of surly 4130 cromo, what's your excuse? Remount at the top of the hill and fly down another fun steep descent, a couple more turns on off-camber grass, past the pit again, then onto the gravel. This is where you know it's coming: THE HILL. OF DEATH.

You can see all the riders in front of you struggling up the hill. It makes you want to slow down, so you don't get caught behind them. But you know it's better to build momentum before the climb, then shift down just as you hit the incline. There are only two tracks through this brutal climb, because it is doubletrack gravel road. And it is steep - probably 18%. The rocks are not your friend. Neither is the dust. It's alright on the first lap since the only people in front of you are the faster girls, but on the subsequent laps there are slow beginners and juniors slogging up the hill, complicating things. I think I only cleaned this hill once out of four laps - I had to unclip at the top on two laps, and actually was forced to dismount on the third.

After you cleared the top of that GRAVEL HILL OF DOOM, though, you weren't done, because you had just come to the point where the start chute meets the rest of the course. The climb leveled out a little when the pavement started but was still very much up hill until the finish line. Then, past the finish, it kept going up. Up and up and up, until the flat fast part, and then the descent. Off-camber turns, u-turns around trees, flying past teams warming up by the bottom of the descent. Bumps. Rocks. Barriers and dust. And on every lap, as much as you didn't want it to come, before you knew it you were back at the HILL OF DEATH. Grinding up that stupid unpaved ridiculous brutal climb. As I finished the third lap, and heard the bell, the woman next to me gasped, "i don't think I have another one in me!" Like i felt any better. Seriously, after that hill, my eyes were blurred, I was breathing like an asthmatic emphesymic whale. And I was fully focused on not throwing up. But there was just one more lap. So you have to crank it out, even if you don't think you have it in you. (Turns out she was lying: i know, I saw her finish.)

Push as hard as you can - without puking or passing out - on that climb. Take the descent a little hot. Clean those turns at the bottom - blowing past that beginner rider who's clearly unsure of this part. Show her how it's done, just like they showed you last year and the year before. Push through the bumpy section and dismount cleanly for those barriers because it takes less energy to do it right. Don't cry as the lactate builds in your muscles as you crush the little kickers in the woods. Just keep going, pass that girl in front of you, but don't knock over the junior in your way. Go go go - you've done all this three times before. Totally botch the dismount before the runup, because you forget to get off in time. But run - RUN - that run up, and don't even slow down as you jump back on for that screamin' descent. Doesn't matter if you're not clipped in until you get to the bottom. Clear those corners, don't worry about cutting off that girl (she's a beginner; she needs to learn) in the u-turn by the pit. This will be the LAST TIME you have to climb that HILL. OF. DEATH.

Build up momentum on the flat. Go go go. Hill starts. Downshift. Stand up. Push. Weight over the back tire prevents slippage but you need to stand up for leverage, and to keep your front wheel from popping up. People in front of you hate this hill too; they're just as tired as you; use that to your advantage. See up there, not too far ahead? That's Tori, who's been your rabbit slash battle buddy this whole race. She is really cooked. You can catch her! Bump up onto the pavement and upshift a gear - this is the climactic sprint finish. Push it until you're tire and tire with Tori. She accelerates. You accelerate. She gains an inch. You stand up and MASH. Tori yells a profanity (you'd do the same!) as you take the sprint - the "sprint" - for 13th place. Yeeah!

Downshift all the way. Soft pedal another ten yards. Get off the course, come to a stop, and start hacking up all that dust that's gathered in your lungs. That hacking noise? It means you gave it what you had. Your pulmonary cilia will take care of the dust.

Chug something sugary if your road trip buddy is as awesome as mine and hands you Powerade when he finds you at the finish. Collapse briefly onto the grass. Try as hard as you can not to vomit. Complain loudly about how much you hated that course - pure sweet hell. Commiserate with everyone else at the finish line - wow, that hill was BRUTAL! Wasn't that horrible? That was no fun at all!

For some reason we all maintain this spirit at the end of a race: wow, we hated that, that was horrible. But we all know that we're all lying: in the middle of all that pain, that suffering, that flavor of bile and stomach acid in your throat and the juicy wheezy rumble in your lungs, is the most fun you have ever had in your life, on or off the bike. Pure, sweet, unadulterated hell. Until you try it, you probably can't understand; try it once, though, and you're hooked for life.

Yeah, I think that was a pretty good first race for the season. Great course, awesome weather, very respectable competitors. I'm looking forward to next week, which is supposed to be a similar course, except it's not at a high school which means BEER. Which is correct and appropriate for cyclocross. AND, I found out on Sunday that if I just jump through a few red tape hoops, I can qualify for the Collegiate National Championship race this December in Bend. Holy crap yes please! My first nationals - way sooner than I'd expected! My friend and teammate Sonja will be there too - we have just about exactly two months to prepare. Cross Nats, here we come. But in the meantime, Cross Crusade, here I am. I've missed you!

My name is Kat Reinhart, and I'm a cyclocross addict.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Balance nutrition bars

Confession: I LOVE energy bars. Clif bars make up an embarassing proportion of my diet. I've tried most of the bars on the market - especially the ones under $1.50 each - and Clif remains consistently my favorite. But they were $1.19 (good, but not awesome) at the market today, and another bar caught my eye at the same price: Balance nurition.

I glanced at the ingredients and nutrition info, and found it to be inoffensive enough to buy: 210 calories, 15 g protein, no HFCS or hydrogenated oils. Okay.

Bought a couple, brought them home. Am now eating one. It's hard and chewy, like many of the high-protein bars on the market, and claims to be "caramel nut blast" flavor. Meh. The caramel is inoffensive enough, but for the texture of the bar, I would expect it to have more than 15 g of protein (out of a 50g bar). Chewy. Not really tasty. Meh.

Think I'll go back to Clif bars.