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.