21 October 2012

DCCX Race Report - First Cyclocross Race EVER!

The verdict:  Cyclocross is freaking fantastic.  It's an adrenaline rush fueled by short steep hills, tight turns, attempts at all-out sprinting, and the absence of any rules.  It's like a combination obstacle course/cross-country race/roller derby/sprint on two wheels and while you're doing it, you basically feel like a total rockstar because there's just something awesome about riding through mud and surviving near collisions that bring out that rockstar feeling.

Post-race and still in one piece.  Win.
This weekend's DCCX is one of the biggest cyclocross races in the area.  Yesterday I went to a cyclocross clinic on the course that was given by Arley Kemmerer, one of the elite riders.  Since I knew ZERO about the sport, I found just about everything covered in this clinic to be helpful.  She talked about the mechanics of dismounting and remounting the bike without coming to a complete halt (the flying mount looks pretty neat and is actually much easier than I thought it would be  - though gosh it is painful if you land a little too hard back on the bike).  I also think this skill will be helpful in triathlon and making my transitions faster.  We previewed parts of the course and got advice on the best lines to take and how to make it around some of the corners without crashing.  Some parts of the course were a little sketchy in such a big group, and Karen reassured me that it would be less of a hot mess on race day because everyone would be more spread out.  I borrowed Karen't mountain bike for the clinic and by the end decided that I was going to use her bike for the race the next day too - I had previewed the course with it and felt more confident using the gigantic mountain bike tires than the skinnier cyclocross bike tires.

Race morning arrived and I was SO EXCITED - it's not terribly often you get to do your first race in a new-to-you sport.  This was going to be just for fun, no pressure.  Added bonus was that the race only lasts 35 minutes rather than multiple hours - you can survive anything for 35 minutes.  I arrived at the race site and working on the flying mount (a little harder since I decided to raise the seat up a little more, but still doable).  My race was at 9am so the nerves didn't have too much time to set in.  We watched the men's Cat 4 race go first.  I don't know if this was a good idea or a bad idea - there were a fair number of crashes (nothing serious) on this one section that had alot of tight turns on a hill.  Karen's husband John had a great race, it looked like a difficult field to navigate.

I lined up for my start a little late, putting me in the very back of the Cat 4 staging (cyclocross has you race according to categories, I still don't fully understand all the differences between categories, but I do know that Cat 4 is beginners).  I wasn't the only one with a mountain bike, but the majority of the girls had cross bikes with mountain bike pedals and shoes, while I was rocking out the running shoes and platform pedals.  I had a few moments of crap, I hope this was a good decision before they sent us off, mainly nerves about the start since I've never been in a mass, close-quarters bike start.  To me, that seemed more intimidating than the Ironman mass swim start because at least you can't fall off anything when you are swimming.

They send us off and down the road we go.  I'm probably dead last in the beginning, but managed to pass a few people when we hit the grass.  This first section on the grass had a few small rollers and flats before we hit a downhill with a turn at the bottom.  I had caught a few more girls at this point and then concentrated on getting to the top of the next hill and around the 180 degree turn on a tricky downhill without falling.  This was the part of the course I was most concerned with, as I had trouble with it during the preview the previous day.  I made it through unscathed (on all my laps - and my proudest moment of the whole race was when I managed to pass a girl on the inside on that section and make it down the hill without skidding into a fence).  We had a flat section with one sharp turn before hitting the stairs.  The dismount went fine and I made it up the stairs (this is when having a run background seemed to come in handy).  The flying mount went OK (i.e. I didn't fall on my face) and I passed a few girls on the next uphill section after a steep downhill with a hairpin turn.  Next were some more flats and some pavement before hitting the grass and more hills.  I caught a few more girls at this point - had no idea where I was in the race at this point, but my main focus was on putting distance between me and any girls I passed and trying to bridge the gap to the girls in front of me.  As my friend John said afterwards, when we were discussing the race, even if you are nowhere near the top of the field, you still work like hell to hold your place, even if it's something like 35th place in a field of 40.  Doesn't matter.  It is a race.  Anyway, after this hilly section, we hit some flats and I tried to be as speedy as possible since there wasn't anything technical to deal with.  The mountain bike tires gave me an extra dose of confidence because it would take alot to make those tires skid out so I think I was being a little more aggressive than I would've otherwise been.  I had my fingers crossed I wouldn't accidentally destroy Karen's bike because I was feeling so bulletproof (apparently I didn't really need to worry, mountain bikes are pretty indestructible).

It was around this section of the course (about halfway through - so I'd been riding for maybe 5 minutes) that I started thinking for the LOVE of EVERYTHING - PLEASE do not make me do more than three laps.  I'm only halfway through lap one and I feel like I'm on the verge of blowing up.  Give me Ironman, a multi-hour race at an endurance pace and I won't complain - but holy cow it was hard to wrap my mind around doing 3+ laps at this pace, even if it was going to last less than 40 minutes.  I tried not to think about it, just focus on the here and now.  I know that this race was just for fun and I wasn't expecting to podium and I wasn't racing for prizes, just the experience - but I still wanted to do as well as possible and that meant passing as many girls as I could.

After hitting another section of pavement, we came up to what was probably the most technical part of the course.  It had some uphill and downhill, then a dismount to go over barriers, and then this section of about 5 almost 180 degree turns on uphills and downhills.  I made it over the barriers and got back on my bike successfully, though I was boxed in with a pack of girls and that was a concern with the tricky hill section immediately coming up.  At the bottom of the first hill I had to hop off my bike and run the rest of it because girls around me were crashing and I lost momentum and this was the fastest way to go.  Karen and John and Mike and Emily were cheering me on in this section, and apparently smiling in cyclocross is NOT allowed, according to the feedback I was getting via Karen and John, ha! And by the last couple laps, I wasn't smiling anymore :)

We had another short section on pavement before hitting the grass and the hills again.  We had another set of barriers to jump over and then we continued on with the second loop.  The rest of the loops were much more of the same.  During the second loop is when I started to feel more settled in, I had a good pace going and doing 3-4 laps actually sounded feasible and fun.  While I was mostly riding solo, as the field had spread out alot, I was still picking off girls here and there who had started really fast but then slowed down.  I felt more confident on all the technical sections and obstacles with each lap.  When I started, I figured I would only be doing three laps (depending on where you are in the field in relation to the leaders, you might do one less lap if you are behind), but at the end of my third lap, the countdown was showing one more lap - and contrary to how I was feeling halfway through my first loop, I was super happy to have the chance to do four as it meant I was doing OK.  I tried to push the pace on the last lap but my legs were feeling the burn.  The flying mounts were no flying high - it was more pause, straddle bike, put shoes on pedals and then go, sans momentum.  I also made a little error on one of my dismounts to get over the barrier, accidentally squeezing my front brake as I got ready to pick the bike up, and causing the bike to come to a sudden halt and fling itself across the ground.  Awesome.  Fortunately I wasn't still on it, that would've been messy.  I made it up and down the hills and across the finish line unscathed - success!

Men's Cat4 race on the technical section
They posted the results shortly after the race finished and I came in 8th out of a field of 30 women in Cat 4.  I'm really happy with everything - this was a super fun race and I am eyeing at least one more cyclocross race for this season.  I spent another six hours at the race site - it was a giant, laid-back party and there was always a race to watch.  There were guys older than my parents tearing up the course on their single speed bikes and little kids (like 3 year olds) carrying their bikes over barriers and bombing down hills on the 'Lil Belgians kid's course.  The whole day brought back memories of high school cross country meets - crisp fall weather, colorful leaves, the constant stream of races, people cheering and hanging out drinking beer (not that there was beer drinking going on at high school races).  It was SO neat to watch Karen and Emily race - they were hauling around the course and made the technical sections look alot easier than they felt when I rode them.  It was an all-around fantastic experience.  A huge thanks to Karen, John, Mike, and Emily for all their cheering and for Mike being the action photographer.  I feel like I discovered this subculture where 9-5 buttondown professionals go rogue on the weekends, taking out any pent-up aggression from the workweek by issuing the ultimate throwdown on the bike course while simultaneously grabbing beers from spectators and downing them before powering up the next hill.  It is all kinds of awesome.    


Calli said...

That sounds amazing! I'm so happy you gave it a try. Is there anything you can't do? :)

Kathy said...

Excellent! Great job. Nice report. Stay away from Karen and John if you decide to go bike shopping. Their powers of persuasion are legendary.

Unknown said...

Great report and great result! glad you had so much fun. Hope you make it back next year and bring some more women with you!-marc

Em said...

Way to rock your first (of hopefully many!) CX race! And thanks for sticking around for cheering and shenanigans :-)