Several people have asked me how the first 'cross race of the year went. I think it's taken me until today to be able to put it in perspective -- I was pretty disappointed in my performance. But I have to be philosophical about it: it's just 'cross, it was just one race and I'm really out there for the workout more than anything.
First, some background: I started racing 'cross 2 years ago, my first time ever off-road. In an effort to cross-train and build strength for the following year, I combine 'cross racing with a running program -- usually between 2 and 3 hours a week (including some speedwork), sometimes more. At the same time, I'm also riding and starting plyometrics and weight training: usually, in October and November, I'm training anywhere from 8 to 14 hours a week, with about half of that on the bike. Last week was our annual National Sales Meeting at work, meaning several late nights followed by early mornings so I could get my running in. Oh, and no bike time.
However, I went into this race with high expectations -- top 5 for sure, hopefully a podium -- at worst top 7 and in the money. I felt good on my off-road ride on Saturday. I'm stronger than I was a year ago. This was a "home" course in Carpentersville -- I used to run cross-country in middle school here, and I broke up with my first girlfriend in the parking area adjacent to the start/finish line. I had my tire pressures all set, and I warmed up well. I was ready ...
Until I got shelled on Sunday. I never start very well, and by the first barriers (maybe 200 meters into the race), I was dead last. By the end of the first lap, I was off the back with one other guy. By the close of the second lap, he had dropped me. And there were still 14 laps to go.
I almost quit. In fact, I twice stopped to talk to family, to tell them that I was done. I told the officials I was done. But for one reason or another -- I'm still not sure why -- I decided to keep riding. I think I figured I would pull out at the start/finish, instead of halfway through the course. So, lap after lap, I kept going. It was very lonely for a very long time, and rather discouraging that the small crowd of spectators didn't cheer for me (I berated them at one point, a good indicator that I was very over-tired and not ready for this), and generally just not a good time. Eventually I got passed by the top three riders, was able to hold off fourth place for a while until even he passed me, and -- miracle of miracles! -- even passed one rider to not finish last!
I tried to practice my mounts and dismounts. I tried to stay positive. But with my wife and parents watching, I got a rude wake-up call that reminded me: I am not good at 'cross. I'm a rhythm rider, and if you set up a course with even terrain and even some small, stead climbs, watch out. But put too many barrier sections, or a field of rutted grass (as we had on Sunday), and I'm all over the bike, unable to lay down any power worth anything. My off-bike moves are big and cumbersome, and my on-bike handling leaves a lot to be desired. Watching good off-road riders (like Lou, the owner of the Pony Shop, a regular on our Wednesday morning single-track 'cross ride) is like watching water flow down a stream -- it's fluid, always changing, quick and smooth. I am not that rider. Watching me is more like watching refrigerated chocolate syrup pool at the bottom of a glass of milk.
So with that in mind, I'll line up again this Sunday and watch the pack ride away from me. It's discouraging, especially after such a strong road season, but all I can hope for is that I'm not dead last, and I'll try like hell not to get lapped too badly this time out. Cyclocross is a great workout, and that's what I'm there for ... I'm working on losing weight before the holidays hit, I'm running, I'm lifting -- oh, and I have no idea what to do if I'm not on pavement. But did I mention that it's a lot of fun? ;-)
Anyway, these are a couple of photos from Sunday, courtesy of my dad. 'Cross can be a lonely sport sometimes ...