14 October 2005

So ... that happened

There's this great scene in "State and Main" where Alec Baldwin is driving crazy down Main Street, bounces off a curb, rolls his car, climbs out, and says -- deadpan -- "So ... that happened." That's sort of what I feel like after last Sunday.

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 ...


David Johnsen said...

Looks a little too clean for cyclocross! Shiny bike, recognizable team kit... where's the mud? Are all of your 'cross races like this, or are most messier? (I'm thinking of the difference between U.S. cross-country running and Euro cross-country and wondering if cyclocross has similar continental differences--I've seen Euro cyclocross photos so muddy that they make Paris-Roubaix look like a team presentation.)

Regarding your performance... Congrats for finishing when you wanted to quit. Don't sweat the off-season races; that's a sure way to overtrain/burn out (I know you know that). But maybe you shouldn't invite so many witnesses--I mean spectators--to those races!

Chris said...

I'm afraid the clean kit, bike, dust, etc. are more a function of the driest 6 months in Chicago history, not continental 'cross differences. I still have muddy nightmares about the Milwaukee Estabrook Park race from two years ago, and my bike still has the scars ...