Back in March, I did my first real bike race (cyclocross is a different animal). Conditions were nearly perfect with temperatures holding in the 50s. It was a mix of pavement, gravel roads, and two-track, along with a thousand or so other racers.
I was pretty unsure of what to expect, so I started near the back of the pack and took the first fast section on the road fairly easy. When we turned onto the first sandy two-track portion, it was a fight to pick a clean line through the dirt and around riders who’d stopped. It was pretty crowded, and once one person in front of you stops, you have to stop and start running, because remounting on uphill tracks through deep sand doesn’t really work. Below, you can find me in the middle of the shot with my bike over my shoulder:
The pack began to thin out a bit once we got onto gravel roads, but the course itself was never flat. The hills were relentless. At the top of every hill I tried to make sure I was around other riders so we could draft and work to catch other riders on the faster sections of the course. This strategy seemed to work well for the majority of the back half of the race. I had warmed up pretty quickly and my legs had good sensations, so I methodically kept passing racers when I could, and trying to get up the steep dirt inclines with momentum.
For the majority of the race, the group of riders around me worked well together trading pulls, but as we dropped a few riders and were about to enter the last technical two-track section, people were very reluctant to stick their face in the wind.
Without knowing the exact layout of the course, I was a little lucky to be willing to take a pull just as we entered the technical section, and so I had a completely clean line in front of me to ride. I could jump back and forth over mud puddles to find the best line and never ran the risk of getting stuck behind a fallen rider and having to dismount. Several straining and difficult minutes/miles later, I exited onto the final paved section of the course and curiously noticed that of the 6 or 7 guys who didn’t want to take a pull on the gravel road leading up to the two-track, only one was still with me at the end.
There was one last climb and a few more miles of fast fast downhill back to the finish, and real road tactics came in to play. In a group of 5 of us, it was easy to see there was only one other guy taking strong pulls, and we did our best to drop the others and duke it out between us to the line. We’d passed a fair amount of other riders without the benefit of a draft on the last few miles before the finish, and I think my legs only got stronger as the race went on. I wish I hadn’t started off so slow, but I had a decent sprint to clear myself from the group and had a strong finish. And most importantly, HAD FUN. RACING BIKES IS FUN.
There was a small cross race in April at the Felt Mansion, so I figured I’d get a small workout in and see how I stacked up. The last cyclocross race I did, back in November of 2010, I finished 2nd to last, thanks in large part to a tumor growing in my lungs, so I was pretty optimistic I could improve on that result. The course had a couple technical single track sections where I lost much ground, but also a few wide open power sections, where I made up more ground. We hiked some barriers, hiked some stairs, and I tried not to fall over in the areas with loose sand.
The race was disappointingly short – the six laps only took about half an hour – but it was a good workout and a good test to keep the cyclocross skills sharp. I think I finished in 4th place or thereabouts. So much easier when you have fully functioning lungs.
Tulip Time 10k
I was feeling a little tired and bloated from a week of traveling for work and drinking beer the night before, so my expectations for the race weren’t so high, but I did think I had a chance of beating my PR of 45:45 I set two years ago. Back then, I was training a lot to get ready for a series of 4 triathlons in 3 days, so my mileage was pretty high and I was 10 pounds lighter. But last week, I had a nice run of an hour or so where I only stopped because I didn’t want to increase my mileage too fast – not because I was tired. Don’t you ever just wonder how far you can go?
Anyway, it was pretty comfortable running weather, and I took off at the front of the pack, and the weirdest thing happened – the leaders never got too far in front of me. The wind was at our back for the first leg of the run, and I clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest mile I’ve ever run, and without even sprinting. A few more miles ticked by and we headed into the wind on the backstretch, but my splits stayed comfortably under 7-minute miles. I was a little bewildered, but entirely overjoyed. I finished in 41:17 (6:40 min/mile), good enough for 10th overall and 1st in my age group. And the best part (aside from having two fully functioning lungs this year) was that I think maybe my legs have finally turned into endurance running and biking machines. A good run like that can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
I’m running the Riverbank 25k this Saturday, and even though I haven’t done a run longer than 8 miles all spring, I’m optimistic that I can beat my time from two years ago. That race two years ago is still what I consider to be the best race I’ve ever run, so I’m eager to see how my new legs will fare.