“What goes through your mind at that point? Like what made you decide to keep going and not just quit?” My cousin posed the question to me when I was retelling my experience at Nationals. I didn’t have a good answer for her and told her so, I wasn’t sure what exactly was going through my mind when I took off running.
It’s now been almost 3 weeks since Nationals, my cuts have scabbed over but the cough I picked up on the flight is still lingering. I feel like I’m still processing the races but that’s mostly because unlike last year I didn’t have to jump immediately from finals to racing to finalizing a PhD application. This year I just raced–I pulled the plug on PhD applications about 4 weeks ago when I couldn’t get the appetite to actually submit them. But as a result I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my preparation, travel, and expectations that went into Nationals. With being in Alaska and the racing season so short its been in the back of my mind that it would be mostly a development year, and racing Nationals for fun and to stay somewhat relevant. For going into a race weekend with little expectations I’m left feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t expect more out of myself but like my dad said I probably learned a lot, per usual, he’s not wrong.
Let’s start with Baby Masters. I got in the day before but arrived at the venue a bit too late to to get my bike built up and on the course. Instead I opted to spin on the trainer, which meant going into the race blind. I knew from talking and studying the course map a general idea but without riding it really wasn’t sure what to expect.
The morning of the race I warmed up and made my way to the starting grid. None of my races in Alaska counted towards points for National seeding so expected to be called up last. I was pleasantly surprised that my points from last year’s nationals counted for this year so was not starting dead last and instead found myself in the second row, slotted behind a friend from Colorado. The light switched to green and we took off, I followed my friend’s wheel down the straight away and as we turned on dirt anticipated the run-up and hesitated before realizing there was still another 200 yards of pedaling before we’d have to dismount. The hesitation allowed a few women to move by and by the run-up I was in a pack, I dismounted and ran up as quickly as I could (which was not very fast).
I quickly remounted at the top and followed another wheel down a path before turning 180 and another 180 into a muddy descent. I followed a wheel down the descent but my front wheel got sucked into some mud and I tumbled off my bike. The pace was moving so quickly that I hadn’t even registered what had happened until I was back mounting my bike on the downhill and hoping not to crash again.
The course went around to the first pits and up and over a fly-over before hitting the second run-up. I dismounted and ran up (really more power-hiked). I got to the top and re-mounted and followed the false flat into a few switch backs before descending down, looping through some trees and getting sent down a muddy shoot back into the flats and by Pit 2. Then it was into the sand pit, which I bobbled and had to get off after 4-5 pedal strokes but I didn’t get off quickly, it was like let me unclip, straddle the top-tube, and then pull my leg over, really one of my worst dismounts of the year. I dashed through the sand and then re-mounted to try and stick on the two wheels in front of me. The last section of the course looped back through the woods before hitting the straight away.
After the first lap the field had spread out a bit and I was sitting in with two other ladies as we started the second lap. Having then previewed the course I knew what lines I wanted to take and I took them, no longer having the traffic of the first lap. I was able to stay upright on the descent and at Pit 2, Sully called out he thought I was in 10th. 9th remained in my sights and I tightened up my lines, getting off before the sand pit to run it.
Lap 3 the gap remained the same between myself and the women ahead of me. My bike was making a bit of a noise, and I thought of switching it out, really for no other reason than there was a noise and I had a bike so why not. I waited until Pit 2 and then signaled. I hadn’t done a bike switch since last year and came in hot. I was so nervous for the bike toss and at the last minute another racer’s mechanic popped into the field so I threw my bike to him and got the hand off from Sully. For not doing it in a year it went very smooth. I hopped on the bike, since it was Sully’s the fit was a bit different and the shifting was also a different mechanism. It took me a while to realize that I had two chainrings in the front and shifted down to the easier one. The saddle was a little lower than I was used to (even though I had ridden it around and adjusted it). On the last lap, I switched the bike out in Pit 1 and switched back for my bike. At this point the woman in front of me had put in a little more time, and I was trying to reel her back in before I ran out of course. I chased her up the second run-up and around the top section of the course, before dropping back into the flat section, by the pits, through the sand, and the woods. I ran out of course and was 8 seconds behind her.
I ended up 11th, which I kept referring to being the most talented non-finalist, which no one in cyclocross seemed to get since they don’t have pageant backgrounds.
I was a little bummed to miss the top-10 but mostly because it just sounds nicer. I made some mistakes on the first lap that I just couldn’t recover from but showed me that the fitness was still there.
I then did the Mechanic’s mile which if you know, you know. It’s kind of like a beer mile except the length of the course and four beers, and mud, and mostly dudes. I crashed in almost the exact same spot riding but this one drew a bit more blood.
Friday, Barb and I did some sight-seeing. I’ve always kind of thought about living in the PNW, especially because Seattle tends to be a hub for a lot of non-profit health organizations as well as health law scholarship. But Friday confirmed that I’m not cut out for the broody, dreary landscape that sweeps the area. Clearly many people seem to love it, or at least tolerate it because there are a lot of people living there.
I also planned on racing singlespeed because I have a singlespeed bike, it’s a very nice bike. It’s actually what I started cross racing on. Sully built it up for me and took me to my first cross race in 2014, I think I walked/ran most of that race but it hooked me to say the least. I figured out in September that I had shipped it to Colorado and not my parents house last May. I had talked to Sully about getting it to Nationals but we also talked about rigging my geared bike into a singlespeed so I wouldn’t have to ship a second bike and then pack it up after. That seemed easy and less logistically complicated, done.
Sully rigged it up and set me up with 42 x 18 gearing and told me to ride it around to see how it felt. I did a quick spin in the parking lot and the gearing felt good. Sully asked if I wanted to try it on course, I said nah, I knew the course, he said to double check the gearing and I said nah, because I’ll either be running or mashing and was pretty familiar with the course at that point. I think he was trying to nicely say to test out the equipment better but in my mind I was good to go.
I talked to Sully about pit logistics. Because I didn’t have a “B” bike he wouldn’t be switching anything out and realistically thought my only potential issue was with a front flat so joked about just having a spare wheel with him. Even without any equipment and my potential for a mechanical very low he still decided to go stand in the pits. I had a pretty good starting spot, and when the light changed I was I was grateful for a larger gear because of the straightaway. I weaved through some bikes and narrowly avoided a crash that happened to the side of me. It reminded me of when I run over a snake and impulsively pedal faster to avoid the danger.
I turned on to the dirt and looked in front of me, immediately recognizing Meredith Miller (former SS National Champion and former World’s team rider – very fast lady on a CX bike) as the woman in front of me, oh shoot, I might have started a wee bit too fast but no sense of letting off now. I attacked the run up, navigating up the right side, I was motivated from my good start and hungry for a top-10, if for no other reason than it sounds nice. I went down the descent and again found myself behind Meredith, okay stay on her wheel.
I was approaching the pits, rode by Sully and turned a 180 to start the back half of the course. I went through a mud puddle and stomped on the pedals, only to find my momentum dwindle. I was loosing speed but still pedaling, I quickly realized I had lost tension in my chain. I looked down to realize the chain was off the back cog. I hopped off and struggled to get it back on, giving it a quick pedal turnover to check it, popped it back off again. Time was standing still as each woman rode by, with each frenetic moment of struggle, another woman would pass by me, making it feel like the seconds took forever but a minute was lost quickly.
I should take a moment here to explain the pits, the pits allow you to receive help from your mechanic at two spots during the course, even changing out bikes. The only problem is once you pass the pit you can’t go backwards, only forwards (insert some cheesy metaphor about life). 20-yards earlier I could have been in the pits to get help, I called out to Sully what had happened, he said something about the barrel adjuster, which I fumbled to turn having no idea if it was the right away. Because we had zip tied the shifter (so I wouldn’t accidentally shift it off) I could not shift it back into realignment. If you’re struggling to follow what happened, my chain popped off the one cog I had, that was in perfect alignment and got out of alignment and I couldn’t get it back in alignment. I looked at Sully, “it’s not working!” I looked down the course, and back towards the pit. I didn’t even think before I took off running, in my mind I just needed to get to the other side of the pit to get it fixed. I ran with my bike next to me, and shouldered it up the run-up. At the top, people yelled at me to get back on, but joke was on them since that wasn’t an option.
I kept alternating between running and fast walking. I got to the top of the switch backs and a woman handed me a shot of whiskey, she was like you’re going slow enough to grab it, and she wasn’t wrong. I was able to get back on and coast down into the switchbacks where I lost all momentum and hopped back off to take about 20 steps and hope back on for the steeper descent. I rode the momentum as far as I could before getting off and running towards the pits. I rounded the corner and put my hand up to denote to Sully I would be coming in, in case it wasn’t obvious.
I ran in and didn’t even have to tell him what had happened before he had cut the zip tie did some mechanic magic to have it back on the cog. I jumped back on and pedaled away, the bike was still cranky so I was gingerly pedaling, not wanting to pop it off again, even getting off halfway up the flyover so I didn’t mash too hard.
This went on again for the last half of the lap, being able to make it through the straight away and up to the first run-up, back down and by pit 1, and towards the second run-up when it popped off again. Since I was so close to the run-up figured I would keep going and deal with it at the top. At the top I fumbled and couldn’t get it back on, running through all the shifting which I’m sure only made it worse, so started running again. I got to the top of the switch backs and the lady again handed me another shot telling me my race was right there in that cup and she was there for my off day. I took it and hopped back on to cruise down, this time staying on the bike and kicking with my left leg to get enough momentum to carry me down the second steep downhill.
Once I ran out of that momentum, I hopped back off and ran again into the pit, Sully fixed it again and got me back out there. I didn’t trust it enough to full let go and got off for the fly-overs, and even some mud puddles just to be sure. I was able to pedal the entirely off the final lap, but still resisted going full gas, I have a bad habit of ripping derailleur a off in prime conditions and figured this was one of those times. I finished on the third lap, the leaders did 4, I was 8 seconds off beating someone but just like top-10 sounds nice, dead fucking last sounds better than 42nd so I guess careful what you wish for. I limped out of the finish area, more so with a bruised ego than anything else and met Sully and Barb.
I was glad to have Barb there just to take some focus off my emotions and just lay out the facts of what happened. She remained upbeat and positive that I had even finished with as much running as I did and some of it transferred to me. I thanked Sully for being in the pits and at least keeping me going, allowing me to keep fighting as painful as it was. It’s the hardest I’ve ever had to work for last place. I cried the next morning packing up my bike, which Sully was like crying while packing a bike is never about packing the bike. It took me a while to write this because I’m still wading through my emotions of it. Not racing for 2 months prior to Nationals left me coming in with a lot of doubt about my ability, which only nasty things stem from a place of doubt. I think it’s hard because that first half a lap of singlespeed showed me that I can compete beyond just showing up to show up. This logic is also following the premise that I would have had a clean, smooth race if I hadn’t broken my bike and stayed at the top, which in of itself is a lot of pressure to put on that thinking. It’s certainly left me hungry for more. I have some lofty goals for 2020 and not sure where Cyclocross will fit into the mix but I’m sure it will, although Nationals are in Chicago next January so might be taking a sabbatical on that race.