Cyclocross Nationals

I know with this post I’m bypassing mountain bike nationals, and two cyclocross races but figured I would at least catch up with Cyclocross Nationals. I jokingly called it the Cyclocross Nationals Stage Race because I signed up to do three races: Master’s 30-34; Collegiate; and Singlespeed. I’d also like to start off by saying I’m not 30 that’s just my racing age.

The week of nationals, I started Tuesday morning with a two hour final followed by three hours on the phone with my bank after discovering my bank account had been hacked. While the bank was accommodating having no local branch and all my accounts shut down I had about $40 left over from some prize winnings to get me to Louisville. Luckily my family was flying into Louisville the next day.

Emotions were running a little high and I’m pretty sure this is the point that I cried for a good 20 minutes. And then quickly added electrolytes to my water to replace what I just cried out. I departed for Louisville much later than anticipated, given my first race was at 9am the next morning. I made it there around 9:30 and stopped by Sully’s house to drop off a french press and make a race plan for the next day. He was also key in packing me breakfast since I hadn’t made or packed anything for breakfast.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

I picked Sully up the next morning around 7 and headed to the venue. I warmed up but didn’t preview the course–I had a general idea from racing there last year. I felt mediocre going to the starting line but was also sure that my body was on the verge of falling apart so felt like I had to gingerly balancing asking it to do more and being okay with what happened. At the start I knew that it was the most broken and battered my body has ever been going into a race. [To give you a brief preview of the week before I had two 10,000 word papers, one 8 hour final, one 5,000 word paper, and a two hour exam over the course of 7 days–I don’t think I slept more than 5-6 hours in the 10 days leading up to Nationals. That’s not to try and humble brag and be like look at everything I’m accomplishing (loosely applied), more of an observation that given some of the races I’ve completed and the limits I’ve pushed my body, this was the deepest I’ve had to reach into my well of resources.]

Rolling into the start gate–I know it looks like my legs are there but they are in fact not.

The race started and I had what was a pretty good start for me, finding myself just behind the leaders. The course is relentless, that’s one of the reasons I targeted nationals because I felt like it played to my strengths well–but only if I was having a good day, if my legs weren’t there, it would be a long race. After about 300 yards we reached the sandpit and the field started to spread out. At this point I felt like I had exhausted everything in my legs–it was going to be a long race. I spent the first two laps quietly asking my legs if they had anything in them. After that I pulled back and shifted into an easier gear to at least try to flush my legs out for the race the next day.

I know, I know, I’ve already been thoroughly made fun of for my socks

I also used the race as a true course preview, taking notes of various lines. The race finished and while the result might not have shown it (12th) I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do, preview the course and get my legs ready for the next day. I also felt like getting to the start line was a win.

This isn’t to say I was confident about Thursday’s race. I wasn’t at all, especially the way my legs responded during that race. But I was optimistic, for most races throughout the season I seem to have performed better the second day of racing, and that’s what I bet on by doing back to back races at Nationals. I was currently doubting this reasoning given what I had just put my body through with finals. After the race Sully and I went and ate tacos, analyzed the course and race tactics, and then I went home and put my legs up the rest of the afternoon, worked on one last 10,000 word paper until my family arrived. (They were delayed from the day before so that’s why there is only one photo from the first race). We went grocery shopping, to dinner, and to bed.

If I was going to have expectations for any of the races, Thursday’s race was it. I went through my usual race morning routine and went to the course early enough to ride one preview lap. The course had dried out a bit from the day before and sections that I was running the day before were now ridable. I did one lap and then went back to the tent and warmed up on the trainer. I only really had one goal for the race: not to panic. If I could stay calm even when things didn’t go my way I knew that would be the difference.

Because my start was so smooth the day before I was hoping for that, but instead when the gun went off I’m not sure what happened but I was nowhere to be found.

I had a lot of work to do at this point– if you can’t find me I’m at very right edge of the photo.

I told myself not to panic, even though in the back of my mind I knew that the race would be mostly decided on the first lap. I didn’t panic and made up some spaces in the grassy section that lead into the “key hole”. It was a rooted out section around a tree and I took the highline that I had done the day before knowing I could ride it, unfortunately the girl in front of my couldn’t and crashed. I had to get off my bike and run around her…don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic. From the day before I knew that I was faster to dismount at the start of the sandpit and run through it than ride half-way through and have to dismount and then run.

Exiting the sandpit

I did this on the first lap and was able to make up a bit of ground. I kept working to catch those in front of me. I knew I had to be strategic while not burning too many matches. And I was, before pit 2 I was able to make up significant ground and found myself in 5th.

Thank goodness for MTB skills

I then switched my mantra from don’t panic to smooth is fast. Like I said the course was brutal, after the keyhole and the sandpit was a flyover and then pit one, followed by a steep downhill, a steep corner up, brief time on pavement, around a tree, up stone stairs, down a chute, across a field, up a steep hill, back down, back up, to pit 2, under the fly over, over the barriers, and through the finish.

It was a slog into pit 2

With two laps to go I had caught the girl in fourth place and was bidding my time to pass her. I followed her through the first section of the course and after the first downhill when there was enough room made my move to pass her and I got around no problem. She stayed on my wheel through the next section, and after the downhill chute she took me over again. I tried to stay on her wheel but I might have made the move too soon because this was the point in the race that my legs finally realized what they were doing.

They weren’t completely dead but another surge of power was not in my cards. I had 3rd and 4th in my eyesight for the remainder of the race and finished with no mechanicals and I didn’t even have to switch out a bikes because the course wasn’t that muddy. I was able to stay in 5th place which I was really happy about–especially because they do the long podium at nationals.

Clearly did not bring clothes in the event of a podium position…

After that race I had even less expectations for the singlespeed race on Saturday. I had only signed up for it because I was going to be there had a bike and figured another nationals experience wouldn’t hurt. Because that was my attitude, after Thursday’s race I joined mainly the mechanics for the (and I’m totally going to botch this) Second Annual Bi-Annual Mechanic Lap.

Off season here I come!

Where you drink a beer at the start, the first pit, the second pit, and the finish. Handup Gloves even gave me a glove to better grip the can for chugging #sopro. It was fun and for guys who mostly work on bikes they are fast at running. Doug defended his championship and won, and I think Sully got 2nd or 3rd. I finished closer to last than the start but my chugging skills aren’t what they used to be and since I was the only girl won that category.

Friday I did what my coach told me to do and ate a lot of food and finished up my last paper. I think I only left the house to go get lunch and that was about it.

Saturday because it had been raining all Friday and misting Saturday morning the course was completely different conditions from the previous two races. I had been joking with Sully that my off season had started and I was prepared to take all the drink handups that were offered during the race. At the start I met my long lost cousin, Sarah (okay she hasn’t been lost but for a while now I’ve heard from other people that they’ve met my cousin at races, and I’m like who? Apparently we have the same great-great grandfather and same last name).

We didn’t even plan our braids

The race started and with it being my third race I felt pretty familiar with the course. The start was on pavement with a slight downhill which gave just enough speed that we hit the grass and it became a slip n slide. Luckily I didn’t slide out but a few did. I felt surprisingly strong and was able to ride the sand pit (it had been packed down quite a bit from the races). The downhill which was slightly sketchy when dry and even more challenging with mud caking the lines and covering up any potential hazards. I found that if I took the high line I could slide down while still staying in the course boundaries. I somehow managed to stay up. Right at the bottom of the hill Sarah went around me and got in front. Unlike Thursday, I stayed on her wheel.

Trying not to bring shame to our family

I slipped and slid the whole next section making my way to the stone stairs. What was once favorable sections had been replaced with decrepit lines. I made it to the stone stairs, which offered some stable footing as I bounded up them. After the stairs I went to get back on my bike to go down the chute when I realize why it’s so necessary to wear bibs during cross races (because it was going to be muddy opted for a pair of shorts because they had more black than my other pair of bibs). In my attempt to remount I somehow hooked my waist band behind my saddle and when I moved up to swing over the bike, my shorts moved down. Welcome to cyclocross, folks. I then had to stop, pull my shorts back up and at that point wasn’t worth remounting and just ran, mostly slid down the chute.

I was able to gingerly ride the section that traversed the hillside, but being at the ready to put a foot down. I mostly slid down to the bottom and then had to hop off and run the hill up to Pit 2, where I remounted just to switch bikes with Sully (my first bike exchange of the season, happening at the last race of the season).

I exited and re attached to Sarah’s wheel. We went under the flyover and over the barriers and through the finish to start our second lap. Similar to the other races, the gaps that were created were large we didn’t have anyone in front or behind us for about 15 seconds. The section between the start and pit 1, while wet, wasn’t too muddy so didn’t need to switch bikes out. I followed Sarah down the hill, still managing to stay upright. As we traversed back up to the stone stairs I made my move back around her, all the while running.

Still trying not to bring shame to our family

Right as I was approaching the stone stairs I saw Emily (an aerospace PhD student that raced against me in collegiate), standing there with a dixie cup of bourbon–well it is the offseason, so chugged what I could and continued on my way. I made it down the chute and traversed back across the hill. I ran up to Pit 2, and switched bikes out again. I came through the finish and was noted by the officials that I was done. No bell lap, or anything. Because of the course conditions, lap times were much slower- both Wednesday and Thursday I did five laps; Saturday I did two with the leaders doing three in the same amount of race time.

With one of the hardest working mechanics in the biz

After the race my mom asked me why they announced my name wrong the first few times, and I told her they didn’t there was two Ginsbach’s in the race. It was a proper ‘cross race to end my season on and the only time it was muddy enough during the season that I had to switch bikes. I got off my bike that day an only got back on it two days ago. It was a nice and much needed break.

And also took a few showers

I was lucky that my mom and Aunt Joyce and Margaret were able to be at the races. They were able to stake out around various points of the race and I feel like it really helped during Thursday’s race. And feel like most races that I have a crew at, they have to do something because it’s usually 100 miles whereas this one they could just cheer–I think I saw my mom more times in 40 minutes than I did during the Maah Daah Hey which took 12 hours.

At the start with Drew–I’m sure he was offering great words of wisdom

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank Sully at Donnelly Cycling who was in the pits for me during Wednesday and Saturday’s races–and gave me warm-up space. And Drew who was in the pits for me on Thursday.

I loosely did exercise over break. I got Molly to hike Black Elk Peak with me when we were both home for Christmas.

Not even that cold!

I also did my first hut trip in Colorado (thanks to Sully and Jessie for all the gear). Which really just solidified my desire to move back there after graduation. It was my first time on skis in about 19 years and found that I really liked going up by was incredibly slow going down (you’re welcome, mom). The crew I was with was super nice about didn’t show annoyance with having to wait for me while I pizza’d down the mountain.

I spent my last weekend before school started in Miami with two college friends. It was the perfect ending to winter break and my time off the bike. It was nice to see my friends and the sun once more before entering the permacould in Indiana.


Back for Redemption

I raced Derby City Cup this past weekend. It might have been the most challenging cross course I’ve ever been on– or I’m really out of shape–maybe a little of both. I can tell you this whole Law School thing really cramps on my training (and blog writing- if you haven’t noticed).

I only planned to race on Saturday, because law school and was hoping for a decent result. I raced in Boulder over Fall Break and did okay and was hoping to get a good enough result here to at least get a decent starting position at nationals. Saturday started as a bit of a mess, I forgot to pre-register so did day of. This is the only race that this has happened in but there were 4 categories starting at once and instead of dividing us into those categories or some division it seemed that they called us based off of when we registered, where did homegirl end up? Second to last called! Which isn’t a big deal when only 10 women show up but fortunately more women are racing so that means I was about 6 rows back from the front. Yikes!

I took off with the group and quickly found myself passing people, I mean when you start in the back that’s the only viable optionAlright! After about 50 yards it’s a little incline and left turn to get onto the grassy, slicky course. I wasn’t too worried about it but soon found myself getting bumped at less than optimal timing and my bike getting hooked around a pole. I went down and my bike created a barrier so nobody ran over me, just my bike. After getting untangled I got up and found myself quickly in the position I had started. Dead last.

Derby City Hill Climb
Photo by: Meg McMahon 

I jumped back on my bike which made a few cantankerous noises and gingerly pedal through the remaining mud. Back on course I slowly caught people going into the stair flyover. There was one girl that I felt really bad for, I think she had crashed or just wasn’t feeling it- either way she was crying (we’ve all been there) fortunately for me, her name was Kate too so it seemed like a lot of people were cheering for me.

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Photo by Meg McMahon 

The middle part of the course was the toughest with the course dipping in and out of a bowl.  After going by the pits the first time, it’s a long off-camber descent followed by a short punchy climb into an off-camber slope that loops around a tree and then followed by stone stairs. Some relief is granted with a descent that was filled with muddy ruts and really poor line choices. The kicker was then a slope steep enough that everyone was running followed by a slow-grind up a patch of pavement then back down into the bowl and another hill to climb out and back by the pits. After the pits there were two barriers on the back section and then back through the start. Enough of a space to recover and see the lap counter that said 3 to go. Oh this is going to be fun.

I started lap two being mindful of the pavement to grass spot where I went down. Having ridden one lap I knew where my strengths would be (descending) and where my weaknesses were (climbing) but I also knew that I could ride smoother through some areas. Lap two remained uneventful, minus the dry heaving after the stone stairs. I’ve also come to realize that I am most terrible at getting back on my bike on a slight incline–like embarrassingly terrible. 

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

Through the finish line of lap two I saw two to go. Uhhh I can’t believe I have to do this course two more times. I don’t have a powermeter on my cross bike (I know, slumming it up) only heart rate and I was maxed out; between the hoping off, running the stairs, descending, and sustained climbs I was doing all I could to hold on. The third lap was better, smoother, more consistent. Still I dry heaved after the stone steps–man, is it possible I had too much bacon this morning (the answer is always no-even if you are dry heaving).

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

By mid-way the third lap I had caught up to a few women and figured I would be able to work on passing them the rest of the race. I settled into a pace with them and held on. Over the barriers and around to the finish. One lap to go…oh nope- they are pulling us–which occasionally happens when you’re not fast enough or they miscalculated and need to stay on schedule. I rode past the finish with a girl that I know from racing and we talked about how challenging the course was. Disclaimer: Only three women in my category didn’t get pulled (which made me feel slightly better…)

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Photo by: Meg McMahon

Well shoot, I wasn’t planning on racing on Sunday because of law school but after a lackluster start I wanted to do better. At dinner on Friday night I had been talking about how law school has really changed my priorities for racing, it went from focusing on trying to win, or at least top five, to okay maybe just finish and have fun–one girl chimed in, and maybe don’t get pulled, and I was like welp, even then it’s not a problem. It’s also tough because after Saturday’s race it felt like I wasn’t able to give my best, I would have been fine with my result otherwise but with the poor start it just left me wanting more. If you haven’t picked up by now law school, at least for me personally, makes me feel like I’m terrible at a lot of things; law school, bike racing, personal relationship (like if I don’t wish you Happy Birthday, it might be because my mom hasn’t reminded me- that’s where I’m at right now- and I’m sure most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a text reply at least a few days old). I labored over lining up on Sunday morning: Well it’s only 30 minutes instead of 40; it starts at 8 and we have the time change; but I’m on call in class on Monday; how much am I giving up vs. how much am I gaining. It wasn’t until Sunday morning at 6:20 am that I decided to race.

Round 2:

The nice thing about Cyclocross is that it usually is a Saturday/Sunday event which allows for redemption if you have a bad race on Saturday.

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The gaps were pretty big 

They didn’t do call ups on Sunday either but they at least put us in our respective categories. I took the outside line (as opposed to the inside from the day before). It still looked a wee bit slicky and thought it would at least give me more room to maneuver if I needed to. We were off! I was assuming that they hadn’t changed the course from the day before so still opted for some of my old lines but the mud was a little bit thicker so alternated with hitting the grass patches when I needed too.

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I always forget to not wear white for CX races…

My legs were a little tired from the day before but not as bad as I thought they would feel. I also knew going into the race we would only be doing 3 laps today and knew I could survive that. The top of the flyover is a little short and each time would only get one pedal clicked in before descending and praying that I wouldn’t manage to crash. I’m not sure if it’s the course design but gaps opened up rather quickly and they were big- I felt for the most part that I was riding alone.

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Running up stairs: something I’m not the worst at! 

I had talked to one of my friends (who has lots of experience bike racing) the day before about my dry heaving, she asked if I was panic breathing. I didn’t think so but maybe unconsciously after crashing and trying to chase back I was. On Sunday, I tried to be conscious of my breathing and focus more on yoga breath. That didn’t work and I ended up dry heaving more times than the day before– I actually thought I was going to vomit on course and then everyone would know I’m terribly out of shape! Fortunately that didn’t happen. The race went smooth, and I felt content with my day on the bike. I moved up 3 positions from my finish the day before from 9th to 6th. Last year at Derby City, I won both days in my category but that’s okay–I knew this season would be a little rough.

I also think the dry heaving has to do with the humidity more so than my fitness. It didn’t happen to me during my race in Boulder, just places where it’s humid. Unless someone else has a different theory or we can just go with me being out of shape…

The next race before nationals that I’ve thought about doing is in Indianapolis next Sunday for our conference championships. That will really be a game time decision if I go based on how much work I can get done this week.

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And always, thanks for the support- I don’t know how Sully manages it all 

*Also please forgive all typos- I’m out of time to proof read and must get back to studying.