Ever since the first hint of chill in the air, all my racer friends have had cross on the brain. No conversation was ever completed until they had asked, "you gonna race cross?" with that special gleam in their eye. I never experienced peer pressure this heavy handed, even in high school.
With my new Surly Cross Check finally built, I no longer had the excuse of not having a bike. Besides, people do cross on all sorts of crazy rigs, including unicycles!
I bought two discount passes through my team, which forced me to admit that I was actually thinking of trying this crazy thing. And it had to be soon, before the weather gets too cold and yucky, even though for many people, mud is the whole point of cross.
The first weekend of Cross Crusade came and went without me. I was busy getting ready for my first day of school and I was still hacking up phlegm from the cold I've had for two weeks.
This weekend, the sun was slated to shine, my homework was pretty under control so I went for it. In just under two hours, I turned my mild mannered commuter into a lean mean, racing machine.
I even had a crew; Jess was off for the weekend and her friend T decided to join us. They carried my stuff, held my water bottle while I raced and of course cheered me on. It was awesome.
My training and preparation for the race consisted solely of hauling loads on Fezzik and watching a series of Bike Hugger videos with cross tips. The episode on remounting was particular helpful. I practiced a few times in front of my house and called it good.
We got there in time for me to do the registration shuffle and then take a few loops around the nearby streets to warm up. It was a weird venue, in the middle of a suburban housing development, with appropriately enough, a mental hospital nearby. One team mate posited that the race was just bait and that fences would go up before we could leave, so they could put us into little rooms and try to figure out why anyone would participate in such a crazy activity.
When I went to line up at the start about 30 minutes before race time, I saw lots of teammates further up in the ranks. Our start was somewhat delayed, and the waiting was the worst part. I tried to distract myself by ogling the cool bikes and asking my neighbor (also a beginner) for tips on dismounting. One woman had a jersey that said Alaska and with a home made sign on the back that said Palin with a line through it.
Finally a whistle blew and the women's A race was on! That's when the nerves really hit. Too late to turn back though. We had to wait some more while the B's started, then Masters 35+, Masters 45+ and finally it was our turn.
Did I mention I didn't get to pre-ride the course? Yeah, that would've been handy. But the race schedule is fast and furious. I talked to a team mate who said she never gets there in time to pre-ride so she just rides the first lap kinda slow. Well, that would probably be true of all my laps, so that worked out fine. There was nothing I could do about it, so I quit worrying. Jess and Therese had walked around a bit and Jess told me a few spots to watch out for.
The first lap, I took it nice and easy. The course had been described as 'super fun!' when I asked a few other racers about it. They failed to mention the back side, which was bumpy as all hell. It was like riding over a giant washboard. My back was rattling and I started wishing I'd brought my dual suspension mountain bike instead. Things smoothed out eventually, and after some tight technical turns on gravel, there were some pavement and grass sections where you could really open up.
Cross spectators are notoriously supportive and I enjoyed lots of personal cheers from friends and acquaintances along the course. There were a couple of guys taking themselves a bit too seriously and I'd hear them say things to racers behind me, like, "Come on, you can catch that Sorella, she's done." Whatever dude. I'm hear to have some fun and go home in one piece.
Then came the make or break obstacle-- my first run up. I dismounted ridiculously early just to make sure my foot wouldn't get stuck. The run up was crazy steep, but had some natural pockets to step in. I shuddered to think if it had actually been raining and the hill was just a mud slide. At any rate, I made it up without incident and my remount went smoother than I really had any right to expect.
A short, fast straight-away, a tight turn and it was on to my first set of barriers. It wasn't the most graceful ever, but I didn't trip--another goal checked off the list. After the barriers, there was just a few feet in which to get your act together before going down a crazy steep hill. The first lap was pretty jammed up, so the approach was even more awkward. I was actually glad I hadn't pre-ridden because then I have time to think about it and get all freaked out. Since the race was on, I just saw what was ahead and dealt with it. There's really no place for thinking in cross.
The rest of the race was lather, rinse, repeat. I definitely felt I improved with each lap, as I got to know what was coming up and got better at dealing with some of the technical stuff. Also, the field finally spread out in lap two, so I was mostly on my own, with the occasional polite, "on your left" from a high grade woman lapping me. I got kudos from fellow Sorellas who went by and even a literal pat on the back from Sarah. Luckily, I don't startle easily, and I was glad to see her. She went on to get 4th in the B race and Kim took no prisoners and took second in the Masters 35+ When she passed me, I couldn't believe how fast she was riding over the washboards. Ouch.
Oh yes--it wouldn't be cross without at least one fall--but luckily it was a totally minor spill into a nice soft mound of dirt.
I had absolutely no idea what my actual place was in the race. I definitely got passed by a lot of people, and didn't feel like I'd passed that many people. I did my best passing on technical sections and remounts, only to (mostly) get passed again on straightaways. But I didn't really care. I was having a grand time, in between hocking up loogies. Yeah, that cold isn't quite gone yet.
On the last lap, I had a couple of women in sight going down the last big hill before the finish line. I went ahead and reeled them in, just in case they might be in my category. I remembered not to sit up after the finish line, so the video camera could catch my number.
After the race, I spent a few minutes bent over heaving and trying to get air. I wasn't quite in my right mind (but that could be said of even showing up for the race I suppose), so I didn't see that Jess and T had come over to the finish to meet me. I went wandering off for a good 10 minutes, desperate to find them so I could get some water. It finally occurred to me to go back to the start line where we met up and I sucked on my water bottle like I'd just crossed the desert.
Before the race, someone told me that cross is really fun about thirty minutes after it's over. As the race got further into the past, I found I completely agreed with that statement. It was great to be done, and have survived. And I know it's not at all productive, but given my 'preparation' for the race, I was kind of ridiculously pleased with my remounts, which went swimmingly for the entire race. I think next time I need to shoulder the bike for barriers though, due to a certain lack of tallness.
As we walked back toward the car, I stopped to pet a cute black lab, who happened to be attached to a team mate I'd only met a few times. "How'd your race go?" she wanted to know.
"Good," I said. "It was my first time."
"Did you race A's" she asked.
"Um, no beginner. Did I mention it's my first time?"
"Oh, your first race ever!? Cool. But you're a mountain biker right?"
"Well, since May..."
She looked surprised at that.
"I'm really just a poser. I'm here to make the uniform look good." I joked, and she and her friends all laughed.
It's true though. I doubt I'll ever have the time or inclination to train enough to be really competitive. But it's definitely fun to go out and ride and get a great work out. Results are in already and I placed way better than I thought--25th out of 68 beginner women. Not too shabby for no training, practice or experience.
Everyone kept saying that once you do one race, "you'll be hooked!" I don't know if I'm hooked--but I guess I'll go ahead and use that second race pass. For now, I'm going to maintain that I can stop any time I want.
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