Monday, November 30, 2009

It Ain't Tiddlywinks

When I started racing cyclocross in the elite masters event three years ago, I thought how much harder could it be than the killer B race. I learned very quickly that in New England, it is alot harder. Most all of the guys that line up every weekend know what they are doing, they come prepared mentally and physically, and they will not give up an inch, even for 50th place. If you let your focus wander, or have a mechanical, or are just a little bit off energy wise, you will lose 10 places in about a minute. A bad early lap and you will drop 20 places or more.

Sterling this year was a good race for a bad weekend, both days. I have a hard time getting good rest and nutrition at my in-laws. We spent Thanksgiving there this year, and I tried, but only somewhat succeeded in eating well, sleeping well, and staying healthy. So when I showed up to race Saturday I could tell I was fighting a stomache bug. Since Saturdays course was the old familiar one, I took 2 quick laps and went to the trainer. Had a decent warmup but kept pushing fluids to settle my bad belly. Got a very good start (for me) right outside of the top 20 through the first lap. Came past Jerry early in the 2nd lap and gassed it to keep him off my wheel, then I lost focus and dropped a dozen spots. In a matter of seconds I went from where I wanted to be in the race to a minute behind. I tried to stomp the pedals to get back to the next group of five. With the wind gusting up to 30+ mph, groups of 4-5 guys controlled the pace. My belly caught up to me then and I could not push to catch the groups that had just passed me. Dan Coady and Frank McCormack caught me and I grouped up with them for a few turns. I realized that Frank was soft pedaling around the course, so I attacked out of that group to go catch the next one. The last two laps I spent going back and forth with Kevin Buckley until he clipped a tree on the last lap and went down hard. I came through but got pipped at the line from failing to see a racer on my wheel. C'est la vie. I was thrilled to have beaten most of my nemesises and a few guys I have not before.

Sunday the belly was marginally worse. I hoped that a good warmup would take care of it. No such luck. I did a longer preview of the new course. On the 3rd time around, Jerry lead me down the one tricky descent and used his magnetic powers yet again to cause me to crash. I not only hit my right hip hard, but smashed my watch. So I head over to the trainer with no way to tell time and no heart rate info. Perfect. I did three openers in what I guessed was the right zone and for the proper lengths of time. Climb off to get to the start only to have my strap on my right shoe come apart, my pit bike develop a bad brake rub, and the 2nd call to stagging announced. I got to stagging just after everyone else was lined up losing my call up. Got to the back of the line and the official blows the whistle while I am still standing beside my bike. Start readiness FAIL. Managed to catch the tail end of the group by the first corner, then put all my energy into working up through the bunch. Pushed with everything I had to make up ground for the first two laps, wondering the whole time when I would blow up. I dabbed and jammed myself on corners a few times, but kept upright. Funny thing is after three laps I caught and passed Jerry, I caught a few more guys, and then instead of blowing up, I just started cruising along. Unfortunately I had no more gass to catch anyone else. So when Dan Coady and Frank McCormack came through, I tried to jump on their wheels, but had no more jump. I spent the last lap battling with GeWilli and Martin. I got around Martin but couldn't catch GeWilli before the sprint. I'm glad I made the best of an otherwise bad race day.

Still, I can say I beat a McCormack for the first time, sick or not. I was running up the hill and over the barriers as fast as ever.

I also have an even greater appreciation for the reality that in New England Cyclocross, you must come prepared in every way every time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Down but not out.

One of my cyclocross mentors told me a few years ago "in racing sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail". This weekend in Lowell I was the nail, and someone was swinging the 10lb. sledge. Going down in a race is never good. But getting my front wheel chopped 100 meters off the start line, sommersaulting onto the turf from a full sprint, and then getting run over by 2 or 3 guys, well lets just say I'm a bit sore right now. And that was the first 2 minutes of the race.

Yes, I did get up. And I chased like a man possessed. I even managed to work my way back to the top half of the field by mid race. But then I had a mechanical, and went down again, twice. I rode slowly around the back half of the course to get my pit bike. And I kept on racing. The best thing I've heard said about Tim Johnson was Richard Fries talking about his comeback at Gloucester in 2007, he said "its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog" I try to remember this when I have a setback in a race. So I was not DFL (although close) and I did not DNF. Almost half of the 35+ field did drop out. No doubt because lots of guys were having trouble staying on the bike.

The trick is to realize that in cyclocross everyone goes down sometime,

flahutes get up and finish,

Champions get up & go faster than everyone else.