I told you I drug it up the 56% hill…
While Ryan and I were in Chattanooga, there was some weekend CX racing going on independently of our N.Georgia adventure.
Some may call me crazy, but I wanted to race! So we got up Sunday morning and drove to Camp Jordan park for Cross-a-nooga #2. Ryan’s legs were shot and he ended up finishing just out of the money.Ã‚ I, however, felt prettyÃ‚ good! It also helped that Cleve Blackwell from Blue let me ride one of the demo Cx6.5 bikes (SRAM Rival equipped).
Of course, I felt very much at home riding the SRAM/Blue combo… I was eager to give theÃ‚ ’09 Rival group a try since I’d heard great reviews about it. If you’re looking to build a bike and want components that won’t make you poor OR leave you wishing for something better, then the Rival parts get my vote. I think that the only thing that SRAM is missing now is a good set of CX brakes. The Cx6.5 is a pretty sweet frame, too!
So, I was set to race. There were six of us, and within half a lap, we’d settled into the order in which we’d eventually finish. I was 3rd behind Kym from Vantaggio (who is quickly becoming the “Debbie Milne” of TBRA Cyclocross) and Deb Whitmore from BMW Bianchi. I don’t think that my legs were a limiting factor as much was my inability to quickly negotiate 180 degree downhill turns. Seriously… there were 3 of them on course, and I never made it through any of them with any speed! Lately (actually never), my focus hasn’t been the CX bike, so I wasn’t expecting to pull off anything spectacular. It was still a nice 50 minutes of riding near my limits, through which I suffered gladly.
Ryan took a lot of photos of the B and C races (I got a few of the A race as well),Ã‚ and posted the link in his race report. Here are a few of my favorties:
It’s really weird how sometimes 2nd place can feel like losing and 3rd place can feel like winning. That wraps up another edition ofÃ‚ “As the Gears Turn”
It was a race of triumph and tragedy…
Ryan and I arrived at Mulberry Gap a little after 8:00 Saturday morning. First off, Mulberry Gap is a really sweet little mountain bike getaway place. They’ve got cabins, hot tubs, showers, and access to a lot of trails. If I actually HAD a mountain bike, I’d be going back to visit more often! However, I digress…
I almost forgot to mention… the temps were in the 40’s and there was a steady rain falling. Luckily, by the time the race started, it was around 50 and cloudy. The race itself started and finished something like a “normal” CX race, with a 1/2 mile or so loop around the Mulberry gap property (included were things like a creek crossing, a couple of run-ups,Ã‚ and a really tall barrier). Following the CX loop was the meat of the race- the 38 mile forest road loop that, after 12 miles of gravel/paved/decent/small rollers would pitch up to just over 3000 ft of elevation over the span of 12 miles.
As soon as I got the initial CX loop out of the way, I implemented the strategy that I’d devised pre-race: KILL IT!!!!
Let’s face it- I’m not exactly Kristen Armstrong when it comes to climbing (the 23 pound bike doesn’t help, either). So my plan was to nail the initial decent and flat portions of the race and make the other (3) women chase me to the climb. This worked fabulously. After dropping the hammer on the initial decent, I ended up getting a draft through the headwind up to the climb (the others were not so lucky).
For the first 7 miles of climbing, I continued to feel very strong. The grades were long, and (as I estimate) ranged anywhere from 3-7%. This initial portion of climb was a bit of a stair-step (good for me!), with a steep-ish grade followed by a flat-ish portion of road. However, once I passed the course “sag” stop, it started to get ugly… the grades were steeper- somewhere in the 10% range (some sections getting closer to 15%), and the longer reprieves of the initial climb gave way to ~10yard “teaser” flat spots that were just long enough to coast for a couple of seconds before the next onslaught of hill was in your face.
I’m not ashamed to say that I walked twice. Even with 39×27 as my lowest gear, the added resistance of the mud (which was a little bit like wet peanut butter), was too much for my legs to take in a couple of spots. I wasn’t the only one… as I slogged on foot, I was looking down at the ground and noticed muddy imprints left by the shoes of those that had passed through ahead of me. The last few miles, fog encased the woods and road so that the road ahead was not visible. During the last few miles, the mud was mixed with snow and slush, making the steepest section of course also the sloppiest. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that conditions bordered on epic…
Finally, somewhere near the top, the sun broke through, and I heard the voice of a course marshal telling me to turn right and have a nice trip back down. The decent was about 7 miles, and, though I was exhausted (both physically and mentally), I shook the proverbial cobwebs out and concentrated on descending as quickly as possible through the rocks and muck. Following the decent, the course rolled back to Mulberry Gap. When I finally got there, a course marshal directed me to turn left and go up the hill…
A wet, leaf and mud covered hill that, according to Ryan’s Garmin 705, was 175 feet at a 56% grade. After pausing to curse, I started trying to push my bike up the wall. At times, I was using trees to hoist myself up a step or two. There was a woman taking photos about 1/2way up who yelled at me that some people were dragging their bikes… excellent idea! I let the bike tip, grabbed it by the front wheel, and drug it up like the dead animal that it was while cursing the steel frame with some pretty “creative” language. At the top, the hill continued up another 65 feet of elevation gain at 16% (400 more feet of rolling my bike before reaching the top). I thought that the worst was over.
From the top, the course went screaming downhill and onto the pavement, passing the finish line, and re-entering the CX loop that we’d followed at the start of the race. My legs were on the brink of collapse, so I was having a difficult time negotiating the barrier, the remount, and the first (realllly long) runup.
It was there that the stuff of nightmares occured… Carey Lowery, who I found out later was a locally well-known MTB endurance racer, caught me. She ran by me about 3/4 of the way up, and I started after her. We were close when we both re-mounted at the top, and jockeyed for position going down a steep hill to a narrow bridge. She got the inside turn and was just ahead of me on the bridge. Coming off, I attacked up the steep pitch of gravel hill that followed. This launched me ahead of her, and the course swept back down a steep hill and made a sharp right, which I took at “make it or break it” speed, praying that the finish line was around the corner.
I’d forgotten something.
There was one more run-up between me and the finish line.
I bobbled the turn into the run-up and stalled out, making for an awkward and slow dismount. Carey jumped on the opportunity and dashed past me. Her remount at the top was flawless. I cursed and fumbled my way up the hill and over the log at the top. As I rounded the short corner, she was crossing the line. I crossed a few second later, covered in mud and immersed in defeat.
I think this sums it up:
After I banged my head on a dirt wall near the finish line a few times, I had some vegetarian chili, an oatmeal cookie, and a hot shower. Once Ryan and I were warm, clean, and fed, we hung out for a while talking and laughing with some of the other racers & volunteers. He ended up in 12th place for the men (I was 16th overall out of around 50 racers- mostly men).Ã‚ I have to say, though I’ve never had a problem with “roadie” people, I loved the MTB people that I met while I was there. I even got a good cookie recipe or two…
I found a couple of photos- taken by Namrita O’Dea of 55nine performance…
In case the 140 or so of you a day that visit my blog don’t also visit Ryan’s blog, here’s a link to his blog post ofÃ‚ Google Earth images that he mapped of the Southern Cross race this weekend: RoadCX Southern X Preview . Take a good look at it and come back…
Yea, it’s gonna be tough! Luckily, I’ve got a song that I’ll probably sing over & over in my head (ok, and possibly out loud) as I climb. This is a nice alternative to “99 bottles of beer on the wall” that I used at the River Gorge Road Race last summer…
Yeah, I could be…
(Ryan’s new CX rig)
Now I just have to make sure he gets some badass tubular carbon wheels… nothing less!
This morning, while sitting in traffic, I found myself thinking back to camp. I realized a couple of days ago that stress of camp was not just physical, but mental as well… I’d started experiencing some anxiety while riding- a combination of not wanting to let myself, my teammates, and Nathan down. By the end of the week, during the last ride, while my teammates & I were being pushed to our limit, he told me (loudly), “Come on, Andrea, I know you’re stronger than that!” In my head, something clicked, and I realized that the pain of riding like that was something that I’m good at, I actually enjoy (most of the time!), and that I am “getting paid for.”Ã‚ So, for some reason, everything instantly felt better.Ã‚ I might be a little too old to achieve the glory that some of my teammates have ahead of them, but I’m going to turn myself inside out to help them get it.
Even with this realization, the mental stress from earlier in the week followed me home. The first few nights, I had nightmares about riding my bike and not being able to go fast enough. I realized that I was experiencing a mild case of post-traumatic stress! It’s something I would never have recognized if I hadn’t felt a much, much worse version of it following my trip to NYC on 9/11. I was working with a dog trainer at the time, and we made the trip up to do recovery work (a.k.a. find the dead people/parts of dead people). I had the same feelings of doubt, guilt, anxiety, nightmares, etc. soon after returning home (though exponentially worse and including flashbacks/panic attacks).
So yesterday I rode my bike for the first time since camp. I felt great, especially because my buddy Megan came along:
We had a fun, windy ride. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have any nightmares last night! I’m ready to train my ass off now, and I’m looking forward to riding harder than I ever have in upcoming races:
Southern Cross on Jan 24th in Mulberry Gap, GA (gravel road, endurance-style CX w/a daunting climb in the middle).
Valley of the Sun Stage Race Feb 13-15th
San Dimas Stage Race- looks to be in March, but I can’t find an official date
Today, since the temp never got above 35deg F and the rain never really stopped, I decided that I’d do one of the tasks off of the list I posted earlier.
I’ve got a couple of opportunities to do some climbing in the next month- once for the 2nd annual Memphis Velo training trip to Mt. Magazine in Arkansas, and then again at the Southern Cross race in Ellijay, GA. The latter will be an endurance-style cyclocross race that features a substantial climb on gravel forest roads. To make life a little easier, I figured I’d try out some gears on my previously-single speed Crosscheck.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
I still need to adjust the rear brake and fine tune the shifting, re-mount my Bulldog Tubelesses to my own wheels (ones in the photo are Ryan’s pit wheels), finish off the cables, and re-wrap the handlebars with some fresh white tape.
Oh yeah- and here’s the link to the Southern Cross course. You can click to go to mapmyride.com (select the “show elevation” option once you get there), and check out the “fun with elevation” that the race will feature. I’m pretty excited to take on the challenge!
Some of my favorites from Sunday:
I think it’s some sort of sick joke that the powers that be schedule the singlespeed CX race to go at 8:00a.m. on Sunday morning. Other than the potential for frigid temps, it doesn’t bother me (and lucky for me, it was unusually balmy Sunday morning). However, singlespeeders are notorious debaucherers…
From the singlespeed world championship event in Portland, OR:
I was hoping for some craziness at the line for my race, but, alas, other than being weird enough in the first place to want to ride a cyclocross race using only one gear was as odd as it got.
There were 82 starters, though only 55 official finishers. Why the 27 DNFs? Honestly, I have no idea, but I’m guessing it was a combination of a wreck in the first 100 yards as well as the countless riders I witnessed with dropped chains… I’m going on a little bit of a rant here: What’s with the dropped chains?!? I consider chain tension something to check along with tire pressure before every single ride. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but it’s never been an issue for me.
Anyway- back to the race…
When the official blew the whistle, we took off at full spin. As we passed the beer tent, someone from the sideline yelled, “SHIFT, DAMNIT!” A second or two later, someone must have tried, because there was a giant pile-up just before as well as just after turn #1. I used my elite wreck-avoiding skills to jump up a few positions as I negotiated my way through the melee. From there on out, I rode hard and had fun. I don’t know if I ever “turned myself inside-out” (in the words of the great Dave Towle), but I was pretty damn exhausted when I got pulled in 45th place just before the leader (who lapped me about halfway through my last lap) got the bell for his final lap. The only other woman in the race (Elizabeth Shogren- Sobe Cannondale) finished in an awesome 22nd place and went on to finish 35th in the Elite women’s race.
These are just a few of the singlespeed photos that Ryan took. For more, including Master’s men 30-34, Women 30-34 and 35-40, elite women, a few elite men, and some candids, check out Ryan’s KCCX PHOTO PAGE
After cleaning up and checking out of the hotel, Ryan and I went back to watch the Elite races. However, plummeting temps and a parking situation with potential to become a supreme cluster-ufck led to our leaving about halfway through the men’s race.
Fun. Hopefully the race remains centrally located so that we can go again next year!
Ryan raced today in the Masters 30-34 race. See photos from the race & his report HERE. I doubled as photographer and pit crew, though I wasn’t totally successful at both- his rear tubeless tire burped flat and I had to give him a bike change. That went well, but instead of getting a replacement rear wheel from the SRAM neutral equipment, I wasn’t thinking, and just re-inflated the flat tire and handed his bike back off to him 1/2 a lap later. The re-inflation mostly worked, though it still burped a couple more times during the course of the race, leaving him with the unsettling feeling of not knowing how flat his tire was during the remainder of the race.
I did manage to snap a few other random shots: