Syllamo Thanksgiving #1

Yesterday’s ride was somewhat abbreviated. Ryan, Bruce, and I took to the orange trail. It had rained earlier, so it was a good choice because of its relative lack of rocks. This was also the RDO’s first time out at Syllamo, and if I recall correctly, the first time I’d ridden gears on these trails since breaking a derailleur on the Air9 Scandium more than a year ago (and subsequently swore off gears on that trail forever).

The initial descent was a blast, and I decided I’d use the short climbs on the trail to do a little interval training and see how the new bike would perform. In the middle of the first interval, BAM! Stick to the rear derailleur. My shifting was immediately rough, but still somewhat functional. I finished the interval, rode back to meet with Ryan and Bruce, then kicked it up again for the next climb.

Ryan followed me up until we reached a stretch of open, bald, wet rocks. I knew they’d be periodically slick, but decided that today I’d take my chances and hammer across. I made it mostly through until I hit one last off-camber spot. My bike shot out from under me, but somehow I managed to catch myself and keep from falling by grabbing a nearby cedar sapling. My bike landed squarely on the right side, rendering the derailleur slightly less functional than before. Once I was at the top, I decided I’d swap hangers (I’d brought two spares). Unfortunately, the new hanger, though it fit the frame fine, was very slightly different than the old one, and the derailleur was horribly mal-adjusted. The amount of sand and crap in the drivetrain was making adjustments tedious, and Bruce, who had fallen chest-first onto a rock early in the ride, suggested we call it a day.

So, we bailed off on the forest road and coasted down to the car. Luckily, once everything was clean, lubed, and re-adjusted, the shifting was fine. Crisis averted, for now. I’m incredibly happy that Matt will arrive with my singlespeed Monday night, so the geared bike only needs to make it through one more day of riding.

PS- The RDO is still awesome. Even if it does have that silly “gear” thing.

Morning Mud

Earlier in the week, I was scheduled for a tough interval workout. For whatever reason (mostly leftover fatigue- both mental and physical), I decided to blow off the intervals and hit the trail for a mountain bike ride.

There was a deluge of rain approaching on the radar, and, even though it wasn’t very close to my area yet, the air was heavy, and small drops were spitting from the clouds within the first few minutes of my ride. When I passed the trailhead, the parking lot was empty. On the trail, the rain had not yet breached the tree cover, so the ground was dry.

The trail is a pretty popular spot for morning  joggers and the occasional mountain bike rider, but today, I was alone. The sound of the rain on the trees over my head and the solitude of being the only person in the woods was absolutely sublime. Something about railing through the empty woods on a singlespeed gives you time to reflect and clear your head.

As the rain quickened, the leaves on the trail started to get wet and slick, and, through the magic of good timing, I made it off the trail just as the ground started to become saturated. The ride back home on the gravel roads through the north side of the park was equally as awesome…

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Outdoors, Inc. MidSouth Cyclocross Championship

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was somewhat nervous going into this race. I’d had a slightly fatiguing training week, and I was unsure of my ability to defend “home turf” against the women who could potentially show up from out-of-town. However, following suit to most of the other races I’ve been to this season, the women’s field (6 of us) was somewhat small (partially due to the schedule conflict that pulled a few Nashville women north to the USGP race in Louisville, KY).

We lined up behind the group of “B” race men- cat 4s and beginner masters racers- and started a minute behind the group. I decided to take the initiative and dive into the wind head-first. I wasn’t sure how the other women would react, but it made for a good photo…

 

It took a lap or two to work through the slowest of the male traffic, but I eventually put a sizable gap between me and the other women. The next few laps, I had the pleasure of both bleeding out of my eyes and hearing all of my coworkers/friends cheering me on. Sponsorship gold, Jerry…

(notice worlds most badass armwarmers in that shot)

Hopefully, some more, awesome photos will surface soon.

The Epic

Tuesday afternoon, I received a text from coworker Kenny “Captain Sandals” Charles telling me to skip out on the afternoon and come ride the Epic that evening. I wasn’t sure- it’d been a while since I’d ridden at night, and I’d never ridden the Epic trails before. The trails have a “reputation” of being tough to navigate, and they run through bum villages and bad neighborhoods along the Wolf River/I-40 corridor. They’re also hangouts for rednecks on ATVs and 4x4s who drink and ride in the mud. So, since I usually ride alone, for personal safety reasons, I have never ridden the Epic Trails.

However, I was called to work the next day (normally my day off), and I got the thumbs up from Coach, so I bailed and went home to charge the lights. I packed up the RDO and met with the guys at a house a few miles from the trails. We rolled out, and, in a few minutes, were dropping in to a rough and rutted 4×4 trail.

These trails have a reputation for being difficult. It’s rumored that some of the mudholes could swallow a bike to the handlebars, and those mudholes are separated by a ribbon of raised berm that you must commit to and navigate in order to avoid the drink. I found that I have no problem (possibly even an affinity for?) following a tiny slab of dry dirt between mudholes- something that I was somewhat surprised by considering my problems with raised, narrow bridges. I guess it’s a heights thing. I think the other thing that gets people is that you basically have to quickly pick and commit to lines then be able to react quickly to unexpected features in the trail. It’s very much like racing on an unfamiliar trail… something I’ve grown somewhat used to.

We rode for nearly an hour and a half before turning back towards home (there was a chance of bad weather that would be rather unpleasant to be caught out in, so we thought better of trying to ride all the way downtown). Overall, the trail was a blast (even though I didn’t find it as “difficult” as the rumors say), the company was great, and I was home in time to cook dinner.

Our route:

Not all piss and vinegar

The Outdoors, Inc Cyclocross race is less than a week away now, and my nerves are already twitching. This race last year, I was in poor cyclocross shape- there was time off following the end of the endurance season followed by the start of low intensity base training. I was soundly thrashed by both Heather Ladd and Kat Williams. It was painful to get beaten so hard with all of my peers watching… I wished during the entire race that a giant mutant catfish would emerge from the the Mississippi River and swallow me whole.

This year is very different… at least along the lines of my own skills and fitness. It’s not different in that I still have the same insecurities about getting my ass kicked in front of all of my friends and co-workers. I’m not sure who all will show up- there’s bound to be an Arkansas contingent, but the Nashville gals (including Kat and others who are strong and fiercely competitive) are unknowns since many racers from Nashville will be going north to the USGP race in Louisville.

This is one of those races where I feel like I need to live up to expectations, and I’m nervous about the possibility that I can’t do so. The good part? It’ll make me race like my life depends on it… or wish for the imaginary catfish to swallow me and take me out to sea.

 

Gearhead CX Race Report

Since this post is largely about trying to beat guys in races, Fred, who commented on my previous post, should probably stop reading now.

Race #1 was against the women and cat 4 men. There were 3 other women and a handful of guys. First place was $200 (woohoo!), and I was planning on doubling up and jumping into the men’s open race just after the women’s, so my strategy going in was similar to McEwen- race hard enough to win the women’s race, and leave the guys alone. It started out like that, but within a couple of laps, I was gaining ground on the leader of the cat 4 race. I eventually passed him, and, of course, he chased, so I had to bust ass to stay away. Winning. Wait… Winning? Shit.

I tried my best to cool down a little without getting totally relaxed. I grabbed a gel and some water and kept rolling around until people started to line up.

Race #2: The payout was 10 deep, and 12 of us lined up. The goal was twofold- get money, and fu… uh… race hard. The start was great- I jumped into the course ahead of a couple of the slowest racers but behind the guys that I wasn’t sure of whether or not I’d pass. In the next few laps, I chased several of them down. For a while, I was alone between the 5 leaders and the ones behind me. I realized that I was pulling Larry Yancey (Mr. Honeybadger himself) back. It took a minute, but I eventually passed him in the box of turns just after the first barrier. The last three laps was hell. I felt every pedal stoke from the first race, but managed to hold off all of the guys that I’d passed and finish in 5th place.

Bounty for the day… (thanks Gearhead for such an awesome race/payout!)

 

Today, I suffered and, for the first time in a while, felt fast. It was both painful and liberating at the same time. A mile-marker on my road to Worlds…

 

McEwen CX

Since daylight savings is giving me an extra hour of beer-drinking blog-writing time tonight, I figured I’d go ahead & get today’s race report out of the way.

Ryan and I went to McEwen today (just west of Nashville). When I arrived at registration, I found out that there’d be a small (4 of us) but competitive women’s 1/2/3 field. Woohoo!

We lined up behind the Cat 3 men and started 30 seconds back from them. I had the holeshot, but dropped back in the first couple of turns in order to get a feel for the other women’s strengths/weaknesses. At the first log barrier, my nerves got the best of me, and I mis-timed a dismount- I was off in time, but lifted my bike late and bonked my front wheel into the tree at full-speed… my bike bounced backwards hard enough to send me into an odd dirt/mtb shoe interpretation of a 180 ballet pirouette. At that point, I’d been on Jessica Owings wheel, but Amanda Ragle took advantage of my screw-up and passed me going into a nasty off-camber turn along the edge of a stank-ass cow pond.

Somewhere soon after, I passed Jessica to stay on Amanda’s wheel. My temporary plan was to stick to her wheel for a little bit, then throw down a strategized attack later in the race. However, we soon took to the barriers, and I ended up getting a gap on the ground (thank you, Coach, for those 20x dismount workouts…) When I took the lead, I maintained the same, barely maintainable pace that we’d done for the first lap. Amanda & Jessica did not.

I kept hammering the course as hard as possible. I could see Amanda a couple of turns back, so I didn’t want to let off at all. After a few laps, Ryan gave me a time check of “well over a minute.” I kept hammering. I was pulling the cat 3 men in like fish on a trotline. Soon enough, I was bearing down on the guy who was in 4th when I realized that I could no longer see Amanda in any of the turns behind me. I made the executive decision to downshift and take it down a notch. I’ll be racing for bigger money in Jonesboro tomorrow, so I forced myself to swallow my pride and not totally bleed out of my eyes in order to achieve the “make all the guys my bitches” goal.

At just under breakneck speed, I concentrated mainly on not braking much. I realized today that with the ill-fitting geometry of my previous CX bike, I was just now starting to learn how to turn fast enough to squirm/roll my rear tire under. Fun stuff!

Later, in the podium photo, I potentiated the Nashville rumor that I’m a “lesbian biker chick”… who cares what anyone thinks when you’re on the top step?

Fall stuff

Yesterday was my first long(ish) ride in a few weeks. I’ve officially decided that Lambert Drive in Fayette County is my most favorite place to ride in this area. It includes a beautiful hardpack gravel section (east of 194 just before Old Solomon Mill) that’s gorgeous at all times of the year. Right now, it’s bright orange and yellow.

 

P.S. If you venture out there, you’ll find out quickly, as Matt and I did, that there’s fresh gravel on Old Solomon Mill. It’s wonderfully deep and slippery. My advice? Keep it in the big ring and pedal as hard as you can.

I realized yesterday that cyclocross racing is starting to further improve my fitness. I feel like I’ve been on an improving streak that started with 6 Hours of Herb and is slowly but steadily continuing. Since I’ve done most of my racing/riding alone, I’m hoping that racing in Nashville and Jonesboro this weekend will draw some tough female competition out so I can have some sort of comparison as to how I’m stacking up.

The road to Worlds is looking cautiously positive.

In non-bike news, I have the most awesome rebel curl in my hair right now. It’s sort of sitting off to the side on my forehead yelling, “eff all of you, I’m gonna go over here and be extra curly, and there ain’t sh1t you can do about it!”

 

And, as always, here’s your weekly edition of “the current Glitch Mob song that Andrea is rocking out to”…

 

November MH&F

It’s November, which, if you live in Memphis, means two things… 1) the weather will, at some point, cease to be unseasonably warm and start to be unseasonably cold (usually within a span of 24 hours); and 2) Outdoors, Inc’s annual  Cyclocross Race headlines Memphis Health and Fitness magazine. I could tell you all about the race here, but then you wouldn’t have a reason to either click that link or read the article in Memphis Health and Fitness.

Last year, I was photographed and included in a sidebar along with the article… sort of a “meet a real life cyclocross racer” thing. This year will be similar, except for the cover photo. Instead of using a photo of racers taken during a previous cyclocross race, they realized that during cyclocross races, people generally scowl, drool, and have a gelatinous mixture of sweat and boogers hanging from the end of their noses. Instead, it made sense to take a photo of someone doing cyclocross things outside of the whole race situation.

So, a few weeks ago, I met a photographer & publisher at Mud Island park. They took a lot of photos- standing, running (up stairs and on the ground), riding, etc. The fun part was doing everything in slow motion while smiling, looking at the camera and trying to look like I was not doing whatever it was in slow motion. Everyone’s favorite one? Shoulder my bike and freeze in place while running up the stairs…

Hopefully, next time I run up those stairs, I’ll be going much faster and be dragging the souls of my competition along with me. The race is November 13th. Come out, watch, and heckle. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to drink a beer and yell at people on a Sunday morning- perfectly acceptable behavior for any cyclocross race.

 

And, on a totally random note, here’s a video that made me smile:

 

 

 

Spookycross #1 & 2

A pair of somewhat uneventful races rolled into one post. I was the only 1/2/3 woman racing on both days, so the biggest battle was with the course itself, which had several very challenging sections to negotiate.

I raced the “A” race along with the Masters men and 1/2/3 men. The officials had each category start separately, meaning I started alone, 1 minute back from the 1/2/3 men and 30 seconds behind the masters men. I managed to catch the back of the masters within the first lap, and kept reeling them in, one at a time, over the next 55 minutes. It seemed like half the time I ended up catching people in one of the two singletrack sections and having to force a pass or wait until we exited. The other half of the catches happened to be at the barriers- one huge set of three was at the top of a steep hill coming out of the woods (they were so tall and the ground was so steep I had to get off of my bike early to get a better running start at them) , and the other was a set of three logs that were  insanely fast since they were a little downhill. I caught up to the back end of the 1/2/3 field on the final lap.

Sunday, the course was reversed, and the rotten log pile/barriers that had previously been part of a singletrack runup were removed to create a tight, hair-raising decent with a couple of small drops off of roots and water bars. The huge set of barriers was moved slightly- they were still on a steep uphill, but on uneven ground that fell away from the middle of the barrier, making them a few inches taller. Jeebus.
This time, all of the categories started together. I got a little jammed up in traffic at the start and ended up behind some people who were not very fast on singletrack. Most of the 1/2/3 men got away from me, and I had to make some almost dirty singletrack passes to get through traffic. I reeled a lot of the same people in, including someone who usually kicks my butt- Larry Yancey (seen here in the Walmart kit leading Quadzilla around the tree):

When I passed Larry, he yelled at me only that he’d broken his right shifter off. My initial thought was “HTF did that happen?” I couldn’t think for long, though, because he started to bulldog me for an entire lap before backing off slightly near where I’d caught him in the first place. Later, I found out that just before I passed him, he’d rolled a tubular and endoed, which broke both his frame AND right shifter… honeybadger-style racing from someone who has celebrated his 60th birthday this season:

 

So, again, I finished somewhere around the front of the Master’s category and the end of the mens’ 1/2/3 category. I was somewhat disappointed that no other 1/2/3 women showed, but raced hard against the men nonetheless. I really appreciate that, even though the women were sparse (there were only two Cat4 women), the promoters still paid equally to mens’ & womens’ categories. The 55 minute format was a painful change from the <40min races that kicked off the season. Also, the new bike is performing fabulously, and looks wonderful with the new parts:

(another great photo by Perry Barker)

Future plans? Another double weekend coming up- McEwen (Hoss of Cross) is Saturday and Sunday (another equal pay race! Woohoo!) However, we may venture to Jonesboro, AR on Sunday instead for a big payout CX event up there. After that, the Outdoors, Inc race on Mud Island followed by a few days at Syllamo the week of Thanksgiving. The fitness is falling in place for the leadup to Worlds in January…