Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cross Season: off with a BANG!

I apologize ahead of time to those not using Google Chrome, the videos apparently won't work in Internet Explorer.  If you would like to see them, CLICK HERE

September wrapped up my tri and road cycling season, and after 19 races, it's now onto the next thing: Cyclocross.

I just wrote up another blog post about USAT Nationals, but it's fairly depressing, and cyclocross is much more exciting.  So, if you're interested, you can read.  But let's move on to something more interesting...

 I was hesitant to say it last year, since it was only my first year doing cyclocross and road racing, but I can say it for sure now: cyclocross has become my favorite cycling pastime.  Even compared to triathlon, cyclocross has quickly become one of my favorite sports.

I moved up from a Cat 4 to a Cat 3 this year after some urging from my team mates, and I was more than a little apprehensive about the move into the Cat 3/4 race.  I decide this year would be about learning and building, and next year could be more about accomplishments.

Still, I decided that I should do a little specific training for cyclocross since I did 0 last year.  In fact, last year I'd basically race on the weekends, and then during the week I might ride once and run once.  I was so drained in between I could barely do anything else!

But not this season.  With all the races and the determination to building on last year, I decided to start just a little training in September, even before Savageman had happened.  I did some 5x30:30's, which were shockingly hard, and also did a couple sets of 10 minute hill climbs.  I figured I needed to work on my power and threshold work, rather than my aerobic or tempo fitness, since I was hoping that would carry over from the rest of the season.

But all in all, I actually didn't get to do as much as I was hoping.  Next year, tri season will end in August, and I will start training for 'cross in September.  This year, it just didn't happen.

The first race, as others have already discussed, was Kick-off in Pt Marion, PA.  Unfortunately, I was at a scientific meeting in Westminster, CO and had to miss it.  Before I left I did get in one of JR's famous rail-jam workouts (riding, running, and sprinting on the desolate portions on the rail trail) and I was very sad I was going to miss out on the first race.  However, I did get in some nice runs while I was there...and at 5000+ feet I was hoping I gained a little hematocrit too!

When I came back, I was exhausted from lack of sleep, but eager to get my season underway.  I took 2 days completely off, and then did a couple hard workouts, including 3 repeats of Wymps Gap.  If you're in the area and haven't ridden wymps, you should check it out (Wymps).

I took it easy towards the end of the week, and felt good.  I wasn't completely rested, but was so excited to race, it didn't matter.

I competed in the Military Cross (results) as my first 'cross race of the season.  I decided to race single speed (SS) this year, as well as the Cat 3/4 race.  I figured I'd just gain even more fitness and experience.

After many workshops and discussions with local guru Gunnar Shrogen, I decided on a 36x18 gearing, classic 2:1.  For this first course, I wasn't too worried about my result, I just wanted to see if the bike would hold up and and if I could ride some of the tougher terrain with said gearing.

As I toed the line, I was nervous!  I had wrecked only minutes early, ripping my tire of the front wheel, and giving myself some back road rash on my elbow.  I also hadn't been able to warm up for as long as I had liked, because I was unorganized and kept getting distracted.

Anyways, the SS race is an "elite-open" race with guys from Cat 1 though Cat 4.  I knew I was in for it, but was excited no the less.

The whistle blew and I took off, hard, as I had been instructed.  I slotted into 6th position, and tried to hold onto the front guys.

They quickly started to gap me, and I realized I was probably going a bit too hard.  I backed off just a tiny bit, and was passed by another racer.  I was now in 7th, and hoped to hold off any other racers.

The first few laps flew by, but by the third, I kept catching a rider coming up behind me.  Turns out, it was Betsy Shogren.  The women race at the same time as the SS...and she was chasing me down!

I worked hard to try and stay in front, but she reeled me in, and eventually passed me when I had to run a section that she could ride.  After following her for sometime, I tried an attack on a pavement section, and got by.

But it didn't last.  She got me on a long(ish) climb, and I couldn't react.  I closed the gap again as we got close to the finish line, but she stayed away.

In all the fervor of battling it out with her, I had sorta forgot that I was racing against other men in the SS.  She's just so freaking fast, I got distracted!

But no other guys had passed.  So I ended up 7th.  I guess they messed up the result though, as they have me as 10th (some guys we lapped got put in front of us).  Bummer!

Then, an hour and half later was the Cat 3/4 race.  I got a 2nd line call-up, and knew I needed a good start to get by some folks in the front line.

At the whistle, I blew by some folks, and got right into 5th place.  I worked hard in the beginning again, trying to stay with some guys I knew from other teams.

Fellow team mate and team manager JR was also in front of me, in the 4th place position.   After only a lap or two, as I was reeling him in, all of a sudden he veered off into the pit, and I blew by!  I was now in 4th.

No time to think about my team mate, I noticed another rider closing in fast behind me.  Every turn he'd be another 10 feet closer.  Then, as we hit the pavement- CRASH! I heard it as I rounded a 180 degree corner, and saw the guy face plant into the pavement.  Yikes.  I was confident in my Kenda tires, and was happy with how well my Happy Mediums (35cc) were handling the corners and the straights.  MUCH better cornering than I had even guessed!

The rest of the race, I basically tried to just hang on.  I felt the SS race in my legs, and made a couple mistakes that cost me time.  One time, I spun out and had to run a long section that was rideable every other lap.  That's where things got interesting.

I could then see JR and fellow team mate Ben chasing me down.  Every corner they'd be a little closer.  While I don't want to compete, per say, with my team mates....I wanted that podium spot!

So I dug deep on the final lap.  As we rounded the final couple of corners, JR yelled "Don't let him by on your inside!".  What?

Then a guy, which I hadn't noticed because I was so concerned with JR and Ben, tried to pass!  Not so fast!

I blocked him, and when he tried to go again, I blocked again.  Then we came to the final run-up no further than 200 yards from the finish.  At the top, I jumped on my bike...and missed my pedals.  Twice.

In talking with this guy after the race, he said "I saw you bobble your pedals, and I nailed mine, and I knew I had you".

Still it came down to a photo sprint finish.  I was in slightly too high a gear, and he got me.  I was nosed out of 4th and into 5th by no more than half a wheel!

Still, I was pretty happy, and I won my first prize money ever!

Then, the next day, I started to feel awful- my throat hurt, my head hurt.  I ended up getting a cold from my wife, and had to miss a couple days of work.  I slept 10 hours every night, and I only got 2 rides in all week: 1 on the rail trail on my SS for 30 minutes, and the other trying to ride my new Cannondale Flash on Thursday, but I felt so awful I ended up mostly just coasting around for 30 minutes.

On Friday, I decided to take another day off from work.  I slept 10:30-10:15, and felt even worse.  I helped set-up the course for the Marilla Cyclocross on Saturday since it is only 5 miles from my house, and rode the course a few times with fellow team mates Derek and Anne.  I didn't feel stellar, but I was definitely much better.  1 more good nights sleep and I figured I'd be at least able to do 1 race, even if I didn't do it at 100%.

Well of course, anyone who knows me won't be surprised that come Sunday I decided to do both races.  It's our hometown race, and I am just dying to get in as much 'cross racing as possible!

I got there early, and got to watch some teammates race, including the Chip N Clydesdales (see video at the bottom of the blog).

I dressed up this time for the SS race as Elliot from E.T.- complete with E.T. on the front of my bike!

 This time I was in the front row of the race, next to the real fast guys.  I felt funny, standing there in my red hooded sweat-shirt, throwing Reese's Pieces at people, while these guys stood there looking at me like I WAS E.T.!

The whistle blew again, and I was off.  I sprinted hard, and team mate Mike pulled in front of me- and then something happened and he swerved and slowed down.  I veered around him as his legs spun against no resistance- chain dropped.

I jumped in behind Gunnar and Gerry Pflug and knew I was in over my head but just kept working.  Gunnar suddenly started to slow, and I passed him.  What was going on!?!?!?!

The course at Marilla is really fun.  Not a lot of elevation change, but fairly technical.  Lots of little touches that make it fun.  And of course the Hill of Death (See other video at the end).

Half way through the 40 minutes, I was in 5th place, with a huge gap to 6th...Mike had caught up and blew by me in the first lap...and Betsy was in front of me again!  I was trying to chase her, but she's so freaking fast!  And I wiped out once too.  But otherwise uneventful.

I kept racing, and throwing my reeses at folks on course, but I was getting over heated in my sweatshirt.  And I could feel the sickness, I usually fade a little at the end of races, but it was much more severe today.

And just as I was about to let up, only a couple tenths of a mile from the finish, solidly in 5th place, I saw something that made me panic- Gunnar.  And he was hell bent.  FLYING around the corners behind me.

Carly started SCREAMING for me, even more than normal.  I went into hyper mode, stood up and hammered.

I actually closed down the gap on Betsy, and as we went around the last little horseshoe before the finish, she yelled back "you got him Jerry", and I glanced back and he was no more than 30 or 40 feet behind me.  When I saw him only a minute or two previously, he was probably 150.  Yikes.

But anyways, I got 5th and got to stand on the podium!

Then, after some standing around cheering, I got to race again.  The course conditions had changed a bit, and I needed my mud tires.  It wasn't horrible (I was able to run 40psi) but it was much slicker than during the SS race now that another 100 racers had ridden over the course.

I was feeling like crap as I warmed up for the next race.  I had a slight headache, and my throat was sore from both sickness and yelling.  I just took a couple Honey Stinger gels and a Raw Rev bar and focused on getting really warmed up.  As I got close to start time, I was feeling marginally better.  At least no headache.

As I rode down to the start, folks were already lining up.  I got a nice call up and was on the front line.  Right next to team mate JR and 2011 Cat 4 Arch-Nemesis Jeff Curry (hahaha Jeff's a great guy).

Before the start, race director Gary said there would be a half lap prime for the first to make it from the start (which is half way through the lap) to where the finish is.  Since I had already podiumed, and I wasn't feeling stellar, I thought...why not?  I'm going for it.

So at the whistle, I unleashed fury.  I hammered the pedals as hard as I could, and at the first corner, I had a nice 10 foot gap on the rest of the field.  I pushed hard in those first few minutes and tried to be defensive through the corners, but no one tried to pass, and I got the prime- a $20 gift certificate to Pathfinder!

After that, I backed off significantly.  I didn't want to be the rabbit.  In retrospect, I should have just kept pushing, I think it would have paid off.  But hindsight is 20/20, and I didn't.  It took a couple more corners, but a couple guys passed me and I slid in behind them.  For the next couple of laps, I did well in sticking with them, even though they have all traditionally been much faster than I.

Going up the hill of death, I actually got in front of them again.  I had practiced that part of the course a fair bit, and I was efficient at it.  But shortly after, I dropped back again as they slowly pulled away.

Once it was clear they were dropping me, I think my body started to revolt against my mind.  I started to really sag.  I was in 4th, and I was happy with that, and I started to settle.  Rookie mistake.

Teammate JR started coming up from behind, along with 2 other riders, and I got a new wind of motivation.  I tried to hold them off, but they slowly moved in and got on my wheel.  The first guy passed on a long flat pavement section.  And then JR passed.  Now I was in 6th, and off the podium.  I tried VERY hard to stay on JR's wheel, and I think normally I could have, and it would have been really fun racing with him.  But unfortunately, on this day, I just continued to fade, and he slowly slowly got away.

Half way through the last lap I realized I was all alone- JR was about 25 feet in front of me, and the next guy behind me was at least 150.  It was clear JR was going to stay away, and I felt little threat from the guys behind.  I backed off again, and crossed the line in 6th place.  Bummer, just off the podium, the worst place to be!

But- there is good news even here!  The race directors decided to pay out to 6th place, so I got a prize even thought I didn't make the podium.

All in all, it's been a great start to the season.  Next weekend is a Non-ABRA race on Sunday, and then the following week is Monster Cross.  I really want to do well for Monster cross since it's also the WV state championship.  Thanks to all our sponsors for the support, and stay tuned!