Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Transition to Cyclocross, with a Bonus MTB Marathon!

After racing something that has the distance of the Leadville Trail 100 it has been a little difficult for me to find reasonable goals for the fall racing season. I have discovered that I love the long hard format of marathon mountain biking and that I also have so much to learn. These races are few and far between, though, so I knew that I would have to change my focus for the fall. Thanks to the finances involved, a trip to Bend, OR, for the Marathon National Championships was out of the question, so I have been left with a body that wants to do long and fast mountain bike races, but there seemed to be none to be found.

So after a physical and emotional break from racing I settled in on Cyclocross, which seems like the exact opposite of what I had trained for much of the summer. My coach Mark Fasczewski started filling my training with short intense intervals, which filled my legs with pain. Mark was just elected as coach to the USA Cycling Cyclocross Committee, so, yeah, he really knows his stuff! Anyway, I sure need work in the Anaerobic Capacity department. Cyclocross races have turned into bike handling fiestas, and I also discovered that my cornering was definitely not up to par.

The first Cyclocross race of the season, Kirkland Cyclocross Race, is five miles from my home. MVBC, our local club and one that I sponsor, promotes this race and I help out when I can. Two tropical storms sandwiching a cold front also "helped out" with this race, dumping at least 8 inches of rain in a ten day period. Needless to say, the course was a muddy soupy mess, but most racers had a ton of fun. I was no exception. A bit stressed from some organizational tasks, I jumped into a very talented Women's Open field and had myself a fun fun time, running so many of the spots that I could easily climb on my preride the day before. It was great to be around my Corning NoTubes teammates again and we all spoke enthusiastically about the cyclocross races to come. My teammates cleaned up as well, collectively we took first, third, ninth (me) and tenth.

This past Saturday I kept myself close to home and raced the Critz Farms Kermise. I chose to race in the 40+ category, which gave me the win and some cash to help with the weekend's expenses. That was a good move, as the women in the Open category all finished ahead of me. My teammates again, taking a very solid first, second and fourth. This race was mostly on the gravel and rock roads at an apple orchard, and my poor cornering lost me lots of time. I will be so happy to be cornering on grass again!

After this race friend Katina reminded me of an endurance mountain bike race in Lowville, only 60 miles north from my home. This was to be held the next day, and, OMG, it was a chance to ride my mountain bike hard and fast! Even though I had just emptied my legs with many many intense sprints out of those dreadfully slow corners I was convinced that I would recover in time for the 46 mile adventure. So what if I had just installed my mud tires onto my mountain bike?

Sunday dawned cool and sunny and I was so excited as I drove up to the Tug Hill Plateau. The race, dubbed Race With the Wind, started and finished at the visitor center for the Maple Ridge Wind Farm. We are talking lots and lots of windmills here, as this is the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi. The huge white windmills and the clear blue sky made for a very surreal view in all directions.

The beautiful day brought out the racers and there were probably 50 riders at the start. We started up a paved road and then took a right up a smooth dirt road. A woman on a cyclocross bike left me in her dust and, at that point, my 2.2 Kenda Karma tires were doing me no favors in the speed department. I tried to keep her in my sights and concentrated on riding my own race, keeping my heart rate high, but in a zone that I knew I could hold for hours. The race was going to be pretty long, so I did not want to bury myself in the very beginning.

The dirt roads got rougher and rougher, with smooth gravel being replaced by huge round stones. All the roads had intermittent areas of huge puddles and mud. When I arrived at the first super-steep hill of the day, littered with rocks and crevices, I was thrilled to be on my trusty Stumpjumper 29er hardtail. I was riding this with ease, while the woman on the cyclocross bike was walking up the rough slope. I wished her well and pushed on. Ahead of me was a long section of bumpy, rocky, puddly, undulating road, and I was loving every minute of it. I was also very happy with the Kenda Karmas.

Now I was the lead woman, and in order to keep in this position I had to not only go as fast as I could without crashing but also take care of my body so that I would remain properly fueled and hydrated for the duration of the race. I focused on the data from my Joule, specifically my average speed and my current heart rate, and worked to keep the heart rate up but not spiking and my average speed above 13 as much as possible.

This was not so hard on the way out, as a quick look at the course profile shows that more elevation is lost than gained in the first half. In the second half I pushed even harder, knowing what I might expect for a finish time if I kept up the average speed. I kept sipping on my Camelback filled with water and Fizz tablets, nursing my bottle with Perpetuem, and periodically ingesting packets of my favorite flavors of Hammer Gel. Thank you Hammer! I caught and passed several of the men who had dropped me in the beginning.

When I got back onto the aforementioned roughest rocky undulating road I put on the afterburners. I roared back up this terrain, dropping the two guys that I had entered this piece of road with. I had been looking forward to this for quite some time, and, next to the sweet singletrack sections, it was for me the most pleasing part of the race. I pushed and pushed, not seeing a soul ahead or behind. Yeah, I was loving those tires.

When I was on the second to last road, only a mile or two from the finish, I turned around to see one of the men that I had been going back and forth with during the race. Oh, no, the bike racer in me would not let this overall placing go without a fight! I put it into a harder gear, putting in some more distance. Then, one last turn, and the finish line. I had won! More importantly, I had put in a good hard aggressive race. (Final results have not been posted, so I do not know how I placed in with the men.)

My time for the 46 miles was 3 hours and 32 minutes. Now, all I need to do is to produce two more consecutive intervals like this when I race Leadville next year and I could finish in under 11 hours! Ouch. Well, that is a worthy goal, and one that I am chasing. As for this race, I was thrilled to have this under my belt and to race it in a strong and consistent manner. It was great training for what lies ahead and something that I can visualize as I do my other training.

OK, now it is back to Cyclocross season again. I guess I had better get out there and practice some corners.