MUD! This was a very fun race. The course wound around the soccer and softball fields and so was mostly on turf. Well it was turf before all the earlier racers churned it into a sloppy, ankle-deep quagmire. Bring it! The course started on second base (there was literally a second base bag right in the middle of the course at the start/finish). There was a mud/grass section that led to a guttercreek crossing that they rigged with some sort of a bridge with some rubber mats but there was a small muddy hill after that that forced a dismount and runup. Pop back onto the saddle and there was a fun little section that wound through some trees and then had a tricky slippery downhill into another gutter/creek crossing (I saw a surprisingly high number of crashes here). A very brief pavement section sent us back into a grass field for more mud and a long slog around the outside of a grassy field. Then there was a deep puddle crossing that led into a fast double track section with some nice watery puddles to hit at "high" speed to try to clean off some of the mud. Then more mud and a tight turn and a strange section of cement that was beside some sort of shallow lap pool or wading pool or something. By the last lap it was VERY tempting to just ride into the pool but that would have made a big mess (I saw pics from the race where someone DID bunny hop right into the pool, haha!). Anyway there was more mud and a big puddle funneling through a break in the fence back into the softball fields. But first there was a double barrier and a long muddy section before the finish line that was best off taken at a run. This all added up to about seven minute laps with about one to two minutes of running per lap. Oh, and in case you were wondering my average pace for the race was a hair under 7 mph! As fun as these races are this ain't track or criterium racing!
Here's some pics so you get an idea...
With all the mud the tactic of the day seemed to pace things instead of the usual sprint start-recover-survive rhythm of a cyclocross race. I had a slow start and was pretty far back but at the first gutter crossing/runup I dismounted, shouldered my bike and passed at least six guys who were either bogged down trying to ride the little hill or were pushing their bikes instead of carrying. I made another couple of passes and by the time we were out into the open field I counted myself as being in thirteenth. That was the way it stayed until the doubletrack section where a few guys passed and we had a brief paceline going (which is just a whole heckuvalotof fun when you're eating rooster tail...). But back into the thick-slow mud those guys dissappeared again. By the time we crossed the pool, the barriers and ran the loong section to the start/finish I had made a few more passes and was feeling really good since I hadn't really dug in to the max effort reserves yet.
The rest of the race had some good racing and I felt I passed and lost more than I got beat. I was trailing one fellow on the last lap by a few seconds and I was determined to beat him. I kept him in my sights. I was riding alot of the mud that he was running and he was pushing his bike not carrying it so I was feeling very confident that I would be able to out run him on the final section since I'm a carrier and you can run a long section faster carrying your bike than pushing it through the mud. My tactic was to get through the barriers, close the gap, shadow him and then sprint past at the finish.
Usually you "suitcase" your bike over barriers. That's just what it sounds like, you grab the top tube and carry your bike like a suitcase. But if there's a running section after the barriers you have to figure an efficient way to shoulder your bike while hopping the barriers. The best way is to just shoulder your bike right at the start but that dismount-shoulder-barrier hop maneuver is a little clumsy. There is a clever trick where you dismount and as you run hit the front brake hard sending the rear of the bike hopping up into the air where you catch it and send it straight to your shoulder. But you have to be already running a step or two and typically the hop over the barrier comes on your second step after dismounting. So if you're going to hop the bike you have to dismount a little earlier and that's where I screwed up I dismounted and ended up trying to hop the bike, grab it and jump the barrier all at the same time. Well two out of three ain't good and I ended up flying over the barriers and very comically left my bike behind on the first barrier! I've seen funny pictures of cyclocrossers leaping the barriers with their bike ten feet behind them before but that's the first time I managed to do it myself. This was so funny I didn't even care that my plan of attack was all screwed up as I reversed direction grabbed my bike and got going again.
But to my surprise, the guy I was chasing down seemed to have had problems of his own! Maybe he fell down after the second barrier or something because he ended up right in front of me on the run. The long minute of running ended with my digging in an sprinting around him at the finish line. I don't think he was too happy about that since I got a pretty half hearted return on the traditional post finish line handshake from him. But that's racin'.
After the race I hosed off my bike and jumped right into the creek to wash all the mud off my clothes, shoes and socks. That's the funny thing about a wet muddy race. Normally you would look at a running creek on a 50 degree day and think, "no way am I getting in that cold water." But if you're covered head to toe with mud and wet and cold anyway it's no big deal to wade right in and stay there just to get clean.
Man racing is SO much more fun when your feeling a bit more fit and fresh and up to the challenge! Coupled with some fun courses it's been great to have this cyclocross season turned into more fun and less frustration! I'll probably only do one more cross race in January then the traditional Early Bird road race out of Patterson before I turn to a more traditional winter base mileage routine for February and March.
So that's the last race of 2010! I'm going to be doing some boring posts coming up evaluating 2010 - what went wrong what went right- and such here as the year turns and then maybe do the usual post of loose goals for 2011.
Thanks for reading. Even if it's just me reading this a year from now! Ha!