I’ve been racing ‘cross now for 4.1839 seasons. I still get nervous the night before, and my heart still races well over 100 bpm on the start line. I still go out of the gate like a scalded rabbit, although I’ve learned how to tone it down a bit. My footwork is still ugly and I can’t remount properly on hills and sloping off-camber sections. I’m a forever cat 3, and who knows if I’ll ever see those shoulder numbers outside of a master’s nationals race. I haven’t given up, though, and this past weekend was a testament to my stubborn determination.
Utah is an interesting place for many reasons. The ‘cross racing is no different, and the UTCX season opener made me lust long and hard after a two-stroke engine. The race was held at Rocky Mountain Raceway, boasting a drag strip start, a lot of loose turns and a deathly downhill. Being the new fish in the pond didn’t help my pre-race jitters either. I felt like I might throw up during the entire hour-long drive that morning, and getting dressed for course inspection almost had me in a cold sweat. Ok, I’m being slightly dramatic here (who, me?), but I was definitely feeling sketched out before I even saw the course. Typical Archer.
First lap was a rude awakening, and offered similar feelings to my first mountain bike ride in Utah. It was loose and scary. I’m used to mud, rocks, and roots. Where was the slop? I wanted my Limus tires in a bad way, but those were things of the past. I made it to the logs and remembered the last time I tried to ride a triple log barrier section. I decided I wasn’t 100% certain that I could clean it 100% of the time (Thanks, Adam), so I ran it. Shew…made it. On to the run-up.
Solid run-up, guys. The ankle deep dust on crust made for an interesting threshold interval, even at a course inspection pace, and I thought about how bad it was going to hurt at race pace. The descent on the other side was even more of a challenge. I stood at the top, failing to commit for three solid attempts. Hard left into a hard right, down an off-camber pseudo sand pit. WHAT THE HELL? I watched a couple folks go down on mountain bikes. It was like I was standing at the top of a chute, waiting to drop in on an avalanche path. I can be so overly excited about things I can for sure accomplish, but my fear of commitment is ridiculous on so many levels. So I did it. Almost crashed. Made it. Next.
I’ve never said this, ever, but I was so happy to see pavement. Here I am, the girl who always got excited for technical courses because it slowed the crit racers down, AND I’M EXCITED ABOUT LONG STRETCHES OF PAVEMENT. Since moving to Utah, I’ve discovered this thing called POWER and these things called LEGS and they move much faster than I remember. So yeah, the pavement was my savior. A couple more laps and I was ready(ish) to line up.
The start was literally the longest, straightest paved section I’ve ever seen in a ‘cross race. It was longer than Derby City Cup by a gazillion miles, and I kept thinking “DO NOT GO OFF LIKE A ROCKET”. Let’s face it; I’m so damn good at getting the hole shot. I’m also really solid at blowing up after a lap. I decided to stay steady with another woman who also went off like a rocket, and I let her take the first turn. We both wanted to hit the dirt before the rest of the pack, though, because West Coast dust clouds are not to be fucked with. Into the motocross track we went…
Whoops on a motorcycle are easy. Whoops on a motocross track, on a ‘cross bike, racing with other people on bikes are hard. I got pinched in a turn and ended up going over the bars in a deep moon dust pile, and I watched the small field leave me in that cloud of moon dust. “Well, shit. You’ve got to be kidding me?!” I thought. I got up and noticed both hoods were pointing towards each other, but decided it was time to learn how to ride with both hoods pointed towards each other. I finished out the whoops while beating my hoods into submission. I turned myself inside out to pick people off, and ran through the barriers so fast that I nearly tripped and knocked out my teeth. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to get left in the dark, so I did what I had to do. Would it stick? Would I blow up? I had no idea.
The run-up was painful, as they always are, and I could hear myself audibly wheezing as I reached the top. I hid my fear and grabbed the drops like it was my job. I surfed the turns and managed to make it to the bottom of the hill without taking out any course materials. WIN. “Cool, so now I just have to pedal back around to this part a couple more times and I’m golden.”
I managed to catch up to 3rd place during the 2nd lap, and we fought each other over the next lap and a half. I generally use pavement to recover, but I knew I could make up time if I got up out of the saddle and pounded the concrete as hard as I could without blowing up. I came pretty close to shutting it down a couple times, but those weekday lunch rides have whipped me into a bit of a big gear machine. This is something I’m definitely not used to, but I really enjoy the whizzing noise a bunch of watts make.
It was over 90 degrees and I don’t race with a bottle cage. I was wearing a skinsuit. I had no place for water. A friend of mine was sweet enough to give me a handup, but my dumb ass missed it the first time. I watched that water bottle drift off into the depths of hell in slow motion as I passed through. I’ve never been so sad about a drink of water. I caught it the next time. Lesson learned. Get better at this.
After 48 minutes at an average heart rate of 178 bpm (yeah I’m a nerd), I managed a 3rd place finish. Considering the crash, all the footwork mistakes I made off the bike, and the fact that I am most certain I saw Jesus standing next to a bright white light, I think I did pretty okay. My fear had turned to heartburn and my nerves had been burned to death in the hot sun, but I was so fulfilled and happy. I lost my voice and probably had the black lung from all the dust, but the opportunity to spend a day doing the thing that I love the most was enough to make all that worth it. I live in Utah and I’m racing cyclocross. How can you feel sad about that?
Alright, so I had the second lap blues pretty bad. Whatever.
I love seeing progression. I love feeling powerful. I love feeling good about myself. The curse of being an athlete can be beautiful when everything lines up. You feel me?