After years of maintaining a casual curiosity for cyclocross racing, and finding various excuses every fall not to drive up to NC for their series – Start Smart Cycling, Upstate SORBA and Greenville Rec bring a CX event to Greenville.
No more excuses. I pre-registered and got in some basic skills drills on my CX bike.
Today was the day. Now I was in for it.
http://bible.com/114/mat.20.16.nkjv “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Now before I start a war over hermeneutics let’s be clear I know I’m using this verse out of context. Think of it as a Biblical pun.
The nice folks organizing the race were kind enough to post the route a few weeks previous on ridewithgps.com. I arrived the Friday evening before, hoping to pre-ride the course and was not disappointed. The course was just being completed as I took a few laps.
This one was not flat by any stretch of the imagination. Plenty of ups and downs, covering much of the park (Westside Aquatic in Greenville, SC).
Fast forward to Saturday. My checklist was complete from the night before as I had all my gear. Arrived early to get my number, warm up and be ready.
Hincapie Sportswear was there providing goodies for the drawings, Swamp Rabbit Cafe selling their tasty food for lunch.
Number pinned on. Check.
My strategy for the day was simple. I had read a few “how to do your first cross race” accounts online and took them as a call to pack a normal 2 hour training ride effort into a 30 min race. I had practiced for the barriers and stairs (dismount / mount). Finally, I had been on the course previously and scoped out challenges. I decided on the following:
– Finish the ride strong (find a strong pace, hold it and don’t blow up)
– Cleanly execute all the obstacles (don’t crash! Be smooth and don’t rush the stairs or barriers)
– Ride the WALL every lap (attack this hill every time and don’t wimp out by hiking up)
Below – the stairs, just after the start line. First lap the field went to the right for a bypass. After that, you had to negotiate a few stairs plus a barrier at the top, then more uphill. A bit of a challenge to find a good spot to re-mount.
The barriers. Slight downhill, which was nice. I had been practicing with my own barrier at this exact height and felt I could do these cleanly if I didn’t rush. When I pushed too fast when practicing I lost rhythm and bad things happened…
Finally, the Wall, the last big feature before rounding the ball field and into start/finish.
This was a tough pitch that required brute force. Thankfully I was accustomed to doing leg presses. Maybe I should call this leg press hill as that ‘s pretty much what it was like. Right …. left …. right ….. left …. or maybe “The Stairclimber” would be better…
One “how-to” guide recommended warming up on the trainer. I didn’t see anyone else doing this, as they chose instead to pre-ride the course and around the facility. I’m very thankful that I decided to do this and to my triathlete friend who let me borrow her bike trainer. I brought my road bike for it, warmed up exactly how I wanted over 30 min to work up to being able to push my max HR, and then hopped on my cross bike to go to the start line. No fiddling with swapping rear tires or disconnecting from the trainer.
This is what the typical field would look like for each race of the day:
And this is what my group looked like. This was, in fact, the only view of this group I had the whole race.
Did I mention I entered the Masters 35+ CX 4/5 race?
Who’s idea was that?
A quick talk from the USAC official and I knew I was in for something. I felt like I was joining in for a fast SCTAC group ride where everyone knew each other (including the official) and I was the newbie. As in the guy who accidentally fell in with the wrong group… As he rattled off each entry by first name, and as each racer confirmed their presence I felt a group familiarity, to which I was a bit of a foreigner.
Nonetheless, the starting bell was imminent. Put up or shut up time.
Off we went!
From the line I had no intentions of going for a hole shot. If you’re concerned about being the slow one, the worst move is to jump ahead only to confirm that fact to the entire field as they pass you by. Instead I fell into the end of the pack and played “watch and learn” as we moved through the first part of the course.
About halfway through the first lap, this was the lead group… (photo credits to BusyWife)
And then a little ways back … this was me (in red). Holding onto last place.
Still there, fighting over last place…
At the Wall. I had a fantastic cheering section! Need more cowbell!
Still trying to catch that guy…
I passed for next-to-last once on the course, right at the Wall. It seemed like the only advantage I had over the guy in front of me, but he was too strong everywhere else for me to catch him. I tried to pace myself 3 laps in so I could catch him on the last lap (4) but I just didn’t have enough juice.
But it was still very sweet to have my family cheering me on. Daddy was last, but it didn’t matter.
On to the finish…
It was a bit disappointing to finish dead last. But someone had to do it … and I’m glad to have had the humbling that it was. Later I learned that the open men’s CX 5 would have been better for a beginner like me, but looking back on it I would have done it the same. The competitiveness of this group made me push crazy hard.
Things were still a success. I didn’t crash. I managed all the obstacles cleanly and from an effort point of view did exactly what I wanted to do. My ride data showed me jumping up to a 175 HR from the start and holding it there as an average until I bumped into the low 180s on my last lap push. Everything went according to plan.
To complete the pun, this race was a first for me … so not so bad to be last! Nowhere to go but up from here, right?
(And if anyone is wondering, yes I’m completely hooked on ‘cross and plan a few more races this season!)
Another great thing about CX racing is how much of an event it is. Spectator friendly as the course is very compact, and at least for this event very family friendly. Mid-day they had a race just for the kids, and our two little ones had a blast running the kids course. Our oldest even did two laps!
We decided to stay for the entire day of racing to soak in all the fun. Many people chose to drop in and see some action, as well as many participants who would just up for their race and then depart shortly thereafter. Hoping to catch some of the best action, we waited around for the Men’s Elite CX 1/2/3. I wasn’t disappointed – these were some fast guys! This very amateur videographer got some footage from the first two laps. Watching these guys at the Wall was a learning point for me. Taking it wide made the grade a bit easier…
What a great day. A very fine fall day and a good day of racing. A first for me – I’ve never pinned on a number and “gone racing.” Lord willing, those won’t be the last. One of the nice things about CX training is that it’s much more suited to a time-crunched schedule. Training for a 30 or 45min event is much different and can be less time demanding than 4-5 hour endurance efforts.
More CX to come!