Crossin' Over, Catching Up - Plus QuadCross 2010

The month of August usually sees my cycling mileage drop significantly, mostly due to a 3 week vacation that begins when my daughter's summer camp ends late in the month and the beginning of school, which for her was the Wednesday after Labor Day this year.

Oh yes, we do some traveling during that time: we had a most enjoyable time on Martha's Vineyard despite the squally conditions pretty much the whole time we were there. This was followed by our traditional father/daughter-only trip to Cape Cod to visit my mom, body-board in the Eastham Surf and do some rides with my brother, Doug.

A New Ride

But this year, I added a 2005 Trek XO 1 cross bike to the mix just before the hiatus began and, while my "saddle time" has dropped about to about the same level as it did last year, mileage is WAY down due to all the time I've been putting in riding the "new" bike around at speeds averaging less than 11 mph.

The bike is pretty much stock except for a 42 tooth Rotor Q-Ring and chain guard and a nice Specialized Toupe saddle (same as on my road bike) added by the original owner. It's a 56cm frame (1cm larger than my LeMond) and so, I have a bit of fit tweaking to do. Mostly likely purchase will be to get a 100mm stem to replace the 110mm one that is currently installed.

Just before we headed to MV for a few days, I got some basic pointers on my second ride on the Trek from MRC's Bruce T who gave me a handful of things to go practice on my own. Surprisingly, much of it came pretty naturally - except except for remounting: I quickly developed the "double-hop" habit.

Third ride in, while starting a lap in the too-rooty Stow Town Forest, my front wheel found a grapefruit-sized rock hidden in the leaves and stopped cold, sending me sailing over the bars, landing hands-and-knees down on the trail. The bike pitched over and hammered the saddle on the ground, bending one of the seat rails.

I got a nice, deep gouge just above my left knee and a bruised the heel of my left thumb. With my first cross crash out of the way, I soldiered on. The gouge did not affect my ability to ride, but the bruised hand pestered me for another ten days. I had to swap out the Toupe saddle for the Bontrager one that came stock on my road bike.

In between the MV and Cape Cod trips, the couple of workouts I got in with various MRC members started to give me an inkling for the kind of efforts that would be required to do a cross race.

Huge efforts.

While on the Cape, I got one decent 40 mile tempo ride in with my brother on my road bike. Wow, a bike that has brakes that actually bring you to a stop and not merely slow you down!

Back from vacation, I did another solo ride in the Stow Town Forest that consisted of one high intensity lap of about 15 minutes then some dismount/mount practice followed by some easy trail exploration that included another, more spectacular, fall.

I was poking along a mountain bike trail that ran along the side of a steep hill and got a little too close to a tree, which grabbed the left sleeve of my jersey. As my jersey sleeve was ripping, the force was pulling me to the left - and down the slope. Next, my left arm was pulled off the handlebar and even though I was intoning (out loud), "I got it... I got it...", the front wheel  lurched 90 degrees to the left.

At that instant, the tree, satisfied with the amount of jersey it had captured, released my left arm, allowing me to tumble to the right and down the hill about 10 feet, with the bike coming to rest on my back.

Obviously, I didn't have it.

I lay there for a moment, waiting for something to start to hurt. Fortunately, nothing did. I gathered myself up and pedaled home.

More Serious Training

My next three rides were great: a cross workout with a large group of about 8 others where we did five 6 minute hot laps followed by a 20 minute tempo-level fartlek session. I pretty much played "catch up" the whole time.

The second ride was a 40 mile road ride with Doug K and Smudger (two of the strongest members I ride with regularly) that was billed as "easy-to-moderate" but ended up, for me, to be "hard-to-moderate", in that order. As far as I could tell, they only had to wait up for me a couple of times.

The third was the following Monday morning, Labor Day: a very welcome cross skills workout with Gary D, Stefan and new-to-me MRC member, Able. We spent a lot of focused time on run-ups, tight turning and most beneficial to me, barriers and re-mounts. With their help, I finally began to minimize the double-hop and maximize the number of smooth remounts.

Later that day, as if I hadn't punished myself enough over the labor day weekend, I took my family to climb Monadnock Mountain, where my wife and I had gone on our first date. We got about 3/4 the way up when my wife tweaked her knee and we had to, carefully, make our way back down. Not summiting hit my daughter pretty hard, her recurring lamentations adding to the difficulty of getting my wife down safely.

Really Serious Training

The Wednesday after that, I headed down to Wrentham to participate in the MRC Cyclocross Training Series. After some course maintenance (try riding your bike while carrying a 5 lb. lump hammer in one hand) we did a bunch of hot laps. This was the closest thing I would get to racing before the following Sunday's QuadCross in Bedford, so I was hankering to find out what kind of shape I was in.

Well, I learned right away that racing cross means driving your heart rate through the roof, keeping it there, while simultaneously pedaling like mad until your legs feel like bags of rocks. Good thing we took a 2-3 minute break between laps. Here's my HR plotted against elevation for the afternoon:

See how it ramps right up to 170 bpm and stays there until the lap is over? We'll be looking at another fun graph shortly...

The next two days saw me working more on skills than fitness, especially dismounts/mounts.

This past Saturday found me back at Monadnock, as I promised my daughter we'd give it another go. We made the round trip in four and a half hours in perfect weather. Probably not the best thing to be doing the day before a race, but a promise is a promise.

Here I am, resting my weary legs atop Monadnock Mountain.
Now, compare that Wrentham graph above with this one from the hike:

HR barely exceeded 110 bpm even on the steepest sections.

First Race

And so, finally, we come to QuadCross 2010 this past Sunday. My first 'cross race!

I was registered to race in the Cat 4 heat along with a good sized MRC contingent. I got the benefit of not one but two warmup laps around the course, which really helped as there were lots of spots where you could either screw up royally or make a smart play to pass someone. I might have missed these features if I'd only taken one trip around.

10 o'clock rolls around and I find myself lined up in the 2nd row. And then we wait for about twelve minutes. So much for the warmup.

When the whistle is finally blown, I'm stomping on the pedals with all my might but my legs are telling me they want to continue the nap they'd just been enjoying. Off we all go and a bunch of people get by me right away in the first few turns. As much as I try to remember the rest of the race, only certain details have stuck with me:

  • At some point, I was playing cat-and-mouse with a Threshold rider and, as we approached the sand pit with him in front, I was determined to go by him. I got off my bike first cut to the left inside of him and blasted by only to fumble the remount a bit and watch as he blasted back by me once we took the left onto the parking lot straight
  • I did OK on the barriers and on the incline right afterwards - I ran up if someone was in front of me and rode it if not.
  • I felt like I was able to keep a bunch of others behind me because I was more aggressive through the tight turns, swinging wide early into the turns, cutting close to the pole, then wide again under power on the exit.
  • I was able to pass 3 or 4 people during the race but a few more than that got by me.
  • Even though my lungs and legs were completely on fire, I felt like I achieved some sort of strange equilibrium that allowed me to still function and continue to race.
Putting the hurt on a NEBC guy.
As I was nearing the start/finish to end my third lap, I was hoping to hear the officials ring the bell, signifying one-to-go, but there was silence as I went by. Two laps to go and I spent a lot of the 4th lap convincing myself that this was "only" a 40 minute ride, not some unending century on a hot June day. It would be over in less than 15 minutes, I told myself.

This seemed to do the trick, because by the time I started the fifth and final lap, I had a bit of a second wind and reeled in a couple of people who had been ahead of me for a while. Of course, right after I did, somebody else passed all three of us. And then it was over.

Just to the side of the course, past the start/finish line was a bunch of MRC guys to great me and the others from our heat. But I needed a few minutes to slow my heart and lungs down a bit before I could talk:

Heart rate and elevation. The horizontal gray line is at 170 bpm.
I finished in 41st place out of the 76 who showed up to race in the 4's. I gotta figure at 49, I was one of the oldest in the field...

Big congratulations to teammates, Chris Pare and John Smith, who took 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Cat 4 35+ race, Paul DiBetetto and John Plumb who took 4th and 5th in the 45+ 4's and Doug Kennedy who snagged 2nd in the Intermediate 3's.

Next races: Cat 4 Mens at Night Weasels Cometh on 10/6 then Cat 4 Mens Master 35+ on Saturday in Providence 10/9.

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