Grateful

gratitude-quotes-thankful-quotes-grateful-quotes-happiness-quotes

There are so many lessons I’ve learn or realizations that have taken place over the last year. I think it really comes from the fact that I finished school and all the energy that was being channeled into accomplishing that goal along with working, maintaining relationships and riding my bike was now free to explore, challenge, and lead to new opportunities. So I really think that this month will serve as the opportunity at last to document, at least for me, those lessons, changes, and challenges.

If January, well, cyclo-cross nationals taught me anything it was gratefulness. The crew of people that we assembled for the local organizing committee here was one that I never would have picked…not from disliking anyone but just from not fully knowing everyone that came to play such a such role in the execution of the 2016 USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross Nationals in Asheville! Some I knew from running in similar circles. Others I knew in name only. Still others I had never met before they gave so much to bring nationals to life. And some, well, some I’ve known forever. But the magic that was created by this group of people was truly amazing to be a part of. All the frustration, exhaustion, long and cold days, doubt, excitement, energy, support, Fireball and beer, jokes, walkie talkie etiquette lessons, and understanding that flowed leading up to, into and beyond CX Nats blended together and bonded us together in this magical way that I never could have foreseen. But the feeling of euphoria during the last day of Nationals while the elite men whipped around the course, as we stomped around the race course, taking it all in, and slowly realizing that WE DID THIS, and sharing that realization wordlessly made me deeply grateful for that experience. It was worth all the hard work. It was worth the vulnerability of trusting others to be a part of something that was so precious and seeing how they made it better than it could have been with just you. And it made me grateful for each person that was open to being selfless, giving up their own races, comfort, and time to be a part of the bigger game.

This feeling has stayed with me in the 6+ months since Nationals…it’s made me more keenly aware of the opportunities to be grateful in other areas and take the magic with me, always adding a new sparkle to life.

cx nats staff
Most of the amazing CX Nats 2016 crew. Photo CC Weldon Weaver.

 I have so much love and am so thankful for these people, that experience, and its impact on my life, even month later.

(and you can see more of our shenanigans here)

Whew, just made day two! 😉

Back to the Race

I finally feel as if there’s some sense to my training and racing this cyclocross season. After hitting several potholes at the beginning of the season, in addition to having to adjust my expectations and race schedule due to the time and energy that my final year (!!) of grad school is requiring, I was left feeling a little lost. But there’s something about racing that motivates me, even in the midst of everything else.

As soon as soccer ended I headed 4 hours east to race #3 of the North Carolina Cyclocross series in Southern Pines, NC. My usual race range is 2 hours, but I was excited to start racing and lined up a carpool. Southern Pines is famed for its sandy course, and I was ready to experience something new. The weather was hot and yes, there was a lot of sand! With only a couple weeks of consistent training in I had no great expectations but just wanted to race. The paved start was fast and I had a smooth transition from stop to start, powering into the first couple of turns. THe pace at the front was too much for me and I maxed out my HR pretty quickly. The course was a weird combo of fast and slow with fast paved and grass sections punctuated by deep slick sand. I started suffering pretty quickly, and it wasn’t a good suffer either. But as I kept reminding myself I was there to ride in the sand. So that’s what I did! I worked on my technique into the sandy pits, tried different gearing to try and make it up the sandy run-ups, and hammered/recovered on the grass. In the end I was 13 out of 14, and had accomplished my goal of racing somewhere new!!

The next weekend was spent investing some quality time into my data management class.

On November 9th I was able to travel to Salisbury for one of my favorite NCCX courses. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. The course was fast. There was a great turnout, making it the largest NCCX race of the year so far! I was feeling better on the bike after a great Saturday mountain bike ride with Kyle in Bent Creek. I was a little worried that I’d gone too hard in Bent Creek but didn’t care as long as I was racing. The course in Salisbury is wide and fast with lots of turns and kickers to run up or power up. A couple slick off camber sections and fat wooded section add excitement. This time my start was terrible. I was too slow and ended up on the 3rd row, but worked to get mid pack by the first turn. Then I got too impatient and tried to take the second turn tight but was pushed to the back. From there I hustled, enjoying the course, focusing on putting the hammer down when I could and keeping my performance consistent.

Photo by Don McEwan
Photo by Don McEwan

This race was good for me in that I was able to not only RACE but work on technique–higher cadence, less smash and chasing the 50+ masters who were on course with the elite women. In the end I was 13th again, but this time out of 18. Given that I essentially started in the back I’m happy with the result. It was awesome being on a course I enjoy, actually racing and not just suffering in my head.

School requirements again got in the way, making last weekend the first weekend I could head out to race again, this time in Statesville. In the past it’s been a very flat and twisty course, two elements that I am not a fan of. But knowing that it had been so long since my last race I decided to go anyway. I was happily surprised to find out it was at a new venue, and even more excited when I realized it was a mountain bike park! While there were some mountain bike features that weren’t used in the course the course was interesting with some kickers, good straightaways and fun descents. The weather was great, a little chilly to stand around in but perfect to race. I was excited, this is the last race of 2014 that I’ll race without working the event (NCGP is this weekend, and working an event takes away from the racing part a bit). I had a good warm-up, had my strategy mapped out and was ready to rock. The start was crowded and there ended up being a wreck just behind me. I was in control, avoiding the carnage and getting into the first turn with the lead pack. Things felt great, a little sluggish but I could handle that. Then something just broke. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t keep or build intensity. It sucked. And I couldn’t pull out of it. There was no reason, just a lack of focus. Given that my brain has been all over lately between school, work, the Grand Prix and bikes it’s not surprising that something had to give. I just wish it hadn’t given out in the middle of a race where I was doing well and set to finish in the low middle of the pack. But, live and learn, and turn over another pedal stroke!

Now we’re at the time for my favorite cycling event of the year! The North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix! Not only does it take place on my home turf it’s a fun event to prepare for, work, and see all the accomplishments that take place this weekend. Follow along with the fun on the Facebook and Twitter as we get ready and put on the bike race of the year!

North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix: Behind the Scenes and Race Report

The penultimate weekend of cyclo-cross for me (next to Nationals, which unfortunately I won’t be attending) has come and gone. The North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix, was hosted on my home course was Dec 14-15! As if that’s not enough excitement, the close Pro-CX points rankings brought in Jeremy Powers, Tim Johnson, Zach McDonald, Yannick Eckmann, and many more pro cyclists to race for UCI points! In the weeks preceding the race, I thought I would explode from excitement as Tim let me know more and more top riders who had committed to come race!

This weekend is unlike any other weekend. Primarily because I get to be involved in the set-up, logistics, and preparation for the races. That’s part of what makes it so exciting, but also adds challenges on top of normal racing. The week before is spent revising and publishing materials, writing press releases, answering questions on Facebook and Twitter, and helping out Tim, the race promoter as much as possible. Then the fun of setting up the course begins! For three days we’re outside, setting stakes, painting lines, measuring pits, and then taping the course. So much work goes into a race, and luckily there is a lot of help! This year the weather, while cold, was at least sunny for set-up. We knew the weekend was calling for 100% rain on Saturday, creating the “perfect” cross weather. Then on Friday afternoon and into the evening are the final touches, making sure everything is ready to go, all the signs and tents and equipment is where it needs to be for first thing on Saturday.

Then I go home and prepare what I need for the weekend: layers of clothing both normal and bike, kits, gloves, make sure my bike is tuned and clean, I have the spare parts I need, oh and trying to get a good night of sleep before racing! I usually have trouble sleeping the night before a race, even more so the night before an event that I’m working!

My races were at 12:30 each day, giving time to work before I raced. There’s always such an excitement to this race weekend for me! The last minute rush to ensure that everything is ready when the first race goes off at 9am, seeing friends, and watching all the exciting racing. I feel like there’s a pressure for me to race well here too, it’s my home race, an event I’m involved in, and a special race since the Grand Prix was my first exposure to this thing called cyclocross.

On Saturday the weather was on point with rain starting in the morning and temps in the 30’s. I’ve raced in conditions like this before, so I knew it wasn’t going to easy, but I was ready to have fun and do what I could! It was still raining at the start of my race. My start was a little sketchy, but being a paved start helped me recover before heading into the mud. Since it had only been raining a few hours at that point the course was wet with a lot of standing water. The mud was there for sure, but it was fine and watery versus thick and sticky. I have mud tires on my bike, so I knew equipment-wise I was set. I had dropped my tire pressure to just below the min recommended pressure since I knew the lower the better. I can’t wait to get a tubular or tubeless set up for cross, I like to run a low pressure anyway and it can be iffy with tubes. However, there was a lot of standing water and even water-fill ditches on the course that splashed up the freezing water. On the first lap I lost feeling in my legs. I felt so slow and sluggish, but I was handling the mud fine, staying upright and chugging along. For once I didn’t get anxious and lose focus, it was awesome! The wooded hill was really slick, and the first lap through I got off and ran it since everyone in front of my was running it. Half way up I realized I could ride this! So the next two laps I rode that slippery muddy hill! The wall was another story! In the past years I’ve been able to ride it, but I had a feeling that the conditions this year with the rain and mud wouldn’t let that happen. Still, I tried every single time!

Playing in the mud on Saturday
Playing in the mud on Saturday

As you can see, it was slick!  But I was having a blast! I was were I knew I could be given the field size (only 9 in the combined 2/3 women), and I was having a good race! The rain tapered off near the end, improving visibility and taking one of the challenges out of the equation. My final result was 6th out of 10! My goal for this weekend was top 10, so it was easy to meet that one!

I was so cold afterwards! Once the focus and distraction of racing was gone I was miserable! I went to get cleaned up and had to just sit in front of the heater until I stopped shivering. Unfortunately I missed the start of the elite men’s race, but felt that my warmth was more important.

Post Race on Saturday
Post Race on Saturday

Getting back to the course and seeing the remainder of the elite race was amazing! Watching the handling, power, and seeing the determination of the elite racers was inspiring. JPow ended up with his first legit muddy race win!

Sunday brought sun, slightly warmer temps, but also cold gusty wind! The mud had turned into a thick, sticky mess that sucked all your power away. It reminded me of the conditions at CX Nats 2013 in Madison. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. But I had signed up for this, and this is what cross is all about after all. By the time we staged, the wind had died down and it was around 40 degrees. My start was much better and I was doing great on the first muddy section, but it was so tricky having to avoid everyone else in the mud. People were wrecking everywhere, sliding out on the off-camber, eating it around the corners. I was going slow and steady, since staying upright is faster than ending up on the ground. I was about to make it out of the carnage when a lady slid out in front of me, right in the line I was trying to take. I attempted to go above her, but there was no traction and down I went. Boo. The mud was so thick at this point in the course it was better to run it and then remount. What I didn’t know at this point was that that would end up being the standard for the rest of the race. I tried to ride everything, but kept loosing traction, sliding out, and not being able to pedal with the insane amounts of mud caught in my fork, derailleur, and brakes. It was really frustrating, but at that point all you can do is finish! The lap times were 20 minutes each for the 2 mile course. Talk about ridiculous!

Slugging up the Wall
Slugging up the Wall, not having fun anymore.

We ended up with just two laps. I was so glad to be done! I ended up 7th out of 9, a little disappointing but I’m no runner. Especially with a bike that is triple its usual weight with mud! I hustled down to get my bike washed off before the start of the elite men’s race. I wasn’t going to miss the start this time!

Elite start on Sunday
Elite start on Sunday

There’s nothing like a start, both for the racer and the spectator. As a racer all your focus goes to being primed to explode off the line at the sound of the whistle. As a spectator, you’re waiting for the release that comes with the start. The tension is amazing, especially at a race where there is so much on the line. Once again, I was amazed by the speed and power put out. I know it takes time and commitment to the end goal, but I wanna be that fast!!

On Sunday, JPow once again took the lead and opened up a huge gap. It’s really cool that this race was such an accomplishment for him, not just for the wins that helped keep him in the #1 spot in the rankings, but as his first wins in true muddy races! As someone involved with the production of the races, that is a good feeling!

Once that last race was over, it was time to break it all down. The Brevard College Cycling team lent a huge helping hand in taking down the course. Members of the Crosstown Velo Team worked hard all weekend to make sure the course was safe and taped, including repairing a large portion of the course that got taken out by a fly-away tent on Saturday night, and retrieved the stakes from all over the course. It’s amazing all the people who come together to make things like this happen. It’s also great since with lots of help comes a quicker set up or break down!

Usually there’s a let down post-Grand Prix. But this year was a little different! Watching the response from the racers, spectators, and pros who attended was amazing! The compliments for the course, the pits, and the entire operation mean so much, especially when given under the increase scrutiny of having such high caliber racers on site. It was exciting getting to share the Facebook comments and Tweets with Tim, and seeing how happy they made him.

So, thank you to everyone who came and raced, and to those who volunteered in less than kind conditions. It means a lot to the people behind the scenes to know that you had a great time! Here’s a bigger and better North Carolina Grand Prix in 2014!

Personally, I want to thank my coach Hugh Moran. Having a set training schedule and plan have made my season one of the best yet. While my results aren’t near the top I feel better physically and mentally. Progress, a little bit at a time! Many thanks also to Beer City Bicycles! They really are the coolest shop in Asheville, and their support and advice have helped me out more than words can say!