On Friday (3 days ago) DH took the day off and we hit the newest mountain bike park in the area, the Merrell Trails (yes, that Merrell...the wonderful Wolverine Worldwide shoe line. WW is headquartered right here in West MI). It was his second trip to the trails and my first. I must say that the park lived up to its reputation. What an amazing place! I really look forward to exploring it more, especially trying it in the reverse direction (on alternating days it runs either clockwise or counter-clockwise to help the trail not wear unevenly).
Salsa Cycles was doing a demo day while we were there, so I even had the opportunity to do my first loop on the upgraded version of the bike I will be receiving soon (like, this week soon. According to the Salsa guys they shipped the El Mariachis last Thursday and they take 4 business days, so any day now!).
I really liked the El Mariachi 2 (mine will be a 3), though it did handle a lot differently from my current bike. In large part because the handlebars were WAY too wide for me. I was really feeling it in new places on my arms and upper back by the end of that brief ride. Right away we'll be having at least an inch lobbed-off on either side of my bars. I think my current bars are 24" and the stock bars on the El Mars are, I believe, 28". So starting with 26" is probably a wise plan. There were some narrow spots through trees that I simply walked. I didn't feel confident trying to get those wide bars through on an unfamiliar bike. And I ate the ground at least once when I tagged a tree with the bars.
One thing that was VASTLY different with the El Mariachi was the way I didn't really feel uphills on the trails. After returning the demo bike and doing 2 more laps on my current bike I was suffering. Wow, what a difference. Granted, that El Mariachi was almost 3x more expensive than my bike was at full retail, but...wow. My new bike will be about 2x the price of my Cannondale, so it should still be a much, much better bike for climbing. It weighs a few pounds less, even with bigger wheels.
It was also nice riding with a woman that we know via Facebook. She participated in our ODRAM ride this year and we have mutual friends. She also demo'd a couple of bikes and we really had a good time chattering about our bike-related passions as we rode.
|Look at that skinny stride!|
On Sunday we woke dark and early in preparation to make the 1:20 drive to the day's cyclocross race. The C race (my event) starts at 11, so we wanted to be there about an hour early for me to register and warm-up. We're still trying to talk the kiddo into doing the 1-lap kids' race, but he's not super interested, so we don't push the issue. He's really enjoying running with me, so I'm just happy that he's happy to do that. He also wanted to play with his trombone at the park and heckle the racers by horn.
I was really looking forward to this race. Last year this venue was the unofficial Kisscross Halloween race. It was also was a really enjoyable race for me, so I anticipated a repeat pleasant experience.
My warm-up lap was pretty unnerving, at least for about half of the course. Shortly after starting we have to ride down a really rough, rutted, gravel hill, then make a hard right turn and go a few pedal strokes before dismounting and climbing back up an even steeper section of that sort of bluff. This was sandy and loose and full of long weeds and branches and assorted yuck. At the top we'd get back on our bikes, do a little zig-zag, then back down a relatively steep and fast hill with another turn at the bottom...then back up a smallish hill, down, up, up a ramp, then down an off-camber and sandy bit before making another brutal, but short climb.
All of this loose stuff and sharp turns at the bottoms of hills really had me a bit rattled. I don't do particularly well on making my bike stop (perhaps it's time to look into better brake pads. My brakes are low-end, but better pads would likely help them to grip the rims better and aid my stopping power). I have learned after doing at least a dozen CX races that the warm-up lap rarely has much bearing on my actual race experience. I think the oxygen deprivation suppresses the fear and sanity portions of my brain during the actual race. Things that should terrify me no longer do. I go into "let's get this shit over with as fast as we can" mode.
The weather yesterday was pretty chilly and damp. Off-and-on drizzle seemed to keep the crowds light, at least the C race seemed smaller than usual. My women's C race typically has had 7-8 participants, but yesterday there were only 5 of us. Last week's winner was moved up to the Bs and a friend of mine was also absent, so maybe that accounted for the light field.
I started sort of smack-dab in the middle of the C field (still smiling, because I'm a fool!). I was a bit further-up than I like, since I tend to start slow and hate feeling underfoot of faster riders in the first lap. The really tricky stuff is early in the race, too, so I especially didn't want to be going up and down technical hills with faster folks bearing down on me. A minute or so into the race I had that expected wave of terror/apprehension/regret/stupidity overcome me. I know this feeling...it happens every time. Fortunately it seems to hit about the same time that my lungs rebel, so my brain can't hold those feelings long before the need to get oxygen in NOW takes precedence.
For the rest of the race I was pretty much leap-frogging a sweet 12 year old boy who does all of these races and is nearly as willowy as my own almost-12 year old (we actually had a moment of chit-chat during our 3rd lap during a flatter stretch). I can't recall which of us ended up finishing first... What I do recall is my friend Kaat being all over that course and telling me that I was in the lead. During the first lap she made it clear to me that the 2nd woman was gaining on me. For a brief bit I felt like backing-off...if I was in 1st it must mean that I'm going out too hard and am going to pay later in the race. And then I realized how foolish that thought was. Go big or go home, girl!
By the 2nd lap no one was telling me that anyone was gaining on me...it was surreal and nothing I've ever experienced in any race. For the rest of the race it was simply cheers from Kaat and MC (the guy that keeps us in bikes) and my husband yelling "Go, Zoomy, you're in FIRST PLACE!!!" (typing that now makes me really misty, for some reason).
I spent most of the race with the singular goal of keeping my lead, not doing anything stupid, and enjoying myself. I succeeded at all 3. The 2nd woman did have a faster last lap than I did, but I think mostly because I fully expected to only finish 3 laps before they started pulling us from the course (we have ~30 minutes for our race. If a person's laps are 10 minutes they are likely to be pulled after they complete lap 3. I was finishing my laps well under 10 minutes, which I totally didn't expect). I was really tiring and I knew I had a decent lead, so I didn't want to let overexertion make me sloppy and clumsy--I KNOW how I get.
Maybe a half mile from the finish on an out-and-back bit I saw that the 2nd place woman was closing my lead, so I pushed it harder for that last stretch to guarantee not losing my win, should she have a sudden and unexpected sprint left in her legs. This wasn't difficult, since it was the stretch of the course that I liked best...a bit of a single-track dive in the woods, followed by some meadow 2track, finishing with a brief uphill singletrack grunt and sprint to the finish.
I finished in FIRST PLACE (yay!!!) 23+ seconds before the next woman. Only 3 of the 5 women in the C race even finished all 4 laps. And I'm reasonably certain that I was the oldest woman in the race and probably have a few pounds on all those other whipper-snappers, too.
And to think, 2 years ago I said I would never do a cyclocross race (I also said I would never mountain bike, but there is no doubt that my meager time riding singletrack this year has made me a much stronger and more skilled CX racer) and now I wonder if I could even manage to race B Masters, in the future. Some bike improvements (better wheels that stay trued and weigh less and brakes that stop, for starters) and some ME improvements (ie dropping at least 20#s of excess baggage) could make it happen. It's sorta surreal that I could even be thinking in these terms....