For a brief, shining moment, possibly on lap three, things felt kinda good - well, not “good” precisely… But, there was a sudden realization that there were reserves under there somewhere. Kind of like when you fall into the water when you weren’t expecting it and, weighted down by clothing and the rock specimens you’d decided to put in your pockets, you feel the pressure of the depth, much stronger than you think you’ve ever noticed before. Then suddenly, your foot hits solid bottom, and for a moment you are relieved that you won’t go any further down. Of course, this is before you look up and get a sense of how far above you the surface is.
I actually felt like something akin to “oomph” could be found in my legs. Leaning through curves in the more open parts of the course, most of the squishy, squirmy mud had been steamrolled out of good lines, the bike felt like it wanted to go faster and I actually shifted up and tried to pedal harder.
This didn’t last too long.
But, it was notable for its contrast.
In fact, I’d tend to put cyclocross moments of not-feeling-entirely-crappy in the “win” column.
For this race, I more or less knew what was coming, but didn’t know exactly what to expect. After gingerly recovering my momentum and hearing following the last race, I’d managed to sneak in a couple hard workouts in the week prior to the second race of the 2008 Bay Area Super Prestige cyclocross series The rains - real rains - had arrived Thursday afternoon, and stuck around Friday and Saturday. Instead of a light, pre-race trails & dismounts workout, I spent time cleaning out gutters and getting the sump pump rigged up.
Other components of my outside-the-box training program included:
- getting a haircut
- buying a pound of Major Dickason’s Blend from Peet’s
- watching “Pure Sweet Hell” on DVD
- carefully reading all the post-race comments which Tarik has shared
- using the extra hour of daylight-saving’s end to sleep.
Sunday morning arrived still cloudy, with stantial puddles throughout the neighborhood. But, there were breaks in the clouds as the sun rose, and the promise was for drying conditions. The big question was “how dry, how quickly?” A whole lotta water had come down during the previous 48 hours.
The Candlestick Point Park course is pretty good. It’s sort of going through that awkward adolescent phase, I guess, of being reclaimed and repurposed. Although it’s not in greatest neighborhood, it does have flush toilets and a calming, sweeping vista of the south San Francisco Bay. Um, not from the toilets. That really should have been two separated thoughts. Anyway. The helpful folk at sign-in took my folding money, confirmed my race number and wished me luck. After easing back to the vehicle and changing into riding duds, the course conditions and profusion of broken glass in the nearby parking lot kept me droning on the trainer to warm up.
I’d gone out on course, but pre-ridden only one lap. We actually had arrived on site early enough that I got out there before the race before mine. (On the BASP races, they allow warmup laps on course between races, only after the first place rider has finished.) So, theoretically, I could have scooted out again before my race. But, as I’d discovered, while the rains had made the more open fields to the south end of the circuit a bit smoother, they were quite slippery in places. I almost dumped it a couple times trying the standard line through the first S-turns. The twistier bits to the north had one thing in common - momentum killing, peanut butter glop. I really didn’t want to do another warmup/recon circuit, as (a) the “good” (less nasty?) line was going to change with each lap and (b) I didn’t really have a way of degunking my bike before the race.
The clock waits for no man, and before I knew it, arm warmers and the extra bits were being doffed, and I headed to the start. As we sardined in preparation for the call-up, I realized someone was pointing his camera at C. Xavier Hilsen, saying what a nice frame it was. I hope my mumbled “thanks” was audible. I haven’t yet found the photo, but I know it’s out there…
The fast 10 from the last race got called up, the rest of us rolled in behind them. A whistle blew and the young pups hit the course, then a second whistle blew and we all threw hesitation to the wind and hit the throttles.
My stated…ok…my intended plan was to go like hell until I felt like hell and then try to hold on after that. Admittedly, not the most advanced racing strategy, but we’re really in a building period at this point. I mean, honestly, me going “like hell” has got to include pretty much any speed which can keep the bike upright. The last race had really been about staying out of everyone’s way and seeing how I felt at about the halfway point. I never really had that horrible endless period of thinking I was going into shutdown mode, before landing in the “keep pedaling it will get better” life raft, to be pushed towards the finish by the tide of decrementing lap cards.
This time, I wanted to see if I had any upper end - if I could, you know, pedal faster. Oh, and I wanted to not use my brakes so much. As my cx-sensei Tarik had pointed out, “every time you touch your brakes, god kills a kitten…”
After Tarik’s admonishment following the McLaren race,
I mentally vowed that no kittens would die on my watch. However, as my
defenses tend to drop a bit during physical exertion, I may have said
this out loud a couple times whilst racing. So, if you heard someone
behind you raspily intoning, “Kill No Kitten!” or “Dead Kitten BAD!” or
even, “unngh, unngh, kitten must live…”, that was probably me, and I
apologize if it scared you or your children. But, that was a little later on, I think. We’re still working our way onto the course.
A brief moment for Course Notes:
The Candlestick Point Park course runs mostly over the open ground in the area. The area is landfill from the World War II era. While mostly flat, there are a few berms (levee-like earthen walls) in the area. The fine folks at Pilarcitos always make use of the limited topographical changes to create off-camber down/up scrambles, usually involving tight turns. In fact, I believe the course draws its inspiration from medical illustrations of large intestines. The contents of which, curiously, has a striking similarity to how one feels while on said course. And the weather had, in the spirit of Halloween (y’know, kinda like that bowl of eyeballs-which-are-really-grapes in the Haunted House), I reckon, decided to create an analog of said contents, through which we were about to race our bikes. But, I digress.
The course route, which is what I am trying to describe, featured a pair of left turns after the start/finish which jumped over and then back up the lower portions of a berm. Then it went across open country parrallel, but the opposite directlion from the finishing stretch, looped around to the right and attacked the berm from the other end, gaining the spine, then losing it immediately in a down/up cutback. Dropping down again to the left side, through a lumpy bit of field, it then gained sidewalk for a bit. The sidewalk arced around onto a service road which became open field again, and went through a broad left, then right, then left before aiming at the berm again. This time, the organizers had set up a double barrier, the second of which was just far enough to the berm to be annoying. Down off the berm spine, the course (suprise) doubled back and recrossed the berm, spitting you towards a sidewalk. From here you looped through the soggy field and came back around towards the pits.
The pits sat at the top of another 180-degree turn, at which the industrious organizers had placed the other double barrier set. The barrier was actually at the flag for the turnaround, so any momentum you might have maintained was effectively killed before the first step. Then it was off and down towards the water, where the fast kids could gas it again and try to ride the runup. Gaining some elevation, things narrowed a bit and then got gloppy, in a succession of loop-arounds, berm-drops, momentum killing mudpits and a pair of sloppy berms before you dropped out onto a dirt service road, turned right, followed it through a couple of twists and demeaningly muddy puddles before hitting pavement, finding the big ring and rolling a long, lazy, paved arc back to the start.
Which, as you recall before this geographic interlude, was where we were…
Now the organizers - bless their hearts - knew that sending waves of amped riders off the start only to make them hang a couple quick lefts could only cause carnage. So, they had a shortcut for the first lap, letting us go straight from the first turn onto the service road which arced into the open field. As the mindless bunch headed off the pavement, a couple folks who must not have washing machines in their apartment complexes hit the brakes and considered trying to avoid the first big puddle, which took up about 1/3rd of the muddy service road. No one went down, and things were tight enough that they couldn’t really have fallen if they tried.
We moved forward, a multi-headed, if single-brained beast. I was favoring the outside for the first curve, as my test lap had provided me with the belief that the outside was probably the best for the first few laps. A lot of folks more familiar with dry condition industrial park criteriums ended up squeezed, sliding and flopping, as they pushed for the “good” lines which had a significantly reduced frictional component from what they were used to.
As things straightened out a few of these fast kids zipped past again, mud marks on shoulders, backs and butts. We all reached the first barrier set in a goodly group, with some folks deciding to run the whole 180 degree turn and some of us sticking to our plan to hop back on at first berm-top and try to ride the turn and second one. I’d like to apologize to whomever I kicked at this point. There was someone right in front me too. I think I just got your frame, as it didn’t seem soft and fleshy. As we came down off the second berm and gained speed on the flat, it felt like I spat out a lot of mud.
Another big curve with me in lane 8. Slip-sliding on the inside and I made up some cheap places again. We all worked our way up towards the second set of barriers. I was suprised how little momentum I was able to carry into the running parts. Mostly I was remembering the curse of this course - it’s a total momentum suck. Even when dry, the bumpy ground makes it difficult to maintain speed. On a day like this, the tires felt glued to the ground.
But, at least it seemed to be affecting almost everyone in my bunch the same way.
Right now, while writing this, I cannot recall for sure whether I dropped my chain on the first or second lap. I know it happened at the top of the runup. Everyone immediately ahead of me had elected to run the pitch, and the surface looked like someone had run a team of horses up it - nothing but footprints stomped into the mud. I pretty clearly remember gliding up at least the bottom third before bailing out and starting to run. I’m also pretty sure at that point, it must have looked like a Roadrunner cartoon, when Wyle E. Coyote is scrambling out from under a large falling rock, after leaving a large patch of grease for the Roadrunner to slip on. You’ve seen it. All legs and no movement. After somehow cresting out, I hopped back on to find, once again, all legs and no movement.
I can remember looking down and seeing the shadow of my chain dangling down off the front chainrings, my feet continuing to spin even as my brain told them to stop, and the shadow of C. Xavier Hilsen ceasing to move. But I cannot for the life of me remember which lap it happened on. I’m going to guess the first, as there were lots of people around me still. Running forward, I found a wide spot and tried to effect repairs without impeding other riders or running into them. It’s amazing how complex something simple can seem when you are in serious oxygen debt. Somehow I got things positioned and re-entered the stream without cutting anyone off.
From there things got goopy. (Here and here are some of BiciGirl’s photos from that part of the course, from I think about that time of the day.) I stuck to my outside line on the worst part, which seemed to catch me up to a couple of folks. There was a fair amount of stopping and cursing among the other riders. The hardest part was during those brittle moments when you found momentum, you also found that the rider in front of you had lost his. At one point (on a later lap, I think) someone yelled “Go! Go! Go!” from behind me as I slipped out and stalled. I tell ya, I would’ve if I could’ve…)
Now, I would like to point out one of the services which early races provided on this race day. When the rains have stopped, there’s nothing like a hundred pair of tires help wring out the sloppy ground. Granted, on some future date when it’s raining all of the race day, we might just tear things up a little more for the folks who follow us. But, this time, we were like those big lawn rollers, only narrower and much less efficient.
Actually, it went pretty well for me. Being of reasonably solid bone structure, I could sit back a bit on the Hilsen and plow along. One thing that bike really does well is remain stable when all hell is breaking loose. I just had to shut up and keep pedaling. The bird-boned folk who tried to stand and pedal found themselves reprising the mud scene from My Cousin Vinny.
Finally, we popped out onto level topography and cut right onto the service road. This first lap (remember, we’re still on the first lap), I followed a couple riders on the wide line of a curve and watched in horror as they got all wiggly. We all made it through upright, but it was clear that a wide exit apex was not a good idea here. After regaining pavement, I tried to do the big gear stomp while recovering on my way to the next lap.
And the next lap was reasonably morale-shattering.
It started by using the whole lap.
Dang. Forgot about that. Things took a bit longer, with the ensuing softening up by the addition of a couple minutes worth of bumpy bits, berms and wiggles. Somewhere in there I felt everything - for lack of a better descriptive term - curl. Back, neck, legs, arms, fingers… On the one hand, I knew this was the transition, moving from the start exertion to a pace for the rest of the race. But, it warn’t fun while it lasted. It sort of became a melange of trying to keep the bike moving through the mud, losing traction and momentum, dropping a gear, hopping off to scramble, trying to dig in toes or heels on the incline for traction and finally finding myself out on the pavement again.
But, I did manage to keep a few brain cells crackling, and when the tracks hardened up a bit under the repeated tire pressure, altered my course to take advantage of better looking bits. There were times when I radically changed my approach on a couple parts and it worked out much better. So, there was another shiny bit of success.
The third time around I had the aforementioned bit of “hurrah!”, and found myself duking with a RockLobsterite that I seemed to remember from other races. I popped around him at one point and then he moved away from me the next lap. Over the steeper muddy berm he found momentum and moved over it cleanly, while I slipped in the the worst possible spot, stalled and found stem with flesh as I tried to hop off. Luckily the impact was not, um, catastrophic. But by the time I got it sorted out, he was away and uncatchable. Ah well, that’s racing.
Sometime in there, a bell for the last lap had been rung, and I remember thinking at one point, “Ahh, that’s the guy that won last week!” as a mountain bike rolled by. According to the results, I was a couple notches up from DFL, though that may have been due more to the statistical anomolie of more riders in my division. Rolled around a bit and caught my breath, spotted my wife and found that there wasn’t too much left in the tank when I began to tell her about the race. She caught that bit on video, which I’ll try to get posted soon. (Update - the video is now posted here.)
Since she was playing with the vid-cam, there weren’t any still frames to speak of. In my post-race haze, I wasted a couple frames on muddy bits and soggy SIDI’s:
A Pop-Tart and some fluids brought me back to life a bit, and we meandered back to the course, where I snapped some photos during the tail end of the Men’s Masters A 35+/45+, and then the start of the Men’s A and Singlespeed race. Those are yonder on Flickr.
In the set, you’ll find a shot of Keven from RBW, who was riding a beautiful Rivendell custom CX bike -
click through and hit “all sizes” to see the a bigger version.
Anyway, after that it was home, clean bike and get ready for the week to come.
Next BASP race is 11/18 in Burlingame - under the lights!