Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cross comes to town - Nittany Cross 2013 race report

After what seems like forever since I've really prepared for cross, the opening weekend of the year has come and gone.  With a focus on running last fall, my cross season was nonexistent as was my motivation to race cross.  This year in preparation for Boston 2014 I decided that it would be smart to "rest" my body (IE: running legs) and hit the cross scene again.  This is by far the most prepared I've been going into cross season, but I put SOME effort in.  This weekend was a two day weekend  kicking off the Mid Atlantic Cross (MAC) season with large fields.

We were treated to some incredible weather this year and the weekend just carried a fun, Labor Day grill out kinda feel.   The kids were all having a blast as were the adults.  I was racing at noon in the "Elite Masters 35+" which is basically a full range of really fast guys to some more on the beginner end.  The course was flat and fast, mostly grass with a single set of barriers after a gravel section then into a run up and hop on.  There was a short "boggy" section, a bumpy, nasty root section and plenty of power sections.  For a little guy like me, those power sections are KRYPTONITE!  I was racing on a new carbon Specialized Crux that I had built up, nice and light and seemingly a fast bike.

I got some good warmup laps in and felt good on my cornering, slow on the power sections and really unsure of exactly where my fitness stood.  Unfortunately for me the start call ups for our 80+ rider field were based on 2013 MAC series points....of which I had NONE.  Meaning a second to last row start in a large field with all the fast guys up front.  Think I had my work cut out for me?  The key in these situations is to find the holes, avoid the crashes and not go too far into the red to make your passes.

I lined up on the outside for the LONG start stretch and carried as much speed as I could. Surprisingly I came out in a better position than I started.  Always a plus!

Right off the start, see me on the far left on the white bike.  I had put myself in probably the best position possible. (Photo credit to
The first couple of laps were a blur.  I was strictly focused on catching and passing riders and avoiding going down myself.  Then it happened, two guys in front of me tangled and went down.  I avoided the flying bikes, getting slowed up somewhat and all the sudden had a gap in front of me.  Time to breath and time to think and unfortunately I hit a rough spot. Questioning my fitness?  Did I go out too hard?  Could I sustain this effort?
Still early in the race on Day 1.  I'm on the far right.  Lots of guys in front of me!
(Photo credit to
I actually sat up and soft pedaled, my stomach was suddenly in a knot and I felt like I was going to throw up.  I contemplated pulling out, ending my season right there.  We came by the finish line and I saw the 3 lap card and it put some life back in me.  I slowly ramped it up and started passing the same guys I had passed early and had then gotten by me in my mental/physical break down.  I looked a few corners ahead to see two of my teammates up the road.  I pushed those last two laps and my body responded.  With two corners to go, I passed Greg in the mud bog.  I knew this would be a futile attempt because of the all out power sections leading up to the finish line (my kryptonite), but it was fun to battle.  Two turns to go I was ahead of him, I dropped two gears up the slow grass grind, stood and pedaled as hard as I could, hoping for the best.  But he had more, passing me around the last bend.  We ended up sprinting across the line, me just on his rear wheel.  We sprinted for 26th position, but it wasn't the place that mattered.  It was the smiles and the stories.  I was back, mentally, and cross is boss once again!

We got changed, and just chilled, grilled, drank some beer and welcomed in cross 2013.  The kids played outside ALL DAY and had more fun that we did (if that's possible).  Home we went, recover for day 2.

That evening I got hit by something(s).  To this day I'm not sure what, but my speculation is a combination of allergies and something I ate.  I had a terrible head cold and my body was cleaning itself out, my stomach in a knot.  I got the bikes ready, curled up in bed nice and early and hoped for the best.  I woke up Sunday AM to overcast skies but still a beautiful day.  Some remnants of pain in my stomach but I was able to put down some breakfast.  We loaded up and got there in time to watch Jon tear up the Cat 4/5 race with a great 2nd place finish.

The course was run backwards and included a steep embankment into a log obstacle and a set of barriers.  Luckily for me, the reverse direction helped me because the long straights were slightly downhill and required less power.  The down side was the LONG, FAST start straightaway.  Not a good thing when you're starting 2nd to last row again.

I lined up physically feeling much better than I had just hours before and mentally feeling back into the game and confident I could make up some ground despite my poor starting position.  The gun went off and I got caught behind two guys who missed their clip in.  I entered the first turn in nearly last, but powered through the mud and the rest of the back section, riding the tape.  I came by our cheering squad on lap one to hear that I had already cracked into the bottom end of the to 20.  Greg and Jeff were just in front of me.

Coming around for the end of the first lap I put in a hard effort out of a turn and ended up locking bars with another rider as we crossed a short section of loose gravel which sent me right through the tape and into two spectators. Luckily they held me up and I hopped back on the course.  I had let quite a few riders by because it was still so early in the race and I was stuck smack dab in the middle of the mayhem.
Early in the race on Sunday.
(Photo credit to

As I recovered from my off track excursion I started to look ahead.  I was slowly reeling riders in, sometimes two or three at a time.  I felt good and I had some great lines and great places to pass.  I think my days of motocross paid off bigtime, seeing lines and being able to use them. About half way through the race I caught Greg again.  I thought we may be able to hook up and help each other out, but he had put some big efforts in early and he was cooked.

One thing that I found interesting was the log section.  I didn't even try to ride it, I knew that coming from the back meant that there was going to be chaos there each lap.  I committed to running the climb and the log each lap and I passed an average of more than one rider per lap in that section, by running it!
The log section.  Focused on the task at hand.
With 1 to go the field had really thinned out.  My teammate Jeff was just off in front of me.  I tried to put an effort in to catch him, but my legs had other ideas.  I came across the line with a big smile, feeling much stronger mentally and physically.  I ended up in 22nd which I'm very satisfied with considering my start position and my little excursion off the course.  Moreover, come Round 3 of the MAC series at Charm City I'll have a MUCH better starting position and I'll be hoping for a higher finish.

1 comment:

  1. Wow this looks completely intense and so fun. Good luck in the cross season