Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Southern Cross Race Report

I was hoping that this race would be my "break out" gravel grinder race.  I had the best for me bike, a Niner Air 9 RDO with a 1 x 10 drive train and Stan's Raven cross tires.

 I was a hurtin' buckaroo on the Noontootla climb.  Photo by Donna Combs Garcia.

I have an awesome coach who is able to prepare me for any distance and terrain.  Her plans are tough.  I have cried "Uncle" a few times.  But the end result is one lean mean cycling machine!  I was being a good student, completing all my homework on time.  I could feel the fitness coming.

Lynda Wallenfels, aka Coach  "What doesn't kill ya, ..."

And my nutrition has never been better on a slightly modified Whole 30/Paleo lifestyle.

Not a fad diet!

 But I was blindsided 3 weeks ago during an outing to a restaurant with my team mates.  Even though I made sure the waitress knew of my celiac disease (basicially I told her that wheat/gluten would kill me), I got "glutened."  My order was simple:  a plain steak, plain sweet potato, and plain salad.  For those of you unfamiliar, one itsy bitsy breadcrumb is enough to do me in ... for 4-6 weeks.  I cannot absorb nutrients, I have gastrointestinal distress whenever I eat, my power dips 10-15%, and I have a hard time recovering.

Usually by the third week I am feeling better, but not this time.  Disappointed, yes, but I was not gonna throw up the white flag.  So on a frigid 30 degree morning, I "toed" the line in a stacked ladies' field.  At 10 am, the gun went off and 270 racers were "balls to the wall."  Within 100 yards we were funneled in to the "cross" portion of the course.  Super soft, off camber grassy hillsides, 1 mud bog, 1 log crossing, and a run up from hell.  I was absolutely loving it!  I passed a lot of people as I was on a mountain bike with some front end squish while most people chose to run cross bikes.  After about 5 minutes of epic Eddie O'dea style cyclocross terrain, I popped out onto pavement and hooked up with a pack of snot slingin' racers.  Man it was cold!  I could not feel my face; the windchill must have been in the teens.

I caught up to Lisa and hung onto her wheel.  After the initial adrenalin rush, I could feel the heaviness in my legs.  I tried to shake it off, telling myself that it was just the cold and the blood would eventually flow into them.  I was faster on the descents and soon caught Paula and Shannon.  Lisa was there to and the four of us hit Winding Stair together.  Although I never saw Cheryl, I assumed she was in the lead.  Winding Stair has close to 2000 feet of climbing in 4-5 miles.  Anytime the pitch got really steep, my legs would just not cooperate.  I fought to stay on Lisa's wheel and watched as Shannon and Paula slowly rode away.  They were strong today!

At the top of Winding Stair, Zeke was there and handed a bottle off to me.  There was still more climbing to go after this and I could feel a little desperation kick in as I knew that my legs were leaving me for good.  I chugged some gels from my flask and washed it down with my sports drink, hoping that the additional calories would jump start my system.  Lisa began to pull away from me towards the top.  I was able to catch and pass her on the long descent down to the pavement.  However, there was a strong headwind as I pedaled to the Noontootla climb and Lisa caught back up.  I rode her coat tails until the climb and then she dropped me like a bad habit.

The Noontootla climb is my type of climb:  smooth, perfect 5-7% grade, and a beautiful view of the creek.  But today it felt like I was going backwards.  Normally at this stage I start passing people but today was the other way around.  Around each corner I kept looking for the top ... 6 miles later and what seemed like an eternity, I saw the SAG tent.  What a wonderful sight!  I stopped to exchange bottles and gel flask and take a moment.

As I began to ride the rolling ridge of Hawk and Sassafras Mountains my legs began to feel a little better.  I seemed to be making some ground back up.  I thought of Lisa ahead of me and what she must be thinking.  Was she wondering where I was?  Was she looking over her shoulder on the descents?  This motivated me to attempt to dig deep and try to catch her.  Fueled with fortitude, I hammered the short climbs (or at least in my own mind I did) and railed the descents (who needs stinkin' brakes).

Flying down Sassafras Mountain towards the Ranger Station, I COMPLETELY blew by the left hand turn onto the pavement.  (Note:  having not done this race last year, when Zeke and I pre rode a couple months ago, we were under the assumption that the course went down by the 4-H camp).  Had I not been going so fast, I might have seen the small black arrow point left.  There was supposed to be a volunteer there, but he/she decided at the last moment that staying inside where it was warm would be a better option today.  I can't say I blame them; it is ultimately up to me to know the course.

That wrong turn cost me 15 minutes and probably more as that 2 mile climb back up to the intersection was brutal!  I still made a feeble attempt at racing back to the winery.  As I entered Monteluce Winery for the final cross portion of the course, I was about to raise the white flag.  But then I saw Loretta at the second run-up from hell.  She cheered me on as I "crawled" my way up that beast!

Run up from hell -- 100 meters at 20-30% grade.

When I was half way up, I caught sight of a female racer at the top.  Well, crap!  Now I gotta race!  With game face back on, I was determined to redeem myself by gaining one spot back.

One advantage of a mountain bike ... I was able to ride this creek crossing.

I passed her on a pavement climb and was able to hold onto my lead through the remainder of the super soft, energy draining, leg killer of the cross course.  As much as I was hurting though, I enjoyed this section of the race and at one point wished there was more!  Crazy insane?  Or insane crazy?  Yep, I do love to suffer.

I ended up crossing the finish line in a time of 4:11:23.  That 4 mile detour cost me 3 places, maybe 4.  I was upset with my stupidity.  In a way, I was glad I was not near a podium finish as I would have really been pissed off about that wrong turn.  I chalked up today's race as a good solid training ride.

I congratulate all the ladies who finished as this was one tough power course.  Gravel grinders are a new beast to me and one that I hope to be able to conquer as the season goes on.  Thanks Eddie, Namrita, and all the volunteers who made this event possible.  I was cold out there but probably not as cold as those who had to stand around and help the racers all day!

Everyone has excuses for having a bad race.  Most are legit; some are just a racer's way of justifying why they were beaten by a certain someone.  For me, I will always wonder how I could have done, but for ...  However, the ladies who were ahead of me today deserve their placings as they all train diligently and worked super hard today.  And that gives me something to work towards.

As for me, I have sworn off restaurants forever.  The only ones I trust to prepare food for me are my Mom and I.  Now off to Florida for some much needed Vitamin D therapy!

Having bowel issues?  Just ride Moonscape at Alafia ... I had at least 5 "Oh, sh!t!" moments.

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