I’ve been going down to the Madison area for late September ‘cross races for four years now. I always look forward to it for the change in atmosphere, a new set of competitors and an opportunity to see the pros. This year, the Trek CXC Cup came right after my biggest race of the season, the Chequamegon 40. I was hoping to take some fitness from that race and use it to good effect in Waterloo. Not everything worked out the way I wanted.
As we were leaving on Friday, I finally got a text message from the shop letting me know my Dark Horse was finally back in order. After the carnage of last year (a broken rear axle, a snapped belt, various metal bits oxidized into place and a seatpost that was also frozen in the frame), I had gotten all the metal bits off and back on, replaced the belt, added new TRP mini-V brakes and a new seatpost. The bike was making a bit of a strange noise that I couldn’t diagnose, so I took it to the shop. We were almost out of town when I got the text, but I turned around to go get the bike. I didn’t plan on racing it, but I really wanted to have a pit bike.
After getting picking up the singlespeed, we started heading south. The farther we went, the worse I felt. Not bad, per se, just not good. We rolled into my sister-in-law’s house, where we would be staying, and I made excuses to get into bed. I felt like I had sweated out all the sickness by the morning and was feeling good for my first race as an old guy. I’m officially old enough to be a “Masters” racer. I knew I had signed up for a tough race, with lots of really fast guys (honestly, Matt Shriver is a national champion and Mark Savery is a former WORLD champion), but I figured I could hang on the back.
Saturday dawned quite warm and sunny. Dressed in short-sleeves and shorts, I warmed up on the CycleOps Silencer trainer in their tent (I have to say, that is a VERY nice trainer) and then went to call-ups. This was the first time I realized just what I had gotten myself into. Of the 60-some racers, almost all of them lined up before me. The gun went off and I was able to stick with the group as we crossed the road into the drainage bowl, but was already feeling disheartened by the sheer number of people ahead of me. We crossed back over the street in a close pack and it was still pretty close going down the steep hill that is right behind Trek’s factory. Coming back up, things started spacing out more and I was already starting to get dropped. I’ve never had a racing day before when I asked my body to do something and just had it fail to respond. I felt like I was going as hard as I could and couldn’t keep up at all. Eventually a huge chunk of the field lapped me. The last two laps were spent taking alternate lines so that faster racers could take the good ones.
I look at every picture my wife (and other photographers) took and see someone a little overweight and suffering like a dog. I realized about 35 minutes into the race that I hadn’t eaten any lunch. I was trying to ride with guys two categories above me fueled by two slices of french toast and a handful of Pumpkin Spice M&M’s. I was awfully glad when the race was done. I finished last of the group that was one lap down. The only people behind me quit 3 or 4 laps prior.
Was it festering sickness? Having an empty stomach? Being relatively unfit (compared to my field)? Probably all three.
I drank SO MUCH after that race. Even though I had downed my Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration before the race, I took down 22oz. of Skratch Exercise Hydration, a frozen lemonade thing, 8oz. of POM Wonderful and half a bottle of water. My wife and I stuck around to watch the pros race and then grabbed some pizza. I was still immensely thirsty and drank 1.5 of those giant restaurant glasses of Coke. By the time we got back to our temporary lodging, I had a headache and was generally not feeling great. I had simple plans: drink and sleep.
I woke up feeling okay, though the headache remained. A little acetaminophen cleared that up and we headed to the venue again. On the way, I grabbed a Subway sandwich and actually made sure I had some food in my stomach. The kids came with us this time and really wanted to help push my bikes from the parking area to the race. This is a terrifying thing, but it’s hard not to appreciate their enthusiasm. When I got on the Silencer again in the CycleOps tent, I just though, “Uh-oh.”
I was in the easiest gear I have and couldn’t maintain my normal 90 RPM cadence. I couldn’t get my heart rate up. I felt terrible. My wife came by and I mentioned that to her. She asked if I had any gels or food in the car and I did. Gu had given away some Chomps at the Cheq40 which were still in my bag. She ran to the car to get them while I finished trying to warm up. Things felt a little better after reducing the resistance on the trainer, but I was still worried about the race.
I was in the starting grid by the time my son delivered the Chomps to me. I didn’t have any water to wash them down, but hoped it would work out anyways. I haven’t had a gel or other heavily manufactured food in a long time, but I think it helped.
The race was tight again through the initial stages. The new course layout on that hill was pretty evil. Some people ran, some rode. Most of the people I saw ride it crashed or were passed by runners. I was at the very back again though, so guys up near the front could have been riding it.
I actually didn’t feel too horrible during the race and was able to distance a few people. There was one guy I chased for almost 3 laps that I just couldn’t catch.
The CXC Cup course is one that plays to some of my strengths, while also exposing my worst weaknesses. I am fast getting on and off the bike around barriers and I kill it on run-ups. Every time I passed someone — both days — it was at the run-up. Conversely, I am so terrified of crashing that I don’t corner very well. I really need to go out to a field and just keep riding some tight corners at high speed until 1.) I crash and realize it doesn’t hurt and 2.) work out the cornering ability of my tires.
Speaking of tires, the tubeless Mud Wrestlers seem to be working well. I ran them Sunday at 32 psi in the rear and 30 in the front. For the first time, the rear didn’t end up feeling squishy and squirrelly late in the race. I’m not sure they were the best choice for this course. Unless the course were to see a lot of rain, I think a file tread with aggressive cornering knobs would be better.
By the time we rolled back into the driveway at home, I had a fever of 102º and really just wanted to go to bed. It’s disappointing when such an important event on your schedule is derailed by illness, but it’s part of the sport.
There’s still 6-7 more races on the calendar and therefore a lot of chances for redemption — assuming I can stay healthy!