10/30/2010: Pre-Halloween CX Racing

“Colorado Classic Cross” (http://www.coloradocrossclassic.com/) sang its sand calls at the Boulder Reservoir.  This was my first Cat 3 race.  For those who are new to the sport of CX, as I was earlier this season, check out wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclocross).  “Cat” means category and the lowest level is Cat 4 for this sport.  Basically, I started in Cat 4 a few weeks ago at my first ever cross race in Frisco and placed 2nd on my mountain bike behind a high schooler, which was a heated race to watch.  Then I placed 1st place in my 2nd cross race in Louisville CX on 10/24/2010, my birthday, coolest self-given gift ever!  Since I placed well at the first 2 cross events, I upgraded to race my 3rd cyclocross race as Cat 3.  I figured this would be a good weekend to do the upgrade since the races will be loaded.

I arrived, with sleep-soaked eyes, at the Colorado Classic Cross event with my trusty mountain bike and I attempted to do a last-minute swap out with my rigid fork for the front wheel set-up.  However, after taking the fork off, I came to find out I still did not have all the necessary parts for the swap project.  I finally woke up and became realistic with the given situation, so I scrapped the idea and re-assembled the original fork back on.  I was a bit disappointed because I really wanted a lighter set-up and to check out the new fork.  Despite the setback, I got a brand new skinsuit from Squirt Lube’s Larry Grossman this morning!  This is a cool outfit, although hilarious, that helped me put on a positive attitude.  I burned some soundtracks, with some deep base tunes of course, into my head and got myself rolling to pre-ride the course.  After I did a few laps, I came into the “bicycle village” which had all the venues of all sorts of businesses promoting their products, much like a farmers market with exception of bike freaks running all over the village.  This made me drool and popped my eyes out onto the pavement, tripping over some bike-mesmerized zombies looking at all the well-displayed cross bikes.  I started thinking, “Just maybe…  maybe I could find a demo for today???”  I poked around the various companies and FOCUS Bikes had their bikes all displayed on the bike stands as I drooled my way over.  One of their representatives grabbed a bucket and a mop to clean up behind me to keep their area safe and started talking with me while working up a sweat…

He panted “So, I assume one of these bikes caught your eye?”

I sputtered all over him “Baby, baby… has my dream come true?  Are these free demos?”

He fluttered his eyelids from the shower of drool and wiped his face with a greasy rag, leaving some black and brown marks all over his face, which made him fit in with the Halloween festivities better, and replied “Yes, sire.  Which one would you like to try out?”

My eyes gleamed over their carbon fiber Mares CX bikes without responding.

He looked over and smiled with a sparkle blinding my eye which finally caught my attention, “Let’s figure out which ones fit you the best…  unfortunately, you’re a huge beast, my friend, so I believe you’ll have to ride the XL frames.  We don’t have the carbon fiber ones here on site today, but we do have an aluminum one that may work for you.”

Reluctantly, I tried it out and decided to give it a shot for today.  He did some magic touches on the bike to fit better for me as I anxiously waited to hop on the bike.  I threw both my driver’s license and my mountain bike into his greasy face and ran off with the shiny gold-ness in my hands, while CACKLING, just because it’s Halloween!  I smiled like a 5-year-old on Christmas because it was FREE and super light!  However, my eyebrows showed that I wasn’t quite content with its last-minute fit.  I tried to stay positive here, reminding myself that this bike was setup at the last-minute for me and I’ll get the right fit figured out later as my personal bike.  “We only have 45 minutes left to warm up!”  I pulled out another deep base soundtrack called “Focus Johnny!” in my head and zoned myself into the focus cave.

After breaking a light sweat and getting my heart rate up, I toed up to the start area with 70 other racers huffing and puffing down each other’s necks.  I blew my sweat beads all over the poor guy in front of me, apologizing every breath I put on him.  Secretly, I was working my racing strategy, distracting these racers from their focus. *CACKLES*  The referee shows up with a call-up list. Since I’m new to the sport, I was not on the call-up list yet and I get stuck behind 60 racers while 10 or so more line up behind me, blowing their sweat beads all over me this time.  I guess Karma does have its cycles.  Focus cave… focus…  my breaths slowed down into deeper ones and occasionally sped up to blow out the built up CO2.  The world faded away to my own silent visual blurriness.  Referee arms popped up in my eye sight, so I pulled myself slightly out of this focus cave and get my engine revved up.  He placed his whistle in his mouth… I know, right!  It doesn’t really work for me, but since there are so many riders in front of me, they automatically become my visual starting cues.  Beating heart vibes are felt all around me, sweat beads drip off the front of my helmet onto my not-so-shiny-anymore bike below, breaths are felt on my arms from close-by racers, muscles contracted and relaxed all around me, all eyes peered forward… Referee’s mouth bulged out, which means he’s blown the whistle!  Everyone surged forward.  Some clipped in immediately, while some struggled to clip in.  One of my legs flailed all over as I pedaled with one leg to gain momentum.  A moment later, both sides clipped in and I’m in attack-mode.  I worked my way up quickly to be in the middle of this pack as we come around the first corner.

The first corner blew by so fast  that the second one did not give me time to brake safely.  I scrambled to find other racers around me and let them squeeze in to slow me down before the turn.  “Pedal, pedal… barriers already?!”  I swung my right leg around the back my seat and popped out to run over 2 barriers while lifting my bike over them.  Superman mount nicely done without crunching the family jewels… CHECK!  We flew off again on our bikes with 1% momentum loss (ok, maybe more like 10%?).  Third corner approached quickly with very loose gravel and lots of anxiety floating around.  “Keep it up!  Keep your cool too dude…”  My heart races as we go flying around the gravel cemetery surprisingly without going down.  This gravel pit extends down a steep hill to a sharp 90 degree left turn onto pavement, so brakes are slammed cautiously here; once you slide in this pit, you’re a goner.  Once the tires hit the pavement, my mind screamed “Lean, lean!”   Competitors all around me stood on their bikes and pulled with all their might to gain position.  “Pedal, Pedal, POWER, POWER!!”  I pulled and pedaled as hard I can, building speed and blasting up the hill, over into the next 90 degree left fast leaning turn allowing me to passing a few racers.  Tires screamed with horror around this corner and I looked back to check my position.  “Good John, you’re keeping this under control…”  I’m about 20th place now.  I pulled my attention to the front again and there’s a 90 degree right turn from pavement into loose dirt.  My tires screamed momentarily on the pavement, and then the dirt screamed as I torture its supple ground with the burning rubber.  “SUUUUHHHH-WEEEEEEEEETTTT!!!!”  I’m in the zone now.  We pull into another pavement section with another position fight, which made no difference.  We approached another corner from the pavement into a semi-loose gravel pit.  I loved this gravel pit and I took advantage of this fearless power.   My legs powered my way through the less-traveled sections while everyone else followed each other, like sheep, on the well-packed section.  I picked off 5 riders this section and peeled into the next turn without, ok… a little fear.  I am about 15th place now.  I pulled back my gas a bit to recover from the attacks.  I figured this would be a good place to recover as we all ride through the switchbacks.

The switchbacks still do not give any recovery time!  Riders breathed down my neck and they revved up on both sides of my path.  “Alright, time to kick it up again and pass up to the front of this group.”  We came screaming down the hill into another flat stretch, I kicked my gears up 4 notches and put the hammer down.  My legs and lungs screamed “NO!!!” while my mind persuaded them with “Come on, you love this!”.  Finally, my speed picked up and I flew by 3 more riders before entering another loose switchback section and I held my 12th place here through the first sand pit.  I passed a couple more through this section, because I luckily run like a speedy scared kid on Halloween!  *HUFF HUFF*  “I need to pull back to save my legs; we have another 50 minutes to go and the race is not won on the first lap.”  I settled into this place and held this position while keeping everyone behind me.  We pushed on hard – “Dude, this is way harder than the Cat 4’s… why couldn’t you just enjoy your off-season?!”  I zoned my mind to guide and let my body pull me on.

Racing is a constant battle between mind and body – they take turns to speak louder than the other.  It comes with experience to learn how to merge both into one and how to be patient.  Although racing is a far extreme from a calm meditation, I receive similar internal medicines both ways; I enjoy meditating at home in silence and while my heart is racing.  I feel that if I can keep myself focused in both environments, I can handle most situations thrown on my plate.

I know… I know.  It’s supposed to be my off-season time, with no training.  However, I have only been riding 2 times a week, at most 3 times a week with races on the weekends for the past month.  I haven’t really been training a lot as well.  I feel really good about my approach since I’m keeping my lactate threshold fairly high while recovering quickly.  This allows me to be mentally fresh when I re-start my training program in a week or so.  It seems to be working since these cross races are re-igniting my excitement for fitness on and off the bicycle, which is the point of no training periods.

“You’re doing good, John.  Just keep on pushing the pressure, but hold it back just a little bit.”  We cut across a slope into two sharp, uphill switchbacks over to another power section before careening into the second sand pit.  I hesitantly pulled on the brakes a bit before entering the quicksand behind a bunch of other riders.  This caused me to slow down significantly and allow others to pass me.  I got a bit frustrated, but carried on with the race.  “Remember this is the first lap, just hold on and you’ll pass them again later.”  We crawled out of the monster sand pit with pain smeared all over our faces before hopping back on the bikes.  The bikes then groaned with fact that the race continues on!  We come screaming in and out of the last sand pit of the course onto some more pavement.  I peeled out my power and passed a few more riders before entering another grass section of switchbacks.  I loved this section of switchback since the first corner here is super tacky!  Tree branches whooshes by me while dropping off leaves onto other racers behind me.   “SUH-SUH-SSUUUUHHH-WWWEEEETTT!!!”  A few more more switchbacks were done here and there before popping back onto the pavement through the “finish” line.  We’re not quite done here yet, we’ve only done one lap!  I know, right!  All that pain in ONE lap?!

I screamed by the finish line as a bunch of people line up along the fence here.  My peripheral vision picked up on one side: arms waving, mouths moving wide open indicating screaming, hands clapping, bells swinging, kids with painted faces riding in circles on their tiny bikes, while the other side had some officials sitting on a raised stage with serious faces, scribbling on their boards, I assume Halloween costume ideas?, as one stood close-by with an arm raised indicating what place I am.  I couldn’t read what he’s saying because I am focused on putting the power down to cruise up the hill right up ahead.

I zoned out into my own world again and kept the hammer down the rest of the time.  It was key to keep a pace that I could keep competitors behind me and keep picking up places.  With 2 laps to go, out of nowhere, this rider in the blue jersey blew by me like superman!  “There was no way this guy is in our category, he may be just warming up for the Pros race??”  I let him go so I can maintain my pace rest of the way.  As I started my last lap, a friend of mine held his hand out with four fingers up.  I assumed he was trying to tell me I’m 4th place?  I try not to let this get to my head and keep the gas down.  I have a history of “choking” when someone tells me how I’m doing.  Once I know I’m up front, for some reason my body shuts down.  As experience is valuable, I’ve learned to keep my focus together and keep hammering away the last lap.  We tortured our bikes, bodies, minds, and even spectators for approximately 55 minutes.  I kept on riding through part of a lap to spin my legs and pull myself out of the zone back into reality.

As I wearily approached back to the finish line to find out results, I came to find out that I did get 4th place!!!!!  And, that the blue superman won the race!  He made up a whole minute and half within 2 laps.  This kid is only in high school and he has huge potential.  Slowly, the vibes from all the riders turned down from intense heat to a very mellow, happy one.  All the racers congratulated each other with smiles and handshakes.  Beer was passed around and we all put our differences aside and mingle along each other with respect and happiness.

I enjoyed every moment of this race for the lessons I’ve regained and learned: 1) Keeping your cool at all times will help you save your energy for important times;  2) Patience will come with good things for those who wait and;  3) Respect for others will yield great vibes all around you.

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