Sunday, November 28, 2010

End of the line: 2010 MABRA Cross Championships at Taneytown

Lots of thoughts running through my head with the end of the local cross season, so this might end up being my first multi-post week. Scratch that might, it definitely will be, because at the very least I'm going to put up some of my favorite pictures from the season later this week.

Each year really builds upon the previous one, in terms of people I meet, knowledge/understanding of the sport, familiarity with the local scene, and mostly my enjoyment of it all. This was the first year that I went to every single race that Steve did, in the past I've usually skipped one or two out of exhaustion or previous plans, but this year I hit them all. And for the vast majority we stayed for the entire day, which is definitely a different experience than getting there first thing in the morning to warm up and then leaving pretty soon after Steve's race is done.

So today, Taneytown, MABRACross championships: I'm getting repetitive here, but it was another gorgeous, bright sunny day. There were ZERO pouring rain, miserable, suffering, freezing cold races today. Even today started off chilly with me practicing wearing all the layers I'll be rocking out in Bend, by the afternoon I was down to jeans and a long sleeved shirt. This was the driest this course has been in at least the last three years (I have no recollection of this race from the first time we were here four years ago), but that charming off camber hill against the back fence remained unridable to all but a select few of the elite riders.

Our friends all had strong races today, some podiums, some high series finishes, and Mike Birner won the elite Masters series, which came down to a pretty epic duel between him and Kris Auer over the last few weeks. Always awesome to see your friends have such great seasons and ultimate results. Talking to these people every week and knowing how hard they work for it makes it even better.

And when it was all done, car was packed, dog was ready to pass out from exhaustion, and the last pumpkin muffin I had baked was eaten, there's nothing left but to feel kind of massively bummed out that it's all over for nine months. You become so close with people, you know everything about them and their lives for three months and then they vanish until next fall. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Some final notes- So before I get too depressed, it's not entirely over yet. Steve is going to race the final Verge race in Rhode Island next weekend, although I'm going to skip it to stay home and enjoy some “Jen time.” And then the following week we'll be at Nationals, which will be an experience unto itself, and then there's a smattering of other post-season races: Philly, NC, etc.

- It looks like I'll be getting my very own cross bike within the next few weeks. Looks like it'll be a Redline, and I'm pretty stoked. I talked to another local racer today who is also a below-knee amputee and has been racing for nearly 30 years. It was pretty awesome.

- Steve also surprised me this week by telling me that I'm getting a new camera, a fancy Canon EOS DSLR as an early Christmas present so that I can bring it out to Oregon. I haven't used anything other than a point and shoot since high school, but I'm super excited.

And last, but most definitely not least, thanks to all of you readers for the support in my nascent endeavor at a blog. I had wanted to try this last year, but serious life issues intervened, and it got postponed until this year. But I've really enjoyed having the chance to write in a non-technical way (like what I do for work), and I'm glad that people have found it worth reading.

(Also, mandatory shoutout to Jason Ludicke goes here – see, I know your name!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life, death, and cyclocross: Schooley Mill and Rockburn CX 2010 (HoCo2x)

A lot of highs and lows this weekend. Overall, amazing weather, great racing, and good friends. But on the other hand, a rider with a serious medical emergency during the elite race at Schooley Mill put a lot of things in sobering perspective. Hoping for the best with that racer, and hoping that he is able to make a full recovery. Also was witness to some rather poor sportsmanship, which was disappointing to see in a sport where people are competitive, no doubt, but mellow in general, and not typically prone to behavior like I witnessed.

In a much pettier negative this weekend, was my bonehead move on Sunday afternoon – the men's elite race is about to start, and I'm obliviously crossing the course with the dog to take a picture of a friend on the podium, when all of a sudden I hear “riders up” and look to my right and they're like 10 feet away. I managed to make it out of the way, but just felt like such a dumbass, I am usually so careful about crossing the course and have never made a mistake like this before! Nothing like having a couple dozen racers coming toward you at top speed trying to get the holeshot to get your adrenaline pumping though! Sorry dudes, I'll look where I'm going next time, promise.

And now to the good, Saturday was another warm and sunny fall day, while the Schooley Mill course doesn't have any real central spectating area, I moved around between the bleachers on the back hill and the picnic tables next to the straightaway near registration. Attempted some heckling of Nick versus gravity during the B race, but got heckled back to think up some better heckles. Steve is the expert in that area, not me, so I should probably give up while I'm (maybe a little) ahead.

This course was more of a power course, and a lot of my friends had great results, with Scott Stahl winning the masters B race, a definite highlight. I met another female racer and am starting to get really excited about trying to race next year.

Rockburn on Sunday was great as always, despite the fact that I've some unfortunate incidents with the port-a-potties there in the past, Sunday I managed to control my liquid intake and had a blast. We set up at the bottom of the back hill, by registration and the start/finish, and I didn't move much from there all day. This was a more technical course and while our friends still did well, the results weren't quite as good as yesterday. But Mike Birner recaptured the MABRA leader's jersey in the master's elite race, which was awesome to see.

Steve raced on Saturday and felt okay, he even sprinted to avoid getting lapped (despite being scored on lap down in the end), but on Sunday he raced about half a lap and then called it a day. The wrist is feeling better for the most part, but now it's lack of fitness that's causing issues.

And finally, the other big news of the week, is that we're going to Bend!!! Super stoked to get to see the best racers in the US have at it, and to go to Oregon, which I've never been to before. It's going to be a pretty intense and crazy trip, but it should be a blast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vint Hill Cyclocross With a Side Dish of Fuzzy Wuzzy Alpacas

Pretty mellow weekend overall. Steve decided that the wrist was feeling better and was scheduled for a cross practice anyway, so we headed out to Warrenton and the inaugural (I think?) Vint Hill race. Nice ride out there, past some rolling hills and big, beautiful horse farms. Also, an intriguing sign for an alpaca farm (more on that later!).

The course was fairly small and very compact, you could see more than three quarters of it from one central location. The highlight was a tricky little double turn between two trees, some folks were able to ride it when there was no one else around, but most found it more efficient to run. Turnout was fairly healthy for a non-series race, and our friends all had great races: Scott Stahl and Mike Birner both won their races (Masters B and A, respectively), and Elliott Caldwell placed third in the regular B race. It's always nice to see your friends have good results.

Ended up staying most of the day just hanging out in the unseasonably warm weather. I met another awesome woman rider (I have met several this year so far) and continue to feel like I want to try to do this myself. (On a sidenote, I have a potential lead on a very inexpensive Kona cross bike, will keep you all posted...) I really hope to see Cynthia out at another race before the season is over.

There was also some more talk about Bend, but it's still too premature to say much about that yet.

As far as Steve, he completed the race and didn't get lapped, which I'd say is pretty successful after spraining his arm less than a month ago, and not doing much riding during the recovery. As he keeps pointing out, the good thing about this season for him is that when it's over and done with, he won't be completely burnt out like he has been for the last two years. That means he'll enter the off-season on the upswing, and should go into next season in excellent form.

The elite race was teeny tiny, just six riders, so we took off about halfway through with Dombrowski and Nieters solidly in the lead. Apparently this was Joe's last race before he heads off the training camp so I'm sure you guys will be excited to see my excessive fangirling come to an end. But I can't lie, it's really been awesome getting to see someone like that race week in and week out.

And back to the alpacas, on our way out we decided to follow the signs and ended up at an adorable farm that was having an alpaca open house. The proud farmer took us on a tour of the animals and one in particular kept following me and giving me butterfly kisses. We also got to pet a baby that was less than one week old. Super cute and super sweet animals. Before we left I ended up buying a soap that was wrapped in alpaca wool from a vendor that was there.

All in all, another blissful autumn weekend spent in the company of cyclocross. See y'all net week for HoCo2x!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tacchino Ciclocross 2010, or, Joe Dombrowski is my hero

Well apparently all it takes is one week off from races for me to become derelict in my blogging duties. Another part of the problem is that I find that races with a bigger party/hang-out scene mean that I spend more time hanging out and a lot less time actually paying attention to the races. I still haven’t even uploaded any of my pictures from this weekend.

Tacchino this past Sunday was another great example of a race that has an awesome hang out scene. The team area where tents are set up is right near registration, the band, the food, and all that good stuff, so people are always walking by, coupled with the fact that it’s right along a nice downhill straightaway so you get some decent, if not overly technical racing to watch without even moving.

Steve’s wrist is continuing to improve but he is still not racing, despite coming thisclose to doing so on Saturday at Fair Hill, so that meant that we went all out with a huge assortment of beer, brats, and veggie burgers to grill. I even decided to bake for the occasion, and it seems like I’m going to have to make the pumpkin doughnut muffins again in two weeks for HoCo. Some of our friends were lucky recipients of encased meats from the legendary “suitcase of sausage” and those went right on the grill as well.

The day was also marked by several “things that you don’t see everyday at a cyclocross race”: fighter jets on maneuvers from Andrews, a bald eagle circling overhead, and, oh yeah, a runaway horse in the middle of the elite masters race! Never a dull moment.

There were also several exciting race moments as well: Chris Carraway taking second in the B race, Mike Birner taking over the MABRA leader’s jersey for the elite men, and Joe Dombrowski crushing the A race, despite starting two plus minutes late after missing the start while completing a leisurely warm up lap. Joe Dombrowski is my hero.

Jim McNeely and the whole Coppi team did another amazing job with this race, and handled the monkey wrenches with aplomb – thanks for an awesome day! Oh and they also had a sweet t-shirt commissioned, which, excitingly enough, came in women’s sizes too! Always a plus.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Off Week Miscellanea

With Steve still having a bum wing and no “big” races happening this week, we decided to take the week off. Of course the housework that builds up every fall when we’re travelling all weekend still didn’t get done, but that’s okay, there’s always another day!

Part I. You CAN Forget How to Ride a Bike

But I still found time for a bike-related activity this weekend: Sunday afternoon I took my bike out for the first time since my surgery. I’ve never been a prolific bike rider, I think the longest ride I’ve ever done was from Georgetown to Bethesda and back on the Capital Crescent Trail, but lately I’ve been having aspirations (delusions?) of actually become a regular bike rider, and potentially even a cross racer myself.

My bike is a basic Specialized Rockhopper hardtail mountain bike, it weighs a ton but has the girly lower top tube and was a lot less intimidating to me than a road bike when I was shopping for it a few years ago. Of course I was convinced that I would hop on the bike and immediately pedal off on a 2 hour ride before it got dark, but it was not to be, and I was very glad Steve came down to the park with me.

The first problem I had was just sheer nerves. I haven’t ridden a bike in well over a year and I had no idea what it would be like to attempt it with my prosthetic leg. Since I can only stand on tiptoe with my left foot, I’m going to have to retrain myself to have that be the one I put down when I stop. It doesn’t come easy! The other problem was that my current prosthetic makes it quite difficult to bend my knee in the full pedaling motion. We lowered the seat to make it easier for me to get on and off, but then that made my pedaling even more awkward.

So all I ended up doing was pedaling around on the grass for about 15 minutes with Steve holding onto me the entire time. I am incredibly out of shape and this alone was exhausting. But we practiced mounting and dismounting a few times, and it started to feel more natural after just a few tries, which was good.

So what’s the takeaway? Well, I have a much longer way to go than I thought. But I’m determined! I’m hoping to start riding on a regular basis either on Steve’s trainer or at a gym, and I’m going to try to get out to the park at least once a week to start feeling more comfortable in the wild. Maybe by the spring I’ll be able to graduate to a road bike, and then in the fall who knows, I may be blogging about myself in addition to my friends!

Part II. I Hear Wisconsin is LOVELY in January

It was announced last week that the 2011 National Cyclocross Championships are going to be moved to January and will take place in Madison, WI. I am pretty excited to only have to travel halfway across the country to see the big boys and gals in action. As it is, I should probably just go ahead and take all of January 2012 off work, what with the nationals and world championships both taking place that month.

But in the meantime, I’ll be investing in plenty of fleece, down, and long underwear, and prepping for a cross-a-riffic winter next year!