The 2009 Willamette Valley Cyclocross Series kicked off with a beautiful fall day race at Heiser farms this past Saturday, and Pacific Pedaling was there to get it going! Jeff, Chad and the rest of the gang put on a fantastic race, and the Heiser Farms and Pumpkin Patch made it a perfect family friendly venue for everyone who came out.
I had never raced an actual cross race before Heiser. The short track series this summer was my first foray into any kind of racing, so I knew I had at least a little more of a challenge ahead of me as those races were only 20 minutes (30 for the last one) and these would be 45 minutes right out of the gate. Throw in more racers, potential mud, and additional technical fun, and I could be a complete mess. The short track races had about taken it out of me…I wasn’t sure how I’d go twice as long. I was definitely nervous headed into it.
I arrived at the race about 2 hours before my race around 8 am. Course organizers were still wrapping up a few details, and I took the early arrival time to park, set up the team tent, get out all of our stuff, get my bike(s) out, check in at registration, walk the course, use the restroom, eat a little something, change, pin my number on my jersery,…and next thing you know, it’s about 20 minutes until my race. Pat and Ellen had arrived by this time, and I asked Pat if he’d drag my extra bike to the pit, while I pre-rode the course for one lap. When I got back I had one more stop off at the porta potty, and it was time to line up.
While there were about 50 of us in different rows at the start line, only 18 of us were in the Beginner Men category. Masters C and Category C men both went out in front of us, with about a minute or two gap between each group. Before I knew it, we were up, and off to the races! I quickly found out that I’m not a speedster off the line (well, really anywhere) and was in the back half of the group before the first corner.
We headed around the first corner, down past a cornfield to our right, and down a quick little descent into the wooded area of the farm. By this time we were all pretty much single file, and I was feeling pretty comfortable on the bike and on the course. We made a sharp right turn after another little hill and continued out along the wooded area. My heart was pumping hard, and all of a sudden I realized how hard I was breathing. I thought, “this can’t be good…I may end up doing myself in if I don’t focus on getting some regular breathing going.”
From a little rain and drizzle, there was one slightly muddy spot before a quick little grass hill that was for the most part pretty easy to cross. On one of my last laps, I had to put a leg down after sliding out in the mud, but was able to keep the bike up and continue on with a quick run up on that hill. The only other time I had any issue with my bike was on the backside of the course where there was a drop down into a gully with a quick climb up a steep little hill. I missed my opportunity to pass the guy I was following, and when he stopped at the top of that hill, I didn’t have anywhere to go, and couldn’t unclip fast enough, so I went to my right knee. Nothing more than a bruised ego for falling in front of a few spectators, but I think I just have to get used to that.
About halfway through the race, I think I visited what Pat would later refer to as “the dark place” during a race. “Why am I doing this? I’m an old guy. I could be home sleeping. I could be enjoying brunch somewhere. I could be doing anything that wouldn’t be making me hurt and feel like I’m going to hurl!” I knew that quitting wasn’t an option, but I knew I’d be ready to hear them say “1 lap to go,” when that time came. “Keep cranking…and keep breathing,” I kept saying to myself. “You’ve ridden 70 miles in a monsoon, for almost 5 hours solid by yourself…..you can do this too.” And of course, I knew I could. Pat and Ellen appeared from time to time, shaking a tambourine and yelling at me to “pedal, pedal, pedal!” It’s amazing what a little cheering can do for your spirits in the middle of a race.
Around the end of the 3rd lap I was riding along the bumpy edge of the cornfield, heading towards the barriers when Ron Strasser went riding the other direction on his bike along the rode. He hollered over at me, “Remember, recover where you can!” Remember? Heck, I hadn’t even thought of that! He must’ve seen the pain on my face and realized I needed to ease up here and there. On that stretch I stopped mashing and just spun for a bit, and as I turned into the corner to head to the barriers, I was felt much better and dismounted, ran over the barriers and got back on the bike, and to my surprise, was feeling a second wind coming on. (Oh yeah, Ron later won the Masters 60+ Men…yeah, you heard me 60 years and older….what am I complaining about?!)
Somewhere towards the end of the 4th lap, I definitely felt a second wind and tried to pick up the pace a little better. The bumpy parts of the track, particularly in the area through the Christmas trees (at least that’s what it smelled like to me) just before the gravel hill, beat the crap out of my body. But as the official called out “1 lap to go,” I actually was disappointed. Something inside said that if I had two more laps left, I could actually catch a few guys and maybe possibly pass them to finish further up the pack. As it turns out, I finished 16 of 18. Not dead last, but not anything to write home about. Hey, for my first race, I would have been happy to finish last as long as I could complete the race! And I won’t lie, I was completely baked after the race…and worn out the rest of the day.
Pat, Ellen and Martha also raced, flying through the course with ease, looking great in their Pacific Pedaling kits, and handing out advice and information about the next days race at Alpenrose, where we’d all race again in just 24 hrs. Poor Martha was coughing up a lung, but still got out to fight the battle. As I’ve thought many times this year, sitting there with our team, and my family and the pumpkin canon firing off in the back, we couldn’t have a better group of riders for our inaugural season as a team! And I can only get better, right?