Thursday 11:44 pm…
Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, sneeze!
Now I’m really awake. For some reason I can’t stop sneezing and my nose is running like a creek during a rainstorm. Compounding the issue my sinus are literally throbbing. Ever since I broke the upper part of my nasal bone a couple of summers ago this has been the new normal. When things are especially bad I can watch my pulse by looking at the swollen upper part of my nose.
No panic. Tomorrow is election day and I don’t have to go to work. Friday will be a breeze and I will be able to rest up for Saturday morning. Being a considerate husband I left the bedroom and retreated to the living room. I had just changed the sheets on the guest bed and wasn’t in the mood to make more work for myself.
I managed to angle myself just right so my head was tilting back enough to stop the flood of fluid cascading out of my nose. Of course Eko joined me for the rest of the night making the couch that much more uncomfortable.
Sure I felt like turd but I knew I could put my game face on for Saturday morning and the 35 plus race at the Cycle Smart International CX in Northampton. Two years ago this was my first exposure to a big cross race. I had done my first ever race the weekend before and picked up a win and a second place. The whole idea of Cross Results points was foreign and I figured that I would just show up and smash everybody like the previous weekend. That first week I had also upgraded from cat five to cat three on the strength of my road and mountain licenses so the caliber of racer that I was facing was also going to improve dramatically. That first year at Northampton I started in the back row because of a data entry error on Cross Results. In a running race starting in the back isn’t that big of a deal. In a cyclocross race starting one hundred and twenty out of one hundred and twenty is a death sentence. Despite being furious about the mistake I still raced for the win. On top of the call up the conditions were unquestionably Belgian. Forty degrees with a hard wind driven rain. I went deep that first year and passed one hundred and one riders on my way to a nineteenth place finish. A couple of untimely spills took away my shot at the top ten. Later that afternoon I discovered an avulsion on my shin from one of the crashes. I had to decided between sewing it up with a needle and thread or supergluing it shut. Hindsight is twenty twenty, I should have opted for the thread, the glue didn't really stick!
Last years race marked the end of my season due to a heavy crash in the last lap of the race. I had been riding as a force in the lead group and got caught not riding in the moment. I was planning my attack on the second run-up and was going to take advantage of a line in the following off camber turn that none of the other leaders had ridden the entire race. From there I was going to ride clear and solo to the finish. Paying attention is supremely important in CX and in that instant I rode into one of the steaks that was dug deep in the ground. I crashed hard over the handlebars, knocked the wind out of myself on my stem, and hit my right arm so hard that I thought I had a hairline fracture for a couple of weeks. Dazed on the ground a concerned Al Donahue approached and reminded me about how much it sucks crashing out of a race, especially when you’re in the money.
Sure I had a nasty head cold and felt like a pile of garbage but this after all was NoHo and I desperately wanted to have a good race.
Saturday morning I was up early and feeling slightly better. Fluids and Sudafed can work magic in a pinch. While I was making coffee I had a sudden moment of panic. While resting the previous day I had never gotten around to cleaning and setting up my bike. Fortunately I was up early enough and had plenty of time before hitting the road just before 8:00.
The ride down was uneventful other than the fact that I wasn’t amped at all. I felt like it was just going to be business as usual. No need to worry. My form has been great and my thinking was that if I showed up and rode my race that the rest would take care of itself.
Set-up and warm-up were straightforward with the exception of the rather obnoxious guy that was parked next to me. This dude clearly was under the impression that he knew everything about the sport and was working hard to impart all of his knowledge on the woman that he appeared to coach. I actually had to plug in my headphones and warm-up on the other side of the street because the dude was so obnoxious.
I warmed up to Phantograms Turn to Stone off their first EP which got me in a good groove. I headed to the start early not wanting to get caught up in the crowd.
This was my first ever 35 plus race in an attempt to gain some experience prior to nationals. What was new to me was the fact that the race was split between old dudes and young guns. The junior men that are on the fast track to being awesome talents would be sharing the course with us which would ensure a hot pace.
My call up got me a good spot on the outside of the second row and I was focused on having an awesome start. Knowing what I know about teenagers they typically don’t sit around. They typically go full gas at everything from the starting gun. NoHo was no different. At the bell these kids absolutely killed it down the first stretch. Rather than immersing myself in the pack I drifted to the outside and found some space to find my rhythm.
Typically my strategy in a cross race is to withstand the initial full gas attack and then to get down to business with my diesel engine. Through the first lap I was in the lead bunch but something felt slightly awry. I was driving the bike exceedingly well and making good power but something was missing. It felt like the very top end of my power was missing which made for a crazy ride. From that moment the race really became a terrible and painful game of cat and mouse. From the led group of twelve, someone would attack. Without my top end power I would get dropped and face a gap of ten to fifteen seconds. Resisting panic I would settle in and slowly reel the bunch back in. Typically these attacks and pace changes would shed one rider at a time. Once I was latched back onto the tail of the bunch, boom another attack. Ugh. Gap struggle, grind, catch back on, repeat.
When the suffering really takes hold a race seems like an eternity. I honestly don’t even remember any spectators on the course. All I remember is that awful feeling that most closely resembles throwing a rotten tomato against a wall and watching it slowly slide down to the ground to meet its final demise. Every attack I slid further and further down the wall inching ever closer to total implosion.
Somehow in the last two laps I was still holding on. As bad as the pain and suffering was I was hanging in there. Despite the alarming suffering that I was enduring I was still managing to sprint out of the saddle on the drops on the longer straightaways. I could even still see the front of the race which probably kept me fighting so hard. In the last couple of minutes I caught and dispatched one last rider and even mustered a meager sprint for ninth place.
Following the race I was awash with many conflicting emotions. I was so proud that I hung in and fought every second of the race. I was pissed that this cold finally got the best of me at one of my target races. I literally get sneezed on once a day at work so it’s a wonder I held it off this long. I was encouraged and frustrated in the same instant. Close enough to see the front of the race but lacking the top end power to be there. My most positive takeaway is that I was the first rider age 30-39 which leaves me feeling hopeful as nationals approaches.
For now my first priority is getting healthy so I can get back to work. Coach Cratty and I are planning a four week block of heavy training followed by three weeks of sharpening heading into Hartford.
Sorry if this recap is missing some snap! I’m so hopped up on cold meds that I can’t focus on one thought for more than five seconds at a time.