Race Report: Informal Cross Race, "Taxation without Representation Cross Race"
There was not even a week's warning. Sure there had been some talk about throwing something like this or should I say "putting something like this together," but the word did not come my way via email until it was already Tuesday, which was fine for me because I rarely make the final decision as to race or not until Friday and often Saturday. The scheduling initially was set for Saturday Am which would have conflicted with me playing dad while my wife does Ashtanga Yoga, but soon before the weekend the event day moved to Sunday. This suited me fine and eliminated the guilt option of not racing the Dan's Race at McKeldin Valley mountainbike race at Patapsco State Park. Before the Friday evening had arrived we had 6 would be definite and a score of strong maybes. I say we because by this time Marc had invited me along to help set up and design the course, Don Quiote needed his trusty Sancho Pancho. The low numbers and the aim to make it an event that did not kill the day aided in the final decision to just have one 45 minute session. No Clydesdale Class, No Single Speed Class, No Trans-gender Men, No Trans-gender Women, just one class.
Sunday morning came along faster than expected. So fast that I had not yet ridden on my new tubular clincher cross tires from TUFO nor had I had a chance to put on my new brake calipers from SPOOKY. But with Marc picking me up at 8:15 I had plenty of time after a couple of cups of coffee to break through the morning haze and the Red Wine headache.....ouch! Too much wine and not enough sleep, but this is nothing new. I have proven to be a creature of habit, bad habit. I managed to put the new calipers on the rear, but did not have time to clean the drive train or check the gears. Marc showed up 7 minutes early, which forced me to just grab my gear and run out the door with some fruit in hand for breakfast (and of course there was a can of Red Bull.) There was a little bit of a buzz in the air, sort of that pre-party jitters...will they like my famous family hot dog recipe or will people get along or do I look fat in this dress? Mary, Marc's wife. dropped us off at Alice Deal Junior High. I felt like a freshman on his first day. Where to start? Where to go? Will I fit in? Will anybody like me? that sort of thing. We got to Ft Reno Park with very little idea of what sort of terrain we were going to be working with, nor did we have any idea if anyone was going to show up and if they show up will they find us in time for the start.
Having bicycled to this very park for a history of summer concerts for the past many decades I am vaguely familiar with the layout. But that does not do anything for the fact that neither of us have ever designed a cross course before. But we had each done a number of races at different venues utilizing a variety of terrain, so we knew what we had to look for. There would have to be run ups, barriers (both natural and man made), there would have to be some long stretches to spin, and some off camber turns, on top of that we had to try and use any existing trails or paths that could flatter the course experience. Sure enough this Park had everything that we were looking for! Marc had reviewed a few maps and had used a few drive by opportunity to make a quick sociological study of the lay out of the park and what subcultures gather where and at what time. We were ready for dog walkers and joggers and would try to stay clear of soccer fields and tennis courts. There was even a predecided START/FINISHLINE. The rest all cam about pretty naturally. The topographcy offered for some great transitions both on and off the bike. We managed to start the course on a paved road that bottlenecked into a well beaten trail leading a slight grade uphill, only to make a sharp turn into a short run-up, then to remount and ride alongside a fence, drop into the left and then sharp right along a lower stretch of fence, over a log barrier and then down the hill at an angle under a large old oak tree to a fast dismount over a very tall natural barrier, then back on the bike just a bike or two lenghts before bisecting the pavement to get enough speed to ride up a moderate hill that could force some riders to run up, an off camber right turn drops the racers into a double set of man made barriers, the first more developed than the second, the second collapsing from the vibrations of the words, "GO!" at the starting line. The riders then dip onto a wide path for 20 yards and then run the perimeter of the natural amphitheater that surrounds the stage, then making a sharp turn onto a well beaten path that bisects the amphitheater only to bank left and cut back to run alongside the back of the stage. The course was well marked with a variety of small orange safety cones and safety color orange tape held in place by wodden states. The markings made good sense and kept the woodbe riders from getting confused, but the course was aided by the use of the natural surrounding and barriers, sets of trees made a tunnel effect that marc dubbed, "the tunnel of love." (guess he hung out in this park in high school as well.) After the tunnel of love there was a forced dismount to clear a fallen tree, then two more straight aways and a hard packed roll in and it was time to hit the course again. This rinse and reapeat process had us running roughly 9 laps.
As we finalized the set up process a few people started to show up. The first face was unfamiliar, he had gotten word of the informal cross gathering via email. He was a fit looking road rider from Glover Park named Will, I forget his team association, but his USCF license was up to date. Then Dave Vanneir, an old friend of Marc's from graduate school and currently a Mt Pleasant resident. The numbers were increasing. Some of those that said that they would come were all arriving. Then a minivan pulled down the road, it was Ad Bax, Marc's rowing doubles partner, he has been racing for Armetis and has brought is training partner with him, his son, Nick, a junior with some legs and some lungs. People were getting ancy. We felt that all that were going to arrive were present and accounted for. So we took a prelap together discussing the basic trail set up and the race option of one class. The lap finished up and I felt that I was satisfied with my performance and my place setting as was ready to call it a day and head for home. But it would not prove to be that easy.
Marc went out fast. We all went out fast behind him. At the first run up there was some healthy competition as the racers dismounted and scrambled up the hill vieing for position. Cleatlessly I slipped several times but was able to throw enough elbows to manage to get up the hill second after marc. This acted to set the positioning for the first half of the race. I don't blame it on over training, not even going to blame it on undertraining or racing on an empty stomach with just a few hours of sleep, I went out too fast. Cross is tough to gage like that. The pain had settled in, the urge to pull over and quit came on fast, the reasons to stop seemed to outweigh the reasons to pound on further. Yet I maintained, worked through my burn and battled my demons. Marc was pulling further and further away, but I was managing to hold the same gap between me and other racers. First it was Mark Drajem, an old friend of Marc's from Notre Dame, who has been bitten by the cross bug. But the father son duo. Dad Bax and Baby Bax were able to pass Drajem and were maintaining a fighting pace behind me, forcing me to push harder to keep them behind me. Fantasies of standing along the side were behind me. I was in this thing, the pain would stop when the race stopped. My arms burned and my back ached, but I felt moderately fluid, my dismounts were rapid and fluid, I cleared the barriers with grace and easy, like yak over rocky terrain. But if I was so fluid, then why did I drop my chain on a remount? The chain was jammed. Getting the chain to dislodge and remounted was enough time for Family Bax to catch me and roll past. I was forced to run up a section that was ridable with momentum. Back on the bike. Drajem on my tail, Dueling Baxes in front of me, clearly enjoying some healthy father/son competition, Marc somewhere off in the distance and Dave Vannier making a strong showing trailing just a little bit behind Drajem. The course ended in that order. Everyone was winded with a big smile on their faces.
Everyone pitched in with some clean up along the trail, all of our markings were to be removed. Well everyone but Will. He did not stick around. Somewhere on the first lap he either got bitten by a dog or was having trouble with his TIME cleats. The story is not clear. I was too determined not to have an ashma attack than exchange pleasantries as I passed him sitting along side the trail on the second lap. The tape/stakes/and barriers were up and out, the cars were loaded on the various cars, and seatbelts were buckled. We were headed home with our race adventure behind us. There may have been enough time for me to drive out to Patapsco for the Dan's Race, but not on this day. It was back home for some lunch and a trip to the park with Dean and Lisa. The burn in my back and the tension in my legs was a good pain, a pain that made me smile or maybe it was Dean making me smile. Either way....I was smiling.