After last Wednesday's awful cross practice, I was not looking forward to my race today. The truth was that I felt slow, fat and old on Wednesday evening, and having to reach for my inhaler in public has still been a new and vaguely embarrassing thing for me (I was only Dx'd with asthma in July). So when I took my multi-modal trip to Alpenrose (ride bike to Lloyd Center at easy pace; hop MAX into town; grab the #54 bus to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Albertson's; ride 1/2 mile up the hill and turn right to enter the dairy), I felt timid and unenthusiastic. When I got to the dairy proper and saw the zillions of people, I started to feel better; I was going to spend the day hanging out with good people, who all love to ride bikes just like me. How bad could that be?
I was good. I was careful. I got a decent night's sleep; woke up early to give myself plenty of time, and packed a thermos of hot soup that I would eat precisely 3 1/2 hours before race time (soup is easy to digest and full of good things). At the venue I took my time about changing into my kit, socializing like mad, and walking the course beforehand. I didn't get to do a full pre-ride because prganizers hadn't counted on over 200 children showing up for Kiddie Kross. So many kids really cut into pre-ride time and things had to be kept on schedule. Still, I watched a lot of the previous races from various vantage points on the course and that helped immensely. One hour before my race, I had a gel packet and washed it down with the rest of my bottle of water. I went behind a building and did some jumping jacks and jogged in place to finish warming up before heading over to the staging area.
Along the way, I ran into Kelly, an old friend from college, who's brought one of his kids to watch some of my race. It was the first time we'd seen each other in many years and it was really sweet. I hope he had a good time watching the racing.
By the time I'd finished with a few final hot laps in the parking lot and took my place with the other Master 45's my hesitation had faded into memory and I was only thinking of the race ahead. My mood lifted. Another friend, an industry colleague, yelled to me at the staging area; he asked where the viewing was best and I sent him to the wacky off-camber section outside the left end of the velodrome. He waved and smiled and headed off. I chatted happily with the other ladies in my category, and felt very welcomed among their number. We all cheered when Brad Ross (the organizer of Cross Crusade) congratulated us for making the largest-ever women's field at a Cross Crusade, and the largest at any cross race in North America, ever. (There were easily over 300 women out there in all categories.) And when the whistle finally blew I surged forward with everyone else, getting sucked into the mad slipstream of cyclocross.
Last year's massive run-up was gone, filled in by a backhoe during an ongoing landscaping project; but in its place organizers laid out a fantastic backfield with bumpy, chunky ruts and fresh, soft dirt in the sharp corners. The course here felt less like a cross course and more like a mountain bike course. A short, steep run-up followed at the top by a 180-degree turn and a drop-down back down the slope. I hate running; ergo I hate run-ups. But at the top I was able to quickly re-mount and barrel down the drop -- wheeee! -- and zig-zag on, in and out of the velodrome where barriers had been laid out. To my surprise, even though I was pitifully slow on the run-ups, I RAN over the barriers, and did a mostly fair job of getting back on the bike each time. I winced as women around me mis--judged their timing during dismounts or re-mounts, and a couple came crashing down beside me during the race.
It was hard, hard racing. I had to pull off a couple of times and get out my inhaler because my face felt like it was turning blue and I was gasping hard enough that my eyes nearly crossed. I was wheezing hard enough by then that I didn't care what it looked like to anyone else. On two long inclines that were part of the course, I amazed myself by staying on my bike and pedaling nearly every lap (on my last lap, on the final incline, I was wheezing AND my legs had turned to rubber. I pulled off, used my inhaler, and jogged my bike up the incline until I could breathe again). Along the way, people screamed my name -- hearing your name screamed at a race does make you go faster, even if only for three or four pedal strokes before your knees become jello again -- and cowbells clanged loudly. I heard lots of people cheering for my bike -- "go singlespeeeeed!" -- and had to smile in spite of my efforts. And althoug I knew I was slower than most, my bike-handling felt better, cleaner and more confident. I was happy to realize that, even as I struggled to keep up a good pace.
In the end I was not the lonely, pathetic finisher straggling so far behind. I had somehow managed to time my laps so that I finished with other racers around me (even though they may have lapped me, it didn't matter). We all congratulated each other as we snaked out of the velodrome, with poor Candi [Murray, the Queen of OBRA officials] yelling at us to get going so they could let the next category start racing.
I had a good day, an excellent day. I hung in there and finished strong. I don't know where I placed, and oxygen deprivation is lousy for mathematical functions so I'm not sure if I completed three laps or four. If I did three I'll be content. If it's four laps, well, I'll be over the moon.