Another week of dry weather meant another Cross Crusade course that was flat, dry and fast. I was not excited as the MAX train pulled into the Washington County Fairgrounds station. I signed in, caught up with the fellas from Crank, and eventually parked my stuff. I walked the course to check it out. Most of it would be deadly dull for my little singlespeed bike and painful for my slow little legs; a few switchbacks near the barns and a decision by race organizers NOT to bring back the six-pack (thank you!) but instead to break up the barriers into smaller sections. The stairs were back, though with the dry weather they were almost a non-event.
But the best features for me were the most technical ones:
a. a tall sandpile that, if too crowded, became a run-up for everyone but if you had open space in front of you you could go in fast and ride up and over it...
...with a sharp turn to the left at the base of the downslope on the other side.
b. a shorter, steeper incline that you came at immediately after a hard left turn (and had to pedal through so as not to lose momentum).
I took some photos of the Mens' Master C's, the largest single category at the race. While checking out the course and hanging out, I ran into teammate Erinne, who was not racing today but came out to cheer; and newish teammate Bonnie, who focuses on 'cross and races Womens' Master 35+ B (in short, she's faster than I will ever be). Ed was also supposed to race today, and Chris R. as well, in the final race of the day (Mens' B and Singlespeed). I would not see either of them until the end of the day, and only for a short while. I caught a glimpse of Chris The Blur on the course, and waited a long time for Ed to pass by but he never did. Finally I learned from a friend that Ed had rolled a tire after two laps and since he didn't have spare wheels in the pit his race was over.
I expected to be passed easily by Bonnie, and I was -- we called out encouragement to each other and she pulled away. I hope she had a good time; she certainly looked like she was having a decent race. As for me, well, I basically (and predictably) suffered on the flat, long stretches -- especially near the starting area where everything was hardpacked dried dirt and grass, very bumpy and tough on my hands and wrists -- and in the back are coming out of the switchbacks where there was more bumpy hardpack. Ugh! I also got passed by co-worker Hazel, who raced Beginner Women and finished a fantastic 18/86. (Yes, eighty-six Beginner Women. Large field.)
My first lap was basically about hanging on and trying to get my breathing where I wanted it to be. I carried an inhaler but did not need to use it during the race. The first lap through the sandy hill was, predictably, a total cluster and I treated it like a run-up. The second lap I tried to come in faster but got cut off by a junior who shifted too late and killed our momentum; we both had to dismount and run the rest of it. Finally on my my third and fourth laps I had enough space in front of me that I could go in hot and manual my back end slightly it at the top to keep from fishtailing out.
I was a very happy camper at this point in the course. It made me want to go as fast as I could so I'd have more chances to ride it.
I was also pleased with how I ran every barrier, every time, throughout the entire race. Not sure what I'm doing differently this year from last -- I stopped lifting weights hardcore in late May and the only change in my riding patterns has been to go hard Tuesday and Wednesday, ease up on Thursday and Friday and not ride at all Saturday before a Sunday race. But whatever it is I am gutting it out and running, or at least jogging, every barrier and run-up now. It's not track-star fast, and it's not pretty, and most of the time to get any speed at all through barriers I have to suitcase my bike instead of doing a full-on underam carry; but it's a huge difference from last year and for me it's proof that practice makes better, if not perfect.
Continuing my tradition of dogged consistency, I finished DFL in my category -- 28/28 -- but I finished and pulled off four laps and handled my bike pretty darned well most of the time. Maybe speed will come, maybe it won't. But I still feel deliciously, dangerously empty at the end of these things and the extreme physical exertion is really, really good for my head as well as my body.
More photos here. Scroll to the end of the set for Hillsboro pictures.