Monday, October 17, 2011

Something New

Cross. I've avoided it for at least 2 years now. Two years ago this month, Ron entered his first cross race, Beacon, in New Jersey. Sure, it was fun to spectate, but I had no interest in racing. The single track on my mountain bike was all I craved, I loved it and I had no desire to try anything new at the time. Last year, Ron raced again, this time at Nittany and Granogue. Again, spectating proved fun, the races looked enjoyable for those that were into cross, but I was focused on mountain biking.

This year? Well, this year I'm giving some new things a go. As mentioned in my previous blog, it's the off season. It's time to kick back and enjoy some of the old mixed with some of the new. Running and climbing are my old standby's, and I truly enjoy each one. The new? A little cross, and hopefully a local trip or two with Kim for some ice climbing this winter.

Day 1 of Granogue came early this past Saturday morning. My alarm went off at 6:30 and I hit the snooze. I laid in bed wondering what the day held, what I was getting myself into. Ron and I had races several hours apart, so we decided I'd head down the first day alone. It was a little nerve racking, but thanks to some great teammates and friends that were there that morning, my nerves were quickly settled. I warmed up, took a couple of laps on the course between races, pitted my mountain bike and lined up for the B race. Dennis from Wooden Wheels was so kind to let me borrow his pit bike to race, but I hadn't had the chance to ride it last week, and Friday night when Ron went to fit me on it, it turned out to be slightly too big. So I raced Ron's Motobecane and put my Niner in the pit. Thanks again Dennis!

Dennis Smith Photography
Not so sure yet about cross yet...

The race had a quick road start and I had no idea what to expect. I had never ridden a cross bike, let alone raced one, so my nerves definitely kicked back in, but I was determined to see what it was all about and just have some fun. A couple of laps in, I slid down a hill, dropped my chain, quickly pulled myself together and jumped back on. Shortly after I felt my ankle hitting my crank and noticed my crank arm was about to fall off. I made it to the pit, well, past the pit and was told I could run backward to the entrance and pick up my mtb. Phew. I jumped on that thinking it would be a good familiar feel, but I found it felt heavy and squishy... not quite was I hoping for to finish this race well.

Did I have fun that day? It was undeniably a fun course, but my head wasn't in it. I was too uncertain of what to expect. I headed home to PA, picked up Ron and we headed back down to watch some friends kill it in the women's elite race before his race at 4. Back at Granogue some friends congratulated me on 6th. Huh, did they say 6th? I was surprised and really happy. Not a bad way to start.

I decided I'd ask for permission to bump up to the elite race the next day. With my UCI license I was able to no problem, and I found myself with those familiar pre-race jitters the night before. Kristin (my new teammate on CF!!) was so sweet to hand off her sick carbon race bike to me for Sunday's race. Much lighter indeed. Dennis from Wooden Wheels offered to pit for me and I felt ready to go! Prior to the race, Nikki (my other new teammate and great friend!!) led me around the course and watched me clumsily dismount and remount my bike.

Dennis showed me how the pit worked, Vicki and I chatted about what the day might hold, and Carolyn (another friend and new CF teammate!) made sure I was running the right tire pressure. Vicki and I were both starting in the back of the pack as we're so new to this. It was nice to have a familiar friend there with me at the start. 1:55 came quickly and before we knew it the race started, my first UCI cross race!

Wow, I couldn't believe how quick the start was. I cautiously proceeded, hit the grass and started to pick my way through racers as I was able to. Mentally, 40 minutes seems short compared to the 2+ hour mountain bike races, right? Sure, until you realize it feels like you're starting, full speed the entire 40 minutes. Yikes. Slowly I made my way up and I heard friends cheering out, "16th, Kathleen! 15th! Keep it up, keep picking those girls off! She's right in front of you, go get her!!!" It was awesome, cross is so much more spectator friendly and those cheers are a tremendous help and support during that intense effort! Kristin's carbon ride felt great and though the tubular wheels were new to me, I was able to use what I've learned in mountain biking to take the corners and downhills as fast as I could. The remounts? That's another story. I lost so much time just getting back on my bike, getting my feet jammed in my pedals. I couldn't believe how difficult that simple task proved to be. It cost me several seconds each time. In fact in the cyclingdirt video, I run by the camera ready to remount, and down below you can see several girls who got back on no problem, with no sign of me before the video cuts out. Must work on the remount.

I worked hard the whole race, pushed up the hills, shouldered my bike (ugly as it was) where I could to save some time.

I was in the red for most of the race, but I wanted to hold my spot and keep pushing forward. At the end, I lost two places right at the end, one in a sprint finish and ended up 13th out of 32!!

A day later, Ron and I find ourselves watching the coverage on and looking at friends' photos of the race, craving more cross. Oddly, I find myself daydreaming about the race and more cross. Being so different from mountain biking, I never knew it would be so fun. Kim always says, "Cross is Boss," and Vicki says it's addictive. Now I know exactly what they're talking about. Nikki has asked me to travel a bit, and I find myself tempted to take her up on it. I don't know what cross holds for me in the future, but I do know, I couldn't have picked a better race. Granogue was put on by an incredible group of people and the courses didn't disappoint. I'm really enjoying the something old this off season, definitely mixed with the something new.

Ron, picking people off, flying up the climb on Day 2.
Photos by Mike Campbell
Thanks Campbell!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Off Season

After 6 months of racing, the end of September is welcomed with its shorter days, colorful changes and a huge exhale after a hard and exciting season of competition on my mountain bike. It's a time to look back and reflect on what I learned as a racer, how I grew, and what I look forward to for next year. It's time to enjoy fall rides mixed with climbing and running. It's time to rest.

Looking back over the 2011 season, I feel fulfilled and excited after experiencing so many incredible races in different places on such varied terrain. We traveled from West Virginia to New York, and even to Idaho for my first ever PRO XCT race in the Sun Valley National Championships. To have finished that race alone was a huge personal victory! It was a great season filled with many memories that I will honestly never forget.

Photo from KPDS

The end of September also brings our annual trip to East Burke, Vermont with some of our closest friends where we sleep under the stars, sit by campfires, and enjoy long days of riding on some of Vermont's finest trails in the Northeast Kingdom. There's no better way to end the season, and it's something I'll look forward to each year for years and years to come. We couldn't ask for a better group to share that time with...

So what's next? This past summer I received my USAC Pro license and could not be happier to have been offered a spot with the elite riders on Team CF for the 2012 season! They are an incredibly talented group of riders with years of experience, and I respect each of them greatly. I plan to race several more races in the PRO XCT tour and hope to make it to Mellow Johnny's in Texas, Ute Valley in Colorado, Mt. Morris in Wisconsin, and I wouldn't want to miss the 2012 National Championship back in Sun Valley, ID. I'm also hoping to try a couple of the longer races, hopefully in the NUE. After October, training starts and I'm excited to work with a coach for the first time ever! I look forward to snowy rides, long weekends on the road and fun nights of climbing in the gym. The winter can often be long and intense in PA, but with the anticipation of next season and so many fun events mixed into the interim, it'll be a great few months.

For now, I'll enjoy the rest and all the joy that comes with the off season.