I feel a sense of community with each location that I go but nowhere does it feel it quite like Texas. The local cycling folks from all disciplines come out of the woodwork to get involved in the course set up and marshaling, registration, and tear down. People come straight off the course sometimes still in their kits from riding to help out. Kids run amok and many of the team tents are welcoming rather than exclusive hangouts for those wearing colors matching the canopy. It’s a family environment that shows it’s pride of being part of the bigger picture of the national cyclocross series and excitement to bring the race bigger and better each year.
I had a new host situated in a much friendlier location for escaping to ranch land from the endless sprawl of McMansions. Texans love their space and it was a really pleasant transition to go from hiding in the van for over a week to having the room to sprawl out. The family was kind enough to leave some leftover pie from their holiday gathering so my Turkey Day wasn’t a complete bust. I did spend a considerable amount of time each day playing evade the Roomba but it also made for a good schedule enforcer to time getting tasks accomplished each day.
The weather stayed warm and the forecast had a strong probability of storms for the weekends lineup of races. My hopes were high, much love goes into the production of the Resolution Cross course but the fun bits are of the outskirts or the course centered around a stark grassy field that despite being a means to get from one playful woody section to the other, still requires awful long stretches of straightforward watts. Mud would make the boring grass a whole lot of fun while rendering the woods slick and challenging.
A rare and pleasant addition to the lap this year was the “choose your own adventure” style of racing, where course spreads out to include whatever lies in it’s path rather than to narrow down and avoid obstacles at the course builders discretion. I personally feel that this style allows for more interesting spectatorship as each person watching forms their own opinion of the best line and then gets to watch the fastest riders utilize their interpretation. Coupled with the heightened challenge of analyzing line choice during the preride, the increased need to session the section, and then the real time decision making while having more congestion during the race necessitates adds unlimited quality to a course. Resolution featured much of this this year and it was defining characteristics to the feel of the weekend.
While the promised weather front, lengthy downpours, and accompanying tornado warnings did make their way through the metro area that evening I was left as the lone occupant of the house sleepless and contemplating the likelihood that if there really was a tornado about to hit that surely the parents would come upstairs to wake up the kids and consequently alert me to the need to seek a more secure location.
Fortunately the warnings and imagery on the radar materialize about a quarter mile east of us and continued east leaving us in the wake of the sirens. The skies opened for over an hour and I figured the amount of rain we received would be plenty to make the course conditions “favorable” for the following day.
While the woods sections indeed became slick and greasy, the already high level of challenge in those sections didn’t change all that much. The open areas absorbed all of the moisture and stayed bone dry with the grass progressively wearing off as the race day progressed to feature flat slick corners with high levels of slip out risk.
Short sleeves were on order for the first day with the relative warmth feeling almost uncomfortably hot. I never quite felt as though I found a groove or had my grip or lines dialed in the woods so raced to what felt like a lackluster effort on my part. But I was training through the week with the goals set on nats. I felt like I was giving near 100%, just that my legs didn’t have any watts to give. Cross is more than 100% though. To be competitive you have to be accelerating on every available inch of the course. If you aren’t moving forward you are moving backwards and that mind set requires a lot of mental tenacity.
Sunday was much of the same although the length of the woods was increased. I felt good again, strong but just not fast. I fell into a head to head battle with a few girls later in the race after managing to squeeze all the air out of both my tires somewhere on the course and swapping out bikes. It was nice to be along other riders fighting for a wheel and that made for a larger effort than just burning circles into the dry grass.
I hung out a few days longer to continue to stalk out a photo of the zonkey that lived a block away from my hosts and to join the Wednesday night “creek cross” race that is held at our same race venue in Garland. The race is shorter but so was the course, thirty minutes on a 2 minutes lap had me asking after a few laps in how many laps we had remaining and the reply was 14. Ha. More time to session the woods from the weekends race I guess! It was fun riding with the juniors in the super short lap because there was lots of opportunity to encourage them along but I definitely took home the first place prize of a few armfuls of poison ivy.
I delayed heading to Tulsa purely because of the temperatures. I love my Tulsa family just as much as Texas but it was forecasted to be 10-30 degrees colder and I wasn’t too excited about anything in the general direction of north. There definitely comes a time when sucking it up and embracing winter is on the top of the agenda and while I can make that happen with the best of them, after a few minutes I’m full on ready to head back to tank top weather.
A winter storm was in the forecast with ice and snow predicted for late in the week until the weekend. Ruts N’ Guts was the last scheduled weekend of UCI racing before nationals and this year the C1 status grew the field a bit. The course featured a few changes as the adjacent lake had filled in some of the previous years features but the designers threw in a few additions to spice up the remaining sections.
The race weekend was a cold one although the promised weather did it’s best effort to bypass the Sooner state and visit our cohorts in North Carolina where the other UCI race of the weekend was taking place. They experienced heavy wet snow during the race on Saturday and enough feet on Sunday to shut down the course… as well as the entire town. We on the other hand had not one drop of precipitation but the cold was bone chilling.
Some combination of activities seemed to have come together to produce the perfect storm of severe back pain for this week and after Tuesday I could barely walk around much less sit or race well. Ever the optimist I loaded up on some vitamin I and hoped for the best. Fridays pre ride earned me a few comments on not looking very enthusiastic about being on the course but not many people knew I wasn’t able to actually lift the bike once I was off it. Momentum could keep the bike with me over some faster moving dismounts such as the stairs but otherwise I was only able to drag the bike over the barriers or compress the front wheel on the ground to bounce it up to the top of the planks.
Often while competing the adrenalin and endorphins make it so that anything that hurts is long forgotten about in the heat of the race but not this time. The pain manifested from my lower back and locked up muscles into my quads which burned in a way that made me think I had done more than just 30 seconds of a start sprint. I was going nowhere fast which was mentally debilitating but quitting is always more so after the fact. The least you can do is put forth whatever effort that you can and walk away with the satisfaction that even though it wasn’t pretty you didn’t back down.
Race effort aside the course was fun. I opted to sit out on Sunday as I was planning to race a few days later in Louisville for the masters nationals and for once I was not sad to miss out on the seconds day action. It was worthwhile to observe my own field racing, something I don’t get many opportunities at. With nationals on the immediate horizon, if there was a bad time for my back to have seized up I’d pretty much nailed it.
I’d had a few opportunities in the past to thoroughly ponder the popular job interview question of “what is your biggest fear?” and concluded that my most honest answer was “mediocrity.” It seems as though I’d been bringing a larger amount than my fair share this year but you have to take the good with the bad. With the overwhelming sense of impossibility that comes from being faced with not just daily training but basic tasks such as bending over, getting out of bed, or putting your socks on, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel can be just as challenging as admitting that you are hurt.